IT IS a great joy for those who love Kropotkin to participate in the homage—merited, indeed—which is being rendered to him to-day.
Whether on the occasion of his seventieth birthday or on any other occasion we have the right, without fear of being accused of hero-worship, to proclaim that we are proud and happy to have for a companion in thought and in the active struggle, for an elder brother and a respected leader the man who wrote “The Words of a Rebel.”
All movements either of ideas or of deeds which stir society to its very foundations naturally throw to the surface elements utterly opposed one to the other—the arriviste and the apostle; the man without conscience, who discredits in the eyes of the people whom he uses for his private ends those theories which he preaches, and the disinterested and impartial thinker who consecrates his life to the Ideal.
Peter Kropotkin is one of those who has commanded the admiration and esteem of his enemies themselves. The man, the revolutionist, and the scientist formed in him a complete unity, a living antithesis to those individuals with great intellect and feeble heart who might well take for their motto: Do as I say, not as I do. With him the same pure flame illumines the mind, warms the heart, and guides the conscience.
Born in the country which has remained the most absolutistic in Europe, Kropotkin became disgusted with all inequalities and barbarisms, and voluntarily renounced the very things for which other men strive with all their strength—wealth and the vain baubles of worldly position. But the mystic communism and Christian resignation of a Tolstoi did not appeal to him. Inspired by the influence of the Great Revolution, which scattered afar the germs of new ideas, and not by the old evangelists prattling of a puerile humanitarianism, Kropotkin became one of those who conspired against the odious regime of the Czar.
Scarcely had he escaped from Russian prisons before he was imprisoned anew. In France, whither he had come to continue the great social struggle which has for its battlefield the entire world—in the land of the Rights of Man new trials awaited him. The bourgeois republic, in reality the slightly veiled despotism of politicians and capitalists, apprehended him: Kropotkin was imprisoned at Clairvaux, and came forth with his great book, “The Words of a Rebel,” in which his whole soul palpitates.
Monarchical England proved more hospitable to him than republican France. Remote from the tumultuous continental groups, but in touch with the world-wide movement of ideas, Kropotkin in an uninterrupted succession of articles and of books, rounded out by his lectures, has crystalized the great human tendency toward Anarchy and affirmed the necessity for a new morality opposed to the pharasaical morality of bourgeois society. In “The Conquest of Bread,” followed by “Mutual Aid” and “The Great French Revolution,” he sets forth with luminous clarity the goal of the struggle: liberty and well-being for all; the ideal which, more or less imperfectly visioned, has been the aspiration of revolutionists of all ages.
One might well believe that his broad sympathies help to deceive him as to the innate force of the people by ascribing to them the energy and clearsightedness which he himself possesses, but the lines which he has written regarding the role of the revolutionary minorities demonstrate that his intellectual vision is not subservient to his humanitarian sensibilities. And the lecture, printed in pamphlet form, which he delivered on “The Place of Anarchy in Socialistic Evolution” testifies perhaps more forcefully than a large volume his wide knowledge of the laws governing social phenomena.
In our time, when the capitalist world is sinking into decadence and the proletarian is not yet entirely released from the swaddling clothes of ignorance and superstition; when parasitical renegades, ambitious and unscrupulous, seek under the cover of Anarchy to satisfy their bourgeois desires, it is encouraging to meet — and to salute — such a man as Kropotkin.
Charles Malato, “A Man,” Mother Earth 7, no. 10 (December, 1912): 322-324.