Kropotkin as Philosopher and Writer
KROPOTKIN AS PHILOSOPHER AND WRITER
WHAT is especially characteristic of the works of Peter Kropotkin, what appeals to us most is his high idealism, his wide outlook over the whole field of sociologic thought, an outlook that constantly opens up to us new vistas of man's possibilities. His work, "Conquest of Bread," is a revolutionary idyl, a beautiful Kulturbild, that sketches in broad outline future society as it may be formed, after the storm period of the Social Revolution, by the spontaneous efforts of the working masses.
Indeed, we do not blind ourselves to the difficulties of the great struggle, nor that these, in their practical realization, may even prove greater than indicated by the author. But what appeals to us most forcibly is the grand conception of the problems to be solved and the wealth of new ideas suggested by the author along various lines of thought. The manner in which Kropotkin presents in this book, as well as in all of his scientific works, the broad lines followed by the progress of human civilization, carries us along with almost irresistible force and inspires us to greater effort and struggle, without our closer examining whether the milestones, marked out by the author, are to be reached so soon—indeed, whether they may ever be reached at all.
In this regard the philosophic and scientific works of Kropotkin exert upon the revolutionary reader an effect similar to the preachments and revelations of the gospel upon the early Christian societies.
On the other hand, Kropotkin's ideas concerning the cooperation of industry and agriculture, of the combination of intellectual work with manual labor, of mutual aid in the animal and human world, have exerted an influence that is reaching far beyond the revolutionary labor movement.
The same broad conception that characterizes the scientific labors of Kropotkin permeates also his autobiography. Generally speaking, autobiographies are thankless tasks, because personal life stories are of but little value as reliable historic sources. Most autobiographies are nothing more than advertisements of the author, who usually incorporates in his book letters and documents favorable to himself, while suppressing everything that might have an opposite effect.
How different in this regard is the autobiography of Peter Kropotkin! How little space he devotes to speaking of himself and how thoroughly he deals with the conditions and environment of his time, how objective his descriptions of the persons he came in contact with.
Perhaps the readers of his "Memoirs" could have formed their estimate of Kropotkin if he had limited himself only to facts and data. But how we should have missed his objective characterization of persons, environment, and events! The very brevity with which Kropotkin speaks of himself, the warmth and deep understanding with which he treats everything outside his personal "I," are the features which in his "Memoirs" produce the same charm upon his readers as the most beautiful passages of his scientific works.
The theoretical exposition of his views on economic and social questions and his personal reminiscenses complement each other in the happiest manner.
Paris. Christian Cornelissen.