Nineteenth Century Philosophy
What was Peter Kropokin’s view of Darwinism in society?
Kropotkin decided he was an anarchist after moving interactions with Bakunin’s followers among the watchmakers of Jura. (The watchmakers were conscientious craftsmen who were not part of the wider industrial revolution, and their cooperation in a close-knit community inspired Kropotkin.) When he returned to Russia, he joined the underground, and in 1874 was imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress. He escaped to Europe, where he founded the journal Le Révolté in 1879 and participated in the London International Anarchist Congress in 1881. In Lyons, France, in 1882, he was sentenced to five years imprisonment for being a member of the International Working-men’s Association, but public outcry led to an early release. After that, he went to England and remained there, returning to Russia after the Russian Revolution of 1917.
When Kropotkin lived in England, he worked mainly as a scholar. Leading scientific journals and publishers printed his work. His most important publications were Memoirs of a Revolutionist (1899), Mutual Aid: A Factor in Evolution (1902), and Modern Science and Anarchism (1912). His last work, Ethics, was published in 1924 after he died in Russia. Kropotkin’s final years were disappointing to him because the aftermath of the Russian Revolution defied his anarchist ideals. He denounced the Bolshevik reign of terror after the October Revolution.
Kropotkin did not think that competition was a good survival strategy, whether in the animal or human worlds. In his Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902) he wrote the following:
In the animal world we have seen that the vast majority of species live in societies, and that they find in association the best arms for the struggle for life: understood, of course, in its wide Darwinian sense—not as a struggle for the sheer means of existence, but as a struggle against all natural conditions unfavourable to the species. The animal species, in which individual struggle has been reduced to its narrowest limits, and the practice of mutual aid has attained the greatest development, are invariably the most numerous, the most prosperous, and the most open to further progress. The mutual protection which is obtained in this case, the possibility of attaining old age and of accumulating experience, the higher intellectual development, and the further growth of sociable habits, secure the maintenance of the species, its extension, and its further progressive evolution. The unsociable species, on the contrary, are doomed to decay.
However, Kropotkin did hold that revolution is part of human evolution and that anarchism was a return to a condition that had been distorted by modern repressive institutions. Because human beings are naturally social, government is unnecessary.