Dec. 21, 1842: Birth of an Anarchist, and Darwin’s Detractor
By Tony Long | 12.21.07 | 12:00 AM
1842: Peter Alekseevich Kropotkin, Russian geographer, biologist and anarchist revolutionary, is born.
Kropotkin was the son of Russian nobles but came of age during a period of intellectual upheaval in the country, which had a profound effect on his social and political development. The miserable state of the peasant class especially bothered him, and the failure of the czar to undertake meaningful reforms radicalized him.
At 15, Kropotkin entered the aristocratic Corps des Pages in St. Petersburg, which he disliked, and followed that with a stint in the czarist army, which he disliked even more. But in 1864 the army offered him a chance to join a geographical-survey expedition in Russian Manchuria, which he accepted. It launched Kropotkin’s scientific career, which, while distinguished, was overshadowed by his political activities.
His exploration of eastern Asia helped re-draw the maps for the region, and his study of glacial deposits in Finland and Sweden, done on behalf of the Russian Geographical Society, expanded the knowledge of the effects of the Ice Age in Europe and Asia.
All the while, Kropotkin was taking a very keen interest in the theories of Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin.
Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, published in 1902, is a repudiation of the theory of natural selection and competition. Arguing on factual biological and historical grounds, Kropotkin maintains that humans, being social animals, are more naturally inclined to cooperation than competition, and fare better in that environment.
Mutual Aid was also influenced by Kropotkin’s political philosophy, which had matured by the time he wrote the tract. By then, he had rejected the notions of authority and capitalism, and embraced anarchist communism, believing it to be closest to the spirit of human cooperation. (He later rejected the Bolsheviks on the grounds that Lenin applied authoritarian, rather than libertarian, methods to his revolution.)