Kropotkin, Petr

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Kropotkin, Petr Alekseevich


Born Nov. 27 (Dec. 9), 1842, in Moscow; died Feb. 8, 1921, in Dmitrov; buried in Moscow. Russian revolutionary; one of the theoreticians of anarchism; sociologist, geographer, and geologist. Son of a general who was a wealthy landowner from an old princely family.

Kropotkin was a chamber page to the tsar. After graduating from the Corps of Pages in 1862, he served in the Mounted Cossacks of the Amur and subsequently became commissioner for special affairs under the governor-general of Eastern Siberia. In 1864 he traveled in unexplored regions of northern Manchuria, and in 1865 he went along the northern slope of the Vostochnyi Saian. In 1866 he explored the Patom and Vitim plateaus (the Olekminsk-Vitim expedition of the Russian Geographical Society). At the end of the expedition Kropotkin retired from the civil service (1867) and studied in the physics and mathematics faculty at the University of St. Petersburg. He served on the Statistical Committee of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Influenced to a significant extent by Kolokol and Sovremennik,Kropotkin’s democratic views took shape while he was still in the Corps of Pages and developed further during his stay in Siberia, where he observed the life of the people and witnessed the Irkutsk court-martial of the participants in the Krugobaikal Uprising (1866). Later, the revolutionary movement in Western Europe (especially the Paris Commune of 1871), the work of the First International, and his reading of socialist literature imparted a revolutionary character to his views. In the beginning of 1872, after visiting Belgium and Switzerland, he aligned himself with the Bakuninist wing of the International. Returning to Russia in May, he joined the Chaikovskii circle.

Kropotkin did propaganda work among the St. Petersburg workers and drew up the memorandum “Ought We to Occupy Ourselves With a Consideration of the Ideal of the Future System?” (1873), which reflected the anarchistic direction of his views. Arrested and imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress in 1874, he escaped from a prison hospital in 1876 and emi-grated. He spent more than 40 years in exile.

In 1879, Kropotkin began publishing the newspaper Le Révolté in Geneva. He was expelled from Switzerland in 1881. At the Lyon trial of anarchists two years later, he was sentenced to five years in prison. Public protests induced the French government to free him from prison in 1886. Having settled in Great Britain, he occupied himself with the theoretical elaboration of the problems of anarchism and with scholarly work in sociology, biology, and geography. He contributed to the Parisian journals La Révolte and Les Temps nouveaux, founded in London the newspaper Freedom, and was one of the trustees of a foundation that assisted Russian émigrés.

To establish his doctrine, which he called anarchistic communism, Kropotkin wrote several works in French and English, including Words of a Rebel (1885; Russian translation, 1906), Bread and Freedom (1892; Russian translation, 1902), Anarchism: Its Philosophy, Its Ideal (1896; Russian translation, 1900), and Modern Science and Anarchism (1913; Russian translation, 1918).

Although he shared the basic principles of the fathers of anarchism, Kropotkin, unlike P. J. Proudhon, was an advocate of social revolution. He viewed it not as a spontaneous rebellion (M. A. Bakunin’s view) but as a conscious action of the people after they had been impregnated with the revolutionary idea. Kropotkin distinguished between two mutually antagonistic principles in society: the “people” and “authority.” The historical process consists of the struggle between the two. In his opinion, society moves forward by means of revolutionary leaps alternating with evolutionary processes. He considered the revolutionary creativity of the masses the chief content of the future social revolution, and he envisaged the future society as a union of free communities united by a free agreement.

According to Kropotkin, the immediate tasks of the social revolution are the expropriation of everything that does or can serve exploitation (including objects of consumption), the establishment of the barter of urban goods for agricultural products, and the integration of labor (that is, the land would be worked by townsmen as well as by rural people, and mental and physical work would be combined). In addition, education of the mind would be combined with physical labor. Kropotkin’s anarchocommunist utopia expressed the interests of the small producer.

Kropotkin’s doctrine of anarchism is directly linked with his ideas in the natural sciences. In biology his ideas on mutual aid as a factor in evolution and on the absence of an intraspecific struggle in nature represented the development of one of the most important trends in Darwinism. Having established that all forms of life depend on mutual aid and support, Kropotkin proceeded to apply this thesis to social life. At the same time, he recognized that both biological and social life are permeated with the principle of struggle. The social struggle is fruitful and progressive when, by destroying old forms, it promotes the emergence of new ones founded on the principles of freedom, justice, and solidarity. In Kropotkin’s opinion, the progressive struggle of the working people against the exploiters should not be transformed into a struggle for power, which, supposedly, inevitably degenerates into arbitrariness and despotism. His law of mutual aid and solidarity was the foundation for his ethical teachings. He saw the bases of human morality in solidarity, justice, and self-sacrifice, which sprang from the instinct of mutual aid, which man had acquired from the animal world. To counterbalance anarchic individualism, Kropotkin tried to construct a realistic ethics (a “physics of morals”).

Between 1900 and 1909, Kropotkin joined organizations of Russian anarchists abroad, participated in the publication of propagandistic pamphlets for Russia, and contributed to the anarchistic publications Bread and Freedom (1903–06, 1909) and The Newspaper “Bread and Freedom” (1906–07). He supported the Revolution of 1905–07 and spoke out against the punitive policy of the tsarist regime. As one of a small number of Russian émigrés, he was a guest at the Fifth (London) Congress of the RSDLP in 1907. The historical study The Great French Revolution (1909; Russian translation, 1914), which was the fruit of 25 years of work, eventually won high praise from V. I. Lenin. In it Kropotkin was the first to show the role of the Parisian sections and the peasant movement in the revolution.

During World War I he adopted the defensist position, which Lenin strongly condemned. In June 1917 he returned to Russia, appearing in August at the State Conference in Moscow with an appeal for “social peace.”

Although he remained an opponent of the authority of the state, Kropotkin acknowledged the international significance of the October Revolution and placed great value on the role of the soviets. From 1918 he lived in Dmitrov. Between 1919 and 1920 he met several times with Lenin. In the summer of 1920 he appealed to the international proletariat to “force their governments to renounce the idea of armed intervention in the affairs of Russia.”

Kropotkin’s anarchist ideas did not play an important role in the Russian revolutionary movement. However, they won some following in the Western European countries (Spain and Italy and, to a certain extent, Switzerland and France), as well as in Latin America and India.

As a scholar and a natural scientist Kropotkin is known for his works on geography and geology. During his years of service in Siberia he began to work out an orographic schema of the area (”Obshchii ocherk orografii Vost. Sibiri,” Zapiski RGO po obshchei geografii, vol. 5, 1875). He was the first to discover traces of ancient ice formations and volcanism in the Vostochnyi Saian. Having become secretary of the department of physical geography of the Russian Geographical Society, he began in 1868 to work on the problem of opening up the northern seas. He provided theoretical substantiation for the existence of land in the Arctic Ocean (Doklad komissiipo snariazheniiu v severnye moria, 1871). Land was discovered there two years later and named Franz Josef Land. In 1871 he explored glacial sediments in Finland and Sweden. In the work Issledovaniia o lednikovom periode (vol. 1, 1876; vol. 2 not published) he offered proof of the extensive spread during the Anthropogenic period of continental ice formations on the territory of Europe, Asia, and North America. He showed that many friable deposits (boulders and sands, for example) and a number of forms of glacial relief (for instance, moraines and eskers) originated as a result of the existence and activity of a mighty ice cover and the motion of waters from melted snow. These opinions were completely substantiated by later research.

Abroad Kropotkin collaborated with Elisée Reclus in preparing the publication Land and People: A Universal Geography. He participated in the work of the London Geographical Society, wrote articles on the geography of Russia for the Encyclopaedia Britannica (9th-l 1th eds., 1875–1911), and collaborated (1883–1917) on the journal The Nineteenth Century and After. Taking T. Huxley’s place on the latter publication, he directed its scholarly survey (1892–1901). In 1893 he was elected a member of the British Scientific Association. After spending some time in Canada, he posited the idea of the geological kinship of Canada and Siberia (1897). In 1903–04 he advanced the hypothesis of the “desiccation of the European-Asian continent” in postglacial times, which he subdivided into the “lake period” and the “period of desiccation” (”The Desiccation of Eur.-Asia,” GeographicalJournal, 1904, vol. 23, no. 6). However, this hypothesis was criticized by a number of scientists (L. S. Berg, for example).

Among the geographic features named after Kropotkin are a mountain range in the Patom plateau, a mountain range and volcano in the Vostochnyi Saian, and a mountain in Olekma Stanovik. A town in Krasnodar Krai and an urban-type settlement in Irkutsk Oblast have also been named after him.


Sobr. soch., vols. 1, 4, 5, 7. St. Petersburg, 1906-07.
Sobr. soch., vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1918–19.
Dnevnik. Moscow-Petrograd, 1923.
Perepiska Petra i Aleksandra Kropotkinykh, vols. 1–2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1932–33.
Zapiski revoliutsionera. Moscow, 1966.


Lenin, V. I. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed. (See Index volume, part 2.)
Bonch-Bruevich, V. D. “Pamiati Kropotkina: Vstrecha V. I. Lenina s P. A. Kropotkinym.” Izbr. soch., vol. 3. Moscow, 1963.
Blium, R. N. “Vzgliady P. A. Kropotkina na revoliutsiiu.” Uch. zapiski Tartuskogo un-ta, 1969, issue 241.
Starostin, E. V. “O vstrechakh V. I. Lenina i P. A. Kropotkina.” Arkheograficheskii ezhegodnik za 1968 g. Moscow, 1970.
Anisimov, S. S. Puteshestviia P. A. Kropotkina. Moscow-Leningrad, 1943.
Sokolov, N. N. “P. A. Kropotkin kak geograf.” Trudy in-ta istorii estestvoznaniia AN SSSR, vol. 4. Moscow, 1952.
Pirumova, N. M. P. A. Kropotkin. Moscow, 1972. (Bibliography.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.