My “Sages and Movements” attempted to fill a gap in our understanding of the contribution of Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) to the anarchist press. As well as discussing the importance of situating important thinkers (“sages”) within their wider movement, the article also included a bibliography of Kropotkin’s works. While incomplete, this bibliography showed that Kropotkin wrote far more than is usually assumed based on his works that are readily available in English.
The editor of Workers Unite! should be congratulated on his aim, namely to make the debates within the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA) accessible for radicals active 150 years after it was founded in 1864. Yet while the book’s subtitle states “150 years later” the introduction is written as if those 150 years do not exist. This is explained by the editor being a Marxist and so unwilling to admit that Marx helped push the workers’ movement into a dead end.
This is a write-up of the notes of a talk made at the 2014 London Anarchist bookfair. I have made a few slight changes/additions. On the day I skipped the section of “small-scale” production (“Kropotkin the Medievalist?) and covered the differences between communist-anarchism and syndicalism in the discussion period. It is based, of course, on the work I did for Direct Struggle Against Capital: A Peter Kropotkin Anthology. A newly translated article by Kropotkin from May 1890 (“The action of the masses and the individual”) is appended.
Anyone researching or studying a subject will quickly conclude that some authors are more reliable than others. However, even the best author makes mistakes and if these chime with the conventional wisdom on a subject then their groundbreaking work in one area can be used to justify repeating their mistakes in others.
This article appeared in Anarchist Studies (volume 22, number 1) in the spring of 2014
1. The Makhnovists are peasants and workers who rose as early as 1918 against the tyranny of the German-Magyar, Austrian and Hetmanite bourgeois power in the Ukraine. The Makhnovists are those toilers who raised the banner of combat against the rule of Denikin and all other forms of oppression, violence and lies, whatever their origin. The Makhnovists are those very toilers by whose labour the bourgeoisie in general, and now the Soviet bourgeoisie in particular, grew wealthy, fat and powerful.
I am an anarchist and a revolutionary myself, and I took part in the activities of the revolutionary peoples of the Ukraine. I often made tactical errors on this difficult path, as I was often weak and unable to make judgements. But because I correctly understood the goal towards which I and my brothers were working and I was able to observe the effect of living anarchism during the struggle for freedom and independence. I remain convinced on the grounds of my practical fighting experience that anarchism is as revolutionary, as diverse, and as sublime in every facet as is human life itself.
Victory or death. This is what confronts the peasants of the Ukraine at the present moment in history. But we shall not all perish. There are too many of us. We are humanity. So we must win – win not so that we may follow the example of past years and hand over our fate to some new master, but to take it in our own hands and conduct our lives according to our own will and our own conception of truth.
This poem was written by a 23 year old Nestor Makhno was under arrest for the second time for "illegal subversive association". Originally from a poor peasant family as an iron founary worker he had joined the anarchist organization in Huliaipole. The state falled to convict him in 1907 but in 1910 he was sentenced to death, this was communted to life in prison and he was released after the February revolution of 1917.
Brother toilers! The Revolutionary, Insurgent Army of the Ukraine (Makhnovists) was called into being as a protest against the oppression of workers and peasants by the bourgeois-landlord authorities on one side and the Bolshevik-Communist dictatorship on the other. Setting itself the goal to fight for the complete liberation of the toilers of the Ukraine from the yoke of this or that power and to create a true soviet socialist order, the Insurgent Army of Makhnovists has fought persistently on several fronts to achieve these objectives and at the present time to finish the struggle against Denikin's army, liberating district after district from every coercive power and every coercive organisation.
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