This year (2017) marks the 170th anniversary of the publication of Karl Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy, written in “reply” to Pierre-Joseph Proudhon’s System of Economic Contradictions published the year before. The book’s title is a play on the subtitle of Proudhon’s two volumes (“or, the Philosophy of Poverty”) and for Trotskyist Ernest Mandel “the prototype of that sort of implacable polemical writing which has often inspired the pens of Marx’s followers”.
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.
“Either competition, – that is, monopoly and what follows; or exploitation by the State, – that is, dearness of labour and continuous impoverishment; or else, in short, a solution based upon equality, – in other words, the organisation of labour, which involves the negation of political economy and the end of property.”
– Proudhon, System of Economic Contradictions
This article appeared in Anarchist Studies (volume 22, number 1) in the spring of 2014
The links between the two schools of revolutionary socialism – Marxism and class struggle anarchism – have produced much debate, some more helpful than others. Into the helpful pile comes Libertarian Socialism: Politics in Black and Red (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) edited by Alex Prichard, Ruth Kinna, Saku Pinta and Dave Berry. Twelve excellent chapters and a terrible one are sandwiched between a useful introduction and conclusion. Overall, it is essential reading for all those seeking to enrich libertarian socialism in the 21st century.
Victor Serge (1890-1947) is experiencing something of a revival. This is understandable, given the power of Serge’s prose and the events and people he wrote about.
Peter Alexeivich Kropotkin was born in Moscow on December the 9th in1842 within a royal family that could trace its origins to the founders of the Tsarist regime. As a member of the Russian ruling class, he received the best education his father’s exploitation of his serfs could provide. At the age of fifteen, he entered the Corps of Pages in St. Petersburg, an elite Court institution attached to the imperial household.