Pyotr Kropotkin

Image: Carrie Johnson


Aspects of the social thought of the Russian revolutionary: synchrony from below, ecology, internationalism and combative unionism

“Expect nothing from humanity if you yourself paralyze your power of action” (Piotr Kropotkin).

It was a freezing cold dawn on February 8, 1921, when one of the most influential anarchists and socialists of all time passed away. His funeral in Soviet Russia was massive, more than 100 people paraded in an 8 km procession through the city of Moscow to the cemetery at Novodevichy Cemetery. Hundreds of flags from political organizations, scientific groups, unions and student organizations were flying, not just anarchists. The Soviet Central Committee, repressing libertarians during this period, would not be able to stop honoring a militant, theorist and person so well liked by workers and other oppressed people in that country and in the world. Not only did they authorize the organization of this great event, but they also released some political detainees to participate in it (MORRIS, 2007).

All over the world, workers' movements of different stripes, including China, Italy, Spain, Argentina, the United States and many others, paid tribute, or even acts and strikes, in the face of the death of Russian anarchist Pyotr Kropotkin. Many revolutionaries, even later communists, such as Astrojildo Pereira, for example, said that among their initiating works in the socialist field were “A Conquista do Pão” (1892). More than that, his works like this and “Mutualism: a factor of evolution” (1902), his writings in the periodical La Revolté, as well as his letters to unions, revolutionary groups and various associations, circulated in major events such as the Mexican Revolution , being propagated by the brothers Ricardo and Enrique Flores Mágon, and the Russian Revolution itself, by Volín, and other socialists (HIRSH; VAN DER WALT, 2010). The influence of the Russian revolutionary goes beyond the first decades of the twentieth century, and was resumed by the social ecology ideas of Murray Bookchin in the 1960s, and cited by Abdullah Öcalan, influencing the Kurdish Revolution (2013).

Nevertheless, the persecution against libertarian socialist ideas and practices, both from liberal, fascist governments and even from “real socialisms”, purposely caused the ideas and influences of Kropotkin and other revolutionaries to be erased, made invisible or misinterpreted, even slandered. Projects that accompany a resumption of socialist readings and libertarian and anarchist studies beyond those propagandized by the nation-states are being reconstructed more strongly in the last two decades, much influenced by the decadence of the statist left in several countries, as well as from the influence of the anti-globalization struggles and the spread of mobile networks, translation and dissemination over the internet.

On the centenary of his death, this year, several researchers, educational groups, political organizations and others, tried to highlight some of his works, thoughts and practices, such as the Piotr Kropotkin International Colloquium, organized by the Geography Department of the University of São Paulo , in July. In addition, we had unpublished textbooks in Portuguese from the Terra Livre Library and by the Intermezzo publishing house, such as the work “Socialismo” and excerpts from its debates by the Institute of Anarchist Theory and History, among others.

Following this path, in this brief text we will show, from some current debates on the left, how some paths that Piotr Kropotkin pointed out, can still be great tools for struggle and reflection. Much of what is being resumed and debated can find, as did the workers and oppressed of the last century, a source of reflections, debates and paths.

Socialism in sync and ecology

In recent decades, the strength of indigenous peoples, indigenous peoples and peasants against neoliberalism, as in Latin America, forced the left even more to focus, in its programs, theories and in its own praxis, on the issue of land, ecology and a synchronic, decolonial socialism that removes its Eurocentric premises. The Peruvian José Carlos Mariátegui is a thinker remembered in the Marxist tradition for raising several of these questions, written between 1923 and 1930 and published only after 1950 (TRIBLE, 2020).

Even so, Piotr Kropotkin, who influenced, for example, Peruvian anarcho-syndicalism and the Mexican Revolution, two phenomena that highlighted the indigenous and land question, as well as a socialism adapted to the question of original peoples, raised many interesting questions on the subject, at the end of the 2010th century (HIRSH; VAN DER WALT, XNUMX).

Em A Conquest of Pão (1892), contrary to most European socialist pamphlets that privileged the factory worker and a conquest of political power in the European mold, Kropotkin laid the foundations for the right “to well-being for all”, including an expropriation against capitalism and the landlordism that contemplated “cities, houses, fields, workshops, communication routes” returning “to the community everything that serves to obtain well-being (KROPOTKIN, 2011, p.27)”. His theory, anchored as a geographer, not only observing the industrial world, but, for example, Siberia, where he found the life of peasants and hunters, witnessing direct forms of cooperation and more egalitarian societies, made him expand a proposal that encompassed the oppressed from different economic, political and social systems.

In this sense, looking at European history, he argued in 1890 that “the last 50 years provided living proof of the impotence of representative government” which only served as a way of subjugating social and economic freedom, and centralizing political power in just one place. wealthy classes. On the contrary, “a free society, reentering the possession of the common heritage, and free federation (KROPOTKIN, 2011, p.24)” was the project posed by the theorist and activist Russo. It was not a case of simply going back to the Middle Ages, as socialists and republican statesmen accused against anarchists and libertarian socialists, but of finding a mold that, seeing the failure of the State, served and serves historically and that can, without oppression, link, models political and economic around the world. The commune form was thus a synchronic political and economic model that linked the Americas, East and West.

This leads us to think about the emergence of environmental and ecological issues, which since 1960 have caused heated debates in various groups and trends on the global left, both concerned with the extractivism of capital, generating serious and irreversible risks for the planet, or even socialist models that ignored such issues, causing environmental damage or reproducing this form of extraction (LOWY, 2014). Piotr Kropotkin's socialism, before that, hinted at the need to pay attention to the rhythm of the earth and nature, sustainable models of production and the need for industrial decentralization. In this sense, he believed that it was not necessary to retreat from technology, but to use it to reduce working hours. With the form of consumption and social organization only meeting needs, the combination of agriculture and factories could be totally viable in a sustainable way since “communism, that is, a synthetic vision of consumption, production and exchange, […] it thus becomes the logical consequence of that understanding of things” (KROPOTKIN, 2011, p.124). For him, “a commune that practices small-scale processes on a large scale will have all possible products” (KROPOTKIN, 2011, p.124). This reminds us of movements of contemporary small farmers, who, based on polyculture and productive variety, create a more sustainable form of production in relation to monoculture and land ownership.

In addition, Kropotkin's biological and scientific vision in “Mutual Aid” that “the conception of a superior solidarity that encompasses the species as a whole” (KROPOTKIN, 2009, p.29) opposing Darwin, where competition had greater predominance, it seems that it had effects on the levels of class organization, on the reading of various social movements, mutual aid societies, cooperatives and unions that, in addition to the struggle against the dominant class, needed strategies and concepts that would help them to construction of collective projects to combat poverty and high prices among the oppressed and workers themselves. It is no exaggeration to say that such a view was more synchronic with indigenous cosmovisions and original American thought of integration and contact with the cycles of nature, which led, among other reasons, to its dissemination and reproduction, at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, in libertarian periodicals in Mexico, Cuba, Bolivia, Peru and other regions where the proletariat of indigenous origin was in the majority.

Kropotkin himself said that “all movements had this character of universality and variety, it is necessary to recognize variety: it is life itself. (KROPOTKIN, 2021, p.21).”


  We agree here with the South African researcher Lucien Van der Walt when he argues that “the crisis of the great “progressive” traditions of the end of the 2017th century – classical Marxism, social democracy and anti-imperialist nationalism – in the face of the global economic crisis, the globalization of capital, popular unrest, and a changing geopolitical order, is fundamentally a crisis of projects built around an enabling state” (WALT, 1, p.2-2013). In fact, the socialist traditions, mainly hegemonic after the second half of the XNUMXth century, certainly increased their symbiosis with the nation-state project and gradually diluted their internationalism or practical transnationalism (LINDEN, XNUMX)

Pyotr Kropotkin, although taking a position in favor of the alliances in the period of the First World War, which seemed strange to the global anarchist movement (anti-militarist and anti-War), was, paradoxically, sometimes, inspiration for this libertarian internationalism, in that period and after (SANTOS, 2015). His vision did not come from an abstract internationalism or an appeal to necessity, but primarily from the realization that the dispute of the “bourgeois State” for social democracy or for its seizure would become “a reaction against other peoples without a State”. In this sense too, “not to mention the future, the revolution, each benefit obtained by the State, through legislation, brings with it an additional submission of the worker to the State” (KROPOTKIN, 2021, p.87). To prove this, he argued with Bernstein, a social democrat who came to defend forms of colonialism, but mainly by showing how the statist positions and the dispute for political power went against the original project of the First Workers' International, where the economic struggle and the dilution of national interests were in line with labor categories and international demands, creating “a direct struggle between wage earners and capitalists” (KROPOTKIN, 2021, p.127).

For the Russian militant and theorist, internationalism, through the trade union strategy, was both the struggle that crossed borders created to favor the bourgeoisie, but also the form of future organization. That is why he said that “the objective of the International was revolution”, not the “political revolution […] but the social revolution, which would allow the workers of the cities and the peasants to take possession of everything necessary for production, and proceed with the organization of communism.” (KROPOTKIN, 2021, p.126).

Another observation of his was that the communal model itself, and in this the experience of the Paris Commune had shown, was the best model for internationalism. Firstly, it should be “organized not from above, by any power […] but by free agreements, worked out by the producers and consumers themselves, in their free communes and their federations of production.” This model would be “the shattering of the centralized State”, that is, “a starting point of a republic different from the republican” (KROPOTKIN, 2021, p.167) where the dilution of centralization would be sought, seeking equality and freedom through decentralization . The common form, still decentralist as the revolutionary unions and their categories and internationalist entities, would have the same mold and praxis, to fight together against the centralized States, which would be used by the bourgeoisie to repress such projects.

Combative Unionism

In countries that had their labor rights forged by the culture of revolutionary syndicalism, such as Brazil, we see that their linkage to the National State (corporatism), or even their use by social democracy, have not been able to stop the projects of precariousness of labor relations advancing in this century.

Piotr Kropotkin, as well as other comrades who militated in the revolutionary unions of the last century, had a different vision of these organizations of struggle. First, in their view, this method of economic struggle, built from the bottom up, from the regional, from the labor category, to the national and international, could not be mixed with the attempt to seize political power, as it would wither away, since that this conquest “was to organize the proletariat, to lead the bourgeoisie to share power with some workers' representatives” while “the working masses renounced from now on to attack the bourgeoisie” (KROPOTKIN, 2021, p.150).

Not only uncoupled from the State, but against it, this strategy was “the use of direct action by Labor against Capital” creating the “necessity that the workers themselves develop the forms of economic organization with which capitalist exploitation is eliminated” ( KROPOTKIN, 2020), that is, the means equal to the ends one wants to obtain.

Through partial strikes, general strikes, boycotts and others, in addition to mutual support in the unions, training workers for the Revolution (revolutionary gymnastics), recognizing that such partial victories were the work of their organizations and their active participation, and not of the State, he will place his strength and hopes in this project, and no longer in the improvement (and strengthening) of the bourgeois State itself. For Kropotkin, “no political freedom as long as the economic liberation of the exploited does not go hand in hand with political liberation (KROPOTKIN, 2021, p.153).”

“No free society until the individual is free”

Neoliberalism and neofascism bet in their discourses on the defense of freedom, opposing dictatorships and the presence of the State, in this somewhat oppressive set of ideas. With that, they play socialism – which at this moment of neoliberal attack defends the minimum rights of the welfare state – as enemies of freedom. This is a great strategy since there is no social being that does not seek to be free in some way.

We need to argue, as socialists, that we are also extremely pro-freedom. But this freedom is not false like this speech, it comes along with equality – it is everyone's freedom together. And that's a valuable lesson that libertarians (true libertarians, libertarian socialists) like Peter Kropotkin, believed in and fought for. Historian Rudolf Rocker was right when he said that “Kropotkin's socialism is a kind of synthesis in which the yearning for personal freedom and social equality come together” (KROPOTKIN, 2021, p.16)

In these times where the “freedom” that the powerful preach has become synonymous with working on apps more than 12 hours a day to survive, we will find valuable lessons in Peter Kropotkin, not only 100 years after his death, but as long as any domination lasts.

*Kauan Willian is a doctoral candidate in Social History at USP.


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