Труды Международной научной конференции, посвященной 150-летию со дня рождения П.А. Кропоткина. М., 1995. Вып. 3: П.А. Кропоткин и революционное движение. С. 79–92.



May I begin by expressing my gratitude to the organizers of this conference. I hope this meeting will mark the beginning of a widespread revival of interest in Peter Alekseevich Kropotkin's inspiring ideas and his exemplary life of dedication to the philosophy and application of anarchism.

I began my research on Kropotkin as a graduate student over 25 years ago. It is worthwhile recalling the atmosphere at that time. My country was in the throes of a social crisis over problems of civil rights and opposition to the war in Vietnam. Kropotkin's essays were being rediscovered by a new generation of youth seeking to realize many of the ideals which animated the generation of the 1860s in Russia, when Peter and Alexander Kropotkin came of age. I visited Moscow and Leningrad for the first time during the 1965/6 academic year, as a student, when I did archival research on Peter Kropotkin's unpublished materials. At that time, the notion of an international conference in Moscow on Kropotkin was nearly unthinkable.

I would like to try to sketch a portrait of the underlying psychological motivation which drove Kropotkin in the direction of anarchism. Why, for instance, of the available political alternatives, did Kropotkin become so fascinated with anarchism? It is possible for us to understand the psychological roots behind his political commitment?

Methodologically, by focusing on what I call "he psychology of injustice", I am interested in the interconnection between objective conditions of injustice and subjective motives for rebelling against these conditions. A convenient place to begin would appear to be Kropotkin's frequently cited passages in his memoir where he declares his solidarity with anarchism. One is near the end of the chapter on Siberia when he says: "I lost in Siberia whatever faith in state discipline I had cherished before. I was prepared to become an anarchist" [1]. The other is in the middle of the chapter on his "First Journey to Western Europe", where, after observing the Swiss artisans in Neuchatel and Sonvilliers, and the Bakuninist activists in the Jura Federation, he wrote: "...when I came away from the mountains, after a week's stay with [them], my views of socialism were settled. I was an anarchist" [2].

I would like to suggest that a number of events in Kropotkin's life, which occurred years before his trips to Siberia and Western Europe, may have been important, determining factors in the formation of his opposition to the state and his eventual commitment to anarchist values. Anarchism, in other words, didn't happen to him; he sought it out after a prolonged period of searching, and it appealed to him for concrete reasons related to these early experiences.

Kropotkin himself helps us identify these influences. The first person we are introduced to Kropotkin's memoir is his mother, whom he describes with great tenderness and love. She was dying of consumption at the age of 35. Young Peter was only 3 and his brother Alexander (Sasha) not quite 5. His earliest memories are of his mother in bed, very ill, wanting to caress her sons and having to send them away as she started coughing and crying uncontrollably. This unsatisfied longing after maternal love was reinforced by the idealized expectations of family servants who asked Peter if he would grow up to be "as good as your mother was". His niania (nurse) Uliana referred to Peter and Alexander as "poor orphans" for whom their mother was "shedding tears as she looks upon you from the skies". Peter recalls feeling extreme loneliness at this time. To underscore his mother's importance, he writes: "our whole childhood is irradiated by her memory"; and, in another passage, he states that his mother's memory is "an immortality worth striving for". Later on, he discovered that his mother had copies of prohibited writings of Ryleev, Lamartine and Byron, and that in her diaries she had written of "her sorrows and her thirst for happiness", all of which would assume great significance for Peter as he gravitated toward rebellion [3].

Peter certainly was not an orphan in the physical sense. Many pages of his memoir are devoted to his father, who supervised his upbringing in the traditional, aristocratic values and institutions of Imperial Russia. What Uliana meant by her characterization was that he was an emotional orphan. This was made more emphatic two years after the death of his mother when Peter's father remarried. Peter writes of his stepmother's arrival and the changes she wrought in his life as though it were a new starriest regime, full of despotic authority. She fired the servants and tutors who had been loyally identified with Peter's mother, she sold their house, and the children were forbidden to have any contact with their mother's relatives. She represented, clearly, the earliest authority figure whom Peter bitterly resented. There were to be no feelings of love in this relationship. Indeed, Peter was left with conflicting maternal images from his childhood: one was of his mother, who represented love in the absence of authority, and the other was of his stepmother, who symbolized authority without love.

Peter's father appears as either being ambivalent, passive or absent during these family upheavals. To be sure, there were certainly rituals of paternal authority in which Peter was forced to participate. Both Peter and Alexander were compelled to greet their father each morning in French by his formal title ("Bonjour, Monsieur le Prince") as though they were reporting to a military drill commander. This act was performed in a mood of sadness and resigned humiliation, with Peter frequently "shedding tears". They were also beaten with birch rods by their tutor Poulain. However, this authority could be undermined, as Peter learned when his elder sister Helene admonished their father for allowing her brothers to be so severely punished; this apparently ended the practice of being beaten for disobedience [4].

Peter also describes in some detail the manner in which his father composed his instructions to the peasants on his countryside estates, always signing the documents in full format title, "Prince Alexei Petrovich Kropotkin, Colonel and Commander". These lists included not only what amounts of which provisions had to be transported from house to estate and back, but also the serious punishments the peasants faced for "drunkenness and insubordination", which included flogging.

Yet, this microscopic imitation of tsarist power was not consistently displayed. Peter recalls incidents in which his father was himself extremely anxious and insecure in the presence of higher (usually military) authority. On one occasion, when a group of military officers came to their house one evening, Peter's father was "trembling" in fear, expecting a court-martial for some imagined crime. It turned out that the tsar was merely requesting the names of the sons of ranking officers in order to place them in appropriate military schools. Even once the purpose of the visit was made clear, the elder Kropotkin responded by filling out the form "with a shaking hand" [5]. In another instance, Peter's father had to send his wife to plead for his father's honor before an military clerk who had once been a serf on the Kropotkin estate. (He feared losing a promotion because he had covered up a favor he had done for a fellow officer that fell outside the rules, and was discovered.) These scenes left a strong impression on young Peter, and played a role in his later critique of authority.

Another instance of this contradictory exercise of paternal authority concerned the role of the family's wealth. Peter's father threw lavish parties and balls at their house, in some years almost every night. There was a good deal of gambling at these parties at which his father "invariably lost". Yet despite this display of expendable wealth, the elder Kropotkin was miserly with his children. Peter recalls never having had toys of his own as a child, and later as a student, he was not given any pocket money. He felt particularly deprived because he could never afford to buy the books that he became interested in reading on his own. This of material deprivation amidst extraordinary wealth was another important conflict during Peter's years of upbringing that contributed to his later alienation from, and hostility to, state power.

From Peter's own perspective, the most important family relationship for him at this time was with his brother Alexander (Sasha). Acknowledging this relationship, Peter wrote that his brother's influence was enormous and "beneficial on [his] development". They experienced together many of the painful and confusing events which I have mentioned. Partly because of this, they were able to help each other through their early years. Yet, when Alexander was sent to the Moscow Corps of Cadets, their relationship was severely affected. Peter admitted that his father "had always been unkind and most unjust toward Alexander" [6]. The result was that, quite often, when Alexander began writing letters home to Peter, their father read them and acted like a government censor, watching out for forbidden and pernicious ideas from Alexander. Furthermore, their father restricted Alexander from coming home even though the school was only five miles from their house. The family had a dozen horses for personal transportation, but whenever Alexander wanted to come home to see Peter, there was no horse available for that purpose. Moreover, when Alexander failed his exams one year, the elder Kropotkin refused to let him see Peter at all [7]. Nevertheless, the memoir relates a daring secret visit by Alexander later one night to see Peter at home, under the protection and arrangement of the family servants.

Alexander was, as Peter wrote, intellectually "very much in advance of me" [8]. Peter benefitted a great deal from Alexander's inquiries into a rich variety of areas of knowledge (such as religion, poetry, and philosophy), as well as from his constant challenges to his younger brother to create "a set purpose in life". Alexander wrote that "without a clear goal, life is not life". The theme of a rational, purposeful, useful existence, which was to dominate Peter Kropotkin's life as an alternative to his father's perceived wasteful, parasitic and unsatisfied existence first emerged in his extraordinary correspondence with his brother [9]. No less important was the fact that it was Alexander's involvement in the 1861 student demonstrations in Moscow that first awakened Peter to the realities of opposition politics in an autocracy.

The other crucial factor in Peter's childhood was the role played by the family peasants on the Nikolskoe estate and the servants in their Moscow house. His earliest memories concern these servants, and particularly, the love they provided. He wrote that his very survival emotionally, following the tragedy of losing his mother at such young age, was due entirely to them. Also, the servants were the only relief from the terror of familial authoritarianism which confronted him every day. At any moment, for any act of disobedience, Peter could be punished by his father, his stepmother and his tutors. By contrast, among the servants, Peter recalled later, "no one scolded us". The peasants became his protector, and a source of emotional security. With them, he found he shared a bond of trust going back to the time of his mother's death. The servants saw Peter and Alexander as "her children, and that protected us" from the fearful forces of parental authority [10]. When Peter broke a costly lamp, a peasant (Tikhon) replaced it at great personal sacrifice to spare Peter from being blamed. And, the servants kept secret the forbidden meetings between Peter and Alexander.

The peasant's expectations of Peter were, as we have already noted, also important. In addition to having been so identified in a positive sense with the memory of his mother, he was also explicitly perceived by the servants as an alternative to the oppressive authority of his father. Thus, on the one hand he was asked "will you be as good as your mother was", while on the other, one of his most caring servants, Makar, pleaded with Peter never to act like his father [11].

All of these conflicting and powerful expectations occurred against a background of landlord brutality in the last years of legalized serfdom in Russia. Some of the most passionate passages in Kropotkin's autobiography fill those pages where he recalls scenes he witnessed of peasants being severely beaten for minor and absurd acts of disobedience. After Makar was beaten unconscious and bloody with 100 consecutive lashes of the birch rod, Peter writes that "terror and absolute muteness reigned in the house". He also describes the "marriages by command" in which landlords punished their serfs by ordering involuntary marriages, unhappy arrangements mired in a form of slavery that stood in direct contrast to the "fictitious marriages" then at work among young female nihilists seeking liberation from family tyrannies. In one of the most horrible examples of these "command marriages", one of the Kropotkin maids (Polia) was cruelly punished for having gotten pregnant by a neighboring serf whom she loved. For this indiscretion, she was forced to marry another serf, described as "a deformed brute", and was sent away to one of his father's other estates in Riazan district for the rest of her life [12]. There is little doubt of the fact that Peter's later politicized identification with the narod, however unconsciously it may have been motivated, emerged out of the emotional attachments formed in these experiences from his childhood. Indeed, it seems to me that his later descriptions of ordinary working people, which appear to be so idealized and romanticized, can only be properly understood as an uncompromising commitment on his part by seeing them in this historical and psychological context.

Once Peter left his father's house to live in St.Petersburg while attending the elite Corps of Pages, he began a new phase of life in which these conflicting themes were developed further. He found himself constantly on conflict with the authorities at the school, and on two occasions was detained in the school's prison - an experience he would later repeat and describe in his book "In Russian and French Prisons". He also tried to establish a small opposition newsletter which had a "constitutionalist orientation". Though it did not succeed, it was an important prelude to his later involvement in radical journalism as an anarchist. In addition, it was at this time that he read A. Herzen's "Polar Star" in his aunt's library, which awakened him to the opposition movement then gathering force.

There was another theme in this period that Kropotkin mentions which is of importance. This concerns the erratic rhythm in which he perceived the role of authority at the school. He both observed and experienced the extremes of life at the Corps of Pages, in which rigid authority alternated with unrestricted liberty. During most of the school year, the cadets were confined in disciplinary traditions. However, this was interrupted by periods of freedom, such as the weeks after exams and those prior to the start of school, when "we could do just as we liked" [13]. The cadets engaged in amusements, games, pranks, or, in Peter's case, extended and uninterrupted periods of reading, exploring and thinking. It was a confusing and somewhat unrealistic spectrum of detested excessive regimentation, mixed with cherished moments in which all structure and supervision seemed to vanish. Both were unrealistic because he could not live with one and could not really have the other. Anarchism would be a means of seeking to resolve this problem.

Peter admits to his admiration for Emperor Alexander II while at the Corps of Pages. The process of disillusionment in his heroic image of the tsar was instrumental in pushing Peter firmly into an anti-authoritarian path. During his last year at the Corps of Pages, Kropotkin was selected as the Emperor's page de chambre, a very privileged position which allowed him to observe Alexander II on a daily basis. Thus, the future anarchist began the year with a sense of great loyalty to the tsar-liberator. Peter confessed that had an attempt been made on the tsar 's life at the time, "I would have covered him with my body" [14]. However, by the end of the year, Peter's image of the tsar had become transformed into one dominated more by despotism than by reformism [15]. In June of 1862 during a review of the Corp's graduating class, Peter saw Alexander II critically "in a new light", reminding him of another sovereign he saw as a child threatening their serfs, as the tsar now threatened the Corps graduates should they be distorted by anger, full of that expression of blind rage which I saw in my childhood when my father screamed at the peasants and servants, "I'll skin you under the birch rods". Several similarities between my father and the tsar flashed through my mind. He violently spurred his horse and rode away from us" [16]. Here Peter makes an important connection between the ruler of the country, the rulers of the peasantry, and his own father, tsar and landlord over Peter's childhood domain.

It took another decade before Kropotkin's political orientation would become clear. After graduation, his dream was to enter the university. However, his father resolutely opposed this choice, and Peter was not yet ready "to break entirely with [his] father" [17]. He recognized that he was too insecure and not prepared to live a nihilist existence as did thousands of other students. So he chose to remain in military service as his father wished, but he selected the Amur Cossac regiment in a remote Siberian outpost. It was here, during a prolonged period (which the noted psychoanalyst Erik Erikson has called "a moratorium period") of self-imposed legal exile that Kropotkin prepared himself for the future. In Siberia, he learned "the absolute impossibility of doing anything really useful for the mass of the people by means of the administrative machinery" [18].

Kropotkin's father dominated his choices until the end. In 1867, he finally left military service to attend the university in St.Petersburg "to the great dissatisfaction of my father". He had hoped to continue his work as a geographer, but found that he was filled with guilt. "But what right had I to these highest joys when all around me was nothing but misery and struggle for a moldy bit of bread", he wrote. Most important, it was not until his father died in the spring of 1871, that Kropotkin at last felt ready to begin his journey into the world of revolutionary movements. It is true that for some years Peter had been conscious of the deterioration of his father's authority. In the spring of 1860, he had written to his brother an extraordinary analysis of his father's situation, speaking of him as an already dead man.

Do you know what killed father? That over which he labored - the ideal of his life. Service to him is everything; outside of military service he is not able to imagine himself as anything respectable, and now the consequence of his story, in which he is almost innocent, is that his 35 years of activity were wasted. He was retired as a colonel without a pension and without full honor [...] It turned out that his entire life was meaningless. The goal of his whole life - the rank of general - was not attained and he was retired without honor. This, brother, is a horrible situation [...] In general, his lot is to be pitied, but in many respects he is not guilty - the guilt lies in the upbringing [19]. Nevertheless, in spite of the objectivity in seeing his father as a tragic figure, Peter needed time to act on his own, to find new ideals and goals, to ensure that his life would not be wasted and meaningless.

With his father's death, Peter was freed from the last restraint on his liberty. He needed approval from above no longer. He began making plans to go abroad soon thereafter, and less than a year later, he travelled to Western Europe. There, he found himself attracted to the anti-authoritarian orientation of the Bakuninist Jura Federation in Switzerland, and declared himself an anarchist [20].


From a psychological perspective, anarchism is a denial of the necessity of maintaining power over people, and of aggression as a basic instinct of man and society. For Kropotkin, it involved a lifelong search to achieve a society without authority. His vision of the anarchist future, first conceptualized in his 1873 essay for the Chaikovtsy, "Must We Occupy Ourselves With an Examination of the Ideal of a Future [Social] Order" and elaborated on throughout his later writings, was rooted in an optimistic and rationalistic view of humanity and of social relations. He believed that man could live a productive and satisfied life only if institutions of authority generated by centralized state power were abolished. No form of authority could be benign; no form of government could be compatible with a truly free society.

This theory emerged, as I have tried to show, out of Kropotkin's painful childhood, filled with the display of inconsistent but despotic authority. The theory was in part a means of resolving these personal difficulties - the sense of emotional deprivation, the disappointment with figures of authority from father to tsar, and his fundamental loneliness. Kropotkin was the outsider, torn apart from his parents who ruled over him and the peasants, who served him and who expected so much from him. Anarchism for him was a political solution to the urgent contradictions and problems in his own life and in Russian society as a whole; it was also a "calling" to do more than ordinary men, to establish an identity and a role for himself with a social purpose, and to establish a society where the insulted and the injured could find their place, and live in conditions of liberty without authority.


1. Kropotkin P. Memoirs of a Revolutionist. New York: Doubleday, 1962. P.148.

2. Ibid. P. 188.

3. Ibid. P. 9.

4. Ibid. P. 12-13.

5. Ibid. P. 20.

6. Ibid. P. 76.

7. Ibid. P. 39, 77.

8. Ibid. P. 74.

9. П. и А. Кропоткины. Переписка. М.; Л.: Academia, 1932. Т.1-2.

10. Kropotkin P. Op. cit. P.15.

11. Ibid. P. 9, 40.

12. Ibid. P. 44.

13. Ibid. P. 93.

14. Ibid. P. 115.

15. Ibid. P. 131.

16. Miller M.A. Kropotkin. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976. P.51.

17. Kropotkin P. Op. cit. P. 122.

18. Ibid. P. 147. See: Erikson E. Young Man Luther. New York: Norton, 1958. P.99-104.

19. П. и А. Кропоткины. Переписка. Т.1. C. 138.

20. Kropotkin P. Op. cit. P. 188.


М.А.Миллер (США)
Психологические корни Кропоткинского анархизма

Психологически aнaрхизм — это отрицание необходимости в сохранении власти над людьми и агрессии как основного инстинкта человека и общества. Для Кропоткина он означал поиск безвластного общества, который продолжался всю его жизнь. Его видение анархического будущего, выразившееся еще в написанной им программе кружка чайковцев "Должны ли мы заняться рассмотрением идеала будущего строя" (1873 г.), и разработанное в его более поздних работах, было основано на оптимистическом и рациональном взгляде на человечество и социальные отношения. Он полагал, что человек может жить продуктивной и полноценной жизнью только в том случае, если институты власти, созданные централизованной государственной силою, будут уничтожены. Ни одна форма управления несовместима с подлинно свободным обществом.

По мнению автора, эта теория не могла бы возникнуть, если бы не впечатления тяжелого детства Кропоткина, наполненного проявлениями непоследовательной, но деспотичной власти. Теория отчасти явилась средством разрешения его собственных трудностей - чувства эмоционального разочарования в олицетворяющих власть личностях - начиная с отца и вплоть до царя. Кропоткин оказался чужд своей среде, он порвал с родителями, которые господствовали и над ним, и над крестьянами. Aнархизм для него стал разрешением острых противоречий в его собственной жизни и в жизни всего русского общества; он был также "вызовом", стремлением сделать больше, чем может сделать обычный человек, чтобы уствериться и установить себе общественную цель в жизни, основать общество, в котором униженный и оскорбленный мог найти свое место и жить в условиях свободы и безвластия.

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