Pjotr Kropotkin and the Theory of Mutual Aid

Peter Kropotkin ca 1900 Image: Nadar

Peter Kropotkin ca 1900
Image: Nadar

On December 21, 1842 (or December 8, according to the Gregorian Calendar), Russian geographer, economist, activist, philologist, zoologist, evolutionary theorist, philosopher, writer and prominent anarchist Prince Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin was born. Besides being a political person, his main scientific contribution is the publication of his theory of mutual aid, voluntary reciprocal exchange of resources and services for mutual benefit as a counter model to the historic concept of an autonomous individual, the so-called Social Darwinism.

Kropotkin was born in Moscow into one of the highest levels of the Russian aristocracy. He enrolled in the Corps of Pages at St. Petersburg at the age of 14, and developed an interest in the condition of the peasantry early. He came under the influence of the new liberal-revolutionary literature and was promoted from the Corps of Pages to the army in 1862.

Starting from the 1870s, it is assumed that Kropotkin began reading the works of John Stuart Mill and Alexander Herzen and that his influences while reading and due the expedition in Siberia he attended led Kropotkin to declare himself an anarchist. Shortly after, he resigned the army and went to St. Petersburg where he began to study mathematics and became secretary to the geography section of the Russian Geographical Society and was able to explore glacial deposits of Finland and Sweden. In this period, Kropotkin also joined the revolutionary party. [1]

Kropotkin became active in the socialist group Circle of Tchaikovsky and was arrested and imprisoned for doing so. He managed to escape with the help of his friends and fled to England and from there to Switzerland where he began editing the the Jura Federation’s revolutionary newspaper Le Révolté. However, he was expelled after the death of Tsar Alexander II and kept traveling across Europe before being arrested and imprisoned in France. After years of exile, Kropotkin was able to return to Russia and was offered the ministry of education in the provisional government, which he refused due to his anarchist principles. Kropotkin died on February 8, 1921, and probably thousands of people marched in his funeral procession. [1,2]

During his life, Kropotkin wrote numerous works on critique of capitalism, on competition, and also on mutual aid. his famous work Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution was written by Kropotkin during his exile in England and first published in 1902 although individual chapters had been published a few years earlier in the British magazine Nineteenth Century. In it, he wrote about his experiences during his scientific expeditions in Siberia and is considered a response to social Darwinism and in particular to Thomas H. Huxley’s Nineteenth Century essay, “The Struggle for Existence”. Kropotkin examines the evidence of cooperation in non-human animals and draws the line to humans in different time periods up to the modern world. He comes to the conclusion, that cooperation and mutual aid are critical factors in the evolution of species and the chance to survive. [2]

At yovisto, you may be interested in a video on Anarchism by Noam Chomsky.

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