Memoirs of a Revolutionist

By Peter Kropotkin (1899)

Entry 308


From: holdoffhunger [id: 1]


Untitled Anarchism Memoirs of a Revolutionist

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(1842 - 1921)

Russian Father of Anarcho-Communism

: As anarchism's most important philosophers he was in great demand as a writer and contributed to the journals edited by Benjamin Tucker (Liberty), Albert Parsons (Alarm) and Johann Most (Freiheit). Tucker praised Kropotkin's publication as "the most scholarly anarchist journal in existence." (From: Spartacus Educational Bio.)
• "...outside of anarchism there is no such thing as revolution." (From: "Revolutionary Government," by Peter Kropotkin, 18....)
• "...let us remember that if exasperation often drives men to revolt, it is always hope, the hope of victory, which makes revolutions." (From: "The Spirit of Revolution," by Peter Kropotkin, fi....)
• "...all that is necessary for production-- the land, the mines, the highways, machinery, food, shelter, education, knowledge--all have been seized by the few in the course of that long story of robbery, enforced migration and wars, of ignorance and oppression..." (From: "The Conquest of Bread," by Peter Kropotkin, 1906.)


68 Chapters | 162,546 Words | 935,191 Characters

Note This book would not probably have been written for some time to come, but for the kind invitation and the most friendly encouragement of the editor and the publishers of "The Atlantic Monthly" to write it for serial publication in their magazine. I feel it a most pleasant duty to express here my very best thanks for the hospitality that was offered to me, and for the friendly pressure that was exercised to induce me to undertake this work. It was published in "The Atlantic Monthly" (September, 1898, to September, 1899), under the title, "The Autobiography of a Revolutionist." Preparing it now for publication in book form, I have added considerably to the original text in the parts dealing with my youth and my stay in Siberia, ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The autobiographies which we owe to great minds have in former times generally been of one of three types: 'So far I went astray, thus I found the true Path' (St Augustine); or, 'So bad was I, but who dares to consider himself better!" (Rousseau); or, 'This is the way a genius has slowly been evolved from within and by favorable surroundings'(Goethe). In these forms of self-representation the author is thus mainly pre-occupied with himself. In the nineteenth century the a autobiographies of men of mark are more often shaped on lines such as these: 'So full of talent and attractive was I; such appreciation and admiration I won!' (Johanne Louise Heiberg, 'A Life lived once more in Reminiscence'); or, 'I was full of talent and worthy of being... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Moscow is a city of slow historical growth, and down to the present time its different parts have wonderfully well retained the features which have been stamped upon them in the slow course of history. The Trans-Moskva River district, with its broad, sleepy streets and its monotonous gray-painted, low-roofed houses, of which the entrance-gates remain securely bolted day and night, has always been the secluded abode of the merchant class, and the stronghold of the outwardly austere, formalistic, and despotic Nonconformists of the "Old Faith." The citadel, or Kreml, is still the stronghold of church and state; and the immense space in front of it, covered with thousands of shops and warehouses, has been for centuries a crowded beehive of comm... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
A high, spacious bedroom, the corner room of our house, with a white bed upon which our mother is lying, our baby chairs and tables standing close by, and the neatly served tables covered with sweets and jellies in pretty glass jars, --- a room into which we children are ushered at a strange hour, --- this is the first half-distinct reminiscence of my life. Our mother was dying of consumption; she was only thirty-five years old. Before parting with us forever, she had wished to have us by her side, to caress us, to feel happy for a moment in our joys, and she had arranged this little treat by the side of her bed, which she could leave no more. I remember her pale thin face, her large, dark brown eyes. She looked at us with love, and invite... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Our father was very proud of the origin of his family, and would point with solemnity to a piece of parchment which hung on a wall of his study. It was decorated with our arms, --- the arms of the principality of Smolénsk covered with the ermine mantle and the crown of the Monomáchs, --- and there was written on it, and certified by the Heraldry Department, that our family originated with a grandson of Rostisláv Mstislávich the Bold (a name familiar in Russian history as that of a Grand Prince of Kíeff), and that our ancestors had been Grand Princes of Smolénsk. "It cost me three hundred rubles to obtain that parchment," our father used to say. Like most people of his generation, he was not much ve... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Two years after the death of our mother our father married again. He had already cast his eyes upon a nice looking young person, who belonged to a wealthy family, when the fates decided another way. One morning, while he was still in his dressing-gown, the servants rushed madly into his room, announcing the arrival of General Timofeeff, the commander of the sixth army corps, to which our father belonged. This favorite of Nicholas I. was a terrible man. He would order a soldier to be flogged almost to death for a mistake made during a parade, or he would degrade an officer and send him as a private to Siberia because he had met him in the street with the hooks of his high, stiff collar unfastened. With Nicholas General Timofeeff's word was a... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
When I was in my eighth year, the next step in my career was taken, in a quite unforeseen way. I do not know exactly on what occasion it happened, but probably it was on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Nicholas I.'s accession, when great festivities were arranged for at Moscow. The imperial family were coming to the old capital, and the Moscow nobility intended to celebrate this event by a fancy-dress ball, in which children were to play an important part. It was agreed that the whole motley crowd of nationalities of which the population of the Russian Empire is composed should be represented at this ball to greet the monarch. Great preparations went on in our house, as well as in all the houses of our neighborhood. Some sort of remarkable ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Wealth was measured in those times by the number of "souls" that a landed proprietor owned. So many "souls" meant so many male serfs: women did not count. My father, who owned nearly twelve hundred souls, in three different provinces, and who had, in addition to his peasants' holdings, large tracts of land which were cultivated by these peasants, was accounted a rich man. He lived up to his reputation, which meant that his house was open to any number of visitors, and that he kept a very large household. We were a family of eight, occasionally of ten or twelve; but fifty servants at Moscow, and half as many more in the country, were considered not one too many. Four coachmen to attend a dozen horses, three cooks for the masters and two mor... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
To maintain such numbers of servants as were kept in our house would have been simply ruinous, if all provisions had to be bought at Moscow; but in those times of serfdom things were managed very simply. When winter came, father sat at his table and wrote the following: -- "To the manager of my estate, Nikóskoye, situated in the government of Kalúga, district of Meschóvsk, on the river Siréna, from the Prince Alexéi Petróvich Kropótkin Colonel and Commander of various orders. "On receipt of this, and as soon as winter communication is established, thou art ordered to send to my house, situated in the city of Moscow, twenty-five peasant-sledges, drawn by two horses each, one horse from each ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
In the autumn of 1852 my brother Alexander was sent to the corps of cadets, and from that time we saw each other only during the holidays and occasionally on Sundays. The corps of cadets was five miles from our house, and although we had a dozen horses, it always happened that when the time came to send a sledge to the corps there was no horse free for that purpose. My eldest brother, Nicholas, came home very seldom. The relative freedom which Alexander found at school, and especially the influence of two of his teachers in literature, developed his intellect rapidly, and later on I shall have ample occasion to speak of the beneficial influence that he exercised upon my own development. It is a great privilege to have had a loving, intellig... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
I well remember the Crimean war. At Moscow it affected people but little. Of course, in every house lint and bandages for the wounded were made at evening parties: not much of it, however, reached the Russian armies, immense quantities being stolen and sold to the armies of the enemy. My sister Hèléne and other young ladies sang patriotic songs, but the general tone of life in society was hardly influenced by the great struggle that was going on. In the country, on the contrary, the war caused terrible gloominess. The levies of recruits followed one another rapidly, and we continually heard the peasant women singing their funereal songs. The Russian people look upon war as a calamity which is being sent upon them by Providence... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
It was in August, 1857, when I was nearly fifteen, that my turn came to enter the corps of pages, and I was taken to St. Petersburg. When I left home I was still a child; but human character is usually settled in a definite way at an earlier age than is generally supposed, and it is evident to me that under my childish appearance I was then very much what I was to be later on. My tastes, my inclinations, were already determined. The first impulse to my intellectual development was given, as I have said, by my Russian teacher. It is an excellent habit in Russian families --- a habit now, unhappily, on the decline --- to have in the house a student who aids the boys and the girls with their lessons, even when they are at a gymnasium. For a b... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The long-cherished ambition of my father was thus realized. There was a vacancy in the corps of pages which I could fill before I had got beyond the age to which admission was limited, and I was taken to St. Petersburg and entered the school. Only a hundred and fifty boys --- mostly children of the nobility belonging to the court --- received education in this privileged corps, which combined the character of a military school endowed with special rights and of a court institution attached to the imperial household. After a stay of four or five years in the corps of pages, those who had passed the final examinations were received as officers in any regiment of the guard or of the army they chose, irrespective of the number of vacancies in t... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
All over Russia people were talking of education. As soon as peace had been concluded at Paris, and the severity of censorship had been slightly relaxed, educational matters began to be eagerly discussed. The ignorance of the masses of the people, the obstacles that had hitherto been put in the way of those who wanted to learn, the absence of schools in the country, the obsolete methods of teaching, and the remedies for these evils became favorite themes of discussion in educated circles, in the press, and even in the drawing-rooms of the aristocracy. The first high schools for girls had been opened in 1857, on an excellent plan and with a splendid teaching staff. As by magic a number of men and women came to the front, who have n... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
My brother Alexander was at that time at Moscow, in a corps of cadets, and we maintained a lively correspondence. As long as I stayed at home this was impossible, because our father considered it his prerogative to read all letters addressed to our house, and he would soon have put an end to any but a commonplace correspondence. Now we were free to discuss in our letters whatever we liked. The only difficulty was to get money for stamps; but we soon learned to write in such fine characters that we could convey an incredible amount of matter in each letter. Alexander, whose handwriting was beautiful, contrived to get four printed pages on one single page of note-paper, and his microscopic lines were as legible as the best small type print. I... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
That same year I made my start as an investigator of popular life. This work brought me one step nearer to our peasants, making me see them under a new light; later, it also helped me a great deal in Siberia. Every year, in July, on the day of "The Holy Virgin of Kazan," which was the fête of our church, a pretty large fair was held in Nikólskoye. Tradesmen came from all the neighboring towns, and many thousands of peasants flocked from thirty miles round to our village, which for a couple of days had a most animated aspect. A remarkable description of the village fairs of South Russia had been published that year by the Slavophile Aksákoff, and my brother, who was then at the height of his politico-economical en... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Stormy times came now in the life of our corps. When Girardot was dismissed, his place was taken by one of our officers, Captain B----. He was rather good-natured than otherwise, but he had got it into his head that he was not treated by us with due reverence corresponding to the high position which he now occupied, and he tried to enforce upon us more respect and awe towards himself. He began by quarreling over all sorts of petty things with the upper form, and what was still worse in our opinion he attempted to destroy our "liberties," the origin of which was lost in "the darkness of time," and which, insignificant in themselves, were perhaps on that very account only the dearer to us. The result of it was that for several days ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The school years of a Russian youth are so different from the corresponding period in west European schools, that I must dwell further on my school life. Russian boys, as a rule, while they are yet at a lyceum or in a military school, take an interest in a wide circle of social, political, and philosophical matters. It is true that the corps of pages was, of all schools, the least congenial place for such a development; but in those years of general revival, broader ideas penetrated even there, and carried some of us away, without, however, preventing us from taking a very lively part in "benefit nights" and all sorts of frolics. While I was in the fourth form I became interested in history, and with the aid of notes made during ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Every summer we went out camping at Peterhof, with the other military schools of the St Petersburg district. On the whole, our life there was very pleasant, and certainly it was excellent for our health: we slept in spacious tents, bathed in the sea, and spent a great deal of time during the six weeks in open-air exercise. In military schools the main purpose of camp life was evidently military drill, which we all disliked very much, but the dullness of which was occasionally relieved by making us take part in maneuvers. One night, as we were going to bed, Alexander II aroused the whole camp by having the alert sounded. In a few minutes all the camp was alive, -- several thousand boys gathering round their colors, and the guns of the artil... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The years 1857-61 were years of rich growth in the intellectual forces of Russia. Al that had been whispered for the last decade, in the secrecy of friendly meetings, by the generation represented in Russian literature by Turguéneff, Tolstóy, Hérzen, Bakúnin, Ogaryóff, Kavélin, Dostoévsky, Grigoróvich, Ostróvsky, and Nekrásoff, began now to leak out in the press. Censorship was still very rigorous; but what could not be said openly in political articles was smuggled in under the form of novels, humorous sketches, or veiled comments on west European events, and every one read between the lines and understood. Having no acquaintances at St Petersburg apart from the school ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
In June, 1861, I was nominated sergeant of the corps of pages. Some of our officers, I must say, did not like the idea of it, saying that there would be no "discipline" with me acting as a sergeant; but it could not be helped; it was usually the first pupil of the upper form who was nominated sergeant, and I had been at the top of our form for several years in succession. This appointment was considered very enviable, not only because the sergeant occupied a privileged position in the school and was treated like an officer, but especially because he was also the page de chambre of the Emperor for the time being; and to be personally known to the Emperor was of course considered as a stepping-stone to further distinctions. The most important... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
In the middle of May, 1862, a few weeks before our promotion, I was told one day by the captain to make up the final list of the regiments which each of us intended to join. We had the choice of all the regiments of the Guard, which we could enter with the first officer's grade, and of the Army with the third grade of lieutenant. I took a list of our form and went the rounds of my comrades. Every one knew well the regiment he was going to join, most of them already wearing in the garden the officer's cap of that regiment. "Her Majesty's Cuirassiers," "The Body Guard Preobrazhénsky," " The Horse Guards," were the replies which I inscribed. "But you, Kropótkin? The artillery? The Cossacks?" I was asked on all sides. I could no... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The five years that I spent in Siberia were for me a genuine education in life and human character. I was brought into contact with men of all descriptions: the best and the worst; those who stood at the top of society and those who vegetated at the very bottom, --- the tramps and the so-called incorrigible criminals. I had ample opportunities to watch the ways and habits of the peasants in their daily life and still more opportunities to appreciate how little the state administration could give to them, even if it was animated by the very best intentions. Finally, my extensive journeys, during which I traveled over fifty thousand miles in carts, on board steamers, in boats, but chiefly on horseback, had a wonderful effect in stre... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
In January, 1863, Poland rose against Russian rule. Insurrectionary bands were formed, and a war began which lasted for full eighteen months. The London refugees had implored the Polish revolutionary committees to postpone the movement. They foresaw that it would be crushed, and would put an end to the reform period in Russia. But it could not be helped. The repression of the nationalist manifestations which took place at Warsaw in 1861, and the cruel, quite unprovoked executions which followed, exasperated the Poles. The die was cast. Never before had the Polish cause so many sympathizers in Russia as at that time. I do not speak of the revolutionists; but even among the more moderate elements of Russian society it was thought, a... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Seeing that there was nothing more to be done at Chitá in the way of reforms, I gladly accepted the offer to visit the Amúr that same summer of 1863. The immense domain on the left (northern) bank of the Amúr, and along the Pacific coast as far south as the bay of Peter the Great (Vladivóstok), had been annexed to Russia by Count Muravióff, almost against the will of the St. Petersburg authorities and certainly without much help from them. When he conceived the bold plan of taking possession of the great river whose southern position and fertile lands had for the last two hundred years always attracted the Siberians; and when, on the eve of the opening of Japan to Europe, he decided to take for Russia a s... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
I did not stay long at St. Petersburg, but returned to Irkútsk the same winter. My brother was going to join me there in a few months: he was accepted as an officer of the Irkútsk Cossacks. Traveling across Siberia in the winter is supposed to be a terrible experience; but, all things considered, it is on the whole more comfortable than at any other season of the year. The snow-covered roads are excellent, and although the cold is intense, one can stand it well enough. Lying full length in the sledge, as every one does in Siberia, wrapped in fur blankets, fur inside and fur outside, one does not suffer much from the cold, even when the temperature is forty or sixty degrees below zero, Fahrenheit. Traveling in courier fashion,... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
All this summer I traveled on the Amúr. I went as far as its mouth, or rather its estuary, -- Nikoláevsk, -- to join the governor-general, whom I accompanied in a steamer up the Usurí and after that, in the autumn, I made a still more interesting journey up the Sungarí, to the very heart of Manchuria, as far as Ghirín (or Kirín, according to the southern pronunciation). Many rivers in Asia are made by the junction of two equally important streams, so that it is difficult for the geographer to say which of the two is the main one, and which is a tributary. The Ingodá and the Onón join to make the Shílka; the Shílka and the Argúñ join to make the Amúr;... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
As there was nothing more to be done in the direction of reform, I tried to do what seemed to be possible under the existing circumstances, -- only to become convinced of the absolute uselessness of such efforts. In my new capacity of attaché to the governor-general for Cossack affairs, I made, for instance, a most thorough investigation of the economical conditions of the Usurí Cossacks, whose crops used to be lost every year, so that the government had every winter to feed them in order to save them from famine. When I returned from Usurí with my report, I received congratulations on all sides, I was promoted, I got special rewards. All the measures I recommended were accepted, and special grants of money were given f... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
I was far away, in the Vitím mountains, when the Polish exiles, who were employed in excavating a new road in the cliffs round Lake Baikál, made a desperate attempt to break their chains, and to force their way to China across Mongolia. Troops were sent out against them, and a Russian officer - whom I will call Pótaloff - was killed by the insurgents. I heard of it on my return to Irkútsk, where some fifty Poles were to be tried by court-martial. The sittings of courts-martial being open in Russia, I followed this, taking detailed notes of the proceedings, which I sent to a St Petersburg paper, and which were published in full, to the great dissatisfaction of the governor-general. Eleven thousand Poles, men and ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Early in the autumn of 1867 my brother and I, with his family, were settled at St. Petersburg. I entered the university, and sat on the benches among young men, almost boys, much younger than myself. What I so longed for five years before was accomplished,-I could study; and, acting upon the idea that a thorough training in mathematics is the only solid basis for all subsequent work and thought, I joined the physico-mathematical faculty in its mathematical section. My brother entered the military academy for jurisprudence, whilst I entirely gave up military service, to the great dissatisfaction of my father, who hated the very sight of a civilian dress. We both had now to rely entirely upon ourselves. Study at the university and scientific... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
At the same time I worked a great deal for the Russian Geographical Society in my capacity of secretary to its section of physical geography. Great interest was taken then in the exploration of Turkestan and the Pamírs. Syévertsoff had just returned after several years of travel. A great zoologist, a gifted geographer, and one of the most intelligent men I ever came across, he, like so many Russians, disliked writing. When he had made an oral communication at a meeting of the society, he could not be induced to write anything beyond revising the reports of his communication, so that all that has been published over his signature is very far from doing full justice to the real value of the observations and the generalizations ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
It often happens that men pull in a certain political, social, or familiar harness simply because they never have time to ask themselves whether the position they stand in and the work they accomplish are right; whether their occupations really suit their inner desires and capacities, and give them the satisfaction which every one has the right to expect from his work. Active men are especially liable to find themselves in such a position. Every day brings with it a fresh batch of work, and a man throws himself into his bed late at night without having completed what he had expected to do; then in the morning he hurries to the unfinished task of the previous day. Life goes, and there is no time left to think, no time to consider the directi... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
St. Petersburg had changed greatly from what it was when I left it in 1862. "Oh, yes, you knew the St. Petersburg of Chernyshévsky," the poet Máikoff remarked to me once. True, I knew the St. Petersburg of which Chernyshévsky was the favorite. But how shall I describe the city which I found on my return? Perhaps as the St. Petersburg of the cafés chantants,of the music halls, if the words "all St. Petersburg" ought really to mean the upper circles of society which took their keynote from the court. At the court, and in its circles, liberal ideas were in sorely bad repute. All prominent men of the sixties, even such moderates as Count Nicholas Muravióff and Nicholas Milútin, were treated as suspects... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
When we were leaving Siberia, we often talked, my brother and I, of the intellectual life which we should find at St. Petersburg, and of the interesting acquaintances we should make in the literary circles. We made such acquaintances, indeed, both among the radicals and among the moderate Slavophiles; but I must confess that they were rather disappointing. We found plenty of excellent men, - Russia is full of excellent men, - but they did not quite correspond to our ideal of political writers. The best writers - Chernyshévsky, Mikháiloff, Lavróff - were in exile, or were kept in the fortress of St. Peter and St. Paul, like Písareff. Others, taking a gloomy view of the situation, had changed their ideas, and were ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The only bright point which I saw in the life of St. Petersburg was the movement which was going on among the youth of both sexes. Various currents joined to produce the mighty agitation which soon took an underground and revolutionary character, and engrossed the attention of Russia for the next fifteen years. I shall speak of it in a subsequent chapter; but I must mention in this place the movement which was carried on, quite openly, by our women for obtaining access to higher education. St. Petersburg was at that time its main center. Every afternoon the young wife of my brother, on her return from the women's pedagogical courses which she followed, had something new to tell us about the animation which prevailed there. Schemes were lai... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
For the last few years the health of my father had been going from bad to worse, and when my brother Alexander and I came to see him, in the spring of 1871, we were told by the doctors that with the first frosts of autumn he would be gone. He had continued to live in the old style, in the Stáraya Konúshennaya, but around him everything in this aristocratic quarter had changed. The rich serf-owners, who once were so prominent there, had gone. After having spent in a reckless way the redemption money which they had received at the emancipation of the serfs, and after having mortgaged and remortgaged their estates in the new land banks which preyed upon their helplessness, they had withdrawn at last to the country or to provincia... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The next year, early in the spring, I made my first journey to Western Europe. In crossing the Russian frontier, I experienced what every Russian feels on leaving his mother country. So long as the train runs on Russian ground, through the thinly populated northwestern provinces, one has the feeling of crossing a desert. Hundreds of miles are covered with low growths which hardly deserve the name of forests. Here and there the eye discovers a small, miserably poor village buried in the snow, or an impracticable, muddy, narrow, and winding village road. Then everything -- scenery and surroundings -- changes all of a sudden, as soon as the train enters Prussia, with its clean looking villages and farms, its gardens, and its paved roads; and t... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
I went first to Neuchâtel, an then spent a week or so among the watchmakers in the Jura Mountains. I thus made my first acquaintance with that famous Jura Federation which for the next few years played an important part in the development of socialism, introducing into it the no-government, or anarchist, tendency. In 1872 the Jura Federation was becoming a rebel against the authority or the general council of the International Workingmen's Association. The association was essentially a workingmen's movement, the workers understanding it as such and not as a political party. In east Belgium, for instance, they had introduced into the statues a clause in virtue of which no one could be a member of a section unless employed in a manual ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Bakúnin was at that time at Locarno. I did not see him, and now regret it very much, because he was dead when I returned four years later to Switzerland. It was he who had helped the Jura friends to clear up their ideas and to formulate their aspirations; he who had inspired them with his powerful, burning, irresistible revolutionary enthusiasm. As soon as he saw that a small newspaper, which Guillaume began to edit in the Jura hills (at Locle) was sounding a new note of independent thought in the socialist movement, he came to Locle, talked for whole days and whole nights also to his new friends about the historical necessity of a new move in the direction of anarchy; he wrote for that paper a series of profound and brilliant articl... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
During my journey I had bought a number of books and collections of socialist newspapers. In Russia, such books were "unconditionally prohibited" by censorship; and some of the collections of newspapers and reports of international congresses could not be bought for any amount of money, even in Belgium. "Shall I part with them, while my brother and my friends would be so glad to have them at St. Petersburg? " I asked myself; and I decided that by all means I must get them into Russia. I returned to St. Petersburg via Vienna and Warsaw. Thousands of Jews live by smuggling on the Polish frontier, and I thought that if I could succeed in discovering only one of them, my books would be carried in safety across the border. However, to alight at... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
A formidable movement was developing in the meantime among the educated youth of Russia. Serfdom was abolished. But quite a network of habits and customs of domestic slavery, of utter disregard of human individuality, of despotism on the part of the fathers, and of hypocritical submission on that of the wives, the sons, and the daughters, had developed during the two hundred and fifty years that serfdom had existed. Everywhere in Europe, at the beginning of this century, there was a great deal of domestic despotism,--the writings of Thackeray and Dickens bear ample testimony to it; but nowhere else had that tyranny attained such a luxurious development as in Russia. All Russian life, in the family, in the relations between commander and sub... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
I hastened to share with my friends my impressions of the International Workingmen's Association and my books. At the university I had no friends, properly speaking; I was older than most of my companions, and among young people a difference of a few years is always an obstacle to complete comradeship. It must also be said that since the new rules of admission to the university had been introduced in 1861, the best of the young men--the most developed and the most independent in thought--were sifted out of the gymnasia, and did not gain admittance to the university. Consequently, the majority of my comrades were good boys, laborious, but taking no interest in anything besides the examinations. I was friendly with only one of them: let me ca... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
When I joined the Circle of Tchaykóvsky, I found its members hotly discussing the direction to be given to their activity. Some were in favor of continuing to carry on radical and socialistic propaganda among the educated youth; but others thought that the sole aim of this work should be to prepare men who would be capable of arousing the great inert laboring masses, and that their chief activity ought to be among the peasants and workmen in the towns. In all the circles and groups which were formed at that time by the hundred, at St. Petersburg and in the provinces, the same discussions went on; and everywhere the second program prevailed over the first. If our youth had merely taken to socialism in the abstract, they might have fe... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The two years that I worked with the Circle of Tchaykóvsky, before I was arrested, left a deep impression upon all my subsequent life and thought. During these two years it was life under high pressure,--that exuberance of life when one feels at every moment the full throbbing of all the fibers of the inner self, and when life is really worth living. I was in a family of men and women so closely united by their common object, and so broadly and delicately humane in their mutual relations, that I cannot now recall a single moment of even temporary friction marring the life of our circle. Those who have had any experience of political agitation will appreciate the value of this statement. Before abandoning entirely my scientific caree... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
During the two years of which I am now speaking many arrests were made, both at St. Petersburg and in the provinces. Not a month passed without our losing some one, or learning that members of this or that provincial group had disappeared. Toward the end of 1873 the arrests became more and more frequent. In November one of our main settlements in a suburb of St. Petersburg was raided by the police. We lost Peróvskaya and three other friends, and all our relations with the workers in this suburb had to be suspended. We founded a new settlement, further away from the town, but it had soon to be abandoned. The police became very vigilant, and the appearance of a student in the workmen's quarters was noticed at once; spies circulated amo... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
This was, then, the terrible fortress where so much of the true strength of Russia had perished during the last two centuries, and the very name of which is uttered in St. Petersburg in a hushed voice. Here Peter I. tortured his son Alexis and killed him with his own hand; here the Princess Tarakánova was kept in a cell which filled with water during an inundation,--- the rats climbing upon her to save themselves from drowning; here the terrible Minich tortured his enemies, and Catherine II. buried alive those who objected to her having murdered her husband. And from the times of Peter I. for a hundred and seventy years, the annals of this mass of stone which rises from the Nevá in front of the Winter Palace were ann... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
So I could work! I could hardly express now the immensity of relief I then felt at being enabled to resume writing. I would have consented to live on nothing but bread and water, in the dampest of cellars, if only permitted to work. I was, however, the only prisoner to whom writing materials were allowed. Several of my comrades spent three years and more in confinement before the famous trial of "the hundred and ninety-three " took place, and all they had was a slate. Of course, even the slate was welcome in that dreary loneliness, and they used it to write exercises in the languages they were learning, or to work out mathematical problems; but what was jotted down on the slate could last only a few hours. My prison life now took ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The worst was the silence, as of the grave, which reigned about me. In vain I knocked on the walls and struck the floor with my foot, listening for the faintest sound in reply. None was to be heard. One month passed, then two, three, fifteen months, but there was no reply to my knocks. We were only six then, scattered among thirty-six casemates, --- all my arrested comrades being kept in the Litóvskiy Zámok prison. When the noncommissioned officer entered my cell to take me out for a walk, and I asked him, "What kind of weather have we? Does it rain ?" he cast a furtive side glance at me, and without saying a word promptly retired behind the door, where a sentry and another noncommissioned officer kept watch upon him... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The countless arrests which were made in the summer of 1874, and the serious turn which was given by the police to the prosecution of our circle, produced a deep change in the opinions of Russian youth. Up to that time the prevailing idea had been to pick out among the workers, and eventually the peasants, a number of men who should be prepared to become socialistic agitators. But the factories were now flooded with spies, and it was evident that, do what they might, both propagandists and workers would very soon be arrested and hidden forever in Siberia. Then began a great movement "to the people" in a new form, when several hundred young men and women, disregarding all precautions hitherto taken, rushed to the country, and, trav... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Two years had passed. Several of my comrades had died, several had become insane, but nothing was heard yet of our case coming before a court. My health gave way before the end of the second year. The oak stool now seemed heavy in my hand, and the five miles became an endless distance. As there were about sixty of us in the fortress, and the winter days were short, we were taken out for a walk in the yard for twenty minutes only every third day. I did my best to maintain my energy, but the "arctic wintering" without an interruption in the summer got the better of me. I had brought back from my Siberian journeys slight symptoms of scurvy; now, in the darkness and dampness of the casemate, they developed more distinctly; that scourg... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
A storm raged in the North Sea, as we approached the coasts of England. But I met the storm with delight. I enjoyed the struggle of our steamer against the furiously rolling waves, and sat for hours on the stem, the foam of the waves dashing into my face. After the two years that I had spent in a gloomy casemate, every fiber of my inner self seemed to be throbbing and eager to enjoy the full intensity of life. My intention was not to stay abroad more than a few weeks or months: just enough time to allow the hue and cry caused by my escape to subside, and also to restore my health a little. I landed under the name of Levashóff, the name which I had used in leaving Russia; and avoiding London, where the spies of the Russian embassy wo... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The Jura Federation has played an important part in the modern development of socialism. It always happens that after a political party has set before itself a purpose, and has proclaimed that nothing short of the complete attainment of that aim will satisfy it, it divides into two factions. One of them remains what it was, while the other, although it professes not to have changed a word of its previous intentions, accepts some sort of compromise, and gradually, from compromise to compromise, is driven farther from its primitive program, and becomes a party of modest makeshift reform. Such a division had occurred within the International Workingmen's Association. Nothing less than an expropriation of the present owners of land and capita... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Quite a number of remarkable men, of different nationalities, nearly all of whom bad been personal friends of Bakúnin, belonged at that time to the Jura Federation. The editor of our chief paper, the Bulletin of the federation, was James Guillaume, a teacher by profession, who belonged to one of the aristocratic families of Neuchâtel. Small, thin, with the stiff appearance and resoluteness of Robespierre, and with a truly golden heart which opened only in the intimacy of friendship, he was a born leader by his phenomenal powers of work and his stern activity. For eight years he fought against all sorts of obstacles to maintain the paper in existence, taking the most active part in every detail of the federation, till he had to ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Of all the towns of Switzerland that I know, La Chauxde-Fonds is perhaps the least attractive. It lies on a high plateau entirely devoid of any vegetation, open to bitterly cold winds in the winter, when the snow lies as deep as at Moscow, and melts and falls again as often as at St. Petersburg. But it was important to spread our ideas in that center, and to give more life to the local propaganda Pindy, Spichiger, Albarracin, the Blanquists Ferré and Jallot were there, and from time to time I could pay visits to Guillaume at Neuchâtel, and to Schwitzguébel in the valley of St. Imier A life full of work that I liked began now for me. We held many meetings, ourselves distributing our announcements in the cafés and... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Two congresses were held in the autumn of 1877 in Belgium: one of the International Workingmen's Association at Verviers, and the other an international socialist congress at Ghent. The latter was especially important, as it was known that an attempt would be made by the German social democrats to bring all the labor movement of Europe under one organization, subject to a central committee, which would be the old general council of the International under a new name. It was therefore necessary to preserve the autonomy of the labor organizations in the Latin countries, and we did our best to be well represented at this congress. I went under the name of Levashóff; two Germans, the compositor Werner and the engineer Rinke, walked nearl... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
During this stay at Paris I made my first acquaintance with Turguéneff. He had expressed to our common friend P. L. Lavróff the desire to see me, and, as a true Russian, to celebrate my escape by a small friendly dinner. It was with a feeling almost of worship that I crossed the threshold of his room. If by his "Sportsman's Notebook" he rendered to Russia the immense service of throwing odium upon serfdom (I did not know at that time that he took a leading part in Hérzen's powerful "Bell"), he has rendered no less service through his later novels. He has shown what the Russian woman is, what treasuries of mind and heart she possesses; what she may be as an inspirer of men; and he has taught us how men who have a real cl... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
In the meantime affairs in Russia took quite a new turn. The war which Russia began against Turkey in 1877 had ended in general disappointment. There was in the country, before the war broke out, a great deal of enthusiasm in favor of the Slavonians. Many believed, also, that a war of liberation in the Balkans would result in a move in the progressive direction in Russia itself. But the liberation of the Slavonian populations was only partly accomplished. The tremendous sacrifices which had been made by the Russians were rendered ineffectual by the blunders of the higher military authorities. Hundreds of thousands of men had been slaughtered in battles which were only half victories, and the concessions wrested from Turkey ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
In Russia the struggle for freedom was taking on a and more acute character. Several political trials had been brought before high courts, -- the trial of "the hundred and ninety-three," of "the fifty," of "the Dolgúshin circle," and so on, -- and in all of them the same thing was apparent. The youth had gone to the peasants and the factory workers, preaching socialism to them; socialist pamphlets, printed abroad, had been distributed; appeals had been made to revolt -- in some vague, indeterminate way -- against the oppressive economical conditions. In short, nothing was done that does not occur in socialist agitations in every other country of the world. No traces of conspiracy against the Czar, or even of preparations for revoluti... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
A wild panic seized the court circles at St. Petersburg. Alexander III., who, notwithstanding his colossal stature and force, was not a very courageous man, refused to move to the Winter Palace, and retired to the palace of his grandfather, Paul I., at Gatchina. I know that old building, planned as a Vauban fortress, surrounded by moats and protected by watchtowers, from the tops of which secret staircases lead to the Emperor's study. I have seen the trap-doors in the study, for suddenly throwing an enemy on the sharp rocks in the water underneath, and the secret staircase leading to underground prisons and to an underground passage which opens on a lake. All the palaces of Paul I. had been built on a similar plan. In the meantime, an under... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
In October or November, 1881, as soon as my wife passed her examination, we removed from Thonon to London, where we stayed nearly twelve months. Few years separate us from that time, and yet I can say that the intellectual life of London and of all England was quite different then from what it became a little later. Every one knows that in the forties England stood almost at the head of the socialist movement in Europe; but during the years of reaction that followed, the great movement, which had deeply affected the working classes, and in which all that is now put forward as scientific or anarchist socialism had already been said, came to a standstill. It was forgotten, in England as well as on the Continent, and what the French writers de... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
We settled once more in Thonon, taking lodgings with our former hostess, Madame Sansaux. A brother of my wife, who was dying of consumption, and had come to Switzerland, joined us. I never saw such numbers of Russian spies as during the two months that I remained at Thonon. To begin with, as soon as we had engaged lodgings, a suspicious character, who gave himself out for an Englishman, took the other part of the house. Flocks, literally flocks of Russian spies besieged the house, seeking admission under all possible pretexts, or simply tramping in pairs, trios, and quartets in front of the house. I can imagine what wonderful reports they wrote. A spy must report. If he should merely say that he has stood for a week in the street without n... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The anarchist movement had undergone a considerable development in France during the years 1881 and 1882. It was generally believed that the French mind was hostile to communism, and within the International Workingmen's Association "collectivism" was preached instead. It meant then the possession of the instruments of production in common, each separate group having to settle for itself whether the consumption of produce should be on individualistic or communistic lines. In reality, however., the French mind was hostile only to the monastic communism, to the phalanstère of the old schools. When the Jura Federation, at its congress of 1880, boldly declared itself anarchist-communist, - that is, in favor of free communism-anarchism wo... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The trial was over, but I remained for another couple of months in the Lyons prison. Most of my comrades had lodged an appeal against the decision of the police court, and we had to wait for its results. With four more comrades, I refused to take any part in that appeal to a higher court, and continued to work in my pistole. A great friend of mine-Martin, a clothier from Vienne-took another pistole by the side of the one which I occupied, and as we were already condemned, we were allowed to take our walks together; and when we had something to say to each other between the walks, we used to correspond by means of taps on the wall, just as in Russia. During my sojourn at Lyons I began to realize the awfully demoralizing influence of the pri... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Every revolutionist meets a number of spies and "agents provocateurs" in his way, and I have had my fair share of them. All governments spend considerable sums of money in maintaining this kind of reptile. However, they are mainly dangerous to young people only. One who has had some experience of life and men soon discovers that there is about these creatures something which puts him on his guard. They are recruited from the scum of society, among men of the lowest moral standard, and if one is watchful of the moral character of the men he meets with, he soon notices something in the manners of these "pillars of society" which shocks him, and then he asks himself the question: "What has brought this man to me? What in the world can he have ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Demands for our release were continually raised, both in the press and in the Chamber of Deputies,-the more so as about the same time that we were condemned Louise Michel was condemned, too, for robbery! Louise Michel-who always gives literally her last shawl or cloak to the woman who is in need of it, and who never could be compelled, during her imprisonment, to have better food than her fellow prisoners, because she always gave them what was sent to her--was condemned, together with another comrade, Pouget, to nine years' imprisonment for highway robbery! That sounded too bad even for the middle-class opportunists. She marched one day at the head of a procession of the unemployed, and, entering a baker's shop, took a few loaves from it an... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
In 1886 the socialist movement in England was in full swing. Large bodies of workers had openly joined it in all the principal towns, as well as a number of middle-class people, chiefly young, who helped it in different ways. An acute industrial crisis prevailed that year in most trades, and every morning, and often all the day long, I heard groups of workers going about in the streets singing "We've got no work to do," or some hymn, and begging for bread. People flocked at night into Trafalgar Square, to sleep there in the open air, in the wind and in the rain, between two newspapers; and one day in February a crowd, after having listened to the speeches of Burns, Hyndman, and Champion, rushed into Piccadilly and broke a few windows in the... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
I took a lively part in this movement, and with a few English comrades I started, in addition to the three socialist papers already in existence, an anarchist-communist monthly, "Freedom," which continues to live up to tile present hour. At the same time I resumed my work on anarchism where I had had to interrupt it at the time of my arrest. The critical part of it was published by Elisée Recius, during my Clairvaux imprisonment, under the title, "Paroles d'un Révolte." Now I began to work out the constructive part of an anarchist-communist society,so far as it could be forecast,-in a series of articles published at Paris in "La Révolte." "Our boy," prosecuted for anti-militarist propaganda, had been compelled ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)


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