Kropotkin: Reviewing the Classical Anarchist Tradition.

Author:McKay, Iain
Position:Book review

Ruth Kinna, Kropotkin: Reviewing the Classical Anarchist Tradition

Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016; 272pp; ISBN 9780748642298

Anarchists from Proudhon onwards have met with misunderstanding and not a little deliberate distortion. Peter Kropotkin, despite being one of the most widely read anarchist thinkers, has also suffered this fate. This is perhaps due to him being so widely read, for the most easily available works are those he wrote as general introductions to anarchism. The more numerous works he wrote for the anarchist press, addressing the issues it was facing, remain mostly buried in archives.

This has helped a distinctly false picture of Kropotkin--as, basically, anarcho-Santa--to emerge. Ruth Kinna's book aims to challenge this and to 'rescue Kropotkin from the framework of classical anarchism and to explain the politics that led him to support the Entente powers in 1914' (pl97). Using an impressive array of research, she easily refutes those seeking to distance Kropotkin from Bakunin, as well as showing the vacuous nature of the so-called 'new anarchist' position which turned the world's leading revolutionary class struggle anarchist into an advocate of counter-culture reformism. In the process she addresses the so-called 'third wave' of anarchism, 'post-anarchism', which continued this misreading but for different ends.

Kinna does this in an extremely summarised fashion--at times too summarised, as it often felt to this reader like being dropped into the middle of a conversation without sufficient context. The fact that 'post-anarchism' has little traction outside of academic circles (unsurprisingly, given its jargon-ridden nature) explains most of the obscureness, and so more context would have helped--we do not all have access to the time or resources to follow up the footnotes. Hopefully this will help those infatuated with 'post-anarchism' to recognise that while anarchism is a class-based theory it has always been more than that.

Kinna is right that Kropotkin has been misunderstood, and that the common perspective of his politics is distinctly at odds with what he actually advocated; her book helps put the record straight. I do disagree with some of the emphases, and some of the references used do not fully support the weight to which they are subjected. For example, Kropotkin's Russian roots and understandable interest in the Russian revolutionary movement is all too often overlooked. Kinna, rightly, reminds...

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