Sages and movements: an incomplete Peter Kropotkin bibliography.

Author:McKay, Iain
Position:Essay - Bibliography

The bibliography produced below is the result of research undertaken as part of my Kropotkin anthology project (Direct Struggle Against Capital: A Peter Kropotkin Anthology, AK Press, Spring 2014). While working on this project, it soon became clear that only a fraction of Kropotkin's anarchist writings have been translated into English and that no comprehensive bibliography of his libertarian writings existed. Various accounts of his ideas and life include bibliographies in various states of completion as well as numerous references to articles and letters, yet there had been no attempt to collate this information and so existing lists of Kropotkin's works were incomplete. The list on Anarchy Archives, (1) for example, does not include many of the works referenced in Miller's Kropotkin. (2) Caroline Cahm's bibliography is excellent for the period 1872 to 1886, as would be expected, but concentrates only on important works after that. (3) I set out to address this lack. The current bibliography is still incomplete, nevertheless it provides the most comprehensive listing of Kropotkin's work to-date. Hopefully, it will be of use to other researchers working on Kropotkin and his ideas and provide the basis for a more complete bibliography in the future.

The research has raised issues about the relationship between influential thinkers and the wider movement and about the distorting effect that a lack of primary sources has on our understanding of both. Here, I seek to explore both issues before presenting an incomplete bibliography of Kropotkin's libertarian articles, books, pamphlets, and published letters.


Unlike Marxists, anarchists have never relied on state-resources for the production of definitive Collected Works--and where collections have been produced (OEuvres Bakunin, for example) they have not been published in English, which seems particularly insular to writers in other languages. As a result researchers often lack access to the primary sources required to produce a comprehensive account of, say, Proudhon's and Bakunin's ideas. In terms of movements, the challenges are even greater, not least because it involves a multitude of resources (newspapers, conference minutes and resolutions, etc.) by a multitude of authors. To take just one example, James Guillaume's four volume L'Internationale: Documents et Souvenirs (1864-1878) has never been translated into English, so ensuring English language activists and researchers understanding of the First International and its debates is, at best, incomplete or, at worst, inaccurate. (4)

The lack of, and so unfamiliarity with, primary sources has not treated anarchist thinkers well. This can be seen from Proudhon who has been subject to such inaccurate claims that many think he advocated ideas he explicitly denied. For example, in contrast to much of the secondary literature, he stressed in an open letter his opposition to individual property and argued that, in spite of his opposition to state socialism, 'it does not follow at all ... that I want to see individual ownership and non-organisation of the instruments of labour endure for all eternity. I have never penned nor uttered any such thing: and have argued the opposite a hundred times over ... I believe in an order wherein the instruments of labour will cease to be appropriated and instead become shared'. (5)

As became clear when creating this incomplete bibliography, Kropotkin also suffers since much, if not most, of his output is neither translated nor collated. So while George Woodcock should be praised for his eleven-volume edition of Kropotkin's Collected Works, the title is a misnomer. It makes available a significant amount of his output in English, but it not complete as it does not include his many articles for Freedom nor those in French and Russian. Yet these are important in order to fully grasp of Kropotkin's ideas, as he noted they 'are more expressive of my anarchist ideas'. (6) The most easily available of his texts are those that are very general and theoretical, not those dealing with the concrete political and strategic issues facing the anarchist movement. This allows him to be cast as a visionary or as a theorist rather than as an anarchist militant, actively grappling with challenges facing the workers' movement and anarchist strategies within and without it to produce social transformation.

Kropotkin mentions in passing anarchist advocacy of direct action, class struggle, and revolutionary unionism in these general introductions to libertarian ideas, but he focuses on these practical matters in his articles in anarchist newspapers. As he acknowledged in one polemic over syndicalism in 1907, 'I now ask myself if it would not be useful to make a selection of these articles' on the labour movement 'and publish them in a volume'. Had he done so, the historical record would show that he had 'always believed that the working class movement - organised in each trade for the direct conflict with Capital (today in France it is called Syndicalism and "direct action") constitutes true strength, and is capable of leading up to the Social Revolution and realising it'. (7)

Direct Struggle Against Capital aims to be, in part, that volume. By drawing together these articles as well as those relating to social revolution (and the problems it would face), it should go some way to ending the myth of Kropotkin as 'The Gentle Prince of Co-operation' or the impractical visionary who believed in a painless revolution which would instantly produce a free society. As the bibliography shows, the reality is that he was a committed practical revolutionary class warrior who had a clear vision of how to create a revolution (by anarchist participation in popular movements, particularly trade unionism) and how difficult this would be.


The re-assessment of Kropotkin's work raises another key question: why bother with Kropotkin? Anarchism is a social movement and some may argue that concentrating on a few bearded dead white-men does the history of anarchism a disservice. Kropotkin would have agreed, arguing that anarchism 'originated in everyday struggles' and all anarchist writers did was to 'work out a general expression' of anarchism's 'principles, and the theoretical and scientific basis of its teachings'. (8)

The nature of the intellectual contribution Kropotkin describes is borne out by the two most significant anarchist thinkers before him. Rather than being an isolated thinker, Proudhon developed his ideas in the context of the rise of the French workers' movement and its demands for self-managed workplace associations to replace wage-labour as well in the context of the 1848 revolution. (9) Bakunin contributed to anarchism by taking up and deepening ideas already expressed within the International Working Men's Association (IWMA) by workers across Europe, namely the syndicalist idea of unions as the means of both fighting capitalism and replacing it. (10)

So Paul Avrich's suggestion that syndicalist ideas had 'originated' in the 1860s and 1870s when 'the followers of Proudhon and Bakunin in the First International were proposing the formation of workers' councils designed both as a weapon of class struggle against capitalists and as the structural basis of the future libertarian society' is only partly correct. (11) Workers did not wait for Bakunin but raised these ideas, before he joined the International, at the Brussels conference in 1868 and again, after he joined, at the Basle Congress the following year. (12) He ensured his influence by championing them. This is not to deny his importance in developing revolutionary anarchism, it is simply to recognise that he was part of a wider movement and influences flowed both ways.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the fixation on famous thinkers ('sages') flows from the work of a non-anarchist, Paul Eltzbacher (1868-1928). His 1900 book Anarchism presented a chapter on Godwin, Proudhon, Stirner, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Tucker, and Tolstoy. This, by necessity, downplayed the anarchist movement and its links with the wider socialist and labour movements. Worse, it gave a distinctly false impression as two chapters covered thinkers (Godwin and Stirner) who had no impact on the development of anarchism until the 1890s.

Unfortunately, subsequent authors who were libertarians followed this model. George Woodcock's Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements reduced the number of 'sages' to six (by dropping Tucker) but redeemed the situation somewhat by covering the movement in various countries in its second half. Peter Marshall's Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism followed Woodcock in format (thinkers followed by movements) but expanded the number of 'sages' and included a women (Emma Goldman). The division of 'sage' and 'movements' still placed the focus on the former at the expense of the latter.

Yet the political and social context provided by social movements is vital to understand anarchism. While Kropotkin, particularly in his later works (notably the article on Anarchism for the Encyclopaedia Britannica) presented anarchism as something which has existed as long as hierarchical authority has, anarchism is better understood as being a specific socio-economic theory and movement which was born in the nineteenth century. Before 1840 no theory was called 'anarchism' nor was there any popular movement termed 'anarchist' by its members. This does not mean that anarchistic theories and movements did not exist but they only became retrospectively proclaimed as anarchist once the anarchist movement discovered them--for example, Stirner and Godwin in the 1890s.

That Eltzbacher included both because anarchists retroactively made the identification changes does not change the problems inclusion produces and regardless of the merit of the ideas of Godwin and Stirner, it would be...

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