Thursday, August 09, 2007

PRINCE PETER KROPOTKIN

He was not only born into the royal family of Czarist Russia, he was a prince among men.

Every time I encounter his life's dedication and work, I am overcome with admiration and awe of him anew. Though I have tried time and time again to pour out the admiration I feel for him and others like him, "if all the seas were ink and all the pine trees quills", still there would not be resource enough to praise them sufficiently.

He was a scion of one of the most respected lines in the Russian aristocracy. His family was directly related to Rurik.

He was trained in the Corps of Royal Pages and was offered a military career in an elite corps in the military.

But his scientific proclivity would lead him elsewhere. He became a geographer and insisted upon studying the geography of Siberia. It was there, in the unspeakable cold and harshness of Siberia, that he would develop his theory of Mutual Aid as the basis of survival and he argued his position forcefully against that of Darwin.

He developed a new theory about the structure of the Siberian mountains. His new findings garnered international acclaim.

The Russian Geographic Society offered him a position as its General Secretary.

Torn between the opportunity set before him and that which was in his heart from his early youth he wrote:

"Science is an excellent thing. I knew its joys and valued them...

But what right had I to these highest joys, when all around me was nothing but misery...when whatsoever I should spend to enable me to live in that world of higher emotions must need be taken from the very mouths of those who grew the wheat and had not bread enough for their children?...

Knowledge is an immense power. Man must know...What if that knowledge - should become the possession of all? Would not science itself progress in leaps, and cause mankind to make strides in production, invention, and social creation, of which we are hardly in a condition now to measure the speed? The masses want to know: they are willing to learn: they can learn...only give it to them, only give them the means of getting leisure. This is the direction in which, and these are the kind of people for whom I must work...So I sent my negative reply to the Geographical Society
." – MEMOIRS OF A REVOLUTIONARY (New York: Dover Publications 1971) pp. 239-41

He went on to become a member of the revolutionary Anarchist underground in Russia, where he was jailed for his efforts. He escaped from prison in Russia after two years' internment and fled to Switzerland. In France he was interned once again for another two-year stint. Finally, after having been very active in the underground for years, he arrived in England.

He spent his mature years in England where he dedicated his life to research. He continued his studies of geography. He studied zoology, sociology, economics and history as well. The conclusions that he came to as a result of those studies culminated in the publication of two masterpieces in addition to his
MUTUAL AID - A Factor of Evolution, those works being THE CONQUEST OF BREAD and FIELDS, FACTORIES AND WORKSHOPS.

He explains his purpose in carrying out that research and in writing FIELDS, FACTORIES AND WORKSHOPS thus:

"Most socialists had hitherto said that in our present civilized societies we actually produce much more than is necessary for guaranteeing full well-being to all; that it was only the distribution which was defective; I thought, on the contrary, that under the present conditions of private ownership production itself had taken a wrong turn, and was entirely inadequate even as regards the very necessaries of life. None of these necessaries are produced in greater quantities than would be required to secure well-being for all.

But in all civilized countries the production, both agricultural and industrial, ought to and easily might be immensely increased, so as to secure a reign of plenty for all. This brought me to consider the possibilities of modern agriculture, as well as those of an education which would give to everyone the possibility of carrying on at the same time both enjoyable manual and brain work. I developed these ideas in a series of articles in the "Nineteenth Century" (a periodical in his time, my parentheses) which are now published as a book under the title
FIELDS, FACTORIES AND WORKSHOPS." ibid. pp. 447-48

Kropotkin was invited to return to Russia after the revolution of 1917. He was afforded respect there, but was deeply pained by the treatment he saw the Anarchists receiving at the hands of the Communist Party. After his death in 1921, the same year that Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman fled Russia after witnessing the treatment of Nestor Makno and other Anarchists, no holds barred persecution of the Anarchists would be conducted by the Russians.

I come from two great traditions of learning selflessly, only for the sake of betterment of humanity - that of Judaism and that of Anarchism. All of my role models are people who devoted themselves to amassing knowledge not for the sake of vainglory and not for the sake of personal power, but in order to put that knowledge at the disposal of Humankind for our common welfare.

My religion enjoins everyone to learn insofar as the person is able to. Kropotkin too speaks of the ability of all to learn and the right of everyone to access as much knowledge as they can. I too am a staunch believer in the right and the ability of everyone to access knowledge and believe that this will advance the cumulative body of knowledge to a now unimaginable extent. I bristle at every expression of elitism and exclusivity when it comes to knowledge.

A book has been running around in my mind for a long while. Like many who were persecuted and died as martyrs for their religious beliefs, so many Anarchists were persecuted and died horrible deaths for their beliefs. Though the latter group consists mainly of people who considered, and consider, themselves atheists; they are remarkably like the greatest religious personalities that the world's religions have produced. The thesis of my book will be the demonstration of the fact that the Anarchists are the true inheritors, and continuation, of the Prophetic tradition. Do they not, like the Prophets, continue to hope in a future of common peace, prosperity and welfare?

It is because I so dearly love and admire the people who were, and are, scholars for the sake of humankind, who put their genius at the service of humankind without thought to themselves and because I am so very painfully aware of their sacrifice for me, for a world of people they never knew, that I find selfish, frivolous, look at me! amassing of factoids so very revolting.

Isn't the story of Kropotkin's early life and the compassion he exhibited from so young an age for the poor and disenfranchised remarkably reminiscent of the account of the early life of Siddhartha?

And he was not alone. Bakunin too was of noble birth, as was Tolstoi.

More remarkable than Siddhartha, they, most Kropotkin and Bakunin, did not go off in search of "enlightenment" or self-realization.

These men left palaces to live among the people they loved. Everything they did, all that they were, was for others. Nothing daunted them - not rejection by their families and the nobility, not the forfeiture of promising futures, not imprisonment, not exile in Siberia and in foreign countries, not ill health. They fought on till they breathed their last expecting nothing in return for what they did, nothing at all but the betterment of the lot of humankind.

That's as great as it gets in my book.


Doreen Ellen Bell-Dotan, Tzfat, Israel
DoreenDotan@gmail.com

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