Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Kropotkin, Woodcock and Les Temps Nouveaux

Academic journal article Anarchist Studies

Kropotkin, Woodcock and Les Temps Nouveaux

Article excerpt


This article challenges George Woodcock's account of Kropotkin's conception of revolution, specifically the claim that his commitment to revolutionary change waned in the latter part of his career. It demonstrates the continuity of Kropotkin's thought by looking at neglected material published in the French anarchist journal, Les Temps Nouveaux.

Keywords: Kropotkin, Woodcock, revolution, Les Temps Nouveaux.

In 'Sages and Movements'1 I attempted to fill a gap in our understanding of Peter Kropotkin's (1842-1921) contribution to the anarchist press. As well as discussing the importance of situating important thinkers ('sages') within their wider movements, the article also included a bibliography of Kropotkin's work. While incomplete, this bibliography showed that Kropotkin wrote far more than is usually assumed, based on his works that are readily available in English. Indeed, the majority of his articles remain hidden, so to speak, from the anarchist movement in archives. Consequently, those writing on Kropotkin or on anarchism in general have a very incomplete picture of his ideas.

Since the production of that incomplete bibliography, the French National Library has placed all copies of Les Temps Nouveaux on line.2 This is a tremendous boon for both anarchists and researchers on anarchism as it allows easy access to one of the French movement's most important journals. As will be shown, in the following critique of George Woodcock's discussion of Kropotkin, access to this material allows a more complete understanding of Kropotkin's ideas and the issues he considered important while part of the movement. His contribution to anarchism can then be more fully assessed and previous interpretations of the evolution of Kropotkin's ideas challenged.

George Woodcock became one of the most prolific writers on anarchists and the anarchist movement. His Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements (1962) was the standard popular introduction to the subject and he wrote numerous articles and books on libertarian thinkers and subjects. With Ivan Avakumovic he wrote the first biography of Kropotkin, The Anarchist Prince, in 19503 which made the claim that '[a]s the 1890's advance, the note of extreme optimism begins to fade from [Kropotkin's] writings'. This interpretation was echoed by John Quail in his book on the British anarchist movement where he suggested Kropotkin was 'developing his evolutionary views' and how to 'nourish the gradual growth of a libertarian society' during his 'tranquil' exile in Britain.4 Like Woodcock, Quail suggests this transformation dates from the 1890s.

While it is true that Kropotkin 'retired more and more into the intellectual world where his ideas might play a useful preparatory role' this is not linked to a growing reformist position which allegedly saw Kropotkin arguing that anarchism would arrive via a 'mutation in society' rather than by 'heroic revolutions on the pattern of 1789, 1848 and 1871'.5 As will be shown, the evidence provided to support this analysis is weak and the analysis of Kropotkin's writings for Les Temps Nouveaux (The New Times), which started publication in 1895 and would reflect any change, also contradicts it. Both confirm that Kropotkin's revolutionary perspective did not change between his joining the anarchist movement in 1872 and the outbreak of the First World War.


Significantly, Woodcock fails to support his claims with any significant evidence other than a paragraph from the end of Kropotkin's Memoirs of a Revolutionist.6 Not only does this fail to bolster his position, Woodcock also ignores the much lengthier sections of that work where Kropotkin discusses the International Working Men's Association and its conflicts and sides with those - 'the Bakuninists' - who argued that the International was 'essentially a working-men's organisation, [with] the workers understanding it as a labour movement and not as a political party'. …

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