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5 - Anarchism: Utopian and Scientific

from Part 3 - Revolution and Evolution

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2016

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Summary

The premium that Kropotkin placed on the role of ideas and the value of imagining the implementation of anarchist practices conferred a utopian flavour on his anarchism. Because of the ways in which utopian socialism was commonly understood in nineteenth-century circles, Kropotkin was careful to qualify the nature of his utopianism, but he was also keen to show that anarchists had inherited the mantel of the innovative, experimental principles of the earlier generation of utopians, especially Robert Owen and Charles Fourier. The concept of utopia also helped Kropotkin to distinguish his own approach to design from contemporaries on the left and in the establishment.

Kropotkin presented several accounts of anarchist organisation, the most sustained being in the book Fields, Factories and Workshops. His willingness to outline his ideas and to use them as motivators for change attracted considerable criticism from within the anarchist movement, particularly from anti-communists. Kropotkin met these critiques and countered them by showing why his proposed solutions to the land question and slavery were superior to those advanced by individualists. These arguments highlight the grounds of Kropotkin's rejection of the individualist anarchism of Benjamin Tucker and the egoism of Stirner.

In the 1890s Kropotkin also openly confronted the professed antiutopianism of the social democrats, and his development of the theory of mutual aid illuminated the gap that existed between the uncertainty of the evolutionary principles that ran alongside his utopian schemes and the confidence that anti-anarchist Marxist critics derived from their accounts of the logic of history. There was an ideal towards which evolution was pointing and this was the realisation of nihilist ethics. As a utopian, Kropotkin presented these ethics as the aspiration concealed in a tradition of political thought. Even though evolutionary processes were rooted in nature, anarchist ethics would never be fully realised unless their self-regulatory mechanisms were widely recognised. By attacking Social Darwininsm and supplementing biological evolutionary theory with an account of cultural evolution, Kropotkin challenged one of the theoretical mainsprings for statism and capitalism and demonstrated the advantages of anarchist institutions. In both practical and philosophical realms, utopia meant changing the environment in ways that enabled different behaviours to flourish.

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Kropotkin
Reviewing the Classical Anarchist Tradition
, pp. 127 - 154
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2016

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