Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 August 2016
Kropotkin has a place in the anarchist canon as a foremost advocate of anarchist communism. His reputation as a classical anarchist extends from this advocacy but equally from his standing as the scientist of anarchism. New anarchists found the interpretative value of Kropotkin's science principally in a conception of evolution. Kropotkin's evolutionary theory not only provided an answer to critics keen to identify anarchism with violence, it also served as a foundation for the articulation of a politics based on small-scale grass-roots experimentation and continual innovation. New anarchists did not use the term ‘prefiguration’ to describe this politics, but the conception of anarchism they offered fits this broad understanding of anarchist change.
In anarchism's third, post-anarchist, wave, usually dated to the rise of the alter-globalisation movement in the late 1990s, Kropotkin's science has been interpreted very differently. Post-anarchist readings of Kropotkin's anarchism also emphasise the centrality of science to Kropotkin's anarchism. However, in post-anarchism science becomes the byword to describe Kropotkin's political theory, providing an exemplar for classical anarchism. Kropotkin is not so much painted as a savant but one of a handful of intellectuals who fixed the politics and philosophy of anarchism. This politics is often described as teleological, based on a particular concept of human nature and linked to a form of revolutionary utopianism that promises the realisation of anarchy. Post-anarchists dissolve the distance between Bakunin and Kropotkin that new anarchists attempted to instantiate and claim the territory of prefigurative politics as their own. In doing so, post-anarchists establish a boundary between philosophical traditions that cuts across the canon: leading anarchists are placed in or abstracted from a classical tradition or classed as precursors of post-anarchism. Post-anarchist classifications have helped solidify a set of ideological and cultural boundaries between apparently historically bounded and contemporary anarchisms, for example, classstruggle anarchism and individualism, and social and lifestyle anarchism. Kropotkin is usually placed on one side of these divisions: as a representative of a classical tradition, he emerges as a scientist who believed in the necessity of class-based revolution.