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Introduction to Part 2: (A Beautiful White Christ) Coming Out of Russia

from Part 2 - Coming Out of Russia

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2016

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Summary

Nicholas Walter's irritation with Wilde's tribute to Kropotkin stemmed from the symbolism that attached to Kropotkin's goodness and the purity of his vision. Yet for all its extravagance, Wilde's phrase is richly suggestive. Woodcock and Avakumović use Wilde's accolade as a chapter heading, reduced to ‘White Jesus’. Kropotkin's nobility is trumpeted and the idea of his removal from Russia is subsumed by his virtues. Read differently, Wilde's handle rightly directs attention to the character of Kropotkin's politics when he came out of Russia in 1876.

The Chaikovskii Circle (also known as, for example, the Circle of Tchaikovsky and Circle of Chaikovtsy), which Kropotkin joined in 1872, is often said to have had a lasting influence on his politics. Drawing on the warm recollection of the Circle that Kropotkin gives in his memoirs, Caroline Cahm describes its influence as ‘formative’ and adds that ‘the idealism of the Chaikovskists continued to influence him long after he left Russia – especially in his view of revolutionary action’. Drawing on a wealth of Russian sources, Martin Miller's study details Kropotkin's participation in the Circle and also considers how his manifesto, Must We Occupy Ourselves with an Examination of the Ideal of a Future System?, contributed both to the politics of the wider revolutionary movement and the development of his own political ideas. Miller describes Kropotkin as a budding Bakuninist. Departing from this account, Cahm emphasises how Kropotkin was affected by the Chaikovskists’ personal virtues and impressed by the constitutional principles of the group. According to Kropotkin, these principles were adopted ‘in opposition to the methods of Nechayev’. The Chaikovskists had decided, ‘quite correctly, that a morally developed individuality must be the foundation of every organization, whatever political character it may take afterward and whatever programme of action it may adopt in the course of future events’. The Circle operated on the basis of trust, openness, transparency and close friendship. Yet beyond the rejection of elite conspiracy, which Kropotkin combines with the advocacy of a Bakuninist spontaneous insurrectionary politics, the ways in which this influence marked his anarchism is difficult to discern. The clue that Kropotkin gives is that the behaviours of the Chaikovskii Circle were ‘characteristic of the Nihilist’.

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Kropotkin
Reviewing the Classical Anarchist Tradition
, pp. 49 - 54
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2016

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