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6 - The Revolution Will Not Be Historicised

from Part 3 - Revolution and Evolution

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2016

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Summary

‘Liberty or death!’ entered the lexicon of revolutionary action during the American War of Independence. Usually invoked as an exulting, rallying cry, it also captured the horrendous prospect of revolutionary collapse that socialists began to contemplate in the early twentieth century. Kropotkin's assessment of the counter-veiling pressures on evolutionary development posed the choice between anarchy and the state in these stark terms and he was indeed circumspect about the prospects for liberty. His formulation, mutual aid or death, more closely resembled Rosa Luxemburg's socialism or barbarism than the romantic maxim of the American rebels. Admittedly, Kropotkin did not share her good estimation of the policies that European social democratic parties had pursued in the period following the defeat of the Commune. Yet, just as she re-evaluated the vigour of European socialism towards the outbreak of the 1914–18 war, Kropotkin harboured similar doubts about the popularity of anarchist doctrines and the likely kindling of a pan-European Commune movement.

Unlike the eighteenth-century patriots, Kropotkin understood revolution as a process, not a marshalling of militias, as their call presupposed. At the start of his exile in France, when he believed that Europe stood on the brink of revolution, Kropotkin argued that the crisis sparked by the land question presented an opportunity for transformation. The ensuing struggle was likely to be protracted and shaped equally by the potential of popular movements to resist new forms of revolutionary domination as by their power to liberate themselves from the forms of enslavement that had arisen in the aftermath of the English, America and French revolutions in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

Kropotkin's writings on revolution can be read as contributions to this struggle. His commentaries on social transformation set out insurrectionary and organisational principles for anarchists. He demonstrated how small groups of activists could harness the strength of mass movements and showed how those movements might be sustained in times of crisis, and insulated against elite usurpation of their power.

Kropotkin continually reviewed the prospects for revolution in the latter decades of the nineteenth century and in the early years of the twentieth.

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Kropotkin
Reviewing the Classical Anarchist Tradition
, pp. 155 - 184
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2016

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