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Memoirs of a Revolutionist (Collected Works of Peter Kropotkin) Paperback – Dec 1989

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--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Product details

  • Paperback: 468 pages
  • Publisher: Black Rose Books; New edition edition (Dec 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0921689187
  • ISBN-13: 978-0921689188
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 2.8 x 23 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,878,768 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

"The worst was the silence, as of the grave, which reigned about me. In vain I knocked on the walls and struck the floor with my foot, listening for the faintest sound in reply. None was to be heard. One month passed, then two, three, fifteen months, but there was no reply to my knocks. We were only six, scattered among 36 casemates, all my arrested comrades being kept in the Litovskiy Zamok prison. When the noncommissioned officer entered my cell to take me out for a walk, and I asked him, 'What kind of weather have we, Does it rain,' he cast a furtive side glance at me and without saying a word promptly retired behind the door..."

"We certainly foresaw that if full freedom is left to the individual for the expression of his ideas and for action, we should have to face a certain amount of extravagant exaggerations of our principles. I had seen it in the Nihilist movement in Russia. But we trusted - and experience has proved that we were right - that social life itself... would be the most effective means for threshing out opinions." --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Luke Dunn on 9 Jan 2006
Format: Paperback
The first half doesnt mention K's radicalism, but in the second half you get some good stuff. I like the chapter about nihilism which is a widely misunderstood and misrepresented movement. Also the chapter about spies and how to spot them. K and many other Russian idealists were willing to enter the life of the workers and endure their sufferings, they put up with prison and in some cases went bravely to the gallows for what they believed in. This is an awesome historical document, which could inspire modern radicals with a vision of the birth of a key tradition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4 reviews
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
History will prove this man more foresighted than we know! 4 Nov 1999
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This intelligent and kind man all too often falls through the cracks of history. People forget that there was a completely different school of socialist thought that existed concurrently with the ideas of Marx. Kropotkin, like many others who believed in the ability of people to make their own economic relations, had the distinction of being persecuted by people on both sides of the political spectrum. Yet his book is remarkable for its lack of self-pity or resentment. The book is dense and full of the musings of a highly educated man of the late 19th century who indulged many other interests besides politics. His journey is remarkable, and we can only hope that he will become better known.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
A little more background 2 Jun 2002
By A Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Prince Piotr Alekseyevich Kropotkin, 1842-1921, was a Russian geographer and anarchist. He came from a wealthy princely family and as a boy was a page to the czar. Repelled by court life, he obtained permission to serve as an army officer in Siberia, where his explorations and scientific observations established his reputation as a geographer. After returning to European Russia, he became an adherent of the Bakuninist faction of the narodniki and engaged in clandestine propaganda activities until arrested in 1874. Two years later he escaped to Western Europe, where he worked with various anarchist groups until his imprisonment in France (1883). Pardoned in 1886, partly as the result of the popular clamor for his release, he moved to England and spent the next 30 years mainly as a scholar and writer developing a coherent anarchist theory. In his most famous book, Mutual Aid (1902), he attacked T. H. Huxley and the Social Darwinists for their picture of nature and human society as essentially competitive. He insisted that cooperation and mutual aid were the norms in both the natural and social worlds. From this perspective he developed a theory of social organizationin Fields, Factories and Workshops (1898) and elsewherethat was based upon communes of producers linked with each other through common custom and free contract. Returning to Russia following the February Revolution of 1917, he attempted to engender support for a continued Russian effort in World War I and to combat the rising influence of Bolshevism. Following the Bolshevik triumph in the October Revolution (1917), he retired from active politics. Consistently nonviolent in his anarchist beliefs, Kropotkin,as both thinker and man, was admired and acclaimed by many far removed from anarchist circles.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant! 12 Sep 2002
By Sean - Published on
Format: Paperback
This work by Peter Kropotkin's is, I say this without reservations, a work of genius and an amazing reflection on the life of an amazing man. Kropotkin's stories of his childhood and his relations with his servants and other lower-calss individuals (he was born a prince) are very interesting, as are his tales of exploration. His version of anarcho-socialism is very intriguing, largely because he bears no hate or grudge towards anyone and he is a very gentle man. In his book, it becomes clear (without him saying it, of course) that he did not recognize just how unique of a man he was. This book is filled with marvelous anecdotes, from cutting political commentary to fascinating stories of journeys down the Amur River to a splendid little collection of stupid Russian Spy stories. This book is fantastic.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Recommended 8 Aug 2014
By Cassian Ardent - Published on
Format: Paperback
For people who are interested in studying a specific period in depth, and who have already read a few general histories of it, biographies are a logical step. Whereas the former gives a birds eye view of the subject, the latter gives a ground-level view - less impressive perhaps in total area covered, but filled with detail and nuance that might otherwise be missed. The impression that they produce is more likely to stick with the reader over the long term - and with it, the basic facts of the period. Autobiographies have the additional benefit of allowing the reader a more intimate familiarity with a person about whom they may have read in another context. What they lack in impartiality, they make up for in immediacy.

The basic facts of Kropotkin's life are easily accessible elsewhere, so I won't recapitulate them here. Suffice it to say he was born into a life of privilege, which he rejected in order to pursue what he regarded as a higher calling. The first volume discusses his childhood in St. Petersburg, his youth in Siberia, and his eventual imprisonment for political activities. The second describes his geographic work, his escape from prison, and his adventures in the political underground of Europe, from about 1870-1900. The second volume is far less concerned with narrating facts than the first - whereas, in the first volume, seemingly trivial incidents were retold in lavish detail, in the second he frequently neglects to mention what city he is living in, how he is getting his money, and other basic facts which, presumably, readers of a biography would be interested to know. About 1/3 of the way through he casually mentions that he has acquired a wife, who is never named, but who was apparently an active companion in his revolutionary labors.

The general impression that one gets from this volume is of a kindly, intelligent, generous man, filled with enthusiasm for a new age which, he is sure, is just about to dawn. No doubt generalizing from his experience of Czarist government, where the description probably contains a great deal of justice, he regards the defenders of aristocracy and bourgeois republicanism alike as corrupt, incompetent, and simply backward men, clinging to tradition out of sheer stubbornness. The superiority of scientific socialism is for him a given, requiring no explanation or apology.

Beneath ideology, one gets the impression that Kropotkin's real complaint against Czarist Russia - the context in which his character and basic political ideas were formed - is the ridigidy of its ideas and the brutality of their enforcement. The way he tells it, it was simply not possible for a good idea to get a hearing in Alexander II's Russia - all power was reserved to a tiny clique of aristocrats who hovered around the Czar, and who competed to influence him. For anyone outside that circle to display the slightest inclination toward independent thought, let alone personal initiative, was to invite the unkind attention of the authorities. Having grown up in this circle himself, Kropotkin is under no illusion as to their real character and abilities - he thinks they are, at best, close-minded old fuddy-duddies, and at worst a pack of brutal and corrupt tyrants. His account of his time in Russia is littered with examples of both, and he appears to have been genuinely moved by the plight of the ordinary people, who had no way to seek redress for their grievances under the Czarist system. These were the ideas he carried with him into Europe, and which shaped his basic outlook on the governments he found there. In practice they were, of course, considerably more tolerant and forward-thinking than Czarist Russia, but he does not seem to have noticed it.

There is no trace of bitterness or personal enmity in this book - despite his frequent imprisonment at the hands of the authorities, for no crime other than what we, in the United States, would regard as the exercise of our 1st amendment rights. But perhaps he is leaving some of his shadier activities out of the narrative, and if the authorities could tell their side of the story perhaps we would be in the possession of a very different set of facts. Nevertheless, he undoubtedly regarded himself as an enemy of the state, and was so regarded by the authorities, so the lack of personal enmity is remarkable. On the contrary, this book is filled with the praise of friends, family, and fellow revolutionaries. He even has kind words for the Czar Alexander II, whom he regarded as a basically well-meaning but weak-willed man, forever being mislead by crafty and devious advisers.

His descriptions of prison life, and of bizarre misadventures involving police spies, are the things I found mostly valuable in this book. It gives the reader a real sense of time and place, and one gets a definite sense of just how widespread socialist ideas were at that time, and just how much people were ready to sacrifice on their behalf. It also gives further evidence of the prestige and power of a then-current ideology, which might be labelled "scientism." Kropotkin is proud of his standing as a scientist, and he devotes considerable space to his geographical activities. This is not simply because he regards these as a professional accomplishment, or because it was an important part of his life - it is also because he senses that his activities as a scientist will lend an air of legitimacy to his political ideas, which he regards as resting on the same solid ground as his geographical activities. Or, in other words, he shares with Marx and many other socialists of his time the conviction that socialism is scientific, and that socialist ideas - or, as he refers to them "advanced opinions" occupy a special pride of place in the intellectual life of Europe at the time. To be a socialist is, for Kropotkin, to be a clear thinker - to be anything other than a socialist is to be unscientific, illogical, unreasonable. He doesn't exactly say all of this in his memoir - that would have been too direct - but he assumes it on every page. Careful readers of this text will be able to infer much that he does not openly declare.

All in all Kropotkin strikes me as having belonged to the early generation of revolutionaries - idealists who regarded their ideals as mere common sense, who had not yet appreciated what a bitter and protracted struggle they had on their hands, and who were pleased to imagine that a popular uprising could be expected any day. In Germany, France, and Italy revolutionary zeal would be tamed considerably by the incorporation of the socialist program into legalized and respectable political parties. People who wanted an armed revolution were not so much suppressed, as they were rendered politically irrelevant by government concessions to the common people. Russian politics was to take a very different course, with what results everyone knows. It is ironic, however, that our perception of socialism is so heavily influenced by the disastrous Russian experiment, when, as a matter of history, the Russian socialists were neither representative nor particularly numerous when compared to their European colleagues. Memoirs of a revolutionist is useful as a corrective to that kind of thinking.
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