Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin (1842 - 1921) was a biologist, geographer and a major theorist of anarcho-communism and mutual aid. His writings had major influence in influence in economics, agricultural science, conservation, ethology, criminology, city planning, geography, geology and biology. He is credited as a major figure within the modern environmental movement, commune movement, the scientific study of behaviour and anarcho-communism.
Peter's family were a line of nobles and generals that had come from the Rurik dynasty, a pre-Romanov family. Kropotkin's father owned large tracts of land and nearly 1,200 male serfs in three provinces. His mother was the daughter of a Cossack general.
He was born in Moscow in 1842, and was a well educated child. He dropped his princely title at age 12 and declared himself a supporter of a russian republic. At age 14 he enrolled with 150 other boys for the Corps of Pages, a military school for the children of nobles where he witnessed extensive abuse of the boys by the school staff.
Serving as a page for Tsar Alexander II, he became increasingly skeptical of the Tsar's liberal reputation and began to sympathise with liberal revolutionaries. Between 1857 and 1861 he began to read a great deal of French history, especially about the French Revolution. He also became increasingly interested in the peasantry of much of Russia. He graduated first of his class from the Corps of Pages and entered the Russian Army, becoming aid to the governor of Transbaikalia in Siberia and then an aid to the governor-general of East Siberia.
Kropotkin was eventually fired due to the liberal political activities of the governors he served under. He accepted a position into a geographical survey expedition in 1864, crossing North Manchuria from Transbaikalia to the Amur, and soon was attached to another expedition up the Sungari River into the heart of Manchuria. The expeditions yielded valuable geographical results. The impossibility of obtaining any real reforms in Siberia now induced Kropotkin to devote himself almost entirely to scientific exploration, in which he continued to be highly successful.
In 1867, Kropotkin resigned his commission in the army and returned to St. Petersburg, where he entered the Saint Petersburg Imperial University to study mathematics, becoming at the same time secretary to the geography section of the Russian Geographical Society. His departure from a family tradition of military service prompted his father to disinherit him, "leaving him a 'prince' with no visible means of support".
In 1871, Kropotkin explored the glacial deposits of Finland and Sweden for the Society. In 1873, he published an important contribution to science, a map and paper in which he showed that the existing maps entirely misrepresented the physical features of Asia; the main structural lines were in fact from southwest to northeast, not from north to south or from east to west as had been previously supposed. During this work, he was offered the secretaryship of the Society, but he had decided that it was his duty not to work at fresh discoveries but to aid in diffusing existing knowledge among the people at large.
The governor under whom Kropotkin served, General Boleslar Kazimirovich Kukel (1829–1869), was a liberal and a democrat who maintained personal connections to various Russian radical political figures exiled to Siberia. These included the writer M. I. Mikhailov (1826–1865), to whom Kukel sent Kropotkin in 1863 to warn the exiled intellectual that Moscow police agents were on the scene to examine his ongoing political activities in confinement. As a result of this assignment, Kropotkin made the acquaintance of Mikhailov, who provided the young Tsarist functionary with a copy of a book by the French anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon — Kropotkin's first introduction to anarchist ideas. Kukel was subsequently dismissed from his administrative position, and Kropotkin moved from administration to state-sponsored scientific endeavors.
Kropotkin continued his political reading, including works by such prominent liberal and socialist thinkers as John Stuart Mill and Alexander Herzen. These readings, along with his experiences among peasants in Siberia, and his visits Switzerland where he interacted with the International Workingmen's Association and the Jura Federation led him to declare himself an anarchist in 1872.
Activism in Russia and Arrest
On returning to Russia, Kropotkin's friend Dmitri Klements introduced him to the Circle of Tchaikovsky, a socialist/populist group created in 1872 to agitate for a socialist revolution in Russia. Kropotkin worked to spread revolutionary propaganda among peasants and workers and acted as a bridge between the Circle and the aristocracy. Throughout this period, Kropotkin maintained his position within the Geographical Society in order to provide cover for his activities.
Arrest, Escape and Exile in Europe
In 1872, Kropotkin was arrested and imprisoned in the Peter and Paul Fortress for subversive political activity, as a result of his work with the Circle of Tchaikovsky. Because of his aristocratic background, he received special privileges in prison, such as permission to continue his geographical work in his cell. He delivered his report on the subject of the Ice Age in 1876, where he argued that it had taken place in not as distant a past as initially thought.
In 1876, just before his trial, Kropotkin was moved to a low-security prison in St. Petersburg, from which he escaped with the help of his friends. On the night of the escape, Kropotkin and his friends celebrated by dining in one of the finest restaurants in St. Petersburg, then boarding to a boat and fleeing to England, before moving to Switzerland. He moved to France and back to Switzerland.
In 1881, shortly after the assassination of Tsar Alexander II, he was expelled from Switzerland. After a short stay at Savoy, he stayed in London for nearly a year. He met numerous radicals during this time, including Marie Le Compte, Errico Malatesta, Saverio Merlino, Louise Michel, Nicholas Tchaikovsky, Émile Gautier and Varlam Cherkezishvili. He was arrested while travelling in France in 1882 and tried in Lyon (using laws passed since the fall of the Paris Commune) for being a member of the IWA. He was released in 1886, and helped found the Freedom Press newspaper in Britain with Henry Seymour and Charlotte Wilson. He also befriend William Morris and George Bernard Shaw.
During World War I Kropotkin and Jean Grave drafted the Manifesto of the Sixteen, advocating for an Allied Victory of Germany and the Central Powers, which isolated him from the anarchist movement.
Return to Russia
Kropotkin returned to Russia in 1917 following the Febuary Revolution, greeted by cheering crowds of tens of thousands of people. He was offered the ministry of education in the Provisional Government, which he promptly refused, feeling that working with them would be a violation of his anarchist principles. Intially enthusiastic about the October Revolution, he lost this enthusiam upon witnessing the rise of a Bolshevik dictatorship, which he predicted would fail to bring about communism and compared it to the Jacobins of the French Revolution.
Kropotkin died of pneumonia on the 8th of February, 1921, in the city of Dmitrov, and was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow. Thousands of people marched in his funeral procession, including, with Vladimir Lenin's approval, anarchists carrying banners with anti-Bolshevik slogans. The occasion, the last public demonstration of anarchists in Soviet Russia, saw engaged speeches by his close friends Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman and Aron Baron. In 1957 the Dvorets Sovetov station of the Moscow Metro was renamed Kropotkinskaya in his honor.