1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kropotkin, Peter Alexeivich
KROPOTKIN, PETER ALEXEIVICH, Prince (1842– ), Russian geographer, author and revolutionary, was born at Moscow in 1842. His father, Prince Alexei Petrovich Kropotkin, belonged to the old Russian nobility; his mother, the daughter of a general in the Russian army, had remarkable literary and liberal tastes. At the age of fifteen Prince Peter Kropotkin, who had been designed by his father for the army, entered the Corps of Pages at St Petersburg (1857). Only a hundred and fifty boys—mostly children of the nobility belonging to the court—were educated in this privileged corps, which combined the character of a military school endowed with special rights and of a Court institution attached to the imperial household. Here he remained till 1862, reading widely on his own account, and giving special attention to the works of the French encyclopaedists and to modern French history. Before he left Moscow Prince Kropotkin had developed an interest in the condition of the Russian peasantry, and this interest increased as he grew older. The years 1857–1861 witnessed a rich growth in the intellectual forces of Russia, and Kropotkin came under the influence of the new Liberal-revolutionary literature, which indeed largely expressed his own aspirations. In 1862 he was promoted from the Corps of Pages to the army. The members of the corps had the prescriptive right of choosing the regiment to which they would be attached. Kropotkin had never wished for a military career, but, as he had not the means to enter the St Petersburg University, he elected to join a Siberian Cossack regiment in the recently annexed Amur district, where there were prospects of administrative work. For some time he was aide de camp to the governor of Transbaikalia at Chita, subsequently being appointed attaché for Cossack affairs to the governor-general of East Siberia at Irkutsk. Opportunities for administrative work, however, were scanty, and in 1864 Kropotkin accepted charge of a geographical survey expedition, crossing North Manchuria from Transbaikalia to the Amur, and shortly afterwards was attached to another expedition which proceeded up the Sungari River into the heart of Manchuria. Both these expeditions yielded most valuable geographical results. The impossibility of obtaining any real administrative reforms in Siberia now induced Kropotkin to devote himself almost entirely to scientific exploration, in which he continued to be highly successful. In 1867 he quitted the army and returned to St Petersburg, where he entered the university, becoming at the same time secretary to the physical geography section of the Russian Geographical Society. In 1873 he published an important contribution to science, a map and paper in which he proved that the existing maps of Asia entirely misrepresented the physical formation of the country, the main structural lines being in fact from south-west to north-east, not from north to south, or from east to west as had been previously supposed. In 1871 he explored the glacial deposits of Finland and Sweden for the Russian Geographical Society, and while engaged in this work was offered the secretaryship of that society. But by this time he had determined that it was his duty not to work at fresh discoveries but to aid in diffusing existing knowledge among the people at large, and he accordingly refused the offer, and returned to St Petersburg, where he joined the revolutionary party. In 1872 he visited Switzerland, and became a member of the International Workingmen’s Association at Geneva. The socialism of this body was not, however, advanced enough for his views, and after studying the programme of the more violent Jura Federation at Neuchâtel and spending some time in the company of the leading members, he definitely adopted the creed of anarchism (q.v.) and, on returning to Russia, took an active part in spreading the nihilist propaganda. In 1874 he was arrested and imprisoned, but escaped in 1876 and went to England, removing after a short stay to Switzerland, where he joined the Jura Federation. In 1877 he went to Paris, where he helped to start the socialist movement, returning to Switzerland in 1878, where he edited for the Jura Federation a revolutionary newspaper, Le Révolté, subsequently also publishing various revolutionary pamphlets. Shortly after the assassination of the tsar Alexander II. (1881) Kropotkin was expelled from Switzerland by the Swiss government, and after a short stay at Thonon (Savoy) went to London, where he remained for nearly a year, returning to Thonon towards the end of 1882. Shortly afterwards he was arrested by the French government, and, after a trial at Lyons, sentenced by a police-court magistrate (under a special law passed on the fall of the Commune) to five years’ imprisonment, on the ground that he had belonged to the International Workingmen’s Association (1883). In 1886 however, as the result of repeated agitation on his behalf in the French Chamber, he was released, and settled near London.
Prince Kropotkin’s authority as a writer on Russia is universally acknowledged, and he has contributed largely to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Among his other works may be named Paroles d’un révolté (1884); La Conquête du pain (1888); L’Anarchie: sa philosophie, son idéal (1896); The State, its Part in History (1898); Fields, Factories and Workshops (1899); Memoirs of a Revolutionist (1900); Mutual Aid, a Factor of Evolution (1902); Modern Science and Anarchism (Philadelphia, 1903); The Desiccation of Asia (1904); The Orography of Asia (1904); and Russian Literature (1905).