The New International Encyclopædia/Krapotkin, Peter Alexeyevitch
KRAPOTKIN, krȧ-pŏt'kĭn, Prince Peter Alexeyevitch (1842—). A Russian geographer and anarchist, born at Moscow. As a boy he became a member of the corps of pages de chambre — a privilege much sought after by the Russian nobility because of the intimate relation of the pages with the Imperial family — and received an excellent education in physical and military science. It was the ambition of his father that Krapotkin should devote his life to service at the Court; but the life at Saint Petersburg repelled him, and in 1862 he elected service in a Cossack regiment which was to be stationed in the Amur region in Siberia. There he engaged in several important administrative duties, and made explorations in parts of Manchuria, then wholly unknown to geographical science. A study of the economic conditions of the Amur settlements led him to entertain schemes for important reforms, but the bureaucratic administration rendered any reform impossible, even thwarting improvements initiated by the settlers. This experience first prepared him for anarchism. In 1867 he returned to Saint Petersburg and entered the university. His explorations in Asia had convinced him that the maps of that continent were based on an erroneous principle. After two years of work he published a new hypothesis, which has since been adopted by most cartographers. In a geological expedition to Finland Krapotkin discovered that all of Northern Europe was once covered by an ice-cap, an opinion then considered rank heresy. Observation of the economic conditions of the Finnish peasants inspired in him a feeling that natural science avails little so long as the social problem remains unsolved. In 1872 he visited Western Europe, and spent some months in Switzerland, at that time the centre of the propaganda of the International Workingmen's Association. Krapotkin joined the more conservative collectivistic wing of the party, but soon went over to the Bakunists, or Anarchists. Returning to Russia, he found the Nihilistic movement well under way, and joined the ‘Circle Tchaikovsky,’ a revolutionary society with branches throughout Russia. For two years he was busily engaged in carrying on an anarchistic propaganda, devoting a part of his time, however, to geographical science. In 1874 he was arrested and consigned to the fortress of Peter and Paul at Saint Petersburg, where by special favor he was permitted to elaborate the results of his explorations in Finland. After two years of imprisonment he escaped to England, and in 1877 went to Switzerland, where he again became actively engaged in the anarchistic movement. In 1879 he began to publish at Geneva Le Révolte, the organ of his party. After the assassination of Alexander II, he was expelled from Switzerland, and after a brief stay in England settled in Thonon, France, where he continued to publish Le Révolte. He was arrested in 1883 for alleged complicity in anarchistic plots at Lyons, and was sentenced to five years' imprisonment. In 1886 he was set free and went to England, where he took an active part in the socialistic movement of that year. Since that time he has lived in England, devoting himself to writing and lecturing in defense of anarchism. He visited the United States in 1900.
While a believer in revolution as a necessary means to social reform, Krapotkin has always displayed a disinclination for violent measures. His ideal is a society of small communities of equals, federated for the purpose of securing the greatest possible sum of well-being, with full and free scope for every individual initiative. Government and leadership have no place in his scheme of social organization. He recognizes that it is impossible for any man to conceive the method of operation of such a society, but trusts to the collective wisdom of the masses to solve the problems involved.
For Krapotkin's life, consult his interesting Memoirs of a Revolutionist (Boston, 1899). His most important anarchistic works are Aux jeunes gens (1881); Law and Authority (London, 1886); Paroles d'un révolté (1885, translated 1886 under title War); In Russian and French Prisons (1887); La conquête du pain (1892).