In Russian and French Prisons

By Peter Kropotkin (1887)

Entry 288


From: holdoffhunger [id: 1]


Untitled Anarchism In Russian and French Prisons

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(1842 - 1921)

Russian Father of Anarcho-Communism

: As anarchism's most important philosophers he was in great demand as a writer and contributed to the journals edited by Benjamin Tucker (Liberty), Albert Parsons (Alarm) and Johann Most (Freiheit). Tucker praised Kropotkin's publication as "the most scholarly anarchist journal in existence." (From: Spartacus Educational Bio.)
• "As to parliamentary rule, and representative government altogether... It is becoming evident that it is merely stupid to elect a few men, and to entrust them with the task of making laws on all possible subjects, of which subject most of them are utterly ignorant." (From: "Process Under Socialism," by Peter Kropotkin, 188....)
• "...outside of anarchism there is no such thing as revolution." (From: "Revolutionary Government," by Peter Kropotkin, 18....)
• "To recognize all men as equal and to renounce government of man by man is another increase of individual liberty in a degree which no other form of association has ever admitted even as a dream." (From: "Communism and Anarchy," by Peter Kropotkin, 1901.)


15 Chapters | 75,822 Words | 464,637 Characters

In our busy life, preoccupied as we are with the numberless petty affairs of everyday existence, we are all too much inclined to pass by, many great evils which affect Society without giving them the attention they really deserve. If sensational "revelations" about some dark side of our life occasionally find their way into the daily Press; if they succeed in shaking our indifference and awaken public attention, we may have in the papers, for a month or two, excellent articles and letters on the subject. Many well-meant things may then be said, the most humane feelings expressed. But the agitation soon subsides; and, after having asked for some new regulations or laws, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of regulations and laws already... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
My first acquaintance with Russian prisons was made in Siberia. It was in 1862. I had then just arrived at Irkutsk--a young Lieutenant of Cossacks, not fully twenty years of age,--and a couple of months after my arrival I was appointed secretary to a committee for the reform of prisons. A few words of explanation are necessary, I suppose, for my English readers. The education I had received was only what a military school could give. Much of our time had been devoted, of course, to mathematics and physical sciences; still more to the science of warfare, to the art of destroying men on battle-fields. But we were living, then, in Russia at the time of the great revival of thought which followed in our country the Crimean defeat; and even ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
It is pretty generally recognized in Europe that altogether our penal institutions are very far from being what they ought, and no better indeed than so many contradictions in action of the modern theory of the treatment of criminals. The principle of the lex talionis--of the right of the community to avenge itself on the criminal--is no longer admissible. We have come to an understanding that society at large is responsible for the vises that grow in it, as well as it has its share in the glory of its heroes; and we generally admit, at least in theory, that when we deprive a criminal of his liberty, it is to purify and improve him. But we know how hideously at variance with the ideal the reality is. The murderer is simply handed over to th... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
No Autocracy can be imagined without its Tower or its Bastille. The St. Petersburg Autocracy is no exception to the rule, and it has its Bastille in the Petropavlovskaya Fortress. This fortress, unlike the Bastille of Paris, has nothing particularly gloomy in its outer aspect, nothing striking. Its low granite bastions facing the Neva have a modern appearance; it contains the Mint, a cathedral where the Emperors and their families are buried, several buildings occupied by engineers and military, extensive arsenals in the new Cronwerk in the north; and the ordinary street traffic passes through it in the day-time. But a sensation of horror is felt by the inhabitants of St. Petersburg as they perceive on the other side of the Neva, opposite ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Siberia-the land of exile-has always appeared in the conceptions of the Europeans as a land of horrors, as a land of the chains and knoot where convicts are flogged to death by cruel officials, or killed by overwork in mines; as a land of unutterable sufferings of the masses and of horrible prosecutions of the foes of the Russian Government. Surely nobody, Russian or foreigner, has crossed the Ural Mountains and stopped on their water-divide, at the border-pillar that bears the inscription " Europe " on one side, and " Asia " on the other, without shuddering at the idea that he is entering the land of woes. Many a traveler has certainly said to himself that the inscription of Dante's Inferno would be more appropriate to the boundary-pillar ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
It is not in vain that the word katorga (hard labor) has received so horrible a meaning in the Russian language, and has become synonymous with the most awful pains and sufferings. " I cannot bear any longer this kataorjnayalife," this life of moral and physical sufferings, of infamous insults and pitiless persecutions, of pains beyond man's strength, say those who are brought to despair before attempting to put an end to their life by suicide. It is not in vain that the word katorga has received this meaning, and all those who have seriously inquired into the aspects of hard labor in Siberia have come to the conclusion that it really corresponds to the popular conception. I have described the journey which leads to the katorga. Let us see ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
There is in the Northern Pacific, close by the coasts of Russian Manchuria, a wide island--one of the largest in the world,--but so out of the way of seafarers, so wild and barren, and so difficult of access, that until the last century it was quite ignored and considered as a mere appendix to the continent. Few places in the Russian Empire are worse than this island; therefore, it is to Sakhalin that the Russian Government sends now its hard-labor common-law exiles. A treble aim has always been prosecuted by exile to Siberia: to get rid of criminals in Russia at the lowest expense to the Central Government; to provide the mines which were the private property of the Emperors with cheap labor; and to colonize Siberia. For many years it was... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The foreigners who have visited Russia, and have been sufficiently keen observers, have often noticed a characteristic feature of the Russian Administration. People who belong to it know well its deficiencies, its worst features; very well indeed, because they themselves are not the last in contributing to its bad repute. They not only know it: they frankly acknowledge it when in company with their Russian friends. Even in official reports to the heads of the ministries, they do not conceal the bad organization of their respective departments. But let a foreigner enter a drawing-room where, a few minutes before, the Administration was sharply criticized, and the critics will be unanimous in repeating to the foreigner that surely there are ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The St. Paul prison at Lyons, where I spent the first three months of my incarceration, is not one of those old, dilapidated, and damp dungeons which are still resorted to in many French provincial towns for lodging prisoners. It is a modern prison, and pretends to rank among the best 'prisons departementales'. It covers a wide area enclosed by a double girdle of high walls; its buildings are spacious, of modern architecture, and clean in aspect; and in its general arrangement the modern ideas in penitentiary matters have been taken into account, as well as all necessary precautions for making it a stronghold in the case of a revolt. Like other departmental prisons, its destination is to receive those prisoners who are awaiting their trial,... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The central prison of Clairvaux, described in the preceding chapter, may be considered as a fair representative of modern prisons. In France, it is decidedly one of the best - I should say the best if I were not aware that the military prison at Brest is not inferior to the Maison Centrale of Clairvaux. In fact, the recent discussion about prisons in the French Chamber of Deputies, and the outbreaks of prisoners which have been witnessed last year in nearly ail the chief penal establishments of France, have disclosed such a state of affairs in most French prisons that we must recognize them as much worse than the central prison with which I was enabled to make some acquaintance. lf we compare the prison discipline at Clairvaux with that of... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
If we take into consideration all the influences briefly indicated in the above rapid sketch, we are bound to recognize that all of them, separately and combined together, act in the direction of rendering men who have been detained for several years in prisons less and less adapted for life in society; and that none of them, not a single one, acts in the direction of raising the intellectual and moral faculties, of lifting man to a higher conception of life and its duties, of rendering him a better, a more human creature than he was. Prisons do not moralize their inmates; they do not deter them from crime. And the question arises: What shall we do with those who break, not only the written law that sad growth... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The accused, who were brought before the court under this charge in December, 1882, were: Eugene Dubrovin, student of the Medical Academy; the artillery sub-officers Alexander Filipoff, and Alexei Ivanotf; the soldiers of the St. Petersburg depot-troops; Andrei Oryekhoff, Egor Kolibin, Kir Byzoff, Timofei Kuzuetsoff, Vlas Terentieff, Grigori Yushmanoff, Ivan Shtyrloff, Yakov Kolodkin, Adrian Dementieff, Grigori Petroff, Ivan Tanyshoff, Emelian Borisoff, Leon Arkhipoff, Platon Vishuyakoff, Ivan Gubkin, and of the 38th Tobolsk regiment Prokopi Samoiloff. "In the last days of December, 1881," the official document of accusation says, "disorders were discovered in the Alexeievskiy ravelin of the St. Petersburg Petropa... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
With the disorder which reigns in the statistics of Siberia it is very difficult, indeed, to estimate in how far the exiles contribute in increasing the population of Siberia. The following reliable figures published in 1886 by the official Tobolsk Gazette, and reproduced by the Vostochnoye Obozrenie (March 20th), are well worthy of notice. During the ten years 1875 to 1885, 38,577 men and 4285 women were transported to the Government of Tobolsk. They were followed by 23,721 free women and children, making thus a total of 66,583. During the same ten years 11,758 exiles died, and 10,094 ran away; 4735 were recommended and sent, or have been transferred on demand, to other parts of Siberia; 1854 were returned to Russ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
It is known that after the Winter Palace explosion, Loris Melikoff was nominated chief of the Executive, with nearly dictatorial powers. In fact, Alexander II. abdicated in his hands. One of the first steps of Loris Melikoff was to permit the Provincial Assemblies to express their wishes. So they did; and one of the first wishes expressed was for the abolition of the system of "Administrative exile." The St. Petersburg nobility were among the first to protest against this abominable system, and in their sitting of February 17th (March 1st), 1881, they carried the following resolution: "To address the Emperor a petition in order to ask that the law which warrants the inviolability of the person of each citizen, be n... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The revolt of the boys who were kept at the reformatory colony of Porquerolles, has disclosed the abominable treatment to which they were submitted. The facts brought last February before a court, have shown that the food they received was of the worst imaginable description, and absolutely insufficient. In fact, they were kept hungry throughout. As to the treatment, it was really horrible. The crapaudine a medieval instrument of torture was freely resorted to by the warders and the lady-proprietor of the colony. As to the colony of Mettray, which was often represented as a model colony, it appears from a discussion at the French Chamber of Deputies on March 31st, 1887, that there also the treatment of children is m... (From: Anarchy Archives.)


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