Memoirs of a Revolutionist : Part 6: Western Europe, Section 1
(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.)
• "...let us remember that if exasperation often drives men to revolt, it is always hope, the hope of victory, which makes revolutions." (From : "The Spirit of Revolution," by Peter Kropotkin, fi....)
• "The communes of the next revolution will proclaim and establish their independence by direct socialist revolutionary action, abolishing private property. When the revolutionary situation ripens, which may happen any day, and governments are swept away by the people, when the middle-class camp, which only exists by state protection, is thus thrown into disorder, the insurgent people will not wait until some new government decrees, in its marvelous wisdom, a few economic reforms." (From : "The Commune of Paris," by Peter Kropotkin, Freedo....)
• "ANARCHISM, the name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government - harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being." (From : "Anarchism," by Peter Kropotkin, from the Encyclop....)
Part 6: Western Europe, Section 1
A STORM raged in the North Sea, as we approached the coasts of England. But I met the storm with delight. I enjoyed the struggle of our steamer against the furiously rolling waves, and sat for hours on the stem, the foam of the waves dashing into my face. After the two years that I had spent in a gloomy casemate, every fiber of my inner self seemed to be throbbing and eager to enjoy the full intensity of life.
My intention was not to stay abroad more than a few weeks or months: just enough time to allow the hue and cry caused by my escape to subside, and also to restore my health a little. I landed under the name of Levashóff, the name which I had used in leaving Russia; and avoiding London, where the spies of the Russian embassy would soon have been at my heels, I went first to Edinburgh.
It has so happened, however, that I have never returned to Russia. I was soon taken up by the wave of the anarchist movement, which was just then rising in Western Europe; and I felt that I should be more useful in helping that movement to find its proper expression than I could possibly be in Russia. In my mother country I was too well known to carry on an open propaganda, especially among the workers and the peasants; and later on, when the Russian movement became a conspiracy and an armed struggle against the representative of autocracy, all thought of a popular movement was necessarily abandoned; while my own inclinations drew me more and more intensely toward casting in my lot with the laboring and toiling masses. To bring to them such conceptions as would aid them to direct their efforts to the best advantage of all the workers; to deepen and to widen the ideals and principles which will underlie the coming social revolution; to develop these ideals and principles before the workers, not as an order coming from their leaders, but as a result of their own reason; and so to awaken their own initiative, now that they were called upon to appear in the historical arena as the builders of a new, equitable mode of organization of society, --- this seemed to me as necessary for the development of mankind as anything I could accomplish in Russia at that time. Accordingly, I joined the few men who were working in that direction in Western Europe, relieving those of them who had been broken down by years of hard struggle.
When I landed at Hull and went to Edinburgh, I informed but a few friends in Russia and in the Jura Federation of my safe arrival in England. A socialist must always rely upon his own work for his living, and consequently, as soon as I was settled in the Scotch capital, in a small room in the suburbs, I tried to find some work.
Among the passengers on board our steamer there was a Norwegian professor, with whom I talked, trying to remember the little that I formerly had known of the Swedish language. He spoke German. "But as you speak some Norwegian," he said to me, "and are trying to learn it, let us both speak it."
"You mean Swedish?" I ventured to ask. "I speak Swedish, don't I?"
"Well, I should say it is rather Norwegian; surely not Swedish," was his reply.
Thus happened to me what happened to one of Jules Verne's heroes, who had learned by mistake Portuguese instead of Spanish. At any rate, I talked a good deal with the professor, --- let it be in Norwegian, --- and he gave me a Christiania paper, which contained the reports of the Norwegian North Atlantic deep-sea expedition, just returned home.
As soon as I was at Edinburgh I wrote a note in English about these explorations, and sent it to "Nature," which my brother and I used regularly to read at St. Petersburg from its first appearance. The sub-editor acknowledged the note with thanks, remarking with an extreme leniency, which I have often met with since in England, that my English was "all right," and only required to be made "a little more idiomatic." I may say that I had learned English in Russia, and, with my brother, had translated Page's "Philosophy of Geology" and Herbert Spencer's "Principles of Biology." But I had learned it from books, and pronounced it very badly, so that I had the greatest difficulty in making myself understood by my Scotch landlady; her daughter and I used to write on scraps of paper what we had to say to each other; and as I had no idea of idiomatic English, I must have made the most amusing mistakes. I remember, at any rate, protesting once to her, in writing, that it was not a "cup of tea" that I expected at tea time, but many cups. I am afraid my landlady took me for a glutton, but I must say, by way of apology, that neither in the geological books I had read in English nor in Spencer's "Biology" was there any allusion to such an important matter as tea-drinking.
I got from Russia the Journal of the Russian Geographical Society, and soon began to supply the "Times" also with occasional paragraphs about Russian geographical explorations. Prjeválsky was at that time in Central Asia, and his progress was followed in England with interest.
However, the money I had brought with me was rapidly disappearing, and all my letters to Russia being intercepted, I could not succeed in making my address known to my relatives. So I moved in a few weeks to London, thinking I could find more regular work there. The old refugee, P. L. Lavróff, continued to edit at London his newspaper "Forward;" but as I hoped soon to return to Russia, and the editorial office of the Russian paper must have been closely watched by spies, I did not go there.
I went, very naturally, to the office of "Nature," where I was most cordially received by the sub-editor, Mr. J. Scott Keltie. The editor wanted to increase the column of Notes, and found that I wrote them exactly as they were required. A table was consequently assigned me in the office, and scientific reviews in all possible languages were piled upon it. "Come every Monday, Mr. Levashóff," I was told, "look over these reviews, and if there is any article that strikes you as worthy of notice, write a note, or mark the article; we will send it to a specialist." Mr. Keltie did not know, of course, that I used to rewrite each note three or four times before I dared to submit my English to him; but taking the scientific reviews home, I soon managed very nicely, with my "Nature" notes and my "Times" paragraphs, to get a living. I found that the weekly payment, on Thursday, of the paragraph contributors to the "Times" was an excellent institution. To be sure, there were weeks when there was no interesting news from Prjeválsky, and news from other parts of Russia was not found interesting; in such cases my fare was bread and tea only.
One day, however, Mr. Keltie took from the shelves several Russian books, asking me to review them for "Nature." I looked at the books, and, to my embarrassment, saw that they were my own works on the "Glacial Period" and the "Orography of Asia." My brother had not failed to send them to our favorite "Nature." I was in great perplexity, and, putting the books into my bag, took them home, to reflect upon the matter. "What shall I do with them?" I asked myself. "I cannot praise them, because they are mine; and I cannot be too sharp on the author, as I hold the views expressed in them." I decided to take them back next day, and explain to Mr. Keltie that, although I had introduced myself under the name of Levashóff, I was the author of these books, and could not review them.
Mr. Keltie knew from the papers about Kropótkin's escape, and was very much pleased to discover the refugee safe in England. As to my scruples, he remarked wisely that I need neither scold nor praise the author, but could simply tell the readers what the books were about. From that day a friendship, which still continues, grew up between us.
In November or December, 1876, seeing in the letter-box of P. L. Lavróff's paper an invitation for "K." to call at the editorial office to receive a letter from Russia, and thinking that the invitation was for me, I called at the office, and soon established friendship with the editor and the younger people who printed the paper.
When I called for the first time at the office --- my beard shaved and my "top" hat on --- and asked the lady who opened the door, in my very best English, "Is Mr. Lavróff in?" I imagined that no one would ever know who I was, as I had not mentioned my name. It appeared, however, that the lady, who did not know me at all, but well knew my brother while he stayed at Zurich, at once recognized me and ran upstairs to say who the visitor was. "I knew you immediately," she said afterwards, "by your eyes, which have much in common with those of your brother."
That time I did not stay long in England. I had been in lively correspondence with my friend James Guillaume, of the Jura Federation, and as soon as I found some permanent geographical work, which I could do in Switzerland as well as in London, I removed to Switzerland. The letters that I got at last from home told me that I might as well stay abroad, as there was nothing in particular to be done in Russia. A wave of enthusiasm was rolling over the country, at that time, in favor of the Slavonians who had revolted against the age-long Turkish oppression, and my best friends, Serghéi (Stepniák), Kelnitz, and several others, had gone to the Balkan peninsula to join the insurgents. "We read," my friends wrote, "the correspondence of the 'Daily News' about the horrors in Bulgaria; we weep at the reading, and go next to enlist either as volunteers in the Balkan insurgents' bands or as nurses."
I went to Switzerland, joined the Jura Federation of the International Workingmen's Association, and, following the advice of my Swiss friends, settled in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
From : Anarchy Archives
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