The State: Its Historic Role

By Peter Kropotkin (1887)

Entry 412


From: holdoffhunger [id: 1]


Untitled Anarchism The State: Its Historic Role

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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.)
• "...all that is necessary for production-- the land, the mines, the highways, machinery, food, shelter, education, knowledge--all have been seized by the few in the course of that long story of robbery, enforced migration and wars, of ignorance and oppression..." (From: "The Conquest of Bread," by Peter Kropotkin, 1906.)
• "...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....)
• "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....)


11 Chapters | 21,147 Words | 126,893 Characters

When Kropotkin was invited by Jean Grave, editor of Les Temps Nouveaux, to take part in a series of lectures to be held in the Milles Colonnes Hall in Paris in March 1896, he chose two subjects: The State: Its Historic Role and Anarchism: Its Philosophy and Its Ideal. Bearing in mind that his greatest work, Mutual Aid, had been appearing as a series of articles in The Nineteenth Century from 1890-1896 his choice of subjects for these lectures is not surprising. Kropotkin explains in the French edition of his Memoirs "The research that I carried out in the course of familiarizing myself with the institutions of the barbarian period and those of the free cities of the Middle Ages, led me to carry out further interesting research on the role p... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
In taking the State and its historic role as the subject for this study, I think I am satisfying a much felt need at the present time: that of examining in depth the very concept of the State, of studying its essence, its past role and the part it may be called upon to play in the future. It is above all over the question of the State that socialists are divided. Two main currents can be discerned in the factions that exist among us which correspond to differences in temperament as well as in ways of thinking, but above all to the extent that one believes in the coming revolution. There are those, on the one hand, who hope to achieve the social revolution through the State by preserving and even extending most of its powers to be used for... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
Most philosophers of the eighteenth century had very elementary ideas on the origin of societies. According to them, in the beginning Mankind lived in small isolated families, and perpetual warfare between them was the normal state of affairs. But, one day, realizing at last the disadvantages of their endless struggles, men decided to socialize. A social contract was concluded among the scattered families who willingly submitted themselves to an authority which - need I say? - became the starting-point as well as the initiator of all progress. And does one need to add, since we have been told as much at school, that our present governments have so far remained in their noble role as the salt of the earth, the pacifiers and civilizers of th... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The village community consisted then, as it still does, of individual families. But all the families of the same village owned the land in common. They considered it as their common heritage and shared it out among themselves on the basis of the size of each family - their needs and their potential. Hundreds of millions of human beings still live in this way in Eastern Europe, India, Java, etc. It is the same kind of system that has been established in our time by Russian peasants, freely in Siberia, as soon as the State gave them a chance to occupy the vast Siberian territory in their own way. Today the cultivation of the land in a village community is carried out by each individual household independently. Since all the arable land is sh... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
It is easy to understand why modern historians, trained in the Roman way of thinking and seeking to associate all institutions with Rome, find it so difficult to appreciate the communalist movement that existed in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. This movement with its virile affirmation of the individual, and which succeeded in creating a society through the free federation of men, of villages and of towns, was the complete negation of the unitarian, centralizing Roman outlook with which history is explained in our university curricula. Nor is it linked to any historic personality, or to any central institution. It is a natural development, belonging, just as did the tribe and the village community, to a certain phase in human evolutio... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
With these elements - liberty, organization from the simple to the complex, production and exchange by the Trades (guilds), foreign trade handled by the whole city and not by individuals, and the purchase of provisions by the city for resale to the citizens at cost price - with such elements, the towns of the Middle Ages for the first two centuries of their free existences became centers of well-being for all the inhabitants, centers of wealth and culture, such as we have not seen since. One has but to consult the documents which made it possible to compare the rates at which work was remunerated and the cost of provisions - Rogers has done this for England and a great number of German writers for Germany - to learn that the labor of an ar... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
In the course of the sixteenth century, the modern barbarians were to destroy all that civilization of the cities of the Middle Ages. These barbarians did not succeed in annihilating it, but in halting its progress at least two or three centuries. They launched it in a different direction, in which humanity is struggling at this moment without knowing how to escape. They subjected the individual. They deprived him of all his liberties, they expected him to forget all his unions based on free argument and free initiative. Their aim was to level the whole of society to a common submission to the master. They destroyed all ties between men, declaring that the State and the Church alone, must henceforth create union between their subjects; tha... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The victory of the State over the communes of the Middle Ages and the federalist institutions of the time was nevertheless not sudden. There was a period when it was sufficiently threatened for the outcome to be in doubt. A vast popular movement - religious in its form and expressions but eminently equalitarian and communist in its aspirations - emerged in the towns and countryside of Central Europe. Already, in the fourteenth century (in 1358 in France and in 1381 in England) two similar movements had come into being. The two powerful uprisings of the Jaquerie and of Wat Tyler had shaken society to its very foundations. Both however had been principally directed against the nobility, and though both had been defeated, they had broken feu... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
The role of the nascent State in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in relation to the urban centers was to destroy the independence of the cities; to pillage the rich guilds of merchants and artisans; to concentrate in its hands the external commerce of the cities and ruin it; to lay hands on the internal administration of the guilds and subject internal commerce as well as all manufactures, in every detail to the control of a host of officials - and in this way to kill industry and the arts; by taking over the local militias and the whole municipal administration, crushing the weak in the interest of the strong by taxation, and ruining the countries by wars. Obviously the same tactic was applied to the villages and the peasants. Onc... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
"If in the town and the village you have common interests,., then ask the State or the church to deal with them. but for you to get together to deal with these interests is forbidden." This is the aathat eehoes throughout Europe from the sixteenth century Already at the end of the fourteenth century an edict by Edward III, King of England, stated that "every allianee, connivance, gatherings, meetings, enactments and solemn oaths made or to t made between carpenters and masons,nd masons, are null and void". But it was only after the defeat of the villages and of the popttlar uprisings, to which we have already referred, that the State dared to interfere with all the institutions - guilds, brotherhoods, etc. - which bound the artisans togeth... (From: Anarchy Archives.)
If one goes a little deeper into these different categories of phenomena which I have hardly touched upon in this short outline one will understand why - seeing the State as it has been in history, and as it is in essence today - and convinced that a social institution cannot lend itself to all the desired goals since as with every organ, it developed according to the function it performed, in a definite direction and not in all possible directions - one will understand, I say, why the conclusion we arrive at is for the abolition of the State. We see it in the Institution, developed in the history of human societies to prevent the direct association among men to shackle the development of local and individual initiative, to crush existing ... (From: Anarchy Archives.)


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