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Kropotkin, Petr Alekseevich

Kropotkin, Petr Alekseevich

(b. Moscow, Russia, 9 December 1842; d. Dmitrov, Moscow oblast, U.S.S.R., 8 February 1921)


Kropotkin’s father was Prince Aleksei Petrovich Kropotkin, a general and large landowner. His mother, Ekaterina Nikolaevna Kropotkina, was the daughte of General N. Sulim.

Kropotkin was first educated at home, and from 1857 until 1862 he studied in St. Petersburg at the School of Pages. Having completed his schooling, Kropotkin enlisted ion the Amur Cossack army in order to study Siberia and further the development of thi s territory. In Irkutsk, Kropotkin was appointed adjutant to General Kukel, chief of staff of the governor-general of eastern Siberia.

Kropotkin traveled widely and wrote a number of outstanding scientific works on geography and geomorphology. He was one of the founders of the paleography of the Quaternary period and an author of the doctrine of ancient glaciation. Kropotkin believed that geography was the only subjet that could unite all the natural sciences.

In the 1870’s Kropotkin became one of the ideologists of anarchism. On 23 March 18974 he was arrested and imprisoned in teh Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg. On 30 June 1876 he escaped and went to Edinburgh. He then lived in Switzerland for some time before moving to France, where he was arrested in 1883 for disseminating anarchist propaganda and was imprisoned until 1886, first in Lyons and then in Clairvaux. After his release Kropotkoin lived in London. In 1917, after the February Revolution, he returned to Russia.

Kropotkin officially adhered to Russian Orthodoxy. He was married and had one daughter, Aleksandra.

Kropotkin first took part in military missions for geographical investigations to the Transbaikal region. In 1863 he accompanied a barge carrying provisions to Cossack outposts located along the shores of the Amur river. During the spring of 1864 he carried out the reconnaissance of a previously unknown route from southeastern Transbaikalia, through northern Manchuria, to the Amur. He crossed the Greater Kbhingan Range and discovered a region of inactive volcanoes. In Zapiski Sibrskogo otdelo Russkogo geograficheskogo obshchestva, 8 (1865), he described this journey and his steamship voyage from the mouth of the Sungari River to the town of Kirin.

During the summer of 1865, Kropotkin traveled at his own expense to the Eastern Sayan Mountain Range. During this trop he scaled the Tunkinskiye Goltsy Mountains, a range in the Eastern Sayan system. On the dome-shaped summits, which are above the timber line, he discovered clear traces of glaciers. In the basin of the Dzhanbulak river (a tributary of the Oka River) Kropotkin found volcanic craters; he surveyed their environs and collected samples of volcanic rock. His account of this trip shed new light on the geography of eastern Siberia.

In 1886 Kropotkin headed an expedition of the Siberian section of the Russian Geographic Society to the basins of the Vitim and Olekma rivers. The expedition traveled in boats downstream along the Lena River to the village of Krestovaya. On packhorses, it followed a complex route—from the basin of the Chara River to the Vitim River, crossing it below the Parama rapids; once past the confluence of the Vitim with the Parama and Muya rivers, the expedition moved on the the Tsipa River and its tributary, the Tsipikan. Next it crossed the Big and Little Amalat, Dzhelinde, and Mangoi rivers and arrived at Chita. On this route the expedition surmounted the mountain ranges of the Olekmo-Charskoye Nagorye uplands (the northern and southern Muya range) and a number of hills of the Vitim plateau. As a result of the expedition, a route for cattle drives was found. The scientific results, published in “Otchet ob Olekminski-Vitimskoy ekspeditisii” (“Account of the Olekma-Vitim Expedition,” 1873), are of special interest.

From his observatiuons, Kropotkin found sufficient proof to “accept as an indisputably proven fact that the limestone appearing in the Lena valley between Kirensk and Olekminsk is older than the rd sandstone that lies in horizontal layers between Kachug and Kirensk”(ibid., p. 181).

In the Olekma River basin Kropotkin found further evidene to support his conjecture concerning the past glaciation of eastern Siberia—the smoothed surfaces of gneiss mountains heights; the presence of typical marine deposits, which form the gold-bearing sands located high above the present level of rivers; and striated boulders and other signs of the effects of glaciers. kropotkin wrote: “At first, having faith in the authority of geologists who had visited Siberia and having been convinced that Siberia did not present traces of the glacial period, I slowly but surely had to retreat befo9re the obviousness of tghe factgs and had to arrive at the oipposite conviction—that glacial phenomena did extend into eastern Siberia, at least into its northeast sector” (ibid., p. 223).

Kropotkin noted that the climate of eastern Siberia in the post-Pilocene period had been moist enough that glaciers could be formed. This observaton was new in the paleogeography of eastern Siberia. Since then, traces of ancient glaciation in the mountains north of Lake Baikal have been found, and modern glaciers—including moire than thirty in the Kodar Range—have been discovered.

From the Lena River to the town of Chita, Kropotkin distinguished four geomorphological regions: the Lena River valley, the flat Lena heights, the Olekma-Vitim mountainous country, and the Vitim plateau. He gave a detailed characterization of each region. After his account of the Olekma-Vitim expedition, Kropotkin began studying the orography of eastern Siberia. He used earlier accounts of a number of expeditions which described their routes and noted elevations. Kropotkin published in 1875 “Obshchy ocherk orografii Vostochony Sibiri” (“A General Essay on the Orography of Eastern Siberia”). In 1904 he poublished an extrac from this work in Brussels and in the Geographical Journal.

From his observations Kropotkin conclude that the erosion of plateaus (high and low) into domeshaped summits and rounded crests played a major role in forming the relief of eastern Siberia. Kropotkin refuted the old concept of the Stanovoy Khrebet Mountain range as the watershed between teh waters of the Arctic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. He pointed out that in the area of the Zeya River’s upper reches, the tributaries of the Lena and the Amur rivers begin not in the watershed range but on the high plateau, and then rush into the Lena and the Amur. Kropotkin’s orographic map of eastern Siberia was not superseded until 1950.

After the completion of the Olekma-Vitim expedition, Kropotkin left the military service and in the autumn of 1867 enrolled in the mathematics department of St. Petersburg University. In November 1868 he was elected secretary of the physical geography section of the Russian Geographical Society. While working in this post, Kropotkin compiled “Doklad komissii po snaryazheniyu ekspeditsii v severnye morya” (“Report of the Commission foir the Outfitting of an Expedition to the Northern Seas”), in which he substantiated Shilling’s hypothesis concerning the existence of the them unknown Zemlya Frantsa Iosifa, which was discovered in 1873 by the Austro-Hungarian expedition of Julius von Payer and Karl Weiprecht.

Kropotkin’s major scientific work was the corroboration of teh theory of ancient continental, glaciation. In 1871 the visited Finland and Sweden on behalf of the Russian Geographic Society in order to study glacial phenomena. On 21 March 1874 he reported his conclusions to the Society and refuted the prevailing view that huge boulders had been transported to European fields by floating ice floes. Kropotkin proved that the plains of northeren Europe, Asia, and America had once been covered by powerful continental ice which had (in the case of Europe) spread from the heights of Fennoscandia. His conclusions were printed in “Issledovanie o lednikovom periode” (“An Investigation of the Glacial Period”), which proved, for the first time in scientific literature, the presence of an ancient period of glaciation in the plains areas. The work also contained interesting comments on glacial relief forms and acurate notions on the formation of loess from ground glacial debris carried by water from under the glacialk cap. Kropotkin wrote: “We can conclude that under certain climaic conditions extensive ice caps 1,000, 2,000, and 3,000 meters in thickness must have been formed on teh continents, and that these ice caps (and even those which were ten and twenty times thinner) must have crawled along the land, regardless of the existing relief” (ibid., p. 539).

In exile Kropotkin continued to deal with questions of the geography of Russia. In 1880 he participated in the compilatin of the sixth volume, Asiatic Russia, of Reclus’ General Geography.

While visiting the United States in 1897, Kropotkin agreed to write his memoirs foir the Atlantic Monthly. The work appeared in English (London, 1899) and was later translated into Russian (London, 1902) as a separate book entitled Memoirs of a Revolutionist. This work received wide circulatin in western countries and was frequently reprinted in teh Soviet Union (7th ed., Moscowe, 1966). From 1892 to 1901 Kropotkin also wrote scientific reviews for the English magazine Nineteenth Century.

In 1912 the world scientific community celebrated Kropotkoin’s seventieth birthday. The Royal Geographic Society wrote in its congratualtory address: “Your service in the field of the natural science, your contrubution to geography and geology, your amendments to Darwin’s theory have gained you worldwide fame and have broadened our understanding of nature.” In the Soviet Union a range on teh southern perimeter of the Patom uplands, a town in the Krannodar region, and a settlement in the Irkutsk oblast have been named for Kropotkin. His scientific works still serve as references for young investigators of the geography of the Soviet Union.


I. Original Works. Kropotkin’s writings include “Doklad komissii po snaryazheniyu ekspeditsii v servrnye morya” (“Report of the Commission for the Outfitting of an Expedition to the Northern Seas”), in Izvestiya Russkago geograficheskago obshchestva, no. 3 (1871), 29–117; “Otchet ob Olekminsko-Vitimskoy ekspeditsii” (“Account of the Olekma-Vitim Expedition”), in Zapiski Russkogo Geograficheskogo obshchestva po obshchey geografii, 3 (1873), 1–482; “Obshchy ocherk orografii Vostochnoy Sibiri” (“A General Essay on the Orography of Eastern Siberia”), ibid., 5 (1875), 1–91; “Issledovanie o lednikovom periode” (“An Investigation of the Glacial Period”), 2 pts., ibid., 7 , no. 1 (1876); Memoris of a Revolutionist, 2 vols. (London, 1899), also in Russian, Zapiski revolyutsionera (London, 1902; St. Petersburg, 1906); Mutual Aid, a Factor of Evolution (London, 1902); “The Orography of Asia,” in Geographical Journal23 (1904), 176–207, 331–361; and Orographie de la Sibirie, précédée d’une introduction et d’un aperçu de l’orographie de l’ Asie (Brussels, 1904).

II. Secondary Literature. On Kropotkin and his work see Petr Kropotkin, sbornik statey, posvyashchennykh pamyati P. A. Kropotkina, (Moscow, 1922), a collection of articles dedicated to the memory of Kropotkin; L. S. Berg, “Petr Alekseevich Kropotkin kak geograf” (“Petr Alekseevich Kropotkin as Geographer”), in Otechestgvennye fiziko-geografy (“National Physical Geographers”; Moscow, 1959), 352–359; N. N. Sokolov, “Petr Alekseevich Kropotkin kak geograf,” in Trudy Instituta istorii estestvoznaniya i tekhniki. Akademiya nauk SSSR, 4 (1952), 408–442; and A. A. Velichko, “P. A. Kropotkin kak sozdatel uchenia o lednikovom periode” (“P.A. Kropotkin as the Creator of the Theory of the Glacial Period”), in Izvestiya akademii nauk SSSR, Seria geografia, no. 1 (1957).

G. V. Naumov

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Peter Alekseevich Kropotkin

Peter Alekseevich Kropotkin

Peter Alekseevich Kropotkin (1842-1921), Russian prince, was both a scientist and an anarchist. He combined biological and historical fact to derive a theory of "mutual aid" to support his belief in the superiority of an anarchist society.

Peter Kropotkin was born in Moscow on Dec. 12, 1842, to an ancient and noble Russian family. At 15 he entered the aristocratic Corps des Pages of St. Petersburg, and at 19 he became personal page to Czar Alexander II. A precocious and widely read youth, he rejected the opportunity for a fashionable military career in the Imperial Guards and volunteered to help implement the Alexandrian reforms in Siberia. Disappointed by the results after 5 years, he undertook geographical exploration in East Siberia, and his theory on the mountain structure of Siberia brought him fame and an offer of the position of secretary to the Imperial Geographical Society. However, Kropotkin was aware of the gulf between the educated elite and the impoverished masses, and he decided to enter the Russian revolutionary movement. He was arrested in 1874 but managed to escape from Russia in 1876.

Anarchist and Writer

In Switzerland, Kropotkin developed his ideas on anarchism, which were later published as Paroles d'un révolté (1885). In 1881 Kropotkin was expelled from Switzerland and settled in France. But in 1883 the French government arrested Kropotkin for belonging to the First International. His observations on prison life were later published as In Russian and French Prisons (1887).

Released in 1886 after much political agitation on his behalf, Kropotkin moved to England, where he became very active in the international socialist movement. There he also began a series of articles against social Darwinism and its emphasis on the benefits of competition. Kropotkin tried to prove that sociability existed among animals, and that cooperation rather than struggle accounted for the evolution of man and human intelligence. The publication of Mutual Aid (1902), following his Memoirs of a Revolutionist (1899), brought Kropotkin worldwide fame. He elaborated on the economic and social implications of mutual aid for society in Conquest of Bread (1892) and Fields, Factories and Workshops (1901).

After the failure of the Russian Revolution of 1905, Kropotkin tried to find its significance for anarchists by studying the French Revolution. In The Great French Revolution, 1789-1793 (1909) he interpreted the Revolution as a joining together of ideas from the upper class with action from the masses.

Although, as an anarchist, Kropotkin opposed war, the outbreak of World War I in 1914 brought him to the side of Russia. He saw in Germany the major support of reaction in Russia and Europe. After the collapse of the Russian autocracy in 1917, Kropotkin returned home to a warm welcome. Although he refused a Cabinet post in the provisional government, Kropotkin supported it against the Bolsheviks, whom he called "state socialists." After the Bolshevik coup d'etat in October 1917, Kropotkin found himself as strongly opposed to Western intervention as he was to the Bolsheviks, for the feared that intervention would only poison future Russian-European relations. In ill health, he moved from Moscow to Dmitrov and returned to his work on ethics, which he never completed. It was published posthumously from his notes as Ethics, Origin and Development (1922). Peter Kropotkin died of pneumonia on Feb. 8, 1921.

Kropotkin is a prototype of the non-Marxist Russian revolutionary thinker of the 19th century. In him were combined the major themes of the revolutionary socialists: populism, materialism, communalism, anarchism, and scientism. Kropotkin's distinctive contribution was to combine these themes into an original philosophy of anarchism based on mutual aid.

Further Reading

Kropotkin's Memoirs of a Revolutionist, edited by James A. Rogers (1962), is the most eloquent source on his life. In the appendix Kropotkin's letters and other writings are used to carry the story of his life from 1899, where the Memoirs conclude, to his death in 1921. A good guide to Kropotkin's life is George Woodcock and Ivan Avakumovič, The Anarchist Prince (1950). Another useful guide to his thought is the anthology edited by Roger N. Baldwin, Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets (1927), which includes an introduction and biographical sketch. James Joll, The Anarchists (1964), is an excellent history of anarchism in which the relationship of Kropotkin to the wider movement of anarchism is clarified.

Additional Sources

Cahm, Caroline, Kropotkin and the rise of revolutionary anarchism, 1872-1886, Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Kropotkin, Peter Alekseevich, Memoirs of a revolutionist, New York: Dover Publications, 1988.

Osofsky, Stephen, Peter Kropotkin, Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1979. □

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