Kropotkin: The Russo-Japanese War (1904)

I have been somewhat quieter than normal for the last two months. Suffice to say, been a bit busy. First, I finished my introduction to Kropotkin’s Modern Science and Anarchy and sent it to AK Press. I also completed my chapter (“The State and Revolution: Theory and Practice”) of forthcoming AK Press Russian Revolution book. The book looks very good, with some important works in it (by the likes of Luigi Fabbri, Ida Mett, Emma Goldman, Cornelius Castoriadis and others. I also wrote a AFAQ blog post on 160 Years of Libertarian.

I enjoyed the last article, particularly as it includes a new, full translation of Déjacque’s 1857 Open Letter to Proudhon. It is simply staggering how “libertarian” – at least in America and, somewhat, in Britain – now means almost the exact opposite of what it used to mean. Also, the utter hypocrisy of propertarians like Rothbard is always worth recalling. In terms of the Russian Revolution book,  I do hope they accept my suggestion to replace Goldman’s “Trotsky Protests Too Much” with the prefaces and afterward of My Disillusionment in Russia (the latter is more general than the former, which is very good, and so more useful in this context). We will see – regardless, it is a good selection of classic works which should be better known. So quite flattered to be asked to contribute to it – although I did get into a dead-end and have to restart it from (almost) scratch.

Before going quiet to finish various projects, I posted a short article on the UK local elections – which I wrote after Freedom asked me for something. This became out-of-date quickly, as May decided to launch a snap general election and after months of stating she would not. We now know that panned out – one of the funniest things to happen in a long time. It did annoy me when the papers proclaimed that May’s election “gamble” did not work out – it was never considered as a “gamble” due to the lead she had in the opinion polls (something I had lamented in my article). That was why she decided to do it and it is nonsense to suggest otherwise.

It is a sorry state to be in when the Prime Minister launches an election in the name of crushing the opposition in parliament to Brexit (and after months of people complaining Corbyn’s labour was offering no opposition as well – and, of course, Article 50 was passed easily). And she ended it by proclaiming her willingness to rip-up human rights (only possible by proclaiming a state of emergency). So I was somewhat worried by the election outcome – and I was extremely happy when I saw the exit-poll on the Thursday night and was laughing a lot on the Friday when it was confirmed to be accurate. Now we have a minority Tory government seeking a coalition with extremist clerics with links with terrorist organisations. Sadly, May has not proclaimed “No majority is better than a bad majority.”

I was concerned that the general population would reward this authoritarian with more power. That did not happen - although the 12 extra Scottish Tory MPs was a disgrace. Really, I thought we were a civilised people. And the whole logic of the "vote tory to stop IndyRef2" was silly - IndyRef2 was back on because of the hard Brexit May was pushing. Electing Tories to stop this was counter-productive as it would have resulted in strengthening hard Brexit, so giving the SNP more reason to call IndyRef2. But logic does seem in low supply these days - as seen by getting that nasty piece of work Ruth Davison - she of Union Jack waving and tank riding fame - to talk about the evils of nationalism at the Orwell Foundation. Apparently British Nationalism is not nationalism...

So relief – but the issue remains, namely that there is no social movement which can resist the authoritarianism of the State. The trade unions are still hobbled by anti-union laws (not to mention a bureaucracy happy to invoke them to avoid direct action) and while it is good to see so many voting against the Tories (although more voted for an obvious incompetent authoritarian). Anarchists need to stress that this is not enough – there is a need to build a movement which is not dependent on others acting on our behalf or on the good-will of those with power. And we need to get our message across to others – and it does not matter whether they voted or not. We need to build a movement, not a sect.

I must admit I was surprised by the result. I had basically written-off Corbyn – the media, so I thought, had succeeded in making a mockery of him. But the election campaign proved me wrong – he is now seen as a good speaker and a possible Prime Minister. What a difference seven weeks makes. The right-wing press threw everything at him and the Labour vote increased massively - that is significant, and the right will be seeking to understand why that happened. Also, it was refreshing to see a Labour leader expound actual Labour policies (and funny to see the energy cap of “Red” Ed Miliband go from Marxist madness to good, sensible Tory policy). That is the issue – Corbyn’s position is not socialist, it is just saving capitalism from itself by making it nicer and providing appropriate public investment to improve the possibility of private profit). So basic Keynesianism rather than any real form of socialism – and not libertarian socialism. Which means we need also to discuss what socialism is and is not – it is not a nicer capitalism, it is not the bosses being replaced by bureaucrats (State capitalism), it is about freedom and so workers’ and community self-management, association, federalism and so on (hence our use of the word libertarian for 160 years!).

So the last two months has shown that sensible ideas can gain traction and inspire people. Anarchists should be seeking to influence this new sensibility – just as we should have been seeking to influence the struggles against austerity since 2010 or the anti-war protests before that. For anarchism is pretty sensible and when clearly explained appeals – the problem is that a lot of anarchists seem keen to hide that sensible core in silly jargon (and somewhat silly debates, such as on primitivism, “democracy” and so on). In this I agree with Kropotkin, we need to communicate in a clear and intelligible way.

Finally, below is a new translation of a Kropotkin article (by a comrade, JT). I had originally thought about including the debate over the war as “supplementary material” in Modern Science and Anarchy. I saw that this was going to be too much. I then I thought a new book which included articles by anarchists on war, primarily by Kropotkin. The book would have included these:

  • Letter to Albert Richard (Bakunin)
  • Letters to a Frenchman on the Present Crisis (Bakunin)
  • War
  • Finland: a Rising Nationality (extracts)
  • The Coming War (extracts)
  • What Geography Ought To Be (extracts)
  • The Last War (not translated yet)
  • Caesarism
  • The Panamists of Patriotism (not translated yet)
  • Letter to French and British trade union delegates
  • The Russo-Japanese War
  • Anti-Militarism and Revolution I (not translated yet)
  • Anti-Militarism and Revolution II (not translated yet)
  • Wars and Capitalism
  • A Letter on the Present War
  • Anarchists Have Forgotten Their Principles (Malatesta)
  • In Reply to Kropotkin (Berkman)
  • Anti-militarism: Was it Properly Understood?
  • Letter to Freedom (Malatesta)
  • International Anarchist Manifesto on the War
  • The Manifesto of the Sixteen
  • Pro-Government Anarchists (Malatesta)
  • Open Letter to P. Kropotkin (Ghe)

Most of this has been translated into English, but not all. The article included below on the Russian-Japanese War of 1904-5 has never been translated before and is notable for his refusal to take sides in what was clearly an imperialist war (unlike Marxists like Lenin, incidentally). It is a shame that he did not stick to this anarchist position in 1914!

I never chased this up with AK Press, perhaps I will. I would like to do a book including the full versions of Kropotkin's pamphlets (the ones included in the Dover Press edition, formally entitled Kropotkin's Revolutionary Pamphlets, are significantly edited - up to 25% to 30%, in some cases). Also, a new edition of Mutual Aid which would include his other works on science (such as What Geography Ought To Be and various articles on evolution and ethics which appeared in The Nineteenth Century and After) as well as a revision of my pamphlet Mutual Aid: An Introduction and Evaluation. I may look into those later this year. First, I need to see what we can do about getting the magazine Black Flag sorted out, one way or another. I hope to see it re-appear as a annual review (like the old Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review from the 1970s, but A5 in size, but we will see.

This will - I hope! - be the first of a series of posts which will include new translations of Kropotkin articles from, usually, Les Temps Nouveaux. It is clear from going through this journal – which is, as I noted, is now available on-line – that the notion that Kropotkin became a reformist or was not interested in class struggle is simply not true.

But enough! Until I blog again, be seeing you…

The Russo-Japanese War

Peter Kropotkin

(“La Guerre russo-japonaise”, Les Temps Nouveaux, March 1904)

There has been much discussion recently, in the press, on the probable influence of war on the revolutionary movement in Russia. The German Social Democrats, the English, as much as some Russians, have the strangest expectations of a beneficent influence that this war might have in bringing about a regime of freedom in Russia.

Here is the letter with which our friend Kropotkin replied to the editor of Le Soir, who wrote to him asking his opinion.


You ask me if the information published in several newspapers according to which I have recommended to my friends in Russia that they should not engage in any uprising against the Russian government for the duration of the war is correct or not?

I have given no such advice, because I am convinced that those on the ground will know perfectly well how to guide themselves in their actions, by their own state of mind.

But, what I do maintain – contrary to a very widespread opinion in the west – is that this war is a calamity which will necessarily set back the development of a revolutionary movement in Russia. It will cost the Russian people enormous suffering, and will detract their attention from serious internal problems.

Indeed, I predict, sadly, that revolutionary agitation, which had grown so greatly amongst the Russian people – peasants and industrial workers – will necessarily be slowed, halted perhaps for a long time by the war. Instead of those grand questions – landed property, industrial, decentralisation etc., etc. – which made the general situation in Russia so similar to that of France on the eve of 1789, and promised that the collapse of absolutism – already well advanced – would be achieved at the same time as a profound, revolutionary change in economic conditions – instead of that, agitation will now be reduced to certain minimum questions. People will agitate over whether the war is prosecuted with more or less skill; whether this or that minister warrants confidence.

And if there is some great disaster, some new Plevna in the midst of the soldiers’ acts of heroism – then patriotism even chauvinism will dominate the situation and cut short even purely political agitation.

Every war is evil – whether it ends in victory or defeat. Evil on the one hand for the combatants and on the other for the neutrals. I do not believe in “beneficent” wars. It was not defeat in Crimea which led to the abolition of serfdom and to reform in Russia, just as it was not war that brought the abolition of slavery to the United States, independence to Italy, nor the radical and rational movement of the mind in 1858-1864 all over Europe. Russia today farà da sè [will succeed by itself (1)], without expecting its freedom from abroad.

As to those other very interesting questions that you put to me, you will perhaps find some answers in the following reflections:

It is a misfortune for the Russian people that, in Russia’s quest to the East, it has not encountered any civilised people already in possession of the Manchurian Pacific Ocean coast. It is a misfortune that it has had to cultivate the desserts along the Amur and to build a railroad across those of Manchuria. This country will never be Russian. Chinese colonists have already invaded. And if, for example, the United States, wished to take possession of it tomorrow, the whole world, Russia included, would gain thereby.

But, does it follow that it would be desirable to see a United States as belligerent, and as full of imperialist dreams as Japan establish itself in Manchuria? I do not think so. Certainly it would not, in the past, have been in the interests of European civilisation that England had added to her maritime power that of a continental nation, by establishing herself in Brittany or the Low Countries. Incidentally, Japan herself would soon lose whatever is appealing in her civilisation. The fruit of centuries of peace will disappear beneath a European uniform accompanied by the sound of a bad translation of God Save the King!

I have not read the article by Mr Hyndman that you speak about; but, I have read many others in the English press, all inspired by the same “pro-Japanese chauvinism”! For my part, having no sympathy for the dreams of conquest of Russian moneygrubbers (2), I have not the slightest drop for the dreams of conquest of the capitalists and feudalists of a modernised Japan. Because, it is not in hopes of dumping their surplus population that the ruling classes of Japan dream of conquering Korea, Manchuria and... Peking. It is for the disposal of goods, produced by the odious exploitation of women and children, among an impoverished agricultural population (read Rathcan!). It is to govern and to enrich themselves – in European style.

The Rhodes and the Whitaker-Wrights, yellow and white, Japanese, Russian or English, are equally hateful to me. I prefer to stand on the side of the young Japanese socialist party. As small as it is, it has expressed the deep feeling of the Japanese people (in those brief moments of rest and recovery allowed it), in pronouncing against the war in its proud proclamation and its letter addressed to the Daily News.

I expect, moreover, with great anxiety, that the conflict waged in the Far East is but the prelude to a conflict, infinitely more serious, long in preparation, to be played out along the Dardanelles, and perhaps even in the Black Sea – thus preparing new episodes of war and militarism for the whole of Europe...

In short, I see in this war that has broken out a calamity, a danger for the whole progressive movement in Europe. A triumph of the worst instincts of modern capitalism, how could it contribute to the triumph of progress?

Yours sincerely.

Peter Kropotkin

Bromley, 18th February 1904.

1. Kropotkin uses the Italian words “farà da sè” as in the slogan of the Italian nationalist movement and its struggle against Austrian domination: “Italia farà da sè” (“Italy will succeed by itself”). First raised in 1848 in the First Italian War of Independence (1848-9), it was also used by leading Italian nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini who argued that Italians had to reply upon themselves to achieve an independent republic and advocated a mass revolt to force the Austrians out of power. (Editor)

2. Kropotkin uses the term “faiseurs d’argent” which literally means “money makers”, that is someone who makes substantial profits. (Editor)


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