Q: Why did you decide to edit this book, and how do you hope that it will contribute to the understanding of Kropotkin, his work, and our understanding of anarchist history?
Iain McKay: When I was working on volume 2 of An Anarchist FAQ, I took the time to read Kropotkin’s Memoirs and thought that the more political discussions within it should be better know. In addition, Caroline Cahm’s Peter Kropotkin and the Rise of Revolutionary Anarchism, 1872-1886 showed that there were important works by Kropotkin on the labour movement in the early 1880s which should be available to the English-speaking world – particularly given the all-too-common myth (so beloved by Marxists!) that Kropotkin rejected the class struggle in favour of some kind of inter-class co-operation.
So I thought it would be good to collect these works and others like them into one volume, focused on his views on the labour movement but including his opinions on anarchism and social revolution. I felt vindicated in this when I read an article by Kropotkin in Freedom complaining that his views of the labour movement had been misrepresented and that he often thought of produced a volume of his newspaper writings to refute such claims. Sadly, he never did and he continued to be subjected to such misrepresentations – particularly by Marxists.
Another important area the book covers is Kropotkin’s view of revolution and stresses something which seems to be often overlooked, namely that he recognised that social revolution was marked by economic disruption and faced numerous difficulties (not least, they required defending). While he is often painted as being optimistic over the ease of social transformation, the opposite is the case.
It should enrich our understanding of anarchist history by showing that the notion that anarchists turned to syndicalism in the 1890s or that syndicalism and anarchism are different things are simply not true. Anarchist support of syndicalist tactics arose in the First International and were championed by Bakunin. Kropotkin placed himself in this tradition and repeatedly argued the need for anarchists to support popular movements like trade unionism and revolutionise them from within.
It will, then, hopefully confirm what should have been obvious from a close reading of the works previously available, namely that Kropotkin was a committed revolutionary who embraced the class struggle as the means of creating anarchism and who had a practical and realistic view of social change and revolution. Not for him the notion of “one-day” revolutions which appear as if by magic!
Q: Who are you trying to reach with this book? What unique understandings of Kropotkin that you hope readers will take away?
IM: First and foremost, anarchists! This is because the issues Kropotkin raised are still relevant today – not least, because Marxists tend to repeat the same old nonsense about anarchism and Kropotkin. So, second, I am trying to reach other radicals and show them that anarchist thought is worth investigating, that the caricatures we read by opponents of anarchism are precisely that. And, finally, to those who write about anarchism (academics or not). Perhaps with this anthology and my Proudhon one (Property is Theft!) then some of the more common misunderstandings and misrepresentations about anarchism and its history will be stopped. However, I will not be holding my breath!
In terms of unique understandings, well, I hope that readers will gain a better idea of the breadth and depth of Kropotkin’s ideas and his contributions to anarchism. There was a reason he was so respected within the movement, not least his ability to explain basic anarchist ideas well in plain and understandable words. So I hope that readers will gain a better idea of what anarchism stands for, where it came from, how it developed and where Kropotkin repeated previous ideas and where he contributed to new developments.
Q: What was the most challenging aspect of putting together a book like this? What was the most rewarding?
IM: The most challenging aspect was tracking down the Russian texts which are newly translated in Direct Action Against Capital. Suffice to say, an important book would be made if someone took the time to collate and translate all of the articles and pamphlets Kropotkin wrote to influence the fledgling Russian libertarian movement before 1914. Another challenge was trying to limit the articles and pamphlets to include – Kropotkin was such a good writer that the temptation was naturally to think that there could be space for one more! However, commonsense had to prevail and it was a case of balancing what was important and already available in other works and material collected in book form for the first time.
In terms of the most rewarding, well, there is nothing like reading a translation of an article you think is important and discovering that you were right!
Q: What do you want readers to take away from this book? What are the essential lessons and narratives?
IM: Basically, that Kropotkin was a realistic revolutionary who viewed the difficulties anarchists faced both in class struggle today and in any future social revolution squarely in the face. This is in contrast to the all-too-common picture of him as the gentle prince of co-operation who viewed the world through rose-tinted glasses. He was not – he was a committed revolutionary class struggle anarchist, as this book confirms.
The essential lessons are two-fold. First, is that anarchists need to, like Kropotkin, use the scientific method – look at the world, analysis it and draw conclusions. Second, as Kropotkin always stressed, anarchists need to take an active part in popular struggles and movements – primarily, but not exclusively, the labour movement. Unless we do that then we will not be in a position to develop the anarchist movement, libertarian theory nor see a successful social revolution.
Kropotkin argued this in the 1870s in the Russian Populist movement, in the 1880s and 1890s in the French anarchist movement and, again, in the 1900s to the Russian anarchists. He was right to and I hope this book will show why that was the case.
Why did you decide to edit this book, and how do you hope that it will contribute to the conversation around LGBTQ struggles?
Ryan Conrad: I began archiving radical queer critiques of mainstream gay and lesbian politics in 2009 as a founding member of the Against Equality collective (AE). The books produced by AE, especially this last one, are really important to me because it is the culmination of many years of collective work that challenges the celebratory discourse around gay marriage, gays in the military, and LGBTQ inclusive hate crime legislation within broader queer and trans communities. I think AE’s work has played a critical role in opening up space to question the logic of equality and inclusion that has recently become more common in the mainstream press, academic publishing, and activist rhetoric. It is through this questioning of legal equality that I believe new ways of thinking up and being in the world is possible.
Who are you trying to speak to with this collection? What does this book do differently than other books focusing on LGBTQ rights, justice, and activism?
RC: This anthology is meant to serve as an introduction to the diverse array of radical queer and trans critiques leveled against mainstream gay and lesbian politics. AE’s hope is that by engaging with the ideas in this book, readers can go on to build broader and more nuanced critiques that best reflect the specificity of their own communities. This collection is by no means exhaustive or complete, but represents some of the most dynamic and convincing arguments assembled in AE’s online archive.
Beyond the immediate purpose of building a larger, more critically engaged community of radical queer and trans folks, the relevance of this collection is even more important today than ever before. The United States has seen the repeal of DOMA in the summer of 2013, the end of DADT in autumn 2011, and the passage of LGBTQ inclusive federal hate crime laws in the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act; this anthology ensures that more radical voices are not erased and written out of history. These essays are like bread crumbs, laying out different pathways to justice and resistance for those that dare to imagine a more just world. When people look back on these desperately conservative gay times, AE hopes these collective voices can be an inspiration to those who come after us—those that look to our queer histories, just like AE did, as a site of rejuvenation, excitement, and hope.
What was the most challenging aspect of putting together a book like this? What was the most rewarding?
RC: The most rewarding aspect of putting this book together are the occasional emails and in-person conversations at our events when people tell us that our work has, in some way, greatly impacted or saved their lives. When AE began as an archival project there was a clear intention to breakdown the isolation many of us felt as mainstream gay and lesbian political organizations were soaking up every last ounce of energy, emotion, and dollar we had. Being able to shatter that illusion of general consent amongst LGBTQ people by assembling this chorus of voices demanding something better is an accomplishment in itself, and more importantly, it functions as a jumping off point for the conversation necessary to building the worlds we might find more inhabitable. One of the more challenging aspects of this work has been the death threats, hate mail, and being refused space to talk about our work because our politics would make students feel uncomfortable. As radicals and leftists, we are in some very depressing political times.
What do you want readers to take away from this book? What are the essential lessons and narratives?
RC: Marriage, militaries, the prison industrial complex… these are all institutions we, as queer and trans people, would be better off abandoning in our pursuit of a more just world.