The Anarchist Principle

Peter Kropotkin

Le Principe anarchiste (Publications des « TEMPS NOUVEAUX »,1913)[1]

At its beginnings, Anarchy was presented as a simple negation. Negation of the State and of the personal accumulation of Capital. Negation of all kinds of authority. Negation again of the established forms of Society, based on injustice, absurd egoism and oppression, as well as of current morality, derived from the Roman [Law] Code, adopted and sanctified by the Christian Church. It was by a struggle, undertaken against authority, born in the very heart of the International [Workers’ Association], that the anarchist party constituted itself as a distinct revolutionary party.

It is obvious that minds as deep as Godwin, Proudhon and Bakunin could not limit themselves to a simple negation. Affirmation – the conception of a free society, without authority, marching toward the conquest of material, intellectual and moral well-being – closely followed the negation; it was in fact its counterpart. In the writings of Bakunin as well as in those of Proudhon, and also of Stirner, we find profound insights into the historical roots of the anti-authoritarian idea, the part that it has played in history, and that which it is called to play in the future development of humanity.

“No State,” or “No Authority,” despite its negative form, had a deeply affirmative meaning in their mouths. It was a philosophical and a practical principle at the same time, which signified that the whole of the life of human societies, everything – from daily relationships between individuals up to the great relations between peoples across oceans – could and should be reformed; and would necessarily be reformed, sooner or later, according to the great principles of anarchy – full and complete liberty of the individual, natural and temporary groupings, and solidarity, passed into the state of a social habit.

That is why the anarchist idea suddenly appeared great, radiant, capable of enticing and inflaming the best minds of the time.

Let us say the word, it was philosophical.

Today, we laugh at philosophy. They did not, however, laugh at the time of Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary, which, by placing philosophy within everyone’s reach and inviting everyone to gain general notions about everything, was a revolutionary work, whose traces are found in the uprising of the countryside, in the great towns of 1793, and in the passionate spirit of the volunteers of the Revolution. At that time, the starvers [of the people] feared philosophy.

But priests and businessmen, aided by German academic philosophers with incomprehensible jargon, have been very successful in rendering philosophy useless, if not ridiculous. The priests and their followers have asserted so often that philosophy is nonsense that atheists ended up believing it. And the bourgeois businessmen – the white, blue and red opportunists – laughed so much at philosophy that even sincere men have fallen for it. Which shady dealer on the Stock-Exchange, which Thiers, which Napoleon, which Gambetta did not repeat it, the better to pursue their business? So, philosophy is somewhat held in contempt these days.

Well, no matter what priests, businessmen, and those who parrot what they that been taught say, Anarchy was understood by its founders as a great philosophical idea. It is, indeed, more than a mere motive for this or that action. It is a great philosophical principle. It is a general perspective derived from a true understanding of social phenomena, of human history, of the true causes of ancient and modern progress. A conception that we cannot accept without feeling ourselves changed by all our assessments, big or small, of great social phenomena as well as of the little relationships between us in our daily lives.

It is a principle of the daily struggle. And if it is a powerful principle in this struggle, this is because it sums up the deep aspirations of the masses, a principle, distorted by statist science and trampled underfoot by the oppressors, but always vital and active, always creating progress, despite and against all oppressors.

It expresses an idea that, throughout history, since there have been societies, has sought to modify mutual relationships [between people], and one day transform them, from those that are established between people living under the same roof, to those who think of founding international groupings.

A principle, finally, that demands the complete reconstruction of all physical, natural and social science.


This positive, reconstructive aspect of Anarchy has continued to develop. And today, Anarchy has to carry on its shoulders a far greater burden than that which arose at its beginnings.

It is no longer simply a struggle against a comrade in a workshop who has arrogated some authority to themselves within a workers’ grouping. It is no longer simply a struggle against rulers, as was once the case, nor even simply a struggle against a boss, a judge or a police officer.

It is all these things, of course, for without the everyday struggle – what is the point of calling yourself a revolutionary? The idea and action are inseparable, if the idea has taken hold of the individual; and without action, the idea itself withers.

But it is even more than that. It is the struggle between two great principles that, throughout history, have found themselves at conflict within Society, the principle of liberty and that of coercion: two principles which, at this very moment, will once again engage in a supreme struggle, to inevitably achieve a new triumph of the libertarian principle.

Look around you. What remains of all the parties that once declared themselves as eminently revolutionary? Only two parties remain: the party of coercion and the party of liberty; the Anarchists, and against them – all the other parties, whatever the label.

It is because the anarchists, against all these parties, are the only ones to defend the principle of liberty in its entirety. All the others boast of making humanity happy by changing or softening the form of the whip. If they cry “down with the hemp rope on the gibbet,” it is to replace it with a silken cord applied on the back. They cannot conceive of society without the whip, without coercion of one sort or another – without the whip of wages and hunger, without that of the judge and police, without that of punishment in one form or another. We, alone, dare to affirm that punishment, police, judge, hunger and wages have never been, and never will be, a part of progress; and that under a regime that acknowledges these instruments of coercion, if there is progress, progress is achieved despite these instruments, and not by them.

This is the struggle we undertake. And what honest young heart would not beat [faster] at the idea that they too can take part in this struggle, and against all oppressive minorities lay claim to the most beautiful part of man, the one which has created all the progress around us and which, despite that, for that very reason, was always trampled underfoot!

But that is not all.

As the division between the party of liberty and the party of coercion has become more and more pronounced, the latter clings more and more to the dying forms of the past.

It knows that it faces a powerful principle, capable of bestowing an irresistible strength to the revolution if one day it is clearly understood by the masses. And it works to seize each of the currents that together form the great revolutionary current. It lays its hand on the communalist thought which is appearing in France and England. It seeks to take over the workers’ revolt against the bosses that is taking place the world over.

And, instead of finding allies in socialists less advanced than us, we find in them, in both these areas, an adroit adversary, relying upon on all the strength of acquired prejudices, causing socialism to deviate from its direct path and which will eventually erase the socialist direction of the labour movement, unless the workers realise in time and abandon their current opinion-makers.

The anarchist is thus forced to work without rest and without delay in all these areas.

They must stress the grand, philosophical principle aspect of Anarchy. They have to apply it to science, because by that they will help to reshape ideas: they will fell the lies of history, of social economy, of philosophy, and they will aid those who already do so, often unwittingly, out of a love for scientific truth, to place an anarchist stamp on contemporary thought.

They must assist the daily struggle and agitation against oppressors and prejudices, sustain the spirit of revolt everywhere people feel oppressed and have the courage to revolt.

They must thwart the clever machinations of all parties, formerly allies but now hostile, who work to divert into authoritarian paths movements born as a revolt against the oppression of Capital and State.

And finally, in all these areas, they have to find, to predict by the very practice of life itself, the new forms that groupings, whether of work, regional or local, may take in a free society, liberated from the authority of governments and the starvers [of the people].

Is not the magnitude of the task to be accomplished the greatest inspiration for the person who feels the strength to struggle? Is it not also the best way to appreciate each separate event which occurs during the course of the great struggle that we have to sustain?

End Notes

[1] A different translation can be found in Direct Struggle Against Capital: A Peter Kropotkin Anthology. (Translator)