The Perihelion Effect

the anarcho-psychology of Peter Kropotkin

Kropotkin’s notion of a post-state might seem to at first glance to be purely Utopist.

  However, based on his observations of nature in Siberia and of the watch making communities which he visited in the Jura in 1872, Kropotkin found solid factual evidence to back up his theories of prosperity with out government.

  Kropotkin expanded upon these ideas in a series of articles which he wrote in 1890 titled “Mutual Aid, Among Animals” and published in The Nineteenth Century. It was followed the next year by another article “Mutual Aid Among Savages”

These articles might have been inspired as response to the extremely conservative Social Darwinist’s defense of societal inequity based on the tenants of science. In February 1888, the English naturalist Thomas H. Huxley had published an essay entitled  The Struggle for Existence in Human Society.  which was primarily an argument for an enlarged program of technical training in Great Britain as a service to the citizens of that industrial society.

  Kropotkin  took exception to the fundamental assumptions which the famous Darwinist made at the beginning of his article.

One of Huxley’s most offensive points to Kropotkin was, that primitive men tend to multiply until the food resources are insufficient to sustain a population, leading to a vicious struggle in which only the strong prevail.  This position restates similar points made by Darwin and Malthus about the a-moral nature of the natural state of survival.

In his “Mutual Aid” essays, Kropotkin argued the those creature most likely to survive and prosper are not usually those who have triumphed in adversity, but those who have experienced little natural adversity, and this is often a matter of chance. As examples Kropotkin sited the elimination of birds eggs by rats, unfavorable weather, and other natural factors which have more influence on the survival and development of birds than does any struggle for survival within the species.  Nature’s indescriminate slaughter of individuals in a species, Kropotkin claimed, more often determines the survivors than do some special qualities of the individuals.

Over and above the validity of Darwinian struggle in nature a more important reservation for Kropotkin related to the question of ethics.  Huxley drew a sharp line between ‘nature’ and society, finding in nature bitter competition for survival, and in society the establishment of methods to diminish that natural compittion.  Kropotkin demonstrates in his theory of mutual aid, that it is cöoperation which has a scientific basis in nature not competition.  Darwin’s thesis, Kropotkin argued, had been perverted by capitalist thinkers.  Nature was not animated by the instinct of each living thing to survive at the cost of its fellow but, Kropotkin said to the contrary, by the instinct of each to  preserve  the entire species through mutual assistance.  He drew further examples from the ants and the bees and from wild horses and cattle- which when attacked by packs of wolves, form a protective ring. Finally Kropotkin sited examples of the communal field and village life of men in the Middle Ages, which he claimed were historical proof of the necessity of mutual aid in the human animal.   

Kropotkin used this scientifically based theory to underline the un-natural aspect of any system of government.  These institutions Kropotkin claimed were synthetic constructs which had no part of the natural flow of human being.  Kropotkin thoroughly believed that it is the individual who is the basis for the measure of the entire species. This conviction not only arose in reaction to both Copernican and Darwinian positivistic schemes which  had underminded man’s image of himself as the measure of all things,

but also from his own sincere feelings about possible transcendence from the Nihelistic attitudes which had taken root in his times.

  The obvious comparison of Kropotkin’s rejection of external authority and Nietzsche’s rejection of western moraltiy comes to mind in this regard.  Kropotkin, may in fact bee seen as in a Nihelist manner not altogether dissimilar from Marx or Nietzsche. Like his predecessors he wished to reaffirm the lost essence of man as a social creature.  Showing sympathy for Marx , he attacked the capitalist system as self-serving and degrading.  However unlike Marx, Kropotkin did not see history moving with Hegelian material dialect force towards greater human freedom.  Rather, like Nietzsche, Kropotkin identified this loss of freedom with culture itself, its decadent institutions and synthetic traditions.  However, Kropotkin takes this conclusion even one step further than Nietzsche, for he not only denounces the culture of the west, but the most fundamental notions of all authority in any form.  Nietzsche founded his theories upon a metaphysical idea of personal transcendence above the common herd.   As John Carroll points out “In [Nietzsche’s] terms the ‘herd’ is any group or institution.  Thus the State is a purely negative phenomena.”

It is no suprise then to find in Nietzsche a rejection of  Darwinist theory which runs parallel to Kropotkin’s.


                   As regards the celebrated ‘struggle of life’, it seems to me for the present to have been asserted rather than proved.  It does occur, but as the exception; the general aspect of life is not hunger and distress, but rather wealth, luxury, even absurd prodigality- where there is a struggle it is a struggle for power… One should not mistake Malthus for nature.- Supposing, however, that this struggle exists- and does indeed occur- its outcome is the reverse of that desired by the school of Darwin., of which one ought perhaps to desire with them; namely, the defeat of the stronger, the more privileged, the fortunate exceptions.  Species do not grow more perfect: the weaker dominate the strong again and again- the reason being they are the great majority, and they are also cleverer…. Darwin forgot the mind: the weak possess more mind… to acquire more mind one must need mind- one loses it when one no longer needs it. “