by P. Kropotkin, 296 pages
It’s basically a ninettenth century travel account, except without the travel. Instead, the purpose of the text is to argue for certain utopian political schemes, as an alternative to the calamitous contemporary situation. The text isn’t a novel along the lines of many such accounts, rather than any format of story it simply engages with the main political programe, sketching out the proposed societiy and then dealing with potential issues and objections relating to such principles. There is a lot of benefit towards understanding the core intellectual ferment of nineteenth century Russia in seeing the works of the actual figures. Kroptkin isn’t as well known as a lot of this lot, but he was an influential voice and his book makes a somewhat distinctive presentation with force and heartfelt commitment.
It is also, taken as an actual text, incredibly dull. Establishing its core setup early on much of the larger book is redundant elaboration of the basic formula, with some rather tangental claims linked to make a highly overstated argument. The account is wholly unironic and committed, leading the whole account to be a long moralistic lecture on the very simple way of solving all the problems. The arguments themselves have a damning indictment against contemporary material and political society as well as the issues with moderate liberal reforms of such conditions. However the solution proposed--a combination of socialist organization and anarchistic society established by a general revolution--is neither as intuitive nor as intellectually airtight as the book appears to believe.
There are some interesting ambiguities that surface in the text. For instance, there’s the mixed position on women, in which Kropotkin centers the issues of economic subordination and insists that women need to have recognized and paid employment rather than being enslaved within the household--so that they can be more rewarded and effective mothers. It’s the assumption of women as being tied to their children naturally that brings up a really conservative stance even in a wider radical platform. Notwithstanding such elements, the position of the book as a revolutionary rejection of the status quo shouldn’t be doubted. In expressing a range of unorthodox ideas Kropotkin engaged with the wider debates of his society and is worth studying as a presence. Likewise the non-novelization character of the text removes it from some of the criteria of aesthetics. This book still isn’t very complex, though, or at all pleasant to read.
Worse than: The Meaning of Love by Vladimir Solovyov
Better than: Fox’s Mission to Russia by Joseph Loubat