Kropotkin’s understanding and appreciation of societies then regarded as primitive, from Africa to the Arctic, forms a striking contrast both to Social Darwinist racism and the historical developmentalism of traditional Marxism. It shares the Romantic impulse that drove his old populist comrades to lionise Russian peasant communities, but instead of fixating on the national particularity of rural Russia it takes in the whole human and natural world.
The last century of human history has dampened the appeal of Kropotkin’s optimism. The anarchist trade unions and co-operative movements that inspired him in his own time have lost much of their significance, and it would be hard for an outside observer to dispute Eric Hobsbawm’s claim that ‘the history of anarchism, almost alone among modern social movements, is one of unrelieved failure.’
Perhaps so; but its failures are different and less shameful than the failures of Marxism. There are many ways for a social movement to fail, and I prefer those that don’t result in the murder of tens of millions of human beings.