The Effects of Persecution

Peter Kropotkin

“L’effet des Persécutions”, Les Temps Nouveaux, 4 May 1895

For fifteen months everything was set into motion to smother anarchy. They silenced the press, suppressed men, shot at point blank range in Guiana,[1] transported to the isles of Spain, incarcerated by the thousands in Italy, without even the luxury of draconian laws or court comedies. Everywhere they have sought to starve women and children by sending the police to put pressure on bosses who still dared to give work to anarchists.

They stopped at nothing to crush men and smother the idea.

And, despite everything, never has the idea made as much progress as it has done during these fifteen months.

Never has it gained adherents so rapidly. Never has it penetrated so thoroughly into circles once resistant to all [forms of] socialism.

And never has it been so well demonstrated that this conception of society without exploitation nor authority was a necessary result of all the ideas that have occurred since last century; that it has deep roots in all that has been said for thirty years in the field of the infant science of the development of societies, in the science of moral sentiments, in the philosophy of history, and in philosophy in general.

And already we hear it being said: “Anarchy? But it is the summary of the thought of the coming century! Be wary of it, if you seek to return to the past. Welcome it, if you want a future of progress and freedom!”


While the label of anarchist alone earned, according to the law, banishment to Guyana and slow death from malarial fevers and the conduct of the prison guards – what mostly occupied the press?

We remember the investigation into anarchy carried out by a major Parisian newspaper. “To carry themselves so proudly and collectedly, they must be inspired by a great ideal,” they said. “You have to [get to] know it!” And we have read hundreds of articles in the daily and monthly press, begun perhaps with the desire to crush “the hundred-headed hydra” but which often ended by justifying [both] the ideas and the men.

Youth in schools, so long opposed to a socialism that, beginning gloriously, ended in an eight-hour law or expropriation of the railways by the State, hailed the new arrival. Young people glimpsed in it a board, powerful conception of the life of societies, embracing all human relations and bringing into all these relations the pride, the strength, the initiative of the free man – the very essence of all progress. And, in their best representatives, young people were impassioned about a concept that makes them understand how the liberation of the worker becomes the liberation of man; how communism and anarchy break all the chains in which a Christian, Roman-law and Jacobin society stifled the freedom of the human being.


The English press – especially the weekly paper that speaks to peasants and workers – has taken part in the discussion of anarchist principles, ideals, ways and means. For months and months, the five or six newspapers most read by the masses in the provinces had one or two columns of correspondence on anarchy. “Enough,’ cried the editors; “from now on we will stop this correspondence!” But as of the next issue, it re-opened again on some new issue: individualism and communism, the State and the individual... we could already make volumes of them, and still it continues!


At the same time, in Germany and Russia elaborate works appear in journals on the relations between society and the individual, the rights of the State, the fact of the individual placing himself outside current morality and the influence of this fact, the progress of public morality, and so on. Godwin and Max Stirner were unearthed; Nietzsche was studied and commented upon, and it was shown how the anarchist who dies on the scaffold is connected to the philosophical current which came from the works of the German philosopher.

And finally Tolstoy, speaking to the entire civilised world, showed in his responses to the criticisms raised to his last book how not only the Christian but every intelligent man, whatever his philosophy, necessarily must completely break with the State that organises the exploitation of the worker – must refuse to take any part in the crimes, the economic exploitation and the military atrocities committed by every State, whatever its label.

To sum up in a few words – in all the manifold domains of thought there has been a drive towards anarchy; a profound labour of ideas has been accomplished which leads to anarchy and gives communism a new strength.


We note this work with happiness. But our thoughts above all go elsewhere.

We seek for the signs that show us that the same labour takes place in the classes that strain to produce everything, without enjoying any of the marvels of art, science, and luxury that they pile up on the earth.

We find these signs everywhere: at meetings, at workers’ congresses, in the very language of these meetings. But we never stop asking ourselves: “Does the echo of these discussions penetrate into the home, the hovel of the worker, the cottage of the peasant? Do the peasant and the worker glimpse the road that will lead them to their double liberation from Capital and the State? Or else, lured by scholars, priests, journalists, admirers of power and all the brats maintained by the State – do they still retain unshakeable faith in the benefits of governmental Jacobinism?”

Does their criticism of what makes them suffer go beyond criticism of individuals? Does it rise to criticism of the principles upon which Capital, wage-labour and their creature – the State – reside?

Does the idea of an international union of all the oppressed establish itself amongst them, and likewise do their hearts bleed at the news of the massacres committed at Fourmies or Berlin, Chicago or Vienna [?] Do they include the pack of international exploiters in the same hatred, be they Japanese or French, German or English, patriots?

Born within the people, under the inspiration of the people in the International Workers Association, and now strengthen with all the support it finds in [scientific] research, the idea must return to the people, grow in its midst, inspire it with its irresistible spirit.

Only there will it reach its full development. Only there will it take shape and find its forms to replace the departing old world and reconstruct society on the basis of equality, the complete freedom of the individual, fraternity between all men.

End Notes

[1] A reference to the killing of an anarchist by a warden in September 1894 which provoked a prisoner revolt on the 21st of October the same year, which saw five anarchists along with twelve convicts killed by the authorities. (see Y.Z., "The Massacre of Anarchist Convicts in French Guiana," Liberty [London], April 1895). (Translator)