Peter Kropotkin – the Russian Anarchist formerly known as Prince


An unusual one this.  The Freeman’s Journal of October 27th 1887 carried an interview with Peter Kropotkin, well known Anarchist Communist.

This interview starts with the journalist’s view that Kropotkin is “the most distinguished apostle of anarchy all over the world” and that “..people look upon Prince Kropotkin as a ferocious sort of individual, albeit a fool, and regard him much as they would one the inhabitants of the Zoological Gardens at Regent’s Park.  The real Prince Kropotkin, whatever may be his peculiar views, and we have nothing to do with them, is, as his rank denotes, an accomplished gentleman and scholar.  He has been described as an “amiable Anarchist”, and he is, in truth, one of the most kindhearted of men … to break down in all countries the system by which the few thrive on the labour of the many is his aim”.

We have mentioned previously the activity of anarchists in the Ireland of the 1880s and, while not mentioned in this article, one would wonder if this contributed in any way to the interview being printed. The fact that Kropotkin was a prince seems to have impressed the journalist and may have had some novelty value, though ‘the Prince’ himself had dropped the title at the age of twelve.

Certainly well known, Kropotkin arrived in London in 1886, after fourteen years of political activity in Russia and Switzerland, and a three year stretch in a French jail.   He was sentenced by a police-court magistrate (under a special law passed after the suppression of the 1871 Paris Commune) on the grounds that he had belonged to the International Working Men’s Association.  Acknowledged and respected internationally both for his scholarship and for his revolutionary activities, Kropotkin’s release from the French prison was the result of lobbying from within the French parliament.

Kropotkin had yet to publish his major works like Mutual Aid: a factor in evolution or The Conquest of Bread, but the shape of things to come was signposted by articles such as What Geography Ought To Be (1885) and The Scientific Basis of Anarchy (1887).

The interview focuses first on his background and intellectual conversion to anarchism, then the campaign to free or pardon the Haymarket 8 in Chicago (later unfortunately the Haymarket Martyrs) which the journalist compares to the Manchester Fenians.  It ends with Kropotkin’s definition of anarchy and a reference to a series of articles in the Nineteenth Century (1888) and The Great French Revolution (1889).

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For more information on Kropotkin check out the ‘Peter Kropotkin’ entry on Wikipedia. For an assessment of his scientific endeavours see the article ‘Kropotkin was no crackpot’ by evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould and for more on background and context you can read ‘The Russian Anarchists’ by Paul Avrich.

Mat Kavanagh, Liverpool-Irish anarchist (1876-1954)

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Mat Kavanagh was a Liverpool-Irish anarchist who, in a lifetime of political activity, worked alongside such well known revolutionaries as Peter Kropotkin, Rufolf Rocker and Ericco Malatesta.

This obituary was published in the British anarchist paper, Freedom, in 1954.

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Born in Limerick in 1876, he moved to Liverpool and became involved in the anarchist movement in his teenage years. A good public speaker, he often spoke at the Sunday morning anarchist meetings at the Monument in Liverpool’s city centre.

In 1912 he was chosen to be one of the speakers at the mass rally in Trafalgar Square against the threatened deportation of the celebrated Italian anarchist Malatesta.

Like the vast majority of anarchists, he took a strong anti-militarist stand during World War One. One of the great sadnesses of his life was to occur at this time. His only son was conscripted and died in the fighting.

John Hewetson in his obituary says that “in 1916 Mat went back to Dublin to take part in the activity initiated by Connolly and Larkin”. However, we have found no confirmation of this. The accuracy of Hewetson’s account is questionable as Jim Larkin was in America at that time and was not involved in the preparations for the rising.

As the Spanish civil war brought new interest in anarchism, Kavanagh spoke at the first open-air meeting of the newly-invigorated anarchist movement in Paddington in 1936, an attempt to start a series of mass meetings. It came under attack from the fascists who were successfully driven off.

The following year Kavanagh met up with Jack White of Irish Citizen Army and Republican Congress fame, who had moved to anarchism as a result of his first hand experiences whilst fighting Franco’s fascists. They worked together on a survey of Irish labour but this was lost when White died in 1940 and his papers disappeared. According to Leo Keohane, who researched White’s politics for a doctoral thesis, their intention was to “produce an anarchist’s perspective on Connolly’s ‘Labour in Irish History'”.

As Hewetson noted: “Just how far back his personal memories went was illustrated by his anecdotes about old Edward Craig whom Mat knew at the end of his life, and who, in his early manhood had been the inspirer of the Owenite Commune at Ralahine in the years 1830-33”.

James Connolly wrote about this in his Labour in Irish History.  Ralahine is close to Newmarket-on-Fergus in Co. Clare.

In a short biography of Kavanagh at, Nick Heath adds:

“During the Second World War Mat moved to Southend. Now in his sixties, he was interned under Regulation 18b with other members of the local anarchist group, the Independent Labour Party and pacifists, when Southend was declared a ‘danger area’ by the authorities.

“Mat organised these together and demanded to see the Commandant of the internment camp. He requested that the anarchists, socialists and Jews interned there be separated from the Mosley fascists who had also been rounded up. Eventually the authorities backed down and released Mat and co, realising that the so-called anti-fascist war they were pursuing would be questioned if obvious anti-fascists were being imprisoned alongside fascists.

“Mat contributed to the pages of Solidarity, the paper of the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation, which appeared from 1938 and continued throughout the Second World War.

“Mat had to move up to London where he found work as a barber. He had worked most of his life on the building sites and advancing age had meant his seeking of alternative employment.  Albert Meltzer, in his autobiography ‘I couldn’t paint golden angels’, tells us that he was not a very good barber, but had the honour of shaving George Orwell, who wrote him up in an article calling him a “an old Irish IRA (!) Anarchist hairdresser” who “used to cut my hair in Fleet Street”.