by Peter Kropotkin (1885, this edition published in 1997)
Review by Ramona Wadi
This review originally appeared in Irish Left Review here
History is interwoven with the plight of our times - a hereditary restriction of the masses which allows the supremacist authority of the rulers. Our disassociation from past struggles has ensured that humanity, subjugated through capitalism, has betrayed the nature of revolution. Capitalism has become unsustainable yet it has succeeded into shrouding humanity within a parody of life.
Words of a Rebel was published in 1885, when Kropotkin was imprisoned in France under the fabricated charges of being part of an illegal organisation. Advocating anarchist communism, he is adamant in the belief that the insurrection should not evolve into an authoritarian revolution. Abolishing authority in favour of the masses’ autonomy is resonant throughout the book. Kropotkin analyses the dynamics of oppression in a manner which is interdependent, using a language that transcends the realm of his immediate reality. The exploitation of society has evolved, leaving humanity to wallow in a predicament which might have been avoided, had people not forfeited their freedom of thought.
Humanity has been conditioned into reiterating the voice of its oppressor. The feuds characterising power control and democratically elected governments have been translated to the masses as a necessity for order and stability. Society has become bewildered with the travesty of social stratification, even accepting the concentrated cluster of power as an unconquerable absolute majority. A dissenting view is labelled as a social disorder which requires forceful modification. War has been legalised under the pretence of United Nations resolutions, rebranded as a responsible intervention to protect. The definition of revolution has been grotesquely exalted by media hype in order to rally international support towards the usurping of natural resources after thousands of people have been massacred by missiles. Humanitarian aid has become synonymous with the aftermath of destruction. Power has corrupted and manipulated millions of people around the world into accepting and justifying foreign intervention; any whisper of dissent is pacified by the freedom of adding one’s calligraphy to a petition which pretends to uphold moral consciousness. The rhetoric of valour associated with war is denounced by Kropotkin, who describes this irrationality as an invasion and desecration of sovereignty; an indoctrination by political power fuelling momentary hatred in its subjects in order to murder indiscriminately.
Kropotkin explains the reversal of logic by illustrating how governments misrepresent the people, especially the working class. Being in the lower echelon of society, the workers have modified their social expectations through the exploitation of the elite. Power has conjured a parody of itself, ridiculing the millions of workers amassed and relegating them to the description of a minority in order to safeguard its fragile elected majority. The masses have forfeited their right to comfort by becoming slaves of production to ensure their masters’ prestige. Skills, talent and hard work have been reduced to a system of slavery in which the elite have assumed ownership of both worker and product. The freedom of accessing basic needs such as shelter, nutrition, education and health services are treated as a prestige benefiting those whose repression of the majority has deformed the right to live into a struggle for survival. Kropotkin outlines the fallacy of medical care access - a reality in which people striving to survive will never benefit from health care, since medicine has become the sanctuary of those who are swathed in opulence. The state and medical practitioners have created rules of eligibility which favour a sliver of the population.
Power is concerned with order - any semblance of independent thought is fettered and annihilated under the guise of retaining stability in society. In reality, order is a refined method of indoctrination. As Kropotkin states, “Order is a tiny minority, elevated into the seats of government, which imposes itself in that way on the majority and prepares its children to continue the same functions in order to maintain the same privileges by fraud, corruption, force and massacre.”
Parallel to order is law - a ramification which garnered both abhorrence and authority. People are unable to, or unwilling to implement reform where necessary, resulting in a judicial influence dictating societal norms; initiating an arrangement between the law and the state which shelters power corruption by conspiring against the vulnerable in order to contrive a deception to assert moral authority.
Power has consolidated a structure of acquiescence which ensnares every institution within its fraudulent realm; the ultimate aim being the spread and regeneration of conformist attitude. Education - a philosophy which is supposed to enhance and aid students to develop critical thinking skills; has become the primary source which seeks to obliterate any sign of independent, radicalized thought. From an early age students are indoctrinated into the mendacity of submission, taught to venerate power and disassociate themselves from the comfort of reason. “We are all so perverted by an education that from an early age seeks to kill in us the spirit of revolt and develop that of submission to authority; we are so perverted by an existence under the rod of law that rules all: our birth, our education, our development, our lives and our friendships, that, if this continues, we shall lose all initiative, all habit of reasoning for ourselves.”
Words of a Rebel is a magnificent treatise on how people can retain their dignity and freedom. Throughout history freedom has been misinterpreted - its value eradicated through the ignorance disseminated by education and political power. Freedom is misconstrued through the constraints of representative democracy and anarchism, according to Kropotkin will guarantee rights “… for which we might plead to parliament for decades in vain.”
“Freedoms are not given, they are taken.”