Kropotkin and Canada
Review By Yotam Ronen
March 9, 2022
BC Studies no. 213 Spring 2022 | p. 162-163
In this translated monograph, Alexey Gennadievich Ivanov depicts the travels of the famous anarchist theoretician Peter Alexeyevich Kropotkin (1842-1921) in Canada during 1897. Drawing on a recently uncovered archive, Ivanov details Kropotkin’s impressions of Canada, and highlights Canada’s importance in the development of the thinker’s ideas for social change. Especially key in this regard is Kropotkin’s in-depth comparison of Canadian social, political, and historical developments with those he saw firsthand in Siberia some thirty years prior. According to the author, Kropotkin was convinced that the influence of the United States over Canada was one of the major reasons why the dominion was demonstrably better off than Siberia. Furthermore, Ivanov convincingly argued that Kropotkin’s political convictions clouded his judgement of Canadian socio-political reality.
Kropotkin’s arrival in Canada, which is often ignored by scholars, came about as a result of an invitation to speak at the regular congress of the British Association. Kropotkin had not the necessary funds to make the trip, which resulted in steps taken by himself and others to make the trip possible. Among those were speaking and writing engagements that Kropotkin took upon himself in order to fund his expenses. For Ivanov, these financial constraints explain why the anarchist did not use the trip to propagandize anarchism in Canada.
To those interested in British Columbia, this work is of special importance. Kropotkin’s 1897 travels included an organized trip from Toronto to Victoria, and an independent trip back, which was facilitated by numerous academics, government officials, and business leaders, who were eager to assist Kropotkin due to his friendship with the Canadian scholar James Mavor (1854-1925). During these travels, Kropotkin participated in geological expeditions, visited state and family farms (including Lord Aberdeen’s farm in British Columbia), met with Indigenous communities, witnessed the effects of the gold rush on Canada’s western provinces, and was confronted by anti-Chinese racism and oppression. Kropotkin’s experience in British Columbia, especially his observations of farm life in the province, proved to him the relevance of self-organization among farmers and workers on the basis of cooperation and mutual aid, and provided him with evidence for a critique of Russia’s mistreatment of Siberia. Lastly, as Ivanov shows, Kropotkin’s travels to Canada in general, and British Columbia in particular, provided him with the connections needed to assist the Doukhobors in their migration to Canada. Kropotkin remained in contact with the community, and for the rest of his life was convinced that, despite their religious convictions, the Doukhobors provided one of the best examples of anarchist life.
Ivanov’s monograph captures Kropotkin’s analysis of Canadian reality, and the way in which he related developments in Canada to global trajectories and to his political project. This positions the Canadian experience in a unique place in the anarchist thinker’s work, one that has significance to those interested in the history of anarchist thought. Also important is Ivanov’s critique of Kropotkin’s analyses; while giving ample room to Kropotkin’s views, the author also confronts Kropotkin’s analysis with Canadian and colonial historiography, taking the reader through blind spots and loopholes in the anarchist’s impressions. This includes Kropotkin’s romanticization of the gold rush and his ignorance of the suffering of Chinese emigrants in British Columbia, to name but a few. While this work presents a valuable contribution to anarchist history, Canadian history, and the history of British Columbia, the author could have incorporated more recent works in Canadian history, thereby offering a more convincing interpretation.
Ivanov, Alexey Gennadievich. Kropotkin and Canada. trans. by Malcolm Archibald. Edmonton: Black Cat Press, 2020. 244 pp. $22.95 paper.