This is another excerpt from Kropotkin’s critique of “revolutionary government,” which from his anarchist perspective is a contradiction in terms. Additional excerpts can be found in Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, Volume One: From Anarchy to Anarchism (300CE-1939).
To allow any kind of government — a power that is strong and demands obedience — to establish itself is to put the brakes on the revolution from the very beginning. The good that this government might do is nil, and the evil immense.
In fact, what is it that we understand by revolution? It is not a simple change of rulers. It is the seizing by the people of all social wealth. It is the abolition of all those powers that have not ceased to hobble the development of humanity. But is it in fact by decrees emanating from a government that such an immense economic revolution can be accomplished? In the last century we saw the Polish dictator Ksciuzko decreeing the abolition of personal servitude, but serfdom continued to exist for eighty years after that decree. We saw the Convention [of the French Revolution], the omnipotent Convention, the terrible Convention, as its admirers called it — decreeing the sharing out according to need of all the communal lands regained from the lords. Like so many others, the decrees remained a dead letter, because, in order to put them into execution, a new revolution made by the proletarians of the countryside would have been needed, and revolutions are not made by decree.
For the repossession of social wealth by the people to become an accomplished fact, the people itself must feel its elbows free, must shake off the servitude to which it is no longer bound, must use its collective intelligence and march ahead without heeding the orders of anyone. For it is precisely this which will frustrate the dictatorship, even if it is the worst intentioned in the world, incapable of advancing the revolution by a single inch.
But if the government — however it may strive for the revolutionary ideal — creates no new force and does not further the work of demolition which we have to accomplish, even less can we count on it for the work of reconstruction that must follow the demolition of the old order. The economic changes that will result from the social revolution will be so immense and so profound, they will so alter all the relations based on property and exchange, that it will be impossible for one or even a number of individuals to elaborate the social forms to which a further society must give birth. This elaboration of new social forms can only be the collective work of the masses. To satisfy the immense variety of conditions and needs that will emerge on the day when property is swept away, we shall need the flexibility of the collective spirit of the community. Any kind of external authority will be merely an obstacle, a hindrance to the organic work that has to be accomplished; it will be no better than a source of discord and of hatreds.
But it is surely time to abandon that illusion, so often dismissed — and also so often paid for dearly — of a revolutionary government. It is time to say once and for all — and adopt it as a political axiom — that a government cannot be revolutionary. People talk about the Convention, but we must not forget that the few measures of even a slightly revolutionary character taken by the Convention were the confirmation of acts accomplished by the people who at that moment advanced over the heads of all governments. As Victor Hugo said in his flamboyant manner, Danton pushed Robespierre, Marat watched and pushed Danton, and Marat himself was pushed by Cimourdain, that personification of the clubs, of the rebels and enragés. Like all the governments preceding and following it, the Convention was no better than a ball-and-chain on the feet of the people.
The facts that history has to teach us are so conclusive in this direction; the impossibility of a revolutionary government and the harmfulness of what is proposed under this name are so evident, that it would seem difficult to explain the stubbornness which a certain school of self-styled socialists [Marxism] puts into maintaining the idea of a government. But the explanation is very simple. However much they may call themselves socialists, the adepts of that school have a quite different conception from ours of the revolution which it is incumbent on us to accomplish. For them — as for all the bourgeois radicals — the social revolution is a matter not to be thought of today. What they dream of in the depths of their hearts without daring to admit it, is something quite different. It is the institution of a government similar to that of Switzerland or the United States, making a few attempts at State appropriation of what they ingeniously call “public services.” It has something in it of the ideas of Bismarck and of the tailor who became president of the United States. It is a compromise, reached in advance, between the socialist aspirations of the masses and the appetites of the bourgeoisie. They would like a complete expropriation, but they do not feel in themselves the courage to attempt it, so they put it off for the next century, and before the battle takes place they have already entered into negotiations with the enemy.
For us, who realize that the moment is getting near to strike a mortal blow at the bourgeoisie; that the time is not far away when the people will be able to put their hands on all social wealth and reduce the exploiting class to impotence; for us, I say, there can be no hesitation. We will throw ourselves body and soul into the Social revolution; once that path has been taken any government, no matter what headgear it wears, will be an obstacle, and we shall reduce to powerlessness and sweep away whoever is ambitious enough to try and impose himself on us to control our destinies.
Enough with governments! Make way for the people! Make way for anarchy!