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Jura Federation
Jura Federation / Fédération jurassienne

George Woodcock: Anarchism (excerpt on Jura Federation)

It was natural that Kropotkin should go first to Switzerland, which had become the Mecca of radical Russians in the same way as the spas and gambling towns of Germany had attracted their more conventional compatriots. Kropotkin settled first in Zurich, where several hundred Russians, both men and women, were studying at the University or devoting themselves to expatriate politics on the side of Bakunin or of his populist rival, Peter Lavrov. Peter Kropotkin was a friend and supporter of Lavrov, but this did not affect Peter's intention to consider carefully the many socialist and revolutionary trends he encountered during those exciting weeks of discussion among the Russians of Zurich. He met Bakunin's disciple Michael Sazhin, better known as Armand Ross, and he assembled all the books on socialism he could find and all the pamphlets and fugitive newspapers that were being published by the sections of the International throughout Europe. In the process he became convinced that among the workers of western Europe there existed the very consciousness of their own identity and their own power which he hoped to awaken among the peasants of his own country.

The more I read the more I saw that there was before me a new world, unknown to me, and totally unknown to the learned makers of sociological theories— a world that I could know only by living in the Workingmen's Association and by meeting the workers in their everyday life.

He left Zurich for Geneva, a more active centre of the International, and there he became aware of the divisions that had arisen within the Association. For five weeks he mingled with the Geneva Marxist group. But the political calculations that moved Nicholas Utin, the leading Russian Marxist in Geneva, soon irked him, and he then sought out Zhukovsky, at this time the leading Bakuninist in the city. It was Zhukovsky who sent him on the trip into the Jura that became Kropotkin's road to Damascus.

The first man he met in the Jura was James Guillaume, working in his little printing shop in Neuchatel; from there he went on to Sonvillier, where he sought out Schwitzguebel, and made the acquaintance of the mountain watchmakers, talking with them in their little family work shops and attending the meetings in the villages when the peasant crafts men came tramping down from the hills to discuss the anarchist doctrine that seemed to offer them a chance of establishing social justice while retaining their treasured independence.

It is hard to imagine a situation more likely to appeal to Kropotkin. The enthusiasm that pervaded the Jura villages during the early 1870s confirmed all the hopes he had conceived when he read the pamphlets of the International in Zurich. The anarchist theories he heard expounded by Guillaume and Schwitzguebel and discussed fervently by the watchmakers "appealed strongly to my mind," he tells us,

but the egalitarian relations which I found in the Jura mountains; the independence of thought and expression which I saw developing in the workers and their unlimited devotion to the cause appealed even more strongly to my feelings; and when I came away from the mountains, after a week's stay with the watch makers, my views upon socialism were settled; I was an anarchist.

In its rapidity and its emotional nature, Kropotkin's experience had all the elements of a conversion; it set the pattern of his thought for the rest of his life.

It was only with difficulty that Guillaume dissuaded Kropotkin from staying in Switzerland and himself adopting the craftsman's life. His duty, Guillaume austerely reminded him, lay in Russia, and Kropotkin agreed. Soon after his return to St Petersburg he took up active propaganda as a member of the Chaikovsky Circle, the most celebrated of the narodnik groups of the 1870s.

The Chaikovsky Circle has little place in the history of anarchism except as the setting in which Kropotkin began to develop his ideas of action and organization. Its members at this time had no thought of terrorist activity or of conspiring to overthrow the Tsar by force; they set out to be propagandists, to write and publish pamphlets, to import illegal literature from western Europe, and to carry on the great task of educating the people. Most of them were moderate constitutionalists with a leaning toward social democracy; Kropotkin was the only anarchist among them, and his ideas had little influence on the Circle as a whole. Indeed, when a quarrel broke out between the followers of Bakunin and those of Lavrov over the control of the Russian library in Zurich, the Chaikovsky Circle took the side of the Lavrovists.

Nevertheless, it was at this time that Kropotkin wrote his first anarchist essay. This was a pamphlet entitled Should We Occupy Ourselves with Examining the Ideals of a Future Society? One secret report of the Tsarist police asserts that the pamphlet was actually published, but no printed copy exists, and only a manuscript was produced when it was quoted as evidence in the famous Trial of the Hundred and Ninety- three, which marked the end of the peaceful phase of Russian populism in 1878.

What this pamphlet shows is that, despite his active association with a group who did not share his attitude, Kropotkin was already working out the anarchism he was later to propagate. In some ways his attitude at this time was nearer to both Proudhon and Bakunin than it became in his mature years. The influence of Proudhon appears in a suggestion that labour cheques should be substituted for money, and in the recommendation that consumers' and producers' cooperatives should be founded even under the Tsarist system, at least as a form of propaganda. His advocacy of the possession of the land and factories by workers' associations seems, however, much nearer to Bakuninist collectivism than to mutualism, and there is as yet no trace of the communistic form of distribution which afterward became so particularly associated with the name of Kropotkin.

At the same time he explicitly opposes Nechayevism and the idea of revolution by conspiratorial means. Revolutionaries cannot make revolutions, he claims; they can only link and guide the efforts that originate among the dissatisfied people themselves. He rejects the state, contends that manual work should be regarded as a universal duty, and launches an argument characteristic of his later years when he advocates a form of education in which intellectual training will be combined with apprenticeship to a craft.

For two years Kropotkin took part in the activities of the Chaikovsky Circle, using his geographical work as a cover for the agitation which he carried on, disguised as the peasant Borodin, in the working-class quarters of St Petersburg. In 1874 he was arrested and imprisoned in the Peter-and-Paul fortress. After two years his health broke down, and he was transferred to the prison block of the St Petersburg military hospital. It was from here -- and not from the fortress as has so often been said -- that he made his celebrated escape, described with great vividness in his Memoirs of a Revolutionist. In August 1876 he reached England, and early the following year he traveled on to Switzerland and picked up the connections made more than four years ago with the members of the Jura Federation.

This time he was quickly accepted into the inner circles of the anarchist movement, doubtless on the strength of his activities in Russia. He began to write for the Bulletin of the Jura Federation and for other more fugitive anarchist sheets, and in August 1877 he attended what may well have been the last meeting of the secret Alliance, and was elected secretary of an international correspondence bureau which it was proposed to set up in Switzerland. Later in the same year he went as delegate for the Russian emigre groups to the last Congress of the Saint-Imier International at Verviers in Belgium and then continued to the International Socialist Congress in Ghent with the futile hope of reuniting the socialist movement. But he fled precipitately, under the impression that the Belgian police intended to arrest him, and returned to England, where for a time he contented himself with studying in the British Museum. It was now that he began to develop a conception of anarchism as a moral philosophy rather than as a mere programme of social change.


Meanwhile, the Saint-Imier International itself disintegrated rapidly, and this happened at a time when the Spanish and Italian movements were vigorous, when the movement in France was reawakening and when a great extension was being given to anarchist ideas by the establishment of federations in several Latin American countries. The International's collapse stemmed mainly from the fact that since the schism in 1872 it had swung on the axis of Belgium and the Jura, the two regions where political conditions allowed sustained and open activity. The numerically large movements in Spain and Italy and the active nuclei in France all suffered from governmental persecutions which made it difficult for them even to maintain their own organizations and which encouraged the kind of separatism shown in the refusal of the Italians to be represented at the Brussels Congress of 1874. Any change in the situation in Belgium or the Jura was therefore bound to affect the International as a whole. And we have seen already how de Paepe with the majority of the Belgian socialists had moved away toward social democracy. By the end of 1876 the Association was dependent on the Jura Federation for its continued existence.

But in the Jura also the situation had been changing from the days of early anarchist enthusiasm which Kropotkin had witnessed in 1872. Economic conditions had worsened, and peasant craftsmen were much more dependent on the watch manufacturers than a few years before. This led to greater caution, and the diminished vitality of the Jura Federation was shown when it's Bulletin, which for a period had been the leading anarchist journal, ceased publication in March 1878. Even some of the most active militants fell away from the movement. James Guillaume, the close disciple of Bakunin, who had been the most active inspirer of the Jura Federation and one of the key members of the Saint-Imier International, was disillusioned by the failure of the various congresses to achieve any positive results; he departed to Paris in the spring of 1878 and there retired into political inactivity, to emerge after more than two decades as an advocate of syndicalism. Of the important native leaders only Schwitzguebel remained active, and the last congresses in the Jura, held in 1879 and 1880, were dominated by foreign leaders, Kropotkin, Reclus and Cafiero, who used the occasion to hammer out their theories away from the danger of hostile police forces. Soon afterward the once influential Jura Federation faded from the scene as an active organization.

Michael Bakunin: Letter to Fransisco Mora in Madrid

(Written in French)
April 5, 1872
Dear Ally and Comrade,

As our friends at Barcelona have invited me to write to you, I do so with all the more pleasure since I have learned that I also, like my friends, our allies of the Jura Federation, have become, in Spain as much as in other countries, the target for the calumnies of the London General Council. It is indeed a sad thing that in this time of terrible crisis, when the fate of the proletariat of all Europe is being decided for many decades to come, and when all the friends of the proletariat, of humanity and justice, should unite fraternally to make a front against the common enemy, the world of the privileged which has been organised into a state?it is very sad, I say, that men who have, moreover, rendered great services to the International in the past, should be impelled today by evil authoritarian passions, should lower themselves to falsification and the sowing of discord, instead of creating everywhere the free union which alone can create strength.

To give you a fair idea of the line which we are taking, I have only one thing to tell you. Our programme is yours; it is the very one which you proclaimed at your Congress last year, and if you stay faithful to it, you are with us for the simple reason that we are with you. We detest the principle of dictatorship, governmentalism and authority, just as you detest them; we are convinced that all political power is an infallible source of depravity for those who govern, and a cause of servitude for those who are governed.?The state signifies domination, and human nature is so made that all domination becomes exploitation. As enemies of the state in all its manifestations anyway, we certainly do not wish to tolerate it within the International. We regard the London Conference and the resolutions which it passed as an ambitious intrigue and a coup d'etat, and that is why we have protested, and shall continue protesting to the end. I am not touching on personal questions, alas! they will take up too much time at the next world Congress, if this Congress takes place, which I strongly doubt myself; for if things continue to proceed as they are doing, there will soon no longer be a single point on the continent of Europe where the delegates of the proletariat will be able to assemble in order to debate in freedom. All eyes are now fixed on Spain, and on the outcome of your Congress. What will come of it? This letter will reach you, if it reaches you at all, after this Congress. Will it find you at the height of revolution or at the height of reaction? All our friends in Italy, France and Switzerland are waiting for news from your country with unbearable anxiety.

You doubtless know that the International and our dear Alliance have progressed enormously in Italy of late. The people, in the country as much as in the towns, are now in an entirely revolutionary situation, that is to say, they are economically desperate; the masses are beginning to organise themselves in a most serious manner and their interests are beginning to become ideas.?Up to now, what was lacking in Italy was not instincts, but organisation and an idea. Both are coming into being, so that Italy, after Spain and with Spain, is perhaps the most revolutionary country at this moment. Italy has what other countries lack: a fervent and energetic youth completely at a loss, with no prospects, with no way out, and which, despite its bourgeois origins, is not morally and intellectually exhausted like the bourgeois youth of other countries. Today, it is throwing itself headlong into revolutionary socialism accepting our entire programme, the programme of the Alliance. Mazzini, our mighty antagonist of genius, is dead, the Mazzini party is completely disorganised, and Garibaldi is letting himself be carried away more and more by that youth which bears his name, but which is going, or rather running, infinitely further ahead of him. I have sent to our friends in Barcelona an Italian address; I shall soon send them others. It is good and it is necessary that the Allies in Spain should enter into direct relations with those in Italy. Are you receiving the Italian socialist newspapers? I recommend above all: the Eguaglianza of Girgenti, Sicily; the Campana of Naples; the Fascio Operoio of Bologna; Il Gazzettino Rosa, above all Il Martello, of Milan?unfortunately the latter has been banned and all the editors imprisoned.

In Switzerland, I recommend to you two Allies: James Guillaume (Switzerland, Neuchatel, 5, rue de la Place d'Armes) and Adhemar Schwitzguebel, engraver (member and corresponding secretary of the Committee of the Jura Federation), Switzerland, Jura Bernois, Sonvillier, Mr. Adhemar Schwitzguebel, engraver. (Bakunin's address follows.)

Alliance and fraternity,

M. Bakunin

Please convey my greetings to brother Morago, and ask him to send me his newspaper.

Are you receiving the bulletin of the Jura Federation?

Please burn this letter, as it contains names.

Compiled by Romano Krauth, first published on the Movement for Anarchy site, which discontinued in January 2006

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