Throughout history (and undoubtedly before history) there have been bearded gentlemen who have led extraordinary and amazing lives. As a self-proclaimed connoisseur of the bearded lifestyle, I would be remiss if I didn’t do my part to bring their stories to light. There are countless numbers of awesome bearded men with prodigious tales worthy of telling, but I can think of none worthier than Russian scientist, philosopher, revolutionary and all around bad-ass Peter Kropotkin.
Kropotkin was born the son of a prince, but unimpressed with the privileges of royalty, he renounced his aristocratic heritage and eventually became a revolutionary. Work was scarce for Kropotkin, so in 1864 he accepted an offer to lead a geographical survey expedition. Like most things in Kropotkin’s life, this wasn’t an ordinary expedition.
It was one of the greatest equestrian journeys ever. Kropotkin traveled on horseback across Siberia from Irkutsk to Kyakhta. According to Kropotkin, the journey was a:
“long, circuitous route, across mountains 7000 to 8000 feet high. I once traveled along this track, greatly enjoying the scenery of the mountains, which were snow-glad in May, but otherwise the journey was really awful. To climb eight miles only, to the top of the main pass, Khamar-daban, it took me the whole day from three in the morning till eight at night. Our horses continually fell through the thawing snow, plunging with their riders many times a day into the icy water which flowed underneath the snow crust”
He agreed to go on a few more scientific endeavors and made some extremely important contributions to the sciences of his day, including a remapping of Asia. But he eventually tired of creating new knowledge for rulers and began a life long project of dispensing existing knowledge to peasants.
In 1872 he traveled to Switzerland and joined the International Workingmen’s Organization , also known as the First International; a revolutionary organization that sought to unite various groups of working class revolutionaries. Kropotkin believed the IWA was overly influenced by the bureaucratic reformist tendencies of Karl Marx. Never one to give into raggamuffinism, Kropotkin began hanging out with the more hard core Jura Federation, a fringe section of the IWA. According to Kropotkin:
“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 far more strongly to my feelings; and when I came away from the mountains, after a week’s stay with the watchmakers, my views upon socialism were settled. I was an anarchist.”
Upon his return to Russia, Kropotkin began distributing revolutionary propaganda to the peasants and workers while using his position in the Geological Society as cover. He was eventually arrested and imprisoned in the Peter & Paul Fortress in St Petersburg Russia.
His jailers wanted him to continue to do scientific work while locked up, so he figured out that the last Ice Age happened much more recently than previously expected. But unbeknownst to the authorities, Kropotkin was planning his escape. Shortly before his trial, he managed to escape with the help of some friends. Always one step ahead of the authorities, Kropotkin celebrated his escape with his friends at one of the most expensive restaurants in St Petersburg while the police spent the night out in the cold searching for him in vein.
He then made his way to England by boat. He continued his revolutionary activities and also published what is arguably his most important work, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, in which he argued that cooperation and mutual aid are the most important factors in the evolution of a species and its ability to survive. This idea stood in stark contrast to the Social Darwinism that was in vogue among the ruling classes of the day.
Kropotkin made his way back to Russia after the 1917 Revolutions and was greeted by tens of thousands of people cheering his triumphant return. He was offered a job at the ministry of education in the provisional government, which he promptly refused and continued his revolutionary activities. He warned against the dangers of authoritarian socialist tactics, and predicted that the October Revolution would lead to the authoritarian nightmare known as the Soviet Union. Unfortunately his warning was not heeded and you know the rest.
Kropotkin died of pneumonia in February of 1921 and thousands of his supporters waved black flags during his funeral in defiance of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
People who knew him said he had a kind heart and a grandfatherly demeanor; as long as you weren’t an officer of the law. He had an entirely different attitude towards the police. In the end, Kropotkin died as he lived; a bearded revolutionary bad-ass who took guff from no one, not even Vladimir Lenin.