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Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Kropotkin talks about the Amur river

"After I had delivered my barges, I made about a thousand miles down the Amúr in one of the post boats which are used on the river. The stern of the boat was covered in, and in the bow was a box filled with earth upon which a fire was kept to cook the food. My crew consisted of three men. We had to make haste, and therefore used to row in turns all day long, while at night the boat was left to float with the current, and I kept the watch for three or four hours to maintain the boat in the middle of the river, and to prevent it from being drawn into some side channel. These watches - the full moon shining above and the dark hills reflectcd in the river - were beautiful beyond description.

My rowers were taken from the aforementioned sons; they were three tramps, who had the reputation of being incorrigible thieves and robbers, - and I carried with me a heavy sack full of banknotes, silver, and copper. In Western Europe such a journey, on a lonely river, would have been considered risky; not so in East Siberia. I made it without even having so much as an old pistol, and I found my three tramps excellent company. Only, as we approached Blagovéschensk, they became restless. "Khánshina" (the Chinese brandy) "is cheap there," they reasoned, with deep sighs. "We are sure to get into trouble! It's cheap, and it knocks you over in no time, from want of being used to it!" I offered to leave the money which was due to them with a friend who would see them off with the first steamer. "That would not help us," they replied mournfully. "Somebody will offer a glass, - it's cheap, and a glass knocks you over!" they persisted in saying. They were really perplexed, and when, a few months later, I returned through the town, I learned that one of "my sons," as people called them in town, had really got into trouble. When he had sold the last pair of boots to get the poisonous drink, he had committed some theft and had been locked up. My friend finally obtained his release and shipped him back."

& another time ...

"A few days later, a steamer slowly creeping up the river overtook me, and when I boarded her, the passengers told me that the captain had drunk himself into a delirium and jumped overboard. He was saved, however, and was now lying ill in his cabin. They asked me to take command of the steamer, and I had to consent; but soon I found to my great astonishment that everything went on by itself in such an excellent routine way that, though I paraded all day on the bridge, I had almost nothing to do. Apart from a few minutes of real responsibility, when the steamer had to be brought to the landing-places, where we took wood for fuel, and saying a word or two now and then to encourage the stokers to start as soon as the dawn permitted us faintly to distinguish the outlines of the shores, matters took care of themselves. "

In conclusion, about Siberia ...

"Having been brought up in a serf-owner's family, I entered active life, like all young men of my time, with a great deal of confidence in the necessity of commanding, ordering, scolding, punishing, and the like. But when, at an early stage, I had to manage serious enterprises and to deal with men, and when each mistake would lead at once to heavy consequences, I began to appreciate the difference between acting on the principle of command and discipline and acting on the principle of common understanding. The former works admirably in a military parade, but it is worth nothing where real life is concerned, and the aim can be achieved only through the severe effort of many converging wills. Although I did not then formulate my observations in terms borrowed from party struggles, I may say now that I lost in Siberia whatever faith in state discipline I had cherished before. I was prepared to become an anarchist. "

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