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Kropotkin escapes from prison (crimethinc.com)
258 points by item 11 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 90 comments

That was great.

While in jail I only had two serious opportunities to escape. The first an unscheduled incoming call from an embassy official meant I was brought to a secure area to use a special phone. It was right by the sally port [0] which normally has at least one door closed. Both were open. I could have run directly out to the street. The guards do not carry their guns inside the jail.

The second was on a run to a civil court appearance. I was carrying a huge weight in legal work, which is near impossible when your hands are cuffed tight to your waist. I told the guard he would need to carry the documents. He scoffed at the idea of this extra work. He checked my record and noted that I had no violence and no staff attacks and decided to leave me totally uncuffed so I could carry the items. When we arrived at the courthouse we had to park nearby and I got to walk down the street without any restraints. Again, I could have run, although the guards carry guns when they are outside the jail.

This made us laugh while I was locked up - murder suspect escapes while guard is in the McDonald's drive through:


[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mantrap_(access_control)

Many western countries don't even bother trying to prevent in escapes for some of their prisons. For instance in Germany about 20% of prisoners could run away daily - when they leave the prison to go to work or whatever ("open prisons"). But less than one in a hundred do. I probably don't need to tell you about some of the special Scandinavian prisons.

Most people just want to get their sentence behind them, not become a fugitive. It likely was the same for you.

a 1% escape rate seems egregious

Wouldn’t it be less than 0.2%? It parsed to me as less than 1 out of 100 out of those who have the opportunity via work release or other community integration initiatives.

Once you're in open prison/work release etc you're usually both at the tail end of your sentence and enjoying much better conditions than you were earlier, both of which are major disincentives to risking resetting the clock.

Yes. I should have clarified that.

Surely even if they had guns, murdering you is not an appropriate response to a possible escape?

In the US, they can and do create any quantum theory of your potential actions as legal justification for any preemptive action in their local department’s catalogue of actions, which you will never be privy to at the time. You are also not privy to the exact way in which you cease being an eliminable quantum threat, which may be nonexistent.

In some departments, officers have been fired for not eliminating a threat that the officer felt didn’t need to be “eliminated”.

So extrajudicial capital punishment for basically anything is legal in every state and territory in the US.

“Justified” only means that the action the officer chose was one of the equally weighted choices in the department’s current catalogue. It is not a tiered response, it is only an available response.

I don't know about jail/prison guards but for cops the official standard for shooting some one who is running away is something like "reasonable belief that you are a danger to the community", "reasonable" might not be the specific standard but regardless it's pretty trivial for an attorney to argue that a guard believed (in the moment, and they only have to believe in the moment) they were justified.

edit: here we go https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tennessee_v._Garner "the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others." that is of course for a suspect. If you've been convicted the standards are probably much lower.

Depends on the jurisdiction, but at least where I live, yes, preventing escape from imprisonment is explicitly listed as a legally permitted reason for officials (both prison guards and police) to shoot someone.

In general (but not always, not in e.g. armed escape) there is a requirement of warning, giving a chance to surrender without violence, but if they refuse to surrender, the society has decided that it is acceptable to shoot to kill. It's not murder (murder being unlawful killing), it's enforcement of the designated proper punishment (staying imprisoned for a certain time) by the threat of death. The death penalty isn't appropriate for most (or even any) crimes, other penalties are, and they are free to take (and expected to take) those other penalties and avoid the risk of death - however, if they intentionally refuse the appropriate punishment (prison sentence) and try to escape, that is their own choice of putting their life on the line.

As an aside to this, I was coming back to jail from court one Friday when a guy slipped his cuffs (often really easy) and ran off down the street. The guards actually did not shoot him, but ran after him and tackled him to the ground.

On return to the jail I had the guard run his name to find out how serious his alleged offense was. "He wasn't even in for a crime!" said the Guard. "WTF?". "He was only booked for the weekend - he hadn't paid child support." Now facing 5 years in prison for escape.

In many (most?) countries, cops often get away with killing people without actual cause which could justify a non-cop killing a person. And if the person killed is stereotypically disdained (prisoner, member of oppressed ethnic group, homeless person etc.) - then they almost always get away with it.

some people get murdered before they even get to jail

It's America though

Depends on how dangerous the criminal is. For a serial killer? Yeah, it might be.

Even a "suspected" serial killer isn't a serial killer until convicted and jailed as such (innocent until proven guilty) if they had access to the street to try and make their getaway.

The whole "innocent until proven guilty" entitles the accused to certain rights, but it doesn't mean everyone has to act like they are 100% definitely innocent. Taken to the extreme, that would mean you couldn't even arrest someone suspected to being a serial killer until they were convicted. Would make it a little difficult to make them stand trial...

The question is about killing the suspect.

If they are escaping prison, that presumes they have been convicted.

I think the strict distinction between jail and prison is American English, and not even that, in informal speech.

Compare for example https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/englis... (British English) with https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/prison and https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/jail (US English)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prison also says “In American English, the terms prison and jail have separate definitions, though this is not always followed in casual speech.”

As far as I know in the country where I live non violent criminals are treated much more leniently. They have “vacations” where they can go back to their families for holidays like Christmas and special events.

If they do run away they’ll get a much bigger sentence, so people just return so they can get it over with.

In America too, they frequently let the convicts go to their mother's funerals.

What were you convicted of?

Sorry, it's often unclear because of the way the word "jail" is used in English to mean both a pre-trial detention facility and a prison for the convicted.

I've never actually been convicted of a crime. I was in a pre-trial facility.

The passage from Kropotkin’s memoir about his prison escape appeared in a Russian textbook I used in college [1]. It was much more interesting than typical foreign language textbook material.

Addendum: The Russian version of Kropotkin’s memoir, published in London in 1902, is at [2]. Thank you again, Internet Archive.

[1] https://www.worldcat.org/title/eyewitness-selections-from-ru...

[2] https://archive.org/details/zapiskirevoliuts00krop/page/342/...

The English version is at [3]. According to the author’s preface to the Russian edition, he wrote it in English at the request of the editor of the Atlantic Monthly, where it was serialized. He then supervised the translation into Russian.

[3] https://archive.org/details/dli.bengal.10689.13354/page/n353...

For those who don't know who Kropotkin was, I highly recommend reading up on his live. Both his live and the live of Bakunin are extremely fascinating, as are their political philosophies.

Today I learned that buoyant inflatable balloons have been around a lot longer than I thought.

The Montgolfier brothers demonstrated the first hot-air balloon in summer 1783. They also invented parachutes.


I don’t think the article states it was inflatable. It still may have been, though. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toy_balloon#History:

“The first rubber balloons were made by Professor Michael Faraday in 1824 […] Latex rubber toy balloons were introduced by pioneer rubber manufacturer Thomas Hancock the following year in the form of a do-it-yourself kit consisting of a bottle of rubber solution and a condensing syringe. Vulcanized toy balloons, which unlike the earlier kind were unaffected by changes in temperature, were first manufactured by J.G. Ingram of London in 1847 and can be regarded as the prototype of modern toy balloons.”

And a good reminder to keep your plans simple.

"In fact, on that morning, his friends had discovered that there was not a single red balloon for sale in all the markets of St. Petersburg. At length, they obtained an old one from a child, but it no longer flew. In desperation, they bought a red rubber ball and attempted to inflate it with hydrogen; but when they released it, it floated only a few feet up, stopped just short of the top of the courtyard wall, and drifted back down to them. Finally, they tied it to the top of a woman’s umbrella, and she walked back and forth on the street, holding the umbrella as high above her head as she could—but not high enough".

Pretty sure floating under giant balloons was a vaguely regular pastime of wealthy people in the nineteenth century, and perhaps earlier.

A wonderful film in hypothesis. All the necessary qualities for a great escape movie.

Worlds Collide. I did not expect to see something from crimethinc on Hacker News. Any other xvx tech people please say hello.

And talking about Kropotkin no less!

Don't know what an xvx person is, but hello from an Anarchist HN reader in Palestine/Israel. Still sore about Kropotkin's stance on WWI though :-(

Same here.

Thought the crimethinc cult died with GWBs presidency. They definitely disappeared from the punk scene (for the better)

> They definitely disappeared from the punk scene (for the better)

Not aware of inter-group shenanigans so feel free to elaborate, but some Crimethinc publications (like "To change everything") have been very popular in the anarchist punk scene in some places i've visited across Europe in the past 10 years.

More lately, two articles of theirs were widely-enough shared that they reached my ears without the help of my RSS feed reader:

- https://crimethinc.com/2020/04/10/and-after-the-virus-the-pe...

- https://crimethinc.com/zines/seven-myths-about-the-police

To me, it just seemed like an organization using the punk scene as a place to recruit young, angry/romantic idealists into some political cult... In fact, I knew a few people who got way into Crimethinc and moved to NC never to be heard from again.

I played some shows on tour with a Crimethinc band and we crashed at the same places after the gigs. The bands and locals would all gather around Brian (Crimethinc founder), sit and listen to him blabber for hours into the night. It felt super cult-y, especially compared to some the other anarchist corners of the US punk scene at the time.

it's no surprise to me that Crimethinc books are still treated as scripture in anarchist squats across Europe (many of which are tax-payer funded thru the state, hah)j

My band played a couple shows with Catharsis and I actually recorded one of their first albums at my old recording studio in pre-crimethinc days. Definitely super cult-y but in a fun way, I hope. I have definitely heard some funny stories.

I first saw some of the story retold in Matt Ridley's book Origins of Virtue [1]. It must've left an impression, since I still remember it, if only in the barest outline.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Origins_of_Virtue

Great demonstration that luck is always an essential ingredient!

Why is this on here? What's the significance and should have kept the missing date from the post title

Personal interpretation: it's about physical security (infrastructure hacking), physics (arc vs line trajectories), cooperation and secret signalling (some sort of steganography), and refusal to submit to unfair centralized authorities. All of which are favorite topics of HN from what i could see so far.

EDIT: As for the date, the article was published for Kropotkin's birthday apparently.

My guess? It’s interesting and humorous.

Uncontracted title: "June 30, 1876: Peter Kropotkin Escapes from Prison, A Tale of Derring-Do on the Occasion of His Birthday".

I had wondered who the heck Kropotkin was.

For those wondering, Kropotkin was a Russian anarchist philosopher. He’s most famous for “The Conquest of Bread”.

He was also a biologist, countering Darwin by stating there is as much (or more) cooporation in nature as there is conflict


He went further, arguing that mutual aid is the practice/axiom that enabled most societies (human or otherwise) to survive and evolve thus far.

He countered social Darwinism, not Darwin (don’t think Darwin fell for these fallacies).

Yes and I also find the term “libertarian communist” useful to describe him (and myself).

Those two things seem at odds to me.. how do you consider yourself both libertarian and communist?

Well in the history of communism, both were synonyms until Marx and Lenin popularized the "dictatorship of the proletariat". The 1871 Paris Commune (150y anniversary this year!) although it had some minor authoritarian components was profoundly anti-authoritarian and its massacre gave birth to the modern anarchist movement and the famous black flag (as worn by Louise Michel to commemorate the dozens of thousands of civilians and Communards executed by French army).

The common understanding of communism used to be (and still is in many cultures/circles) the redistribution/decentralization of power and resources. The February "revolution" in 1917 in Russia was famously very decentralized with "soviets" (base assemblies) popping up everywhere (as trade unions, as local councils, etc) and organizing from the bottom up without a central authority. That is, until the october revolution during which Lenin and Trotsky and their power-hungry friends started literally hunting down all the anarcho-communists with their secret police in order to build their State-capitalist dystopia.

If you're curious about more details about anarcho-communism and its varied history, I would recommend Emma Goldman's autobiography (which goes into great lengths about propaganda vs reality in bolshevik Russia) or Martha Ackelsberg's account of the Spanish revolution (1936) "Free women of spain". There's of course a lot more to be read on that topic if you're curious, but i found these two books to be very broad introductions to anarchism although they don't cover all the topics that intersect with anarchist politics (eg. anti-colonialism).

Here's an introduction to the term [1]. For the slightly more general concept of anarcho-communism, i.e. the main strain of anarchism in the world, [2]. For the even broader concept of libertarian socialism, see here [3].

1. https://libcom.org/library/libertarian-communism-introductio...

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anarcho-communism

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Libertarian_socialism

You probably don’t want to watch a 52 minute video on that exact question but I did recently make one:


But there have always been communists who want to organize production communally using purely voluntary means. I want to get together with other people like me and build and operate a “means of production” we control as I believe it is in our benefit to do so. But I have no interest in and explicitly oppose using force to coerce anyone into participating.

That’s exactly what Peter Kropotkin thought too, way back in the late 1800’s. I am opposite from authoritarian communists who believe that a powerful state should be used to force communism on people. I, like Kropotkin, oppose that.

Libertarian became co-opted to mean the modern “right-libertarian” only in the 1960s; before that it basically meant anarchist.

For more precision, the term "libertarian" (libertaire) was popularized in French language following the Lois scélérates outlawing any anarchist propaganda (1890s) under the 3rd republic [0] at a time when a few anarchists were openly murdering some of our overlords for their crimes against the people and such practice had widespread popular support (except in the bourgeoisie of course). There's even entire songs dedicated to the dynamite as a tool of emancipation against our masters, and to popular heroes like Ravachol (who bombed corrupt judges) and Emile Henri (who accidently, that's the funny part, bombed the commissariat in La rue des bons enfants).

So yes in the english-speaking world since the 50s/60s with Hayek and Randt) "libertarian" started to take a capitalist meaning. But it's worth noting that this doesn't expand to other parts of the world: in french-speaking cultures the capitalist libertarian movement is almost non-existent, and we use the distinct "libertarien-ne" word borrowed back from english for when we actually need to the american movement: "libertaire" certainly refers to the anti-authoritarian anticapitalist movement to this day.

[0] Yeah if you believe France is the country of human rights, that's just a myth. The 3rd republic had the same slogan (Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité) and flag (the Paris red & blue holding tight the royalist white) than the 5th, yet had widespread slavery and apartheid (following the "code de l'Indigénat") and women had no civil rights. French public schools was famously established in the 1880s as a means to expand the French colonial empire's reach. Don't even get me started on how broken/racist the 5th republic (since De Gaulle) is! :)

Which has even less to do with communism though.

On the contrary, both in anarchist and marxist philosophy communism is defined as a society without State and social classes. While anarchists believe (and practice!) in dismantling the established social order here and now by systematically questioning power structures, marxist-leninists promoted the idea that building a "dictatorship of the proletariat" was a necessary step for a revolution to seize the repression means of the bourgeois State to make sure to go towards communism. This disagreement is what led to the fork of the 1st Internationale in the late 19th century.

As history has shown, reestablishing the old forms of power (centralized State, political police, prisons, work) for the sake of the revolution didn't help to achieve any communism ever (USSR was profoundly anti-communist beyond the appearances: the secret police fought against all self-organized communes like Cronstadt or the peasant soviets of Ukraine). That's why anarchists to this day refer to marxism-leninism (what capitalists call "communism") as State-capitalism: it has the same structures and power balance than capitalism, with the difference that power is held not by the bourgeoisie but by a so-called avant-garde. But for the common people, the situation is very similar, as the promised Stateless/classless society is nowhere to be seen.

Marx eventually clarified that he thought the “dictatorship of the proletariat” would not be a dictatorship, but instead rather radical democracy. With the benefit of hindsight, we can say that the anarchists’ criticism of Marx and his dictatorship of the proletariat were spot on, and that such structures rapidly became authoritarian and self serving.

Not really, Anarcho-Communism, while not Marxist, is communist insofar as it is one of the remaining strains of "Idealistic Communism" as Marx and Engels would call the various worker's movements from before Marx' Scientific Materialism.

Kropotkin described himself as an anarchist communist in the 1890’s. There is a lot of historical meaning in the combination of those terms.

Communism != Marxism.

In principle i agree, yet there is a distinction to make. There are anti-authoritarian marxists who argue that by the end of his life Marx himself had become critical of his own theories (eg. dictatorship of the proletariat).

But yes, we'll agree that the most widely-known brand of marxism is in fact the very opposite of communism (as defined by a Stateless/classless society).

Then you might be delighted to find out that the aristocrat Oscar Wilde took that one step further and even considered himself both hedonist and (libertarian-)socialist. Much odds!!


Hedonist libertarian socialist makes perfect sense to me and describes me and many of my friends. A lot of socialists want collective power so we can reduce working hours and spend more time with each other having a good time.

None of those terms are on opposition.

It’s also worth mentioning that “libertarian” was a left wing term until it was self consciously co-opted by a right wing American in the early 20th century. So how Kropotkin would understand that word and how we understand it varies significantly.

Thanks, I had heard of the philosopher though didn't know anything about him. What I was getting at though, was that the misleading title made me think Kropotkin was somneone who had escaped, like, yesterday. And I thought "Kropotkin who?". There has been some Biden-Putin theater in the news lately that I haven't paid attention to, so I thought Kropotkin being locked up must have something to with that.

TLDR: Dan G, can you fix the title to say Kropotkin escaped from prison in 1876 rather than just now? Thanks.

Besides being an Anarchist and philosopher, Kropotkin was also:

1. A (minor) prince.

2. A Geographer and Zoologist.

Crimethinc still exists???

Crimethinc still exists and it's digital content is being shared on hackernew????

Blinking meme gif


Please don't take HN threads straight into ideological flamewar hell. That's just what we don't want or need here.


The Tsarist autocracy that he was chafing against was doing a pretty good job of ruining its country prior to the February revolution.

And if the provisional government did a better job of turning that train around, it's unlikely the October revolution would have been successful.

Kropotkin was an anarchist and generally opposed to communism.

Wars have been fought over the distinction.

> Wars have been fought over the distinction.

And people downvoted.

You are overstating the opposition. Kropotkin was generally friendly with Lenin and met with him shortly before their deaths where they were quite cordial though they disagreed, and he did return to the Russia while it was ruled by the bolsheviks.

While he did think the Bolsheviks would not achieve communism because of the over-centralization of their rule, he still supported their goals and thought the October revolution was worthwhile despite being bound to fail even if only as an experiment on how to better introduce communism.

Kropotkin was thus both an anarchist and a communist and was cordial and cooperated with authoritarian communists.

I think we are dealing with multiple meanings of word "communism" here.

Anarchists are opposed to communism in the commonly understood sense: a centralized state ruled by the communist party. Kropotkin was friendly with the Bolsheviks, who had not become communists in that sense yet. He supported the October Revolution, but he quickly became critical of Bolshevik rule afterwards. He believed it would not lead into communism in the sense the word was understood at that time: a society based on common ownership of the means of production without state or social classes.

A centralized state ruled by a party is not the commonly understood sense, or people would think that all dictatorships are communist, which they don't. In either case, it is bizarre to try to correct the record with something that is in and of itself a misunderstanding.

The Bolsheviks were very forthcoming. They professed from even before the revolution that they were aiming for a pretty centralized state ruled by a vanguard party. They never pretended anything else. It is only after the death of Lenin that they started diverging more and more from what they originally professed.

Kropotkin was critical of the Bolsheviks from before the revolution and actually became more amicable to them after the revolution than before. Indeed he found the fact that they had managed to lead a revolution to be a profound good for humanity that would, in his own words, "enlighten the path of the civilised countries for at least a century", and agreed that the Bolsheviks were communists just as well as him, only that they would be eventually unsuccessful.

In any case, the sense the word is understood by many at this time is itself a misunderstanding. There is a reason why China agrees that their system is not communism, and indeed the word is still used in the way it was intended originally by a great many people. Taking it to be the common sense in English instead of the correct sense is to be in error.

A centralized state ruled by the communist party is the commonly understood meaning. You almost certainly understood the intent before you mistook the explanation for a definition, dropped the word "communist", and argued against a literal interpretation of the words.

Pre-revolution Bolsheviks argued that a centralized socialist state was a necessary step before achieving "true" communism. Kropotkin disagreed (one meaning of "critical") with that. He supported the February revolution and returned to the country after that, but he refused to take a position in the moderate socialist government. Kropotkin gladly supported the October revolution that replaced the moderate socialists with radical ones. He was strongly opposed to (another meaning of "critical") the "war communism" that emerged after the second revolution, and he didn't live to see the period of state capitalism that followed.

In any case, the system we currently understand as communism didn't emerge until around 1930, making it irrelevant when talking about Kropotkin.

Kropotkin was equally as opposed to war communism as a centrally planned economy and as opposed as he would have been to the NEP.

I don't think that, after thinking for a few seconds, the regular person would arrive to the conclusion that the USSR was only communist because of the name of the ruling party.

I also don't agree that, if people were introduced to society like the USSR with the only exception that they had decentralized planning, would conclude that it wasn't communist anymore.

Similarly a lot of people in the US have called the economic system of the AANES communist despite being neither centralized nor run by a communist party. All the people that called Bernie Sanders a communist despite him not being a member of the communist party also don't agree. Largely from, you know, collectivizing agriculture and seizing a third of the productive capital to then put it under the control of soviets.

In summary I don't think that people commonly understand communism as being dependent on the name of the ruling party.

Words gain meaning from their usage. Instead of definitions, there are explanations and examples.

In the widely understood meaning, communism refers to a centralized state ruled by the communist party. Not by something called a communist party but by something that is a communist party.

The USSR was the canonical example of a communist state. States similar to it are generally seen as communist states, while states that are too different are not. Decentralized states otherwise similar to the USSR have never existed, so we don't know if people would consider them communist states.

What are the varying/conflicting definitions of Communism here, and which one is the 'correct' one?

Well, this is a dead thread but I thought I'd help out anyway.

What Russia did in the 20th century was called a workers dictatorship, and was meant to be a transition into communism, which is defined as a stateless and classless society. So, calling what Russia did 'communism' is a bit like calling what the fascists did 'capitalism', and then saying that because it didn't work, therefore capitalism doesn't work. Anarchists have generally stood against workers dictatorships because they seem to be an ineffective way of achieving communism, but they do want communism.

Soviet rule was at best state-capitalism, with the government creating market quotas, trading with other countries, annexing other countries for their resources, and ultimately still doing everything capitalist countries do, but with more state-intervention.

One is : a society that is not capitalist, ie, the means of production are owned by the workers.

The other is, apparently, a centralized society run by people that call themselves communist.

> One is : a society that is not capitalist, ie, the means of production are owned by the workers.

Among living socialists and communists, I'd argue that that is actually their definition of "socialism", while their definition of "communism" is a moneyless, classless and stateless society, the idea being that the former could lead to the later if implemented. All three words have changed their meanings over the last 200 years though. To most people today, "communism" just means an authoritarian state ruled by a communist party with a centralized economy and "socialism" means widely different things to different people depending on where you live and what media you read.

No I suspect Sudosysgen and I are working off sufficiently similar meanings of communism. I just made a very simple counter-post to what I felt was a bit of inflammatory nonsense and Sudo felt it was over-simple. On my part I meant "generally" in a philosophic sense rather than "stridently and consistently" and should have been clearer that the wars/battles fought between anarchists and communists weren't, like, at the behest of Kropotkin or anything.

> While he did think the Bolsheviks would not achieve communism because of the over-centralization of their rule, he still supported their goals and thought the October revolution was worthwhile despite being bound to fail even if only as an experiment on how to better introduce communism.

Given that it more or less "succeeded" (at least in the sense of holding on to power for a long time), and therefore absolutely didn't lead to better ways to introduce communism, couldn't it be more accurate that he thought the October revolution was worthwhile only because (he thought) it was bound to fail?

> Kropotkin was thus both an anarchist and a communist and was cordial and cooperated with authoritarian communists.

Cordial yes. But he was not "friendly" and did not "cooperate". Famously, Kropotkin could not be hurt by Lenin as he was a very popular figure and hurting him would have strongly destabilized his power. So he tried to bribe him with public money, which Kropotkin refused because it was handed out as a privilege for him specifically and not a fundamental right for all. So he ended up dying in misery in a small cabin in the woods.

Emma Goldman's autobiography contains some accounts of this story.

Yes, Kropotkin's anarchism is a form of communism without government. The anarchists formed a separate faction from the Marxists in the IWA. The anarchists in Russia were finally suppressed by Lenin following the Kronstadt Rebellion in 1921.

Not really, left anarchists and communists are after the same goal through different means. Kropotkin and Marx went back and forth, often disagreed, but only on matters pertaining to authority. Ultimately they both wanted a stateless classless and moneyless society.

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