“The man who is shut up in a prison is so far from being bettered by the change, that he comes out more resolutely the foe of society than he was when he went in.”
This statement is the animating principle of Peter Kropotkin’s libertarian classic, IN RUSSIAN AND FRENCH PRISONS, first published in 1887 From its pages emerges a portrait of man’s inhumanity to man as old as Socrates of the Phaedo and as new as Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.
Kropotkin’s first experience with prisons came when he was assigned to collect facts on the penal system of Siberia. But when his findings were completely rejected and all hope of reform dashed, he embarked on a program of revolutionary activity that eventually led to his own arrest and imprisonment, first in St. Petersburg and, later in his life, in France.
In his new Introduction, Paul Avrich writes, “There are a great many books about prison life, some of them of genuine literary distinction. Yet within this vast genre, IN RUSSIAN AND FRENCH PRISONS holds a special place. it is the most eloquent statement of the libertarian view-point written from personal observation and experience.”
Paul Avrich (1931-2006) was Professor of Russian History at Queens College, New York, and the author of The Russian Anarchists (1967) and Kronstadt Nineteen Twenty-One (1970)