Friday, August 20, 2010

The Scientist and the Anarchist - Part III

The latest stop in the #PDEx tour is being hosted by Deborah Blum at her website Speakeasy Science.

When an estimated 1,400 match-girls went on strike in July, 1888 to protest for better working conditions, it started a fire that became known as New Unionism. Soon after came the London dock workers’ strike, and within twelve months the UK’s Trade Union Congress had increased its membership from 670,000 to 1,593,000. [1]

For Thomas Henry Huxley and Peter Kropotkin these labor developments were interpreted very differently, and yet both saw in them important connections with their work in evolutionary biology. Huxley, who had pulled himself out of East London poverty through a combination of sheer brilliance and stubborn determination, was greatly concerned about what the workers democracy movement meant for social stability. Now the President of the Royal Academy of Sciences and a living legend in the recently established field of evolutionary biology, Huxley had come to identify with the aristocracy he’d worked so hard to be accepted by. Kropotkin, however, had rejected the silver spoon he had once been fed with as a Russian prince after coming face to face with the exploitation that made such ostentatious luxury possible. For him, the growing workers movement was the only path by which the poor could achieve any justice in a world that was undergoing radical change. Both saw in these developments a force of nature — one ominous, the other hopeful — and these conflicting visions would ultimately collide on the pages of the Nineteenth Century.

Read the rest of the post here (also Part I and Part II) and stay tuned for next week's post at Anthropology in Practice.

Peter Kropotkin (1902). Mutual Aide: A Factor of Evolution New York: McClure, Philips & Co.