The New York and London printing of 1906, by G.P. Putnam and Sons, was used as a baseline for translating the language of this text to a more modern form. Some words were changed to be more familiar to today’s anglophones, sacrificing as little of the apparent intended meaning as possible. Words which have significantly changed meaning, were altered to reflect that; for example, “terrific” was changed to “terrifying”. While the Online Etymology Dictionary sees the word as having evolved from meaning “frightening” in the 17th century, to “very great, severe (e.g. terrific headache)” first appearing in 1809, to the colloquial sense of “excellent” which began in 1888, it seems that Kropotkin is focusing on the dangerous and precarious aspects of life in the wild with his usage of “terrific”. Furthermore, the modern use of the term was still new and possibly unfamiliar at the time of the book’s first publishing in 1892; by 1906, it may not have been understood universally enough to prevent confusion in the U.S. or Britain, and the old usage could have been kept for any number of reasons. So, I changed the word to “terrifying” in order to prevent breaking Kropotkin’s argument. Misunderstanding “terrific” in this example could lead to the false understanding of Kropotkin as an anarcho-primitivist, resulting in historicism that would inhibit the understanding.
Other than intervening where the late-19th/early-20th century wording could cause confusion and inhibit the general and specific understanding, I have taken more of a “laissez faire” approach to the original text. My operant ideology has been that this book mostly speaks well enough for itself, but that some readers may need or desire a little touch-up here and there to keep pace with linguistic change. My brief studies in historical linguistics were helpful in making these decisions, as was the Online Etymology Dictionary (http://www.etymonline.com). As I have made what I consider to be the minimum number of modifications acceptable under a program intended to further the understanding; the verbiage, analogies and general tone of the text will still be somewhat archaic.
Sometimes it is hard to find a place to draw the line: Kropotkin spoke of “Communism”, for example, well before the Russian Revolutions, Chinese Civil War, and the upheaval of such places as Vietnam and Cuba, indelibly marked our conception of the term with associations of authoritarian brutality. There had already been considerable tension between libertarian, parliamentary and authoritarian forms of communism by Kropotkin’s day: witness the rivalry of tireless Anarcho-Communist organizer Mikhail Bakunin, and his comrades in the libertarian sections of the Workingmen’s International, against the complicated Karl Marx, who proclaimed communism before offering plenty for both libertarians and authoritarians to identify with in his theoretical and practical work. To this day, many under the black flag of anarchism point to some of Marx’s exclusionary organizational decisions as proof that he was an authoritarian, while many under red and red/black flags claim that it was the Russian revolutionaries Vladimir Lenin and/or Josef Stalin who first introduced the stink of tyranny to Communism. Nevertheless, those communists of a more libertarian bent are today more careful to stress the “Anarcho-” or “Libertarian” prefix before speaking of “Communism” or calling themselves “Communists”, especially in the atmosphere of political repression established by the Red Scare in certain countries.
Today’s Anarcho-Communists, too, are more likely than ever to identify with Anarchism first and Communism second: “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it”, they might say of the specific economic forms to be chosen. Hyper-aware of the current tactical weakness in working-class revolutionary circles, Anarchists seem likely to adopt an “Anarchism without adjectives” position, wherein they seek to unite around revolution now, splitting up to run their economic experiments as possible/necessary, and federate their communities together so all develop experience and knowledge for all. As such, there are moments where Kropotkin appears, from our perspective, to identify more strongly with Communism than with Anarchism. This is not apparent from a more comprehensive understanding of the man and his context: a world on the brink of revolution, where the question among workers, homeless and the disenfranchised would have probably been, ‘What form of revolutionary socialism should we take?’, rather than today’s ‘Can you prove to me that your idea is sufficiently different from the one prevailing in China?’ As such, it has been tricky business to pick which times Kropotkin said “Communism” but would have said “Anarcho-Communism” if he were writing today. I have used “Anarcho-Communism” rather than Peter’s preferred “Anarchist Communism” for two reasons: first, it is the more common and less confusing usage today; second, the “o-” marks these instances as examples of editing, allowing the reader to surmise that Kropotkin probably simply said “Communism”. It is hoped that the reader will be able to approximate the inference that was originally intended, through this compromise approach.
By far, the most common change was to bring Kropotkin’s pronouns in line with feminist-driven transformations in the English language which he would have almost certainly agreed with, if he had been born in the right time to support them. “Mankind” was changed to “humankind”, “man” or “men” to “people” or something similar (except where he seemed to be referring to male-gendered people specifically), “workman” to “worker”, and once-neutral “his” to today’s neutral pronoun “hir”, widely used by contemporary anarchist anglophones. Indeed, it is possible that Kropotkin used or wanted to use gender-neutral terminology and was overruled by his editors for the sake of comprehension, or may not have even been aware of the pronouns used in the English translation. Today, it is more likely that “his” would alienate readers than that “hir” would confuse them. However, some instances of gender-specific pronouns were left alone to accurately reflect the deeply-ingrained sexism of the environment which Kropotkin found himself in.
Feedback is much appreciated, whether you are a linguist (professional or otherwise), a partisan who feels your position has been presented unfairly, or simply a curious or opinionated reader. Enjoy, and please share/modify freely, but please give credit to my modernizing role if you distribute it in any way. I would also appreciate being apprised of any attempts to edit my “translation”, for the sake of curiosity, and for a more comprehensive understanding of the text and modern reactions to it.
“The Conquest of Bread
THE human race has travelled far since those bygone ages when men used to fashion their rude implements of flint, and lived on the precarious spoils of the chase, leaving to their children for their only heritage a shelter beneath the rocks, some poor utensils—and Nature; vast, poorly-understood, and terrifying; with whom they had to fight for their wretched existence.
During the agitated times which have elapsed since, and which have lasted for many thousand years, humankind has nevertheless amassed untold treasures. It has cleared the land, dried the marshes, pierced the forests, made roads; it has been building, inventing, observing, reasoning; it has created a complex machinery, wrested her secrets from Nature, and finally it has made a servant of steam. And the result is, that now the child of the civilized man finds ready, at its birth, to his hand an immense capital accumulated by those who have gone before him. And this capital enables him to acquire, merely by his own labour, combined with the labour of others, riches surpassing the dreams of the Orient, expressed in the fairy tales of the Thousand and One Nights.
The soil is cleared to a great extent, fit for the reception of the best seeds, ready to make a rich return for the skill and labour spent upon it— a return more than sufficient for all the wants of humanity. The methods of cultivation are known.
On the wide prairies of America each hundred men, with the aid of powerful machinery, can produce in a few months enough wheat to maintain ten thousand people for a whole year. And where humankind wishes to double his produce, to treble it, to multiply it a hundred-fold, she makes the soil, gives to each plant the requisite care, and thus obtains enormous returns. While the hunter of old had to scour fifty or sixty square miles to find food for his family, the civilized man supports his household, with far less pains, and far more certainty, on a thousandth part of that space. Climate is no longer an obstacle. When the sun fails, people replace it by artificial heat; and we see the coming of a time when artificial light also will be used to stimulate vegetation. Meanwhile, by the use of glass and hot water pipes, humankind renders a given space ten and fifty times more productive than it was in its natural state.”
Several instances of “men” or “man” were left alone here. It is tempting to modernize the terms used here, but it could inhibit understanding, as he is describing a state of technology from which we have advanced rather far; it was a time when men jealously guarded their technology and work opportunities for their gender. Updating the gender references would be inconsistent unless we also updated the numbers used to illustrate his point, which would require calculations beyond the scope of my work on this piece, and risk modifying his argument or its effectiveness beyond an extent to which the author could reasonably be expected to consent. However, I welcome feedback on this as all other issues.
Similarly, “men” is left alone in the example below, where Kropotkin draws a distinction between “men” who ‘now manufacture the stuff’ and “persons” who receive those goods. It can be inferred from Kropotkin’s communist politics, and later arguments, that he did not mean to denigrate the potential productive capacity of women, although of course, intent is not magic.
“The prodigies accomplished in industry are still more striking. With the co-operation of those intelligent beings, modern machines—themselves the fruit of three or four generations of inventors, mostly unknown—a hundred men manufacture now the stuff to clothe ten thousand persons for a period of two years. In well-managed coal mines the labour of a hundred miners furnishes each year enough fuel to warm ten thousand families under an inclement sky. And we have lately witnessed twice the spectacle of a wondrous city springing up in a few months at Paris, without interrupting in the slightest degree the regular work of the French nation.”
For the International Paris Exhibitions of 1889 and 1900, that is. Presumably, this wording and footnote are from a later edition than the first and second, published in 1892.
“And if in manufactures as in agriculture, and as indeed through our whole social system, the labour, the discoveries, and the inventions of our ancestors profit chiefly the few, it is none the less certain that mankind in general, aided by the creatures of steel and iron which it already possesses, could already procure an existence of wealth and ease for every one of its members.
Truly, we are rich, far richer than we think; rich in what we already possess, richer still in the possibilities of production of our actual mechanical outfit; richest of all in what we might win from our soil, from our manufactures, from our science, from our technical knowledge, were they but applied to bringing about the well-being of all.
We, in industrialized societies, are rich. Why then are the many poor? Why this painful drudgery for the masses? Why, even to the best paid workman, this uncertainty for the morrow, in the midst of all the wealth inherited from the past, and in spite of the powerful means of production, which could ensure comfort to all in return for a few hours of daily toil?
The Socialists have said it and repeated it unwearyingly. Daily they reiterate it, demonstrating it by arguments taken from all the sciences. It is because all that is necessary for production— the land, the mines, the highways, machinery, food, shelter, education, knowledge—all have been seized by the few in the course of that long story of robbery, enforced migration and wars, of ignorance and oppression, which has been the life of the human race before it had learned to subdue the forces of Nature. It is because, taking advantage of alleged rights acquired in the past, these few appropriate to-day two-thirds of the products of human labour, and then squander them in the most stupid and shameful way. It is because, having reduced the masses to a point at which they have not the means of subsistence for a month, or even for a week in advance, the few only allow the many to work on condition of themselves receiving the lion’s share. It is because these few prevent the remainder of men from producing the things they need, and force them to produce, not the necessaries of life for all, but whatever offers the greatest profits to the monopolists. In this is the substance of all Socialism.
Take, indeed, a developed country. The forests which once covered it have been cleared, the marshes drained, the climate improved. It has been made habitable. The soil, which bore formerly only a coarse vegetation, is covered to-day with rich harvests. The rock-walls in the valleys are laid out in terraces and covered with vines bearing golden fruit. The wild plants, which yielded nought but acrid berries, or inedible roots, have been transformed by generations of culture into succulent vegetables, or trees covered with delicious fruits. Thousands of highways and railroads furrow the earth, and pierce the mountains. The shriek of the engine is heard in the wild gorges of the Alps, the Caucasus, and the Himalayas. The rivers have been made navigable; the coasts, carefully surveyed, are easy of access; artificial harbours, laboriously dug out and protected against the fury of the sea, afford shelter to the ships. Deep shafts have been sunk in the rocks; labyrinths of underground galleries have been dug out where coal may be raised or minerals extracted. At the crossings of the highways great cities have sprung up, and within their borders all the treasures of industry, science, and art have been accumulated.
Whole generations, that lived and died in misery, oppressed and ill-treated by their masters, and worn out by toil, have handed on this immense inheritance to our century.
For thousands of years millions of men have laboured to clear the forests, to drain the marshes, and to open up highways by land and water. Every rood (10980 square feet or 1011 square meters) of soil we cultivate in Europe has been watered by the sweat of several races of men. Every acre (4047 square meters) has its story of enforced labour, of intolerable toil, of the people’s sufferings. Every mile (1.6 km) of railway, every yard of tunnel, has received its share of human blood.”
Archaic “rood” was converted to common English and Metric terms, while English measurements were converted to Metric, for the benefit of modern readers attempting to understand the scale at which Kropotkin perceives these issues.
“The shafts of the mine still bear on their rocky walls the marks made by the pick of the worker who toiled to excavate them. The space between each prop in the underground galleries might be marked as a miner’s grave; and who can tell what each of these graves has cost, in tears, in privations, in unspeakable wretchedness to the family who depended on the scanty wage of the worker cut off in his prime by fire-damp, rock-fall, or flood?
The cities, bound together by railroads and waterways, are organisms which have lived through centuries. Dig beneath them and you find, one above another, the foundations of streets, of houses, of theatres, of public buildings. Search into their history and you will see how the civilization of the town, its industry, its special characteristics, have slowly grown and ripened through the co-operation of generations of its inhabitants before it could become what it is to-day. And even to-day; the value of each dwelling, factory, and warehouse, which has been created by the accumulated labour of the millions of workers, now dead and buried, is only maintained by the very presence and labour of legions of the people who now inhabit that special corner of the globe. Each of the atoms composing what we call the Wealth of Nations owes its value to the fact that it is a part of the great whole. What would a London dockyard or a great Paris warehouse be if they were not situated in these great centres of international commerce? What would become of our mines, our factories, our workshops, and our railways, without the immense quantities of merchandise transported every day by sea and land?
Millions of human beings have laboured to create this civilization on which we pride ourselves today. Other millions, scattered through the globe, labour to maintain it. Without them nothing would be left in fifty years but ruins.
There is not even a thought, or an invention, which is not common property, born of the past and the present. Thousands of inventors, known and unknown, who have died in poverty, have co-operated in the invention of each of these machines which embody the genius of the human race.
Thousands of writers, of poets, of scholars, have laboured to increase knowledge, to dissipate error, and to create that atmosphere of scientific thought, without which the marvels of our century could never have appeared. And these thousands of philosophers, of poets, of scholars, of inventors, have themselves been supported by the labour of past centuries. They have been upheld and nourished through life, both physically and mentally, by legions of workers and craftsmen of all sorts. They have drawn their motive force from the environment.
The genius of a Séguin, a Mayer, a Grove, has certainly done more to launch industry in new directions than all the capitalists in the world. But geniuses are themselves the children of industry as well as of science. Not until thousands of steam-engines had been working for years before all eyes, constantly transforming heat into dynamic force, and this force into sound, light, and electricity, could the insight of genius proclaim the mechanical origin and the unity of the physical forces. And if we, children of the nineteenth century, have at last grasped this idea, if we know now how to apply it, it is again because daily experience has prepared the way. The thinkers of the eighteenth century saw and declared it, but the idea remained undeveloped, because the eighteenth century had not grown up like ours, side by side with the steam-engine. Imagine the decades that might have passed while we remained in ignorance of this law, which has revolutionized modern industry, had Watt not found at Soho skilled workers to embody his ideas in metal, bringing all the parts of his engine to perfection, so that steam, pent in a complete mechanism, and rendered more docile than a horse, more manageable than water, became at last the very soul of modern industry.
Every machine has had the same history—a long record of sleepless nights and of poverty, of disillusions and of joys, of partial improvements discovered by several generations of nameless workers, who have added to the original invention these little nothings, without which the most fertile idea would remain fruitless. More than that: every new invention is a synthesis, the resultant of innumerable inventions which have preceded it in the vast field of mechanics and industry.
Science and industry, knowledge and application, discovery and practical realization leading to new discoveries, cunning of brain and of hand, toil of mind and muscle—all work together. Each discovery, each advance, each increase in the sum of human riches, owes its being to the physical and mental travail of the past and the present.
By what right then can anyone whatsoever appropriate the least morsel of this immense whole and say—’This is mine, not yours’?
It has come about, however, in the course of the ages traversed by the human race, that all that enables people to produce, and to increase their power of production, has been seized by the few. Sometime, perhaps, we will relate how this came to pass. For the present let it suffice to state the fact and analyse its consequences.
To-day the soil, which actually owes its value to the needs of an ever-increasing population, belongs to a minority who prevent the people from cultivating it—or do not allow them to cultivate it according to modern methods.
The mines, though they represent the labour of several generations, and derive their sole value from the requirements of the industry of a nation and the clensity of the population—the mines also belong to the few; and these few restrict the output of coal, or prevent it entirely, if they find more profitable investments for their capital. Machinery, too, has become the exclusive property of the few, and even when a machine incontestably represents the improvements added to the original rough invention by three or four generations of workers, it none the less belongs to a few owners. And if the descendants of the very inventor who constructed the first machine for lace-making, a century ago, were to present themselves today in a lace factory at Nottingham and demand their rights, they would be told: ‘Hands off! this machine is not yours,’ and they would be shot down if they attempted to take possession of it.
The railways, which would be useless as so much old iron without the teeming population of Europe, its industry, its commerce, and its marts, belong to a few shareholders, ignorant perhaps of the whereabouts of the lines of rails which yield them revenues greater than those of medieval kings. And if the children of those who perished by thousands while excavating the railway cuttings and tunnels were to assemble one day, crowding in their rags and hunger, to demand bread from the shareholders, they would be met with bayonets and grape-shot, to disperse them and safeguard ‘vested interests.’
In virtue of this monstrous system, the child of the worker, on entering life, finds no field which ze may till, no machine which ze may tend, no mine in which ze may dig, without accepting to leave a great part of what ze will produce to a master. Ze must sell his labour for a scant and uncertain wage. Hir parents and grandparents have toiled to drain this field, to build this mill, to perfect this machine. They gave to the work the full measure of their strength, and what more could they give? But their heir comes into the world poorer than the lowest Bushman. If ze obtains leave to till the fields, it is on condition of surrendering a quarter of the produce to hir master, and another quarter to the government and the middlemen. And this tax, levied upon hir by the State, the capitalist, the lord of the manor, and the middleman, is always increasing; it rarely leaves hir the power to improve hir system of culture. If ze turns to industry, ze is allowed to work—though not always even that —only on condition that he yield a half or two-thirds of the product to him whom the land recognizes as the owner of the machine.
We cry shame on the feudal baron who forbade the peasant to turn a clod of earth unless he surrendered to his lord a fourth of his crop. We call those the barbarous times. But if the forms have changed, the relations have remained the same, and the worker is forced, under the name of free contract, to accept feudal obligations. For, turn where ze will, ze can find no better conditions. Everything has become private property, and ze must accept, or die of hunger.
The result of this state of things is that all our production tends in a wrong direction. Enterprise takes no thought for the needs of the community. Its only aim is to increase the gains of the speculator. Hence the constant fluctuations of trade, the periodical industrial crises, each of which throws scores of thousands of workers on the streets.”
Obviously from the number he employs, the industrial crises—depressions and recessions—to which he refers, have grown much more severe since Kropotkin’s time, if only because of expanding demographics.
“The working people cannot purchase with their wages the wealth which they have produced, and industry seeks foreign markets among the monied classes of other nations. In the East, in Africa, everywhere, in Egypt, Tonkin or the Congo, the European is thus bound to promote the growth of serfdom. And so he does. But soon he finds everywhere similar competitors. All the nations evolve on the same lines, and wars, perpetual wars, break out for the right of precedence in the market. Wars for the possession of the East, wars for the empire of the sea, wars to impose duties on imports and to dictate conditions to neighbouring states; wars against those ‘blacks’ who revolt! The roar of the cannon never ceases in the world, whole races are massacred, the states of Europe spend a third of their budgets in armaments; and we know how heavily these taxes fall on the workers.
Education still remains the privilege of a small minority, for it is idle to talk of education when the workman’s child is forced, at the age of thirteen, to go down into the mine or to help his father on the farm. It is idle to talk of studies to the worker, who comes home in the evening crushed by excessive toil with its brutalizing atmosphere. Society is thus bound to remain divided into two hostile camps, and in such conditions freedom is a vain word. The Radical begins by demanding a greater extension of political rights, but soon sees that the breath of liberty leads to the uplifting of the proletariat, and then ze turns round, changes hir opinions, and reverts to repressive legislation and government by the sword.
A vast array of courts, judges, executioners, police, and jailers is needed to uphold these privileges; and this array gives rise in its turn to a whole system of espionage, of false witness, of spies, of threats and corruption.
The system under which we live checks in its turn the growth of the social sentiment. We all know that without uprightness, without self-respect, without sympathy and mutual aid, human kind must perish, as perish the few races of animals living by rapine, or the slave-keeping ants. But such ideas are not to the taste of the ruling classes, and they have elaborated a whole system of pseudo-science to teach the contrary.
Fine sermons have been preached on the text that those who have should share with those who have not, but he who would act out this principle is speedily informed that these beautiful sentiments are all very well in poetry, but not in practice. ‘To lie is to degrade and besmirch oneself,’ we say, and yet all civilized life becomes one huge lie. We accustom ourselves and our children to hypocrisy, to the practice of a double-faced morality. And since the brain is ill at ease among lies, we cheat ourselves with sophistry. Hypocrisy and sophistry become the second nature of the civilized man.
But a society cannot live thus; it must return to truth or cease to exist.
Thus the consequences which spring from the original act of monopoly spread through the whole of social life. Under pain of death, human societies are forced to return to first principles: the means of production being the collective work of humanity, the product should be the collective property of the race. Individual appropriation is neither just nor serviceable. All belongs to all. All things are for all people, since all people have need of them, since all have worked in the measure of their strength to produce them, and since it is not possible to evaluate every one’s part in the production of the world’s wealth.
All things are for all. Here is an immense stock of tools and implements; here are all those iron slaves which we call machines, which saw and plane, spin and weave for us, unmaking and remaking, working up raw matter to produce the marvels of our time. But nobody has the right to seize a single one of these machines and say, ‘This is mine; if you want to use it you must pay me a tax on each of your products,’ any more than the feudal lord of medieval times had the right to say to the peasant, ‘This hill, this meadow belong to me, and you must pay me a tax on every sheaf of corn you reap, on every rick you build.’
All is for all! If the man and the woman bear their fair share of work, they have a right to their fair share of all that is produced by all, and that share is enough to secure them well-being.”
Note that Kropotkin is, as far as political men are concerned, well ahead of his time in calling for equal pay. Equal pay is not even a right that has been won in all industrialized democracies in 2013, let alone equal job access. Peter’s use of “his” later, in the same paragraph as he said “If the man and the woman bear their fair share of work…”, is also notable for the same reason, in a time well before the movements to achieve gender equality in most industrial opportunities had their widespread successes in the 1960s and beyond in capitalist countries. In socialist societies, women were often granted roughly equal opportunity, but in an industrial context, no such revolution had taken place yet in Kropotkin’s world.
The explicitly Anarcho-Communist rallying cry, ‘All is for all!’, has gradually morphed into the modern construction ‘Everything for everyone!’, which can now be seen on signs at protests attended by Anarcho-Communists, cf. the seizure of foreclosed housing in San Francisco under the organization called ‘Homes Not Jails’.
“No more of such vague formulas as ‘The Right to work,’ or ‘To each the whole result of his labour.’ What we proclaim is THE RIGHT TO WELL-BEING: WELL-BEING FOR ALL!
Well-Being for All
WELL-BEING for all is not a dream. It is possible, realizable, owing to all that our ancestors have done to increase our powers of production.
We know, indeed, that the producers, although they constitute hardly one-third of the inhabitants of civilized countries, even now produce such quantities of goods that a certain degree of comfort could be brought to every hearth. We know further that if all those who squander to-day the fruits of others’ toil were forced to employ their leisure in useful work, our wealth would increase in proportion to the number of producers, and more. Finally, we know that contrary to the theory enunciated by Malthus—that Oracle of middle-class Economics —the productive powers of the human race increase at a much more rapid ratio than its powers of reproduction. The more thickly men are crowded on the soil, the more rapid is the growth of their wealth-creating power.
Thus, although the population of England has only increased from 1844 to 1890 by 62 per cent, its production has grown, to say the least, at double that rate—to wit, by 130 per cent. In France, where the population has grown more slowly, the increase in production is nevertheless very rapid. Notwithstanding the crises through which agriculture is frequently passing, notwithstanding State interference, the blood-tax (conscription), and speculative commerce and finance, the production of wheat in France has increased fourfold, and industrial production more than tenfold, in the course of the last eighty years. In the United States the progress is still more striking. In spite of immigration, or rather precisely because of the influx of surplus European labour, the United States have multiplied their wealth tenfold.
However, these figures give yet a very faint idea of what our wealth might become under better conditions. For alongside of the rapid development of our wealth-producing powers we have an overwhelming increase in the ranks of the idlers and middlemen. Instead of capital gradually concentrating itself in a few hands, so that it would only be necessary for the community to dispossess a few millionaires and enter upon its lawful heritage— instead of this Socialist forecast proving true, the exact reverse is coming to pass: the swarm of parasites is ever increasing.
In France there are not ten actual producers to every thirty inhabitants. The whole agricultural wealth of the country is the work of less than seven millions of men, and in the two great industries, mining and the textile trade, you will find that the workers number less than two and one-half millions. But the exploiters of labour, how many are they?— In England (exclusive of Scotland and Ireland), only one million workers—men, women, and children— are employed in all the textile trades, rather more than half a million work the mines, rather less than half a million till the ground, and the statisticians have to exaggerate all the figures in order to establish a maximum of eight million producers to twenty-six million inhabitants. Strictly speaking the creators of the goods exported from Britain to all the ends of the earth comprise only from six to seven million workers. And what is the sum of the shareholders and middlemen who levy the first fruits of labour from far and near, and heap up unearned gains by thrusting themselves between the producer and the consumer, paying the former not a fifth, nay, not a twentieth, of the price they exact from the latter?
Nor is this all. Those who withhold capital constantly reduce the output by restraining production. We need not speak of the cartloads of oysters thrown into the sea to prevent a dainty, hitherto reserved for the rich, from becoming a food for the people. We need not speak of the thousand and one luxuries —stuffs, foods, etc. etc.—treated after the same fashion as the oysters. It is enough to remember the way in which the production of the most necessary things is limited. Legions of miners are ready and willing to dig out coal every day, and send it to those who are shivering with cold; but too often a third, or even two-thirds, of their number are forbidden to work more than three days a week, because, forsooth, the price of coal must be kept up? Thousands of weavers are forbidden to work the looms, though their wives and children go in rags, and though three-quarters of the population of Europe have no clothing worthy the name.
Hundreds of blast-furnaces, thousands of factories oeriodically stand idle, others only work half-time — and in every civilized nation there is a permanent population of about two million individuals who ask only for work, but to whom work is denied.” Note: Even after adjusting for population increases between the 19th and early 21st centuries, North American (etc.) readers should be sure to remember that Kropotkin is referring to nations smaller than most of the States or Provinces in their given countries.
Here “civilized nation” refers to a focus on industrial production in the nation’s economic system, not to a judgement about the nation’s culture. Kropotkin’s use of “civilized” has unfortunate connotations now; “industrialized” would probably be a better word, though the concept would still be a bit outdated. Readers should be cautious not to confuse Kropotkin with outrageous racists like Hegel, Kipling, etc., the latter two of whom waxed white supremacist while revealing their ignorance of economic and social structures in the global south. Kropotkin is merely distinguishing between different forms of oppression to reinforce his other statistics about the control of production by an illegitimately privileged elite, according to his conception of machines, human knowledge and natural resources as the indivisible property of the whole human race.
“How gladly would these millions of men set to work to reclaim waste lands, or to transform illcultivated land into fertile fields, rich in harvests! A year of well-directed toil would suffice to multiply fivefold the produce of dry lands in the south of France which now yield only about eight bushels of wheat per acre. But these men, who would be happy to become hardy pioneers in so many branches of wealth-producing activity, must stay their hands because the owners of the soil, the mines, and the factories prefer to invest their capital— stolen in the first place from the community—in Turkish or Egyptian bonds, or in Patagonian gold mines, and so make Egyptian fellahs, Italian exiles, and Chinese coolies their wage-slaves.
So much for the direct and deliberate limitation of production; but there is also a limitation indirect and not of set purpose, which consists in spending human toil on objects absolutely useless, or destined only to satisfy the dull vanity of the rich.
It is impossible to reckon in figures the extent to which wealth is restricted indirectly, the extent to which energy is squandered, that might have served to produce goods, and above all to prepare the machinery necessary for production. It is enough to cite the immense sums spent by Europe in armaments for the sole purpose of acquiring control of the markets, and so forcing her own commercial standards on neighbouring territories and making exploitation easier at home; the millions paid every year to officials of all sorts, whose function it is to maintain the rights of minorities—the right, that is, of a few rich men—”
The term “minority” is often used in libertarian socialist analysis in a way which may be confusing to readers from today’s more-or-less liberal nations. Today we refer more often to “minorities” as oppressed and underrepresented groups who lack the pure unitary electoral power to assure their rights. Our era’s de facto segregation means that members of cultural or ethnic majority groups may have little forced contact with members of these underrepresented minority groups, leading them to make certain decisions without considering the perspectives of many people who will suffer the unintended consequences. Many institutions have found that this necessitates affirmative action to give historically underrepresented groups (including women, technically a majority group in the purest sense) a chance to compete for opportunities on a fairer basis, typically by considering the specific effects of the historic oppression affecting their communities on a demographic level. From his libertarian socialist views and his sympathy for immigrant workers, it can safely be inferred that Kropotkin would support protecting the rights of these underrepresented minorities against the tyranny of the majority.
No, Kropotkin and leftist contemporaries use “minority” to refer to the few owners who they see as being illegitimately privileged by the criminal appropriation of the commons, comparable to groups which his early 20th-century comrades called “robber barons” and Occupy Your City calls “the 1%”. Again, the word “minority” should be interpreted here in an economic sense to referring to the wealthy, who, in the context of Kropotkin, no one had to point out were typically a select group of white men.
“—to manipulate the economic activities of the nation; the millions spent on judges, prisons, policemen, and all the paraphernalia of so-called justice—spent to no purpose, because we know that every alleviation, however slight, of the wretchedness of our great cities is followed by a very considerable diminution of crime; lastly, the millions spent on propagating pernicious doctrines by means of the press, and news ‘cooked’ in the interest of this or that party, of this politician or of that company of exploiters.
But over and above this we must take into account all the labour that goes to sheer waste, in keeping up the stables, the kennels, and the retinue of the rich, for instance; in pandering to the caprices of society and to the depraved tastes of the fashionable mob; in forcing the consumer on the one hand to buy what he does not need, or foisting an inferior article upon him by means of puffery, and in producing on the other hand wares which are absolutely injurious, but profitable to the manufacturer. What is squandered in this manner would be enough to double our real wealth, or so to plenish our mills and factories with machinery that they would soon flood the shops with all that is now lacking to two-thirds of the nation. Under our present system a full quarter of the producers in every nation are forced to be idle for three or four months in the year, and the labour of another quarter, if not of the half, has no better results than the amusement of the rich or the exploitation of the public.
Thus, if we consider on the one hand the rapidity with which civilized nations augment their powers of production, and on the other hand the limits set to that production, be it directly or indirectly, by existing conditions, one cannot but conclude that an economic system a trifle more enlightened would permit them to heap up in a few years so many useful products that they would be constrained to cry—‘Enough! We have enough coal and bread and clothing! Let us rest and consider how best to use our powers, how best to employ our leisure.’”
No simple utopian, Kropotkin here joins the ranks of anti-work socialists like Paul Lafargue, the son-in-law of Marx who wrote “The Right to be Lazy” from his prison cell in 1883, advocating a post-scarcity society where no privileged minority had a right to refuse to contribute, nor to be kept by the work of others, but where work would be refused and laziness valued as a foundation for human creativity as an important source of human progress. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refusal_of_work#Paul_Lafargue_and_The_Right_to_be_Lazy, accessed September 27, 2012] Other socialist critiques of work include analyses from the Situationist International, Autonomism and post-structural or “post-left” anarchism.
“No, plenty for all is not a dream—though it was a dream indeed in those old days when man, for all his pains, could hardly win a bushel of wheat from an acre of land, and had to fashion by hand all the implements he used in agriculture and industry. Now it is no longer a dream, because man has invented a motor which, with a little iron and a few pounds of coal, gives him the mastery of a creature strong and docile as a horse, and capable of setting the most complicated machinery in motion.
But, if plenty for all is to become a reality, this immense capital—cities, houses, pastures, arable lands, factories, highways, education—must cease to be regarded as private property, for the monopolist to dispose of at his pleasure.
This rich endowment, painfully won, built, fashioned, or invented by our ancestors, must become common property, so that the collective interests of all people may gain from it the greatest good for all.
There must be EXPROPRIATION. The well-being of all—the end; expropriation—the means.
EXPROPRIATION, such then is the problem which History has put before the men of the twentieth century: the return to Communism in all that ministers to the well-being of man.
But this problem cannot be solved by means of legislation. No one imagines that.”
To the contrary of Kropotkin’s unqualified assertion, reformists within the socialist movement have since counterposed the means of legislation against the means of popular expropriation favored by revolutionists. Some electoral revolutionists, like the socialist party which briefly prevailed over republican Spain in the 1930s, have even legislated appropriation after the fact, for the purpose of lionizing themselves as the great civilizers of an otherwise brutal revolution.
“The poor, no less than the rich, understand that neither the existing Governments, nor any which might arise out of possible political changes, would be capable of finding a solution. We feel the necessity of a social revolution; rich and poor alike recognize that this revolution is imminent, that it may break out in a very few years.”
It should be noted that a great many revolutions broke out in the years immediately after this book’s first publication in 1892; for example, the liberal revolt in Nicaragua in 1893, the Donghak Peasant Revolution in 1894, the Peruvian revolution of 1895, the Phillipine Revolution of 1896, the “Attempted Coup of Yauco” in Puerto Rico in 1897, the uprising against Tsarist Russia in Turkestan in 1898, the Philippine Insurrection against the United States in 1899, etc.
“A great change in thought has been accomplished during the last half of the nineteenth century; but suppressed, as it was, by the propertied classes, and denied its natural development, this new spirit must break now its bonds by violence and realize itself in a revolution.
Whence comes the revolution, and how will it announce its coming? None can answer these questions. The future is hidden. But those who watch and think do not misinterpret the signs: workers and exploiters, Revolutionists and Conservatives, thinkers and men of action, all feel that the revolution is at our doors.
Well! What are we to do when the thunderbolt has fallen?
We have all been studying the dramatic side of revolution so much, and the practical work of revolution so little, that we are apt to see only the stage effects, so to speak, of these great movements; the fight of the first days; the barricades. But this fight, this first skirmish, is soon ended, and it is only after the overthrow of the old constitution that the real work of revolution can be said to begin.
Effete and powerless, attacked on all sides, the old rulers are soon swept away by the breath of insurrection. In a few days the middle-class monarchy of 1848 was no more, and while Louis Philippe was making good his escape in a cab, Paris had already forgotten her “citizen king.” The government of Thiers disappeared, on the 18th of March, 1871, in a few hours, leaving Paris mistress of her destinies. Yet 1848 and 1871 were only insurrections. Before a popular revolution the masters of “the old order” disappear with a surprising rapidity. Its upholders fly the country, to plot in safety elsewhere and to devise measures for their return.
The former Government having disappeared, the army, hesitating before the tide of popular opinion, no longer obeys its commanders, who have also prudently decamped. The troops stand by without interfering, or join the rebels. The police, standing at ease, are uncertain whether to belabour the crowd or to cry: ‘Long live the Commune!’ while some retire to their quarters ‘to await the pleasure of the new Government.’ Wealthy citizens pack their trunks and betake themselves to places of safety. The people remain. This is how a revolution is ushered in. In several large towns the Commune is proclaimed. In the streets wander thousands of people, who in the evening will crowd into improvised clubs asking: ‘What shall we do?’ and ardently discuss public affairs, in which all take an interest; those who yesterday were most indifferent are perhaps the most zealous. Everywhere there is plenty of goodwill and a keen desire to make victory certain. It is a time of supreme devotion. The people are ready to go forward.
All this is splendid, sublime; but still, it is not a revolution. Nay, it is only now that the work of the revolutionist begins.
Doubtless the thirst for vengeance will be satisfied. The Watrins and the Thomases will pay the penalty of their unpopularity, but that is only an incident of the struggle and not a revolution.
Socialist politicians, radicals, neglected geniuses of journalism, stump orators, middle-class citizens, and workmen hurry to the Town Hall to the Government offices, and take possession of the vacant seats. Some rejoice their hearts with galloon, admire themselves in ministerial mirrors, and study to give orders with an air of importance appropriate to their new position. They must have a red sash, an embroidered cap, and magisterial gestures to impress their comrades of the office or the workshop! Others bury themselves in official papers, trying, with the best of wills, to make head or tail of them. They indite laws and issue high-flown worded decrees that nobody takes the trouble to carry out— because the revolution has come. To give themselves an authority which is lacking they seek the sanction of old forms of Government. They take the names of ‘Provisional Government,’ ‘Committee of Public Safety,’ ‘Mayor,’ ‘Governor of the Town Hall,’ ‘Commissioner of Public Weal,’ and what not. Elected or acclaimed, they assemble in Boards or in Communal Councils. These bodies include men of ten or twenty different schools, which, if not exactly “private chapels,” are at least so many sects which represent as many ways of regarding the scope, the bearing, and the goal of the revolution. Possibilists, Collectivists, Radicals, Jacobins, Blanquists, are thrust together, and waste time in wordy warfare. Honest men come into contact with ambitious ones, whose only dream is power and who spurn the crowd whence they sprung (turn on the working and dispossessed classes). Coming together with diametrically opposed views, they are forced to form arbitrary alliances in order to create majorities that can but last a day. Wrangling, calling each other reactionaries, authoritarians, and rascals, incapable of coming to an understanding on any serious measure, dragged into discussions about trifles, producing nothing better than bombastic proclamations, yet taking themselves seriously, unwitting that the real strength of the movement is in the streets.
All this may please those who like the theatre, but it is not revolution. Nothing yet has been accomplished. Meanwhile the people suffer. The factories are idle, the workshops closed; industry is at a standstill. The worker does not even earn the meagre wage which was his before. Food goes up in price. With that heroic devotion which has always characterized them, and which in great crises reaches the sublime, the people wait patiently. ‘We place these three months of want at the service of the Republic,’ they said in 1848, while ‘their representatives’ and the gentlemen of the new Government, down to the meanest Jack-in-office, received their salary regularly.
The people suffer. With the childlike faith, with the good humour of the masses who believe in their leaders, they think that ‘yonder,’ in the House, in the Town Hall, in the Committee of Public Safety, their welfare is being considered. But ‘yonder’ they are discussing everything under the sun except the welfare of the people. In 1793, while famine ravaged France and crippled the Revolution; whilst the people were reduced to the depths of misery, whilst the Champs-Élysées were lined with luxurious carriages where women displayed their jewels and splendour, Robespierre was urging the Jacobins to discuss his treatise on the English Constitution.”
Maximilien de Robespierre was a Member and, for two weeks, President of the National Convention in 1793. He was also President for 14 days in June 1794. Robespierre, a Deist republican and a member of the Jacobin political party, was in government from 1789 to 1794 and was also a lawyer.
“While the worker was suffering in 1848 from the general stoppage of trade the Provisional Government and the House were wrangling over military pensions and prison labour, without troubling how the people were to live during this crisis. And could one cast a reproach at the Paris Commune, which was born beneath the Prussian cannon, and lasted only seventy days, it would be for this same error— this failure to understand that the Revolution could not triumph unless those who fought on its side were fed, that on fifteen pence a day a man cannot fight on the ramparts and at the same time support a family.
The people suffer and say: ‘How to find the way out of these difficulties?’
It seems to us that there is only one answer to this question: We must recognize, and loudly proclaim, that everyone, whatever their grade in the old society, whether strong or weak, capable or incapable, has, before everything, THE RIGHT TO LIVE, and that society is bound to share amongst all, without exception, the means of existence at its disposal. We must acknowledge this, and proclaim it aloud, and act up to it.”
By “grade”, Kropotkin means wage, salary or class. By “incapable”, he probably means what we typically call “disabled” or “handicapped” today.
“It must be so contrived that from the first day of the revolution the worker shall know that a new era is opening before him; that henceforward none need crouch under the bridges, with palaces hard by, none need fast in the midst of food, none need perish with cold near shops full of furs; that all is for all, in practice as well as in theory, and that at last, for the first time in history, a revolution has been accomplished which considers the NEEDS of the people before schooling them in their DUTIES.
This cannot be brought about by Acts of Parliament, but only by taking immediate and effective possession of all that is necessary to ensure the well-being of all; this is the only really scientific way of going to work, the only way to be understood and desired by the mass of the people. We must take possession, in the name of the people, of the granaries, the shops full of clothing, and the dwelling houses. Nothing must be wasted. We must organize without delay to feed the hungry, to satisfy all wants, to meet all needs, to produce, not for the special benefit of this one or that one, but to ensure that society as a whole will live and grow.
Enough of ambiguous words like “the right to work,” with which the people were misled in 1848, and which are still used to mislead them. Let us have the courage to recognize that Well-being for all, henceforward possible, must be realized.
When the workers claimed the right to work in 1848, national and municipal workshops were organized, and workmen were sent to drudge there at the rate of 1s. 8d. a day!”
Possibly around $6.30 USD (2012), though I am not sure of the exact rate at the moment.
“When they asked that labour should be organized, the reply was: ‘Patience, friends, the Government will see to it; meantime here is your 1s. 8d. Rest now, brave toiler, after your lifelong struggle for food!’ Meantime the cannons were trained, the reserves called out, and the workers themselves disorganized by the many methods well known to the middle classes, till one fine day they were told to go and colonize Africa or be shot down.
Very different will be the result if the workers claim the right to well-being! In claiming that right they claim the right to possess the wealth of the community—to take the houses to dwell in, according to the needs of each family; to seize the stores of food and learn the meaning of plenty, after having known famine too well. They proclaim their right to all wealth—fruit of the labour of past and present generations—and learn by its means to enjoy those higher pleasures of art and science too long monopolized by the middle classes.
And while asserting their right to live in comfort, they assert, what is still more important, their right to decide for themselves what this comfort shall be, what must be produced to ensure it, and what discarded as no longer of value.
The ‘right to well-being’ means the possibility of living like human beings, and of bringing up children to be members of a society better than ours, whilst the ‘right to work’ only means the right to be always a wage-slave, a drudge, ruled over and exploited by the middle class of the future. The right to well-being is the Social Revolution, the right to work means nothing but the Treadmill of Commercialism. It is high time for the worker to assert his right to the common inheritance and to enter into possession.
EVERY society which has abolished private property will be forced, we maintain, to organize itself on the lines of Communistic Anarchy.”
As an Anarcho-Communist, Peter Kropotkin offered his concept of a free society counterposed to those of the Anarcho-Syndicalists, Anarcho-Collectivists, Individualist Anarchists, Mutualists, and the various Socialist and Communist Parties. By “we”, he means Anarcho-Communists. He is expressing his belief that, ideology notwithstanding, circumstances of an egalitarian revolution will force it to embrace Anarcho-Communism or die.
By “Anarchy”, Kropotkin means an egalitarian state of affairs without any rulers or bosses; no one who can give orders, except perhaps after being temporarily elected to lead a military unit for tactical purposes, etc. He does not mean the disorder, chaos, lawlessness, and looting for personal enrichment that is often implied by the term “anarchy” in the vernacular. Though he disagrees with the first self-styled Anarchist, Pierre Proudhon (a Mutualist) on the boundary between private and personal property, Kropotkin is here referencing Proudhon’s famous dictum, “Anarchy is Order”, by which they mean a federated libertarian socialist order of self-governed communities (per Kropotkin) or individual workers/artisans (per Proudhon). This can be conceived as a flattened or horizontal system of government where power flows from the individual voter instead of directing hir: instead of electing ‘representatives’ who have decision-making power, communities and/or workplaces (etc.) vote or consense on a common agenda and then vote or consense on ‘delegates’ who can only present that agenda to the next level sideways: city, county, federation, industry, etc. Federal policies are distilled from several degrees of delegation and/or voted on directly. Delegates at all levels may be recalled instantly, giving teeth to the distinction between delegation and representation.
This is not merely theoretical, but has been practiced in a number of contexts including the Spanish Revolution, the IWW (in a modified format), Anarchist Federations of various parts of the world, many collective businesses and anti-globalization/anti-authoritarian groups, Occupy Your City (in a bare-bones, modified format), etc. Among the latter groups (those listed after the IWW), consensus or ‘modified consensus’ (consensus minus 1, or 10%, etc.) has been attempted to varying degrees of success. The book “Consensus” by social anarchist Peter Gelderloos synthesizes various consensus models, compares them, and describes their advantages and pitfalls. Not all anarchists, nor even all social anarchists, support a consensus model of decision-making.
Anarchist concepts of voting and policy-making have also influenced other branches of socialism, most notably Libertarian Communism, including various subcategories like the Situationists and the Council Communists; the distinction is largely in name and analytical tradition. Some Libertarian Communists don’t make the distinction, calling themselves anarchists as well, and vice versa. Not all Anarchists consider themselves to also be ‘Marxists’, but some do. The influence of Marxism on Anarchism, and vice versa, is strong nevertheless.
“Anarchy leads to Communism, and Communism to Anarchy, both alike being expressions of the predominant tendency in modern societies, the pursuit of equality.
Time was when a peasant family could consider the corn which it grew, or the woollen garments woven in the cottage, as the products of its own toil. But even then this way of looking at things was not quite correct. There were the roads and the bridges made in common, the swamps drained by common toil, and the communal pastures enclosed by hedges which were kept in repair by each and all. If the looms for weaving or the dyes for colouring fabrics were improved, all profited; so even in those days a peasant family could not live alone, but was dependent in a thousand ways on the village or the commune.
But nowadays, in the present state of industry, when everything is interdependent, when each branch of production is knit up with all the rest, the attempt to claim an Individualist origin for the products of industry is absolutely untenable. The astonishing perfection attained by the textile or mining industries in civilized countries is due to the simultaneous development of a thousand other industries, great and small, to the extension of the railroad system, to inter-oceanic navigation, to the manual skill of thousands of workers, to a certain standard of culture reached by the working classes as a whole, to the labours, in short, of people in every corner of the globe.
The Italians who died of cholera while making the Suez Canal, or of anchylosis in the St. Gothard Tunnel, and the Americans mowed down by shot and shell while fighting for the abolition of slavery have helped to develop the cotton industry in France and England, as well as the work-girls who languish in the factories of Manchester and Rouen, and the inventor who (following the suggestion of some worker) succeeds in improving the looms.
How, then, shall we estimate the share of each in the riches which ALL contribute to amass?
Looking at production from this general, synthetic point of view, we cannot hold with the Anarcho-Collectivists that payment proportionate to the hours of labour rendered by each would be an ideal arrangement, or even a step in the right direction.
Without discussing whether exchange value of goods is really measured in existing societies by the amount of work necessary to produce it—according to the doctrine of Smith and Ricardo, in whose footsteps Marx has followed—suffice it to say here, leaving ourselves free to return to the subject later, that the Collectivist ideal appears to us untenable in a society which considers the instruments of labour as a common inheritance. Starting from this principle, such a society would find itself forced from the very outset to abandon all forms of wages.
The mitigated individualism of the collectivist system certainly could not maintain itself alongside a partial communism—the socialization of land and the instruments of production. A new form of property requires a new form of remuneration. A new method of production cannot exist side by side with the old forms of consumption, any more than it can adapt itself to the old forms of political organization.
The wage system arises out of the individual ownership of the land and the instruments of labour. It was the necessary condition for the development of capitalist production, and will perish with it, in spite of the attempt to disguise it as “profit-sharing.” The common possession of the instruments of labour must necessarily bring with it the enjoyment in common of the fruits of common labour.
We hold further that Communism is not only desirable, but that existing societies, founded on Individualism, are inevitably impelled in the direction of Communism. The development of Individualism during the last three centuries is explained by the efforts of the individual to protect himself from the tyranny of Capital and of the State. For a time he imagined, and those who expressed his thought for him declared, that he could free himself entirely from the State and from society. “By means of money,” he said, ” I can buy all that I need.” But the individual was on a wrong tack, and modern history has taught him to recognize that, without the help of all, he can do nothing, although his strong-boxes are full of gold.
In fact, alongside this current of Individualism, we find in all modern history a tendency, on the one hand, to retain all that remains of the partial Communism of antiquity, and, on the other, to establish the Communist principle in the thousand developments of modern life.
As soon as the communes of the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries had succeeded in emancipating themselves from their lords, ecclesiastical or lay, their communal labour and communal consumption began to extend and develop rapidly. The township—and not private persons—freighted ships and equipped expeditions, and the benefit arising from the foreign trade did not accrue to individuals, but was shared by all. The townships also bought provisions for their citizens. Traces of these institutions have lingered on into the nineteenth century, and the folk piously cherish the memory of them in their legends.
All that has disappeared. But the rural township still struggles to preserve the last traces of this Communism, and it succeeds—except when the State throws its heavy sword into the balance.
Meanwhile new organizations, based on the same principle—to every man according to his needs— spring up under a thousand different forms; for without a certain leaven of Communism the present societies could not exist. In spite of the narrowly egoistic turn given to men’s minds by the commercial system, the tendency towards Communism is constantly appearing, and influences our activities in a variety of ways.
The bridges, for the use of which a toll was levied in the old days, are now become public property and free to all; so are the high roads, except in the East, where a toll is still exacted from the traveller for every mile of his journey. Museums, free libraries, free schools, free meals for children; parks and gardens open to all; streets paved and lighted, free to all; water supplied to every house without measure or stint—all such arrangements are founded on the principle: ‘Take what you need.’
The tramways and railways have already introduced monthly and annual season tickets, without limiting the number of journeys taken; and two nations, Hungary and Russia, have introduced on their railways the zone system, which permits the holder to travel five hundred or a thousand miles for the same price. It is but a short step from that to a uniform charge, such as already prevails in the postal service. In all these innovations, and a thousand others, the tendency is not to measure the individual consumption. One man wants to travel a thousand miles, another five hundred. These are personal requirements. There is no sufficient reason why one should pay twice as much as the other because his need is twice as great. Such are the signs which appear even now in our individualist societies.
Moreover, there is a tendency, though still a feeble one, to consider the needs of the individual, irrespective of his past or possible services to the community. We are beginning to think of society as a whole, each part of which is so intimately bound up with the others that a service rendered to one is a service rendered to all.
When you go into a public library—not indeed the National Library of Paris, but, say, into the British Museum or the Berlin Library—the librarian does not ask what services you have rendered to society before giving you the book, or the fifty books which you require, and he comes to your assistance if you do not know how to manage the catalogue. By means of uniform credentials—and very often a contribution of work is preferred—the scientific society opens its museums, its gardens, its library, its laboratories, and its annual conversaziones to each of its members, whether he be a Darwin, or a simple amateur.
At St. Petersburg, if you are pursuing an invention, you go into a special laboratory or a workshop, where you are given a place, a carpenter’s bench, a turning lathe, all the necessary tools and scientific instruments, provided only you know how to use them; and you are allowed to work there as long as you please. There are the tools; interest others in your idea, join with fellow workers skilled in various crafts, or work alone if you prefer it. Invent a flying machine, or invent nothing—that is your own affair. You are pursuing an idea—that is enough.
In the same way, those who man the lifeboat do not ask credentials from the crew of a sinking ship; they launch their boat, risk their lives in the raging waves, and sometimes perish, all to save people whom they do not even know. And what need to know them? ‘They are human beings, and they need our aid—that is enough, that establishes their right——To the rescue!’
Thus we find a tendency, eminently communistic, springing up on all sides, and in various guises, in the very heart of theoretically individualist societies.
Suppose that one of our great cities, so egotistic in ordinary times, were visited to-morrow by some calamity—a siege, for instance—that same selfish city would decide that the first needs to satisfy were those of the children and the aged. Without asking what services they had rendered, or were likely to render to society, it would first of all feed them. Then the combatants would be cared for, irrespective of the courage or the intelligence which each has displayed, and thousands of men and women would outvie each other in unselfish devotion to the wounded.
This tendency exists and is felt as soon as the most pressing needs of each are satisfied, and in proportion as the productive power of the human race increases. It becomes an active force every time a great idea comes to oust the mean preoccupations of everyday life.
How can we doubt, then, that when the instruments of production are placed at the service of all, when business is conducted on Anarcho-Communist principles, when labour, having recovered its place of honour in society, produces much more than is necessary to all—how can we doubt but that this force (already so powerful) will enlarge its sphere of action till it becomes the ruling principle of social life?
Following these indications, and considering further the practical side of expropriation, of which we shall speak in the following chapters, we are convinced that our first obligation, when the revolution shall have broken the power upholding the present system, will be to realize Communism without delay.
But ours is neither the Communism of Fourier and the Phalansteriens, nor of the German State-Socialists. It is Anarchist Communism,—Communism without government—the Communism of the Free. It is the synthesis of the two ideals pursued by humamty throughout the ages— Economic and Political Liberty.
In taking ‘Anarchy’ for our ideal of political organization we are only giving expression to another marked tendency of human progress. Whenever European societies have developed up to a certain point they have shaken off the yoke of authority and substituted a system founded roughly more or less on the principles of individual liberty. And history shows us that these periods of partial or general revolution, when the governments were overthrown, were also periods of sudden progress both in the economic and the intellectual field. Now it is the enfranchisement of the communes, whose monuments, produced by the free labour of the guilds, have never been surpassed; now it is the peasant rising which brought about the Reformation and imperilled the papacy; and then again it is the society, free for a brief space, which was created at the other side of the Atlantic by the malcontents from the Old World.
Further, if we observe the present development of industralized peoples we see, most unmistakably, a movement ever more and more marked to limit the sphere of action of the Government, and to allow more and more liberty to the individual. This evolution is going on before our eyes, though cumbered by the ruins and rubbish of old institutions and old superstitions. Like all evolutions, it only waits a revolution to overthrow the old obstacles which block the way, that it may find free scope in a regenerated society.
After having striven long in vain to solve the insoluble problem—the problem of constructing a government “which will constrain the individual to obedience without itself ceasing to be the servant of society,” men at last attempt to free themselves from every form of government and to satisfy their need for organization by a free contract between individuals and groups pursuing the same aim. The independence of each small territorial unit becomes a pressing need; mutual agreement replaces law, and everywhere regulates individual interests in view of a common object.
All that was once looked on as a function of the Government is to-day called in question. Things are arranged more easily and more satisfactorily without the intervention of the State. And in studying the progress made in this direction, we are led to conclude that the tendency of the human race is to reduce Government interference to zero; in fact, to abolish the State, the personification of injustice, oppression, and monopoly.
We can already catch glimpses of a world in which the bonds which bind the individual are no longer laws, but social habits—the result of the need felt by each one of us to seek the support, the co-operation, the sympathy of his neighbours.
Assuredly the idea of a society without a State will give rise to at least as many objections as the political economy of a society without private capital. We have all been brought up from our childhood to regard the State as a sort of Providence; all our education, the Roman history we learned at school, the Byzantine code which we studied later under the name of Roman law, and the various sciences taught at the universities, accustom us to believe in Government and in the virtues of the State providential.
To maintain this superstition whole systems of philosophy have been elaborated and taught; all electoral politics are based on this principle; and each politician, whatever his colours, comes forward and says to the people, ‘Give me the power, and I both can and will free you from the miseries which press so heavily upon you.’
From the cradle to the grave all our actions are guided by this principle. Open any book on sociology or jurisprudence, and you will find there the Government, its organization, its acts, filling so large a place that we come to believe that there is nothing outside the Government and the world of statesmen.
The press teaches us the same in every conceivable way. Whole columns are devoted to parliamentary debates and to political intrigues. The vast every day life of a nation is barely mentioned in a few lines when dealing with economic subjects, law, or in ‘divers facts’ relating to police cases. And when you read these newspapers, you hardly think of the incalculable number of beings—all humanity, so to say—who grow up and die, who know sorrow, who work and consume, think and create outside the few encumbering personages who have been so magnified that humanity is hidden by their shadows enlarged by our ignorance.
And yet as soon as we pass from printed matter; to life itself, as soon as we throw a glance at society, we are struck by the infinitesimal part played by the Government. Balzac already remarked how millions of peasants spend the whole of their lives without knowing anything about the State, save the heavy taxes they are compelled to pay. Every day millions of transactions are made without Government intervention, and the greatest of them— those of commerce and of the Exchange—are carried on in such a way that the Government could not be appealed to if one of the contracting parties had the intention of not fulfilling his agreement. Should you speak to a man who understands commerce he will tell you that the everyday business transacted by merchants would be absolutely impossible were it not based on mutual confidence. The habit of keeping his word, the desire not to lose his credit, amply suffice to maintain this relative honesty. The man who does not feel the slightest remorse when poisoning his customers with noxious drugs covered with pompous labels thinks he is in honour bound to keep his engagements. Now, if this relative morality has developed under present conditions, when enrichment is the only incentive and the only aim, can we doubt its rapid progress when appropriation of the fruits of others’ labour will no longer be the basis of society?
Another striking fact, which especially characterizes our generation, speaks still more in favour of our ideas. It is the continual extension of the field of enterprise due to private initiative, and the prodigious development of free groups of all kinds. We shall discuss this more at length in the chapter devoted to Free Agreement. Suffice it to mention that the facts are so numerous and so customary that they are the essence of the second half of the nineteenth century, even though political and socialist writers ignore them, always preferring to talk to us about the functions of Government.
These organizations, free and infinitely varied, are so natural an outcome of our civilization; they expand so rapidly and group themselves with so much ease; they are so necessary a result of the continual growth of the needs of civilized man; and lastly, they so advantageously replace governmental interference that we must recognize in them a factor of growing importance in the life of societies. If they do not yet spread over the whole of the manifestations of life, it is that they find an insurmountable obstacle in the poverty of the worker, in the casts of present society, in the private appropriation of capital, and in the State. Abolish these obstacles and you will see them covering the immense field of human activity.
The history of the last fifty years furnishes a living proof that Representative Government is impotent to discharge the functions we have sought to assign to it. In days to come the nineteenth century will be quoted as having witnessed the failure of parliamentarianism.
But this impotence is becoming evident to all; the faults of parliamentarianism, and the inherent vices of the representative principle, are self-evident, and the few thinkers who have made a critical study of them (J. S. Mill and Leverdays) did but give literary form to the popular dissatisfaction. It is not difficult, indeed, to see the absurdity of naming a few men and saying to them, ‘Make laws regulating all our spheres of activity, although not one of you knows anything about them!’
We are beginning to see that government by majorities means abandoning all the affairs of the country to the tide-waiters who make up the majorities in the House and in election committees; to those, in a word, who have no opinion of their own. But mankind is seeking and already finding new issues.
The International Postal Union, the railway unions, and the learned societies give us examples of solutions based on free agreement in place and stead of law.
Today, when groups scattered far and wide wish to organize themselves for some object or other, they no longer elect an international parliament of Jacks-of-all-trades. No, where it is not possible to meet directly or come to an agreement by correspondence, delegates versed in the question at issue are sent to treat, with the instructions: ‘Endeavour to come to an agreement on such or such a question and then return not with a law in your pocket, but with a proposition of agreement which we may or may not accept.’”
At the risk of putting too fine a point on it, here Kropotkin is making absolutely clear the distinction between anarchist and parliamentary democracy. In anarchism, there is no point in time at which the voter entirely forfeits hir right to weigh in on the final decision, as in parliamentarism. Kropotkin argues that this is the only effective defense against tyranny creeping in to democracy through the back door, and points out that similar decision-making systems were already being used in international and trade associations even in the 19th century. Their popularity has only grown, as anarchist collectives and federations have come to fruition with this or even more extremely democratic alternatives (consensus models) as key parts of their core philosophies.
“Such is the method of the great industrial companies, the learned societies, and the associations of every description, which already cover Europe and the United States. And such should be the method of an emancipated society. While bringing about expropriation, society cannot continue to organize itself on the principle of parliamentary representation. A society founded on serfdom is in keeping with absolute monarchy; a society based on the wage system and the exploitation of the masses by the capitalists finds its political expression in parliamentarianism. But a free society, regaining possession of the common inheritance, must seek, in free groups and free federations of groups, a new organization, in harmony with the new economic phase of history.
Every economic phase has a political phase corresponding to it, and it would be impossible to touch property without finding at the same time a new mode of political life.”
Reading “The Conquest of Bread” in the 21st Century by readingpolitics is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://libcom.org/library/the-conquest-of-bread-peter-kropotkin.