Born a Russian prince, Peter Kropotkin (–) rejected his title and wealth to spend his life in pursuit of social justice and equality. His last major work. The fourth in AK Press’ Working Classics series, The Conquest of Bread is Peter Kropotkin’s most extensive study of human needs and his outline of the most. Peter Kropotkin’s “The Conquest of Bread”, along with his “Fields Factories and Workshops” was the result of his extensive research into.
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The Need For Luxury. The Collectivist Wages System. The Division of Labour. The Decentralization of Industry. One of the current objections to Communism and Socialism altogether, is that the idea is so old, and yet it could never be realized.
Schemes of ideal States haunted the thinkers of Ancient Greece; later on, the early Christians joined in communist groups; centuries later, large communist brotherhoods came into existence during the Reform movement.
Then, the same ideals were revived during the great English and French Revolutions; and finally, quite lately, ina revolution, inspired to a great extent with Socialist ideals, took place in France. At first sight this objection seems very serious.
However, the moment we consider human history more attentively, it loses its strength. We see, first, that hundreds of millions of men have succeeded in maintaining amongst themselves, in their village communities, for many hundreds of years, one of the main elements of Socialism the common ownership of the chief instrument of production, the land, and the apportionment of the same according to the labour capacities of the different families; and we learn that if the communal possession of the land has been destroyed in Western Europe, it was not from within, but from without, by the governments which created a land monopoly in favour of the nobility and the middle classes.
The history of mankind, thus understood, does not offer, then, an argument against Communism. It appears, on the contrary, as a succession of endeavours to realize some sort of communist organization, endeavours which were crowned with a partial success of a certain duration; and all we are authorized to conclude is, that mankind has not yet found the proper form for combining, on communistic principles, agriculture with a suddenly developed industry and a rapidly growing international trade.
The latter appears especially as a disturbing element, since it is no longer individuals only, or cities, that enrich themselves by distant commerce and export; but whole nations grow rich at the cost of those nations which lag behind in their industrial development. These conditions, which began to appear by the end of the eighteenth century, took, however, their full swing in the nineteenth century only, after the Napoleonic wars came to an end.
And modern Communism had to take them into account. It is now known that the French Revolution apart from its political significance, was an attempt made by the French people, in andin three different directions more or less akin to Socialism. It was, first, the equalization of fortunesby means of an income tax and succession duties, both heavily progressive, as also by a direct confiscation of the land in order to subdivide it, and by heavy war taxes levied upon the rich only.
The second attempt was to introduce a wide national system of rationally established prices of all commoditiesfor which the real cost of production and moderate trade profits had to be taken into account. The Convention worked hard at this scheme, and had nearly completed its work, when reaction took the overhand. And the third was a sort of Municipal Communism as regards the consumption of some objects of first necessity, bought by the municipalities, and sold by them at cost price.
And it was immediately after the Great Revolution that the three great theoretical founders of modern Socialism — Fourier, Saint Simon, and Robert Owen, as well as Godwin the No-State Socialism — came forward; while the secret communist societies, originated from those of Buonarotti and Babeuf, gave their stamp to militant Communism for the next fifty years.
To be correct, then, we must say that modern Socialism is not yet a hundred years old, and that, for the first half of these hundred years, two nations only, which stood at the head of the industrial movement, i. Britain and France, took part in its elaboration. Both — bleeding at that time from the terrible wounds inflicted upon them by fifteen years of Napoleonic wars, and both enveloped in the great European reaction that had come from the East.
In fact, it was only after the Revolution of July, breav, in France, and the Reform movement of —32, in England, had shaken off that terrible reaction, that the discussion of Socialism became possible for the next sixteen to eighteen years. And it was during those years that the aspirations of Fourier, Saint Simon, and Robert Owen, worked out by their followers, took a definite shape, and the different schools of Socialism which exist nowadays were defined. Louis Blanc published his Organization of Labourwhich became later on the programme of Lassalle, in Germany.
Vidal in France and Lorenz Stein in Germany further developed, in two remarkable works, published in and respectively, the theoretical conceptions of Considerant; and finally Vidal, and especially Pecqueur — the latter in a very elaborate work, as also in a series of Reports — developed in detail the system of Collectivism, which he wanted the Assembly of to vote in the shape of laws. However, there is one feature, common to all Socialist schemes, of the period, which krootkin be noted.
The three great founders of Socialism who wrote at the dawn of the nineteenth century were so entranced by the wide horizons which it opened before kdopotkin, that they looked upon it as a new revelation, and upon themselves as upon the founders of a new religion. Socialism had to be a religion, and they had to regulate its march, as the heads of a new church.
Besides, writing during the period of reaction which had followed the French Revolution, and seeing more its failures than its successes, they did not trust the masses, and they did not appeal to them for bringing about the changes which they thought necessary.
They put their faith, on the contrary, in some great ruler. He would understand the new revelation; he would be convinced of its desirability by the successful experiments of their phalansteries, or associations; and he would peacefully accomplish by the means of his own authority the revolution which would bring well-being and happiness to mankind.
A military genius, Napoleon, had just been ruling Europe Why should not a social genius come forward and carry Europe with him and transfer the new Gospel into life?
That faith was rooted very deep, and it stood for a long time in the way of Socialism; its traces are ever seen amongst us, down to the present day. It was only during the years —48, when the approach of the Revolution was felt everywhere, and the proletarians were beginning to plant the banner of Socialism on the barricades, that faith in cobquest people began to enter once more the hearts of the social schemers: But ktopotkin came the Revolution of Conquesst,the middle-class Republic, and — with it, broken hopes.
Four months only after the proclamation of the Republic, the June insurrection of the Paris proletarians broke out, and it was crushed in blood. The Socialists were prosecuted with fury, and the fo out was so terrible and so thorough that conquext the next twelve or fifteen years the very traces of Socialism disappeared; its literature vanished so completely that even names, once so familiar beforewere entirely forgotten; ideas which were then current — the stock ideas of the Socialists before — were wiped out of the memories and were taken, later on, by the present generation, for new discoveries.
However, when a new revival came, aboutwhen Communism and Collectivism once more came forward, the conception as to the means of their realization had undergone a deep change. It was that the labour unions themselves would have to get hold of the instruments of production, and organize production themselves.
Again this new revival of Socialism lasted but a few years. Soon came the war kropotkkin —, the uprising of the Bred Commune — and again: In March,Paris had proclaimed that hence forward it would not wait for the retardatory portions of France, and intended to start within its Commune its own social development.
The movement was too short-lived to give any positive result. It remained communalist only. But the working-classes of the old International saw at once its historical significance.
They understood that the free commune would be henceforth the medium in which the ideas of modern Socialism may come to realization. The free agro-industrial communes, of which so much was spoken inneed not be small phalansteries, or small communities of persons. They must be vast agglomerations, like Paris, or, still better, small territories. These communes would federate, even irrespectively of national frontiers like the Cinque Ports, or the Hansa ; and large labour associations might come into existence for the inter-communal service of the railways, the docks, and so on.
Such were the ideas which began vaguely to circulate after amongst the thinking working-men, especially in the Latin countries. In some such organization, the details of which life itself would settle, the labour circles of these countries saw the medium through which Socialist forms of life could find a much easier realization than through the Collectivist system of the State Socialists. Krolotkin are the ideas to which I have endeavoured to give a more or less definite expression in this book.
Looking back now at the years that have passed since ot book was written, I can say in full conscience that its leading ideas must have been correct.
The State Socialism of the collectivist system has certainly made some progress. State railways, Ktopotkin banking, bdead State trade in spirits have been introduced here and there.
But every step made in this direction, even though it resulted in the cheapening of a given commodity, was found to be a new obstacle in the struggle of the working-men for their emancipation. On the other side, we see that countless attempts have been made all over Europe and America, the leading idea of which is, on the one side, to get into the hands of the working-men themselves wide branches of production, and, on the other side, always to widen in the cities the circles of the functions which the city performs in the interest of its inhabitants.
Trade-unionism, with a growing tendency towards organizing the different trades internationally, and of being not only an instrument for improving the conditions of labour, but also to become an organization which might, at a given moment, take into its hands the management of production; Co-operativism, both for production and for distribution, both in industry and agriculture, and attempts at combining both sorts of co-operation in experimental colonies; and finally, the immensely varied field of the so-called Municipal Socialism — these are the three directions in which the greatest amount of creative power has been developed lately.
Of course, none of these may, in any degree, kropotkiin taken as a substitute for Communism, or even for Socialism, both of which imply the common possession of the instruments of production.
The Conquest of Bread
But we certainly must look at all the just-mentioned attempts as upon experiments — like those which Keopotkin, Fourier, and Saint Simon tried in their colonies — experiments which prepare human thought to conceive some of the practical forms in which a communist society might find its expression.
The synthesis of all these partial experiments will kropotkn to be made some day by the constructive genius of some one of the civilized nations, and it will be done. But samples of the bricks out of which the great synthetic building will have to be built, and even samples of some of its rooms, are being prepared by the immense effort of the constructive genius of man.
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, ununderstood, and terrific, 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, mankind has nevertheless amassed untold treasures. It has cleared the land, dried brear 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 man wishes to double his produce, to treble it, to multiply it a hundred-fold, he 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, man replaces it by artificial heat; and we see the coming of a time when artificial light kropogkin will be used to stimulate vegetation. Meanwhile, by the use of glass and hot water pipes, man renders a given space ten and fifty krolotkin more productive than it was in its natural state.
The prodigies accomplished in industry are still more striking.
The Conquest of Bread | The Anarchist Library
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 wonderful city springing up in a few months at Paris,  without interrupting in the slightest degree the regular work of the French nation. 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 krlpotkin 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 civilized 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 kropootkin 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 conqest 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 kfopotkin 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.
The Conquest of Bread : Peter Kropotkin :
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 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 breas the substance of all Socialism. Take, indeed, a civilized 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.