Read Conquest of Bread by Pyotr Kropotkin Free Online
Book Title: Conquest of Bread|
The author of the book: Pyotr Kropotkin
Edition: Elephant Editions
Date of issue: January 1st 1990
Loaded: 1824 times
Reader ratings: 3.8
ISBN 13: 9781870133036
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 16.54 MB
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Anarchism: The name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government – harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfying of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being.
This is how Kropotkin defined anarchism in 1905, for the 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britanica.
biography and introduction
Peter Kropotkin. Russian prince, geographer, and outstanding anarcho-Communist writer. Raised as Imperial Cadet, later a cavalry officer; studied mathematics and geography. In 1872 visited Switzerland and joined the anarchist International Workers Association. Imprisoned for agitation in Russia in 1874. Escaped from jail and moved through England, Switzerland, and France (where he was imprisoned for five years). Then settled in England, where he wrote Memoirs of a Revolutionary and History of the French Revolution. Returned to Russia after the February Revolution.
(Adapted from glossary entry for Kropotkin in Victor Serge's Memoirs of a Revolutionary)
When I looked through several books I have that deal with anarchism directly or indirectly, I found The Conquest of Bread (CoB) mentioned more often than any of Kropotkin's other writings. As an example, in Colin Ward's book Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction he notes that the Mexican peasant revolutionary Emiliano Zapata was "made literate" by the anarchist Ricardo Flores Magon, through reading and discussing this book with him.
Before getting into the book, here's a list of some of Kropotkin's works, taken from Rudolf Rocker's bibliography in Anarcho-Syndicalism Theory and Practice.
1. Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles (1891)
2. The Conquest of Bread (1892)
3. The State: Its Role in History (1898)
4. Fields, Factories, and Workshops (1899)
5. Memoirs of a Revolutionist (1899)
6. Modern Science and Anarchism (1900)
7. Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution (1902)
8. The Modern State (1912)
9. Ethics: Origin and Development (1924)
Of these, all but #8 can be easily obtained even today, a century and more after Kropotkin wrote them. Here on Goodreads, Conquest of Bread has been rated by over 1800 readers; #7 by over 1300; #5 by about 400; a couple not on the list by about 300. All others are near 100, or fewer. Thus I would venture to say that the book here reviewed is Kropotkin's most widely read book, at least in the 21st century.
organization and main ideas
A list of chapters, with a few comments.
I Our Riches.
- Introduces the idea that the immense riches of the contemporary world are the result of the labor of countless workers in the past, and that they thus belong to all people now living, not to simply those who hold title to them.
II Well-Being for All
III Anarchist Communism
- What is meant by this, and how it differs from Communalism
- Why an anarchist revolution must expropriate things from those who claim "ownership" of things.
- These three chapters lay out the reasons, methods, and justifications by which the common people may, on their own initiative and action, provide the essentials of food, dwellings, and clothing to all
VIII Ways and Means
- Why the current system will not and cannot supply for all
IX The Need for Luxury
- By no means will items of "luxury" be no longer available in an anarchist society. There will be ample opportunity for workers to engage in production and distribution of such items for all who want them.
X Agreeable Work
- How it can come about, because of great increases in productivity in modern times, that no one will be forced to work as wage-slaves now do. Women will benefit as they will no longer be forced to work only in the home, as even less than a wage-slave.
XI Free Agreement
- Arguments for, and examples of, the way in which free agreements among groups of people can effect the benefits which, some claim, can only be provided with a State which dictates. The State is not needed.
- How the objections urged against an anarchist society can be met
XIII The Collectivist Wages System
- Why it must come to pass that people in an anarchist society no longer be subject to different wages, depending on the type of work they do.
XIV Consumption and Production
- The correct way to analyze Political Economy. Rather than a description of "facts", it should be a science: "The study of the needs of mankind, and the means of satisfying them with the least possible waste of human energy."
XV The Division of Labor
- With modern methods of agriculture and production, each citizen need contribute a modest number of hours each week to work shared by all, to produce the essentials. Beyond that, each can choose to devote effort to what interests them, be it art, science, the production of luxuries, or nothing at all.
XVI The Decentralization of Industry
- The concentration of particular industries as the specialization of certain peoples, countries, areas, is unnecessary and counterproductive in the modern world.
- This chapter is a detailed accounting of the acreage and human hours required, using modern agricultural methods, to allow the three and one-half million citizens of the two departments (Seine, Seine-et-Oise) round Paris, with their 1,507,300 acres, to produce all the corn and cereals, milk, cattle, vegetables and fruit that the population requires. Chiefly interesting for the way that Kropotkin argues foe the self-sufficiency of such a population, and the amount of the land left over for houses, roads, parks, and forests.
Anarchist Communism & common inheritance
Kropotkin's use of "Communism" is not to be confused with what we think of when we consider the Soviet and Chinese systems of the twentieth century; rather, he is using the term in the manner coined by the French philosopher Victor d'Hupay in 1777. d'Hupay defines this lifestyle as a "commune" and envisions that its members "share all economic and material products among themselves, so that all may benefit from everybody's work". That is, "Communism" for Kropotkin is organization and living by the principles of the commune. Or, as Kropotkin himself says, it is "Communism without government – the Communism of the Free. It is the synthesis of the two ideals pursued by humanity throughout the ages – Economic and Political Liberty."
Kropotkin returned to Russia after the Revolution. He was not particularly happy with what he observed, but was of an age that he felt precluded him from attempting to actively engage in what was going on. Here is a link to a first-hand account of a meeting that he had in 1919 with Lenin. https://www.bolshevik.info/meeting-le...
"Anarchist Communism" is the title of the third chapter of CoB. Kropotkin contrasts this idea with that of "the Collectivists". These are the followers of the other major anarchist theoretician of the second half of the nineteenth century, Mikail Bakunin (1814-1876), who is taken as the founder of "collectivist anarchism". The aspect of Bakunin's system that disturbs Kropotkin here is "that payment proportional to the hours of labor rendered by each would be an ideal arrangement… suffice it to say here, leaving ourselves free to return to the subject later [which he does, particularly in XIII The Collectivist Wages System], that the Collectivist ideal appears to us untenable in a society which considers the instruments of labor 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."
And what of "common inheritance"? This is an idea that Kropotkin brings up again and again. Introduced in chapter I Our Riches, he returns to it in chapter III: 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 class as a whole – to the labours, in short, of men in every corner of the globe.
The Italians who died of cholera while making the Suez Canal, or of anchyloses in the St. Gothard Tunnel, and the Americans who were mowed down by shot and shell while fighting for the abolition of slavery, have helped to develop the cotton industry of 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?The property, factories, machines, farmland, roads, railways, buildings, housing, which have been financed, developed, manufactured, built by the toil and efforts of countless workers, inventors – many compensated richly for their capital contributions, vast numbers of others, particularly those who actually did the work, expended the effort given a pittance (even nothing) by which they could barely sustain themselves and their families … all these things must be looked up as the common inheritance of those alive today, not as the property of the descendants of those who have already been compensated to an unjust extent.
No need for government
Men do not need to be told by social or political higher ups how to live, how to solve problems that require more than simply personal attention – there are ample examples of free associations of men and groups of men that have made significant decisions on how an important enterprise can be organized, and this has always been done simply through discussion, bargaining, and coming to an agreement on what would in fact benefit everyone concerned to the best extent.
This idea is explored most fully in XI Free Agreement. Kropotkin tells how the European railway network came into being through free agreements between the scores of separate companies that had developed small pieces of the system, then connected them together, established routes and schedules, figured out how to allow freight to move over the entire network without having to unload and reload at company "boundaries" – all without the intervention of any Central authority or State Agency.
He goes through many other examples of things that have been organized by free agreement of people who simply saw a need for something to be done, and did it: the way that the Dutch settled questions of canal access; the similar way that shipowners settled question of boat access along the Rhine; the establishment of the British Lifeboat Association, manned and financed by volunteer seamen; and the founding, staffing, organization, and activities of the Red Cross.
On revolutionary failures
1871 the Paris Commune
In this instance, which is discussed in both the Preface which Kropotkin wrote in 1913, and in different chapters of the original book, the beginning of the end occurred when groups of the revolutionaries separated off to make decisions which they deemed needed to be made FOR THE PEOPLE. Kropotkin insists that THE PEOPLE do not need this, that they will make the correct decisions for themselves.
The "decision makers" begin to argue about what needs to be done, what rules and regulations need to be effected and put into place, and meanwhile … the people STARVE because their immediate daily NEEDS (which are of course provided for the decision makers in their own privileged ways) are completely disregarded. These self-appointed decision makers will provide the people, not with the food, clothing, and shelter that they need, but with EDICTS THEY MUST OBEY.
And so goes another failed revolution.
something that occurred to me
Despite the fact that we in the 21st century live in a world very different from that of the late 18th century, there is much that Kropotkin urges that seems to have application today. Particularly, with various contemporary movements (such as the Transition movement), which emphasize localized aspects of society, more support for local businesses, local food production, CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), local banking, and so forth ... and then with the possibilities of society coming apart at the seams at some future point ... Much of what Kropotkin says may be extremely applicable in some future.
A book to be passed on into that future. Very highly recommended.
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Read information about the authorPyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin (Пётр Алексеевич Кропоткин, other spelling: Peter Kropotkin) was a geographer, a zoologist, and one of Russia's foremost anarchists. One of the first advocates of anarchist communism, Kropotkin advocated a communist society free from central government.
Because of his title of prince, he was known by some as "the Anarchist Prince". Some contemporaries saw him as leading a near perfect life, including Oscar Wilde, who described him as "a man with a soul of that beautiful white Christ which seems coming out of Russia." He wrote many books, pamphlets and articles, the most prominent being The Conquest of Bread and Fields, Factories and Workshops, and his principal scientific offering, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution. He was also a contributor to the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition.
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