Discover more from Lumpy's Stuff
Conquest of Bread: Chapter 3 with Notes
Lumpy's Annotated Notes on Chapter 3 of Kropotkin's Conquest of Bread
Chapter 3: Anarchist Communism
(This is Kropotkin’s introduction to his anarcho-communism. Later, in Chapter 12, he writes, “It is of an Anarchist-Communist society we are about to speak, a society that recognizes the absolute liberty of the individual, that does not admit of any authority, and makes use of no compulsion to drive men to work.”)
Every society which has abolished private property will be forced, we maintain, to organize itself on the lines of Communistic Anarchy. Anarchy leads to Communism, and Communism to Anarchy, both alike being expressions of the predominant tendency in modern societies, the pursuit of equality.
(Communism and Anarchism were born out of the same theories and are much alike. Kropotkin uses what he feels is the best of both theories to create his Anarchist Communism. Communal living is key to his plan.
We tend to believe Communism itself, in the way we understand it today, came from Marx and Engels, but there were theories and actual groups who lived communally prior to 1848 when they released there theory in “The Communist Manifesto” and it is what came before 1848 that Kropotkin is referring to. )
Time was when a peasant family could consider the corn which it grew, or the woolen 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 coloring 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.
(A big part of anarcho-communism is living in an active society that in itself can cover the needs of the people in that society. The rural peasants of medieval times that were not troubled by Lords, lived this way. They toiled together. Modern example in America is the Amish. They will work helping a neighbor raise a barn and they all proper from their society working together.)
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 labors, in short, of men in every corner of the globe.
(I thought on this during the Kellogg’s strike. There are so many businesses that are involved in making a box of cereal. If Kellogg’s doesn’t take care of their employees and the employees strike, the company that makes the boxes for them loses business, the farmers who grow the bran for them lose business, etc. In not taking care of their employees, Kellogg’s hurts not only them but others.
There is no corporation that can claim they fully manufactured something because of the machinery and technology that they use to produce, not to mention the employees they exploited from conception to manufacturing to shipping.)
The Italians who died of cholera while making the Suez Canal, or of anchyloses in the St. Gotthard 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.
(The workers/peoples have suffered every advancement and continue to make more advancements to make his/her life easier but he is getting to the point that so many hands go into any of these advancements and in production. Later on Kropotkin will discuss how a lot of this production is a waste of human energy and the “surplus” isn’t even for the workers but to make capitalists more money.)
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 Collectivists that payment proportionate to the hours of labor rendered by each would be an ideal arrangement, or even a step in the right direction.
(Here he starts explaining how the wage system fails us and the Marx/Engels communists and some anarchists (Bakunin was the father of Collectivism) should not have been looking to use the system of wages, but look beyond that. Upholding any tool of the capitalist leaves doors open for capitalism to sneak back in.)
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 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.
(He is swiping at Marxism and Collectivism for not abandoning the wage system and that the main focus be on labor instead of the well-being of the people. Some have advantages due to family wealth over others and that would continue to create a class system in itself if kept after we got rid of capitalism.)
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.
(PK will consistently hammer home the point that we cannot think in the systems capitalism and feudalism/serfdom worked under before. If we want to make things abundant for all, then the wage system fails and only gives most people access to that abundancy. In keeping a wage system, that opens up for people to exploit that money from you in form of rents.
Abolishing Capitalism means abolishing all signs of it.)
The wage system arises out of the individual ownership of the land and the instruments of labor. 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 labor must necessarily bring with it the enjoyment in common of the fruits of common labor.
(The contemporary wage system needed the advent of capitalism (such things as corporations) so could not have been created under the feudal system. By only paying a worker a part of what they contributed, the capitalist found ways of exploiting further. Workers are charged for use of instruments or the tools and machines they work with all day are the reason the capitalist claims they are due the extra money and not the worker, they provided the means.)
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 track, 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.
(Kropotkin is saying how on paper being able to control your own life y making your own wage sounds great but in practice, when you have people willing to exploit you at every turn, it can only hurt you.)
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.
(There was a big push towards communism during the time Kropotkin wrote this which was squashed especially in the United States started at the turn of the 20th century and going up through the 1960’s. There was a revitalization of anarchism and theorists such as Kropotkin and Emma Goldman in the late 60’s early 70’s too.)
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 labor 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.
(The trade and expositions would bring more wealth to their lands so they were publicly funded and benefitted all. Kropotkin is also providing example that people are willing to work together for the common good.)
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.
(One of the things talked often about that the State ended up getting rid of were “commons”. These were lands that the peasants would share to feed cattle, hunt, fish, take leisure, etc.)
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.
(In times of struggle, groups will pop up led by the people. When feudalism was failing the heretical groups started forming. Many of these groups were communistic in nature.)
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 traveler 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.”
(Lists things that have become free overtime (however, in some cases these have reversed and are not as free under today’s capitalism) and wonders why that can be.)
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.
(People are completely capable of understanding how some people may need to use something more than they would. People are using what they need.)
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.
(The man who is traveling twice as much is doing so to do what he needs to get done so others can do what they need to get done, therefore, the man who benefits from the cheaper travel is actually helping you too.)
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.
(Kropotkin expounds on the idea of how creating a society where everyone actually had time and ability to do the sciences or arts in leisure time makes for better society all around. Right now only those who are chosen really make it into higher academia.)
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.
(Some people have the aptitude but not the access. Also working together as opposed to competitively would probably solve a lot more problems. People should be allowed the time to see what they are capable of though.)
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 men 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!
(Kropotkin is using an example in an extreme here (sinking ship) to prove that people work together but you can see it in less dramatic situations too. Take a volunteer situation. People are going to do what needs to get an event done and fill in where they see issues.)
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 race increases. It becomes an active force every time a great idea comes to oust the mean preoccupations of everyday life.
(The anarchist wants people to understand that it isn’t logical for people to think all people are bad and therefore that is why we should give our power to just a few bad people. It makes more sense that people have the capacity of being both good and bad and if you give people the chance the majority would live communally just fine and actually be happier than under someone’s rule.)
How can we doubt, then, that when the instruments of production are placed at the service of all, when business is conducted on Communist principles, when labor, having recovered its place of honor 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.
(To Kropotkin, human’s nature is to gravitate towards communism and once people realize that with everyone having a better life, it makes their life easier, we will be able to get there as long as we shed all aspects of capitalism.)
But ours is neither the Communism of Fourier and the Phalansteries, 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 humanity throughout the ages — Economic and Political Liberty.
(In order to reach true communism, three must be not hierarchies, no power structures that would give one person enough power to exploit another.)
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 labor of the guilds, have never been surpassed; now it is the peasant rising which brought about the Reformation and imperiled 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.
(In times of revolution, we have seen great progress of peoples.
Kropotkin is making a case for progress under anarchism/communism. The Capitalists constantly claim that progress would be hindered but how is it not hindered under the current system? It isn’t always the smartest that gets into college. Capitalism is competition but it is not competition of what individuals can achieve because there are so many who have disadvantages from the get-go.)
Further, if we observe the present development of civilized 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.
(People are always fighting toward freedom. They will continue to do so until everyone is free.)
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.
(People would be much more active since they will be involved in the actual decision making. “Mutual” is s key word. It means everyone benefits.)
All that was once looked on as a function of the Government is today 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.
(The State is made to help Capital and not the people because power corrupts.)
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 neighbors.
(Doing volunteer work or checking in on neighbors. A lot of Mutual Aid groups have been on the rise under Covid.)
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.
(We are under an illusion that we need the State, though humans lived without one for much much longer than with. Also, the fact that there is a tendency to fight against that authority tells you it is not human nature to just give your power to others.)
To maintain this superstition whole systems of philosophy have been elaborated and taught; all politics are based on this principle; and each politician, whatever his colors, 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.”
(People keep “buying” into it or, at the very least, feel like this cannot be changed but, as it goes, that which humans have made can be unmade. People need to stop giving their power to others who only end up serving themselves or the system that is hurting so many people.)
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.
(Propaganda surrounds us. It will take a lot to get people to shed it all but is it even logical to keep believing in this long drawn out lie?)
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.
(Later in the book, PK talks about how the media just repeats what the State needs it to. That every day life is not depicted in media but just what the State is doing, which has very little to do with the people most days.)
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 honor 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’ labor will no longer be the basis of society?
(Most people go about daily doing what they need to with no help by the State. People conduct business daily without the State’s involvement. The competition and greed that capitalism creates is people to do bad things.)
Another striking fact, which especially characterizes our generation, speaks still more in favor 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 civilized man’s 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.
(We can look at Biden’s current administration and Obama’s form 2008-2010 when they had the majority in the House and Senate under a Democratic president and still have not passed much at all that they promised to. Representative government in America serves capital and not much else.)
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!”
(People are in their own bubbles. The problems at the Capitol never seem to line up with the problems of the people.)
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.
(We are in a crisis, not only through the pandemic but with the climate and the States are in no dire emergency to fix any of it. Instead we are seeing articles about putting people on the moon or some nonsense.)
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.
(Graeber talks about how when you are born in a country, you never gave that “free agreement” to the laws. You are just expected to follow…but it you join an organization later in life you are able to decide for yourself if you agree to their rules. It isn’t that there wouldn’t be any “rules” in an anarchistic society, they would be rules that everyone living there (or visiting) would agree to.)
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.”
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.
 anchyloses - the stiffening of the joints caused by fusing of the bones which can come from an injury of disease such as arthritis.
[2} St. Gotthard Tunnel is a railroad tunnel in Switzerland that measures 49,221 feet in length.
 Smith refers to the Scottish economist Adam Smith (June 1723 - 17 July 1790) known as the Father of Capitalism
 Ricardo refers to the British economist David Ricardo (18 April 1772 – 11 September 1823). In his Essay on Profits, "Profits depend on high or low wages, wages on the price of necessaries, and the price of necessaries chiefly on the price of food."