The good, the bad and the bread: Peter Kropotkin’s “The Conquest of Bread” is beautiful in its words and sentences, but the philosophies presented in the book isn’t quite as convincing – Quite the opposite, for me. But, Kropotkin’s brand of Anarcho-Communism is at the very least fascinating to read about.
The book was written in 1892 and the ideas within the pages of the book are still alive today, almost 130 years later: The classic clash of ideas of the collectivistic versus an individualistic worldview.
That is the overwhelming conclusion in the back of my mind when I finished the last page of Peter Kropotkin’s “The Conquest of Bread” and the book didn’t convince me to leave my stance on that subject – Being pro-individualism.
Kropotkin’s special brand of socialism (a version of Communistic Anarchy) is different in several ways to other collectivists proposals, making this work an interesting read by that merit alone. For example, Peter Kropotkin wants no subtle line between what is to be considered private, personal and public property and even what the means of production is:
“It is true that the bed, the room, and the house is a home of idleness for the non-producer. But for the worker, a room, properly heated and lighted, is as much an instrument of production as the tool or the machine […] The rest of the Workman is the repair of the machine.” – Peter Kropotkin
He views them all as part of the collective, the common good, separating Kropotkin from other Communist thinkers. I have a problem, personally, to connect this line of thought with the Anarchy part of the philosophy:
“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.” – Peter Kropotkin
The thing that Kropotkin chooses to rest this principle on is something referred to as “The Common Inheritance”, the base on which Kropotkin builds the rest of his house on in “The Conquest of Bread”. The idea is that we are children of earlier generations and through that, we have a natural claim on everything – We can not take credit on what someone else has done before us, in this proposal.
In the chapter called “Dwellings” Kropotkin reflects on the high price of housing and steep rents in Paris being a matter of the collective work of 50 generations of Frenchmen building the city up. So, the value today has been accumulated by past men and women, over time and with this fact in hand, Kropotkin concludes:
“Who then, can appropriate himself the tiniest plot of ground, or the meanest building, without committing a flagrant injustice? Who, then, has the right to sell to any bidder the smallest portion of the common heritage?” – Peter Kropotkin
It is this knowledge he wants to use as the key to his flavor and justification of Anarchism, to inject into the culture surrounding him to achieve this goal. It isn’t fleshed out enough to even start convincing me of the “fairness” of this philosophic view on collective ownership over goods, services, land and so on.
We find some common ground, though, in his critique of the state. Kropotkin is questioning the state as a caretaker of our needs at the price of taxation on your work. Pointing out how impossible day to day life would be without natural co-operation between people. He is expressing frustration with other socialists of his time on the subject matter of Government.
“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” – Peter Kropotkin
A book of historical significance because of its worldwide impact (It was somewhat of a bible for Ricardo Flores Magón, significant Mexican anarchist, for example), “The Conquest of Bread” is a good book to have read at least once, even if only for curiosity.
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