Equipped with a sense for history and a great mind to analyze it. Peter Kropotkin’s account of the industrial revolution is a well-shaken mix of a spirited artist and large chunks of careful number-crunching. A quite unique combination, giving ‘Fields, Factories and Workshops’ a flair of its own.
Say what you will about Kropotkin’s political and societal ideas and ideals, but the man could write some good literature. He switches seamlessly from a poetic description of a concept (“The artist who formerly found aesthetic enjoyment in the work of his hands is substituted by the human slave of an iron slave”) in one paragraph to stacking interesting statistics the next. In ‘Fields, Factories, and Workshops’ its a tad too much of the latter for my taste, but if you are a data-nerd you will have a sea of numbers to swim in.
“Mere servants to some machine of a given description; mere flesh-and-bone parts of some immense machinery; having no idea how and why the machinery performs its rhythmical movements.” – Peter Kropotkin
With a myriad of numbers and colorful language, Kropotkin serves his reader the historical march of the machines. Not only the grand scale of
the booming industries, but he also takes time to zoom in on the individual level look on the human side. His critique of how inefficient some agricultural practices is, through the practice of division of labor, is well-reasoned. The increase in modern productivity through better systems and machines will place the philosophy on even more solid grounds than laid out in this book.
“Continually we learn that the same scientific discovery, or technical invention, has been made within a few days’ distance, in countries a
thousand miles apart; as if there were a kind of atmosphere which favours the germination of a given idea at a given moment. And such an atmosphere exists: steam, print and the common stock of knowledge have created it.” – Peter Kropotkin
Kropotkin lends us his notes on how the growth of national industries, with the help of European and American machinery, soon after threatens exports of the main industrial countries – The importer of goods increasingly becoming producers themselves (“Great hopes were laid, some time ago, in Australia as a market for British goods; but Australia will soon do what Canada already does. She will manufacture.“) and how protectionist tariffs start to crop up to guard the countries about to launch their own industries, cornering the old-world powers.
If you are interested in the industrial revolution, history, macroeconomics presented with broad strokes and can stomach a few pages of boring walkthroughs, this book should be on your reading list right now:
“The monopoly of the first comers on the industrial field has ceased to exist. And it will exist no more, whatever may be the spasmodic efforts made to return to a state of things already belonging to the domain of history. New ways, new issues must be looked for: the past has lived, and it will live no more.” – Peter Kropotkin
With, perhaps naive, optimism Kropotkin is hinting in pockets of the book how he foresees a future decentralized society working out, where independent people locally figure out how to make things work firstly and from there having a foundation for nations and world built on a healthy mixture of manual and intellectual labor working in harmony.
And perhaps its naive of me to not fully buy into the notion that the books underlying message is of an anti-capitalistic nature, what I see is some very defining layers of critique on crony-capitalism/government and the urge for people to retake their on destiny and sovereignty.
One of the most fascinating things with the book is how Kropotkin could predict Chinas part of the future. He was so spot on its scary:
“As to the yet neutral markets, China will never be a serious customer to Europe: she can produce much cheaper at home; and when she begins to feel a need for goods of European patterns, she will produce them herself. Woe to Europe, if on the day that the steam engine invades China she is still relying on foreign customers!” – Peter Kropotkin