THE CONQUEST OF BREAD
by P. Kropotkin
WHEN Socialists declare that a society, emancipated
from Capital, would make work agreeable,
and would suppress all repugnant and unhealthy
drudgery, they get laughed at. And yet even
to-day we can see the striking progress made in this
direction; and wherever this progress has been
achieved, employers congratulate themselves on
the economy of energy obtained thereby.
It is evident that a factory could be made as
healthy and pleasant as a scientific laboratory.
And it is no less evident that it would be advantageous
to make it so. In a spacious and well-ventilated
factory work is better; it is easy to introduce small
ameliorations, of which each represents an economy
of time or of manual labour. And if most of the
workshops we know are foul and unhealthy, it
is because the workers are of no account in the
organization of factories, and because the most
absurd waste of human energy is its distinctive
Nevertheless, now and again, we already find
some factories so well managed that it would be a
real pleasure to work in them, if the work, be it
well understood, were not to last more than four or
five hours a day, and if every one had the possibility
of varying it according to his tastes.
Look at this factory, unfortunately consecrated
to engines of war. It is perfect as far as regards
sanitary and intelligent organization. It occupies
fifty English acres of land, fifteen of which are
roofed with glass. The pavement of fire-proof
bricks is as clean as that of a miner's cottage, and the
glass roof is carefully cleaned by a gang of workmen
who do nothing else. In this factory are forged steel
ingots or blooms weighing as much as twenty tons;
and when you stand thirty feet from the immense
furnace, whose flames have a temperature of more
than a thousand degrees, you do not guess its
presence save when its great jaws open to let out
a steel monster. And the monster is handled by
only three or four workmen, who now here, now
there, open a tap, causing immense cranes to move
by pressure of water in the pipes.
You enter expecting to hear the deafening noise of
stampers, and you find that there are no stampers.
The immense hundred-ton guns and the crank-shafts
of transatlantic steamers are forged by hydraulic
pressure, and instead of forging steel, the worker
has but to turn a tap to give it shape, which makes
a far more homogeneous metal, without crack or
flaw, of the blooms, whatever be their thickness.
We expect an infernal grating, and we find
machines which cut blocks of steel thirty feet long
with no more noise than is needed to cut cheese.
And when we expressed our admiration to the
engineer who showed us round, he answered--
"It is a mere question of economy! This
machine, that planes steel, has been in use for
forty-two years. It would not have lasted ten
years if its component parts, badly adjusted,
lacking in cohesive strength, 'interfered' and
creaked at each movement of the plane!"
"And the blast-furnaces? It would be a
waste to let heat escape instead of utilizing
it. Why roast the founders, when heat lost by
radiation represents tons of coal?"
"The stampers that made buildings shake five
leagues off were also waste! It is better to forge
by pressure than by impact, and it costs less--there
is less loss."
"In a factory, light, cleanliness, the space
allotted to each bench, is but a simple question of
economy. Work is better done when you can see
and you have elbow-room."
"It is true,"; he said, "we were very cramped
before coming here. Land is so expensive in the
vicinity of large towns--landlords are so grasping!"
It is even so in mines. We know what mines
are like nowadays from Zola's descriptions and
from newspaper reports. But the mine of the
future will be well ventilated, with a temperature
as easily regulated as that of a library; there will
be no horses doomed to die below the earth:
underground traction will be carried on by means
of an automatic cable put in motion at the pit's
mouth. Ventilators will be always working, and
there will never be explosions. This is no dream.
Such a mine is already to be seen in England;
we went down it. Here again this organization
is simply a question of economy. The mine of
which we speak, in spite of its immense depth (466
yards), has an output of a thousand tons of coal
a day, with only two hundred miners--five tons
a day per each worker, whereas the average for
the two thousand pits in England is hardly three
hundred tons a year per man.
If necessary, we could multiply examples proving
that Fourier's dream regarding material organization
was not a Utopia.
This question has, however, been so frequently
discussed in Socialist newspapers that public
opinion might have been educated. Factory,
forge, and mine can be as healthy and magnificent as
the finest laboratories in modern universities, and
the better the organization the more will man's
If it be so, can we doubt that work will become
a pleasure and a relaxation in a society of equals,
in which "hands" will not be compelled to sell
themselves to toil, and to accept work under any
conditions? Repugnant tasks will disappear,
because it is evident that these unhealthy conditions
are harmful to society as a whole. Slaves
can submit to them, but free men will create new
conditions, and their work will be pleasant and
infinitely more productive. The exceptions of
to-day will be the rule of to-morrow.
The same will come to pass as regards domestic
work, which to-day society lays on the shoulders
of that drudge of humanity--woman.
A society regenerated by the Revolution will
make domestic slavery disappear--this last form
of slavery, perhaps the most tenacious, because it
is also the most ancient. Only it will not come
about in the way dreamt of by Phalansterians,
nor in the manner often imagined by authoritarian
Phalansteries are repugnant to millions of
human beings. The most reserved man certainly
feels the necessity of meeting his fellows for the
purpose of common work, which becomes the
more attractive the more he feels himself a part
of an immense whole. But it is not so for the
hours of leisure, reserved for rest and intimacy.
The phalanstery and the familystery do not
take this into account, or else they endeavour to
supply this need by artificial groupings.
A phalanstery, which is in fact nothing but
an immense hotel, can please some, and even all
at a certain period of their life, but the great mass
prefers family life (family life of the future, be
it understood). They prefer isolated apartments,
Normans and Anglo-Saxons even going as far as to
prefer houses of from six to eight rooms, in which the
family, or an agglomeration of friends, can live
apart. Sometimes a phalanstery is a necessity,
but it would be hateful, were it the general
rule. Isolation, alternating with time spent in
society, is the normal desire of human nature.
This is why one of the greatest tortures in prison
is the impossibility of isolation, much as solitary
confinement becomes torture in its turn, when not
alternated with hours of social life.
As to considerations of economy, which are
sometimes laid stress on in favour of phalansteries,
they are those of a petty tradesman. The most
important economy, the only reasonable one, is
to make life pleasant for all, because the man who
is satisfied with his life produces infinitely more
than the man who curses his surroundings.1
Other Socialists reject the phalanstery. But
when you ask them how domestic work can be
organized, they answer: "Each can do 'his own
work.' My wife manages the house; the wives of
bourgeois will do as much." And if it is a bourgeois
playing at Socialism who speaks, he will add, with
a gracious smile to his wife: "Is it not true, darling,
that you would do without a servant in a Socialist
society? You would work like the wife of our good
comrade Paul or the wife of John the carpenter?"
Servant or wife, man always reckons on woman
to do the house-work.
But woman, too, at last claims her share- in the
emancipation of humanity. She no longer wants
to be the beast of burden of the house. She
considers it sufficient work to give many years of her
life to the rearing of her children. She no longer
wants to be the cook, the mender, the sweeper of the
house! And, owing to American women taking the
lead in obtaining their claims, there is a general
complaint of the dearth of women who will
condescend to domestic work in the United States.
My lady prefers art, politics, literature, or the
gaming tables; as to the work-girls, they are few,
those who consent to submit to apron-slavery, and
servants are only found with difficulty in the States.
Consequently, the solution, a very simple one, is
pointed out by life itself. Machinery undertakes
three-quarters of the household cares.
You black your boots, and you know how
ridiculous this work is. What can be more stupid
than rubbing a boot twenty or thirty times with
a brush? A tenth of the European population
must be compelled to sell itself in exchange for a
miserable shelter and insufficient food, and woman
must consider herself a slave, in order that millions
of her sex should go through this performance every
But hairdressers have already machines for
brushing glossy or woolly heads of hair. Why
should we not apply, then, the same principle to
the other extremity? So it has been done, and
nowadays the machine for blacking boots is in
general use in big American and European hotels.
Its use is spreading outside hotels. In large
English schools, where the pupils are boarding
in the houses of the teachers, it has been found
easier to have one single establishment which
undertakes to brush a thousand pairs of boots
As to washing up! Where can we find a housewife
who has not a horror of this long and dirty
work, that is usually done by hand, solely
because the work of the domestic slave is of no
In America they do better. There are already
a number of cities in which hot water is conveyed
to the houses as cold water is in Europe. Under
these conditions the problem was a simple one,
and a woman--Mrs. Cochrane--solved it. Her
machine washes twelve dozen plates or dishes,
wipes them and dries them, in less than three
minutes. A factory in Illinois manufactures these
machines and sells them at a price within reach
of the average middle-class purse. And why
should not small households send their crockery
to an establishment as well as their boots? It
is even probable that the two functions, brushing
and washing up, will be undertaken by the same
Cleaning, rubbing the skin off your hands when
washing and wringing linen; sweeping floors and
brushing carpets, thereby raising clouds of dust
which afterwards occasion much trouble to dislodge
from the places where they have settled down, all
this work is still done because woman remains a
slave, but it tends to disappear as it can be infinitely
better done by machinery. Machines of all
kinds will be introduced into households, and the
distribution of motor-power in private houses will
enable people to work them without muscular
Such machines cost little to manufacture. If we
still pay very much for them, it is because they
are not in general use, and chiefly because an
exorbitant tax is levied upon every machine by
the gentlemen who wish to live in grand style
and who have speculated on land, raw material,
manufacture, sale, patents, and duties.
But emancipation from domestic toil will not be
brought about by small machines only. Households
are emerging from their present state of
isolation; they begin to associate with other households
to do in common what they did separately.
In fact, in the future we shall not have a
brushing machine, a machine for washing up plates,
a third for washing linen, and so on, in each house.
To the future, on the contrary, belongs the common
heating apparatus that sends heat into each room
of a whole district and spares the lighting of fires.
It is already so in a few American cities. A great
central furnace supplies all houses and all rooms
with hot water, which circulates in pipes; and to
regulate the temperature you need only turn a tap.
And should you care to have a blazing fire in any
particular room you can light the gas specially
supplied for heating purposes from a central reservoir.
All the immense work of cleaning chimneys
and keeping up fires--and woman knows what time
it takes--is disappearing.
Candles, lamps, and even gas have had their
day. There are entire cities in which it is sufficient
to press a button for light to burst forth, and,
indeed, it is a simple question of economy and of
knowledge to give yourself the luxury of electric
light. And lastly, also in America, they speak of
forming societies for the almost complete suppression
of household work. It would only be necessary
to create a department for every block of houses.
A cart would come to each door and take the boots
to be blacked, the crockery to be washed up, the
linen to be washed, the small things to be mended
(if it were worth while), the carpets to be brushed,
and the next morning would bring back the things
entrusted to it all well cleaned. A few hours later
your hot coffee and your eggs done to a nicety
would appear on your table. It is a fact that
between twelve and two o'clock there are more than
twenty million Americans and as many Englishmen
who eat roast beef or mutton, boiled pork, potatoes,
and a seasonable vegetable. And at the lowest
figure eight million fires burn during two or three
hours to roast this meat and cook these vegetables;
eight million women spend their time to prepare
this meal, that perhaps consists at most of ten
"Fifty fires burn," wrote an American woman
the other day, "where one would suffice!" Dine
at home, at your own table, with your children, if
you like; but only think yourself, why should these
fifty women waste their whole morning to prepare
a few cups of coffee and a simple meal! Why fifty
fires, when two people and one single fire would
suffice to cook all these pieces of meat and all these
vegetables? Choose your own beef or mutton to be
roasted if you are particular. Season the vegetables
to your taste if you prefer a particular sauce! But
have a single kitchen with a single fire, and
organize it as beautifully as you are able to.
Why has woman's work never been of any
account? Why in every family are the mother and
three or four servants obliged to spend so much
time at what pertains to cooking? Because those
who want to emancipate mankind have not
included woman in their dream of emancipation,
and consider it beneath their superior masculine
dignity to think "of those kitchen arrangements,"
which they have rayed on the shoulders of that
To emancipate woman is not only to open the
gates of the university, the law courts, or the parliaments,
for her, for the "emancipated" woman will
always throw domestic toil on to another woman.
To emancipate woman is to free her from the
brutalizing toil of kitchen and washhouse; it is to
organize your household in such a way as to
enable her to rear her children, if she be so minded,
while still retaining sufficient leisure to take her
share of social life.
It will come to pass. As we have said, things
are already improving. Only let us fully understand
that a revolution, intoxicated with the
beautiful words Liberty, Equality, Solidarity
would not be a revolution if it maintained slavery
at home. Half humanity subjected to the slavery
of the hearth would still have to rebel against the
1It seems that the Communists of Young Icaria had understood
the importance of a free choice in their daily relations apart
from work. The ideal of religious Communists has always been
to have meals in common; it is by meals in common that early
Christians manifested their adhesion to Christianity.
Communion is still a vestige of it. Young Icarians had given up
this religious tradition. They dined in a common dining-room,
but at small separate tables, at which they sat according to the
attractions of the moment. The Communists of Amana have
each their house and dine at home, while taking their provisions
at will at the communal stores.
This text was taken from a 1st edition of The Conquest of Bread,
G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York and London, 1906.
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