This text was taken from a 1st edition of The Conquest of Bread, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York and London, 1906.


by P. Kropotkin


ONE of the current objections to Communism and Socialism altogether, is that the idea is so old, and yet it could never be realized. Schemes of ideal States haunted the thinkers of Ancient Greece; later on, the early Christians joined in communist groups; centuries later, large communist brotherhoods came into existence during the Reform movement. Then, the same ideals were revived during the great English and French Revolutions; and finally, quite lately, in 1848, a revolution, inspired to a great extent with Socialist ideals, took place in France. "And yet, you see," we are told, "how far away is still the realization of your schemes. Don't you think that there is some fundamental error in your understanding of human nature and its needs?"

At first sight this objection seems very serious. However, the moment we consider human history more attentively, it loses its strength. We see, first, that hundreds of millions of men have succeeded in maintaining amongst themselves, in their village communities, for many hundreds of years, one of the main elements of Socialism the common ownership of the chief instrument of production, the land, and the apportionment of the same according to the labour capacities of the different families; and we learn that if the communal possession of the land has been destroyed in Western Europe, it was not from within, but from without, by the governments which created a land monopoly in favour of the nobility and the middle classes. We learn, moreover, that the mediæval cities succeeded in maintaining in their midst for several centuries in succession a certain socialized organization of production and trade; that these centuries were periods of a rapid intellectual, industrial, and artistic progress; and that the decay of these communal institutions came mainly from the incapacity of men of combining the village with the city, the peasant with the citizen, so as jointly to oppose the growth of the military states, which destroyed the free cities.

The history of mankind, thus understood, does not offer, then, an argument against Communism. It appears, on the contrary, as a succession of endeavours to realize some sort of communist organization, endeavours which were crowned with a partial success of a certain duration; and all we are authorized to conclude is, that mankind has not yet found the proper form for combining, on communistic principles, agriculture with a suddenly developed industry and a rapidly growing international trade. The latter appears especially as a disturbing element, since it is no longer individuals only, or cities, that enrich themselves by distant commerce and export; but whole nations grow rich at the cost of those nations which lag behind in their industrial development.

These conditions, which began to appear by the end of the eighteenth century, took, however, their full swing in the nineteenth century only, after the Napoleonic wars came to an end. And modern Communism had to take them into account.

It is now known that the French Revolution apart from its political significance, was an attempt made by the French people, in 1793 and 1794, in three different directions more or less akin to Socialism. It was, first, the equalization of fortunes, by means of an income tax and succession duties, both heavily progressive, as also by a direct confiscation of the land in order to subdivide it, and by heavy war taxes levied upon the rich only. The second attempt was to introduce a wide national system of rationally established prices of all commodities, for which the real cost of production and moderate trade profits had to be taken into account. The Convention worked hard at this scheme, and had nearly completed its work, when reaction took the overhand. And the third was a sort of Municipal Communism as regards the consumption of some objects of first necessity, bought by the municipalities, and sold by them at cost price.

It was during this remarkable movement, which has never yet been properly studied, that modern Socialism was born--Fourierism with L'Ange, at Lyons, and authoritarian Communism with Buonarotti, Babeuf, and their comrades. And it was immediately after the Great Revolution that the three great theoretical founders of modern Socialism--Fourier, Saint Simon, and Robert Owen, as well as Godwin (the No-State Socialism) --came forward; while the secret communist societies, originated from those of Buonarotti and Babeuf, gave their stamp to militant Communism for the next fifty years.

To be correct, then, we must say that modern Socialism is not yet a hundred years old, and that, for the first half of these hundred years, two nations only, which stood at the head of the industrial movement, i.e. Britain and France, took part in its elaboration. Both--bleeding at that time from the terrible wounds inflicted upon them by fifteen years of Napoleonic wars, and both enveloped in the great European reaction that had come from the East.

In fact, it was only after the Revolution of July, 1830, in France, and the Reform movement of 1830-32, in England, had shaken off that terrible reaction, that the discussion of Socialism became possible for the next sixteen to eighteen years. And it was during those years that the aspirations of Fourier, Saint Simon, and Robert Owen, worked out by their followers, took a definite shape, and the different schools of Socialism which exist nowadays were defined.

In Britain, Robert Owen and his followers worked out their schemes of communist villages, agricultural and industrial at the same time; immense co-operative associations were started for creating with their dividends more communist colonies; and the Great Consolidated Trades' Union was founded --the forerunner of the Labour Parties of our days and the International Workingmen's Association.

In France, the Fourierist Considérant issued his remarkable manifesto, which contains, beautifully developed, all the theoretical considerations upon the growth of Capitalism, which are now described as "Scientific Socialism." Proudhon worked out his idea of Anarchism, and Mutualism, without State interference. Louis Blanc published his Organization of Labour, which became later on the programme of Lassalle, in Germany. Vidal in France and Lorenz Stein in Germany further developed, in two remarkable works, published in 1846 and 1847 respectively, the theoretical conceptions of Considerant; and finally Vidal, and especially Pecqueur --the latter in a very elaborate work, as also in a series of Reports--developed in detail the system of Collectivism, which he wanted the Assembly of 1848 to vote in the shape of laws.

However, there is one feature, common to all Socialist schemes, of the period, which must be noted. The three great founders of Socialism who wrote at the dawn of the nineteenth century were so entranced by the wide horizons which it opened before them, that they looked upon it as a new revelation, and upon themselves as upon the founders of a new religion. Socialism had to be a religion, and they had to regulate its march, as the heads of a new church. Besides, writing during the period of reaction which had followed the French Revolution, and seeing more its failures than its successes, they did not trust the masses, and they did not appeal to them for bringing about the changes which they thought necessary. They put their faith, on the contrary, in some great ruler. He would understand the new revelation; he would be convinced of its desirability by the successful experiments of their phalansteries, or associations; and he would peacefully accomplish by the means of his own authority the revolution which would bring well-being and happiness to mankind. A military genius, Napoleon, had just been ruling Europe.... Why should not a social genius come forward and carry Europe with him and transfer the new Gospel into life?... That faith was rooted very deep, and it stood for a long time in the way of Socialism; its traces are ever seen amongst us, down to the present day.

It was only during the years 1840-48, when the approach of the Revolution was felt everywhere, and the proletarians were beginning to plant the banner of Socialism on the barricades, that faith in the people began to enter once more the hearts of the social schemers: faith, on the one side, in Republican Democracy, and on the other side in free association and the organizing powers of the working men themselves.

But then came the Revolution of February, 1848, the middle-class Republic, and--with it, broken hopes. Four months only after the proclamation of the Republic, the June insurrection of the Paris proletarians broke out, and it was crushed in blood. The wholesale shooting of the working-men, the mass deportations to New Guinea, and finally the Napoleonian coup d'état followed. The Socialists were prosecuted with fury, and the weeding out was so terrible and so thorough that for the next twelve or fifteen years the very traces of Socialism disappeared; its literature vanished so completely that even names, once so familiar before 1848, were entirely forgotten; ideas which were then current --the stock ideas of the Socialists before 1848-- were wiped out of the memories and were taken, later on, by the present generation, for new discoveries.

However, when a new revival came, about 1866, when Communism and Collectivism once more came forward, the conception as to the means of their realization had undergone a deep change. The old faith in Political Democracy was gone, and the first principles upon which the Paris working men agreed with the British trade-unionists and Owenites, when they met in 1866 at London, was that "the emancipation of the working-men must be accomplished by the working-men themselves." Upon another point they also fell in. It was that the labour unions themselves would have to get hold of the instruments of production, and organize production themselves. The French idea of the Fourierist and Mutualist "Association" thus joined hands with Robert Owen's idea of "The Great Consolidated Trades' Union," which was extended now, so as to become an International Working-men's Association.

Again this new revival of Socialism lasted but a few years. Soon came the war of 1870-1871, the uprising of the Paris Commune--and again: the free development of Socialism was rendered impossible in France. But while Germany accepted now from the hands of its German teachers, Marx and Engels, the Socialism of the French "forty-eighters" --the Socialism of Considérant and Louis Blanc, and the Collectivism of Pecqueur,--France made a further step forward.

In March, 1871, Paris had proclaimed that hence forward it would not wait for the retardatory portions of France, and intended to start within its Commune its own social development.

The movement was too short-lived to give any positive result. It remained communalist only. But the working-classes of the old International saw at once its historical significance. They understood that the free commune would be henceforth the medium in which the ideas of modern Socialism may come to realization. The free agro-industrial communes, of which so much was spoken in 1848, need not be small phalansteries, or small communities of 2000 persons. They must be vast agglomerations, like Paris, or, still better, small territories. These communes would federate, even irrespectively of national frontiers (like the Cinque Ports, or the Hansa); and large labour associations might come into existence for the inter-communal service of the railways, the docks, and so on. Such were the ideas which began vaguely to circulate after 1871 amongst the thinking working-men, especially in the Latin countries. In some such organization, the details of which life itself would settle, the labour circles of these countries saw the medium through which Socialist forms of life could find a much easier realization than through the Collectivist system of the State Socialists.

These are the ideas to which I have endeavoured to give a more or less definite expression in this book.

Looking back now at the years that have passed since this book was written, I can say in full conscience that its leading ideas must have been correct. The State Socialism of the collectivist system has certainly made some progress. State railways, State banking, and State trade in spirits have been introduced here and there. But every step made in this direction, even though it resulted in the cheapening of a given commodity, was found to be a new obstacle in the struggle of the working-men for their emancipation. So that we find now amongst the working-men, especially in England, the idea that even the working of such a vast national property as a railway-net could be much better handled by a Federated Union of railway employés, than by a State organization.

On the other side, we see that countless attempts have been made all over Europe and America, the leading idea of which is, on the one side, to get into the hands of the working-men themselves wide branches of production, and, on the other side, always to widen in the cities the circles of the functions which the city performs in the interest of its inhabitants. Trade-unionism, with a growing tendency towards organizing the different trades internationally, and of being not only an instrument for improving the conditions of labour, but also to become an organization which might, at a given moment, take into its hands the management of production; Co-operativism, both for production and for distribution, both in industry and agriculture, and attempts at combining both sorts of co-operation in experimental colonies; and finally, the immensely varied field of the so-called Municipal Socialism--these are the three directions in which the greatest amount of creative power has been developed lately.

Of course, none of these may, in any degree, be taken as a substitute for Communism, or even for Socialism, both of which imply the common possession of the instruments of production. But we certainly must look at all the just-mentioned attempts as upon experiments--like those which Owen, Fourier, and Saint Simon tried in their colonies-- experiments which prepare human thought to conceive some of the practical forms in which a communist society might find its expression. The synthesis of all these partial experiments will have to be made some day by the constructive genius of some one of the civilized nations, and it will be done. But samples of the bricks out of which the great synthetic building will have to be built, and even samples of some of its rooms, are being prepared by the immense effort of the constructive genius of man.

October, 1906.

Go to Chapter 1.
Return to Table of Contents.
Return to Anarchy Archives.