THE CONQUEST OF BREAD
by P. Kropotkin
The Decentralization of Industry
AFTER the Napoleonic wars Britain all but
succeeded in ruining the main industries which had
sprung up in France at the end of the preceding
century. She became also mistress of the seas and
had no rivals of importance. She took in the
situation, and knew how to turn its privileges and
advantages to account. She established an industrial
monopoly, and, imposing upon her neighbours
her prices for the goods she alone could manufacture,
accumulated riches upon riches.
But as the middle-class Revolution of the
eighteenth century abolished serfdom and created
a proletariat in France, industry, hampered for
a time in its flight, soared again, and from the
second half of the nineteenth century France
ceased to be a tributary of England for manufactured
goods. To-day she too has grown into a
nation with an export trade. She sells far more
than sixty million pounds' worth of manufactured
goods, and two-thirds of these goods are fabrics.
The number of Frenchmen working for export
or living by their foreign trade, is estimated at
France is therefore no longer England's tributary.
In her turn she has striven to monopolize certain
branches of foreign industry, such as silks and
ready-made clothes, and has reaped immense profits
therefrom; but she is on the point of losing this
monopoly for ever, as England is on the point of
losing the monopoly of cotton goods.
Travelling eastwards, industry has reached
Germany. Fifty years ago Germany was a tributary
of England and France for most manufactured
commodities in the higher branches of industry.
It is no longer so. In the course of the last forty-five
years, and especially since the Franco-German
war, Germany has completely reorganized her
industry. The new factories are stocked with the
best machinery; the latest creations of industrial art
in cotton goods from Manchester, or in silks from
Lyons, etc., are now realized in recent German
factories. It took two or three generations of
workers, at Lyons and Manchester, to construct the
modern machinery; but Germany adopted it in
its perfected state. Technical schools, adapted to
the needs of industry, supply the factories with an
army of intelligent workmen--practical engineers,
who can work with hand and brain. German
industry starts at the point which was only reached
by Manchester and Lyons after fifty years of groping
in the dark, of exertion and experiments.
It follows that as Germany manufactures as well
at home, she diminishes her imports from France
and England year by year. She has not only
become their rival in manufactured goods in Asia
and in Africa, but also in London and in Paris.
Shortsighted people may cry out against the
Frankfort Treaty, they may explain German
competition by little differences in railway tariffs;
they may linger on the petty side of questions and
neglect great historical facts. But it is none the
less certain that the main industries, formerly in
the hands of England and France, have progressed
eastward, and in Germany they found a country,
young, full of energy, possessing an intelligent
middle class, and eager in its turn to enrich itself
by foreign trade.
While Germany freed itself from subjection to
France and England, manufactured her own cotton
cloth, constructed her own machines--in fact,
manufactured all commodities--the main industries
took also root in Russia, where the development
of manufacture is the more surprising as it sprang
up but yesterday.
At the time of the abolition of serfdom in 1861,
Russia hardly had any factories. Everything they
needed--machines, rails, railway-engines, rich
materials--came from the West. Twenty years
later she possessed already 85,000 factories, and
the goods from these factories had increased fourfold
The old machinery was superseded, and now
nearly all the steel in use in Russia, three-quarters
of the iron, two-thirds of the coal, all railway
engines, railway-carriages, rails, nearly all steamers,
are made in Russia.
Russia, destined--so wrote economists--to
remain an agricultural territory, has rapidly
developed into a manufacturing country. She
orders hardly anything from England, and very
little from Germany.
Economists hold the customs responsible for
these facts, and yet cottons manufactured in
Russia are sold at the same price as in London.
Capital taking no cognizance of fatherland, German
and English capitalists, accompanied by engineers
and foremen of their own nationalities, have introduced
in Russia and in Poland manufactories, the
excellence of whose goods compete with the best
from England. If customs were abolished
to-morrow, manufacture would only gain by it. Not
long ago the British manufacturers delivered another
hard blow to the imports of cloth and woollens from
the West. They set up in southern and middle
Russia immense wool factories, stocked with the most
perfect machinery from Bradford, and already now
Russia hardly imports more than a few pieces of
English cloth and French woollen fabrics as samples.
The main industries not only move eastward,
they are spreading to the southern peninsulas.
The Turin Exhibition of 1884 has already shown
the progress made in Italian manufactured produce,
and, let us not make any mistake about it, the
mutual hatred of the French and Italian middle
classes has no other origin than their industrial
rivalry. Spain is also becoming an industrial
country; while in the East, Bohemia has suddenly
sprung up to importance as a new centre of
manufactures, provided with perfected machinery and
applying the best scientific methods.
We might also mention Hungary's rapid progress
in the main industries, but let us rather take Brazil
as an example. Economists sentenced Brazil to
cultivate cotton for ever, to export it in its raw
state, and to receive cotton-cloth from Europe in
exchange. In fact, forty years ago Brazil had
only nine wretched little cotton factories with 385
spindles. To-day there are 108 cotton-mills,
possessing 715,000 spindles and 26,050 looms, which
tllrow 234 million yards of textiles on the market
Even Mexico is setting about manufacturing
cotton-cloth, instead of importing it from Europe.
As to the United States they have quite freed
themselves from European tutelage, and have
triumphally developed their manufacturing powers.
But it was India which gave the most striking
proof against the specialization of national
We all know the theory: the great European
nations need colonies, for colonies send raw material--cotton
fibre, unwashed wool, spices, etc., to the
mother-land. And the mother-land, under pretence
of sending them manufactured wares, gets rid of
her burnt stuffs, her machine scrap-iron and every
thing which she no longer has use for. It costs
her little or nothing, and none the less the articles
are sold at exorbitant prices.
Such was the theory--such was the practice for
a long time. In London and Manchester fortunes
were made while India was being ruined. In the
India Museum in London unheard-of riches, collected
in Calcutta and Bombay by English merchants, are
to be seen.
But other English merchants and capitalists
conceived the very simple idea that it would be
more expedient to exploit the natives of India by
making cotton-cloth in India itself, than to import
from twenty to twenty-four million pounds' worth
of goods annually.
At first a series of experiments ended in failure.
Indian weavers--artists and experts in their own
craft--could not inure themselves to factory life;
the machinery sent from Liverpool was bad; the
climate had to be taken into account; and
merchants had to adapt themselves to new conditions,
now fully observed, before British India could
become the menacing rival of the Mother-land she
She now possesses 200 cotton factories which
employ about 196,400 workmen, and contain
5,231,OOO spindles and 48,400 looms, and 38 jute
mills, with 409,000 spindles. She exports annually
to China, to the Dutch Indies, and to Africa, nearly
eight million pounds' worth of the same white
cotton-cloth, said to be England's speciality. And
while English workmen are unemployed and in great
want, Indian women weave cotton by machinery
for the Far East at the rate of sixpence a day. In
short, intelligent manufacturers are fully aware
that the day is not far off when they will not know
what to do with the "factory hands" who formerly
weaved cotton-cloth exported from England.
Besides which it is becoming more and more evident
that India will not import a single ton of iron
from England. The initial difficulties in using the
coal and the iron ore obtained in India have been
overcome; and foundries, rivalling those in
England, have been built on the shores of the Indian
Colonies competing with the mother-land in
its production of manufactured goods, such is
the factor which will regulate economy in the
And why should India not manufacture ?
What should be the hindrance ? Capital?--But
capital goes wherever there are men, poor enough
to be exploited. Knowledge?--But knowledge
recognizes no national barriers. Technical skill
of the worker?--No. Are, then, Hindoo workmen
inferior to the 237,000 boys and girls, not
eighteen years old, at present working in the
English textile factories?
After having glanced at national industries it
would be very interesting to turn to special
Let us take silk, for example, an eminently
French product in the first half of the nineteenth
century. We all know how Lyons became the
emporium of the silk trade. At first raw silk was
gathered in southern France, till little by little
they ordered it from Italy, from Spain, from
Austria, from the Caucasus, and from Japan, for
the manufacture of their silk fabrics. In 1875, out
of five million kilos of raw silk converted into stuffs
in the vicinity of Lyons, there were only four
hundred thousand kilos of French silk. But if
Lyons manufactured imported silk, why should not
Switzerland, Germany, Russia, do as much? Silk
weaving developed indeed in the villages round
Zurich. Bâle became a great centre of the silk
trade. The Caucasian Administration engaged
women from Marseilles and workmen from Lyons
to teach Georgians the perfected rearing of
silkworms, and the art of converting silk into fabrics
to the Caucasian peasants. Austria followed.
Then Germany, with the help of Lyons workmen,
built great silk factories. The United States did
likewise in Paterson.
And to-day the silk trade is no longer a French
monopoly. Silks are made in Germany, in Austria,
in the United States, and in England. In winter,
Caucasian peasants weave silk handkerchiefs at
a wage that would mean starvation to the
silkweavers of Lyons. Italy sends silks to France;
and Lyons, which in 1870-4 exported 460 million
francs' worth of silk fabrics, exports now only
one-half of that amount. In fact, the time is not
far off when Lyons will only send higher class
goods and a few novelties as patterns to Germany,
Russia, and Japan.
And so it is in all industries. Belgium has no
longer the cloth monopoly; cloth is made in
Germany, in Russia, in Austria, in the United States.
Switzerland and the French Jura have no longer
a clockwork monopoly: watches are made every
where. Scotland no longer refines sugar for
Russia: Russian sugar is imported into England.
Italy, although neither possessing coal nor iron,
makes its own ironclads and engines for her
steamers. Chemical industry is no longer an
English monopoly; sulphuric acid and soda are
made even in the Urals. Steam-engines, made
at Winterthur, have acquired everywhere a wide
reputation, and at the present moment, Switzerland,
that has neither coal nor iron--nothing but
excellent technical schools--makes machinery
better and cheaper than England. So ends the
theory of Exchange.
The tendency of trade, as for all else, is toward
Every nation finds it advantageous to combine
agriculture with the greatest possible variety of
foundries and manufactories. The specialization,
of which economists spoke so highly, enriched a
number of capitalists but is now of no use. On the
contrary, it is to the advantage of every region,
every nation, to grow their own wheat, their own
vegetables, and to manufacture all produce they
consume at home. This diversity is the surest
pledge of the complete development of production
by mutual co-operation, and the moving cause of
progress, while specialization is a hindrance to
Agriculture can only prosper in proximity to
factories. And no sooner does a single factory
appear than an infinite variety of other factories
must spring up around, so that, mutually
supporting and stimulating one another by their
inventions, they increase their productivity.
It is foolish indeed to export wheat and import
flour, to export wool and import cloth, to export
iron and import machinery; not only because
transportation is a waste of time and money, but,
above all, because a country with no developed
industry inevitably remains behind the times in
agriculture; because a country with no large
factories to bring steel to a finished condition is also
backward in all other industries; and lastly, because
the industrial and technical capacities of the nation
In the world of production everything holds
together nowadays. Cultivation of the soil is no
longer possible without machinery, without great
irrigation works, without railways, without manure
factories. And to adapt this machinery, these
railways, these irrigation engines, etc., to local
conditions, a certain spirit of invention, a certain
amount of technical skill, that lie dormant as long as
spades and ploughshares are the only implements
of cultivation, must be developed.
If fields are to be properly cultivated, and are
to yield the abundant harvests man has the right
to expect, it is essential that workshops, foundries,
and factories develop within the reach of the fields.
A variety of occupations, a variety of skill arising
therefrom end working together for a common
aim--these are the genuine forces of progress.
And now let us imagine the inhabitants of a city
or a territory--whether vast or small--stepping
for the first time on to the path of the Social
We are sometimes told that "nothing will have
changed": that the mines, the factories, etc., will
be expropriated, and proclaimed national or
communal property, that every man will go back to his
usual work, and that the Revolution will then be
But this is a dream: the Social Revolution
cannot take place so simply.
We have already mentioned that should the
Revolution break out to-morrow in Paris, Lyons,
or any other city--should the workers lay hands
on factories, houses, and banks, present production
would be completely revolutionized by this simple
International commerce will come to a standstill;
so also will the importation of foreign bread-stuffs;
the circulation of commodities and of provisions
will be paralyzed. And then, the city or territory
in revolt will be compelled to provide for itself,
and to reorganize production. If it fails to do so,
it is death. If it succeeds, it will revolutionize the
economic life of the country.
The quantity of imported provisions having
decreased, consumption having increased, one
million Parisians working for exportation purposes
having been thrown out of work, a great number
of things imported to-day from distant or
neighbouring countries not reaching their destination,
fancy-trade being temporarily at a standstill,
What will the inhabitants have to eat six months
after the Revolution?
We think that when the stores are empty, the
masses will seek to obtain their food from the land.
They will be compelled to cultivate the soil, to
combine agricultural production with industrial
production in Paris and its environs. They will
have to abandon the merely ornamental trades and
consider the most urgent need--bread.
Citizens will be obliged to become agriculturists.
Not in the same manner as peasants who wear
themselves out, ploughing for a wage that barely
provides them with sufficient food for the year' but
by following the principles of market-gardeners'
intensive agriculture, applied on a large scale by
means of the best machinery that man has invented
or can invent. They will till the land--not, how
ever, like the country beast of burden a Paris
jeweller would object to that. They will reorganize
cultivation, not in ten years' time, but at once,
during the revolutionary struggles, from fear of being
worsted by the enemy.
Agriculture will have to be carried on by intelligent
beings; availing themselves of their knowledge,
organizing themselves in joyous gangs for pleasant
work, like the men who, a hundred years ago,
worked in the Champ de Mars for the Feast of the
Federation--a work of delight, when not carried
to excess, when scientifically organized, when man
invents and improves his tools and is conscious of
being a useful member of the community.
Of course, they will not only cultivate, they will
also produce those things which they formerly used
to order from foreign parts. And let us not forget
that for the inhabitants of a revolted territory,
"foreign parts" may include all districts that have
not joined in the revolutionary movement. During
the Revolutions of 1793 and 1871 Paris was made
to feel that "foreign parts" meant even the country
district at her very gates. The speculator in grains
at Troyes starved the sansculottes of Paris more
effectually than the German armies brought on
French soil by the Versailles conspirators. The
revolted city will be compelled to do without
"foreigners," and why not? France invented beetroot
sugar when sugar-cane ran short during the
continental blockade. Parisians discovered salt
petre in their cellars when they no longer received
any from abroad. Shall we be inferior to our
grandfathers, who with difficulty lisped the first
words of science?
A revolution is more than the destruction of a
political system. It implies the awakening of
human intelligence, the increasing of the inventive
spirit tenfold, a hundredfold; it is the dawn of a new,
science--the science of men like Laplace, Lamarck,
Lavoisier. It is a revolution in the minds of men,
more than in their institutions.
And economists tell us to return to our workshops,
as if passing through a revolution were going home
after a walk in the Epping forest!
To begin with, the sole fact of having laid hands
on middle-class property implies the necessity of
completely reorganizing the whole of economic life
in workshops, in dockyards, and in factories.
And the revolution will not fail to act in this
direction. Should Paris, during the social
revolution, be cut off from the world for a year or two by
the supporters of middle-class rule, its millions of
intellects, not yet depressed by factory life--that
City of little trades which stimulate the spirit of
invention--will show the world what man's brain
can accomplish without asking any help from
without, but the motor force of the sun that gives
light, the power of the wind that sweeps away
impurities, and the silent life-forces at work in the
earth we tread on.
We shall see then what a variety of trades,
mutually co-operating on a spot of the globe and
animated by the social revolution, can do to feed,
clothe, house, and supply with all manner of
luxuries millions of intelligent men.
We need write no fiction to prove this. What
we are sure of, what has already been experimented
upon, and recognized as practical, would suffice to
carry it into effect, if the attempt were fertilized,
vivified by the daring inspiration of the Revolution
and the spontaneous impulse of the masses.
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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