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Have You Read Kropotkin

March 3, 2019

His name was Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin, a Russian scientist and anarchist.  He had a round face, a bald head, and a bushy white beard.  You can read about him here.

I recently read his book The Conquest of Bread, written in 1892.  I read it because I wanted to learn about anarchism.  I had only before heard the word anarchy, used in a derogatory sense and meaning chaos.  I knew that there must be more to the story than that.

He was an advocate of anarchic communism, a system of complete sharing but without leaders, one that developed spontaneously.  It’s completely different from the style of communism that we have today, with sharing imposed on the people by strong leaders.  In fact, he believed in a system with no government.  That makes his favoured system more exteme than libertarianism, at least in that aspect.

Such a system requires a revolution, with power placed in the hands of the people, as well as an inversion of social classes.  Private property would have no value.  Groups of people could expropriate property whenever it was needed.  Wages would be abolished.  All work would be volunteer work.  People would all do agricultural work for part of their day.  All these changes would happen spontaneously, as if by magic.

Private ownership would disappear.  Payment of rent would disappear too.  Housing space would be allocated by neighborhood committees.  Imports would be abolished.  Instead, regions would become self-sufficient.  Social classes would be abolished;  Everybody would be equal.  Groups would form spontaneously to carry out duties formerly done by bureaucracies.  Collective enterprises would form spontaneously instead of businesses.

He abhors many features of present society, especially including exploitation of the workers.  There’s also the investors who he calls idlers, the middle men who produce nothing, and the wealthy elite who are motivated only by profit.

There’s much to criticize in this book.  He contends that the natural state of a tribal society is anarchic communism.  There is scant evidence now for this view.  It was probably a result of wishful thinking.  There have always been leaders in any society.  Communism in tribal society is probably an illusion.  As well, our society has changed.  We used to be mostly manual labourers.  Now we are consumers.  The ideas put forward in this book seem to be obsolete.

 

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