Book Review: Peter Kropotkin's Masterpiece

The Conquest of Bread

This book isn't new in any bookshop: it first appeared 1892, and was based on a series of articles written by P. Kropotkin, then a leading figure of the anarchist movement, for the French revolutionary press during the 1880s. It has been influential as few others have, and despite having been written more than 100 years ago, many of its arguments are still amazingly relevant today.

The first thing that really strikes you about the book is the simplicity of the arguments: the author describes clearly the basis of anarchist communism, without resorting to obscurities which, usually, veil one's lack of arguments.

The Conquest of Bread is directed to appeal to the common folk who are new to socialistic ideas, and not to satisfy the appetite for dilettante discussion between militants. Even the way he simply sums up the anarchist communist revolutionary drive in the phrase "demand the right to everyone's welfare" shows the didactic character of the book.

In this language and with well informed evidence, he demonstrates (120 years ago!) that, objectively, the conditions to create an anarchist society, a society that guarantees everyone's welfare, is not an utopian dream, but an actual possibility thanks to the advances in science and technology. He demonstrates too how society has created so much wealth, but unfortunately, due to the existence of an insane capitalist, statist and class society, this wealth is completely squandered and distributed in a completely uneven way.

To solve this injustice and to replace this dysfunctional system, Kropotkin offers anarchism as a solution. This means the expropriation and collectivization of property and goods from the hands of the gang of capitalsts that have made a fortune off the back of the workers and to put them into the service of the whole society and not of a privileged elite; to reorganise production to fulfil the needs of society, and not profit; to reorganise society from the bottom up, with grassroots democracy, instead of an elite of politicians in government deciding for all of us....

And thus, conquering the bread, to open a whole new phase in human history in the arts, education science, etc... for the aim of revolution is not only about material things, but also about changing the life we're living.

He also smartly and passionately discusses the division between intellectual and manual labour, the de-centralisation of industry, the imperialist relationships between industrial countries and providers of raw materials and the contradiction between country and cities.

This book, despite not dealing with the practicalities faced by those who organise to change society and not giving an account of the many problems that any revolution faces (shortages in production, international boycott, etc.), gives a vivid account of the immense possibilities of social change and constitutes an appeal to transform life....

 by Paddy Rua

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This edition is No85 published in March 2005

Workers Solidarity 85