Piotr Kropotkin

On Economics
Selected Passages from his Writings

(1899-1913)

 



Note

These are selected passages on economics from the writings of Piotr Kropotkin.
The very interesting and original proposals advocated by him refer to:

- the integration between manual and intellectual work, made possible by the introduction of machinery which would save human energy and allow for more free time in the pursuit of personal creative endeavours:

- the integration of town and country, of industry and agriculture, made possible by a total freedom in the movement of capitals and entrepreneurs all over the world. This would result, in the end, in a reduction in the unnecessary movement of many goods (produced locally everywhere) and in a balanced socio-economic development (rural and industrial) in every region.

In other words, Kropotkin was in favour of a world economy free of territorial restrictions and for the introduction of a maximum of automation.
Many who define themselves anarchists and are against freedom of enterprise and consider the introduction of any labour-saving device a capitalistic menace to the workers, should read carefully these passages.
At the end they should either change their ideas or change the label by which they characterize their position.

 


 

Economic science

“The Study of the Needs of Humanity, and of the Economic Means to satisfy them.” (The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 4)

“The study of the most favourable conditions for giving society the greatest amount of useful products with the least waste of human energy.” (The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 12)

“The study of the needs of mankind and the means of satisfying them with the least possible waste of human energy.” (The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 14)

 

Political Economy

“Political Economy has often been reproached with drawing all its deductions from the decidedly false principle that the only incentive capable of forcing a man to augment his power of production is personal interest in its narrowest sense.

The reproach is perfectly true; so true that epochs of great industrial discoveries and true progress in industry are precisely those in which the happiness of all was inspiring men, and in which personal enrichment was least thought of. The great investigators in science and the great inventors aimed, above all, at giving greater freedom of mankind.”

(The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 17)

 

Richness and poverty

“Truly we are rich - far richer than we think; rich in what we already possess, richer still in the possibilities of production of our actual mechanical outfit; richest of all in what we might win from our soil, from our manufactures, from our science, from our technical knowledge, were they but applied to bringing about the well-being of all.”

“In our civilized society we are rich. Why then are the many poor?”

“It is because, taking advantage of alleged rights acquired in the past, these few appropriate today two thirds of the products of human labour, and then squander them in the most stupid and shameful way.”

(The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 1)

 

Parasitic strata

“[For] alongside the rapid development of our wealth-producing powers we have an overwhelming increase in the ranks of the idlers and middlemen. Instead of capital gradually concentrating itself in a few hands, so that it would only be necessary for the community to dispossess a few millionaires and enter upon its lawful heritage - instead of this Socialist forecast proving true, the exact reverse is coming to pass: the swarm of parasite is ever increasing.” (The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 2)

 

Mutual Confidence

“Should you speak to a man who understands commerce, he will tell you that everyday business transacted by merchants would be absolutely impossible were it not based on mutual confidence.” (The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 3)

 

Trade Wars

“All the nations evolve on the same lines, and wars, perpetual wars, break out for the right of precedence in the market. Wars for the possession of the East, wars for the empire of the sea, wars to impose duties on imports and to dictate conditions to neighbouring states; wars against those “blacks” who revolt! The roar of the cannon never ceases in the world, whole races are massacred, the states of Europe spend a third of their budgets in armaments; and we know how heavily these taxes fall on the workers.” (The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 1)

 

Trade Decentralization

“The tendency of trade, as for all else, is toward decentralization. Every nation finds it advantageous to combine agriculture with the greatest possible variety of factories. The specialization of which economists spoke so highly certainly has enriched a number of capitalists, but is now no longer of any 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 at home most of the produce they consume. This diversity is the surest pledge of the complete development of production by mutual cooperation, and the moving cause of progress, while specialization is now a hindrance to progress.” (The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 16)

 

World-exchange

"The present tendency of economical development in the world is ... to induce more and more every nation, or rather every region, taken in its geographical sense, to rely chiefly upon a home production of all the chief necessaries of life. Not to reduce, I mean, the world-exchange: it may still grow in bulk; but to limit it to the exchange of what really must be exchanged, and, at the same time, immensely to increase the exchange of novelties, produce of local or national art, new discoveries and inventions, knowledge and ideas." (Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow)

 

Customs

“Capital taking no cognizance of fatherlands, German and English capitalists, accompanied by engineers and foremen of their own nationalities, have introduced in Russia and in Poland manufactories whose goods compete in excellence with the best from England. If customs were abolished tomorrow, manufacture would only gain by it.” (The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 16)

 

Agriculture

“There are no barren lands; the earth is worth what man is worth” - that is the last word of modern agriculture.” (The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 5)

“There is not one nation in the world which, being armed with the present powers of agriculture, could not grow on its cultivable areas all the food and most of the raw materials derived from agriculture which are required for its population, even if the requirements of that population were rapidly increased as they certainly ought to be.” (Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow)

 

Town horticulture

“A great number of the inhabitants of the cities will have to become agriculturists. Nor in the same manner of the present 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 intensive agriculture, of the market gardeners, applied on a large scale by means of the best machinery that man has invented or can invent.” (The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 16)

 

Working time

“How many hours a day will man have to work to produce nourishing food, a comfortable home, and necessary clothing for his family? The question has often preoccupied Socialists, and they generally came to the conclusion that four or five hours a day would suffice, on condition, be it well understood, that all men work. At the end of last century, Benjamin Franklin fixed the limit at five hours; and if the need of comfort is greater now, the power of production has augmented too, and far more rapidly.”

“It is evident that these calculations are only approximative, but they can also be proved in another way. When we take into account how many, in the so-called civilized nations, produce nothing, how many work at harmful trade, doomed to disappear, and lastly, how many are only useless middlemen, we see that in each nation the number of real producers could be doubled. And if, instead of every ten men, twenty were occupied in producing useful commodities, and if society took the trouble to economize human energy, those twenty people would only have to work five hours a day without production decreasing.”

“In fact, work could be reduced to four or even three hour a day, to produce all the goods that are produced now.”

(The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 8)

 

Leisure

“If we wish for a Social Revolution, it is no doubt, first of all, to give bread to everyone.”

“But we expect more from the Revolution. We see that the worker, compelled to struggle painfully for bare existence, is reduced to ignore the higher delights, the highest within man’s reach, of science, and especially of scientific discovery; of art, and especially of artistic creation. It is in order to obtain for all of us joys that are now reserved to a few; in order to give leisure and the possibility of developing everyone’s intellectual capacities, that the social revolution must guarantee daily bread to all. After bread has been secured, leisure is the supreme aim.”

(The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 9)

 

Manual and intellectual work

“[Of course] when a man is harnessed to a machine, is health is soon undermined and his intelligence is blunted; but when man has the possibility of varying occupation, and especially of alternating manual with intellectual work, he can remain occupied without fatigue, and even with pleasure, for ten to twelve hours a day. Consequently, the man who will have done the four or five hours of manual work that are necessary for his existence, will have before him, five or six hours which he will seek to employ according to his tastes.” (The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 9)

“It is precisely to put an end to this separation between manual and brain work that we want to abolish wagedom, that we want the Social Revolution. Then work will no longer appear as a curse of fate: it will become what it should be - the free exercise of all the faculties of man.” (The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 12)

“To the division of society into brain workers and manual workers we oppose the combination of both kinds of activities; and instead of ‘technical education’, which means the maintenance of the present division between brain work and manual work, we advocate the éducation intégrale, or complete education, which means the disappearance of that pernicious distinction.” (Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow)

“[But] whatever the occupation preferred by everyone, everyone will be the more useful in his own branch if he is in possession of a serious scientific knowledge. And, whosoever he might be - scientist or artist, physicist or surgeon, chemist or sociologist, historian or poet - he would be the gainer if he spent a part of his life in the workshop or the farm (the workshop and the farm) , if he were in contact with humanity in its daily work, and had the satisfaction of knowing that he himself discharges his duties as an unprivileged producer of wealth.” (Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow)

 

Well-being

“The ‘right to well-being’ means the possibility of living like human beings, and of bringing up children to be members of a society better than ours, whilst the ‘right to work’ only means the right to be always a wage-slave, a drudge, ruled over and exploited by the middle class of the future. The right to well-being is the Social Revolution, the right to work means nothing but the Treadmill of Commercialism.” (The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 2)

“Well-being - that is to say, the satisfaction of physical, artistic, and moral needs, has always been the most powerful stimulant to work.” (The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 12)

 

Patents

“Like all State controls, patents hamper the progress of industry. Thought being incapable of being patented, patents are a crying injustice in theory, and in practice they result in one of the great obstacles to the rapid development of invention.” (The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 9)

 

Factories

“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 the work is better; it is easy to introduce many small amelioration, 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 the distinctive feature of the present industrial organization.” (The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 10)

 

Concentration of Industries

“The ‘concentration’ so much spoken of is often nothing but an amalgamation of capitalists for the purpose of dominating the market, not for cheapening the technical process.”

“Even under the present conditions the leviathan factories offer great inconveniences as they cannot rapidly reform their machinery according to the constantly varying demands of the consumers. How many failures of great concerns, too well known in this country to need to be named, were due to this cause during the crisis of 1886-90.”

(Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow)

 

Small Industries

“In England, as everywhere, the small industries are an important factor in the industrial life of the country; and it is chiefly in the infinite variety of the small trades, which utilise the half-fabricate produce of the great industries, that inventive genius is developed, and the rudiments of the future great industries are elaborated. The small bicycle workshops, with the hundreds of small improvements which they introduced, have been under our very eyes the primary cells out of which the great industry of the motor cars, and later on of the aeroplanes, has grown up. The small village jam-makers where the precursors and the rudiments of the great factories of preserves which now employ hundreds of workers, And so on.”

“[But] wherever the direct intervention of taste and inventiveness are required, wherever new patterns of goods requiring a continual renewal of machinery and tools must continually be introduced in order to fed the demand, as in the case with al fancy textiles, even though they be fabricated to supply the millions; whenever a great variety of goods and the uninterrupted invention of new ones goes on, as is the case in the toy trade, in instrument-making, watch-making, bicycle-making, and so on; and finally, wherever the artistic feeling of the individual worker makes the best part of his goods, as is the case in hundreds of branches of small articles of luxury, there is a wide field for petty trades, rural workshops, domestic industries, and the like. More fresh air, more ideas, more general conceptions, and more co-operation are evidently required in those industries. But where the spirit of initiative has been awakened in one way or another, we see the petty industries taking a new development in Germany, as we have just seen that being done in France.”

“In an immense number of trades it is not the superiority of the technical organization of the trade in a factory, nor the economies realized on the prime-motor, which militate against the small industry in favour of the factories, but the more advantageous conditions for selling the produce and for buying the raw produce which are at the disposal of big concerns. Wherever this difficulty has been overcome, either by means of association, or in consequence of a market being secured for the sale of the produce, it has always been found - first, that the conditions of the workers or artisans immediately improve; and next, that a rapid progress was realized in the technical aspects of the respective industries.”

(Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow)

 

Decentralization of industries

“The industries must be scattered all over the world; and the scattering of industries amidst all civilized nations will be necessarily followed by a further scattering of factories over the territories of each nation.” (Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow)

 

Integration industry-agriculture

“Agriculture cannot develop without the aid of machinery and the use of a perfect machinery cannot be generalized without industrial surrounding: without mechanical workshops, easily accessible to the cultivator of the soil, the use of agricultural machinery is not possible.”

“The scattering of industries over the country - so as to bring the factory amidst the fields, to make agriculture derive all those profits which it always finds in being combined with industry and to produce a combination of industrial with agricultural work - is surely the next step to be made, as soon as a reorganization of our present conditions is possible.”

(Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow)

 

Automation

“Whenever a saving of human labour can be obtained by means of a machine, the machine is welcome and will be resorted to; and there is hardly one single branch of industry into which machinery work could not be introduced with great advantage, at least at some of the stages of the manufacture. In the present chaotic state of industry, nails and cheap pen-knives can be made by hand, and plain-cottons by woven in the hand-loom; but such an anomaly will not last. The machine will supersede hand-work in the manufacture of plain goods. But at the same time, hand-work very probably will extend its domain in the artistic finishing of many things which are now made entirely in the factory; and it will always remain an important factor in the growth of thousands of young and new trades.” (Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow)

 

Free Cooperation

"Railways were constructed piece by piece, the pieces were joined together, and the hundred different companies, to whom these pieces belonged, gradually came to an understanding concerning the arrival and departure of their trains, and the running of carriages on their rails, from all countries, without unloading merchandise as it passes from one network to another. All this was done by free agreement, by exchange of letters and proposals, and by congresses at which delegates met to discuss well specified special points, and to come to an agreement about them, but not to make laws. After the congress was over, the delegates returned to their respective companies, not with a law, but with the draft of a contract to be accepted or rejected."

"And the most interesting thing in this organization is, that there is no European Central Government of Railways! Nothing! No minister of railways, no dictator, not even a continental parliament, not even a directing committee! Everything is done by free agreement."

(The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 11)

 

Variety

“Variety is the distinctive feature, both of the territory and its inhabitants; and that variety implies a variety of occupations. Agriculture calls manufactures into existence, and manufactures support agriculture. Both are inseparable, and the combination, the integration of both brings about the grandest results.”

“Industries of all kinds decentralise and are scattered all over the globe; and everywhere a variety, an integrated variety, of trades grows, instead of specialization.”

(Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow)

 

Socio-economic regions

“Political economy has hitherto insisted chiefly upon division. We proclaim integration; and we maintain that the ideal of society is a society of integrated combined labour. A society where each individual is a producer of both manual and intellectual work; where each able-bodied human being is a worker, and where each worker works both in the field and in the industrial workshop; where every aggregation of individuals, large enough to dispose of a certain variety of natural resources - it may be a nation, or rather a region - produces and itself consumes most of its own agricultural and manufactured produce.” (Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow)

 

The myth of over-production

“Take, for instance, over-production, a word which every day re-echoes in our ears. Is there a single economist, academician, or candidate for academical honours, who has not supported arguments proving that economic crises are due to over-production - that at a given moment more cotton, more cloth, more watches are produced that are needed!”

“However, on careful examination all these reasonings prove unsound. In fact, is there one single commodity amongst those in universal use which is produced in greater quantity than need be? Examine one by one all commodities sent out by countries exporting on a large scale, and you will see that nearly all are produced in insufficient quantities for the inhabitants of the countries exporting them.”

“Not only does the ever-growing need of comfort remain unsatisfied, but the strict necessities of life are often wanting. Therefore, ‘surplus production’ does not exist, at least not in the sense given to it by the theorists of Political Economy.”

(The Conquest of Bread, Chapter 14)

 


 

References

Piotr Kropotkin, The Conquest of Bread, 1913 Edition (First Edition 1906)

Piotr Kropotkin, Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow, Second Edition 1912 (First Edition 1899)

 


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