THE CONQUEST OF BREAD by Peter Kropotkin — eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

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Review by Gary Hayter: The Russian anarcho-syndicalist activist and theoretician, G.P. Maximov (1893 – 1950) used to bemoan the fact that so few militants in the libertarian movement bothered to read the classics of anarchism, and as a result often found themselves out manoeuvred by their political opponents. Today we have very little excuse for not studying the works of the founders of the libertarian tradition. Those of Peter Kropotkin, for example, are readily available in affordable English translations. These include “Mutual Aid”, “Fields, Factories and Workshops”, “The Great French Revolution” and perhaps his most widely read book, “The Conquest of Bread”. It is this work I want to take a closer look at now.

The Conquest Of Bread” first appeared in Paris in 1892, although Kropotkin had expounded his theories a decade earlier in the pages of the anarchist journal “La Revolt”. 1906 saw its first appearance in English when it was published in London. The book is similar in many ways to his “Fields, Factories and Workshops” (1912), which was also a compilation of articles written between 1888 and 1890. Both books are supplemented by a large number of contemporary statistics which are used to bolster the arguments Kropotkin is presenting. These may be skipped over by the modern reader who will be more concerned with the ideas being put forward.

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FIELDS, FACTORIES AND WORKSHOPS: or Industry Combined with Agriculture and Brain Work with Manual Work by Peter Kropotkin — eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

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Fields, Factories and Workshops: or Industry Combined with Agriculture and Brain Work with Manual Work is a persuasive landmark anarchist communist text on the theories and practice of workers’ self-management by Peter Kropotkin. Arguably, it is among the most influential and positive statements of the anarchist idea of its time, and is viewed by many as the central work of his writing career. In it, Kropotkin shares his vision of a more harmonious and decentralised way of living based on cooperation instead of competition, emphasising local organisation, and production, obviating the need for central government. His focus on agriculture and rural life, makes it a contrasting perspective to the largely industrial thinking of contemporary Marxian communism and socialism.

His view is that communities should strive for self-sufficiency in goods and food, thus making import and export unnecessary. The book remains as relevant today as it was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A must-have if learning about anarchist-communism and the application of theory to everyday worker’s self management of industries and land cultivation.

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Pierre-Joseph PROUDHON His revolutionary life, mind and works by Edward S. Hyams eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

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PROUDHON WAS BORN in the same year, 1809, as Charles Darwin, at about the moment when the reaction against the French Revolution, led by the old imperial monarchies and the British aristocratic oligarchy, began to triumph. That triumph was short-lived but at the time it was clear to only a very few men that Europe was facing a century of revolution.

It was in the half-century following Proudhon’s birth that a number of men of talent and two men of genius, Proudhon and Karl Marx, sought to give form and practical applicability to the social, political and economic philosophy to become known as socialism. Thus Auguste Blanqui, who when not fighting the monarchy and the bourgeoisie, was in prison working out the principles of communist trade unionism and was the father of the French Socialist Party, was only four years Proudhon’s senior; Alexander Herzen, the great publicist of socialism in Russia, was born in 1812, as was Louis Blanc who developed revolutionary socialism out of the idealistic proto-socialism of Saint-Simon. Michael Bakunin, the Russian anarchist and Marx’s most troublesome enemy, was born in 1814; Marx in 1818 when his master, Hegel, was not yet fifty; and Engels in 1820. Lassalle, founder and master of the formidable German Workers’ Party, was born in 1825.

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ANARCHISM by Paul Eltzbacher eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

Paul Eltzbacher (18 February 1868 – 25 October 1928) was a German law student whose professorial appointment was due, largely, to his PhD on anarchism, which became the basis for the present book, first published in English in 1907. ‘Anarchism’ is an overview consisting of seven chapters which deal, principally, with Eltzbacher’s academic take on the various elements and trends of anarchism as defined by the leading anarchist thinkers of the time: Godwin, Proudhon, Stirner, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Tucker, Tolstoy.

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TRANSLATOR’S PREFACE

Every person who examines this book at all will speedily divide its contents into Eltzbacher’s own discussion and his seven chapters of classified quotations from Anarchist leaders; and, if he buys the book, he will buy it for the sake of the quotations. I do not mean that the book might not have a sale if it consisted exclusively of Eltzbacher’s own words, but simply that among ten thousand people who may value Eltzbacher’s discussion there will not be found ten who will not value still more highly the conveniently-arranged reprint of what the Anarchists themselves have said on the cardinal points of Anarchistic thought. Nor do I feel that I am saying anything uncomplimentary to Eltzbacher when I say that the part of his work to which he has devoted most of his space is the part that the public will value most.

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BAKUNIN’S LEGACY eBook £1.50 (see eBookshelf)

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What are these ideas that have proved so relevant in the twentieth century—more so, perhaps, than in Bakunin’s own time? Above all, Bakunin foresaw the true nature of modern revolution more clearly than any of his contemporaries, Marx not excepted. For Marx the socialist revolution required the emergence of a well-organized and class-conscious proletariat, something to be expected in highly industrialized countries like Germany or England. Marx regarded the peasantry as the social class least capable of constructive revolutionary action: together with Lumpenproletariat of the urban slums, the peasants were benighted and primitive barbarians, the bulwark of counterrevolution. For Bakunin, by contrast, the peasantry and Lumpenproletariat, having been least exposed to the corrupting influences of bourgeois civilization, retained their primitive vigor and turbulent instinct for revolt. The real proletariat, he said, did not consist in the skilled artisans and organized factory workers, who were tainted by the pretensions and aspirations of the middle classes, but in the great mass of “uncivilized, disinherited, and illiterate” millions who truly had nothing to lose but their chains. Thus, while Marx believed in an organized revolution led by a trained and disciplined working class, Bakunin set his hopes on a peasant jacquerie combined with a spontaneous rising of the infuriated urban mobs, a revolt of the uncivilized masses driven by an instinctive passion for justice and by an unquenchable thirst for revenge. Bakunin’s model had been set by the great rebellions of Razin and Pugachev in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. His vision was of an all-embracing upheaval, a true revolt of the masses, including, besides the working class, the darkest elements of society—the Lumpenproletariat, the primitive peasantry, the unemployed, the outlaws—all pitted against those who throve on their misery and enslavement.

Subsequent events have, to a remarkable extent, confirmed the accuracy of Bakunin’s vision. It is small wonder, then, that contemporary historians have shown a new appreciation of the role of spontaneous and primitive movements in shaping history. From the work of Barrington Moore, who has recently investigated the relationship between modernization and agrarian revolt, as well as of Eric Hobsbawm, George Rude, E. P. Thompson, and others, we are coming to understand that most modern revolutions, like those of the past, have been largely unplanned and spontaneous, driven by mass movements of urban and rural laborers, and in spirit predominantly anarchistic. No longer can these naive, primitive, and irrational groups be written off as fringe elements to be ignored by the historian. They lie, rather, at the very basis of social change.

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