THE CONQUEST OF BREAD by Peter Kropotkin


The Conquest of Bread” is no text book on revolutionary organisation, rather it is a work on anarcho-communist economics and history, the great constructivist work of the libertarian tradition. Kropotkin had by 1880 broken with the Bakuninist idea of remuneration for labour in the post-revolutionary society. While Bakunin and the Federalist wing of the First International suggested a period of economic transition between Capitalism and Libertarian Communism, Kropotkin believed it necessary to leap from one to the other, from day one of the revolution. Any retention of the wages system in whatever form, such as labour cheques or time coupons, would only result in further exploitation and injustice.


In “The Conquest of Bread” Kropotkin doesn’t seem to see anarchism as a political ideology on a par with, say Marxism, but rather he sees it as a constantly present tendency within human groups. Anarchism, then, is more of an anthropological category than a political one for Kropotkin. In his “Mutual Aid” he looks at the ancient European tribes, the medieval city states, the guilds, and even the animal world, for examples of solidarity, self-sacrifice and mutual aid – all aspects of the anarchist idea. In “The Conquest of Bread” he does the same. He highlights events from the French revolution where associations of labourers sprang up to till the soil together. He looks at aspects of Russian and Swiss peasant communal land use as well as the English lifeboat crews who voluntarily aid seamen in distress. This is where Kropotkin’s real worth is – in the field of history and ethics. Of course some of his historical conclusions can be criticised: medieval cities were not as democratic and peaceful as he would have us believe. But he did illuminate an aspect of human history which had been completely neglected. Academics of the nineteenth century were heavily under the influence of neo-Darwinist ideas which sought to justify both capitalism and imperialism. Kropotkin was one of the very first to attempt to refute the ‘survival of the fittest’ idea. The basic point that humanity has made most progress under conditions of co-operation runs through the length and breadth of “The Conquest of Bread”.