In 1897, Errico Malatesta, on the run from the police, was a regular visitor to a cafe in Ancona, Italy. He had shaved his beard, but was still taking a risk, especially as it wasn’t a known anarchist café; it had a variety of customers, including the local policeman. The conversations recorded here between a small group of people at a café became the basis for the dialogues that make up the book, which remained unfinished until 1920 — several wars and revolutions later! An excellent primer on anarchism, it answers, in a commonsense and matter-of-fact style, most questions people ask about the arguments for and against anarchism. Translated and introduced by Paul Nursey-Bray, this is a classic defence of anarchism that anticipates the rise of nationalism, fascism and communism.
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.
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.