Fields, Factories, and Workshops : Chapter 9 : Conclusion
(1842 - 1921) ~ Russian Father of Anarcho-Communism : As anarchism's most important philosophers he was in great demand as a writer and contributed to the journals edited by Benjamin Tucker (Liberty), Albert Parsons (Alarm) and Johann Most (Freiheit). Tucker praised Kropotkin's publication as "the most scholarly anarchist journal in existence." (From : Spartacus Educational Bio.)
• "...all that is necessary for production-- the land, the mines, the highways, machinery, food, shelter, education, knowledge--all have been seized by the few in the course of that long story of robbery, enforced migration and wars, of ignorance and oppression..." (From : "The Conquest of Bread," by Peter Kropotkin, 1906.)
• "As to parliamentary rule, and representative government altogether... It is becoming evident that it is merely stupid to elect a few men, and to entrust them with the task of making laws on all possible subjects, of which subject most of them are utterly ignorant." (From : "Process Under Socialism," by Peter Kropotkin, 188....)
• "Which side will you take? For the law and against justice, or for justice and against the law?" (From : "An Appeal to the Young," by Peter Kropotkin, 1880.)
READERS who have had the patience to follow the facts accumulated in this book, especially those who have given them thoughtful attention, will probably feel convinced of the immense powers over the productive forces of Nature that man has acquired within the last half a century. Comparing the achievements indicated in this book with the present state of production, some will, I hope, also ask themselves the question which will be ere long, let us hope, the main object of a scientific political economy: Are the means now in use for satisfying human needs, under the present system of permanent division of functions and production for profits, really economical? Do they really lead to economy in the expenditure of human forces ? Or, are they not mere wasteful survivals from a past that wads plunged into darkness, ignorance and oppression, and never took into consideration the economical and social value of the human being?
In the domain of agriculture it may be taken as proved that if a small part only of the time that is now- given in each nation or region to field culture was given to well thought out and socially carried out permanent improvements of the soil, the duration of work which would be required afterwards to grow the yearly bread-food for an average family of five would be less than a fortnight every year; and that the work required for that purpose would not be the hard toil of the ancient slave, but work which would be agreeable to the physical forces of every healthy man and woman in the country.
It has been proved that by following the methods of intensive market- gardening-partly under glass-vegetables and fruit can be grown in such quantities that men could be provided with a, rich vegetable food and a profusion of fruit, if they simply devoted to the task of growing them the hours which everyone willingly devotes to work in the open air, after having spent most of his day in the factory, the mine, or the study. Provided, of course, that the production of food-stuffs should not be the work of the isolated individual, but the planned-out and combined action of human groups.
It has also been proved-and those who care to verify it by themselves may easily do so by calculating the real expenditure for labor which was lately made in the building of workmen's houses by both private persons and municipalities 1 -that under a proper combination of labor, twenty to twenty-four months of one man's work would be sufficient to secure for ever, for a family of five, an apartment or a house provided with all the comforts which modern hygiene and taste could require.
And it has been demonstrated by actual experiment that, by adopting methods of education, advocated long since and partially applied here and there, it is most easy to convey to children of an average intelligence, before they have reached the age of fourteen or fifteen, a broad general comprehension of Nature, as well as of human societies; to familiarize their minds with sound methods of both scientific research and technical work, and inspire their hearts with a deep feeling of human solidarity and justice; and that it is extremely easy to convey during the next four or five years a reasoned, scientific knowledge of Nature's laws, as well as a knowledge, at once reasoned and practical, of the technical methods of satisfying man's material needs. Far from being inferior to the "specialized" young persons manufactured by our universities, the complete human being, trained to use his brain and his hands, excels them, on the contrary, in all respects, especially as an initiator and an inventor in both science and technics.
All this has been proved. It is an acquisition of the times we live in-an acquisition which has been won despite the innumerable obstacles always thrown in the way of every initiative mind. It has been won by the obscure tillers of the soil, from whose hands greedy States, land lords and middlemen snatch the fruit of their labor even before it is ripe; by obscure teachers who only too often fall crushed under the weight of Church, State, commercial competition, inertia of mind and prejudice.
And now, in the presence of all these conquests -what is the reality of things?
Nine-tenths of the whole population of grain- exporting countries like Russia, one-half of it in countries like France which live on home grown food, work upon the land-most of them in the same way as the slaves of antiquity did, only to obtain a meager crop from a soil, and with a machinery which they cannot improve, because taxation, rent and usury keep them a]ways as near as possible to the margin of starvation. In this twentieth century, whole populations still plow with the same plow as their medaeval ancestors, live in the same incertitude of the morrow, and are as carefully denied education as their ancestors; and they have, in claiming their portion of bread, to march with their children and wives against their own sons' bayonets, as their grandfathers did hundreds of years ago.
In industrially devloped countries, a couple of months' work, or even much less than that, would be sufficient to produce for a family a rich and varied vegetable and animal food. But the researches of Engel (at Berlin) and his many followers tell us that the workman's family has to spend one full half of its yearly earnings- that is, to give six months of labor, and often more-to provide its food. And what food! Is not bread and dripping the staple food of more than one-half of English children ?
One month of work every year would be quite sufficient to provide the worker with a healthy dwelling. But it is from 25 to 40 percent of his yearly earnings-that is, from three to five months of his working time every year-that he has to spend in order to get a dwelling, in most cases unhealthy and far too small; and this dwelling will never be his own, even though at the age of forty-five or fifty he is sure to be sent away from the factory, because the work that he used to do will by that time be accomplished by a machine and a child.
We all know that the child ought, at least, to be familiarized with the forces of Nature which some day he will have to utilize; that he ought to be prepared to keep pace in his life with the steady progress of science and technics; that he ought to study science and learn a trade. Every- one will grant thus much; but what do we do? From the age of ten or even nine we send the child to push a coal-cart in a mine, or to bind, with a little monkey's agility, the two ends of threads broken in a spinning gin. From the age of thirteen we compel the girl-a child yet- to work as a "woman" at the weaving-loom, or to stew in the poisoned, over-heated air of a cotton-dressing factory, or, perhaps, to be poisoned in the death chambers of a Staffordshire pottery. As to those who have the relatively rare luck of receiving some more education, we crush their minds by useless overtime, we con sciously deprive them of all possibility of them selves becoming producers; and under an educational system of which the motive is "profits," and the means "specialization," we simply work to death the women teachers who take their educational duties in earnest. What floods of use]ess sufferings deluge every so-called civilized land in the world!
When we look back on ages past, and see there the same sufferings, we may say that perhaps then they were unavoidable on account of the ignorance which prevailed. But human genius, stimulated by our modern Renaissance, has already indicated new paths to follow.
For thousands of years in succession to grow one's food was the burden, almost the curse, of mankind. But it need be so no more. If you make yourselves the soil, and partly the temperature and the moisture which each crop requires, you will see that to grow the yearly food of a family, under rational conditions of culture, requires so little labor that it might almost be done as a mere change from other pursuits. If you return to the soil, and cooperate with your neighbors instead of erecting high walls to conceal yourself from their looks; if you utilize what experiment has already taught us, and call to your aid science and technical invention, which never fail to answer to the call-look only at what they have done for warfare-you will be astonished at the facility with which you can bring a rich and varied food out of the soil. You will admire the amount of sound knowledge which your children will acquire by your side, the rapid growth of their intelligence, and the facility with which they will grasp the laws of Nature, animate and inanimate.
Have the factory and the workshop at the gates of your fields and gardens, and work in them. Not those large establishments, of course, in which huge masses of metals have to be dealt with and which are better placed at certain spots indicated by Nature, but the countless variety of workshops and factories which are required to satisfy the infinite diversity of tastes among civilized men. Not those factories in which children lose all the appearance of children in the atmosphere of an industrial hell, but those airy and hygienic, and consequently economical, factories in which human life is of more account than machinery and the making of extra profits, of which we already find a few samples here and there; factories and workshops into which men, women and children will not be driven by hunger, but will be attracted by the desire of finding an activity suited to their tastes, and where, aided by the motor and the machine, they will choose the branch of activity which best suits their inclinations.
Let those factories and workshops be erected, not for making profits by selling shoddy or use- less and noxious things to enslaved Africans, but to satisfy the unsatisfied needs of millions of Europeans. And again, you will be struck to see with what facility and in how short a' time your needs of dress and of thousands of articles of luxury can be satisfied, when production is carried on for satisfying real needs rather than for satisfying shareholders by high profits or for pouring gold into the pockets of promoters and bogus directors. Very soon you will yourselves feel interested in that work, and you will have occasion to admire in your children their eager desire to become acquainted with Nature and its forces, their inquisitive inquiries as to the powers of machinery, and their rapidly developing inventive genius.
Such is the future-already possible, already realizable; such is the present-already condemned and about to disappear. And what prevents us from turning our backs to this present and from marching towards that future, or, at least, making the first steps towards it, is not the " failure of science," but first of all our crass cupidity-the cupidity of the man who killed the hen that was laying golden eggs-and then our laziness of mind-that mental cowardice so carefully nurtured in the past.
For centuries science and so-called practical wisdom have said to man: "It is good to be rich, to be able to satisfy, at least, your material needs; but the only means to be rich is to so train your mind and capacities as to be able to compel other men-slaves, serfs or wage-earners -to make these riches for you. You have no choice. Either you must stand in the ranks of the peasants and the artisans who, whatsoever economists and moralists may promise them in the future, are now periodically doomed to starve after each bad crop or during their strikes and to be shot down by their own sons the moment they lose patience. Or you must: train your faculties so as to be a military commander of the masses, or to be accepted as one of the wheels of the governing machinery of the State or to become a manager of men in commerce or industry." For many centuries there was no other choice, and men followed that advice, without finding in it happiness, either for themselves and their own children, or for those whom they pretended to preserve from worse misfortunes.
But modern knowledge has another issue to offer to thinking men. It tells them that in order to be rich they need not take the bread from the mouths of others; but that the more rational outcome would be a society in which men, with the work of their own hands and intelligence, and by the aid of the machinery already invented and to be invented, should themselves create all imaginable riches. Technics and science will not be lagging behind if production takes such a direction. Guided by observation, analysis and experiment, they will answer all possible demands. They will reduce the time which is necessary for producing wealth to any desired amount, so as to leave to everyone as much leisure as he or she may ask for. They surely cannot guarantee happiness, because happiness depends as much, or even more, upon the individual himself as upon his surroundings. But they guarantee, at least, the happiness that can be found in the full and varied exercise of the different capacities of the human being, in work that need not be overwork, and in the consciousness that one is not endeavoring to base his own happiness upon the misery of others.
These are the horizons which the above inquiry opens to the unprejudiced mind.
1These figures may be computed, for instance, from the data contained in "The Ninth Annual Report of the Commissioner of Labor of the United States, for the year 1893: Building and Loan Associations." In this country the cost of a workman's cottage is reckoned at about £200, which would represent 700 to 800 days of labor. But we must not forget how much of this sum is a toll raised by the capitalists and the landlords upon everything that is used in building the cottage: the bricks and tiles, the mortar, the wood, the iron, etc.
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