The Conquest of Bread : Chapter 9 : The Need for Luxury
(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.)
• "To recognize all men as equal and to renounce government of man by man is another increase of individual liberty in a degree which no other form of association has ever admitted even as a dream." (From : "Communism and Anarchy," by Peter Kropotkin, 1901.)
• "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.)
• "The communes of the next revolution will proclaim and establish their independence by direct socialist revolutionary action, abolishing private property. When the revolutionary situation ripens, which may happen any day, and governments are swept away by the people, when the middle-class camp, which only exists by state protection, is thus thrown into disorder, the insurgent people will not wait until some new government decrees, in its marvelous wisdom, a few economic reforms." (From : "The Commune of Paris," by Peter Kropotkin, Freedo....)
MAN, however, is not a being whose exclusive purpose in life is eating, drinking, and providing a shelter for himself. As soon as his material wants are satisfied, other needs, of an artistic character, will thrust themselves forward the more ardently. Aims of life vary with each and every individual; and the more society is civilized, the more will individuality be developed, and the more will desires be varied.
Even to-day we see men and women denying themselves necessaries to acquire mere trifles, to obtain some particular gratification, or some intellectual or material enjoyment. A Christian or an ascetic may disapprove of these desires for luxury; but it is precisely these trifles that break the monotony of existence and make it agreeable. Would life, with all its inevitable sorrows, be worth living, if besides daily work man could never obtain a single pleasure according to his individual tastes?
If we wish for a Social Revolution, it is no doubt in the first place to give bread to all; to transform this execrable society, in which we can every day see robust workmen dangling their arms for want of an employer who will exploit them; women and children wandering shelterless at night; whole families reduced to dry bread; men, women, and children dying for want of care and even for want of food. It is to put an end to these iniquities that we rebel.
But we expect more from the Revolution. We see that the worker compelled to struggle painfully for bare existence, is reduced to ignorance of these 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 these joys for all, which are now reserved to a few; in order to give leisure and the possibility of developing intellectual capacities, that the social revolution must guarantee daily bread to all. After bread has been secured, leisure is the supreme aim.
No doubt, nowadays, when hundreds and thousands of human beings are in need of bread, coal, clothing, and shelter, luxury is a crime; to satisfy it the worker's child must go without bread! But in a society in which all can eat sufficiently the needs which we consider luxuries to- day will be the more keenly felt. And as all men do not and cannot resemble one another (the variety of tastes and needs is the chief guarantee of human progress) there will always be, and it is desirable that there should always be, men and women whose desire will go beyond those of ordinary individuals in some particular direction.
Everybody does not need a telescope, because, even if learning were general, there are people who prefer examining things through a microscope to studying the starry heavens. Some like statues, some pictures. A particular individual has no other ambition than to possess an excellent piano, while another is pleased with an accordion. The tastes vary, but the artistic needs exist in all. In our present, poor capitalistic society, the man who has artistic needs cannot satisfy them unless he is heir to a large fortune, or by dint of hard work appropriates to himself an intellectual capital which will enable him to take up a liberal profession. Still he cherishes the hopeof some day satisfying his tastes more of less, and for this reason he reproaches the idealist Communist societies with having the material life of each individual as their sole aim.--"In your communal stores you may perhaps have bread for all," he says to us, "but you will not have beautiful pictures, optical instruments, luxurious furniture, artistic jewelry--in short, the many things that minister to the infinite variety of human tastes. And in this way you suppress the possibility of obtaining anything besides the bread and meat which the commune can offer to all, and the gray linen in which all your lady citizens will be dressed."
These are the objections which all communist systems have to consider, and which the founders of new societies, established in American deserts, never understood. They believed that if the community could procure sufficient cloth to dress all its members, a music hall in which the "brothers" could strum a piece of music, or act a play from time to time, it was enough. They forgot that the feeling for art existed in the agriculturist as well as in the burgher, and, notwithstanding that the expression of artistic feeling varies according to the difference in culture, in the main it remains the same. In vain did the community guarantee the common necessaries of life, in vain did it suppress all education that would tend to develop individuality, in vain did it eliminate all reading save the Bible. Individual tastes broke forth, and caused general discontent; quarrels arose when somebody proposed to buy a piano or scientific instruments; and the elements of progress flagged. The society could only exist on condition that it crushed all individual feeling, all artistic tendency, and all development.
Will the anarchist Commune be impelled by the same direction? Evidently not, if it understands that while it produces all that is necessary to material life, it must also strive to satisfy all manifestations of the human mind.
We frankly confess that when we think of the abyss of poverty and suffering that surrounds us, when we hear the heartrending cry of the worker walking the streets begging for work, we are loathe to discuss the question: How will men act in a society, whose members are properly fed, to satisfy certain individuals desirous of possessing a piece of Sèvres china or a velvet dress?
We are tempted to answer: Let us make sure of bread to begin with, we shall see to china and velvet later on.
But as we must recognize that man has other needs besides food, and as the strength of Anarchy lies precisely in that it understands all human faculties and all passions, and ignores none, we shall, in a few words, explain how man can contrive to satisfy all his intellectual and artistic needs.
We have already mentioned that by working 4 or 5 hours a day till the age of forty-five or fifty, man could easily produce all that is necessary to guarantee comfort to society.
But the day's work of a man accustomed to toil does not consist of; hours; it is a 10 hours' day for 300 days a year, and lasts all his life. Of course, when a man is harnessed to a machine, his health is soon undermined and his intelligence is blunted; but when man has the possibility of varying occupations, and especially of alternating manual with intellectual work, he can remain occupied without fatigue, and even with pleasure, for 10 or 12 hours a day. Consequently the man who will have done 4 or 5 hours of manual work necessary for his existence, will have before him 5 or 6 hours which he will seek to employ according to his tastes. And these 5 or 6 hours a day will fully enable him to procure for himself, if he associates with others, all he wishes for, in addition to the necessaries guaranteed to all.
He will discharge first his task in the field, the factory, and so on, which he owes to society as his contribution to the general production. And he will employ the second half of his day, his week, or his year, to satisfy his artistic or scientific needs, or his hobbies.
Thousands of societies will spring up to gratify every taste and every possible fancy.
Some, for example, will give their hours of leisure to literature. They will then form groups comprising authors, compositors, printers, engravers, draftsmen, all pursuing a common aim--the propagation of ideas that are dear to them.
Nowadays an author knows that there is a beast of burden, the worker, to whom, for the sum of a few shillings a day, he can entrust the printing of his books; but he hardly cares to know what a printing office is like. If the compositor suffers from lead-poisoning, and if the child who sees to the machine dies of anæmia, are there not other poor wretches to replace them?
But when there will be no more starvelings ready to sell their work for a pittance, when the exploited worker of to-day will be educated and will have his own ideas to put down in black and white and to communicate to others, then the authors and scientific men will be compelled to combine among themselves and with the printers, in order to bring out their prose and their poetry.
So long as men consider fustian and manual labor as a mark of inferiority, it will appear amazing to them to see an author setting up his own book in type, for has he not a gymnasium or games by way of diversion? But when the opprobrium connected with manual labor has disappeared, when all will have to work with their hands, there being no one to do it for them, then the authors as well as their admirers will soon learn the art of handling composing-sticks and type; they will know the pleasure of coming together--all admirers of the work to be printed--to set up the type, to shape it into pages, to take it in its virginal purity from the press. These beautiful machines, instruments of torture to the child who attends on them from morn till night, will be a source of enjoyment for those who will make use of them in order to give voice to the thoughts of their favorite author.
Will literature lose by it? Will the poet be less a poet after having worked out of doors or helped with his hands to multiply his work? Will the novelist lose his knowledge of human nature after having rubbed shoulders with other men in the forest or the factory, in the laying out of a road or on a railway line? Can there be two answers to these questions?
Maybe some books will be less voluminous; but then, more will be said on fewer pages. Maybe fewer waste-sheets will be published; but the matter printed will be more attentively read and more appreciated. The book will appeal to a larger circle of better educated readers, who will be more competent to judge.
Moreover, the art of printing, that has so little progressed since Gutenberg, is still in its infancy. It takes two hours to compose in type what is written in ten minutes, but more expeditious methods of multiplying thought are being sought after and will be discovered.
What a pity every author does not have to take his share in the printing of his works! What progress printing would have already made! We should no longer be using the movable letters, as in the seventeenth century.
Is it a dream to conceive a society in which--all having become producers, all having received an education that enables them to cultivate science or art, and all having leisure to do so--men would combine to publish the works of their choice, by contributing each his share of manual work? We have already hundreds of learned, literary, and other societies; and these societies are nothing but voluntary groups of men, interested in certain branches of learning, and associated for the purpose of publishing their works. The authors who write for the periodicals of these societies are not paid, and the periodicals are not for sale; they are sent gratis to all quarters of the globe, to other societies, cultivating the same branches of learning. This member of the society may insert in its review a one-page note summarizing his observations; another may publish therein an extensive work, the results of long years of study; while others will confine themselves to consulting the review as a startingpoint for further research.It does not matter: all these authors and readers are associated for the production of works in which all of them take an interest.
It is true that a learned society, like the individual author, goes to a printing office where workmen are engaged to do the printing. Nowadays, those who belong to the learned societies despise manual labor; which indeed is carried on under very bad conditions; but a community which would give a generous philosophic and scientific education to all its members, would know how to organize manual labor in such a way that it would be the pride of humanity. Its learned societies would become associations of explorers, lovers of science, and workers--all knowing a manual trade and all interested in science.
If, for example, the society is studying geology, all will contribute to the exploration of the earth's strata; each member will take his share in research, and ten thousand observers where we have now only a hundred, will do more in a year than we can do in twenty years. And when their works are to be published, ten thousand men and women, skilled in different trades, will be ready to draw maps, engrave designs, compose, and print the books. With gladness will they give their leisure--in summer to exploration in winter to indoor work And when their works appear, they will find not only a hundred, but ten thousand readers interested in their common work.
This is the direction in which progress is already moving. Even to-day, when England felt the need of a complete dictionary of the English language, the birth of a Littré, who would devote his life to this work, was not waited for. Volunteers were appealed to, and a thousand men offered their services, spontaneously and gratuitously, to ransack the libraries, to take notes, and to accomplish in a few years a work which one man could not complete in his lifetime. In all branches of human intelligence the same spirit is breaking forth, and we should have a very limited knowledge of humanity could we not guess that the future is announcing itself in such tentative cooperation, which is gradually taking the place of individual work.
For this dictionary to be a really collective work, it would have required that many volunteer authors, printers and printers' readers should have worked in common; but something in this direction is done already in the Socialist Press, which offers us examples of manual and intellectual work combined. It happens in our newspapers that a Socialist author composes in lead his own article. True, such attempts are rare, but they indicate in which direction evolution is going.
They show the road of liberty. In future, when a man will have something useful to say-a word that goes beyond the thoughts of his century, he will not have to look for an editor who might advance the necessary capital. He will look for collaborators among those who know the printing trade, and who approve the idea of his new work. Together they will publish the new book or journal.
Literature and journalism will cease to be a means of money-making and living at the cost of others. But is there any one who knows literature and journalism from within, and who does not ardently desire that literature should at last be able to free itself from those who formerly protected it, and who now exploit it, and from the multitude which with rare exceptions pays it in proportion to its mediocrity, or to the ease with which it adapts itself to the bad taste of the greater number?
Letters and science will only take their proper place in the work of human development when, freed from all mercenary bondage, they will be exclusively cultivated by those that love them, and for those that love them.
Literature, science, and art must be cultivated by free men. Only on this condition will they succeed in emancipating themselves from the yoke of the State, of Capital, and of the bourgeois mediocrity which stifles them.
What means has the scientist of to-day to make researches that interest him? Should he ask help of the State, which can only be given to one candidate in a hundred, and which none may obtain who does not ostensibly promise to keep to the beaten track? Let us remember how the Institute of France censured Darwin how the Academy of St. Petersburg treated Mendeléeff with contempt, and how the Royal Society of London refused to publish Joule's paper, in which he determined the mechanical equivalent of heat, finding it "unscientific."1
It is why all great researches, all discoveries revolutionizing science, have been made outside academies and universities, either by men rich enough to remain independent, like Darwin and Lyell, or by men who undermined their health by working in poverty and often in great straits, losing no end of time for want of a laboratory, and unable to procure the instruments or books necessary to continue their researches, but persevering against hope and often dying before they had reached the end in view Their name is legion.
Altogether, the system of help granted by the State is so bad that science has always endeavored to emancipate itself from it. For this very reason there are thousands of learned societies organized and maintained by volunteers in Europe and America,--some having developed to such a degree that all the resources of subventioned societies, and the wealth of millionaires would not buy their treasures. No governmental institution is as rich as the Zoological Society of London, which is supported by voluntary contributions.
It does not buy the animals which in thousands people its gardens: they are sent by other societies and by collectors of the entire world. The Zoological Society of Bombay will send an elephant as a gift; another time a hippopotamus or a rhinoceros is offered by Egyptian naturalists.
And these magnificent presents are pouring in every day, arriving from all quarters of the globe--birds, reptiles, collections of insects, etc. These consignments often comprise animals that could not be bought for all the gold in the world; thus, a traveler who has captured an animal at life's peril, and now loves it as he would love a child, will give it to the Society because he is sure it will be cared for. The entrance fee paid by visitors and they are numberless, suffices for the maintenance of that immense institution.
What is defective in the Zoological Society of London, and in other kindred societies, is that the member's fee cannot be paid in work: that the keepers and numerous employés of this Large institution are not recognized as members of the Society, while many have no other incentive to joining the society than to put the cabalistic letters F.Z.S. (Fellow of the Zoological Society) on their cards. In a word, what is needed is a more perfect cooperation.
We may say the same about inventors that we have said of scientists. Who does not know what sufferings nearly all great inventions that have come to light have cost? Sleepless nights, families deprived of bread, want of tools and materials for experiments, is the history of nearly all those who have enriched industry with inventions which are the truly legitimate pride of our civilization.
But what are we to do to alter conditions that everybody is convinced are bad? Patents have been tried, and we know with what results. The inventor sells his patent for a few shillings, and the man who has only lent the capital pockets the often enormous profits resulting from the invention. Besides, patents isolate the inventor. They compel him to keep secret his researches which therefore end in failure; whereas the simplest suggestion, coming from a brain less absorbed in the fundamental idea, sometimes suffices to fertilize the invention and make it practical. Like all State control, 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.
What is needed to promote the spirit of invention is, first of all, the awakening of thought, the boldness of conception, which our entire education causes to languish; it is the spreading of a scientific education, which would increase the number of inquirers a hundred-fold; it is faith that humanity is going to take a step forward, because it is enthusiasm, the hope of doing good, that has inspired all the great inventors. The Social Revolution alone can give this impulse to thought, this boldness, this knowledge, this conviction of working for all.
Then we shall have vast institutes supplied with motor-power and tools of all sorts, immense industrial laboratories open to all inquirers, where men will be able to work out their dreams, after having acquitted themselves of their duty towards society; where they will spend their five or six hours of leisure; where they will make their experiments; where they will find other comrades, experts in other branches of industry, likewise coming to study some difficult problem, and therefore able to help and enlighten each other, the encounter of their ideas and experience causing the longed-for solution to be found. And yet again, this is no dream. Solanoy Gorodok, in Petersburg, has already partially realized it as regards technical matters. It is a factory well furnished with tools and free to all; tools and motor-power are supplied gratis, only metals and wood are charged for at cost price. Unfortunately workmen only go there at night when worn out by ten hours' labor in the workshop. Moreover, they carefully hide their inventions from each other, as they are hampered by patents and Capitalism, that bane of present society, that stumbling-block in the path of intellectual and moral progress.
And what about art? From all sides we hear lamentations about the decedence of art. We are, indeed, far behind the great masters of the Renaissance. The technicalities of art have recently made great progress; thousands of people gifted w ith a certain amount of talent cultivate every branch, but art seems to fly from civilization! Technicalities make headway, but inspiration frequents artists' studios less than ever.
Where, indeed, should it come from? Only a grand idea can inspire art. Art is in our ideal synonymous with creation, it must look ahead; but save a few rare, very rare exceptions, the professional artist remains too philistine to perceive new horizons.
Moreover, this inspiration cannot come from books; it must be drawn from life, and present society cannot arouse it.
Raphael and Murillo painted at a time when the search of a new ideal could adapt itself to old religious traditions. They painted to decorate great churches which represented the pious work of several generations. The basilic with its mysterious aspect, its grandeur, was connected with the life itself of the city and could inspire a painter. He worked for a popular monument; he spoke to his fellow-citizens, and in return he received inspiration; he appealed to the multitude in the same way as did the nave, the pillars, the stained windows, the statues, and the carved doors. Nowadays the greatest honor a painter can aspire to is to see his canvas, framed in gilded wood, hung in a museum, a sort of old curiosity shop, where you see, as in the Prado, Murillo's Ascension next to a beggar of Velasquez and the dogs of Philip II. Poor Velasquez and poor Murillo! Poor Greek statues which lived in the Acropolis of their cities, and are now stifled beneath the red cloth hangings of the Louver!
When a Greek sculptor chiseled his marble he endeavored to express the spirit and heart of the city. All its passions, all its traditions of glory, were to live again in the work. But to-day the unitedcity has ceased to exist; there is no more communion of ideas. The town is a chance agglomeration of people who do not know one another, who have no common interest, save the of enriching themselves at the expense of one another. The fatherland does not exist.... What fatherland can the international banker and the rag-picker have in common? Only when cities, territories, nations, or groups of nations, will have renewed their harmonious life, will art be able to draw its inspiration from ideals held in common. Then will the architect conceive the city's monument which will no longer be a temple, a prison, or a fortress; then will the painter, the sculptor, the carver, the ornament; worker know where to put their canvases, their statues, and their decorations; deriving their power of execution from the same vital source, and gloriously marching all together towards the future.
But till then art can only vegetate. The best canvases of modern artists are those that represent nature, villages, valleys, the sea with its dangers, the mountain with its splendors. But how can the painter express the poetry of work in the fields if he has only contemplated it, imagined it, if he has never delighted in it himself? If he only knows it as a bird of passage knows the country he soars over on his migrations? If, in the vigor of early youth, he has not followed the plow at dawn and enjoyed mowing grass with a large swathe of the scythe next to hardly haymakers vying in energy with lively young girls who fill the air with their songs? The love of the soil and of what grows on it is not acquired by sketching with a paint brush--it is only in its service; and without loving it, how paint it. This is why all that the best painters have produced in this direction is still so imperfect, not true to life, nearly always merely sentimental. There is no strengthin it.
You must have seen a sunset when returning from work. You must have been a peasant among peasants to keep the splendor of it in your eye. You must have been at sea with fishermen at all hours of the day and night, have fished yourself, struggled with the waves faced the storm, and after rough work experienced the joy of hauling a heavy net, or the disappointment of seeing it empty, to understand the poetry of fishing. You must have spent time in a factory, known the fatigues and the joys of creative work, forged metals by the vivid light of a blast furnace, have felt the life in a machine, to understand the power of man and to express it in a work of art. You must in fact, be permeated with popular feelings, to describe them. Besides, the works of future artists who will have lived the life of the people, like the great artists of the past, will not be destined for sale. They will be an integrant part of a living whole that would not be complete without them, any more than they would be complete without it. Men will go to the artist's own city to gaze at his work, and the spirited and serene beauty of such creations will produce its beneficial effect on heart and mind.
Art, in order to develop, must be bound up with industry by a thousand intermediate degrees blended, so to say, as Ruskin and the great Socialist poet Morris have proved so often and so well. Everything that surrounds man, in the street, in the interior and exterior of public monuments, must be of a pure artistic form.
But this will only be capable of realization in a society in which all enjoy comfort and leisure. Then we shall see art associations, in which each can find room for his capacity, for art cannot dispense with an infinity of purely manual and technical supplementary works. These artistic associations will undertake to embellish the houses of their members, as those kind volunteers, the young painters of Edinburgh, did in decorating the walls and ceilings of the great hospital for the poor in their city.
A painter or sculptor who has produced a work of personal feeling will offer it to the woman he loves, or to a friend. Executed for love's sake, will his work, inspired by love, be inferior to the art that to-day satisfies the vanity of the philistine because it has cost much money?
The same will be done as regards all pleasure not comprised in the necessaries of life. He who wishes for a grand piano will enter the association of musical instrument makers. And by giving the association part of his half-days' leisure, he will soon possess the piano of his dreams. If he is passionately fond of astronomical studies he will join the association of astronomers, with it philosophers, its observers, its calculators, with its artists in astronomical instruments, its scientists and amateurs, and he will have the telescope he desires by taking his share of the associated work, for it is especially the rough work that is needed in an astronomical observatory bricklayer's, carpenter's, founder's, mechanic's work, the last touch being given to the instrument of precision by the artist.
In short, the five or seven hours a day which each will have at his disposal, after having consecrated several hours to the production of necessities, will amply suffice to satisfy all longings for luxury however varied. Thousands of associations would undertake to supply them. What is now the privilege of an insignificant minority would be accessible to all. Luxury, ceasing to be a foolish and ostentatious display of the bourgeois class, would become an artistic pleasure.
Every one would be the happier for it. In collective work, performed with a light heart to attain a desired end, a book, a work of art, or an object of luxury, each will find an incentive, and the necessary relaxation that makes life pleasant.
In working to put an end to the division between master and slave we work for the happiness of both, for the happiness of humanity.
1We know this from Playfair, who mentioned it at Joule's death.
This text was taken from a 1st edition of The Conquest of Bread, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York and London, 1906.
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