The Conquest of Bread : Chapter 12 : Objections
(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.)
• "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....)
• "...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.)
• "...let us remember that if exasperation often drives men to revolt, it is always hope, the hope of victory, which makes revolutions." (From : "The Spirit of Revolution," by Peter Kropotkin, fi....)
LET us now examine the principal objections put forth against Communism. Most of them are evidently caused by a simple misunderstanding, yet they raise important questions and merit our attention.
It is not for us to answer the objections raised by authoritarian Communism--we ourselves hold with them. Civilized nations have suffered too much in the long, hard struggle for the emancipation of the individual, to disown their past work and to tolerate a Government that would make itself felt in the smallest details of a citizen's life, even if that Government had no other aim than the good of the community. Should an authoritarian Socialist society ever succeed in establishing itself, it could not last; general discontent would soon force it to break up, or to reorganize itself on principles of liberty.
It is of an Anarchist-Communist society we are about to speak, a society that recognizes the absolute liberty of the individual, that does not admit of any authority, and makes use of no compulsion to drive men to work. Limiting our studies to the economic side of the question, let us see if such a society, composed of men as they are to-day, neither better nor worse, neither more nor less industrious, would have a chance of successful development.
The objection is known. "If the existence of each is guaranteed, and if the necessity of earning wages does not compel men to work, nobody will work. Every man will lay the burden of his work on another if he is not forced to do it himself." Let us first remark the incredible levity with which this objection is raised, without taking into consideration that the question is in reality merely to know, on the one hand, whether you effectively obtain by wage-work the results you aim at; and, on the other hand, whether voluntary work is not already more productive to-day than work stimulated by wages. A question which would require profound study. But whereas in exact sciences men give their opinion on subjects infinitely less important and less complicated after serious research, after carefully collecting and analyzing facts, on this question they will pronounce judgment without appeal, resting satisfied with any one particular event, such as, for example, the want of success of a communist association in America. They act like the barrister, who does not see in the council for the opposite side a representative of a cause, or an opinion contrary to his own, but a simple adversary in an oratorical debate; and if he be lucky enough to find a repartee, does not otherwise care to justify his cause. Therefore the study of this essential basis of all Political Economy, the study of the most favorable conditions for giving society the greatest amount of useful products with the least waste of human energy, does not advance. They limit themselves to repeating commonplace assertions, or else they pretend ignorance of our assertions.
What is most striking in this levity is that even in capitalist Political Economy you already find a few writers compelled by facts to doubt the axiom put forth by the founders of their science, that the threat of hunger is man's best stimulant for productive work. They begin to perceive that in production a certain collective element is introduced which has been too much neglected up till now, and which might be more important than personal gain. The inferior quality of wage-work, the terrible waste of human energy in modern agricultural and industrial labor, the ever growing quantity of pleasure-seekers, who to-day load their burden on others' shoulders, the absence of a certain animation in production that is becoming more and more apparent; all this begins to preoccupy the economists of the "classical" school. Some of them ask themselves if they have not got on the wrong track: if the imaginary evil being, that was supposed to be tempted exclusively by a bait of lucre or wages, really exists. This heresy penetrates even into universities; it is found in books of orthodox economy.
This does not hinder a great many Socialist reformers to remain partizans of individual remuneration, and defending the old citadel of wagedom, notwithstanding that it is being delivered over stone by stone to the assailants by its former defenders.
They fear that without compulsion the masses will not work.
But during our own lifetime have we not heard the same fears expressed twice? By the anti-abolitionists in America before Negro emancipation, and by the Russian nobility before the liberation of the serfs? "Without the whip the Negro will not work," said the anti-abolitionist. "Free from their master's supervision the serfs will leave the fields uncultivated," said the Russian serf-owners. It was the refrain of the French noblemen in 1789, the refrain of the Middle Ages, a refrain as old as the world, and we shall hear it every time there is a question of sweeping away an injustice. And each time actual facts give it the lie. The liberated peasant of 1792 plowed with a wild energy unknown to his ancestors, the emancipated Negro works more than his fathers, and the Russian peasant, after having honored the honeymoon of his emancipation by celebrating Fridays as well as Sundays, has taken up work with as much eagerness as his liberation was the more complete. There, where the soil is his, he works desperately; that is the exact word for it. The anti-abolitionist refrain can be of value to slave-owners; as to the slaves themselves, they know what it is worth, as they know its motive.
Moreover, who but economists taught us that if a wage-earner's work is but indifferent, an intense and productive work is only obtained from a man who sees his wealth increase in proportion to his efforts? All hymns sung in honor of private property can be reduced to this axiom.
For it is remarkable that when economists, wishing to celebrate the blessings of property, show us how an unproductive, marshy, or stony soil is clothed with rich harvests when cultivated by the peasant proprietor, they in nowise prove their thesis in favor of private property. By admitting: that the only guarantee not to be robbed of the fruits of your labor is to possess the instruments of labor--which is true--the economists only prove that man really produces most when he works in freedom, when he has a certain choice in his occupations, when he has no overseer to impede him, and lastly, when he sees his work bringing in a profit to him and to others who work like him, but bringing in nothing to idlers. This is all we can deduct from their argumentation, and we maintain the same ourselves.
As to the form of possession of the instruments of labor, they only mention it indirectly in their demonstration, as a guarantee to the cultivator that he shall not be robbed of the profits of his yield nor of his improvements. Besides, in support of their thesis in favor of private property against all other forms of possession, should not the economists demonstrate that under the form of communal property land never produces such rich harvests as when the possession is private? But it is not so; in fact, the contrary has been observed.
Take for example a commune in the canton of Vaud, in the winter time, when all the men of the village go to fell wood in the forest, which belongs to them all. It is precisely during these festivals of toil that the greatest ardor for work and the most considerable display of human energy are apparent. No salaried labor, no effort of a private owner can bear comparison with it.
Or let us take a Russian village, when all its inhabitants mow a field belonging to the commune, or farmed by it. There you will see what man can produce when he works in common for communal production. Comrades vie with one another in cutting the widest swath; women bestir themselves in their wake so as not to be distanced by the mowers. It is a festival of labor, in which a hundred people do work in a few hours that would not have been finished in a few days had they worked separately. What a sad contrast compared to the work of the isolated owner!
In fact, we might quote scores of examples among the pioneers of America, in Swiss, German, Russian, and in certain French villages; or the work done in Russia by gangs (artels) of masons, carpenters, boatmen, fishermen, etc., who undertake a task and divide the produce or the remuneration among themselves, without it passing through the intermediary of middlemen. We could also mention the great communal hunts of nomadic tribes, and an infinite number of successful collective enterprises. And in every case we could show the unquestionable superiority of communal work compared to that of the wage-earner or the isolated private owner.
Well-being, that is to say, the satisfaction of physical, artistic, and moral needs, has always been the most powerful stimulant to work. And when a hireling produces bare necessities with difficulty, a free worker, who sees ease and luxury increasing for him and for others in proportion to his efforts, spends infinitely far more energy and intelligence, and obtains first-class products in far greater abundance. The one feels riveted to misery, the other hopes for ease and luxury in the future. In this lies the whole secret. Therefore a society aiming at the well-being of all, and at the possibility of all enjoying life in all its manifestations, will supply voluntary work which will be infinitely superior and yield far more than work has produced up till now under the goad of slavery, serfdom, or wagedom.
Nowadays, whoever can load on others his share of labor indispensable to existence, does so, and it is admitted that it will always be so.
Now work indispensable to existence is essentially manual. We may be artists or scientists; but none of us can do without things obtained by manual work--bread, clothes, roads, ships, light, heat, etc. And, moreover, however highly artistic or however subtly metaphysical are our pleasures, they all depend on manual labor. And it is precisely this labor--basis of life--that every one tries to avoid.
We understand perfectly well that it must be so nowadays.
Because, to do manual work now, means in reality to shut yourself up for ten or twelve hours a day in an unhealthy workshop, and to remain riveted to the same task for twenty or thirty years, and maybe for your whole life.
It means to be doomed to a paltry wage, to the uncertainty of the morrow, to want of work, often to destitution, more often than not to death in a hospital, after having worked forty years to feed, clothe, amuse, and instruct others than yourself and your children.
It means to bear the stamp of inferiority all your life, because, whatever the politicians tell us, the manual worker is always considered inferior to the brain worker, and the one who has toiled ten hours in a workshop has not the time, and still less the means, to give himself the high delights of science and art, nor even to prepare himself to appreciate them; he must be content with the crumbs from the table of privileged persons.
We understand that under these conditions manual labor is considered a curse of fate.
We understand that all men have but one dream--that of emerging from, or enabling their cl1ildren to emerge from this inferior state; to create for themselves an "independent" position, which means what?--To also live by other men's work!
As long as there will be a class of manual workers and a class of "brain" workers, black hands and white hands, it will be thus.
What interest, in fact, can this depressing work have for the worker, when he knows that the fate awaiting him from the cradle to the grave will be to live in mediocrity, poverty, and insecurity of the morrow? Therefore, when we see the immense majority of men take up their wretched task every morning, we are surprised at their perseverance, at their zeal for work, at the habit that enables them, like machines blindly obeying an impetus given, to lead this life of misery without hope for the morrow; without foreseeing ever so vaguely that some day they, or at least their children, will be part of a humanity rich in all the treasures of a bountiful nature, in all the enjoyments of knowledge, scientific and artistic creation, reserved to-day to a few privileged favorites.
It is precisely to put an end to this separation between manual and brain work that we want to abolish wagedom, that we want the Social Revolution. Then work will no longer appear a curse of fate: it will become what it should be--the free exercise of all the faculties of man.
Moreover, it is time to submit to a serious analysis this legend about superior work, supposed to be obtained under the lash of wagedom
It is enough to visit, not the model factory and workshop that we find now and again, but ordinary factories, to conceive the immense waste of human energy that characterizes modern industry. For one factory more or less rationally organized, there are a hundred or more which waste man's labor, without a more substantial motive than that of perhaps bringing in a few pounds more per day to the employer.
Here you see youths from twenty to twenty five years of age, sitting all day long on a bench, their chests sunken in, feverishly shaking their heads and bodies to tie, with the speed of conjurers, the two ends of worthless scraps of cotton, the refuse of the lace-looms. What progeny will these trembling and rickety bodies bequeath to their country? "But they occupy so little room in the factory, and each of them brings me in sixpence a day," will say the employer.
In an immense London factory you could see girls, bald at seventeen from carrying trays of matches on their heads from one room to another, when the simplest machine could wheel the matches to their tables. But...it costs so little, the work of women who have no special trade! What is the use of a machine? When these can do no more, they will be easily replaced...there are so many in the street.
On the steps of a mansion on an icy night you will find a bare-footed child asleep, with its bundle of papers in its arms...child-labor costs so little that it may well be employed, every evening, to sell tenpenny-worth of papers, of which the poor boy will receive a penny, or a penny half-penny. And lastly, you may see a robust man tramping, dangling his arms; he has been out of work for months. Meanwhile his daughter grows pale in the overheated vapors of the workshop for dressing stuffs, and his son fills blacking pots by hand, or waits hours at the corner of a street till a passerby enables him to earn a penny.
And so it is everywhere, from San Franeisco to Moscow, and from Naples to Stockholm. The waste of human energy is the distinguishing and predominant trait of industry, not to mention trade where it attains still more colossal proportions.
What a sad satire is that name, Political Economy, given to the science of waste of energy under the system of wagedom!
This is not all. If you speak to the director of a well-organized factory, he will naively explain to you that it is difficult nowadays to find a skillful, vigorous, and energetic workman, who works with a will. "Should such a man present himself among the twenty or thirty who call every Monday asking us for work, he is sure to be received, even if we are reducing the number of our hands. We recognize him at the first glance, and he is always accepted, even though we have to get rid of an older and less active worker the next day." And the one who has just received notice to quit, and all those who receive it to-morrow, go to reinforce that immense reserve army of capital--workmen out of work--who are only called to the loom or the bencd whcn there is pressure of work, or to oppose strikers. And those others, the average workers that are the refuse of the better-class factories? They join the equally formidable army of aged and indifferent workers that continually circulates between the second-class factories--those which barely cover their expenses and make their way in the world by trickery and snares laid for the buyer, and especially for the consumer in distant countries.
And if you talk to the workmen themselves, you will soon learn that the rule in such factories is--never to do entirely what you are capable of. "Shoddy pay--shoddy work!" this is the advice which the working man receives from his comrades upon entering such a factory.
For the workers know that if in a moment of generosity they give way to the entreaties of an employer and consent to intensify the work in order to carry out a pressing order, this nervous work will be exacted in the future as a rule in the scale of wages. Therefore in all such factories they prefer never to produce as much as they can. In certain industries production is limited so as to keep up high prices, and sometimes the password, "Go-canny," is given, which signifies, "Bad work for bad pay!"
Wage-work is serf-work; it cannot, it must not, produce all that it could produce. And it is high time to disbelieve the legend which represents wagedom as the best incentive to productive work. If inclustry nowadays brings in a hundred times more than it did in the days of our grandfathers, it is due to the sudden awakening of physical and chemical sciences towards the end of last century; not to the capitalist organization of wagedom, but in spite of that organization
Those who have seriously studied the question do not deny any of the advantages of Communism, on condition, be it well understood, that Communism be perfectly free, that is to say, Anarchist. They recognize that work paid with money, even disguised under the name of "labor notes," to Workers' associations governed by the State, would keep up the characteristics of wagedom and would retain its disadvantages. They agree that the whole system would soon suffer from it, even if society came into possession of the instruments of production. And they admit that, thanks to integral education given to all chilclren, to the laborious habits of civilized societies, with the liberty of choosing and varying their occupations and the attractions of work done by equals for the well-being of all, a Communist society would not be wanting in producers who would soon make the fertility of the soil triple and tenfold, and give a new impulse to industry.
This our opponents agree to. "But the danger," they say, "will come from that minority of loafers who will not work, and will not have regular habits in spite of excellent conditions that make work pleasant. To-day the prospect of hunger compels the most refractory to move along with the others. The one who does not arrive in time is dismissed. But a black sheep suffices to contaminate the whole flock, and two or three sluggish or refractory workmen lead the others astray and bring a spirit of disorder and rebellion into the workshop that makes work impossible; so that in the end we shall have to return to a system of compulsion that forces the ringleaders back into the ranks. And is not the system of wages paid in proportion to work performed, the only one that enables compulsion to be employed, without hurting the feelings of the worker? Because all other means would imply the continual intervention of an authority that would be repugnant to free men." This, we believe, is the objection fairly stated.
It belongs to the category of arguments which try to justify the State, the Penal Law, the Judge, and the Jailer.
"As there are people, a feeble minority, who will not submit to social customs," the authoritarians say, "we must maintain magistrates, tribunals and prisons, although these institutions become a source of new evils of all kinds."
Therefore we can only repeat what we have so often said concerning authority in general: "To avoid a possible evil you have recourse to means which in themselves are a greater evil, and become the source of those same abuses that you wish to remedy. For do not forget that it is wagedom, the impossibility of living otherwise than by selling your labor, which has created the present Capitalist system, whose vises you begin to recognize." Let us also remark that this authoritarian way of reasoning is but a justification of what is wrong in the present system. Wagedom was not instituted to remove the disadvantages of Communism; its origin, like that of the State and private ownership, is to be found elsewhere. It is born of slavery and serfdom imposed by force, and only wears a more modern garb. Thus the argument in favor of wagedom is as valueless as those by which they seek to apologize for private property and the State.
We are, nevertheless, going to examine the objection, and see if there is any truth in it.
To begin with, Is it not evident that if a society, founded on the principle of free work, were really menaced by loafers, it could protect itself without an authoritarian organization and without having recourse to wagedom?
Let us take a group of volunteers, combining for some particular enterprise. Having its success at heart, they all work with a will, save one of the associates, who is frequently absent from his post. Must they on his account dissolve the group, elect a president to impose fines, or maybe distribute markers for work done, as is customary in the Academy? It is evident that neither the one nor the other will be done, but that some day the comrade who imperils their enterprise will be told: "Friend, we should like to work with you; but as you are often absent from your post, and you do your work negligently, we must part. Go and find other comrades who will put up with your indifference!"
This way is so natural that it is practiced everywhere nowadays, in all industries, in competition with all possible systems of fines, docking of wages, supervison, etc.; a workman may enter the factory at the appointed time, but if he does his work badly, if he hinders his comrades by his laziness or other defects, and they quarrel with him on that account, there is an end of it; he is compelled to leave the workshop.
Authoritarians pretend that it is the almighty employer and his overseers who maintain regularity and quality of work in factories. In fact, in a somewhat complicated enterprise, in which the wares produced pass through many hands before being finished, it is the factory itself, the workmen as a unity, who see to the good quality of the work. Therefore the best factories of British private industry have few overseers, far less on an average than the French factories, and less than the British State factories.
A certain standard of public morals is maintained in the same way. Authoritarians say it is due to rural guards, judges, and policemen, whereas in reality it is maintained in spite of judges, policemen, and rural guards. "Many are the laws producing crimirials!" has been said long ago.
Not only in industrial workshops do things go on in this way; it happens everywhere, every day, on a scale that only bookworms have as yet no notion of. When a railway company, federated with other companies, fails to fulfill its engagements, when its trains are late and goods lie neglected at the stations, the other companies threaten to cancel the contract, and that threat usually suffices.
It is generally believed, at any rate it is taught, that commerce only keeps to its engagements from fear of lawsuits. Nothing of the sort; nine times in ten the trader who has not kept his word will not appear before a judge. There, where trade is very great, as in London, the sole fact of having driven a creditor to bring a lawsuit suffices for the immense majority of merchants to refuse for good to have any dealings with a man who has compelled one of them to go to law.
Then, why should means that are used to-day among mates in the workshop, traders, and railway companies, not be made use of in a society based on voluntary work?
Take, for example, an association stipulating that each of its members should carry out the following contract: "We undertake to give you the use of our houses, stores, streets, means of transport, schools, museums, etc., on condition that, from twenty to forty-five or fifty years of age, you consecrate four or five hours a day to some work recognized as necessary to existence. Choose yourself the producing groups which you wish to join, or organize a new group, provided that it will undertake to produce necessaries. And as for the remainder of your time, combine together with those you like for recreation, art, or science, according to the bent of your taste.
"Twelve or fifteen hundred hours of work a year, in a group producing food, clothes, or houses, or employed in public health, transport, etc., is all we ask of you. For this work we guarantee to you all that these groups produce or will produce. But if not one, of the thousands of groups of our federation, will receive you, whatever be their motive; if you are absolutely incapable of producing anything useful, or if you refuse to do it, then live like an isolated man or like an invalid. If we are rich enough to give you the necessaries of life we shall be delighted to give them to you. You are a man, and you have the right to live. But as you wish to live under special conditions, and leave the ranks, it is more than probable that you will suffer for it in your daily relations with other citizens. You will be looked upon as a ghost of bourgeois society, unless some friends of yours, discovering you to be a talent, kindly free you from all moral obligation towards society by doing necessary work for you.
"And lastly, if it does not please you, go and look for other conditions else where in the wide world, or else seek adherents and organize with them on novel principles. We prefer our own."
That is what could be done in a communal society in order to turn away sluggards if they became too numerous.
We very much doubt that we need fear this contingency in a society really based on the entire freedom of the individual.
In fact, in spite of the premium on idleness offered by private ownership of capital, the really lazy man, unless he is ill, is comparatively rare.
Among workmen it is often said that bourgeois are idlers. There are certainly enough of them, but they, too, are the exception. On the contrary, in every industrial enterprise, you are sure to find one or more bourgeois who work very hard. It is true that the majority of bourgeois profit by their privileged position to award themselves the least unpleasant tasks, and that they work under hygienic conditions of air, food, etc., which permit them to do their business without too much fatigue. But these are precisely the conditions which we claim for all workers, without exception. We must also say that if, thanks to their privileged position, rich people often make absolutely useless or even harmful work in society, nevertheless the Ministers, Heads of Departments, factory owners, traders, bankers, etc., subject themselves for a few hours a day to work which they find more or less tiresome, all preferring their hours of leisure to this obligatory work. And if in nine cases out of ten this work is fateful, they find it none the less tiring for that. But it is precisely because the middle class put forth a great energy, even in doing harm (knowingly or not) and defending their privileged position, that they have succeeded in defeating the landed nobility, and that they continue to rule the masses. If they were idlers they would long since have ceased. to exist, and would have disappeared like the aristocrats. In a society that would expect only four or five hours a day of useful, pleasant, and hygienic work, they would perform their task perfectly, and they certainly would not put up with the horrible conditions in which men toil nowadays without reforming them. If a Huxley spent only five hours in the sewers of London, rest assured that he would have found the means of making them as sanitary as his physiological laboratory.
As to the laziness of the great majority of workers, only philistine economists and philanthropists say such nonsense.
If you ask an intelligent manufacturer, he will tell you that if workmen only put it into their heads to be lazy, all factories would have to be closed, for no measure of severity, no system of spying would be of any use. You should have seen the terror caused in 1887 among British employers when a few agitators started preaching the "go-canny" theory--"for bad pay bad work"; "take it easy, do not overwork yourselves, and waste all you can."--"They demoralize the worker, they want to kill industry!" cried those who formerly inveighed against the immorality of the worker and the bad quality of his work. But if the worker were what he is represented to be--namely, the idler whom you have continually to threaten with dismissal from the workshop--what would the word "demoralization" signify?
So when we speak of a possible idleness, we must well understand that it is a question of a small minority in society; and before legislating for that minority, would it not be wise to study its origin? Whoever observes with an intelligent eye sees well enough that the child reputed lazy at school is often the one which does not understand what he is badly taught. Very often, too, it is suffering from cerebral anæmia, caused by poverty and an anti-hygienic education. A boy who is lazy at Greek or Latin would work admirably were he taught in science, especially if taught by the medium of manual labor. A girl reputed naught at mathematics becomes the first mathematician of her class if she by chance meets somebody who can explain to her the elements of arithmetic she did not understand. And a workman, lazy in the workshop, cultivates his garden at dawn, while gazing at the rising sun, and will be at work again at nightfall, when all nature goes to its rest.
Somebody said that dirt is matter in the wrong place. The same definition applies to nine-tenths of those called lazy. They are people gone astray in a direction that does not answer to their temperament nor to their capacities. In reading the biography of great men, we are struck with the number of "idlers" among them. They were lazy as long as they had not found the right path, and afterwards laborious to excess. Darwin, Stephenson, and many others belonged to this category of idlers.
Very often the idler is but a man to whom it is repugnant to make all his life the eighteenth part of a pin, or the hundredth part of a watch, while he feels he has exuberant energy which he would like to expend elsewhere. Often, too, he is a rebel who cannot submit to being fixed all his life to a work-bench in order to procure a thousand pleasures for his emulover, while knowing himself to be far the less stupid of the two, and knowing his only fault to be that of having been born in hovel instead of coming into the world in a castle.
Lastly, a good many "idlers" do not know the trade by which they are compelled to earn their living. Seeing the imperfect thing made by their own hands, striving vainly to do better, and perceiving that they never will succeed on account of the bad habits of work already acquired, they begin to hate their trade, and, not knowing any other, hate work in general. Thousands of workmen and artists who are failures suffer from this cause.
On the other hand, he who since his youth has learned to play the piano well, to handle the plans well, the chisel, the brush, or the file, so that he feels that what he does is beautiful, will never give up the piano, the chisel, or the file. He will find pleasure in his work which does not tire him, as long as he is not overdriven.
Under the one name, idleness, a series of results due to different causes have been grouped, of which each one could be a source of good, instead of being a source of evil to society. Like all questions concerning criminality and related to human faculties, facts have been collected having nothing in common with one another. They say laziness or crime, without giving themselves the trouble to analyze their cause. They are in haste to punish them, without inquiring if the punishment itself does not contain a premium on "laziness" or "crime."1
This is why a free society, seeing the number of idlers increasing in its midst, would no doubt think of looking for the cause of laziness, in order to suppress it, before having recourse to punishment. When it is a case, as we have already mentioned, of simple bloodlessness, then, before stuffing the brain of a child with science, nourish his system so as to produce blood, strengthen him, and, that he shall not waste his time, take him to the country or to the seaside; there, teach him in the open air, not in books--geometry, by measuring the distance to a spire, or the height of a tree; natural sciences, while picking flowers and fishing in the sea; physical science, while building the boat he will go to fish in. But for mercy's sake do not fill his brain with sentences and dead languages. Do not make an idler of him!...
Such a child has neither order nor regular habits. Let first the children inculcate order among themselves, and later on, the laboratory, the workshop, work done in a limited space, with many tools about, will teach them method. But do not make disorderly beings out of them by your school, whose only order is the symmetry of its benches, and which--true image of the chaos in its teachings--will never inspire anybody with the love of harmony, of consistency, and method in work.
Do not you see that by your methods of teaching, framed by a Ministry for eight million scholars, who represent eight million different capacities, you only impose a system good for mediocrities, conceived by an average of mediocrities? Your school becomes a University of laziness, as your prison is a University of crime. Make the school free, abolish your University grades, appeal to the volunteers of teaching; begin that way, instead of making laws against laziness which only serve to increase it.
Give the workman who is compelled to make a minute particle of some object, who is stifled at his little tapping machine, which he ends by loathing, give him the chance of tilling the soil, felling trees in the forest, sailing the seas in the teeth of a storm, dashing through space on an engine, but do not make an idler of him by forcing him all his life to attend to a small machine, to plow the head of a screw, or to drill the eye of a needle.
Suppress the cause of idleness, and you may take it for granted that few individuals will really hate work, especially voluntary work, and that there will be no need to manufacture a code of laws on their account.
1See my book, "In Russian and French Prisons." London 1887
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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