Expropriation/Chapter 10

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Section 7 of Chapter 5 of The Conquest of Bread

4025416Expropriation — Chapter 10AnonymousPeter Alexeivitch Kropotkin


All the great towns, we have said, buy their grain, their flour, and their meat not only from the provinces, but also from abroad. Foreign countries send Paris spices, fish and various dainties, besides immense quantities of corn and meat.

But when the Revolution comes we must depend on foreign countries as little as possible. If Russian wheat, Italian or Indian rice, and Spanish or Hungarian wines abound in the markets of western Europe, it is not that the countries which export them have a super-abundance, or that such produce grows there of itself, like the dandelion in the meadows. In Russia, for instance, the peasant works sixteen hours a day, and half-starves from three to six months every year in order to export the corn with which he pays the landlord and the State. To-day the police appears in the Russian village as soon as the harvest is gathered in, and sells the peasant's last horse and last cow for arrears of taxes and rent due to the landlord, unless the victim immolates himself of his own accord by selling the corn to the exporters. Usually, rather than part with his live stock at a disadvantage, he keeps only nine months' supply of grain, and sells the rest. Then, in order to sustain life until the next harvest, he mixes birch-bark and tares with his flour for three months, if it has been a good year, and for six if it has been bad, while in London they are eating biscuits made of his wheat.

But as soon as the Revolution comes the Russian peasant will keep bread enough for himself and his children, the Italian and Hungarian peasants will do the same, and the Hindoo, let us hope, will profit by these good examples, as well as the workers on the Bonanza-farms of America, if indeed these domains are not immediately disorganised by the crisis. So it will not do to count on contributions of wheat and maize coming from abroad.

Since all our middle-class civilisation is based on the exploitation of inferior races and countries with less advanced industrial systems, the Revolution will confer a boon at the very outset, by menacing that "civilisation," and allowing so-called inferior races to free themselves.

But this great benefit will manifest itself by a steady and marked diminution of the food supplies pouring into the great cities of western Europe.

It is difficult to predict the course of affairs in the provinces. On the one hand the slave of the soil will take advantage of the Revolution to straighten his bowed back. Instead of working fourteen or fifteen hours a day, as he does at present, he will be at liberty to work only half that time, which of course would have the effect of decreasing the production of the principal articles of consumption, grain and meat.

But, on the other hand, there will be an increase of production as soon as the peasant realises that he is no longer forced to support the idle rich by his toil. New tracts of land will be cleared, new and improved machines set agoing.

"Never was the land so energetically cultivated as in 1792, when the peasant had taken back from the landlord the soil which he had coveted so long," Michelet tells us, speaking of the Great Revolution.

Before long, intensive culture would be within the reach of all. Improved machinery, chemical manures, and all such matters would be common property. But everything tends to indicate that at the outset there would be a falling off in agricultural products, in France as elsewhere.

In any case it would be wisest to count upon such a falling off of contributions from the provinces as well as from abroad.

And how is this falling off to be made good? Why, in heaven's name, by setting to work ourselves! No need to rack our brains for far-fetched panaceas when the remedy lies close at hand!

The large towns must undertake to till the soil, like the country districts. We must return to what biology calls "the integration of functions": after the division of labor the integration—that is the plan followed all through Nature.

Besides, philosophy apart, the force of circumstances would bring about this result. Let Paris see at the end of eight months that it is running short of corn, and Paris will set to work to grow corn.

Is land the difficulty? That will not be wanting, for it is round the great towns, and round Paris especially, that the parks and pleasure grounds of the landed gentry are to be found. These thousands of acres only await the skilled labor of the husbandman to surround Paris with fields infinitely more fertile and productive then the steppes of southern Russia, where the soil is dried up by the sun. Nor will labor be lacking. To what do you suppose will the two million citizens of Paris turn their attention, when they are longer catering for the luxurious fads and amusements of Russian princes, Roumanian grandees, and wives of Berlin financiers?

With all the mechanical inventions of the century, with all the intelligence and technical skill of the workers accustomed to deal with complicated machinery, with inventors, chemists, botanists, the professors of the Jardin des plante and the market gardeners of Gennevilliers, besides the plant necessary for multiplying and improving machinery, and, finally, with the organising spirit of the Parisian people, their pluck and energy—with all these at its command, the agriculture of the Anarchist Commune of Paris would be a very different thing from the rude husbandry of the Ardennes.

Steam, electricity, the heat of the sun, and the breath of the wind, will ere long be pressed into service. The steam harrow and the steam plough will quickly do the rough work of preparation, and the soil thus cleaned and enriched will only need the intelligent care of man, and of woman even more than man, to be clothed with luxuriant vegetation, not once but three or four times in the year.

Thus, learning the art of horticulture from experts, and trying experiments in different methods on small patches of soil reserved for the purpose, vying with each other to obtain the best returns, finding in physical exercise, without exhaustion or overwork, the health and strength which so often flags in cities, men, women and children will gladly turn to the labor of the fields, when it is no longer a slavish drudgery, but has become a pleasure, a festival, a renewal of health and joy.

"There are no barren lands; the earth is worth what man is worth"—that is the last word of modern agriculture. Ask of the earth and she will give you bread, provided that you ask aright.

A district, though it were as small as the departments of the Seine and the Seine-et-Oise, and with so great a city as Paris to feed, would be practically sufficient to fill the gaps which the Revolution had made around it.

The combination of agriculture and industry, the husbandman and the mechanic one and the same individual—this is what Anarchist Communism will inevitably lead us to, if it starts fair with expropriation.

Let the Revolution only get so far, and famine is not the enemy it will have to fear. No, the danger which will menace it lies in timidity, prejudice, and half-measures. The danger is where Danton saw it when he cried to France: "Be bold, be bold, and yet again, be bold!" The bold thought first, and the bold deed will not fail to follow.