Expropriation/Chapter 8

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Section 5 of Chapter 5 of The Conquest of Bread


We have now to consider by what means a city in a state of revolution could supply itself with food. Before answering this question it should be pointed out that obviously the means resorted to will depend on the character of the revolution in the provinces, and in neighboring countries. If the entire nation, or, better still, if all Europe should accomplish the Social Revolution simultaneously, and start with thorough-going Communism, our procedure would be simplified; but if only a few communities in Europe make the attempt, other means will have to be chosen. The circumstances will dictate the measures.

We are thus led, before proceeding further, to glance at the state of Europe, and, without pretending to prophesy, we ought to be able to foresee what course the Revolution will take, or at least what will be its essential features.

Certainly it would be very desirable that all Europe should rise at once, that expropriation should be general, and that Communistic principles should inspire all and sundry. Such a universal rising would do much to simplify the task of our century.

But all the signs lead us to believe that it will not take place. That the Revolution will embrace Europe, we do not doubt. If one of the four great continental capitals—Paris, Vienna, Brussels or Berlin—rises in revolution and overturns its government, it is almost certain that the three others will follow its example within a few weeks' time. It is, moreover, highly probable that the Peninsulas and even London and St. Petersburg would not be long in following suit. But whether the revolution would have everywhere the same character is quite another question.

Though it is more than probable that expropriation will be everywhere carried into effect on a larger or smaller scale, and that this policy carried out by anyone of the great nations of Europe will influence all the lest, yet the beginnings of the Revolution will exhibit great local differences, and its course will vary in different countries. In 1789–1793, the French peasantry took four years to finally rid themselves of the redemption of feudal rights, and the bourgeois to overthrow royalty. Let us keep that in mind, therefore, and be prepared to see the Revolution develop itself somewhat gradually. Let us not be disheartened if here and there its steps should move less rapidly. Whether it would take an avowedly Socialist character in all European nations, at any rate at the beginning, is doubtful. Germany, be it remembered, is still realisiug its dream of a United Empire. Its advanced parties see visions of a Jacobin Republic like that of 1848, and of the organisation of labor according to Louis Blanc; while the French people, on the other hand, want above all things a free Commune, whether it be a Communist Commune or not.

That, when the coming Revolution takes place, Germany will go further than France, there is every reason to believe. The middle-class Revolution in France in the eighteenth century was an advance on the English Revolution of the seventeenth, abolishing as it did at once the power of the throne and of the landed aristocracy, whose influence still survives in England. But, if Germany goes further and does greater things than the France of 1848, there can be no doubt that the ideas which will foster the birth of the Revolution will be those of 1848, as the ideas which will inspire the Revolution in Russia will be those of 1789, modified somewhat by the intellectual movements of our own century.

Without, however, attaching to these forecasts a greater importance than they merit, we may safely conclude this much: the Revolution will take a different character in each of the different European nations; the point attained in the socialisation of wealth will not be everywhere the same.

Will it therefore be necessary, as is sometimes suggested, that the nations in the vanguard of the movement should adapt their pace to those who lag behind? Must we wait till the Communist Revolution is ripe in all civilised countries? Clearly not! Even if it were a thing to be desired it is not possible. History does not wait for the laggards.

Besides, we do not believe that in any one country the Revolution will be accomplished at a stroke, in the twinkling of an eye, as some Socialists dream. It is highly probable that if one of the five or six large towns of France—Paris, Lyons, Marseilles, Lille, Saint Etienne, Bordeaux—were to proclaim the Commune, the others would follow its example, and that many smaller towns would do the same. Probably also various mining districts and industrial centres would hasten to rid themselves of "owners" and "masters," and form themselves into free groups.

But many country places have not advanced to that point. Side by side with the revolutionised communes such places would remain in an expectant attitude and would go on living on the Individualist system. Undisturbed by visits of the bailiff or the tax-collector, the peasants would not be hostile to the revolutionaries, and thus, while profiting by the new state of affairs, they would defer the settlement of accounts with the local exploiters. But with that practical enthusiasm which always characterises agrarian uprisings (witness the passionate toil of 1792) they would throw themselves into the task of cultivating the land, which, freed from taxes and mortgages, would become so much dearer to them.

As to foreign countries, there would be Revolution everywhere, but Revolution under various aspects; here State Socialism, there Federation; everywhere more or less of Socialism, but uniformity nowhere.