The Conquest of Bread/Chapter 5
If the coming Revolution is to be a Social Revolution it will be distinguished from all former uprisings not only by its aim, but also by its methods. To attain a new end, new means are required.
The three great popular movements which we have seen in France during the last hundred years differ from each other in many ways, but they have one common feature.
In each case the people strove to overturn the old regime, and spent their heart's blood for the cause. Then, after having borne the brunt of the battle, they sank again into obscurity. A Government, composed of men more or less honest, was formed and undertook to organize—the Republic in 1793, Labour in 1848, and the Free Commune in 1871. Imbued with Jacobin ideas, this Government occupied itself first of all with political questions, such as the reorganization of the machinery of government, the purifying of the administration, the separation of Church and State, civic liberty, and such matters. It is true the workmen's clubs kept an eye on the members of the new Government, and often imposed their ideas on them. But even in these clubs, whether the leaders belonged to the middle or to the working classes, it was always middle-class ideas which prevailed. They discussed various political questions at great length, but forgot to discuss the question of bread.
Great ideas sprang up at such times, ideas that have moved the world; words were spoken which still stir our hearts, at the interval of a century. But the people were starving in the slums.
From the very commencement of the Revolution industry inevitably came to a stop—the circulation of produce was checked, and capital concealed itself. The master—the employer—had nothing to fear at such times, he battened on his dividends, if indeed he did not speculate on the wretchedness around ; but the wage-earner was reduced to live from hand to mouth. Want knocked at the door.
Famine was abroad in the land—such famine as had hardly been seen under the old regime.
"The Girondists are starving us!" was the cry in the workmen's quarters in 1793, and thereupon the Girondists were guillotined, and full powers were given to "the Mountain" and to the Commune. The Commune indeed concerned itself with the question of bread, and made heroic efforts to feed Paris. At Lyons, Fouché and Collot d'Herbois established city granaries, but the sums spent on filling them were woefully insufficient. The town councils made great efforts to procure corn; the bakers who hoarded flour were hanged—and still the people lacked bread.
Then they turned on the royalist conspirators and laid the blame at their door. They guillotined a dozen or fifteen a day—servants and duchesses alike, especially servants, for the duchesses had gone to Coblentz. But if they had guillotined a hundred dukes and viscounts every day, it would have been equally hopeless.
The want only grew. For the wage-earner cannot live without his wage, and the wage was not forthcoming. What difference could a thousand corpses more or less make to him?
Then the people began to grow weary. "So much for your vaunted Revolution! You are more wretched than ever before," whispered the reactionary in the ears of the worker. And little by little the rich took courage, emerged from their hiding-places, and flaunted their luxury in the face of the starving multitude. They dressed up like scented fops and said to the workers: "Come, enough of this foolery! What have you gained by rebellion?"
Sick at heart, his patience at an end, the revolutionary had at last to admit to himself that the cause was lost once more. He retreated into his hovel and awaited the worst.
Then reaction proudly asserted itself, and accomplished a politic stroke. The Revolution dead, nothing remained but to trample its corpse under foot.
The White Terror began. Blood flowed like water, the guillotine was never idle, the prisons were crowded, while the pageant of rank and fashion resumed its old course, and went on as merrily as before.
This picture is typical of all our revolutions. In 1848 the workers of Paris placed "three months of starvation" at the service of the Republic, and then, having reached the limit of their powers, they made one last desperate effort—an effort which was drowned in blood. In 1871 the Commune perished for lack of combatants. It had taken measures for the separation of Church and State, but it neglected, alas, until too late, to take measures for providing the people with bread. And so it came to pass in Paris that élégantes and fine gentlemen could spurn the confederates, and bid them go sell their lives for a miserable pittance, and leave their "betters" to feast at their ease in fashionable restaurants.
At last the Commune saw its mistake, and opened communal kitchens. But it was too late. Its days were already numbered, and the troops of Versailles were on the ramparts.
"Bread, it is bread that the Revolution needs!"
Let others spend their time in issuing pompous proclamations, in decorating themselves lavishly with official gold lace, and in talking about political liberty!…
Be it ours to see, from the first day of the Revolution to the last, in all the provinces fighting for freedom, that there is not a single man who lacks bread, not a single woman compelled to stand with the weariful crowd outside the bakehouse-door, that haply a coarse loaf may be thrown to her in charity, not a single child pining for want of food.
It has always been the middle-class idea to harangue about "great principles"—great lies rather!
The idea of the people will be to provide bread for all. And while middle-class citizens, and workmen infested with middle-class ideas admire their own rhetoric in the "Talking Shops," and "practical people" are engaged in endless discussions on forms of government, we, the "Utopian dreamers"—we shall have to consider the question of daily bread.
We have the temerity to declare that all have a right to bread, that there is bread enough for all, and that with this watchword of Bread for All the Revolution will triumph.
That we are Utopians is well known. So Utopian are we that we go the length of believing that the Revolution can and ought to assure shelter, food, and clothes to all—an idea extremely displeasing to middle-class citizens, whatever their party colour, for they are quite alive to the fact that it is not easy to keep the upper hand of a people whose hunger is satisfied.
All the same, we maintain our contention: bread must be found for the people of the Revolution, and the question of bread must take precedence of all other questions. If it is settled in the interests of the people, the Revolution will be on the right road; for in solving the question of Bread we must accept the principle of equality, which will force itself upon us to the exclusion of every other solution.
It is certain that the coming Revolution—like in that respect to the Revolution of 1848—will burst upon us in the middle of a great industrial crisis. Things have been seething for half a century now, and can only go from bad to worse. Everything tends that way—new nations entering the lists of international trade and fighting for possession of the world's markets, wars, taxes ever increasing. National debts, the insecurity of the morrow, and huge colonial undertakings in every corner of the globe.
There are millions of unemployed workers in Europe at this moment. It will be still worse when Revolution has burst upon us and spread like fire laid to a train of gunpowder. The number of the out-of-works will be doubled as soon as barricades are erected in Europe and the United States. What is to be done to provide these multitudes with bread ?
We do not know whether the folk who call themselves "practical people" have ever asked themselves this question in all its nakedness. But we do know that they wish to maintain the wage system, and we must therefore expect to have "national workshops" and "public works" vaunted as a means of giving food to the unemployed.
Because national workshops were opened in 1789 and in 1793; because the same means were resorted to in 1848; because Napoleon III succeeded in contenting the Parisian proletariat for eighteen years by giving them public works—which cost Paris to-day its debt of £80,000,000—and its municipal tax of three or four pounds a-head; because this excellent method of "taming the beast" was customary in Rome, and even in Egypt four thousand years ago ; and lastly, because despots, kings, and emperors have always employed the ruse of throwing a scrap of food to the people to gain time to snatch up the whip—it is natural that "practical" men should extol this method of perpetuating the wage system. What need to rack our brains when we have the time-honoured method of the Pharaohs at our disposal?
Yet should the Revolution be so misguided as to start on this path, it would be lost.
In 1848, when the national workshops were opened on February 27, the unemployed of Paris numbered only 8000; a fortnight later they had already increased to 49,000. They would soon have been 100,000, without counting those who crowded in from the provinces.
Yet at that time trade and manufacturers in France only employed half as many hands as to-day. And we know that in time of Revolution exchange and industry suffer most from the general upheaval.
To realize this we have only to think for a moment of the number of workmen whose labour depends directly or indirectly upon export trade, or of the number of hands employed in producing luxuries, whose consumers are the middle-class minority.
A revolution in Europe means the unavoidable stoppage of at least half the factories and work- shops. It means millions of workers and their families thrown on the streets.
And our "practical men" would seek to avert this truly terrible situation by means of national relief works; that is to say, by means of new industries created on the spot to give work to the unemployed!
It is evident, as Proudhon has already pointed out, that the smallest attack upon property will bring in its train the complete disorganization of the system based upon private enterprise and wage labour. Society itself will be forced to take production in hand, in its entirety, and to reorganize it to meet the needs of the whole people. But this cannot be accomplished in a day or a month; it must take a certain time thus to reorganize the system of production, and during this time millions of men will be deprived of the means of subsistence. What then is to be done?
There is only one really practical solution of the problem—boldly to face the great task which awaits us, and instead of trying to patch up a situation which we ourselves have made untenable, to proceed to reorganize production on a new basis.
Thus the really practical course of action, in our view, would be that the people should take immediate possession of all the food of the insurgent districts, keeping strict account of it all, that none might be wasted, and that by the aid of these accumulated resources every one might be able to tide over the crisis. During that time an agreement would have to be made with the factory workers, the necessary raw material given them and the means of subsistence assured to them while they worked to supply the needs of the agricultural population. For we must not forget that while France weaves silks and satins to deck the wives of German financiers, the Empress of Russia, and the Queen of the Sandwich Islands, and while Paris fashions wonderful trinkets and playthings for rich folk all the world over, two-thirds of the French peasantry have not proper lamps to give them light, or the implements necessary for modern agriculture. Lastly, unproductive land, of which there is plenty, would have to be turned to the best advantage, poor soils enriched, and rich soils, which yet, under the present system, do not yield a quarter, no, nor a tenth of what they might produce, submitted to intensive culture and tilled with as much care as a market garden or a flower plot. It is impossible to imagine any other practical solution of the problem; and, whether we like it or not, sheer force of circumstances will bring it to pass.
The most prominent characteristic of capitalism is the wage system, which in brief amounts to this:—
A man, or a group of men, possessing the necessary capital, starts some industrial enterprise; he undertakes to supply the factory or workshops with raw material, to organize production, to pay the employés a fixed wage, and lastly, to pocket the surplus value or profits, under pretext of recouping himself for managing the concern, for running the risks it may involve, and for the fluctuations of price in the market value of the wares.
To preserve this system, those who now monopolize capital would be ready to make certain concessions; to share, for example, a part of the profits with the workers, or rather to establish a "sliding scale," which would oblige them to raise wages when prices were high; in brief, they would consent to certain sacrifices on condition that they were still allowed to direct industry and to take its first fruits.
Collectivism, as we know, does not abolish wages, though it introduces considerable modifications into the existing order of things. It only substitutes the State, that is to say. Representative Government, national or local, for the individual employer of labour. Under Collectivism it is the representatives of the nation, or of the district, and their deputies and officials who are to have the control of industry. It is they who reserve to themselves the right of employing the surplus of production—in the interests of all. Moreover, Collectivism draws a very subtle but very far-reaching distinction between the work of the labourer and of the man who has learned a craft. Unskilled labour in the eyes of the collectivist is simple labour, while the work of the craftsman, the mechanic, the engineer, the man of science, etc., is what Marx calls complex labour, and is entitled to a higher wage. But labourers and craftsmen, weavers and men of science, are all wage-servants of the State—"all officials," as was said lately, to gild the pill.
The coming Revolution can render no greater service to humanity than to make the wage system, in all its forms, an impossibility, and to render Communism, which is the negation of wage-slavery, the only possible solution.
For even admitting that the Collectivist modification of the present system is possible, if introduced gradually during a period of prosperity and peace — though for my part I question its practicabihty even under such conditions—it would become impossible in a period of Revolution, when the need of feeding hungry millions springs up with the first call to arms. A political revolution can be accomplished without shaking the foundations of industry, but a revolution where the people lay hands upon property will inevitably paralyse exchange and production. Minions of public money would not suffice for wages to the millions of out-of-works.
This point cannot be too much insisted upon; the reorganization of industry on a new basis (and we shall presently show how tremendous this problem is) cannot be accomplished in a few days, nor, on the other hand, will the people submit to be half starved for years in order to oblige the theorists who uphold the wage system. To tide over the period of stress they will demand what they have always demanded in such cases—communization of supplies—the giving of rations.
It will be in vain to preach patience. The people will be patient no longer, and if food is not put in common they will plunder the bakeries.
If the people are not strong enough to carry all before them, they will be shot down to give Collectivism a fair field for experiment. To this end "order" must be maintained at any price—order, discipline, obedience! And as the capitalists will soon realize that when the people are shot down by those who call themselves Revolutionists, the Revolution itself will become hateful in the eyes of the masses; they will certainly lend their support to the champions of order—even though they are collectivists. In such a line of conduct, the capitalists will see a means of here- after crushing the collectivists in their turn. If "order is established" in this fashion, the consequences are easy to foresee. Not content with shooting down the "marauders," the faction of "order" will search out the "ringleaders of the mob." They will set up again the law courts and reinstate the hangman. The most ardent revolutionists will be sent to the scaffold. It will be 1793 over again.
Do not let us forget how reaction triumphed in the last century. First the "Hébertists," "the madmen," were guillotined—those whom Mignet, with the memory of the struggle fresh upon him, still called "Anarchists." The Dantonists soon followed them; and when the party of Robespierre had guillotined these revolutionaries, they in their turn had to mount the scaffold; whereupon the people, sick of bloodshed, and seeing the revolution lost, threw up the sponge, and let the reactionaries do their worst.
If "order is restored," we say, the social democrats will hang the anarchists; the Fabians will hang the social democrats, and will in their turn be hanged by the reactionaries; and the Revolution will come to an end.
But everything confirms us in the belief that the energy of the people will carry them far enough, and that, when the Revolution takes place, the idea of anarchist Communism will have gained ground. It is not an artificial idea. The people themselves have breathed it in our ear, and the number of communists is ever increasing, as the impossibility of any other solution becomes more and more evident.
And if the impetus of the people is strong enough, affairs will take a very different turn. Instead of plundering the bakers' shops one day, and starving the next, the people of the insurgent cities will take possession of the warehouses, the cattle markets,—in fact of all the provision stores and of all the food to be had. The well-intentioned citizens, men and women both, will form themselves into bands of volunteers and address themselves to the task of making a rough general inventory of the contents of each shop and warehouse. In twenty-four hours the revolted town or district will know what Paris has not found out yet, in spite of its statistical committees, and what it never did find out during the siege—the quantity of provisions it contains. In forty-eight hours millions of copies will be printed of the tables giving a sufficiently exact account of the available food, the places where it is stored, and the means of distribution.
In every block of houses, in every street, in every town ward, bands of volunteers will have been organized. These commissariat volunteers will work in unison and keep in touch with each other. If only the Jacobin bayonets do not get in the way; if only the self-styled "scientific" theorists do not thrust themselves in to darken counsel! Or rather let them expound their muddle-headed theories as much as they like, provided they have no authority, no power! And that admirable spirit of organization inherent in the people, above all in every social grade of the French nation, but which they have so seldom been allowed to exercise, will initiate, even in so huge a city as Paris, and in the midst of a Revolution, an immense guild of free workers, ready to furnish to each and all the necessary food.
Give the people a free hand, and in ten days the food service will be conducted with admirable regularity. Only those who have never seen the people hard at work, only those who have passed their lives buried among documents, can doubt it. Speak of the organizing genius of the "Great Misunderstood," the people, to those who have seen it in Paris in the days of the barricades, or in London during the great dockers strike, when half a million of starving folk had to be fed, and they will tell you how superior it is to the official ineptness of Bumbledom.
And even supposing we had to endure a certain amount of discomfort and confusion for a fortnight or a month, surely that would not matter very much. For the mass of the people it would still be an improvement on their former condition; and, besides, in times of Revolution one can dine contentedly enough on a bit of bread and cheese while eagerly discussing events.
In any case, a system which springs up spontaneously, under stress of immediate need, will be infinitely preferable to anything invented between four walls by hide-bound theorists sitting on any number of committees.
The people of the great towns will be driven by force of circumstances to take possession of all the provisions, beginning with the barest necessaries, and gradually extending Communism to other things, in order to satisfy the needs of all the citizens.
The sooner it is done the better; the sooner it is done the less misery there will be and the less strife.
But upon what basis must society be organized in order that all may share and share alike? This is the question that meets us at the outset.
We answer that there are no two ways of it. There is only one way in which Communism can be established equitably, only one way which satisfies our instincts of justice and is at the same time practical, namely, the system already adopted by the agrarian communes of Europe.
Take for example a peasant commune, no matter where, even in France, where the Jacobins have done their best to destroy all communal usage. If the commune possesses woods and copses, then, so long as there is plenty of wood for all, every one can take as much as he wants, without other let or hindrance than the public opinion of his neighbours. As to the timber-trees, which are always scarce, they, have to be carefully apportioned.
The same with the communal pasture land; while there is enough and to spare, no limit is put to what the cattle of each homestead may consume, nor to the number of beasts gazing upon the pastures. Grazing grounds are not divided, nor is fodder doled out, unless there is scarcity. All the Swiss communes, and many of those in France and Germany too, wherever there is communal pasture land, practice this system.
And in the countries of Eastern Europe, where there are great forests and no scarcity of land, you find the peasants felling the trees as they need them, and cultivating as much of the soil as they require, without any thought of limiting each man's share of timber or of land. But the timber will be divided, and the land parcelled out, to each household according to its needs, as soon as either becomes scarce, as is already the case in Russia.
In a word, the system is this: no stint or limit to what the community possesses in abundance, but equal sharing and dividing of those commodities which are scarce or apt to run short. Of the 350 millions who inhabit Europe, 200 millions still follow this system of natural Communism.
It is a fact worth remarking that the same system prevails in the great towns in the distribution of one commodity at least, which is found in abundance, the water supplied to each house.
As long as there is no fear of the supply running short, no water company thinks of checking the consumption of water in each house. Take what you please! But during the great droughts, if there is any fear of supply failing, the water companies know that all they have to do is to make known the fact, by means of a short advertisement in the papers, and the citizens will reduce their consumption of water and not let it run to waste.
But if water were actually scarce, what would be done? Recourse would be had to a system of rations. Such a measure is so natural, so inherent in common sense, that Paris twice asked to be put on rations during the two sieges which it underwent in 1871.
Is it necessary to go into details, to prepare tables, showing how the distribution of rations may work, to prove that it is just and equitable, infinitely more just and equitable than the existing state of things? All these tables and details will not serve to convince those of the middle classes, nor, alas, those of the workers tainted with middle-class prejudices, who regard the people as a mob of savages ready to fall upon and devour each other, directly the Government ceases to direct affairs. But those only who have never seen the people resolve and act on their own initiative could doubt for a moment that if the masses were masters of the situation, they would distribute rations to each and all in strictest accordance with justice and equity.
If you were to give utterance, in any gathering of people, to the opinion that delicacies—game and such-like—should be reserved for the fastidious palates of aristocratic idlers, and black bread given to the sick in the hospitals, you would be hissed. But say at the same gathering, preach at the street corners and in the market places, that the most tempting delicacies ought to be kept for the sick and feeble—especially for the sick. Say that if there are only five brace of partridge in the entire city, and only one case of sherry wine, they should go to sick people and convalescents. Say that after the sick come the children. For them the milk of the cows and goats should be reserved if there is not enough for all. To the children and the aged the last piece of meat, and to the strong man dry bread, if the community be reduced to that extremity.
Say, in a word, that if this or that article of consumption runs short, and has to be doled out, to those who have most need most should be given. Say that and see if you do not meet with universal agreement.
The man who is full-fed does not understand this, but the people do understand, have always understood it; and even the child of luxury, if he is thrown on the street and comes into contact with the masses, even he will learn to understand.
The theorists—for whom the soldier's uniform and the barrack mess table are civilization's last word—would like no doubt to start a regime of National Kitchens and "Spartan Broth." They would point out the advantages thereby gained, the economy in fuel and food, if such huge kitchens were established, where every one could come for their rations of soup and bread and vegetables.
We do not question these advantages. We are well aware that important economies have already been achieved in this direction—as, for instance, when the handmill, or quern, and the baker's oven attached to each house were abandoned. We can see perfectly well that it would be more economical to cook broth for a hundred families at once, instead of lighting a hundred separate fires. We know, besides, that there are a thousand ways of doing up potatoes, but that cooked in one huge pot for a hundred families they would be just as good.
We know, in fact, that variety in cooking being a matter of the seasoning introduced by each cook or housewife, the cooking together of a hundred-weight of potatoes would not prevent each cook or housewife from dressing and serving them in any way she pleased. And we know that stock made from meat can be converted into a hundred different soups to suit a hundred different tastes.
But though we are quite aware of all these facts, we still maintain that no one has a right to force the housewife to take her potatoes from the communal kitchen ready cooked if she prefers to cook them herself in her own pot on her own fire. And, above all, we should wish each one to be free to take his meals with his family, or with his friends, or even in a restaurant, if so it seemed good to him.
Naturally large public kitchens will spring up to take the place of the restaurants, where people are poisoned nowadays. Already the Parisian housewife gets the stock for her soup from the butcher and transforms it into whatever soup she likes, and London housekeepers know that they can have a joint roasted, or an apple or rhubarb tart baked at the baker's for a trifling sum, thus economizing time and fuel. And when the communal kitchen—the common bakehouse of the future—is established, and people can get their food cooked without the risk of being cheated or poisoned, the custom will no doubt become general of going to the communal kitchen for the fundamental parts of the meal, leaving the last touches to be added as individual taste shall suggest.
But to make a hard and fast rule of this, to make a duty of taking home our food ready cooked, that would be as repugnant to our modern minds as the ideas of the convent or the barrack—morbid ideas born in brains warped by tyranny or superstition.
Who will have a right to the food of the commune? will assuredly be the first question which we shall have to ask ourselves. Every township will answer for itself, and we are convinced that the answers will all be dictated by the sentiment of justice. Until labour is reorganized, as long as the disturbed period lasts, and while it is impossible to distinguish between inveterate idlers and genuine workers thrown out of work, the available food ought to be shared by all without exception. Those who have been enemies to the new order will hasten of their own accord to rid the commune of their presence. But it seems to us that the masses of the people, which have always been magnanimous, and have nothing of vindictiveness in their disposition, will be ready to share their bread with all who remain with them, conquered and conquerors alike. It will be no loss to the Revolution to be inspired by such an idea, and, when work is set agoing again, the antagonists of yesterday will stand side by side in the same workshops. A society where work is free will have nothing to fear from idlers.
"But provisions will run short in a month!" our critics at once exclaim.
"So much the better," say we. It will prove that for the first time on record the people have had enough to eat. As to the question of obtaining fresh supplies, we shall discuss the means in our next chapter.
By what means could a city in a state of revolution be supplied with food? We shall answer this question, but it is obvious that the means resorted to will depend on the character of the Revolution in the provinces, and in neighbouring 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 we proceed further, to glance at the state of Europe, and, without pretending to prophesy, we may try 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—arises 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 everywhere exhibit the same characteristics is doubtful.
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 any one of the great nations of Europe will influence all the rest; yet the beginnings of the Revolution will exhibit great local differences, and its course will vary in different countries. In 1789-93, 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 realizing its dream of a United Empire. Its advanced parties see visions of a Jacobin Republic like that of 1848, and of the organization of labour 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.
There is every reason to believe that, when the coming Revolution takes place, Germany will go further than France went in 1793. The eighteenth-century Revolution in France was an advance on the English Revolution of the seventeenth, abolishing as it did at one stroke the power of the throne and the landed aristocracy, whose influence still survives in England. But, if Germany goes further and does greater things than France did in 1793, there can be no doubt that the ideas which will foster the birth of her 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 socialization 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 civilized 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-Étienne, 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 revolutionized 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 characterizes 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 abroad, revolution would break out everywhere, but revolution under divers aspects; in one country State Socialism, in another Federation; everywhere more or less Socialism, not conforming to any particular rule.
Let us now return to our city in revolt, and consider how its citizens can provide foodstuffs for themselves. How are the necessary provisions to be obtained if the nation as a whole has not accepted Communism? This is the question to be solved. Take, for example, one of the large French towns—take the capital itself, for that matter. Paris consumes every year thousands of tons of grain, 350,000 head of oxen, 200,000 calves, 300,000 swine, and more than two millions of sheep, besides great quantities of game. This huge city devours, besides, 18 million pounds of butter, 172 million eggs, and other produce in like proportion.
It imports flour and grain from the United States and from Russia, Hungary, Italy, Egypt, and the Indies; live stock from Germany, Italy, Spain—even Roumania and Russia; and as for groceries, there is not a country in the world that it does not lay under contribution. Now, let us see how Paris or any other great town could be revictualled by home-grown produce, supplies of which could be readily and willingly sent in from the provinces.
To those who put their trust in "authority" the question will appear quite simple. They would begin by establishing a strongly centralized Government, furnished with all the machinery of coercion—the police, the array, the guillotine. This Government would draw up a statement of all the produce contained in France. It would divide the country into districts of supply, and then command that a prescribed quantity of some particular foodstuff be sent to such a place on such a day, and delivered at such a station, to be there received on a given day by a specified official and stored in particular warehouses.
Now, we declare with the fullest conviction, not merely that such a solution is undesirable, but that it never could by any possibility be put into practice. It is wildly Utopian! Pen in hand, one may dream such a dream in the study, but in contact with reality it comes to nothing; for, like all such theories, it leaves out of account the spirit of independence that is in man. The attempt would lead to a universal uprising, to three or four Vendées, to the villages rising against the towns, all the country up in arms defying the city for its arrogance in attempting to impose such a system upon the country.
We have already had too much of Jacobin Utopias! Let us see if some other form of organization will meet the case.
In 1793 the provinces starved the large towns, and killed the Revolution. And yet it is a known fact that the production of grain in France during 1792-3 had not diminished; indeed, the evidence goes to show that it had increased. But after having taken possession of the manorial lands, after having reaped a harvest from them, the peasants would not part with their grain for paper-money. They withheld their produce, waiting for a rise in the price, or the introduction of gold. The most rigorous measures of the National Convention were without avail, and even the fear of death failed to break up the ring, or force its members to sell their corn. For it is matter of history that the commissaries of the Convention did not scruple to guillotine those who withheld their grain from the market, and pitilessly executed those who speculated in foodstuffs. All the same, the corn was not forthcoming, and the townsfolk suffered from famine.
But what was offered to the husbandman in exchange for his hard toil? Assignats, scraps of paper decreasing in value every day, promises of payment, which could not be kept. A forty-pound note would not purchase a pair of boots, and the peasant, very naturally, was not anxious to barter a year's toil for a piece of paper with which he could not even buy a shirt.
As long as worthless paper-money—whether called assignats or labour notes—is offered to the peasant-producer it will always be the same. The country will withhold its produce, and the towns will suffer want, even if the recalcitrant peasants are guillotined as before.
We must offer to the peasant in exchange for his toil not worthless paper-money, but the manufactured articles of which he stands in immediate need. He lacks the proper implements to till the land, clothes to protect him properly from the inclemencies of the weather, lamps and oil to replace his miserable rushlight or tallow dip, spades, rakes, ploughs. All these things, under present conditions, the peasant is forced to do without, not because he does not feel the need of them, but because, in his life of struggle and privation, a thousand useful things are beyond his reach; because he has no money to buy them.
Let the town apply itself, without loss of time, to manufacturing all that the peasant needs, instead of fashioning gewgaws for the wives of rich citizens. Let the sewing machines of Paris be set to work on clothes for the country-folk: workaday clothes and clothes for Sunday too, instead of costly evening dresses. Let the factories and foundries turn out agricultural implements, spades, rakes, and such-like, instead of waiting till the English send them to France, in exchange for French wines!
Let the towns send no more inspectors to the villages, wearing red, blue, or rainbow-coloured scarves, to convey to the peasant orders to take his produce to this place or that, but let them send friendly embassies to the country-folk and bid them in brotherly fashion: "Bring us your produce, and take from our stores and shops all the manufactured articles you please." Then provisions would pour in on every side. The peasant would only withhold what he needed for his own use, and would send the rest into the cities, feeling for the first time in the course of history that these toiling townsfolk were his comrades—his brethren, and not his exploiters.
We shall be told, perhaps, that this would necessitate a complete transformation of industry. Well, yes, that is true of certain departments; but there are other branches which could be rapidly modified in such a way as to furnish the peasant with clothes, watches, furniture, and the simple implements for which the towns make him pay such exorbitant prices at the present time. Weavers, tailors, shoemakers, tinsmiths, cabinet-makers, and many other trades and crafts could easily direct their energies to the manufacture of useful and necessary articles, and abstain from producing mere luxuries. All that is needed is that the public mind should be thoroughly convinced of the necessity of this transformation, and should come to look upon it as an act of justice and of progress, and that it should no longer allow itself to be cheated by that dream, so dear to the theorists—the dream of a revolution which confines itself to taking possession of the profits of industry, and leaves production and commerce just as they are now.
This, then, is our view of the whole question. Cheat the peasant no longer with scraps of paper—be the sums inscribed upon them ever so large; but offer him in exchange for his produce the very things of which he, the tiller of the soil, stands in need. Then the fruits of the land will be poured into the towns. If this is not done there will be famine in our cities, and reaction and despair will follow in its train.
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 superabundance, or that such a 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 grain 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 grain to the exporters. Usually, rather than part with his live stock at a disadvantage, he keeps only a 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; and the farmers of America will hardly be able to cover all the deficit in grain which Europe will experience. So it will not do to count on their contributions of wheat and maize satisfying all the wants.
Since all our middle-class civilization 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 "civilization," and allowing the 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 realizes that he is no longer forced to support the idle rich by his toil. New tracts of land will be cleared, new and unproved machines set a-going.
"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 labour the taking up of it as a whole—this is the course followed throughout Nature.
Besides, philosophy apart, the force of circumstances would bring about this result. Let Paris see that at the end of eight months it will be running short of bread, and Paris will set to work to grow wheat.
"What about land?" It 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 labour of the husbandman to surround Paris with fields infinitely more fertile and productive than the steppes of southern Russia, where the soil is dried up by the sun. Nor will labour be lacking. To what should the two million citizens of Paris turn their attention when they would be no 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 worker accustomed to deal with complicated machinery; with inventors, chemists, professors of botany, practical botanists like the market gardeners of Gennevilliers; with all the plant that they could use for multiplying and improving machinery; and, finally, with the organizing 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 labour 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 grow upon it all the food-supplies, which otherwise might fail to reach it.
The combination of agriculture and industry, the husbandman and the mechanic in 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: "Dare, dare, and yet again, dare!" The bold thought first, and the bold deed will not fail to follow.
- The municipal debt of Paris amounted in 1904 to 2,266,579,100 francs, and the charges for it were 121,000,000 francs.
- Kropotkine is here supposing the Revolution to break out first in France.—Trans.