From The Bread Book
In 1892, an exiled Prince from Russia named Peter Kropotkin published a book titled The Conquest of Bread. In that text, Kropotkin outlined a vision for a free society that allows everyone to have access to food, shelter, clothing, and luxury. In essence, the book is an outline for a world without poverty or repression. This site is a place for Kropotkin’s ideas to be shared! In addition to hosting the entirety of The Conquest of Bread, we give you a short introduction of his ideas and why they are still relevant, as well as some resources to spread this knowledge and help out your community.
Why Should I Care?
Kropotkin offers solutions to many of the problems we are facing in the 21st century. From food and job insecurity, to homelessness, to general malaise and depression, many of the problems we face as a society can be addressed if we work together. We believe that community-focused ideas should be part of the conversation, especially in the face of authoritarian, state-sponsored solutions. If you care about solving some of these problems, and you want to have a broader perspective on what is possible, keep reading!
As we outlined before, society faces many problems. Far from being insurmountable, however, Kropotkin believed that all of these problems have an identifiable source, and for him, that source was a general imbalance of power. In other words, Kropotkin did not believe that society had a collection of unrelated problems – instead, he believed that society suffered due the general problem of power, and who was deemed worthy to wield it. Kropotkin challenged the notion that anybody should hold power over anybody else, and instead pushed for an equitable world, where nobody had to take orders from anybody else, and all had the freedom to pursue their own version of happiness. The problem of power that Kropotkin outlined, we believe, is still largely the source of society’s problems, and that can be demonstrated in two major areas.
1 – Labor
For most people, the idea of working 40 hours a week their entire life, in a job they don’t particularly enjoy, is a hellish prospect. Yet, that is exactly what most people end up doing. In some parts of the world, the working week is even longer, with some people working as many as 80-100 hours per week. If nobody wants to work that long, in jobs they don’t like, why do we all end up doing it? In short, it is because of an unjust power imbalance. The things that we all need to live a good life – food, shelter, clothing – and all of the things needed to create and cultivate those things are owned by a tiny percentage of the population. In order for the vast majority of people to access the necessities, they need to rent themselves out to this tiny percentage, in exchange for a wage. The things we need to live are inaccessible in any other way – and this method of forced labor has spread all around the world. How did this happen? As an unchallenged hold over from feudalism, the lords and kings of the past have transformed into multi-national business owners and CEOs, forcing us, the modern day peasants, to rent ourselves to their whim in exchange for modern ‘protection,’ in almost the exact same relationship.
2 - Representation
In one of the things that did change from feudalism, instead of having hereditary monarchies and lords, we get to elect our state leaders. This process is often hailed as the triumph of ‘democracy,’ but as many people have come to realize, the people in government don’t really represent the people that elected them. Instead, they are only beholden to the wealthy, the same people that are forcing us to work for them. This happens because, in a world where the tiny minority controls all of the wealth and property, that group is the only group worth listening to. This is why politicians often campaign on slogans of ‘change’ or ‘draining the swamp’, but always end up hiring the wealthy and cutting deals that favor banks, big businesses, and themselves. Even supposedly 'left-wing' politicians, that promise to bring the wealthy down, end up either instituting a system of totalitarian control, or never living up to their promise. In particularly horrible moments, on all sides, politicians start wars and escalate conflicts, all in the name of ‘freedom’ or 'justice', in order to enrich the wealthy owners of the military supply companies. No matter how good they sound, politicians always do the same thing, because of the huge power imbalance that exists between the 1% of owners and the 99% of workers.
Instead of relying on the power structures that perpetuate the problem, Kropotkin offers a solution that gives power back to individuals and communities to control their own lives. Instead of building a world based on greed and private wealth, or a world based on state repression and totalitarian control, we can build a world that rejects both paths that have been presented to us as the ‘left’ and ‘right’ - and chart our own course toward freedom. We can share resources. We can tear down walls of legalism and violence. We can voluntarily help each other out. We can build a world based on love and forgiveness. We should demand that all people are given access to the necessities of life, and build voluntary communities based on mutual aid. We don’t have to find a balance between private power and state power – often presented as the balance between ‘capitalism’ and ‘socialism’ - we can reject both, and build a different and better world.