Kropotkin – The Coming Revolution
It is evident that we are advancing rapidly towards revolution, towards an upheaval that will begin in one country and spread into all the neighbouring lands, and, will rock existing society to its foundations.
There are periods in human existence when the inevitability of a great upheaval, of a cataclysm, imposes itself. At such epochs, all men of good will begin to realise that things cannot go on as they are; that we need me great events that roughly break the thread of history, shake humanity out of the ruts in which it is stuck, and propel it towards new ways, towards the unknown. One feels the inevitability of a revolution, vast, implacable, whose role will be not merely to overthrow an economic machine, not merely to throw down the political ladder but also to stir up the intellectual and moral life of society, shake it out of its torpor, reshape our moral life.
The need for a new life becomes apparent. The code of established morality, that which governs the greater number of people in their daily life, no longer seems sufficient. What formerly seemed just is now felt to be a crying injustice. The morality of yesterday is today recognized as revolting immorality. The conflict between new ideas and old traditions flames up in every class of society, in every possible environment, in the very bosom of the family. The son struggles against his father, he finds revolting what his father has all his life found natural; the daughter rebels against the principles which her mother has handed down to her as the result of long experience.
In those eras when prideful mediocrity stifles all intelligence that does not kowtow to authority, when the niggardly morality of compromise creates the law, and servility reigns supreme; in such eras revolution becomes a need. Honest men of all classes call down me tempest, so that it can burn up with its breath of flame the pestilence that afflicts us, blow away the miasmas that stifle us, and sweep up in its furious progress all that debris of the past which weighs down on us, stifles us, deprives us of air and light, so that in the end …
In the suffocating atmosphere of the factory as much as in the darkness of the cookshop kitchen, under the roof of the granary as much as in the streaming galleries of the mine, a new world is taking shape these days. Among those shadowy masses, whom the bourgeois despise as much as they fear them, the most difficult problems of social economy and political organization are posed one after another, discussed, and given new solutions.
These discussions cut to the heart of society’s sickness. New hopes are awakened, new ideas emerge. Opinions mingle and vary to the point of infinity, but two streams of ideas already sound more and more distinctly in this din of voices: the abolition of individual property and communism; and the abolition of the State, its replacement by the free commune, and the international union of working men.
Humankind understands more and more clearly that the individual’s welfare is no longer possible in isolation; it can only be sought in the welfare of all – the happiness of the human race.
„But it has been announced so often, that revolution of yours. Even I believed in it for a while, but it has not happened.“
On March 18, 1871, the people of Paris rose against a despised and detested government, and proclaimed the city independent free, belonging to itself. This overthrow of the central power took place without the usual stage effects of revolution, without the firing of guns, without the shedding of blood upon barricades. When the armed people came out into the streets, the rulers fled away, the troops evacuated the town, the civil functionaries hurriedly retreated to Versailles. The government evaporated like a pond of stagnant water in a spring breeze, and on the nineteenth the great city of Paris found herself free from the impurity which had defiled her.
Those fighters did not realize the full extent of the revolution they inaugurated nor the fertility of the new principle they tried to put in practice.
The Commune of 1871 could be nothing but a first attempt. Beginning at the close of a great war, hemmed in between two armies ready to join hands and crush the people, it dared not unhesitatingly set forth upon the path of economic revolution. It neither boldly declared itself socialist nor proceeded to the expropriation of capital nor the organization of labor. Nor did it break with the tradition of the state, of representative government.
It is true that if we limit ourselves merely to observing the actual and palpable deeds accomplished by the Paris Commune, we have to admit that this idea was not vast enough, that it embraced only a minute part of the revolutionary programme. But if, on the other hand, we observe the spirit, the tendencies that tried to emerge and did not have the time to reach the domain of reality because, before flowering, they were already stifled under the mounds of corpses, we will then understand the scope of the movement and the sympathies that it inspired in the hearts of the working masses of the two worlds. The Commune gladdens our hearts, not for what it achieved, but for what it has promised one day to achieve.
It was only with practical application that one began to perceive its future importance; it was only in the working out of the thought from this time onwards that the new principle became more and more specific and clear.
Under the name „Commune of Paris“ a new idea was born, to become the starting point for future revolutions.
The human mind is reluctant to plunge itself into a work of destruction, without forming at least a vague outline of what is to replace the object of its destruction.
But if one would ask all those who are working on the creation of the Commune what should be done, what a terrible cacophony of conflicting answers one would get. Should the workplaces be exproriated in the name of the commune? Can the homes be touched, declaring them as the property of the rebelling city? Should all food be requisited and should it be organized to ration them out? Should all accumulated property be declared as the common property of the people, and should that mighty instrument be used for liberation? Not on a single one of these questions there is an undisputed position among the revolutionaries.
On the day of revolution the national collectivist, the social democrat, will hurry to the parliament and pass his regulations regarding the system of property; he will attempt to install himself as a powerful government that meddles into everything and sets up statistics and rules regarding the number of chickens in the smallest village. The supporter of the commune will hurry for the town hall, too, and try to install himself as the government; he will prohibit to touch the holy property unless the town council regards this as appropriate. The communist anarchist, however, will declare that one must disregard the parliaments and town administrations. The workers shall on the spot declare the workplaces, the houses and the grainaries, for short, the whole wealth of society, to be in the property of the community. The communistic anarchist will elect no „revolutionary government“, but try to organize the collective production and consumption in every commune, in every group.
The idea is that organisations of workers for production, exchange and distribution will take the place of the existent capitalistic exploitation and of the state.
In doing so, all goods will change into the gratuitous public use immediately at the onset of the social revolution.
Let each take from the pile what he needs and be sure that in the warehouses of our towns there will be enough food to feed everyone until free production has made a fair start; in the shops of our towns there are enough clothes to dress everyone, kept there in reserve while outside there is nakedness and poverty. There are even enough luxuries for each to choose among them according to his liking.
Make yourselves at home in the palaces and lordly houses and build a bonfire from the heaps of bricks and rotten wood that once were your dwellings. The instinct of destruction, so natural and just when it is at the same time an instinct of renewal, will be plentifully satisfied. How much old junk has to be replaced by the new. Is not everything to be created anew: the houses, the cities, the agricultural and industrial means of production – in one word: the whole material of the whole society?
Can we admit, even for a moment, that the immense intellectual work of revision and reformation can be satisfied by a simple change of government?
The Commune developing in our century of railways and telegraphs and international science will know to do better. It will be a factual Commune, and not just one by name. Revolutionary in political regard, it will act revolutionary in matters of production and circulation.
It will know that there can be no middle way: either the Commune will be absolutely free to adopt all the institutions it wishes, or it will remain what it has been up to today, a mere branch of the State, restricted in all its movements. The Commune will know that it must break the State and replace it by the Federation, and it will act in that way.
The coming revolution will have a universality distinguishing it from its predecessors. It will no longer be one country that launches itself into the turmoil, it will be all the countries.
A small commune could not survive a week without being forced by circumstances to establish stable relations with industrial, commercial and artistic centres, and these centres, in their turn, would feel the need to open their doors wide to the inhabitants of nearby villages, of the surrounding communes, and of the more distant cities.
Thanks to the infinite variety of the needs, all inhabited places are already connected to several centers, and as their needs develop, they will enter into relations with new centres to fullfil them.
Take up an economic atlas of any country, and you will see that fixed economic frontiers do not exist anywhere: the zones of production and exchange of various goods interpenetrate each other, tangle with each other, impose themselves on each other. In the same way the federations of Communes will cross, intersect and overlap each other, and in this way will grow into a firm mesh.
This mesh is comprised of a multiplicity of associations, which associate for all purposes that require cooperative work: for associations for each kind of production, agricultural, industrial, intellectual or artistical; consumptive associations that take charge of habitation, for illumination and heating, for food, sanitation and so on. All these groups cooperate in free mutual association.
So for us, „Commune“ no longer means a territorial agglomeration; it is rather a generic name, a synonym for the grouping of equals which knows neither frontiers nor walls. The social Commune will soon cease to be a clearly defined entity. Each group in the Commune will necessarily be drawn towards similar groups in other communes; they will come together and the links that federate them will be as solid as those that attach them to their fellow citizens, and in this way there will emerge a Commune of interests whose members are scattered over countless cities and villages.
There will be thousands of communes, and they will no longer be territorial, but brotherly extend their hands across rivers, mountains and oceans, uniting all individuals and peoples who live scattered across the earth into one grand family of equals.
This new community is comprised of equal members who are no longer forced to sell their hand and their head to others and be exploited by them at will and without a plan; instead, they can direct their knowledge and their abilities toward the production, with in an organism that completely leaves room for the individual initiative.
„All that you say is very true. Your ideal of anarchist communism is excellent, and its realization would in fact lead to well-being and peace on earth; but so few want it, and so few understand it, and so few have the devotion that is needed to work for its achievement! You are only a tiny minority, your feeble groups scattered here and there, lost in the middle of an indifferent mass, and you face a terrible enemy, well-organized and in control of armies, of capital, of education. The struggle you have undertaken is beyond your powers.“
That our anarchist groups are only a small minority in comparison with the tens of millions who populate France, Spain, Italy and Germany – nothing could be more true. Groups who represent a new idea have always begun by being no more than a minority. And it is highly probable that, as an organisation, we will remain a minority until the day of revolution But can that really be held against us? At this very moment, it is the opportunists who form the majority: but should that really mean that we should become opportunists, too?
History is there to tell us that those who have been a minority on the eve of the revolution, become the predominant force on the day of the revolution, if they truly express popular aspirations and if the revolution lasts long enough to allow the revolutionary idea to spread. For we must not forget that it is not by a revolution lasting a couple of days that we shall come to transform society. An uprising of short duration can overthrow a government to put another in its place, but it changes nothing in the basic institutions of society. It is a whole insurrectionary period of years that we must traverse to accomplish our revolution in the property system and in social organization. It took five years of continual insurrection, from 1788 to 1793, to batter down the feudal landholding system and the omnipotence of the crown in France. It will probably take at least as many years to overthrow the feudal rule of the bourgeoisie and the omnipotence of the rule of money.
It would be a rouinous mistake to believe that the idea of exproriation has already entered the mind of all workers. Far from it. There are millions who never heard anything about it except from its opponents. However we know that the idea of exproriation will gain folowers mainly during the social transformation itself, at a time where everyone takes an interest in the public affairs, where all the people read, debate, act, and where especially the most clear and simple ideas can carry along the masses.
It is above all in that period of excitement, when people’s minds work with accelerated vitality, in those times they will addopt the anarchist idea, now being spread by the existing groups. It is then that the indifferent ones of today will become partisans of the new idea.
Yet remember what a sad picture France offered only a few years before that revolution, and what a feeble minority were those who dreamed of the abolition of royalty and feudalism.
A deep despair inspired the few real revolutionaries of the period when they cast an eye around them, and Camille Desmoulins was justified in making his famous remark: „We republicans were hardly a dozen in number before 1789.“
During the whole year of 1788 there were only half-hearted riots among the peasantry. Like the small and hesitant strikes today, they broke out here and there, but gradually they spread, became more broad and bitter, more difficult to suppress.
It will be just the same with the revolution whose approach we foresee. The idea of anarchist communism, today represented by feeble minorities, but increasingly finding popular expression, will make its way among the mass of the people.
Sometimes tragic, sometimes humorous, but always daring; sometimes collective, sometimes purely individual, this policy of action will neglect none of the means at hand, no event of public life, in order to keep the spirit alive, to propagate and find expression for dissatisfaction, to excite hatred against exploiters, to ridicule the government and expose its weakness, and above all and always, by actual example, to awaken courage and fan the spirit of revolt.
It is possible that while admiring the courage of the individual or the group which takes the initiative, the masses will at first follow those who are prudent and cautious, who will immediately describe this act as „insanity“ and say that „those madmen, those fanatics will endanger everything.“ They have calculated so well, those prudent and cautious men, that their party, slowly pursuing its work would, in a hundred years, two hundred years, three hundred years perhaps, succeed in conquering the whole world, – and now the unexpected intrudes! The unexpected, of course, is whatever has not been expected by them, – those prudent and cautious ones! Indifference from this point on is impossible. Those who at the beginning never so much as asked what the „madmen“ wanted, are compelled to think about them, to discuss their ideas, to take sides for or against. By actions which compel general attention, the new idea seeps into people’s minds and wins converts.
The realisation of this idea, breaking out simultaneously in a thousand places, will prevent the establishment of any government that might hinder the unfolding of events, and the revolution will burn on until it has accomplished its mission: the abolition of private property and of the state. The abolition of private property and of the state.