The following of Kropotkin’s articles were Reprinted in Small Communal Experiments and Why They Fail by Jura Books.
Small Communal Experiments
and Why They Fail
Advice to Those About to Emigrate (1893)
Freedom: March 1893 p14
Peter Kropotkin (1842–1921) was one of the greatest anarchist theoreticians of his time. Although he admired the directly democratic and non-authoritarian practices of the traditional peasant village commune, he was never an advocate of small and isolated communal experimentalism. Many people, upon reading his works, have been inspired to found such communities, both in his own time as well as the hippies of the 1960s (a period when Kropotkin’s major works were published and influential). Kropotkin did not consider such ventures were likely to be successful or useful in achieving wider revolutionary goals. His friend, Elisee Reclus, who had been involved in such a venture in South America in his youth, was even more hostile to small communal experiments. It is a pity that some of the founders of the many hippy communes in the 1960s (nearly all of which faded rather quickly) did not read Kropotkin more carefully. Unfortunately, they made the same mistakes as many anarchists, communists and socialists had made a century before them. In the anarchist press today one still finds adverts for prospective small and isolated anarchist colonies. Also, many commentaries about Kropotkin still misrepresent him as having had a vision of society consisting of unfederated and independent village-like settlements and of advocating small communal experiments as a means of achieving an anarchist society. The following speech and two ‘open’ letters, which have not been in print for a century, clearly show, that although not emotionally opposed to such ventures, he was highly sceptical about their chances of success and generally believed them to be a drain upon the energies of the anarchist movement. Despite his warnings, these articles also contain much good and practical advice to those who are still tempted to found small experimental communes in the wilderness, or perhaps, those tempted in some future era to colonise space.
In these days when Home Colonisation is seriously discussed, and is even tried, in England as an outlet for the populations of our congested towns, the following letters will be of much interest to our readers. A comrade in New South Wales, writing to Kropotkin for suggestions and advice, says:
“As you are probably aware, the Labour movement in Australia has advanced tremendously during the last four or five years. The reason, I believe, lies in the increased agitation in the minds of the people through the late strikes here and also in England and America. The Labor Party here got the worst of it in the last three big strikes, yet the importance of those strikes as factors in educating people’s minds cannot be overlooked — eg. direct results of defeat of the Maritime Strike were the formation of Labor Electoral Leagues all over New South Wales, and the sending in of thirty-four — Labor members into Parliament: result of last year’s Shearer’s Strike in Queensland has been the beginning of the New Australia movement about which I write.
The New Australia Movement is a proposal to all healthy and intelligent men and women to leave Australia and to go to a certain part of South America, there to establish Co-operative Settlements on Socialistic principles. The idea of this movement originated with Mr Lane, editor of the best Socialistic labor paper in Queensland. Three agents of the Association are at present in Argentina (S.A.), prospecting there for the best land for the settlement, and they have already found a site for it on the banks of the River Niger. In Australia we have five or six agents, Mr. Lane included, organising groups in different parts of the country, and the result has been better than we expected. We have already from five to six hundred members, and the first batch of settlers sails for Argentina some time in January.
It may seem strange that while thousands of men are emigrating annually from different parts of the world to Australia — the so-called working man’s Paradise — men should be found in Australia willing to leave behind the country which they have helped to raise up into a nation and to go to a foreign country which, perhaps, is no better than Australia. But this is not a case of “It’s better where we are not.” There is more than one reason why it would be better to establish the settlement in Argentina but I will cite only one: Capitalistic opposition would be too strong here in Australia. Capital is organised here stronger than ever it was before; it rules the Governments here. Again the motto of Socialists is “the world is my country, and we are going to act up to it. We’ll have no distinctions either in nationalities or in religions. All men are welcome — provided they are physically and morally healthy, and not afraid to work or to think.”
To which Kropotkin replies:
The fact that men and women, who have made Australia what it is, are compelled to migrate from it, speaks volumes in itself. “Make the land, be the dung which renders it productive, build the centres of civilisation which render it valuable — and go away!” That is the true picture of modem capitalist management. The same here, the same at the antipodes — always the same!
Every time I see men and women of energy, enterprise and initiative, starting similar colonies, I feel sorry You know how much Russia has lost of her best elements, those that had the capacity of being dissatisfied and of revolting against bad conditions, because she had at her very doors Siberia, whereto the lovers of freedom could go and escape for a few years all the curses of the State — military service, bureaucracy, functionaries and their despotism.
What would become of the European revolutionary movement if most women and men of strong individuality — most of those ready to rebel — went to settle in distant lands, trying to make colonies there? Is there not work enough in each land for every one who wishes to work for the modification of the atrocious conditions of the present time? Are there not at hand enough opportunities for exercising the spirit of Solidarity which inspires the Communist? Do we not want here, in every great and small city, that communist spirit put into practice and radiating from small groups, however limited in extent, so as to make it permeate the whole society?
The longer we all live, the more we see that the very limited communist solidarity which is practised among all revolutionary, and especially all Anarchist groups exercises a much more powerful effect than if it were practised, even to its full extent, somewhere on the boundaries of the civilised world! Remember the change produced in all Russian society by Nihilism. Compare the manners, the habits of life at the time of Turgenev’s “On the Eve” with present manners and habits. Not to mention that, besides the propaganda by example, which is carried on more or less here by all who have broken with old forms, there is going on hand in hand a propaganda of general socialist principles, Socialist agitation, and Socialistic enlightening of the masses; and this is what prepares the way for Communism on a grand scale in the cities of the civilised world itself.
Besides, when I recollect the numerous colonies, which have been started over the last 50 years, and the number of men and women, some of whom I knew personally, whose unflinching energies and perseverance I cannot but admire, and yet see the failures on record, I cannot but think that there is some great cause at work against such colonies.
These causes I imagine to be two, and I recommend them to your most careful consideration: First, the colonies are usually not numerous enough. If you are a small family, united by bonds of common education and thousands of family bonds, you may succeed. If you are more than that, you must be numerous: 2000 souls will succeed better than 200, on account of the variety there would be of characters, aptitudes, inclinations. The individual and the individual’s personality more easily disappear in a group of 2000 than in a group of 200 or 20. It is extremely difficult to keep 50 or 100 persons in continuous full agreement. For 2000 or 10,000 this is NOT required. They only need agree as to some advantageous methods of common work, and are free otherwise to live in their own way.
The second difficulty is this: Peasants no doubt succeed in founding such colonies because, in their mother country, the conditions are so bad that, after 2 or 3 years of very hard work, they feel better off than before. Their colonies only disintegrate when they (through some special conditions) fall from bad to worse.
But most Communistic colonies are composed chiefly of men who are put, in the colony; into worse material conditions that their previous ones. However bad the present conditions, the worker in a civilised country, IF HE IS PERMITTED BY THE EXPLOITERS TO WORK, and if he is an average worker, has certain conditions of life, which in most cases he does not find in the colony, where 5, 10, often more, years he has to fight against the most crushing difficulties.
In the colony he works hard, and has none of the trifles which civilisation gives, and which we all like so much, and he has no prospect of having them. He also feels less personal liberty in his actions — it is always the case in small communities — and he is deprived of the higher stimuli which he has in his mother country — even of the struggle in a large arena which every active nature likes.
That is why, I have long since thought, that if I were one of those who start colonies, I should never go into the wilderness. A Communist Colony? Well, the best spot for it is near London or near Paris! And even if it started without, or with very little, capital or land, I am persuaded that the privations one would have to impose upon himself to make such a colony thrive in a London suburb would be much less than the privations one must endure to make a colony thrive in Argentina.
I have read a good deal about the first steps of colonists in America, both in records and private letters; I saw many colonists on the fertile plains of the middle Amur in Siberia, so I have some idea what these privations are, and I am firmly persuaded that if 20 of 200 persons had endured like privations in starting a Communist farm near London — they would be prosperous now.
Of course the chief thing in such a case would be not to undertake agriculture in the way it was practiced 2000 years ago, but the agriculture which is required now ie., gardening and most intensive culture, combined with HANDICRAFT.
When I saw at Harrow (NE London suburb) what is obtained from a horrid, heavy clay by intensive labor a Labor which is still a plaything in comparison with the labor a colony has to face in unbroken countries — I always thought that if I were a born “colonist” I should try to colonise here, not in South America.
Reasoned, intensive gardening to grow all sorts of vegetables (and perhaps to attempt intensive culture of wheat) — guided by the experience of real gardeners and in accordance with the advice readily received from neighbours; that alone might give nearly the whole of the colony’s food, and pay the rent, as well as permit the concern to increase gradually — even if one half of the colony’s adults were compelled to work all the year round in a factory (or, still better, one half of the year only), to earn the necessary money; while the other half obtained from the land, by intensive culture, all that is required for living. And such a colony close to a big city would have the advantage of not cutting itself off from the civilised world; it would be part of it, and would enjoy some of its joys, which are so attractive for one who has a taste for learning or art. A lecture, good music, a good library would be within reach of the colonist, not to say that be would remain in contact with the Communists who carry on the active work of propaganda and agitation amidst the old world; he might even join in whenever he liked.
I am persuaded that if a Communist colony can live together in our present society it can only live near a big city. But, even in its best, it will only be a refuge for those who have abandoned the battle, which has to be fought — face to face with the enemy...I need not tell you that, if the colony is to have any chance of success, it ought to have no directors, no superintendents, no balloting, no voting whatsoever These, and the intrigues they give rise to, have always been the stumbling blocks of the colonies. Are the new settlers less intelligent, less capable than a Russian village MIR that goes to settle in Siberia? The Russian peasants live without authority, agree at their meetings for common work, and are intelligent enough not to have authorities or ballots, and to arrive at unanimity in their decisions. Are the Australians inferior to them in any way that they need rulers?
Proposed Communist Settlement: A New Colony for Tyneside or Wearside (1895)
The Newcastle Daily Chronicle: February 20, 1985, p4.
A number of Communists resident in the North of England have decided to found a settlement somewhat on the lines of Mr. Herbert Mill’s home colony at Starnthwaite, but to be conducted on Communistic principles. The Promoters of the scheme are in negotiation for various parcels of land, but have not yet come to a final decision as to the locality in which their camp shall be pitched. We are, however, informed that, unless unforeseen and unanticipated difficulties present themselves at the eleventh hour, the colony will be established either on Tyneside or Wearside, probably the latter. Prince Kropotkin having been invited to become the treasurer of the fund, has returned the following answer:
Viola Cottage, Bromley, Kent, Feb. 16, 1895.
Thank you very much for your kind letter and your extremely clear statements of the facts. Thank you still more for your trust in me. But I must say at once that by no means could I act as a treasurer. To this I am the least appropriate person, as I never was able to keep accounts of my own earnings and spendings Moreover I really have no time.
As to your scheme, I must say that I have little confidence in schemes of communist communities started under the present conditions, and always regret to see men and women going to suffer all sorts of privations in order, in most cases, to find only disappointment at the end: retiring for many years from the work of propaganda of ideas among the great masses, and of aid to the masses in their emancipation, for making an experiment which has many chances for being a failure.
But I must also say that your scheme has several points which undoubtedly give it much more chance of success than most previous experiments were in possession of. For years I have preached that once there are men decided to make such an experiment, it must be made:
Not in distant countries, where they would find, in addition to their own difficulties, all the hardships which a pioneer of culture has to cope with in an uninhabited country (and I only too well know by my own and my friends’ experience how great these difficulties are), but in the neighbourhood of large cities. In such cases every member of the community can enjoy the many benefits of civilisation; the struggle for life is easier, on account of the facilities for taking advantage of the mark done by our forefathers and for profiting by the experience of our neighbours; and every member who is discontented with communal life can at any given moment return to the individualist life of the present society. One can, in such case, enjoy the intellectual, scientific, and artistic life of our civilisation without necessarily abandoning the community.
That a new community, instead of imitating the example of our forefathers, and starting with extensive agriculture, with all its hardships, accidents, drawbacks, and amount of hard work required, very often superior to the forces of the colonists, ought to open new ways of production as it opens new ways of consumption. It must, it seems to me, start with intensive agriculture — that is, market gardening culture, aided as much as possible by culture under glass. Besides the advantages of security in the crops, obtained by their variety and the very means of culture, this sort of culture has the advantage of allowing the community to utilise even the weakest forces; and every one knows how weakened most of the town workers are by the homicidal conditions under which most of the industries are now organised.
That the first condition of success, as proved by the anama peasant communities, the Young Icaris, and several others, is to divest communism from its monastical and barrack garments, and to conceive it as the life of independent families, united together by the desire of obtaining material and moral wellbeing by combining their efforts. The theory, according to which family life has to be entirely destroyed in order to obtain some economy in fuel used in the kitchen, or for heating the space of its dining rooms, is utterly false; and it is most certain that the Young Icarians are absolutely correct in introducing as much as possible of family and friendly grouping life, even in the ways they are taking their meals.
It seems to me proved by evidence that, men being neither the angels nor the slaves they are supposed to be by the authoritarian utopians — Anarchist principles are the only ones under which a community has any chances to succeed. In the hundreds of histories of communities which I have had the opportunity to read, I always saw that the introduction of any sort of elected authority has always been, without one single exception, the point which the community stranded upon; while, on the other side, those communities enjoyed a partial and sometimes very substantial success, which accepted no authority besides the unanimous decision of the folkmoot, and preferred, as a couple of hundred of millions of Slavonian peasants do, and as the German Communists in America did, to discuss every matter so long as a unanimous decision of the folkmoot could be arrived at. Communists, who are bound to live. in a narrow circle of a few individuals, in which circle the petty struggles for dominion are the more acutely felt, ought decidedly to abandon the Utopias of elected committees’ management and majority rule; they must bend before the reality of practice which is at work for many hundreds of years in hundreds of thousands of village communities — the folkmoot — and they must remember that in these communities, majority rule and elected government have always been synonymous and concomitant with disintegration — never with consolidation.
To these four points I have come, from what I know of the actual life of Communist communities, such as has been written down by numbers of Russians and West Europeans who had no theoretical conceptions, promoted no theoretical views, but simply put down on paper or verbally told me what they had lived through. Misery, dullness of life, and the consequent growth of the spirit of intrigue for power, have always been the two chief causes of non-success.
Now, as far as I see from your letter, the community which you try to bring into existence takes the above four points as fundamental, and in so doing it has, I believe, as many more chances of success.
To these four points I should also add a fifth, on which you are agreed, of course, beforehand It is to do all possible for reducing household work to the lowest minimum, and to find out for that purpose, and to invent if necessary, all possible arrangements. In most communities this point was awfully neglected. The woman and the girl remained in the new society as they were in the old one — the slaves of the community. Arrangements to reduce as much as possible the incredible amount of work which our women uselessly spend in the rearing up of children, as well as in household work, are, in my opinion, as essential to the success of a community as the proper arrangement of the fields, the greenhouses or the agricultural machinery Even more. But while every community dreams of having the most perfect agricultural or industrial machinery, it seldom pays attention to the squandering of the forces of the honest slave, the woman. Some steps in advance have been made in Guise’s familistere. Others could wisely be found out. But, with all that, a community started within the present society has to cope with many almost fatal difficulties.
The absence of communist spirit is, perhaps, the least of them. While the fundamental features of human character can only be mediated by a very slow evolution, the relative amounts of individualist and mutual aid spirit are among the most changeable features of man. Both being equally products of an anterior development, their relative amounts are seen to change in individuals and even societies with a rapidity which would strike the sociologist if he only paid attention to the subject, and analysed the corresponding facts.
The chief difficulty is in the smallness itself of the community. In a large community, the asperities of everyone’s character are smoothed, they are less important and less remarked. In a small group they attain, owing to the very conditions of life, an undue importance. More contact between neighbours than exists nowadays, is absolutely necessary. Men have tried in vain to live in isolation, and to throw upon the government’s shoulders all the petty affairs which they are bound to attend to themselves. But in a small community, the contact is too close, and, what is worse, the individual features of character acquire an undue importance, as they bear upon the whole life of the community. The familiar example of 20 prisoners shut up in one room, or of the 20 passengers of a steamboat, who soon begin to hate each other for small defects of individual character, is well worthy of note.
In order to succeed, the Communist experiment, being an experiment in mutual accomodation among humans, ought to be made on a grand scale. A whole city of, at least, 20,000 inhabitants, ought to organise itself for self-managed consumption of the first necessities of life (houses and essential furniture, food and clothing), with a large development of free groupings for the satisfaction of the higher artistic, scientific, and literary needs and hobbies — before it be possible to say anything about the experimentally tested capacities, or incapacities, of our contemporaries for Communist life. (By the way, the experiment is not so unfeasible as it might seem at first sight.)
The next great difficulty is this. We are not indigenous people untouched by civilisation who can begin a tribal life with a hut and a few arrows. Even if no hunting laws did exist, we should care — the majority at least — for some additional comfort and for some better stimulants for higher life than a drop of whisky supplied by the trader in exchange for furs. But in most cases, a Communist community is compelled to start with even less than that, as it is burdened by a debt for the land it is permitted to settle upon, and is looked at as a nuisance by the surrounding land and industry lords. It usually starts with a heavy debt, while it ought to start with its share of the capital which has been produced by the accumulated labour of the precedent generations. Misery and a terrible struggle for the sheer necessities of life is therefore the usual condition for all the Communist colonies which have hitherto been attempted, to say nothing of the above hostility. This is why I could not insist too much upon your wise decision of starting intensive culture under the guidance of experienced gardeners that is, the most remunerative of all modes of agriculture.
And then comes in the difficulty of men being not accustomed to hard agricultural work, navvies’ work and building trades work — that is, exactly those sorts of work which are most in request in the young colony.
And finally, there is the difficulty with which all such colonies had to contend. The moment they begin to become prosperous, they are inundated by newcomers mostly the unsuccessful ones in the present life, those whose energy is already broken by years of unemployment and a long series of privations, of which so few of the rich ones have the slightest idea. What they ought to have before setting to work would be rest and given good food, and then set to hard work. This difficulty is not a theoretical one; all the Communist colonies in America have experienced it; and unless the colonists throw overboard the very principles of Communism and proclaim themselves individualists — small bourgeois, who have succeeded and will keep for themselves the advantages of their own position — in which case, the communist principle having once been abandoned, the community is doomed to fail under the duality which has crept in; or, they accept the newcomers with an unfriendly feeling (“they know nothing of the hardships we have had to go through,” the old stock say), and gradually they are really inundated by men whose numbers soon exceed the capital to be worked with. For a Communist colony, the very success thus becomes a cause of ultimate failure.
This is why some of the Labour leaders in America and their sympathisers from the Chicago middle classes who intended during the last Chicago strike to retire to some remote state of the Union, and there to start with a socialist territory which they would have defended against aggression from without, had more chances of success than a small Communist colony.
Here is, dear comrade, what I had to say in answer to your letter. By no means should I like to discourage you and your comrades. I simply think that “forewarned means forearmed.” The better one sees the difficulties in his way, the better he can cope with them. Once you feel inclined to attempt the experiment, although knowing all its difficulties — there must be no hesitation in making it. Earnest men will always find out in it something to learn themselves and to teach their comrades.
Once your inclinations go this way — certainly go on! You have some more chances of success than many of your forerunners, and I am sure you will find sympathies in your way. Mine will certainly follow you, and if you think that the publication of this letter can bring you sympathisers, publish it as an open letter to comrades intending to start a Communist colony.
Communism and Anarchy (1901)
Written: July, 1901
First Published: Freedom: July (p30)/August (p38) 1901
Transcription/Markup: Dana Ward/Brian Basgen
Online Version: Peter Kropotkin Reference Archive (marxists.org) 2001; editorial changes made to structure the document in 4 sections. The original does not have any section breaks nor section headers, these have been introduced to make reading/referencing the document easier.
Many Anarchists and thinkers in general, whilst recognising the immense advantages which Communism may offer to society, yet consider this form of social organisation a danger to the liberty and free development of the individual. This danger is also recognised by many Communists, and, taken as a whole, the question is merged in that other vast problem which our century has laid bare to its fullest extent: the relation of the individual to society. The importance of this question need hardly be insisted upon.
The problem became obscured in various ways. When speaking of Communism, most people think of the more or less Christian and monastic and always authoritarian Communism advocated in the first half of this century and practised in certain communities. These communities took the family as a model and tried to constitute “the great Communist family” to “reform man”. To this end, in addition to working in common, they imposed the living closely together like a family, as well as the isolation or separation of the colony from present civilisation. This amounted to nothing less than the total interference of all “brothers” and “sisters” with the entire private life of each member.
In addition to this, the difference was not sufficiently noted as between isolated communities, founded on various occasions during the last three or four centuries, and the numerous federated communes which are likely to spring up in a society about to inaugurate the social revolution. Five aspects of the subject thus require to be considered separately:
Production and consumption in common,
Domestic life in common (cohabitation: is it necessary to arrange it after the model of the present family?),
The isolated communities of our times,
The federated communes of the future, and
Does Communism necessarily lessen individuality? In other words, the Individual in a Communist society.
An immense movement of ideas took place during this century under the name of Socialism in general, beginning with Babeuf, St. Simon, Fourier, Robert Owen and Proudhon who formulated the predominating currents of Socialism, and continued by their numerous successors (French) Considerant, Pierre Lerous, Louis Blanc; (German) Marx, Engels; (Russian) Chernychevski, Bakunin; etc, who worked either at popularising the ideas of the founders of modern Socialism or at establishing them on a scientific basis.
These ideas, on taking precise shape, gave birth to two principal currents: Authoritarian Communism and Anarchist Communism; also to a number of intermediary schools bent on finding a way between, such as State Capitalism, Collectivism, Co-operation; among the working masses they created a formidable workers’ movement which strives to organise the whole mass of the workers by trades for the struggle against Capital, and which becomes more international with the frequent intercourse between workers of different nationalities. The following three essential points were gained by this immense movement of ideas and of action, and these have already widely penetrated the public conscience:
The abolition of the wage system, the modern form of ancient serfdom,
The abolition of individual property in the means of production, and
The emancipation of the individual and of society from the political machinery, the State, which helps to maintain economic slavery.
On these three points all are agreed, and even those who advocate “labour notes” or who, like Brousse, wish all “to be functionaries,” that is employees of the State or the commune, admit that if they advocate either of these proposals it is only because they do not see an immediate possibility for Communism. They accept this compromise as an expedient, but their aim always remains Communism. And, as to the State, even the bitterest partisans of the State, of authority, even of dictatorship, recognise that with the disappearance of the classes of today the State will also cease to exist.
Hence we may say without exaggerating the importance of our section of the Socialist movement — the Anarchist section — that in spite of all differences between the various sections of Socialism (which differences are, before all, based upon the more or less revolutionary character of the means of action of each section), we may affirm that all sections, by the voice of their thinkers, recognise the evolution towards Free Communism as the aim of Socialist evolution. All the rest, as they themselves confess, are only stepping-stones towards this end.
It would be idle to discuss these stepping-stones without an examination of the tendencies of development of modern society.
[Production and consumption in common]
Of these different tendencies two, before all, merit our attention. One is the increasing difficulty of determining the share of each individual in modern production. Industry and agriculture have become so complicated, so riveted together, all industries are so dependent one upon the other that payment to the producer by results becomes impossible the more industry is developed, the more we see payment by piece replaced by wages. Wages, on the other hand, become more equal. The division of modern bourgeois society in classes certainly remains and there is a whole class of bourgeois who earn the more, the less they do. The working class itself is divided into four great divisions:
unskilled workers, and
These divisions represent four degrees of exploitation and are but the result of bourgeois organisation.
In a society of equals, where all can learn a trade and where the exploitation of woman by man, of the peasant by the manufacturer, will cease, these classes will disappear. But, even today, wages within each of these classes tend to become more equal. This led to the statement: “that a navvy’s day’s work is worth that of a jeweller”, and made Robert Owen conceive his “labour notes”, paid to all who worked so many hours in the production of necessary commodities.
But if we look back on all attempts made in this direction, we find that with the exception of a few thousand farmers in the United States, labour notes have not spread since the end of the first quarter of the century when Owen tried to issue them. The reasons for this have been discussed elsewhere (see the chapter: The Wage System, in my book “The Conquest of Bread”).
On the other hand, we see a great number of attempts at partial socialisation, tending in the direction of Communism. Hundreds of Communist communities have been founded during this century almost everywhere and at this very moment we are aware of more than a hundred of them, all being more or less Communistic. It is in the same direction of Communism — partial Communism, we mean to say — that nearly all the numerous attempts at socialisation we see in bourgeois society tend to be made, either between individuals or with regard to the socialisation of municipal matters.
Hotels, steamers, boarding houses, are all experiments in this direction undertaken by the bourgeois. For so much per day you have the choice between ten or fifty dishes placed at your disposal at the hotel or on the steamer, with nobody controlling the amount you have eaten of them. This organisation is even international and before leaving Paris or London you may buy bons (coupons for 10 francs a day) which enable you to stay at will in hundreds of hotels in France, Germany, Switzerland, etc., all belonging to an international society of hotels.
The bourgeois thoroughly understood the advantages of partial Communism combined with the almost unlimited freedom of the individual in respect to consumption, and in all these institutions for a fixed price per month you will be lodged and fed, with the single exception of costly extras (wine, special apartments) which are charged separately.
Fire, theft and accident insurance (especially in villages where equality of conditions permits the charge of an equal premium for all inhabitants), the arrangement by which great English stores will supply for 1s. per week all the fish which a small family may consume, clubs, the innumerable societies of insurance against sickness, etc., etc.. This mass of institutions, created during the 19th century, are an approach towards Communism with regard to part of our total consumption.
Finally, there exists a vast series of municipal institutions — water, gas, electricity, workmen’s dwellings, trains with uniform fares, baths, washing houses, etc. — where similar attempts at socialising consumption are being made on an ever increasing scale.
All this is certainly not yet Communism. Far from it. But the principle of these institutions contains a part of the principle of Communism: for so much per day (in money today, in labour tomorrow) you are entitled to satisfy — luxury excepted — this or the other of your wants.
These forays into Communism differ from real Communism in many ways; and essentially in the two following;
payment in money instead of payment by labour;
the consumers have no voice in the administration of the business.
If, however, the idea, the tendency of these institutions were well understood, it would not be difficult even today to start by private or public initiative a community carrying out the first principle mentioned. Let us suppose a territory of 500 hectares on which are built 200 cottages, each surrounded by a garden or an orchard of a quarter hectare. The management allows each family occupying a cottage, to choose out of fifty dishes per day what is desired, or it supplies bread, vegetables, meat, coffee as demanded for preparation at home. In return they demand either so much per annum in money or a certain number of hours of work given, at the consumers’ choice, to one of the departments of the establishment: agriculture, cattle raising, cooking, cleaning. This may be put in practice tomorrow if required, and we must wonder that such a farm/hotel/garden has not yet been founded by an enterprising hotel proprietor.
It will be objected, no doubt, that it is just here, the introduction of labour in common, that Communists have generally experienced failure. Yet this objection cannot stand. The causes of failure have always to be sought elsewhere.
Firstly, nearly all communities were founded by an almost religious wave of enthusiasm. People were asked to become “pioneers of humanity;” to submit to the dictates of a punctilious morality, to become quite regenerated by Communist life, to give all their time, hours of work and of leisure, to the community, to live entirely for the community.
This meant acting simply like monks and to demand — without any necessity — men to be what they are not. It is only in quite recent days that communities have been founded by Anarchist working men without any such pretensions, for purely economic purposes — to free themselves from capitalist exploitation.
[Domestic life in common]
The second mistake lay in the desire to manage the community after the model of a family, to make it “the great family” They lived all in the same house and were thus forced to continuously meet the same “brethren and sisters.” It is already difficult often for two real brothers to live together in the same house, and family life is not always harmonious; so it was a fundamental error to impose on all the “great family” instead of trying, on the contrary, to guarantee as much freedom and home life to each individual.
Besides, a small community cannot live long; “brethren and sisters” forced to meet continuously, amid a scarcity of new impressions, end by detesting each other. And if two persons through becoming rivals or simply not liking each other are able by their disagreement to bring about the dissolution of a community, the prolonged life of such communities would be a strange thing, especially since all communities founded up to now have isolated themselves. It is a foregone conclusion that a close association of 10, 20, or 100 persons cannot last longer than three or four years. It would be even regrettable if it lasted longer, because this would only prove either that all were brought under the influence of a single individual or that all lost their individuality. Well, since it is certain that in three, four or five years part of the members of a community would wish to leave, there ought to exist at least a dozen or more federated communities in order that those who, for one reason or other, wish to leave a community may enter another community, being replaced by new comers from other places. Otherwise, the Communist beehive must necessarily perish or (which nearly always happens) fall into the hands of one individual — generally the most cunning of the “brethren”.
[Isolated communities of our times & the federated communes of the future]
Finally, all communities founded up till now isolated themselves from society; but struggle, a life of struggle, is far more urgently needed by an active man than a well supplied table. This desire to see the world, to mix with its currents, to fight its battles is the imperative call to the young generation. Hence it comes (as Chaikovski remarked from his experience) that young people, at the age of 18 or 20, necessarily leave a community which does not comprehend the whole of society
We need not add that governments of all descriptions have always been the most serious stumbling blocks for all communities. Those which have seen least of this or none at all (like Young Icaria) succeed best. This is easily understood Political hatred is one of the most violent in character. We can live in the same town with our political adversaries if we are not forced to see them every moment. But how is life possible in a small community where we meet each other at every turn. Political dissent enters the study, the workshop, the place of rest, and life becomes impossible.
On the other hand, it has been proved to conviction that work in common, Communist production, succeeds marvellously. In no commercial enterprise has so much value been added to land by labor as in each of the communities founded in America and in Europe. Faults of calculation may occur everywhere as they occur in all capitalist undertakings, but since it is known that during the first five years after their institution four out of every commercial undertakings become bankrupt, it must be admitted that nothing similar or even coming near to this has occurred in Communist communities. So, when the bourgeois press, wanting to be ingenious, speaks of offering an island to Anarchists on which to establish their community, relying on our experience we are ready to accept this proposal, provided only that this island be, for instance, the Isle de France (Paris) and that upon the valuation of the social wealth we receive our share of it. Only, since we know that neither Paris nor our share of social wealth will be given to us, we shall some day take one and the other ourselves by means of the Social Revolution. Paris and Barcelona in 1871 were not very far from doing so — and ideas have made headway since that time.
Progress permits us to see above all, that an isolated town, proclaiming the Commune, would have great difficulty to subsist. The experiment ought, therefore, to be made on a territory — eg, one of the Western States, Idaho or Ohio — as American Socialists suggest, and they are right. On a sufficiently large territory, not within the bounds of a single town we must someday begin to put in practice the Communism of the future.
We have so often demonstrated that State Communism is impossible, that it is useless to dwell on this subject. A proof of this, furthermore, lies in the fad that the believers in the State, the upholders of a Socialist State do not themselves believe in State Communism. A portion of them occupy themselves with the conquest of a share of the power in the State of today — the bourgeois State — and do not trouble themselves at all to explain that their idea of a Socialist State is different from a system of State capitalism under which everybody would be a functionary of the State. If we tell them that it is this they aim at, they are annoyed; yet they do not explain what other system of society they wish to establish. As they do not believe in the possibility of a social revolution in the near future, their aim is to become part of the government in the bourgeois State of today and they leave it to the future to decide where this will end.
As to those who have tried to sketch the outlines of a future Socialist State, they met our criticism by asserting that all they want are bureaus of statistics. But this is mere juggling with words. Besides, it is averred today that the only statistics of value are those recorded by each individual himself, giving age, occupation, social position, or the lists of what he sold or bought, produced and consumed.
The questions to be put are usually of voluntary elaboration (by scientists, statistical societies), and the work of statistical bureaus consists today in Distributing the questions, in arranging and mechanically summing up the replies. To reduce the State, the governments to this function and to say that, by “government”, only this will be understood, means nothing else (if said sincerely) but an honourable retreat. And me must indeed admit that the Jacobins of thirty years ago have immensely gone back from their ideals of dictatorship and Socialist centralisation. No one would dare to say today that the production or consumption of potatoes or rice must be regulated by the parliament of the German People’s State (Volksstaat) at Berlin. These insipid things are no longer said.
[The Individual in a Communist society]
The Communist state is an Utopia given up already by its own adherents and it is time to proceed further. A far more important question to be examined, indeed, is this: whether Anarchist or Free Communism does not also imply a diminution of individual freedom?
As a matter of fact, in all discussions on freedom our ideas are obscured by the surviving influence of past centuries of serfdom and religious oppression.
Economists represented the enforced contract (under the threat of hunger) between master and workingman as a state of freedom. Politicians, again, so called the present state of the citizen who has become a serf and a taxpayer of the State. The most advanced moralists, like Mill and his numerous disciples, defined liberty as the right to do everything with the exception of encroachments on the equal liberty of all others. Apart from the fact that the word “right” is a very confused term handed down from past ages, meaning nothing at all or too much, the definition of Mill enabled the philosopher Spencer, numerous authors and even some Individualist Anarchists to reconstruct tribunals and legal punishments, even to the penalty of death — that is, to reintroduce, necessarily, in the end the State itself which they had admirably criticised themselves. The idea of free will is also hidden behind all these reasonings.
If we put aside all unconscious actions and consider only premeditated actions (being those which the law, religious and penal systems alone try to influence) we find that each action of this kind is preceded by some discussion in the human brain; for instance, “I shall go out and take a walk,” somebody thinks, “No, I have an appointment with a friend,” or “I promised to finish some work” or “My wife and children will I be sorry to remain at home,” or “I shall lose my employment if I do not go to work.”
The last reflection implies the fear of punishment. In the first three instances this man has to face only himself, his habit of loyalty, his sympathies. And there lies all the difference. We say that a man forced to reason that he must give up such and such an engagement from fear of punishment, is not a free man. And we affirm that humanity can and must free itself from the fear of punishment, and that it can constitute an Anarchist society in which the fear of punishment and even the unwillingness to be blamed shall disappear. Towards this ideal we march. But we know that we can free ourselves neither from our habit of loyalty (keeping our word) nor from our sympathies (fear of giving pain to those whom we love and whom we do not wish to afflict on or even to disappoint). In this last respect man is never free. Crusoe, on his island, was not free. The moment he began to construct his ship, to cultivate his garden or to lay in provisions for the winter, he was already captured, absorbed by his work. If he felt lazy and would have preferred to remain lying at ease in his cave, he hesitated for a moment and nevertheless went forth to his work. The moment he had the company of a dog, of two or three goats and, above all, after he had met with Friday, he was no longer absolutely free in the sense in which these words are sometimes used in discussions. He had obligations, he had to think of the interests of others, he was no longer the perfect individualist whom we are sometimes expected to see in him. The moment he has a wife or children, educated by himself or confided to others (society), the moment he has a domestic animal, or even only an orchard which requires to be watered at certain hours — from that moment he is no longer the “care for nothing,” the “egoist”, the individualist” who is sometimes represented as the type of a free man. Neither on Crusoe’s island, far less in society of whatever kind it be, does this type exist. Man takes, and will always take into consideration the interests of other men in proportion to the establishment of relations of mutual interest between them, and the more so the more these others affirm their own sentiments and desires.
Thus we find no other definition of liberty than the following one: the possibility of action without being influenced in those actions by the fear of punishment by society (bodily constraint, the threat of hunger or even censure, except when it comes from a friend).
Understanding liberty in this sense — and we doubt whether a larger and at the same time a more real definition of it can be found — we may say that Communism can diminish, even annihilate, all individual liberty and in many Communist communities this was attempted; but it can also enhance this liberty to its utmost limits.
All depends on the fundamental ideas on which the association is based. It is not the form of an association which involves slavery; it is the ideas of individual liberty which we bring with us to an association which determine the more or less libertarian character of that association.
This applies to all forms of association. Cohabitation of two individuals under the same roof may lead to the enslavement of one by the will of the other, as it may also lead to liberty for both. The same applies to the family or to the co-operation of two persons in gardening or in bringing out a paper. The same with regard to large or small associations, to each social institution. Thus, in the tenth, eleventh and twelfth centuries, we find communes of equals, men equally free — and four centuries later we see the same commune calling for the dictatorship of a priest. Judges and laws had remained; the idea of the Roman law, of the State had become dominant, whilst those of freedom, of settling disputes by arbitration and of applying federalism to its fullest extent had disappeared; hence arose slavery. Well, of all institutions or forms of social organisation that have been tried until this day, Communism is the one which guarantees the greatest amount of individual liberty — provided that the idea that begets the community be Liberty, Anarchy.
Communism is capable of assuming all forms of freedom or of oppression which other institutions are unable to do. It may produce a monastery where all implicitly obey the orders of their superior, and it may produce an absolutely free organisation, leaving his full freedom to the individual, existing only as long as the associates wish to remain together, imposing nothing on anybody, being anxious rather to defend, enlarge, extend in all directions the liberty of the individual. Communism may be authoritarian (in which case the community will soon decay) or it may be Anarchist. The State, on the contrary, cannot be this. It is authoritarian or it ceases to be the State.
Communism guarantees economic freedom better than any other form of association, because it can guarantee wellbeing, even luxury, in return for a few hours of work instead of a day’s work. Now, to give ten or eleven hours of leisure per day out of the sixteen during which we lead a conscious life (sleeping eight hours), means to enlarge individual liberty to a point which for thousands of years has been one of the ideals of humanity.
This can be done today in a Communist society man can dispose of at least ten hours of leisure. This means emancipation from one of the heaviest burdens of slavery on man. It is an increase of liberty.
To recognise all men as equal and to renounce government of man by man is another increase of individual liberty in a degree which no other form of association has ever admitted even as a dream. It becomes possible only after the first step has been taken: when man has his means of existence guaranteed and is not forced to sell his muscle and his brain to those who condescend to exploit him.
Lastly, to recognise a variety of occupations as the basis of all progress and to organise in such a way that man may be absolutely free during his leisure time, whilst he may also vary his work, a change for which his early education and instruction will have prepared him — this can easily be put in practice in a Communist society — this, again, means the emancipation of the individual, who will find doors open in every direction for his complete development.
As for the rest, all depends upon the ideas on which the community is founded. We know a religious community in which members who felt unhappy, and showed signs of this on their faces, used to be addressed by a “brother”: “You are sad. Nevertheless, put on a happy look, otherwise you will afflict our brethren and sisters.” And we know of communities of seven members, one of whom moved the nomination of four committees: gardening, ways and means, housekeeping, and exportation, with absolute rights for the chairman of each committee. There certainly existed communities founded or invaded by “criminals of authority” (a special type recommended to the attention of Mr. Lombrose) and quite a number of communities were founded by mad upholders of the absorption of the individual by society. But these men were not the product of Communism, but of Christianity (eminently authoritarian in its essence) and of Roman law, the State.
The fundamental idea of these men who hold that society cannot exist without police and judges, the idea of the State, is a permanent danger to all liberty, and not the fundamental idea of Communism — which consists in consuming and producing without calculating the exact share of each individual. This idea, on the contrary, is an idea of freedom, of emancipation.
Thus we have arrived at the following conclusions: Attempts at Communism have hitherto failed because:
They were based on an impetus of a religious character instead of considering a community simply as a means of economic consumption and production,
They isolated themselves from society,
They were imbued with an authoritarian spirit,
They were isolated instead of federated,
They required of their members so much labour as to leave them no leisure time, and
They were modelled on the form of the patriarchal family instead of having for an aim the fullest possible emancipation of the individual.
Communism, being an eminently economic institution, does not in any way prejudice the amount of liberty guaranteed to the individual, the initiator, the rebel against crystallising customs. It may be authoritarian, which necessarily leads to the death of the community, and it may be libertarian, which in the twelfth century even under the partial communism of the young cities of that age, led to the creation of a young civilisation full of vigour, a new springtide of Europe.
The only durable form of Communism, however, is one under which, seeing the close contact between fellow men it brings about, every effort would be made to extend the liberty of the individual in all directions.
Under such conditions, under the influence of this idea, the liberty of the individual, increased already by the amount of leisure secured to him, will be curtailed in no other way than occurs today by municipal gas, the house to house delivery of food by great stores, modern hotels, or by the fact that during working hours we work side by side with thousands of fellow labourers.
With Anarchy as an aim and as a means, Communism becomes possible. Without it, it necessarily becomes slavery and cannot exist.