A new addition to my 2018 book list.
The Conquest of Bread (1892, translation 1926) by Peter Kropotkin
Despite some inconsistencies, what I do know is that Peter Kropotkin is the English version of the name of a Russian prince who gave that up to become an anarchist and a communist. His philosophy was detailed in several books, including The Conquest of Bread which was originally published in French in 1892. I believe the English translation which I read (also available on Project Gutenberg) was published in 1926.
The books two main themes are communism – the communal ownership of the means of production, the elimination of class and money and the distribution of goods to fulfil the needs of all members of society – and anarchism – the elimination of all forms of government in favour of equality and free association between people. This bares similarities to the predominant Marxist form of communism but is not exactly the same and nearly every reference to Marxism in the book is in a negative sense.
I found the book extremely interesting and to raise a number of very good and relevant points and certainly to paint a picture of a much better society than currently exists. I think the rise of AI and further automation would strengthen many of the arguments Kropotkin makes. Would an anarchist communist society function in practice? There have not been many actual examples and the few that did form have generally been quickly suppressed by governments. There are some issues which the book does not address. Would free association make discrimination last longer? Could anarchism function well when industries are globally connected? How could we manage global challenges like climate change?
Of course, the elephant in the room is that all Utopian visions are not going to happen unless there are massive technological breakthroughs, big changes to lifestyles and the decrease of the human population. Some people warn that it’s already too late to stop climate change. Other research points out that, given current populations and technologies, it is just not possible to have a sustainable society where everyone’s needs are met. Global leadership has already failed us.