Kropotkin’s Free-market Economics

As a proponent supporter of anarcho-communism, Peter Kropotkin might be dismissed by some left-libertarians as an opponent to the free market.

For sure, he was a firm opponent to the private ownership of property, wage labor and rents. Nevertheless, free-market libertarians will find a lot of agreement with Kropotkin’s economic insights below, which were previously collected by panarchy.org.

Political Economy

  • “Political Economy has often been reproached with drawing all its deductions from the decidedly false principle that the only incentive capable of forcing a man to augment his power of production is personal interest in its narrowest sense. (“The Conquest of Bread,” Chapter 17)

Wealth

  • “In our civilized society we are rich. Why then are the many poor?“It is because, taking advantage of alleged rights acquired in the past, these few appropriate today two thirds of the products of human labour, and then squander them in the most stupid and shameful way.” (“The Conquest of Bread,” Chapter 1)
  • “[For] alongside the rapid development of our wealth-producing powers we have an overwhelming increase in the ranks of the idlers and middlemen. Instead of capital gradually concentrating itself in a few hands, so that it would only be necessary for the community to dispossess a few millionaires and enter upon its lawful heritage – instead of this Socialist forecast proving true, the exact reverse is coming to pass: the swarm of parasite is ever increasing.” (“The Conquest of Bread,” Chapter 2)

Reputation

  • “Should you speak to a man who understands commerce, he will tell you that everyday business transacted by merchants would be absolutely impossible were it not based on mutual confidence.” (“The Conquest of Bread,” Chapter 3)

Trade

  • “The tendency of trade, as for all else, is toward decentralization. Every nation finds it advantageous to combine agriculture with the greatest possible variety of factories. The specialization of which economists spoke so highly certainly has enriched a number of capitalists, but is now no longer of any use. On the contrary, it is to the advantage of every region, every nation, to grow their own wheat, their own vegetables, and to manufacture at home most of the produce they consume. This diversity is the surest pledge of the complete development of production by mutual cooperation, and the moving cause of progress, while specialization is now a hindrance to progress.” (“The Conquest of Bread,” Chapter 16)

Value

  • “There are no barren lands; the earth is worth what man is worth” – that is the last word of modern agriculture.” (“The Conquest of Bread,” Chapter 5)

Well-being

  • “The ‘right to well-being’ means the possibility of living like human beings, and of bringing up children to be members of a society better than ours, whilst the ‘right to work’ only means the right to be always a wage-slave, a drudge, ruled over and exploited by the middle class of the future. The right to well-being is the Social Revolution, the right to work means nothing but the Treadmill of Commercialism.” (“The Conquest of Bread,” Chapter 2)
  • “Well-being – that is to say, the satisfaction of physical, artistic, and moral needs, has always been the most powerful stimulant to work.” (“The Conquest of Bread,” Chapter 12)

Patents

  • “Like all State controls, patents hamper the progress of industry. Thought being incapable of being patented, patents are a crying injustice in theory, and in practice they result in one of the great obstacles to the rapid development of invention.” (“The Conquest of Bread,” Chapter 9)

Concentration of Industries

  • “The ‘concentration’ so much spoken of is often nothing but an amalgamation of capitalists for the purpose of dominating the market, not for cheapening the technical process.”“Even under the present conditions the leviathan factories offer great inconveniences as they cannot rapidly reform their machinery according to the constantly varying demands of the consumers. How many failures of great concerns, too well known in this country to need to be named, were due to this cause during the crisis of 1886-90.” (“Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow”)

Decentralization of Industries

  • “The industries must be scattered all over the world; and the scattering of industries amidst all civilized nations will be necessarily followed by a further scattering of factories over the territories of each nation.” (“Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow”)

Automation

  • “Whenever a saving of human labour can be obtained by means of a machine, the machine is welcome and will be resorted to; and there is hardly one single branch of industry into which machinery work could not be introduced with great advantage, at least at some of the stages of the manufacture. In the present chaotic state of industry, nails and cheap pen-knives can be made by hand, and plain-cottons by woven in the hand-loom; but such an anomaly will not last. The machine will supersede hand-work in the manufacture of plain goods. But at the same time, hand-work very probably will extend its domain in the artistic finishing of many things which are now made entirely in the factory; and it will always remain an important factor in the growth of thousands of young and new trades.” (“Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow”)

Free Cooperation

  • “Railways were constructed piece by piece, the pieces were joined together, and the hundred different companies, to whom these pieces belonged, gradually came to an understanding concerning the arrival and departure of their trains, and the running of carriages on their rails, from all countries, without unloading merchandise as it passes from one network to another. All this was done by free agreement, by exchange of letters and proposals, and by congresses at which delegates met to discuss well specified special points, and to come to an agreement about them, but not to make laws. After the congress was over, the delegates returned to their respective companies, not with a law, but with the draft of a contract to be accepted or rejected.”And the most interesting thing in this organization is, that there is no European Central Government of Railways! Nothing! No minister of railways, no dictator, not even a continental parliament, not even a directing committee! Everything is done by free agreement.” (“The Conquest of Bread,” Chapter 11)
  • “Political economy has hitherto insisted chiefly upon division. We proclaim integration; and we maintain that the ideal of society is a society of integrated combined labour. A society where each individual is a producer of both manual and intellectual work; where each able-bodied human being is a worker, and where each worker works both in the field and in the industrial workshop; where every aggregation of individuals, large enough to dispose of a certain variety of natural resources – it may be a nation, or rather a region – produces and itself consumes most of its own agricultural and manufactured produce.” (“Fields, Factories and Workshops Tomorrow”)

Myth of Over-production

  • “Take, for instance, over-production, a word which every day re-echoes in our ears. Is there a single economist, academician, or candidate for academical honours, who has not supported arguments proving that economic crises are due to over-production – that at a given moment more cotton, more cloth, more watches are produced that are needed!“However, on careful examination all these reasonings prove unsound. In fact, is there one single commodity amongst those in universal use which is produced in greater quantity than need be? Examine one by one all commodities sent out by countries exporting on a large scale, and you will see that nearly all are produced in insufficient quantities for the inhabitants of the countries exporting them.“Not only does the ever-growing need of comfort remain unsatisfied, but the strict necessities of life are often wanting. Therefore, ‘surplus production’ does not exist, at least not in the sense given to it by the theorists of Political Economy.” (“The Conquest of Bread,” Chapter 14)