The Conquest of Bread by Peter Kropotkin. Book by a nineteenth century anarchist with his ideas about anarchism. Quite interesting. Especially good are his criticisms of the problems of earlier revolutions like the French Revolution. Kropotkin sees recurring problem with revolution: the people are not actually put in charge, just a new set of bourgeouis rulers, and the new leaders let the revolution fail by concentrating too much on abstract ideas, and not enough on providing bread.
On one level, anarchism is seen as a solution to these problems: let the people themselves take charge, organizing themselves from the bottom up rather than through elected representatives. He gives examples of how existing rural communes manage to redistribute land this way without much turmoil.
Also interesting are his fairly specific plans for how, after a revolution in a major European city, the revolution can be persisted without being starved out by the capitalists around it. In part, this is by intensively cultivating the parks and gardens. It is also by converting production from luxuries to essentials and giving goods to the surrounding peasantry, who will show their gratitude by providing food.
Kropotkin however seems to be a fairly "pure" anarchist. He's hostile to proposals by anarcho-syndicalists and others that some features of capitalism be retained: for instance that "articles of consumption" can be kept private while the means of production is make public. He's intensely hostile to the notion that unequal pay rates be retained, with specialists like engineers getting more than an hour's labour-token for just an hour's work, seeing this as retaining the essence of capital.
He does accept some compromises however. Someone who absolutely refuses to work at one of the recognized tasks can be denied food and shelter and asked to leave.
As so often, he's not that convincing with his explanations of how anarchism can work in circumstances where there are so many people that anonymity is possible. If a city is divided up into small enough districts that people know each other, it certainly seems possible to me that housing could be redistributed more fairly, and work teams created that keep up maintenance.
However, his plan for getting food by providing goods collectively to the peasantry and hoping for gifts in exchange, seems like it might be optimistic. Certainly some food would be given back, but it would be very tempting for the peasants to take the goods, but sell much of their food to overseas markets or capitalist cities instead. It seems to me more specific trades might work better.
I've been reading a few things on anarchism lately. There seems to be a large and diverse array of ideas of how the anarchist economy would work. However it seems to me that the more plausible the ideas are, the closer they come to capitalism, to the point where it might be easier to just reform capitalism.
A capitalist economy with a generous citizen's basic income, and some means of restricting land exploitation (a land value tax, allowing land ownership to expire like copyright) might well have many of the advantages of anarchism, like allowing people to write their novels while doing part-time work, and also be better at handling issues like pollution.
What I'm Reading 2
Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology by David Graeber. Short book by the "Debt: The First 5000 Years" author exploring how the field of anthropology could address anarchism. He wants it to be a broad overview of "What sort of social theory would actually be of interest to those who are trying to bring about a world in which people are free to govern their own affairs"?
As such, it has a lot of Calls For rather than Ideas About. Does have a few nice digs at academics. Also has a fair amount of information about how some cultures have resisted state dominance, pointing out that often the best strategy is to pay lip service to a declining power rather than declare overt rebellion, for instance as in Madagascar.
Also has some interesting critiques of voting as democracy, suggesting that this originated with the concept of obeying the strongest military faction in ancient Greece, whereas building a consensus is a bit more democratic.
It is of obvious relevance that Ancient Greece was one of the most competitive societies known to history. It was a society that tended to make everything into a public contest, from athletics to philosophy or tragic drama or just about anything else. So it might not seem entirely surprising that they made political decision-making into a public contest as well. Even more crucial though was the fact that decisions were made by a populace in arms.
Fairly interesting. Worth skimming through at least.
What I'm Watching
Saw old Ealing comedy Laughter in Paradise. A practical joker leaves a will demanding four relatives do various things against their nature: e.g the woman who mistreats her maid has to take a job as a servant. A bit dated, more obviously than classics like The Ladykillers, but still somewhat amusing.
Has a very early appearance by Audrey Hepburn with just a few lines as a nightclub cigarette girl.
What I'm Watching 2
Silent Running. An eco-terrorist finds the authorities catching up with him. Classic Seventies science fiction, still watchable with some touching moments like the forest drifting off into space at the end like a Christmas tree bauble.
What I'm Watching 3
Saw the 1969 John Wayne version of True Grit. Stayed more faithful to the book than I expected, with great mouthfuls of the book's brilliant but written-seeming dialogue. (Girl B struggled with the combination of accents, jargon and archaisms).
Pretty good, but I think 1969 was the wrong time to film the book: too late to play the irony-laden content straight, too early to make the most of it.
What I'm Watching 4
Saw the curious film Caesar Must Die. Film made in an Italian high security prison. The inmates put on a version of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar and find its themes of power and violence reflect their own lives.
A compelling film, partly shot in stark black and white. It's not clear how much of the prisoners' reactions are real and how much invented: it very much blurs the line between drama and documentary.
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