The Twentieth Century

Peter Kropotkin

“Le Vingtième Siècle”, La Révolte, 30 November, 14, 21 and 28 December 1889


We have not yet spoken of a book which is at the moment widely read in the United State, in England, in Australia. This is the socialist novel Looking Backward (Un regard en arrière) by [Edward] Bellemy, which appeared about a year ago in America. In the United States, it is found everywhere, and a friend, returning from a trip to America, told us the other day that four books are the American’s favourite books: Bellamy’s and three others (“Robert Elsmere” “John Ward, Preacher” and “The Story of an African Farm”, all three written by women and all three attacking Christianity).

Published in England at the very modest price of 90 centimes, Looking Backward has sold 18,000 copies in a few months. It must now be at its 25th thousand, and it is for sale in every railway station, and is on the table of the worker and the bourgeois. To show what an impression this book has made, it will suffice to say that Darwin’s great forerunner, A.R. Wallace, who up to the present time has been only a nationaliser of the soil, declared in the press that this book had shown him the possibility of Socialism – at least for America, and that England would only require a period of education in this direction to realise Bellamy’s ideal.


This book, we said, is socialist, and it has the form of a novel. However, it only has the narrative of a novel, which plays a completely secondary role. What makes it readable is that it contains, like Cabèt’s Voyage en Icarie, a description of a society with a socialist future.[1] It is a work on society after the Social Revolution, put in the form of a novel.

The hero of the novel, Mr. West, lives in Boston at the end of the 19th century, at a time when everyone in the working class, hounded by crisis, is in turmoil. Great strikes erupt everywhere. Mr. West suffers from insomnia and he has a vault built in his house, so that he can sleep there comfortably without being disturbed by the noise of the city. The vault is not always enough, however, and he sometimes has recourse to a hypnotist who puts him to sleep through his activities. He falls asleep on the eve of a huge strike. The strike becomes a (peaceful) Revolution, and Mr. West is forgotten in his vault. One hundred years later, in the year 2000, they find him his vault when excavations are being made to enlarge a house built upon the ruins of the old house. They wake him up, and Mr. West tells us about this new world; he looks back at society today. If we add that Mr. West, when he fell asleep for his long slumber, was about to get married, and that a hundred years later he finds in the family of the doctor who unearths him a charming young lade, Edith, who replaces his former finance, and that he falls in love with her, of course – we will have finished with the novel side of the book.

There remains the socialist side, the constructive side of the future society. And the success of Looking Backward is entirely explained by this constructive side of the book. The mass of workers and intelligent men of our time have heard enough criticism, [enough] demolishing [of] current society. – “Tell us what you plan to do, give us a glimpse, some idea, of what the future society might be like.”

Bellamy did that; he did it with talent, and that is what makes his book so successful. It must also be said that he preserved a lot of authoritarian prejudices and that this contributed to giving his ideal an aftertaste.


Bellamy’s ideal is not ours. But it still helps to clarify our ideas; he unwittingly confirms them on several points. In any case, his book shows us what is readily accepted by a very large number of individuals and it gives us a glimpse of what will be accepted if we make a good effort to demolish the authoritarian prejudices that still clutter many heads. As such, it deserves careful analysis.

Bellamy is not an anarchist. But he has the good sense not to believe in the possibility of a collectivist society which would possess everything in common but which would reward everyone according to their works. The solution he proposes is very similar to the one that has already been working successfully for nearly a quarter of a century in the peasant community of Amana (minus religion, of course).[2]

The nation of the United States, having made the Social Revolution, has recognised that every individual, whether strong or weak, eager or sluggish at work, strong like a Hercules [or] an anaemic or crippled – has the right to well-being, by the very fact of his existence; that everything belongs to everyone, and that everything that is produced must belong to everyone.

Also the nation issues to each individual a card, a voucher of so many francs for his expenses for the coming year (francs serving only as an abstract unit) and the sum is equal for each individual of the country. With this card, every individual can take whatever he pleases from the stores of the nation: it is a credit that is open to him. The card is, however, valid for such a considerable sum that he can give himself a rich existence, even for his whims, with this credit.

There are houses (apartments) for all tastes, and when you have taken a house of so-many francs of rent per year, they write on your card the sum of your rent. Take a house that devours two-thirds of your card, or another house that will only take one-tenth – that is your business.

In the national shops (there is one per neighbourhood, one in each village) you find all possible goods; and each sample has its price. You choose what you like and a clerk crosses off your card the price of your purchase; the order is sent to the central store, where the metres of fabric are cut and everything you have bought is packed – and your purchases are sent to you in a pneumatic tube capsule.[3] No need for legions of clerks to pressure you to buy or get rid of junk. One clerk, to cross off so many francs on your card, suffices.

Dine at home, if you wish: [or in] the neighbourhood’s kitchen – a palace where you can dine, either at a table in the mansion or in a private room whose annual rent you pay at a very modest price. Once your dinner has been finished, the price of your consumption will be crossed off your card.

Public opinion suffices to induce you to spend the whole sum allocated on your card; and if the sum is not enough for you, you could take out a loan from the following year’s credit – something which is, incidentally, frowned upon in society.

If you want to visit France, which has introduced the same system, the credit on your American card is exchanged for an equivalent French credit and every time you consume in France, your consumption is marked.

France transfers this credit to America and every three years an account will be taken of what one country may owe to the other after all their exchanges of goods and travellers.

That, in a few words, is consumption. The main idea is that each individual has his or her right to comfort by the very fact of existing upon the earth.

Once this principle is recognised, we understand that there are a thousand ways to arrange things: by means of cards as proposed by Bellamy, by taking from the pile, by communal consumption, or by any other means. It is only enough that the principle of the right of comfort for all be recognised, so that the rest organises itself.

And we are convinced that this principle will be accepted. Our whole civilisation leads us there. As for how to put it into practice, there will certainly be a thousand different ways to do it and Humanity will soon find the best way to do it, while safeguarding the freedom of the individual.

The main thing is to accept this principle. Once accepted, wages disappear, Wage-labour ceases to exist, and money, or any other form of currency (cheque, labour notes, assignats) becomes absolutely useless. So Bellamy’s Twentieth Century does not need money. Its franc is only an abstract unit of measurement which can be replaced by any other unit, if one wants to make even the name of [existing] currency disappear.

Let us move on to production.


We have seen how consumption is organised in the society dreamt up by Bellamy. Now let us move onto production.

He starts with this idea, so right, that there is no need for any kind of wage labour.[4]

“You see,” said the doctor of the twentieth century to his friend, Mr. West, the ghost of the nineteenth century, “you see that it is not merely that we have no money to pay wages in, but we have nothing at all answering to your idea of wages.”

“While he was speaking,” relates Mr. West, “I had pulled myself together sufficiently to voice some of criticisms... I exclaimed: Are the clever workmen content with a plan that ranks them with the indifferent?”

“We leave no possible ground for any complaint of injustice by requiring precisely the same measure of service from all.”

“How can you do that, I should like to know, when no two men’s powers are the same?”

“Nothing could be simpler,” replied the doctor. “We require of each that he shall make the same effort; that is, we demand of him the best service it is in his power to give.”

“And supposing all do the best they can, the amount of the product resulting is twice greater from one man than from another...”

“Very true,” replied the doctor. “But the amount of the resulting product has nothing whatever to do with the question, which is one of desert. Desert is a moral question, and the amount of the product a material quantity. It would be an extraordinary sort of logic which should try to determine a moral question by a material standard... All men who do their best, do the same.”

And thereupon Dr. Leete developed the philosophy of the twentieth century, according to which the man endowed with great abilities, if he does not do more than others endowed with less abilities deserves censure. By doing more than the others, he is only doing his duty. However, to encourage every member of society to do the best they can, the 20th century would have developed a whole system of rewards and advancements to boost the efforts of the languid. And Bellamy shows us a whole array of ranks, of promotions – what do I know! – in the industrial army. It is like being in Bismarck’s army.


As we can see, after starting from an absolutely correct idea, Bellamy falls back into the errors of the socialists of the start of this century by preaching a system of rewards, of stimulants to vanity, to obtain from each the greatest possible amount of products. The  contemporary school, with its gold, silver and bronze medals: which only makes “careerists” – [military] rank, in a word[5] – that is where Bellamy winds up; and this mistake is explained, according to us, by the simple reason that the author, having studied the economic life of societies so well, did not even dare to delve into the anarchist idea, and did not take the trouble to analyse human nature and the mechanism of its functioning.

The fact is, that in everything that concerns the routine of daily work, a municipality or a nation organised as Bellamy proposes would have no need for rank to stimulate work – not to mention the execrable effect which the rank system would have if it were ever to be applied. With all the help that man can obtain from machinery, it would already be enough for everyone to work according to an average, which would soon be established, to provide for all the needs of society.

As for the great inequalities of ability that exist today and that so concern certain socialists, let us not forget that they are simply an artificial product – the sad product of an absurd education, of a senseless [social] organisation.

Talk to a school teacher: he will certainly tell you that there are children who have the capacity for mathematics, while others do not. Well, such a statement is absolutely false. There are bad teachers, there are even a lot of them, but there are no children devoid of mathematical abilities, just as – apart from the sick – there are no children devoid of memory if they are taught to learn.

What is true is that there is a wide variety of abilities, and if one brain is suited to studying mathematics in a certain way, another demands that the same subject be presented to it in a completely different form. Present the problem to the student in another form and he will overcome the difficulty. And such-and-such a child, reputed to be absolutely incapable of mathematics, becomes an excellent mathematician if he has had the good fortune to come across a teacher who knows how to understand that the subject must be treated in a way different from the standard way – in a way appropriate to each individual brain. There are no incapable children and, consequently, [in] all the physical sciences, there are only bad teachers – this is the conclusion of the best pedagogists, this is also our experience.

All this division of human beings into good and bad, capable and incapable, lazy and diligent, is simply a misunderstanding, fed by religious prejudices, cultivated by teachers who would do better to sweep the streets than to teach, propagated by the conceited.

There is only the infinite variety of abilities – a variety of which [current] education, condemned to follow the traditional textbooks, still takes no account.

As for the so-called lazy, we know that there is no child who is not capable of wonders in the branch of work which pleases him, even when he would be considered extremely lazy at school. He may have a distaste (very justifiable) for the Latin that is stuffed into his head, for a geography which is not geography [rightly understood], for mathematics which is nothing but black lines and letters on white paper; and can hate the school which is a place of stupefaction. And if he does not meet someone in his life who teaches him an activity that fascinates him, he will get used to doing everything with disgust, he will remain what is called a shirker – that is to say, a man who has not found his calling.

Add to that the anaemia that gnaws at three-quarters of our children; the fact that nine-tenths of Humanity only learn a trade under conditions which must inspire them with disgust for the trade; finally add to that the disgust that each of us feels when he does a task that he knows is badly done. And above all, remember the conditions in which all work is done – and then ask yourself if, apart from a few sick people, you have really known in your life any people lazy by nature?

What strikes us in Humanity is precisely the opposite: it is the drive to work, it is working hard, despite everything; it is the need to work, to exercise one’s strength and abilities, despite all that should inspire repugnance for work.

And when you take all this into consideration: when you think of the variety of skills and the pleasure you feel from doing anything, as soon as you feel that you are doing it well, when we remember, moreover, the attraction of all work when it is done in common, with familiar comrades, and as long as the work does not become over-work; when you think, finally, of the attraction that work acquires when it is varied and when the various capacities of this so complex being, man, can be exercised in turn; when you think of all this, and you put the nasty stimulant of rank alongside these powerful stimulants, you can only be surprised that intelligent men might still endow with it with a power that it does not have, instead of opening their eyes to real life, as it unfolds before us every day, with its formidable stimulants for work, for invention, for creation.

As we will see in a future article, it is always the prejudice of authority, the faith in authority that pushes our author to this error and all those that flow from it.


There is no wage-labour in the 20th century dreamt up by Bellamy. The huge syndicates, the great shareholder companies, the formidable associations of workers and employers which characterised the end of the 19th century – especially in America – would have brought the nation to this idea, that it must take into its own hands the organisation of production, just as a hundred years before it had taken up the organisation of its political government. “The movement toward the conduct of business by larger and larger aggregations of capital, – says Bellamy – the tendency toward monopolies, which had been so desperately and vainly resisted, was recognized at last, in its true significance, as a process which only needed to complete its logical evolution to open a golden future to humanity.”

The nation (it is still Bellamy who speaks) then seized all the means of production. Industry and commerce were handed over to a single syndicate – the nation. It was finally understood that industry and commerce are much more a public affair than anything else, and the nation thus became the one and only business director, the sole employer.

In the past, the State forced citizens to do compulsory military service, mistakenly believing that the main function of the State was war. Now all citizens from the age of 21 to 45 do compulsory industrial service. They are considered obliged to work a certain number of hours a day in the workshops or the fields of the nation. Until the age of 21 they study. At 21 they enter industry; after three years they choose the profession they prefer, and they work in this trade. At 45, they are absolutely free to enjoy life as they see fit. They no longer have compulsory work to do, except in exceptional cases (such as a public calamity), when the nation would call upon all available arms.

Twenty-four years of useful labour by all citizens is perfectly sufficient – and this is perfectly true – to give everyone well-being and luxury.


Let us add, to finish with the system proposed by Bellamy before making our observations, that the choice of occupation is absolutely free. However, to avoid the lack of volunteers in one branch of work which is less pleasant than the others, the administration has recourse to this system: as soon as too many volunteers come to enrol in one profession and desert another, the administration asks for longer hours of work in the easy trade and reduces the hours in the more difficult trade. “If any particular occupation is in itself so arduous or so oppressive that, in order to induce volunteers, the day's work in it had to be reduced to ten minutes, it would be done. If, even then, no man was willing to do it, it would remain undone,” says Dr. Leete (or we would try to make it less unpleasant). “If, indeed, the unavoidable difficulties and dangers of such a necessary pursuit were so great that no inducement of compensating advantages would overcome men’s repugnance to it, the administration would only need to take it out of the common order of occupations by declaring it ‘extra hazardous,’ and those who pursued it especially worthy of the national gratitude, to be overrun with volunteers” – which is again very true.

As for the work of simple day labourers, all the young people do them during the first three years of industrial service (from 21 to 24 years), before they have chosen the trade of their liking.

Here, in a few words, is the system presented by Bellamy with great clarity and talent.


As can be seen, Bellamy’s mistake is to err on the side of authoritarianism –an absolutely unnecessary authoritarianism in his self-same system.

Indeed, one can conceive that a commune, or any other aggregation of individuals, making this declaration: “We are ready to welcome anyone who wants to be part of our commune. We guarantee him, not only housing, bread and clothing but a whole mass of other pleasures: communal museums, music at home by the telephone, luxurious restaurants, entertainment venues, paved and covered streets, home delivery of everything he wants to get from our communal stores, education for children and full freedom to enjoy life after a certain age – on condition that he will undertake to give in exchange four or five or three hours of work a day, from the age of 21 to 45 – of manual work useful for the Commune, and varied according to its tastes.”

A system like that can be accepted and, all in all, we think that it will be done in many communities. It is already being done.

For 25 francs a year, which basically represents something like 50 hours of ordinary manual work, you can become a member of the Zoological Society of London and, by that very fact, find yourself in daily possession of a collection of living animals, the likes of which cannot be found anywhere in the world, of libraries, of anatomical museums and of all the facilities for working as a zoologist.

One can understand and even accept such a system, and all the more so if in addition the individual who does not want to belong to the Commune has all the [necessary] facilities either to group together with other individuals who [want to] live differently or by oneself to try to do without the whole world if necessary by cultivating a piece of land or by doing something else without entering into communal life.

But for an industrial volunteer system to exist for 24 years, it is of absolute necessity that this system is not compulsory. If it became obligatory, it would at once become unbearable; thousands or millions of individuals would not want it; and, having become obligatory, having become a machine manipulated by the State, with no other means of getting rid of it than by striking (“and the strike against the State is the Revolution”, Bellamy rightly remarks), it would immediately become, by that very fact, a corrupt system – a system as untenable as the compulsory military system of our day.

We can conceive, and we can admit a Commune posing, as a condition for enjoying its marvels of comfort and luxury, that whoever wants to enjoy it, and as long as he wants to enjoy it, undertakes to work so many hours per day; but the possibility and ability for each individual to terminate the contract at any moment – that is the only guarantee that the system will not turn into oppression. But, for such an organisation to last and not to become oppression, it is precisely this possibility of living differently [that is essential].[6]

This is why, if certain Communes are organised on this principle, there will be other Communes or other groups which will be organised on other principles; and there will be a certain coming and going between these Communes, just as Bellamy admits it for different kinds of work more or less sought after, and this possibility of change will be the best guarantee for stability.

If such a system prevails in the future, it will be communal, or by groups, and not national. That nation – or rather the natural region, the industrial province – will result from the free federation of these groups, and they will have nothing fixed, nor restricted, within their geographical boundaries. Thus, in the commercial alliance of the Hanseatic towns, London was the ally of Hamburg in the heart of Germany, of Visby in Sweden, and of Novgorod in Russia; as allies for a special purpose: the exchange of goods and the mutual protection of merchants.

We insist above all on this point, since there is a whole school of socialists who always dream of the national social revolution and who have a horror of federation; whereas history is moving precisely in the direction of the subdivision of national territories and the federative link between the various independent units, [so] any attempt to “Jacobinise” the Revolution, to centralise production and exchange, would be the ruin of the Revolution. Our century had paid its tribute to the Jacobin heritage, and Humanity, deep down, no longer wants it.


As for this central administration which, according to Bellamy, should regulate the influx of volunteers by rewards of reduction of working hours, note that, even while upholding the idea of reducing hours for disagreeable work, the administration would be absolutely useless.

We have already mentioned the example of the railways once, and we return to it again since it applies very well to the case of Bellamy. When, even today, goods start to take one route in preference to the others, and neither the equipment nor the conditions of operation for this line can suffice for the needs of the transportation – what do the railway companies do? Do they have recourse to a central administration to make goods take other routes by reducing work on other lines? They agree directly with each other. Scoundrels as they are, the companies manage to get along without having to resort to a chief of the railways. Well, groups of producers can get along in the same way – infinitely better than companies of exploiters – without having recourse to a central administration. And this administration, if we wanted to give ourselves the luxury of it, would be sure to become as bad as any government.

In a future issue, we will analyse some more details of the [social] organisation proposed by the author of Looking Backward.


We said that Bellamy’s book sold 25,000 [copies] in England. Exact figures have just been published. It sold 139,000 copies in America and 40,000 in England, of which a few thousand were sent to the colonies.  Besides the 90 centime edition, there is a bookshop edition that costs more, and a 3 franc edition is being prepared.


If Bellamy bravely broke with political economy – including Marxist political economy – he remained faithful to all the prejudices of the authoritarian school. Each citizen, as we have seen, has a right in his system to social wealth; renumeration according to services rendered is recognised as absurd; the guarantee of equal well-being for all is the basis of the society.

But then comes the authoritarian prejudice. The workers form an army, like the German army, with chiefs, deputy chiefs, etc. What is especially striking, is that, in Bellamy’s idea itself, all these chiefs are absolutely unnecessary.

Bellamy fully understands that they can become a source of evil in society. So he seeks to show that by applying the system of elections in a certain way, society would have the best men for chiefs – to which anarchists, who have studied the question of authority in depth, will answer that all these guarantees are fictitious. And on the other hand he points out that the powers of the chiefs are so minimal and so clear that they could not seriously abuse them – to which we will answer that then these chiefs become unnecessary, and this is what emerges from Bellamy’s own book.


So, let us take one of the powers of the chiefs – one of the principal ones: that of determining the prices of things.

It will be recalled that every citizen receives a credit of so many thousand francs a year from the national stores; and that he can dispose of his credit as he sees fit: take a rich lodging and live on potatoes, or take from the shops works of art and be content with an attic and dry bread. Each thing supplied by the nation (housing, fabrics, works of art, food, etc.) having its prices, you live as you please as long as you have not exhausted your credit.

These prices are established by the administration, based on the length of the labour needed to produce each commodity, every cloth, every pound of bread or meat. Thus, if it takes 100,000 hours of farmers’ labour to produce 200,000 pounds of bread, while the same number of hours of weavers’ yields only 50,000 yards of cotton, the yard of cotton will cost four times as much as the pound of bread. And if, in such-and-such unpleasant trade, it was necessary to reduce the day by half in order to attract volunteers, in that trade the hour will count as two hours for the ordinary professions.

Well, so be it. Suppose we accept this system. And with all that, the administration has nothing to do with pricing. Because it only states the fact; since it is only repeating what comes to it from the farmers or the weavers who tell it: “we have put in 100,000 hours of work to make 200,000 pounds of bread, or to weave 50,000 metres of cloth” – what good is its useless existence?

With Bellamy, as with so many social democrats, it is always this same error that we encounter: imagining that statistics can come from a central office, whereas they can only come from the individual. Today, in fact, statistics are produced by bureaus, and that is also why all their figures are so many lies. But even today, when we want to have correct figures, we go to the individual. We already do it for censuses and we will do it for everything; because correct statistics can only come from the individual. And as for the summation, if it is done by house, by street, by district, by town, by region – in the final instance, all that remains is to make a summation of about fifty figures at most – something which is done by the supervisor of the printshop much better than by the secretaries of statistical committees. In the end, the supervisor always checks the summations of the employees.

This is the common mistake of authoritarians. Either they give authority real powers, and then they themselves perceive the danger, or they reduce its duties to zero, so few that it becomes unnecessary. Only the name and the uniform remain. Either harmful or pointless – for any kind of authority there is no getting away from this.


As for the credit card system, it is a system like any other to which the following can be said: everything that the Commune, the communist group or the communist nation has produced in quantities more than sufficient for consumption (gas, water and everything that will be produced in the same way) will be taken at discretion. But, as there are absolutely no limits to the artistic needs of man and those of enjoyment in general, and the community cannot deliver telescopes, grand pianos, works of art, etc., at discretion, there must be a certain limit to the consumption by the individual for these objects – as long as we have not yet found the means of producing what is rare in quantities large enough for this sought-after object to become accessible to all in unlimited quantities.

Bellamy proposes credit cards. We proposed rationing for rare items and taking from the pile for everything else. But we are convinced that the day when we have really permeated this idea that everyone has the right to comfort, we will find a thousand other means for matching needs with the possibilities of production. And we will try these differing means in different groups.

The essential thing is to conceive the possibility of it in order to march with a firm step towards this goal. Because as long as society has not recognised the right of comfort for all, there will be nothing done: the Social Revolution will [still] have to be made.


There will be one more point which we need to make before we conclude our remarks.

For works of art and literature, as well as for the press, Bellamy proposes the following system:

Suppose, he says, that I and my friends want to establish a new newspaper. We look for subscribers. And when we have enough to cover the cost of the newspaper, we go to the administration, which deducts the amounts subscribed from the credit cards of our subscribers and credits them to the editor or administrator elected by the subscribers. The newspaper is printed in the national workshops, and what each issue will cost will be deducted from the account of the administrator of the newspaper. “The editor”, adds Bellamy, “is discharged from other service during his incumbency and the subscribers pay the nation an indemnity equal to the cost of his support for taking him away from the general service.”

This is an idea which one cannot protest too much. If it were admitted by the Social Revolution, it would become the source of whole inequalities and, therefore, of whole inequities. And here, again, as with authority, it is an absolutely unnecessary mechanism.

The main aim of the Social Revolution, after taking possession of social capital, should be the absolute abolition of all distinction between manual work and brain work. As long as everyone, without any exception, does not work with his hands as well as with his head – there will always be iniquity, intrigue, domination, duality of consciousness, in short, all the evils of which we complain today, As long as public opinion does not consider the man who does not work with his arms as well as with his head as a failed being, as a pitiful monstrosity – something like a lunatic, or a cripple – the Revolution will still have to be done.

Society needs writers, poets, artists, scholars; it certainly needs more than there is today. But, a poet, a writer, a scholar and an artist will only be better poets, better artists and better scholars if they work with their hands like all the others.

Since, in a society where all work for all, it would only take three or four hours of manual labour to give wealth to all – anyone who feels the vocation of poet, artist or scholar will find ample time, in the rest of the day, to do his poetry, his works of art or his research.

As for propagating one’s thoughts, printing what one has written or drawn – well, take one of those huge workshops where such-and-such an English newspaper creates its paper, its typesetting, its plates, its printing; people them with volunteers who come in their spare time to propagate the idea that suits them, and you will have the newspaper.

And this reminds us that if we have already talked about it when dealing with “scientific needs” (in Révolte last year), we have not yet sufficiently developed this idea and that it is time to resume our series [of articles], interrupted by articles on current events. The very fact that a man as intelligent as Bellamy revives in his Twentieth Century the division into writers and workers, into aristocrats and plebs, does it not already prove that this idea, so just and so natural, has not caught on yet, that it must be spread? Because, as long as the aristocracy of brain work exists, the Revolution will still have to be made. This inequality is the source of all the others.


Looking Backward will certainly be translated and read in French, as it is read in American and England. A person well-placed to know the exact numbers has just written in the English newspapers that Bellamy’s book has sold 240,000 copies in America. These figures are the best answer to comrades who reproach us for talking too much about the future society. The fact is, that before making the Revolution, we want to know what we could put in place of the current mess. And, whatever the faults of this little book, it will still have rendered the immense service of suggesting some ideas and giving material for discussion to those who really want the Social Revolution.

End Notes

[1] Kropotkin discussed Cabet and his utopia in Modern Science and Anarchy (1913), noting its “authoritarian communism” which “demanded the complete annihilation of the human personality” (see, Modern Science and Anarchy [Edinburgh: AK Press, 2018], 148-9, 204, 219-20). (Translator)

[2] The Amana Colonies in Iowa were seven villages built by German Radical Pietists in 1856, who were persecuted in their homeland by the government and the Lutheran Church. All lands and buildings were held in common with communal kitchens, each with its own garden. For eighty years, the Amana Colony maintained an almost completely self-sufficient local economy, importing very little from the wider economy but sometimes hiring outside workers. The Amanians were able to maintain their independence and (patriarchal) lifestyle by adhering to the specialised crafting and farming occupations that they had brought with them from Germany. However, the system did not survive the Great Depression and the community formed two organisations: the non-profit Amana Church Society to oversee its spiritual needs and a for-profit Amana Society which was incorporated as a joint-stock company. The transition was completed in 1932 and came to be known in the community as the Great Change. (Translator)

[3] Pneumatic tubes propel cylindrical containers through networks of tubes by compressed air or by partial vacuum. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, pneumatic tube networks were used in a variety of places (including offices, department stores and postal services) to transport small, often urgent packages, over relatively short distances, within a building or, at most, within a city. The Berlin Post Service, for example, had by 1890 a network of kilometres of pneumatic tubes sending letters and small parcels long distances almost instantly. (Translator)

[4] With quotes or summaries, we have tried to reproduce Bellamy’s actual words rather than re-translate Kropotkin’s translation. However, this sometimes involved some slight changes to the original text. (Translator)

[5] Kropotkin uses the word “stripe” (le galon) here rather than rank but as stripes are used to indicate rank in the military we thought it less confusing to use rank. (Translator)

[6] We mentioned at the beginning the Amana community. But what enabled it to survive was precisely the right, the possibility and the ability given to each of its members to terminate the contract and leave the community, taking even the proceeds of his labour. The Community gave to each his share of the social wealth, in proportion to the number of years he had given to the Community. This ease of leaving without considering oneself robbed by the Community made the number of departures tiny – almost nil.