The Revolution’s Capital

Peter Kropotkin

“La Capital de la Révolution”, La Révolte: Organe Communiste-Anarchiste, 7 March 1891

In speaking of “Our Riches” we have in mind the immense resources possessed by a civilised nation as a force of production, as the possibility of producing.[1] On arriving in the world, the child of a civilised nation finds himself in possession of an immense inheritance, accumulated by our ancestors, in the forms of cleared fields, roads, houses, public buildings, perfected machines and above all – science, technical knowledge. We are wealthy by what we can create in a short time throughout the world.

But there is something else that often preoccupies revolutionary thinkers. One wonders: What does a civilised country, for example France or England, have at a given moment in terms of food, clothing, the raw materials necessary for production? What, in a word, will the Revolution have to ensure comfort for all if work were to stop today?

On this, opinions differ widely. Some indulge in the rosiest of dreams. According to them, a people in revolution could live a year, two years, without working, just with what the nation already has in its stores. Others, on the contrary see things gloomily. According to them, the revolution would be starved after eight or fifteen days, if everyone had enough to eat.


Admittedly, exact information is lacking. With all our statistical committees, we don’t even know what a nation has. Every civilised nation always has a certain stock of wheat, flour, sugar, iron, coal, cotton and wool. But – how much this stock amounts to – we do not know. As the prices of any commodity rise as the supply runs out, trades are certainly keen to know the state of supplies. They gather private information, inquire as best they can from all around.

But generally, those who are best informed on this subject do not want to hand over their information to other trades, even less advertise it. They speculate themselves on rising and falling prices. So if you were to ask the gentlemen of the government how much wheat, iron or coal France has in stock at a given moment, they would be very embarrassed to answer. The gentlemen of the Municipal Council could not answer this question any better as far as Paris alone is concerned.

So, after having searched, we only found some information, approximate and incomplete, for England. There are end-of-year reviews that no doubt have nothing in common with the question which interests us, but which aim to determine what influence the fluctuation in prices has had on the country’s wealth, evaluated in money, compared to the beginning of each year: “Last year we had so many tonnes of iron in stock; they were worth so many millions of francs. This year, the stock of iron amounts to so many tonnes, which is equivalent to so many francs. Therefore, the national wealth has increased, or decreased, so much for iron; so much for wheat, and so on.”

As can be seen, the authors of these reviews have no interest in either increasing or decreasing the numbers, and since they go to the best sources, their figures can be considered fairly accurate.

We give these figures, adding those of annual consumption, and reserve the right, however, to return to them if we find more accurate figures or if we find the same figures for France.


Suppose the revolution breaks out in England on January 1st – What will we find in stock to live on before the gaps begin to be filled by reorganised production?

As of 1st January 1889, it was estimated that there were 4,000,000 tonnes of cast iron in stock. The annual production appears to be about 8,000,000 tonnes in England. The annual consumption of cast iron to make iron, steel, etc. (exported in part) ranges from 6 to 7 million tonnes. This means that they would therefore have a guaranteed consumption for about seven months. After seven months, they would have no more cast iron if they did not fill the gaps.

In terms of copper they had in January 40,000 tonnes in stock, and 10,000 tonnes of tin. Consumption is unknown.

For coal, exact figures are lacking. It is known that the annual extraction of coal amounts to 150 to 170 million tonnes, of which around 25 million are exported, 30 million are used for domestic consumption, and the rest is burned by industry, railways and shipping. In ordinary times, it is estimated that there is in stock enough to meet all needs for about three months; but the stock is subject to very great fluctuations. We would therefore have enough to keep industry and the railways going for three months. As for heating – today two-thirds of the English are forced to deny themselves a fire or to make considerable economies on coal, since average consumption is only 4 tonnes per family whereas with the heating system in full force, it would be necessary to triple it not to be cold. Well, suppose that nothing is exported, that they continue to be parsimonious. They will have enough to heat themselves for three months.


In terms of cotton, they had 200,000 tonnes in stock. And as English factories consume 680,000 tonnes annually, they would have enough to run them for 3 ½ months. Let us add that the United Kingdom (England, Ireland and Scotland) only consumes a third of the cotton goods it produces. The rest is exported for bread and meat. But you must not believe that the English are so rich in cotton goods. If a fifth of the population squanders them, and another fifth has just enough, more than half the nation lacks cloth, clothing, sheets (in which cotton plays a large part). If England did not export cotton goods and cotton yarn, or if it only exported a fifth of what it produces, there would not be much to spare for the country. It would have just enough to live in hygienic conditions.

Taking all that into consideration, let’s say that they have enough raw cotton in stock to produce enough cotton goods for the English for six months, eight months if you wish. At the end of this time, they will have no more.


And now the main thing, wheat. In terms of wheat, in January they had something like 10 million quarters in stock. That is nearly 3 million hectolitres. The annual consumption of wheat (flour included) amounts to just over 8 million hectolitres, of which 3 ½ million are imported from aboard. They would therefore have guaranteed consumption for a little less than four and a half months, if consumption remains what it is today (21 decalitres per inhabitant) – and for three months, if it is what it should be.

Finally, in terms of sugar, they had 250,000 tonnes in store. This would be close to 15 pounds per inhabitant and would ensure consumption for three or four months, as long as nothing was wasted.


These are some figures that already make it possible to judge the situation. It would be very interesting to know what they have in terms of meat. But the figures are lacking. It is highly probable, however, that they are not immensely abundant and that on this subject it would be necessary to make sure of the situation and anticipate the future well, before embarking upon a somewhat considerable consumption.

Let us also add that the general tendency of present-day commerce is to keep very few things in stock and to produce on a day-to-day basis.

“In recent years”, says the report from which we take the figures above, “there has been quite a revolution in the country’s supply methods. Trades adopted the one day to the next system. Instead of the middlemen who once held their stores full of goods, commercial agents have taken it upon themselves to supply the merchant as and when requested, week by week, according to the one day to the next system (hand-to-mouth method). The extension of the railways, telegraphs, parcel-post, etc., has expediated the means of communication, and today, instead of the large stocks of yesteryear, trade is carried on with small stocks which are renewed as they run out.”

It is therefore a general tendency today to live from one day to the next, and it was astonishing during the London dockers’ strike to see how quickly the socks which were believed to be inexhaustible had emptied after a few weeks. They were already running out of sugar, rice, pasta, etc.


Thus, all things considered, it may be said that if nothing is wasted, a civilised nation will have before it three or four months of assured existence if a social revolution produced a general cessation of work. This is true even for England which imports agricultural products from abroad for more than a third of its inhabitants.

In France it will be much the same if the revolution breaks out one spring. To have bread assured for a year, it would have to break out only in autumn. Then, with its harvest of 100 million hectolitres of wheat, France would have assured bread for fifteen months. And when you have bread – and audacity – you do the rest.

As we can see, the old world, as it collapses, will not leave much in stock for the young revolution.

But it will leave it something much more important than stocks of wheat and cast iron. It will leave it the powerful, immense, magnificent means of filling these stocks with all the speed desired.

Speaking of agriculture, we have already seen the powerful means available to man. Let him only want it, and in three months he will harvest under glass (“under greaseproof paper”, exclaimed the practical author of Le Potager moderne, M. [Vincent Alfred] Gressent!) all he needs to feed himself well on the products of the earth.

And if he lacks meat, he will use those methods of producing poultry by means of the artificial incubator already in operation almost everywhere, and above all in Egypt, where they give such surprising results.

This, or something else. Man, having three or four months before him, will find the means to produce food – necessities and luxuries – provided he thinks about it. Until now, he has rarely thought about it – political economy having always been the science of the enrichment of individuals in isolation. He will think about it the day he understands that there is only one science of economics – the study of needs and the means of satisfying them.

With time before him to rush at the most urgent issues, he will find what he needs to live. Only let him say the words of Danton: Audacity, audacity and more audacity.[2]

Audacity! Not to cut off heads, which produced little or nothing. But the audacity to dare to think otherwise than his stupefiers have made him think to this day.

End Notes

[1] A reference to the article “Nos richesses” (“Our Riches”) published in La Révolte between July 26 and August 31, 1890. It was later included as the first chapter of La Conquête du Pain (The Conquest of Bread) in 1892. (Translator)

[2] Danton’s words to the Legislative Assembly in 1792 were De l'audace, encore de l'audace, toujours de l'audace et la Patrie sera sauvée! – Audacity, more audacity, always audacity and the Fatherland will be saved! (Translator)