Kropotkin and the Street Children of Cairo

From Save the Children, via. Al Jazeera:

“One of the untold stories of Egypt’s popular revolution is the plight of homeless children caught up in the unrest…The drop-in centres that they rely on for food, clean water and shelter were, like nearly everything else in Egypt, mostly closed…When violence erupted, the homeless children had nowhere to seek refuge and many were caught up in the clashes between rival political factions.”

Now, I’m not an authority on ‘what to do when you have no home, no legal protection, and no family’, nor am I an authority of ‘how to carry out a revolution’, so everything I say about all these recent Events feels somewhat silly. But I was reminded of some words by Peter Kropotkin, which I will quote here. This is Chapter 5 of ‘The Conquest of Bread’:

“If the coming Revolution is to be a Social Revolution it will be distinguished from all former uprisings not only by its aim, but also by its methods. To attain a new end, new means are required…

In each case [previous French revolutions] the people strove to overturn the old regime, and spent their heart’s blood for the cause. Then, after having borne the brunt of the battle, they sank again into obscurity.

A Government, composed of men more or less honest, was formed and undertook to organize–the Republic in 1793, Labour in 1848, and the Free Commune in 1871. Imbued with Jacobin ideas, this Government occupied itself first of all with political questions, such as the reorganization of the machinery of government, the purifying of the administration, the separation of Church and State, civic liberty, and such matters…They discussed various political questions at great length, but forgot to discuss the question of bread.

Great ideas sprang up at such times, ideas that have moved the world; words were spoken which still stir our hearts, at the interval of a century. But the people were starving in the slums.

…From the very commencement of the Revolution industry inevitably came to a stop–the circulation of produce was checked, and capital concealed itself. The master – the employer – had nothing to fear at such times, he battened on his dividends, if indeed he did not speculate on the wretchedness around; but the wage-earner was reduced to live from hand to mouth…

“So much for your vaunted Revolution! You are more wretched than ever before,” whispered the reactionary in the ears of the worker. And little by little the rich took courage, emerged from their hiding-places, and flaunted their luxury in the face of the starving multitude. They dressed up like scented fops and said to the workers: “Come, enough of this foolery! What have you gained by rebellion ?”

Let others spend their time in issuing pompous proclamations, in decorating themselves lavishly with official gold lace, and in talking about political liberty!

Be it ours to see, from the first day of the Revolution to the last, in all the provinces fighting for freedom, that there is not a single man who lacks bread, not a single woman compelled to stand with the weariful crowd outside the bake-house-door, that haply a coarse loaf may be thrown to her in charity, not a single child pining for want of food.

It has always been the middle-class idea to harangue about “great principles”…We have the temerity to declare that all have a right to bread, that there is bread enough for all, and that with this watchword of Bread for All the Revolution will triumph.

Thus the really practical course of action, in our view, would be that the people should take immediate possession of all the food of the insurgent districts, keeping strict account of it all, that none might be wasted, and that by the aid of these accumulated resources every one might be able to tide over the crisis.

During that time an agreement would have to be made with the factory workers, the necessary raw material given them and the means of subsistence assured to them while they worked to supply the needs of the agriculture population.”

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