On being busy, Syndicalism, Proudhon on common ownership

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“And so it is Christmas, and what have you done?” So sang John Lennon on what is probably my favourite Xmas song – Happy Christmas (War is Over) (although the Pretenders’ 2000 Miles is also a favourite, but then I like the Pretenders – they do my all-time favourite song, Brass in Pocket). So what has the last few months been like? On a word, busy. Being a union rep takes up a lot of time…

This does not mean that I’ve not been busy on libertarian activity. No, thanks to a limb injury I had some free Saturday mornings which allowed me to finish a few things. As regular visitors will have seen, I’ve posted some articles since my last blog.

First off, I’ve written up by well-received talk at this year’s London Anarchist bookfair – An archist Theory: Use it or Lose it. I did very little preparation for this, but it seemed to go well. I’ve been wanting to do those for sometime, but never got around to doing it. I could easily added more issues, but I don’t like when you don’t have time to ask questions and debate issues so I kept it long enough to provoke discussions and comments, which it did.

I got asked some questions about William Godwin, which came as a surprise to be honest. Suffice to say, I’m not an expert on him and considering that his influence on the anarchist movement and libertarian theory was about zero (until he was rediscovered, like Stirner, in the 1890s) that is not too unexpected. He has anarchistic elements to his ideas, but anarchism starts with Proudhon and becomes modern (revolutionary) anarchism in the 1860s in the First International. That some anarchists retrospectively found his works of interest does not change those facts.

Second, I got round to doing a proper review of Ralph Darlington’s book on Syndicalism and Leninism. I called it Syndicalism, Marxist Myth and Anarchist Reality for obvious reasons – Darlington’s book assumes Leninism is correct and so he does not bother to do such basic things as check the facts of his assertions. But, then, as section H.2 of An Anarchist FAQ, mere facts have never got in the way of Marxists making claims about anarchism. This, of course, goes all the way back to Marx’s Poverty of Philosophy – which really is the template for all the staggeringly dishonest distortions of anarchism by Marxists.

I’m quite happy with the critique and consider it a follow-up to my earlier Syn dicalism, Anarchism and Marxism which will be published in Anarchist Studies in the spring of 2012. The older article is shorter and more specific, the new one is more in-depth and covers the often quite shocking mistakes. Sadly, this work will probably be referenced by the SWP as if it were a quality work of academic scholarship!

I did kick myself on one issue, though I realised after it was finished I should have quoted section 9 of the International Workers’ Association’s Principles of Revolutionary Syndicalism:

“Although enemies of all forms of organised violence in the hands of any Government, the Syndicalists do not forget that the decisive struggle between the Capitalism of to-day and the Free Communism of to-morrow, will not take place without serious collisions. They recognise violence, therefore, as a means of defence against the methods of violence of the ruling classes, in the struggle of the revolutionary people for the expropriation of the means of production and of the land. Just as this expropriation cannot be commenced and carried to a successful issue except by the revolutionary economic organisation of the workers, so also the defence of the revolution should be in the hands of these economic organisations, and not in those of the military or other organisations operating outside the economic organs.”

So much for syndicalists not recognising the importance of insurrection! In short, while Malatesta was right to raise this issue 1907 we can say that few, if any, syndicalists hold this position now. And given that I quote How We Shall Bring About the Revolution, leading French syndicalists were advocating an insurrectionary general strike in 1909!

As readers of my piece will quickly conclude, I agree with Malatesta’s critique of syndicalism. My experiences as a union rep confirm this, I should note. A union has many excellent qualities but you need anarchists to organise as anarchists and work within them. Unions have a tendency to reformism which sticking the word “revolutionary” in front of unionism does not counter-act. So, yes, syndicalism as a tactic by all means but not an end in itself – and for that, Malatesta is portrayed as being “anti-syndicalist” in some circles! As my quoting of the resolutions from the St. Imier conference he attended in 1872 and his co-authored one from the 1907 anarchist conference (in a footnote) shows, such claims are simply wrong!

The next article is on the British High Pay Commission report – Pay Inequality: Where it comes from and what to do about it. This is a useful source of fact and figures, but with (of course) sadly all-too-reformist suggestions. But what do you expect? It does contain a short account of the anarchist theory of exploitation which shows this rising inequality is not a product of “market failure” but how capitalism is meant to work.

The final new article (and just put on-line) is a review of the book Radica l Economics and Labor: Essays inspired by the IWW Centennial. This is, as you would guess, a selection of talks given at a conference held to mark the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World back in 2005. It is an academic work, so will be pretty expensive (I was sent a review copy). There are a couple of very good articles in it (one on Kropotkin, for example).

What is striking though, is how ignorant Marxists seem to be about anarchism. So many of the author’s basically repeat long-standing anarchist positions as new developments within Marxism (this was a feature of my talk at the bookfair this year, of course). For example, two Marxists discuss the importance of community organising and involving women in the struggle as if this were a new concept. I point to Temma Kaplan’s book on the Andalusian anarchists as evidence that we libertarians had been arguing this for some time.

Here are some relevant quotes from that work to supplement the review (as used in An Anarchist FAQ) – the anarchists were “rooted in” social life and created “a movement firmly based in working-class culture.” They “formed trade unions, affinity groups such as housewives’ sections, and broad cultural associations such as workers’ circles, where the anarchist press was read and discussed.” Their “great strength . . . lay in the merger of communal and militant trade union traditions. In towns where the vast majority worked in agriculture, agricultural workers’ unions came to be identified with the community as a whole . . . anarchism . . . show[ed] that the demands of agricultural workers and proletarians could be combined with community support to create an insurrectionary situation . . . It would be a mistake . . . to argue that “village anarchism” in Andalusia was distinct from militant unionism, or that the movement was a surrogate religion.” (Anarchists of Andalusia: 1868-1903, p. 211, p. 207 and pp. 204-5)

I’ve been working on that review, on and off, for about two years – I’m glad to have finally finished it.

Thanks to my being a union rep and trying to defend people’s jobs, I’ve not managed to do any real work on the Kropotkin anthology. Saying that, I have managed to track down two pieces I wanted to include. First was the original English-language version Kropotkin’s 1919 A Letter to the Workers of Western Europe. While this was originally written for and published in the Labour Leader, we have had versions translated back into English from French translations in Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets (recently renamed Anarchism: A Collection of Revolutionary Writings – see my review) and No Gods, No Masters. The second is a full translation of Kropotkin’s Postscript to the 1921 Russian Edition of Words of a Rebel written in December 1919, the same year as his letter to western workers. This had previously been available only in an edited version in the anthology Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets and I had expected to have to track it down and translate it. So I’m very happy to see it on Robert Graham’s excellent blog!

Oh, and I meant Lucien van der Walt – one of the co-authors of the excellent Black Flame (see my review). He seems a nice bloke and we had some interesting conversations. Some of which was, unsurprisingly, on the state of the movement and Proudhon’s place on anarchism. I gave him a copy of Property is Theft! and we’ll see what impact that has!

And talking of which, the editor of Anarchist Studies forwarded me an article on Proudhon for comment. The second version was a great improvement, although it did address the many comment in favour of common ownership of the means of life Proudhon made. Another comrade sent me a review and he also made a comment about Proudhon’s supposed defence of private property, but more widely distributed.

I had hoped that the new material translated in Property is Theft! (and well as my introduction!) would have ended this sort of comment (I have covered this elsewhere, namely in Proudhon on Socialisation). This is because such claims completely ignores Proudhon’s many, many comments in support of common ownership of the means of production. And this was from What is Property? onwards… So this gave me the excuse to gather a few relevant quotes on this issue and here there are (in reverse chronological order from December 1849 to 1840):

“it does not follow at all... that I want to see individual ownership and non-organisation of the instruments of labour endure for all eternity. I have never penned nor uttered any such thing: and have argued the opposite a hundred times over... I deny all kinds of proprietary domain. I deny it, precisely because I believe in an order wherein the instruments of labour will cease to be appropriated and instead become shared; where the whole earth will be depersonalised” (499)

“under universal association, ownership of the land and of the instruments of labour is social ownership… We want the mines, canals, railways handed over to democratically organised workers’ associations… We want these associations to be models for agriculture, industry and trade, the pioneering core of that vast federation of companies and societies woven into the common cloth of the democratic and social Republic.” (377)

“For this value or wealth, produced by the activity of all, is by the very fact of its creation collective wealth, the use of which, like that of the land, may be divided, but which as property remains undivided. And why this undivided ownership? Because the society which creates is itself indivisible—a permanent unit, incapable of reduction to fractions. And it is this unity of society which makes the land common property, and which, as M. Considérant says, renders its use imprescriptible in the case of every individual. Suppose, indeed, that at a given time the soil should be equally divided; the very next moment this division, if it allowed the right of property, would become illegitimate. Should there be the slightest irregularity in the method of transfer, men, members of society, imprescriptible possessors of the land, might be deprived at one blow of property, possession, and the means of production. In short, property in capital is indivisible, and consequently inalienable, not necessarily when the capital is uncreated, but when it is common or collective.” (153)

“it can be seen, clearly enough it seems to me, that M. Leroux opposes the exclusive appropriation of the instruments of production; only he calls this non-appropriation of the instruments of production a new method of establishing property, while I, in accordance with all precedent, call it a destruction of property. In fact, without the appropriation of instruments, property is nothing.” (149)

“All human labour being the result of collective force, all property becomes, by the same reason, collective and undivided.” (137)

“all accumulated capital being social property, no one can be its exclusive proprietor.” (118)

“The right to product is exclusive... the right to means is common” (112)

“Likewise the land is indispensable to our existence, — consequently a common thing, consequently unsusceptible of appropriation” (105)

Given all this, I think that saying Proudhon wanted private property (but widely distributed) is unfair and inaccurate. Perhaps it could be argued he rejected his early opinions and came to this position in the 1860s, but that ignores his initial position and his impact in the 1840s.

Suffice to say, I think Proudhon’s position was to advocate private use of publicly owned instruments of production (with ownership of product resting with the workers who created it). No one would be made a servant (wage-worker) of another. The key issue is access, I think. Proudhon position is that no one should become a wage-slave in order to gain access to the means of production – “the right of any stranger to become a member upon his simple request, and to straightway enjoy the rights and prerogatives of associates and even managers” (213). Hence the Proudhon’s argument for the need for common ownership in What is Property? and as expressed in the November 1848 election manifesto.

The best way of expressing it would be that Proudhon argued for “private” use of public property, with workers associating together in self-managed firms and they would own the products of their labour but not the means of production. The issue of public ownership is key to ensuring that wage-labour IS abolished. In short, without social ownership the property-users become property-owners and can bar access unless someone becomes their servant (wage-worker). After all, he did conclude in 1840 the following:

“I prove that those who do not possess today are proprietors by the same title as those who do possess; but, instead of inferring therefrom that property should be shared by all, I demand, in the name of general security, its entire abolition.” (91)

And, finally, I wonder if anyone can shed some light on something for me In The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852) Marx states: “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”

Does anyone know where Hegel remarked that?

Interestingly, Proudhon wrote along very similar lines four years before Marx did in that work. He also bemoaned how the radicals were looking backwards and not forward:

“It is by “93 and all of its discord that we are being ruled… What we have here is a phenomenon of social psychology that is deserving of further exploration… So what is this queer preoccupation which, in time of revolution, bedazzles the most steadfast minds, and, when their burning aspirations carry them forward into the future, has them constantly harking back the past? … Could [Society] not turn its gaze in the direction in which it is going?” (308)

Proudhon then goes on to write:

“It has rightly been said that the backward-looking farces played out by the provisional government have cost us more in two months than the invasions back in 1814 and 1815.

“so what is going to happen when we shift from farce to tragedy?” (311)

As I said, interesting parallels between Proudhon in 1848 and Marx in 1852 (or, for that matter, in 1867 or 1871 !).

Until I blog again… be seeing you… and have a wonderful 2012!


Short version, he advocated

Short version, he advocated retaining commodity relations.
Anyway, I think it was the Philosophy of history Marx was referencing.

--A viscious lurker.

Short version, he advocated

Short version, he advocated retaining commodity relations.

What an amazing insight! Wow, it is almost as if someone has never read, say, my introduction to Property is Theft! in which I discuss this in some detail. Or, for that matter, Marx and Engels when they explain how commodity production does not equal capitalism when the worker retains ownership of the means of production...

Anyway, I think it was the Philosophy of history Marx was referencing.

Is that available on-line? And could you be more specific?

Well, no, I haven't read the

Well, no, I haven't read the book, I'm not interested in retaining commodity society, and if my encapsulation above is correct, as you say, then you've confirmed I needn't bother myself. Further, do I think such a project is remotely plausible, except as a thought epxeriment.

And to repeat a quote bomb:

The co-operative factories of the labourers themselves represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new, although they naturally reproduce, and must reproduce, everywhere in their actual organisation all the shortcomings of the prevailing system. But the antithesis between capital and labour is overcome within them, if at first only by way of making the associated labourers into their own capitalist, i.e., by enabling them to use the means of production for the employment of their own labour.

And this must be so with any large scale machine intensive production.

Lectures in the philosophy of history can be found via:

--A viscious lurker.

Though Trade unions can serve

Though Trade unions can serve as the springboard for change in the society, there are still chances that very large trade union can themselves become new power centres in an Anarchist society. As we had seen in communist nations as well, that trade unions were one of the main headaches for governments there because of the immense clout they enjoyed. Anarcho-syndicalism is a practical concept, but still not bereft of the inherent defects in it.

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