Elections, Russell Brand and more on Proudhon, Marx and labour notes

Apologies, it has been ages since I blogged last. A combination of many things, not least trying to cover all the nonsense Marx sprouts in The Poverty of Philosophy – more on that later. Since I last blogged, I posted a review of a Marxist book on the First International. The review is lengthy – longer than I intended (god, how many times have I wrote/said that?) – simply because, as a Marxist, the editor does not known enough about Proudhon and his influence to understand its development. Anyway, read the review for more discussion.

Here in the UK the general election is nearly over. And what a strange one it is – not least from a Scottish perspective. After the fear-love nonsense of the referendum last year, we are now in hate mode. Apparently the establishment love us Scots and don’t want us to leave – but only as long as we don’t vote for the wrong people (i.e., the SNP). While I would have voted “yes” last year, I am not a nationalist (obviously – as I’m an anarchist and so a federalist internationalist) and am not particularly excited by the SNP’s warmed up social-democracy – it is only radical compared to the austerity and austery-lite policies of the main UK parties. And, obviously, I get a bit annoyed with those who equate the nationalism of the SNP (which is progressive) with that of UKIP (which is reactionary) - and best not mention those who take British nationalism as default while denouncing other forms of nationalism (like much of the media commentators).

The Tories, as to be expected, are putting short-term political gain before their proclaimed principles (e.g., support for “the union”) and, as to be expected, their utter failure economically is being portrayed as their great strength by most of the media – and enough people are falling for it (in spite of the facts of the matter – see Simon Wren-Lewis and his Mediamacro myths series or my favourite neo-classical Keynesian Paul Krugman’s The Austerity Delusion). Ed Miliband has now proclaimed, in effect, that he would sooner see the Tories in office than work with the SNP… he should have that the people who live in Scotland are part of Britain, that their votes count and so would work with their elected representatives – but no. Madness – but that is what happens when you work inside the machine.

Sad to say, given the pain, misery and general incompetence of the Con-Dems it appears likely that enough people will vote so as to give them a chance to get back in. Does this mean the anarchist “don’t vote” line at elections is wrong? No – as the “don’t vote” position is not precisely that. It is “don’t vote: organise and fight” – and sad to say, there has been very little of the latter during the worst economic crisis for decades. Marching and grumbling have been the order of the day – the Tory’s road to private serfdom has been well travelled and most people appear to know their place.

The whole point of “don’t vote” is to remind people where real power lies – on our side, in our streets and workplaces; on their side, in the state bureaucracy and capital. It does not imply that there is absolutely no difference between parties just that there is very little and that if we need to make change we need to force politicians to act by direct action from below. The problem is not that people vote, it is that is all people do – they think that others will act on their behalf and so leave them to it. Unsurprisingly, the politicians are then pressured from the state bureaucracy and capital and so end up all doing roughly the same things – but not precisely.

How much this difference makes it worthwhile to vote for the lesser evil is really up to the individual. Ultimately, voting for the lesser evil is hardly voting for a government… helping to oust, for example, Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander would appeal to many people (I for one!) and who am I to suggest that this would not be a good thing? If I did, I’m sure to be ignored – but the question then is, “is putting that cross on a bit of paper all you do?” and we are back at the anarchist position again.

In terms of anarchist propaganda the key issue has never been fetishising non-voting but rather stressing that change comes from below, by direct action and solidarity, by working class self-organisation. We need to build that – whether people vote or not is really irrelevant for real power has always been outside parliament. Hence the Tories anti-union laws, draconian public-order acts – and Labour’s unwillingness to reverse them.

Remember, though, that 150 years ago Marx’s argument was that we need to form political parties to seize state power, reform it and use it to introduce socialism. Few Marxists believe this (the SPGB do) and that this was once orthodox Marxism is so embarrassing that most Marxists deny it was ever the case. So in terms of the big debate between the anarchists and Marxists in the First International, the anarchists have been proven correct – indeed, quickly so with the rise of revisionism in German Social Democracy.

If you watched Ed Miliband’s interview with Russell Brand, that is where he went wrong – Miliband placed the focus on politics (unsurprisingly) yet the example of the equal pay act shows that this is not the case. It took direct action to get that passed and inequality still remains – worse, the strike that forced the matter into the public consciousness would be deemed illegal today and would never have happened. Is Labour proposing to change that? No, at best they are – unlike the Tories – not going to make it even harder to strike.

Brand should have challenged him more on that. Talking of which, I’m nearly finished his book Revolution. I will be reviewing it for Black Flag but a few words are in order. The tone is widely variable and he has found God (spiritualism may be a better word). This makes some of the book hard doing for me at least – not to mention assertions on the power of transcendental meditation. And as many have pointed out, Brand is somewhat narcissistic and just as his stand-up is focused on himself, so is this book. Now, I don’t think this is automatically a bad thing (being partial to a bit of egoist-communism) but I’ve never really been a fan of autobiographies and this is more that than a political work. But, then, you don’t expect Russell Brand to produce a work of deep political thought. So not so much “Chomsky with nob gags” as “summarising Chomsky with a few nob gags thrown in”…

So the book varies widely in tone and subject, covers aspects of autobiography while summarising other people’s ideas – anarchists like Chomsky and Graeber. His commentary on Orwell’s account of anarchist Barcelona is amusing and to the point – as are his comments that the Ten Commandants don’t mention homosexuality. His occasion throw-away comments on 9/11 conspiracy theories distract from his serious points - and he is making them. His discovery of spiritualism is the main focus of the book, I would say, but he uses that to bring in serious ideas – like workers’ control, decentralisation, federalism, etc. These are basic anarchist ideas and they are reaching a bigger audience, which can only be good.

The book’s basic message is that if he can change (and he has) then we can change both ourselves and the world. This is a refreshing message and so it is good he wrote the book. He is using his fame to push ideas like worker-run co-operatives replacing corporations out of the libertarian movement into wider society. He is stressing the need for direct action, community activism, and that is a good thing. Is his book confused? Yes. Are his politics completely correct and coherent? No: but potentially they are – and they are more correct than many on the left.

Ultimately, if he gets even a few of his readers interested in the people he summarises – Chomsky, Graeber, Orwell – or gets them reading about anarchist ideas and active in direct action community and workplace groups then all for the best. And I’m sure he would be the first to agree.

Overall his message is quite reformist and hardly utopian – if we ignore the spiritualism aspects and his claims for it -- replacing corporations with co-operatives, decentralising power, etc. So why the backlash? Partly because he is exposing the “Elephant in the Room” with his comments on not voting (but see, he has backed the Greens – which is not surprising when you listen to what he actually said rather than what the media reported). The system is corrupt, people have little influence, parties do not represent people but those who fund them (unless it is labour and the trade unions, of course!). You do not say things like that in polite society. He touched a nerve and as he cannot be refuted he must be demonised.

Brand is urging the replacement of capitalism with co-operatives, the end of wage-labour by associated labour – presumably in a market economy (no mention of “planning” in the book – wisely as central planning will never work as advertised by Marx). Which brings me to Proudhon. As noted above, been busy working on a reply to The Poverty of Philosophy and the more I get into it the more it is obvious that it is a terrible work, full of inventions, distortions, selective quoting, etc. Worse, many of Marx’s points against Proudhon are latter shown to be wrong by Marx himself. In 1847 he is a proper little Ricardian:

‘If ever posterity does interfere, it will say perhaps that M. Proudhon, afraid of offending his readers’ Anglophobia, preferred to make himself the responsible editor of Ricardo’s ideas. In any case, it will think it very naive that M. Proudhon should give as a “revolutionary theory of the future” what Ricardo expounded scientifically as the theory of present-day society, of bourgeois society, and that he should thus take for the solution of the antinomy between utility and exchange value what Ricardo and his school presented long before him as the scientific formula of one single side of this antinomy, that of exchange value […]Ricardo shows us the real movement of bourgeois production‘

Two things. First, Ricardo links his ideas to Smith – as does Proudhon. Proudhon, regardless to Marx’s claims, never presented himself as having discovered anything “scientific”. Second, Marx later concludes that Ricardo was wrong – the labour theory of value does not work directly under capitalism but indirectly. As a respected Russian Marxist noted:

“From the point of view of the law of an equal rate of profit, the price of the latter commodity must be higher, since it contains a profit on a larger capital. How do we resolve this contradiction? It was to answer this question that Marx constructed his theory of ‘prices of production’. According to Marx’s theory, in a capitalist economy, with its tendency towards equalisation of the rate of profit, commodities are sold not at their labour values, but at their ‘prices of production’, i.e., production costs plus average profit.” (I. I. Rubin, A History of Economic Thought (pdf), 263)

So the existence of non-labour income – profit, interest, rent – means that Ricardo was wrong – and so he did not “show us the real movement of bourgeois production” in terms of the labour theory of value or price regulated by labour or labour-time. Proudhon, like other socialists (such as the early British socialists mislabelled - thanks to Marx -- as Ricardian socialists), saw that non-labour income showed that commodities did not exchange according to the labour in them -- it took Marx a decade to recognise that this was the case. Yet in volume 1 of Capital he points this out in a footnote and does not clearly state his assumptions/abstractions of no competition (that is introduced in volume 3!) and equal levels of capital investment.

It takes Marx about ten years to realise Ricardo’s flaws on this and many other issues (such as on why wages don’t equal product) and it is somewhat amusing reading Marx (in Theories of Surplus Value and elsewhere) slowly begin to grasp that Proudhon was right, that Adam Smith (whom Proudhon links to and quotes in his conclusion) position was right and Ricardo did not understand Smith’s position and simply asserted that wages did not equal product. Indeed, Marx’s words against Ricardo are equally applicable to his own words against Proudhon in 1847:

“[Ricardo states:] ‘The value of labour, and the quantity of commodities which a specific quantity of labour can buy, are not identical.’ Why not? ‘Because the worker’s product or an equivalent of this product is not = to the worker’s pay.’ I.e. the identity does not exist, because a difference exists. ‘Therefore’ (because this is not the case) ‘it is not the value of labour which is the measure of value, but the quantity of labour bestowed on the commodity.’ (19, 3.) Value of labour is not identical with wages of labour. Because they are different. Therefore they are not identical. This is a strange logic. There is basically no reason for this other than that it is not so in practice. But it ought to be so, according to the theory. For the exchange of values [is] determined by the labour time realised in them.” (The Grundrisse, 561)

A “strange logic” he is happy to parrot against Proudhon! Let us quote Marx some more as readers of The Poverty of Philosophy will recognise that Marx, in refuting Ricardo, also refutes his own so-called critique of Proudhon:

“But Ricardo has by no means thereby solved the problem which is the real cause of Adam Smith’s contradiction. Value of labour and quantity of labour remain ‘equivalent expressions’, so long as it is a question of materialised labour. They cease to be equivalents as soon as materialised labour is exchanged for living labour. […] Two commodities exchange in proportion to the labour materialised in them. Equal quantities of materialised labour are exchanged for one another. Labour-time is their standard measure […] If the commodity A contains one working-day, then it will exchange against any quantity of commodities which likewise contains one working-day […] Ricardo simply answers that this is how matters are in capitalist production. Not only does he fail to solve the problem; he does not even realise its existence in Adam Smith’s work […] as soon as capital, and consequently wage-labour, intervenes, the value of the product is not regulated by the quantity of labour bestowed upon it, but by the quantity of labour it can command.” (Theories of Surplus Value II: 396-402)

So Marx’s own work shows that in 1847 Proudhon was right and he was wrong. Of course, when he quotes Proudhon on how “Any man’s labour can buy the value it contains” and suggested this showed that, “according to [Proudhon], a certain quantity of labour embodied in a product is equivalent to the worker’s payment, that is, to the value of labour” Marx was quoting him out-of-context (hence the lack of a page reference by Marx). When you look at what Proudhon actually wrote he was mocking the bourgeois economists for he was well aware that under capitalism wages did not equal product (as would be the case under mutualism):

“Why do not the economists, if they believe, as they appear to, that the labour of each should leave a surplus, use all their influence in spreading this truth, so simple and so luminous: Each man’s labour can buy only the value which it contains, and this value is proportional to the services of all other workers?” (Système I: 81)

Marx later suggests that “[i]t is Adam Smith’s great merit that […] where he passes from simple commodity exchange and its law of value to exchange between materialised and living labour, to exchange between capital and wage-labour […] he feels some flaw has emerged. He senses that somehow […] in the actual result the law is suspended: more labour is exchanged for less labour (from the labourer’s standpoint)” (Theories of Surplus Value I: 87) Proudhon makes the same point as Smith and suggests a means to end wage-labour (by workers’ associations) to ensure that “Products are bought only with products”. (Système I: 246; Système II: 84) Marx takes Ricardo’s assertions against Smith at face value and parrots them against Proudhon. He fails to understand Proudhon and it will take him ten years to reach the Frenchman’s level of understanding.

Marx also makes a big thing about Proudhon advocating labour notes but as indicated in a previous blog does not quote Proudhon on this – for the very good reason that the Frenchman does not. Here he is from volume 2 of System of Economic Contradictions (the 1846 edition):

“The declaimers spoke about money as the fabulist spoke about language: they gave at the same time all the goods and all the evils of society to it. It is money, said some, which builds cities, which wins battles, which produces trade, which encourages talents, which remunerates work, and which regulates the accounts of society. It is money, the rage of money, auri sacra blades, retorted the others, which is the leaven of all our vices, the principle of all our treasons, the secrecy of all our baseness. If this praise and this blame were true, the invention of money, most astonishing according to Mr. de Sismondi, happiest in my opinion, made by the economic genius, would present to the analysis a contradiction; it would have, consequently, to be rejected and replaced by a higher, more moral and truer design. But it is not so: precious metals, cash and bank paper are not by themselves causes of good nor of evil, the true cause is in the uncertainty of value, whose constitution appears to us symbolically in currency as realisation of order and of well-being, and whose irregular oscillation, in the other products, is the principle of all plunder and misery.” (Système II: 382)

So he is clearly not suggesting replacing money with labour notes. As Proudhon put it in volume 1:

“In economic science, we have said after Adam Smith, the point of view from which all values are compared is labour; as for the unit of measure, that adopted in France is the FRANC.” (Système I: 67-8)

If in doubt here is Proudhon again:

“According to this analysis, value, considered from the point of view of the association which producers, by division of labour and by exchange, naturally form among themselves, is the proportional relation of the products which constitute wealth, and what we call the value of any special product is a formula which expresses, in terms of money, the proportion of this product to the general wealth. – Utility is the basis of value; labour fixes the relation; the price is the expression which, barring the fluctuations that we shall have to consider, indicates this relation.” (Systeme I: 62)

You can see why Marx preferred to quote John Bray over labour-notes and assert that Bray, the advocate of central planning, has the same ideas a Proudhon, the advocate of market socialism. Bray is very clear: “Competition could have no existence in a change like this”. (Labour’s Wrongs and Labour’s Remedy, 158) Marx when claiming to refute Proudhon (by quoting Bray!) states that we “[s]uppose for a moment that there is no more competition and consequently no longer any means to ascertain the minimum of labour necessary for the production of a commodity” and asks “what will happen?” because pontificating on issuing labour-notes based on the time taken to produce a good. Yet later in his book Marx states the reality of Proudhon’s position: “Proudhon issues purposely to prove the necessity of competition, its eternity as a category, etc.” Opps!

Marx’s self-contradiction is obvious - assuming you are paying attention and are not genuflecting. His discussion on labour-notes is nonsense for two reasons. First, and most importantly, Proudhon simply does not advocate it. This is why Marx does not quote him and is reduced to quoting Bray and asserting that Proudhon (who did not known English) simply copied him (which explains why Marx also has to distort Bray along with Proudhon). Second, Marx present an analysis based on “no more competition” knowing full well that Proudhon advocates competition – in part precisely to determine value. For Proudhon, “if labour cannot find its reward in its own product, very far from encouraging it, it should be abandoned as soon as possible”. Note that he says “product” rather than time and need it be noted (again) that Proudhon was in favour competition? Why? In part precisely to ensure that goods were exchanged at a low price and so competition was “the most energetic instrument for the constitution of value” and ensured a “reduction of general costs”. An “exact knowledge of value […] can be discovered only by competition, not at all by communistic institutions or by popular decree.” (Système I: 199, 235, 189)

Proudhon repeatedly indicates that value – price – will vary under mutualism and “how, by a series of oscillations between supply and demand, the value of every product constantly seeks a level with cost and with the needs of consumption, and consequently tends to establish itself in a fixed and positive manner” (Système I: 87) He repeats this numerous times (like Smith and Ricardo he was well aware that price tends to value in the long term due to competition - although he expected the “organisation of labour” to speed that process up):

“Value reaches its positive determination by a series of oscillations between supply and demand.” (Système I: 90)

“value is determined in society by a series of oscillations between supply and demand” (Système II: 209)

So much for many of Marx’s claims.

Now, we can all proclaim that Proudhon was wrong to advocate market competition in a money system as the basis of socialism but this is not what Marx did. Marx completely distorted Proudhon’s position and did not even to manage to do it in a coherent manner. This is what passes for a successful critique in Marxist circles…

A few more quick comments on Marx. You have to admire, I suppose, his dedication to an analysis which concludes that replacing wage-labour by workers associations would result in workers becoming worse-off:

“If there were anything to be condemned, it would surely be the system of M. Proudhon, who would reduce the worker, as we have shown, to the minimum wage, in spite of the increase of wealth. It is only by reducing the worker to the minimum wage that he would be able to apply the true proportion of values, of ‘value constituted’ by labour time. It is because wages, as a result of competition, oscillate now above, now below, the price of food necessary for the sustenance of the worker, that he can participate to a certain extent in the development of collective wealth, and can also perish from want. This is the whole theory of the economists who have no illusions on the subject.”

Proudhon’s “system”, let us not forget, is “the organisation of labour, which involves the negation of political economy and the end of property.” His analysis of wage-labour and how exploitation occurred in production feeds directly into Proudhon’s arguments for workers’ associations and socialisation. As “all labour must leave a surplus, all wages [must] be equal to product” and “[b]y virtue of the principle of collective force, workers are the equals and associates of their leaders.” The workplace of the future would be based on free access (“should allow access to all who might present themselves”) and self-management (“to straightway enjoy the rights and prerogatives of associates and even managers”). (Système I: 217, 305, 377, 274, 272) This is based on collective property:

“it is necessary that by the reaction of labour against capital all appropriated wealth again become collective wealth, that the capital taken from society returns to society […] Like the capitalist to the worker there is supremacy and dependence […] capital introduces into society an inevitable feudalism” (Système II: 168)

“From this proposition [that ‘labour is the principle of proportionality of values’] and its corollaries, ‘any product is worth what it costs’ and ‘products are purchased with other products,’ results the dogma of equality of conditions. The idea of socially constituted value, or proportionality products, serves to explain further [...] how social value continuously eliminates fictitious values, in other words, how industry brings about the socialisation of capital and property” (Système I: 87-8)

So the abolition of private property, workers managing their own work and selling the product of their labour would result in lower incomes than under capitalism “in spite of the increase of wealth”! Where does that increase of wealth go to? Marx does not elaborate - for good reason. Cornelius Castoriadis in Modern Capitalism and Revolution explains how ridiculous Marx’s notion is:

“Production which expands by 3% per annum will double itself every 23 years. At the end of a century it will have increased 20-fold. If we assume that the net production of the capitalist sector in France was 100 units per worker in 1860, it would be 2,000 units today. But the theory of absolute pauperisation means that if wages per worker were 50 units in 1860, they would be less than 50 units today. In other words, wages today would constitute less than 50/2000 (or less than 2.5%) of the net product of the capitalist sector. This is clearly impossible. However massive the accumulation of capital, however enormous the export of capital, however gluttonous the bourgeoisie or however wasteful its state expenses, the disposal of products would be rigorously impossible under these conditions.” (Political and Social Writings 2: 249-50)

Marx’s position is not true under capitalism – nor can it be true under mutualism! So you can see why “the organisation of labour” is a concept of Proudhon’s which Marx fails to mention.

There are so many other howlers by Marx that it is time consuming to discuss them all. There are not only howlers in terms of distorting Proudhon but also when you compare the Marx of 1847 with the later Marx. For example, Marx is so at pains to proclaim Proudhon’s analysis which places the division of labour as coming before machines that he fails to note the experts he himself quotes support Proudhon – and in the 1850s and 1860s he, finally, admits the obvious. So he goes from “it is slapping history in the face to want to begin by the division of labour in general, in order to get subsequently to a specific instrument of production, machinery” to later admitting:

“That form of co-operation which is based on division of labour assumes its classical shape in manufacture. [….] This workshop, the product of division of labour in manufacture, produced in its turn – machines.” (Capital I: 455, 490-1)

Significantly, in Capital Marx - like Proudhon in 1846 and consequently criticised by Marx in 1847 - places his chapter on machinery after the one on the division of labour. What a difference 20 years make! Then there is this comment made between The Poverty of Philosophy and Capital:

“machinery [...] arose [...] through the division of labour, which gradually transforms the workers’ operations into more and more mechanical ones, so that at a certain point a mechanism can step into their places.” (The Grundrisse, 704)

And talking of machines, Marx suggests that Proudhon does not realise that machines are “the weapon employed by the capitalist to quell the revolt of specialised labour.” This has been dutifully repeated by Marxists since – in spite of Proudhon writing the following in 1846:

“Edinburgh Review, 1835: ‘To a combination of workmen (who did not want to see their wages reduced) we owe the mule of Sharpe and Roberts of Manchester; and this invention has severely punished the imprudent unionists.’

Punished should merit punishment. The invention of Sharpe and Roberts of Manchester was bound to result from the situation; the refusal of the workmen to submit to the reduction asked of them was only its determining occasion. Might not one infer, from the air of vengeance affected by the Edinburgh Review, that machines have a retroactive effect?

“An English manufacturer: ‘The insubordination of our workmen has given us the idea of dispensing with them. We have made and stimulated every imaginable effort of the mind to replace the service of men by tools more docile, and we have achieved our object. Machinery has delivered capital from the oppression of labour. Wherever we still employ a man, we do so only temporarily, pending the invention for us of some means of accomplishing his work without him.’

“What a system is that which leads a business man to think with delight that society will soon be able to dispense with men! Machinery has delivered capital from the oppression of labour! That is exactly as if the cabinet should undertake to deliver the treasury from the oppression of the taxpayers. Fool! though the workmen cost you something, they are your customers: what will you do with your products, when, driven away by you, they shall consume them no longer? Thus machinery, after crushing the workmen, is not slow in dealing employers a counter-blow; for, if production excludes consumption, it is soon obliged to stop itself.

 “During the fourth quarter of 1841 four great failures, happening in an English manufacturing city, threw seventeen hundred and twenty people on the street.

“These failures were caused by over-production, – that is, by an inadequate market, or the distress of the people. What a pity that machinery cannot also deliver capital from the oppression of consumers! What a misfortune that machines do not buy the fabrics which they weave! The ideal society will be reached when commerce, agriculture, and manufactures can proceed without a man upon earth!” (Système I: 150-2)

And Marx proclaims in his best ex cathedra tone: “Need we speak of the philanthropic and providential aim that M. Proudhon discovers in the invention and first application of machinery?” Shameful.

Then there is the issue of the state, taxation, “the police”. This shows Marx’s technique at its best (i.e., worst). Marx provides a quote from Proudhon and fails to indicate the substantial editing he has made which completely turns the Frenchman’s arguments on his head. We will quote Proudhon in full and indicate the part Marx quotes in bold:

“In positing its principles humanity, as if in obedience to a sovereign order, never goes backward. Like the traveller who by oblique windings rises from the depth of the valley to the mountain-top, it follows intrepidly its zigzag road, and marches to its goal with confident step, without repentance and without pause. Arriving at the angle of monopoly, the social genius casts backward a melancholy glance, and, in a moment of profound reflection, says to itself:

‘Monopoly has stripped the poor hireling of everything, -- bread, clothing, home, education, liberty, and security. I will lay a tax upon the monopolist; at this price I will save him his privilege.

‘Land and mines, woods and waters, the original domain of man, are forbidden to the proletarian. I will intervene in their exploitation, I will have my share of the products, and land monopoly shall be respected.

‘Industry has fallen into feudalism, but I am the suzerain. The lords shall pay me tribute, and they shall keep the profit of their capital.

‘Commerce levies usurious profits on the consumer. I will strew its road with toll-gates, I will stamp its checks and indorse its invoices, and it shall pass.

‘Capital has overcome labour by intelligence. I will open schools, and the worker, made intelligent himself, shall become a capitalist in his turn.

‘Products lack circulation, and social life is cramped. I will build roads, bridges, canals, marts, theatres, and temples, and thus furnish at one stroke work, wealth, and a market.

‘The rich man lives in plenty, while the workman weeps in starvation. I will establish taxes on bread, wine, meat, salt, and honey, on articles of necessity and on objects of value, and these shall supply alms for my poor.

‘And I will set guards over the waters, the woods, the fields, the mines, and the roads; I will send collectors to gather the taxes and teachers to instruct the children; I will have an army to put down refractory subjects, courts to judge them, prisons to punish them, and priests to curse them. All these offices shall be given to the proletariat and paid by the monopolists.

‘Such is my certain and efficacious will.’” (Système I: 284-5)

Clearly Marx’s summary leaves a lot to be desired! Needless to say, Marx failed to quote what Proudhon wrote immediately after this:

“We have to prove that society could neither think better nor act worse: this will be the subject of a review which, I hope, will throw new light upon the social problem.” (Système I: 285)

Proudhon then goes into this subject for the rest of this chapter and explains why the state is an instrument of class rule which "finds itself inevitably enchained to capital and directed against the proletariat.” (Système I: 363) So Proudhon’s statement on how the state acts to secure the profits and power of the capitalists and landlord by taxing them a little in the name of the general welfare is completely lost – worse, turned into its exact opposite. This does not stop Marx proclaiming:

“This brief summary will suffice to give the reader a true idea of M. Proudhon’s lucubrations on the police or on taxes, the balance of trade, credit, communism, and population. We defy the most indulgent criticism to treat these chapters seriously.”

The “true idea” of Proudhon “on the police or on taxes” is summarised as follows:

“Taxation, then, police – henceforth we shall not separate these two ideas – is a new source of pauperism; taxation aggravates the subversive effects of the preceding antinomies – division of labour, machinery, competition, monopoly. It attacks the worker in his liberty and in his conscience, in his body and in his soul, by parasitism, vexations, the frauds which it prompts, and the punishments which follow them.” (Système I: 331)

We defy the most sycophantic Marxist to compare what Proudhon actually wrote to what Marx claimed he did and take Marx’s so-called critique seriously.

I could go on, but I think that is enough bar one more point. I have not discussed the complete reversal of Marx’s position on methodology (the “metaphysics” be berated Proudhon for). As René Berthier notes in Proudhon and German philosophy (pdf), Marx ten years after denouncing Proudhon for building an abstract theory of capitalism using categories, embraces that methodology. This is unsurprising for Marx’s position in 1847 is that you have to discuss every aspect of capitalist at once and to provide its history. This explains why he could not finish the work on political economy he was working on during the late 1840s – he own methodology made it an impossible task. So he quietly changed his position and embraced Proudhon’s – while continually denouncing him…

I’ll blog on that more at a later stage. Suffice to say, I hope I have indicated why Marx is simply not reliable when it comes to Proudhon.

Until I blog again, be seeing you…


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