Engels on The Housing Question and Proudhon (again)

This blog is kind of a repeat. What seems like ages ago, I posted Engels on The Housing Question and Proudhon which had an appendix on my planned reply to Marx’s The Philosophy of Philosophy. Imagine my surprise when – this weekend – I was looking for a quote from Proudhon’s The Philosophy of Progress and had a look at it again and discovered that the post was truncated – including the appendix on “The Housing Question.” Opps.

Anyways, I thought it wise to repost the whole thing with a few changes (like page numbers) and the final version of my reconstruction of Proudhon’s theory of exploitation – as will be seen in my forthcoming “Proudhon’s constituted value and the myth of labour notes” (Anarchist Studies next year, that is 2017). I also plan do a few posts on my Property is Theft! blog using my far-too-long first draft chapter on anarchist organisation – that should dispel any lingering doubts that Proudhon was “really” a fascist (as suggested by numpty-in-chief, Schapiro). Yes, he really was a radical democrat in the sense of supporting self-managed workplace and communal organisations and their federation.

Talking of Schapiro, I’m going through the little evidence he provides and seeing if it holds the weight put on it. The answer is no – he simply does not understand Proudhon (at best). Ironically, his quotes from Proudhon’s letters on his “contempt of the common man” are mostly from letters bemoaning popular support for Louis-Napoleon’s coup d’état. So Proudhon is a fascist because he expresses his disgust at the masses voting for an authoritarian regime and because he suggested that Louis-Napoleon, because of this popular support, introduce reforms (reforms, incidentally, which would end his regime – which was one of the many reasons why he ignored Proudhon and his regime censored him before driving him into exile).

So Proudhon cannot win – if he denounces the masses in relation to their support of Napoleon and his coup d’état, he is a fascist; if he points to this popular support for Napoleon and uses it as a base to urge him to introduce reforms, he is a fascist.

Still, you get a feel for Schapiro’s concern for the facts when you read him proclaim that Proudhon “now welcomed the constitution of the Second Empire that established the dictatorship of Louis Napoleon.” The Second Empire was proclaimed (by a plebiscite in favour of it) in December 1852, after Proudhon’s book was published in July 1852. How a book “welcomed” an Empire which was proclaimed months after it appeared is not explained by Schapiro nor does he bother to note the plebiscite which overwhelmingly supported Louis-Napoleon’s coup of Second of December 1851 which extended his presidency to ten-years. And it should be noted that Marx, for example, did not question the validity of the plebiscites, arguing that “the Bonaparte who dispersed [the Assembly] is the chosen of peasantry.” (Marx-Engels Reader, 607-8)

Did Proudhon’s book drive “home the idea that a social revolution could be accomplished only through the dictatorship of one man”? Well, no:

“the Second of December was a trap, the act of a highway robber, a situation in which the army showed itself to be fierce, the people cowardly, power villainous”

“I will affirm again the republican principle in its plenitude, against every monarchy and theocracy”

“I myself have defended universal suffrage, as a constitutional right and law of the State; and because it exists, I do not ask that it be repressed, but that…. it be organised, and that it lives.”

“I am opposed to dictatorship and any type of coup d’État.”

“I am repelled by dictatorship… I consider it a theocratic and barbarous institution, in every case a menace to liberty… To me, dictatorship is only tyranny: I do not discuss it, I hate it, and if the occasion presents itself, I assassinate it.”

“not trusting any prominent man, either princely or popular, with the care of the general interest and public liberties”

“Will it be an absolute monarchy? No, because the powers of the man and of the citizen… when converted into rights, are free”

“socialism… is the Revolution”

“the Social Revolution is the negation of all political and economic hierarchy”

Proudhon’s book was an attempt to influence a regime which had substantial popular support to introduce some genuine popular reforms and Proudhon “who wanted no government at all for my contemporaries, I ask nothing better than to see the one I am paying for make some changes and proceed according to my principle” because “having no guarantee, far from it, that either a democracy, a true democracy, will in time return”. Was he wise to do so? Perhaps not, given how the book (usually the book’s title!) was used to slander him.

Schapiro, in short, ignores the awkward fact that Proudhon raises a question: “Anarchy or Caesarism, I tell you: you cannot avoid that.” Louis-Napoleon, perhaps unsurprisingly, choose Caesarism – by proclaiming himself Emperor and creating the Second Empire four months after Proudhon’s work was published. In short, Louis-Napoleon picked Caesarism – which, given his history, is hardly surprising (indeed, Proudhon was in prison at the time of his coup d’état because he had insulted the President by suggesting he wished to be Emperor!)

This kind of distortion takes on a life of its own. Schapiro was used by Marxist-numpty Hal Draper who, in turn, got repeated by David McNally and Donny Gluckstein (still revising this review-article because his book is even worse than I remembered – particularly his account of Proudhon’s ideas). As an example, Schapiro states:

Proudhon's contempt and hatred of democracy overflowed all decent bounds, and he descended to a degree of disgusting vilification, reached only by the fascists of our day. “All this democracy disgusts me,” he wrote. “It wishes to be scratched where vermin causes itching, but it does not at all wish to be combed or to be deloused. What would I not give to sail into this mob with my clenched fists!” (J. Salwyn Schapiro, “Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Harbinger of Fascism”, The American Historical Review, 50: 4, 724)

I will ignore the awkward fact – unmentioned by Schapiro – that Proudhon repeatedly and consistently advocated universal suffrage within the communal and workplace associations and federations of his mutualist system and that his attacks on “democracy” were on the centralised governmental form supported by the French left (as in the “one and indivisible republic”). This, he argued, negated popular sovereignty by placing it in a few hands at the top of society – in other words, he opposed it because “democracy” was not democratic enough.

No, I will concentrate on a quote provided to bolster his claim that Proudhon was a precursor of fascism. As discussed elsewhere, Schapiro quotes Proudhon completely out of context:

The second quote McNally provides as evidence for his case is "All this democracy disgusts me". Again, no reference is provided for obvious reasons for when it is tracked down it becomes clear that McNally is again quoting the Frenchman completely out-of-context in order to attribute to him ideas he did not hold, indeed was arguing against. This sentence comes from a private letter written in 1861 bemoaning how others on the left were attacking him as "a false democrat, a false friend of progress, a false republican" due to his critical position on Polish independence. Unlike most of the rest of the left (including Bakunin, it should be noted), Proudhon opposed the creation of a Polish state as it would be run by the "nobility [nobiliarie], [and so] catholic, aristocratic, [and] divided into castes". In other words, not a democracy. He then proclaims: "All this democracy disgusts me". [Correspondance de Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, vol. XI, p. 196-7] Once this context is provided, it becomes clear that using his justly famous talent for irony against those on the left who violate their own stated democratic principles by supporting the creation of a feudal regime -- if this is democracy, Proudhon was saying, then it disgusts him ("All this [so-called] democracy disgusts me"). By quoting out-of-context McNally turns a letter by Proudhon in which he wished the left would be consistently in favour of democracy into an anti-democratic rant. His dishonesty is clear.

It gets worse because Schapiro modifies the quote provided. In fact, Proudhon writes:

“All this democracy disgusts me. Reason is useless with it, neither principles nor facts. Regardless of it contradicting itself at every step. It has its hobbies, her tics and chic; it wants to be scratched where the vermin itch, but it does not want the comb nor to be scoured; it resembles the canonised beggar, who, completely eaten alive by worms, put them back into his wounds when they escaped.

“Attacking a prejudice of the democracy, it is against the revolution! What a brute!” (197)

The words “What would I not give to sail into this mob with my clenched fists!” are found much later in the letter, on the next page. By not indicating he has removed a substantial amount of text, Schapiro has not only selectively quoted Proudhon but also, effectively, invented a quote.  It gets worse for, perhaps needless to say, “this mob” is not referring to “democracy” or even “the people” but rather “[c]ertain patriots [who] formed a little conspiracy to stop the sale of my brochures” and “said I was a secret agent of the Empire” whom, Proudhon predicted, they call him “a conservative, an proprietor, an Orleanist, a bourgeois”. (198) So Schapiro is, again, quoting out of context. Finally, it must be noted that the French words (“cette tourbe”) which Schapiro decides to translate as “this mob” is actually far better rendered as “this bunch of contemptible/vile people”.

So we have two passages on different pages ripped out of their context and smashed together to form a made-up quote whose accuracy in translation is at best questionable. And this is the first, presumably strongest, piece of “evidence” Schapiro uses to justify his assertion! Then it gets repeated ad nauseam by those seeking to discredit anarchism…

Sure, there are parts of Proudhon’s ideas to oppose (his sexism and occasional racist comments, most obviously) but please do not make up quotes in order to add false charges to the list. Similarly, as discussed here, do not turn a book who aims to end war into one which “glorifies” it or completely ignore a discussion of Slavery in American written during the Civil War while proclaiming Proudhon supported the South. Or translate “communauté” as “common ownership” when, firstly, what Proudhon meant by that term was very specific (and not that!) and, secondly, he was in favour of common ownership of the means of production but not the common ownership of work and products that communauté meant for Proudhon.

Proudhon aimed at “l’abolition du salariat” – “it is the complete emancipation of the worker; it is the abolition of wage-labour; it is the expulsion of the absentee owner [forain].” (Proudhon, De la capacité politique des classes ouvrières [Éditions du Trident, 1989], 31-2) – and argued for a radical decentralised and federal “labour democracy”:

“the principle that universal suffrage, in other words political right, is inherent in man and to the citizen, its essential, inalienable prerogative [...] If political right is inherent in man and the citizen, consequently if the vote must be direct; the same right is inherent also, with stronger reason, in each natural group formed by citizens, in each corporation [i.e., industrial association], each commune or city; and the vote, in each one of these groups, must be also direct. [...] the division of sovereignty” [...] (De la capacité politique des classes ouvrières , 271)

This obviously needs common ownership otherwise the owners would be employing wage-workers who would, therefore, be denied voting rights -- as discussed here.

As an aside, I should really note that by "corporation" Proudhon did not mean a modern capitalist joint-stock company but rather a worker-run workplace association and its federation. The term dates to before the French revolution (which abolished them) and is the equivalent to a Guild. Initially Proudhon did not like or use the term (preferring "association" or "universal association" in the 1840s, for example) but the term was popular with French workers to refer to the democratic workplace associations of the socialist future and he took it up. I must also note that Proudhon's vision was later echoed by the ideas of Guild Socialism in the UK. In An Anarchist FAQ I do quote from G.D.H Cole's Guild Socialism Restated a bit in section I

Schapiro, needless to say, presents a garbled account of this by stating “[u]nder mutualism there would be organized, in each industry, voluntary autonomous associations of producers with the object of exchanging commodities. Production was to be individual, not collective." (725) To point out the obvious, Schapiro had just said production would be organised by “associations of producers” so must be done by a collective group rather than by an individual. He also suggests “his anticapitalism was not the same as that of the socialists who attacked capitalism primarily as a system of production. He launched his attack on capitalism as a system of exchange which functioned through the gold standard, the Bank of France, and the stock exchange”. (722) Yet Schapiro later indicates that there would be “associations of producers” and so Proudhon – like other socialists – argued for associations to replace wage labour. This was the case in the book Schapiro mentions to bolster his claims, namely Manuel du spéculateur à la Bourse:

“Workers’ Associations are the locus of a new principle and model of production….

“There is mutuality, in fact, when in an industry, all the workers, instead of working for an owner who pays them and keeps their product, work for one another and thereby contribute to a common product from which they share the profit.” (Property is Theft!. 616)

He termed this “industrial democracy” or “the industrial republic” (610) – he seems to have coined this term although he raised the concept back in 1840 when, in What is Property?, he argued managers must be "chosen from the workers by the workers themselves, and must fulfil the conditions of eligibility. It is the same with all public functions, whether of administration or instruction.” (Property is Theft!. 119) So his anticapitalism shared the same opposition to capitalism as a mode of production (one based on wage-labour) as other socialists – they differed only insofar as Proudhon was a libertarian socialist and not a statist one like Louis Blanc as discussed in my introduction to Property is Theft!.

Just as Proudhon opposed centralised democracy he also opposed centralised socialism:

“And who benefits from this regime of unity? The people? No, the upper classes […] Unity, today and since 1815, is quite simply a form of bourgeois exploitation under the protection of bayonets. Yes, political unity, in the great States, is bourgeois: the positions which it creates, the intrigues which it causes, the influences which it cherishes, all that is bourgeois and goes to the bourgeois.” (La fédération et l'unité en Italie [Paris: E. Dentu, 1862], 27-8)

“Unity in Italy is like the indivisible republic of Robespierre, the cornerstone of bourgeois despotism and exploitation.” (33)

“socialism is... the extinction of poverty, the elimination of capitalism and of wage labour, the transformation of property, the decentralisation of government, the organisation of universal suffrage, the effective and direct sovereignty of the workers, the balance of economic forces, the substitution of the contractual regime for the legal regime, etc., etc.” (“Les Confessions d’un révolutionnaire”, Oeuvres complètes de P.-J. Proudhon 9: 306)

And note how he opposes centralisation because it is bourgeois and supports class rule. Unlike the claims of some (like Schapiro), Proudhon was class-conscious (albeit in a reformist context) as can be seen in 1847 when he argued that a proposed “newspaper Le Peuple [The People] will be the first act of the economic revolution, the battle plan of labour against capital, the central organ of all the operations of country which I will begin against the proprietor regime. From criticism I pass to action; and this action will begin with a newspaper.” (Correspondance II: 272) Needless to say, Schapiro fails to mention Proudhon's “Election Manifesto of Le Peuple in spite of it being an excellent summary of his ideas - perhaps that would be better put as because of it being an excellent summary as it hardly supports Schapiro's claims!

One way of looking at the debate within socialism between Marxists (amongst others, for example, Louis Blanc) and anarchists is the question of whether a form of organisation (centralisation) and the structure which has embedded it (the modern state) which has historically been used by the bourgeois class to impose and maintain its rule, the rule of the few, can be used by the many, the working class, to free itself. The former say "yes", the latter "no, workers need to create another form of social organisation namely a bottom-up federation of their own class organisations". I would suggest that history shows that the anarchists were right (not least by the example of the Bolsheviks -- see section H.6 of An Anarchist FAQ). In short, social structures evolve to fit their purpose and so centralisation is the best organisational form to ensure minority class rule -- so it is unsurprising that the centralised "socialist" state of the Bolsheviks created a new ruling class (the bureaucracy) presiding over the state capitalism their economic centralisation inevitably produced. It cannot achieve anything else because that is what it was meant to do (see section H.3.7) nor is it merely an instrument of economic classes (see section H.3.9).

This does not mean that Proudhon opposed socialism, workers association, social ownership, and so on -- far from it, he was seeking forms of these which ensured they lived up to their promise to liberate humanity from oppression and exploitation rather than simply changing who the boss was. That Schapiro translated “communauté” as “common ownership” raises an important issue with regards to Proudhon, indeed any thinker, namely that he was embedded into a specific political and socio-economic situation. Rather than being an isolated figure (as Woodcock tends to portray him), in reality he was very much part of the left and much of his outcome was polemics with other writers and thinkers of the time - not all of whom are well known now. So his critique of “communauté” is often portrayed as being against “communism” (Tucker, for example, translated it so) but, in reality, it was directed at the so-called utopian socialists (Saint-Simon, Fourier) and their followers and these were definitely not communists in the modern sense (it is doubtful anyone advocating their visions now would be classed as socialists!). Yes, Proudhon did critique communism in the sense of free distribution (which he associated with Louis Blanc) but this was not “communauté”. Similarly with his comment (quoted above) about “Attacking a prejudice of the democracy” could be translated as “Attacking a prejudice of democracy” but, from context, the former is better as he is critiquing support for Polish Independence by his fellow leftists who were termed “the democracy” (this term was also used in the Russian left in pre-revolution times).

So, as indicated above, Proudhon's attacks on “democracy” could be referring to “the democracy” (other socialists and republicans) or their specific, Jacobin-derived, vision of “democracy” as a centralised, unitarian, “one and indivisible” republic in which the sovereign people as one nation elect a government which rules in their name. This system resulted in, as quoted by Schapiro, "the strangling of the public conscience, the suicide of popular sovereignty, and the apostasy of the Revolution." (723) He failed to ponder why Proudhon would be denouncing "democracy" for resulting in "the suicide of popular sovereignty" if he really was, as Schapiro claimed, a fascist. But, then, Schapiro did not raise the question of what happens if the sovereign people overwhelmingly elect a President like Louis-Napoleon, approve his coup and then elevate him to Emperor, Instead he labels Proudhon, who sought a system which would genuinely empower the masses and make such things impossible, a fascist. By isolating Proudhon from his political and socio-economic context, he presumably thought people would be taken in by his selective quoting - and he did find some clueless enough to repeat his nonsense.

The relevance of Proudhon's critique can be seen from the current Tory regime in the UK -- elected by 24% of possible votes, it has a slim working majority in Parliament and is using its central control to impose its radical right agenda on a country which did not vote for it, increasing centralisation in the process to disempower local communities and their ability to resist its decisions as well as increasing state regulation of trade unions (poor Adam Smith!), while proclaiming its right to do this because it won a general election and suggesting its opponents -- i.e., active and engaged voters! -- are undemocratic for protesting against its actions (the 1930s fascist-loving Daily Mail was very keen to paint protestors in this light). That this is following the neo-liberal path laid-down by Thatcher in the 1980s should go without saying. In short, a centralised government is pretty much an elected dictatorship -- or, as Proudhon put it, "nothing resembles a monarchy more than a unitarian republic [république unitaire]". (Du principe fédératif [Paris: E. Dentu, 1862], 140).

Anyway, enough of that – Schapiro can distort Proudhon’s works in a few lines but, as can be seen, it takes substantial quoting to refute it. As is always the case, I may add – just look at, for example, section H.2 of An Anarchist FAQ which exposes the numerous Marxist myths asserted about anarchism.

Anyway, here is the original post in all its glory. I really should have checked more closely when I originally posted it.

Until I blog again, be seeing you…

Engels on The Housing Question and Proudhon (the original post)

Sorry for the lack of blogging – as indicated in my last blog on Proudhon and labour-notes, I have been busy on a critique of Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy which includes the marginal notes made in Proudhon’s copy. Below is an extract from the work currently in progress – an appendix Engels’ The Housing Question where Marx’s colleague – like Marx – practices his powers of invention against the Frenchman.

I’m finding it interesting, if a challenge. Proudhon covers a lot – and assumes a lot of familiarity with the intellectual discussions of his time – so I need to brush up on Ricardian economics, French bourgeois economists, Proudhon’s own arguments and, of course, the need to compare what Marx wrote to what Proudhon did (as I did in Property is Theft! and its extracts of System of Economic Contradictions) and comparing the Marx of 1847 with later-Marx (amusingly, the latter usually contradicts the former)

Suffice to say, Marx’s work is shoddy – he is not above inventing and modifying quotes for his purposes. It is not a work of honest polemic or debate. Fun fact time – Proudhon uses the expression “eternal justice” once in his two volumes, Marx four times – once in a quote which he attributes to Proudhon (“cries M. Proudhon”) but which he seems to have made-up.

Needless to say, explaining how Marx and Engels distorts Proudhon’s ideas does not equate to agreeing with them completely – although certain of them are still pretty valid and he is a far more important thinker than reading “the gruesome twosome” would lead you to think.

So I’m learning a lot – not least how dishonest Marx could be. The Poverty of Philosophy really does his legacy no favours at all – it does come across as the work of a precocious middle-class philosophy student rather than the work of a serious thinker.

I say student deliberately because we have all come across that type – the son (it is usually a son) of a middle-class family who thinks he understands working class life better than working class people (Leninist sects have them in plenty – since Lenin wrote a whole book explaining why us proles cannot reach socialist consciousness with them!). So we have Marx lecturing Proudhon thusly: “In labour as a commodity, which is a grim reality, he sees nothing but a grammatical ellipsis.” Ignoring – as Marx did – the awkward fact that Proudhon’s book discusses in some detail the grim reality of wage-labour (for example: “It degrades us, by making us servants and tyrants to one another.”) Marx is lecturing about something he never experienced himself to someone who had to leave school to become the employee of a printing firm!

Talking of wage-labour, I’ve managed to do something I’ve been meaning to do so some time – gather together the various aspects of System of Economic Contradictions theory of exploitation in one place (an earlier attempt can be found in Laying the Foundations). This is the summary version from the introduction while a longer version will be put in the section on “Surplus-Labour” in the main body of the critique [I tracked down the page numbers!]:

Proudhon’s analysis of capitalism showed how wage-labour was the root of exploitation. The capitalist firm “with its hierarchical organisation” means that workers had “have sold their arms and parted with their liberty” to a boss. (Système I: 166, 267) This results in having to “work under a master” where “[w]hat you have to do does not concern you” and “you do not control it”. (Système II: 295) The capitalist also controls “the distribution of your products” and so while “the result of the cooperation of numerous workers” produces a “collective power” this goes to the boss “gratuitously” for “he has paid nothing for that immense power which results from the union of workers” but rather “has paid as many times one day's wage as he has employed workers – which is not at all the same thing.” The axiom that “[e]very product is worth what it costs” is therefore “violated” (Système I: 266) and the “worker, whose share of the collective product is constantly confiscated by the entrepreneur, is always on his uppers, while the capitalist is always in profit” and so “political economy, that upholds and advocates that regime, is the theory of theft”. (Système II: 315) In short:

“From this hierarchical distribution of persons and incomes it follows that […] [i]n a nation the net product is equal to the gross product, is no longer true, since, in consequence of monopoly, the selling price is much higher than the cost price. […] This, then, is the reason why wealth and poverty are correlative, inseparable, not only in idea, but in fact; this is the reason why they exist concurrently […] the wage-receiver […] finds that, though promised […] hundred, he has really been given but seventy-five.” (Système I: 258-9)

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: 305, 377, 274, 272)

Given all this, it is ironic to read Engels proclaim in his best ex-cathedra tone that “how the capitalist can enrich himself by the labour of his workers” did “occupy” Proudhon “but [he had] introduced absolutely no clearness into the matter”. (Marx-Engels Collected Works 23: 336) As becomes clear from comparing System to Poverty, the former is the superior work for it has a production rooted theory of exploitation and a better form of presentation (as can be seen from Marx utilising its rather than Poverty’s for Capital – a subject for another blog in due course). In short, Marx’s theory of exploitation looks remarkably Proudhonian…

[Here I insert an extract from my forthcoming article for Anarchist Studies which summarises more fully Proudhon’s theory of exploitation in contrast to Engels’ claims:

So Prometheus is utilised by Proudhon not to ignore the social relations of capitalism but to expose them for after invoking it he notes that while, in theory, “by the progress of collective industry, each individual day’s labour yields a greater and greater product, and while, by necessary consequence, the worker, receiving the same salary, must grow ever richer, there exist in society classes which thrive and classes which perish”. (Système I: 80) However, he does not explain in chapter two how this happens. Instead, his theory is constructed from an analysis of the contradictions of specific elements of capitalism (machinery, monopoly, property, etc.). As it is built incrementally as his model and critique of capitalism is created, it is necessary to draw together its elements in order to fuller understand it and to how similar Marx’s later theory was.

First, labour did not have a value but what it created did and so labour produces value only as active labour engaged in the production process:

“Labour is said to have value, not as merchandise itself, but in view of the values supposed to be contained in it potentially. The value of labour is a figurative expression, an anticipation of effect from cause […] it becomes a reality through its product. When, therefore, we say: This man’s labour is worth five francs per day, it is as if we should say: The daily product of this man’s labour is worth five francs” (Système I: 61)

[The footnote adds: “Marx made some disparaging remarks about this passage [...] even though Proudhon here anticipated an idea that Marx was to develop as one of the key elements in the concept of labour power, viz. that as a commodity, labour produces nothing and it exists independently of and prior to the exercise of its potential to produce value as active labour.” (Alan Oakley, Marx’s Critique of Political Economy: intellectual sources and evolution, 1844 to 1860 [London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984] 1:118)]

Second, capitalism is marked by private property in the means of production and this creates an institutional inequality between the working class and the owning class (landlords and capitalists). Any equality between the two “was bound to disappear through the advantageous position of the master and the dependence of the wage-workers. In vain does the law assure to each the right of enterprise, as well as the faculty to labour alone and sell one’s products directly” for “the object of the workshop [is] to annihilate isolated labour. […] When an establishment has had the time to grow, enlarge its foundations, ballast itself with capital, and assure itself customers, what can the worker who has only his arms do against a power so superior?” Those without property, “within whose reach competition never comes, are hirelings of the competitors” as “competition cannot by itself become the common condition” because “[b]y the formation of the company […] competition is an exceptional matter, a privilege”. (Système I: 163-4, 213)

Third, this inequality of conditions means that workers have no access to the means of production and so they “have sold their arms and parted with their liberty” to those who own them. (Système I: 267) Capitalism’s defining feature was not markets or exchange (which predate it) but rather labour as a commodity:

“The period through which we are now passing — that of machinery — is distinguished by a special characteristic: WAGE-LABOUR.

“Wage-labour stems from the use of machinery – that is, […] from the economic fiction by which capital becomes an agent of production. […] The first, the simplest, the most powerful of machines is the workshop. […] The machine, or the workshop, after having degraded the worker by giving him a master, completes his degeneracy by reducing him from the rank of artisan to that of common labourer. […] Machinery plays the leading role in industry, man is secondary: all the genius displayed by labour tends to the degradation of the proletariat. […]

“With machinery and the workshop, divine right – that is, the principle of authority – makes its entrance into political economy. Capital, Mastership […] such are, in economic language, the various names of […] Power, Authority, Sovereignty […] the workshop with its hierarchical organisation, and machinery […] serv[es] exclusively the interests of the least numerous, the least industrious, and the wealthiest class” (Système I: 161-6.)

[The footnote adds: It must be stressed, contrary to the impression given by Marx, that Proudhon was not opposed to large-scale production: “M. de Sismondi, like all men of patriarchal ideas, would like the division of labour, with machinery and manufactures, to be abandoned, and each family to return to the system of primitive indivision – that is, to each one by himself, each one for himself, in the most literal meaning of the words. That would be to retrograde; it is impossible.” (Système I: 167)]

Fourth, the workers labour under the control of their bosses and so “they have executed with their hands what the thought of the employers had conceived”. (Système I: 267) Property produces despotism in production:

“Thus, property, which should make us free, makes us prisoners. What am I saying? It degrades us, by making us servants and tyrants to one another.

“Do you know what it is to be a wage-worker? To work under a master, watchful of his prejudices even more than of his orders; whose dignity consists above all in demanding, sic volo, sic jubeo [Thus I wish. Thus I command], and never explaining […] Not to have any thought of your own, to study without ceasing the thought of others, to know no stimulus except your daily bread, and the fear of losing your job!

“The wage-worker is a man to whom the proprietor who hires his services gives this speech: What you have to do does not concern you at all: you do not control it, you do not answer for it. Every observation is forbidden to you; there is no profit for you to hope for except from your wage, no risk to run, no blame to fear.” (Système II: 295)

Fifth, the employer keeps the product of the workers’ labour:

Here, then, is the proposition which the speculator makes to those who he wishes to collaborate with: I guarantee to you [the worker] in perpetuity the distribution [placement] of your products, if you will accept me as purchaser or intermediary […] the entrepreneur will have more opportunity for selling, since, producing cheaply, he can lower his price; finally his profits will be larger because of the mass of the investments.” (Système I: 162)

Sixth, this allows capitalists to appropriate the difference between what workers create and what they receive in wages. The “co-operation of numerous workers” produces “an effect of collective power” and so “the question is to ascertain whether the amount of individual wages paid by the entrepreneur is equivalent to th[is] collective effect”. The answer is no: it goes to the boss “gratuitously” for he “has paid nothing for that immense power which results from the union of workers” but rather “has paid as many times one day’s wage as he has employed workers – which is not at all the same thing.” He “allots to himself the benefit of the collective power” which “is usurpation on his part” and so the axiom “[e]very product is worth what it costs” is “violated”. (Système I: 266)

[The footnote adds: Proudhon here directly references his analysis of collective force in What is Property? (Property is Theft!, 114-7)]

Exploitation occurred in production as the employer appropriated the collective force and surplus of labour of the wage-workers embodied within the products they create for them:

“I have proven, in dealing with value, that every labour must leave a surplus; so that in supposing the consumption of the labourer to be always the same, his labour should create, on top of his subsistence, a capital always greater. Under the regime of property, the surplus of labour, essentially collective, passes entirely […] to the proprietor: now, between that disguised appropriation and the fraudulent usurpation of a communal good, where is the difference?

“The consequence of that usurpation is that the worker, whose share of the collective product is constantly confiscated by the entrepreneur, is always on his uppers, while the capitalist is always in profit […] political economy, that upholds and advocates that regime, is the theory of theft.” (Système II: 315)

So in “this system of interlocked monopolies” the worker “is no longer anything more than a serf” to whom “the holder of the instruments of production seems to say […]: You will work as long as your labour leaves me a surplus”. (Système II: 54) This explains “the reason why wealth and poverty are correlative, inseparable, not only in idea, but in fact; this is the reason why they exist concurrently […] the wage-worker […] finds that, though promised […] hundred, he has really been given but seventy-five.” This results in a system that ensures that “the subordinated worker should lose, together with his legitimate salary [i.e., his product], even the exercise of the industry which supported him”(Système I: 258-9, 366).

In short: “PROPERTY IS THEFT” (Système II: 234)

So very much a theory of exploitation rooted in production which recognises that it is by wage-labour – workers selling their labour and liberty to a boss – which allows capital to exploit labour by appropriating the surplus they create. That Marx’s theory in Capital repeats it should be obvious.]

Marx in 1847, in contrast to Proudhon, seems to think markets, commodity production, is the root of all evils for “relative value, measured by labour time, is inevitably the formula of the present enslavement of the worker” and “[i]ndividual exchange corresponds also to a definite mode of production which itself corresponds to class antagonism. There is thus no individual exchange without the antagonism of classes.” So the actual relations of production unique to capitalism – wage-labour – are ignored in favour of ahistoric chattering on commodity production.

[This was where the original post was truncated]

Others have noticed this before. “Neither The Poverty of Philosophy nor the Communist Manifesto, nor Wage Labour and Capital”, Ernest Mandel admits, “contain the idea of surplus-value.” (The formation of the economic thought of Karl Marx, 1971) This is unsurprising as Marx places proletarian poverty in exchange per se rather than, as with Proudhon, in production as a result of workers selling their labour and liberty to a boss. As Stanley Moore suggests, Marx presents the “thesis that ending exploitation involves ending exchange… in the capitalist mode of production exploitation takes place through regarded as the crux of the matter. Later emphasis is undoubtedly shifted to the latter, following Marx’s more detailed analysis of exploitation and production exchange.” (Marx versus Markets, 31)

I should note that as well as wrongly convincing the world that Proudhon advocated labour-notes, Marx was also wrong to suggest that the early British socialists linked their ideas – like Proudhon – to Ricardo. In fact, they – like Proudhon – looked to Adam Smith. Noel W. Thompson in his account of these thinkers concluded that “Marx was the only Ricardian socialist. Hodgskin, Gray, Thompson and Bray may be more appropriate designated ‘Smithian.’” He notes that “the Ricardian socialists failed to use Ricardo” and that they “fail to use Ricardian analysis, as Marx, did to provide the foundation for a political economy critical of capitalism”. (The People’s Science: The Popular Political Economy of Exploitation and crisis 1816-34, 105, 103, 103)

Then there is the “English Communist, Mr. Bray” whom Marx proclaims Proudhon plagiarised and within whose work “we think that we have discovered […] the key to the past, present and future works of M. Proudhon.” I’ve now read Bray and he is not in any shape or form a market socialist. He actually advocated central planning and it was Marx who ripped him off in Critique of the Gotha Programme (and elsewhere):

 “On the surface Bray’s solution […] would seem to have laid the basis for some kind of market socialism. However, a closer reading of Labour’s Wrongs shows that his intention was to abolish the market and replace the motive force of competition by the conscious, rational, economic planning and decision-making of central and local authorities.” (Noel Thompson, The Market and Its Critics,110)

Marx quotes a passage which indicates the unsuitability of the comparison to Proudhon:

“By means of general and local boards of trade, and the directors attached to each individual company, the quantities of the various commodities required for consumption – the relative value of each in regard to each other – the number of hands required in various trades and descriptions of labour – and all other matters connected with production and distribution, could in a short time be as easily determined for a nation as for an individual company under the present arrangements” (Labour’s Wrongs and Labour’s Remedy, 162)

An “individual company” does not allocate labour and products within it be means of the market but rather conscious allocation – planning. That Bray advocated central planning is confirmed by other passages Marx failed to quote for some strange reason. Thus he argued that “joint-stock companies are formed” and “their transactions governed by general and local boards of trade, which would regulate production and distribution in gross” for “all the real capital of the country […] is possessed and controlled by society at large […] society is, as it were, one great joint-stock company, composed of an indefinite number of smaller companies”. There would be “a power capable of regulating and adjusting the movements of society as a whole […] directing all efforts, in one harmonious flow, to a well-defined and proper end” and “acting throughout upon a well-known and well-tried plan of operations” using “statistics of every kind [which would] acquire a degree of correctness and perfection such as they can never attain to under the existing system”. The “production and transport of all kinds of commodities would be properly regulated and adjusted […] The affairs of society at large would be regulated and controlled by general and local boards of all kinds […] A national bank would create the circulating medium, and issue it to the managers of the various companies in proportion to the number of members in each company, or the character of their occupation.” Production and distribution, then, would be regulated throughout society at large – being alternatively increased, or decreased, or turned to new channels as the exigencies of society require.” In short: “Competition could have no existence in a change like this”. (Labour’s Wrongs and Labour’s Remedy, 160, 170, 194, 169, 162, 180, 181, 158)

None of this equates to anything Proudhon argued for in System of Economic Contradictions nor past and future works. Marx, then, turns Bray (advocate of planning) into Proudhon (market socialist) and Proudhon (prices) into Bray (labour-notes) in order to attack both. Neither writer is allowed to be themselves: the dishonesty is clear.

Anyway, that is enough for now. More updates will come along when they come along. Now, some may wonder why bother – it is hardly relevant to today’s struggles. Perhaps (although, given the deep attacks on our class during the great recession, the lack of struggles in the UK is disheartening!). I find it of interest and it appeals to my sense of – eternal? – justice to correct such a glaring wrong. Also, I think it is useful to correct misunderstandings and distortions – particularly since almost all Marxist accounts of anarchism produced are precisely that. It is lazy politics not to refute nonsense (even if we will never have time to refute it all) and, who knows, it may get others thinking about and questioning their ideas.

Ultimately, though I do it because I enjoy it (even if I get frustrated with it and often think about doing other things) and as my last book review may have indicated, I’m not immune to a bit of egoism (communist egoism, of course!). Also, many other anarchists are producing good work on many subjects more in-line with modern developments – and it is not like I don’t write articles on the issues of today. So I do think I’m helping our general understanding of anarchist ideas, their history and their development by this historical work – not to mention helping the movement by pointing out (in referenced articles!) that most of the conventional wisdom on anarchism and individual famous anarchists is often nonsense – and all too often this so-called wisdom is the result of self-serving nonsense written by people only the naïve would possibly consider objective commentators.

So, without further delay, here is the appendix on Engels – not proof read so expect more than a few typos!

Until I blog again, be seeing you…

[As above, I have tracked down page numbers for the 1846 quotes]

Appendix: Notes on The Housing Question

It is not only The Poverty of Philosophy which saw the founders of Marxism distort Proudhon’s ideas. While questionable commentary on Proudhon exists in Capital and Theories of Surplus Value, Engels’ The Housing Question matches that of Marx’s 1847 work and is worth discussing.

Engels’ 1872 work is part of a polemic within German socialist circles and sought to defend the Marxist orthodoxy against those influenced by the French anarchist seeking “to transplant the Proudhonist school to Germany”. Needless to say, he paints a picture of Proudhon’s ideas which are in complete contradiction to the work he references in support of his summation, namely Proudhon’s 1851 work General Idea of the Revolution while somewhat incredulously noting that Marx had “delivered a decisive blow precisely to the Proudhonist ideas as far back as twenty-five years ago” – if so, then why is he having to do so in 1872? (Marx-Engels Collected Works 23: 238, 317)

Engels suggests that Proudhon’s aim to solve the housing question involves a scheme in which the workers “become part-owner” of dwellings by “paying annual instalments” via their rent. So if a worker lives in a rented property then the rent they pay goes towards buying the house. This means that if the rent is 10 Francs per month and the house is valued at 2,400 Francs then the house would become theirs after 20 years. For the amusement of his readers, he paints a picture of a worker moving from rented accommodation to rented accommodation and accruing a tiny fraction of each one. In this way “the individual worker becomes owner of the dwelling”. (Marx-Engels Collected Works 23:238, 386)

Given how obviously impractical this proposal is, the equally obvious question is did Proudhon actually advocate such a scheme. Consulting the work and pages explicitly referenced by Engels (Marx-Engels Collected Works 23: 387), the answer is a resounding no:

“From the date of the decree which shall be passed by future representatives, all payments made as rental shall be carried over to the account of the purchase of the property, at a price estimated at twenty times the annual rental.

“Every such payment shall purchase for the tenant a proportional undivided share in the house he lives in, and in all buildings erected for rental, and serving as a habitation for citizens.

“The property thus paid for shall pass under the control of the communal administration, which shall take a first mortgage upon it, in the name of all the tenants, and shall guarantee them all a domicile, in perpetuity, at the cost price of the building.

“Communes may bargain with owners for the purchase and immediate payment for rented buildings.

“In such case, in order that the present generation may enjoy the benefit of reduction in rental, the said communes may arrange for an immediate diminution of the rental of the houses for which they have negotiated, in such manner that complete payment may be made within thirty years.

“For repairs, management, and upkeep of buildings, as well as for new constructions, the communes shall deal with bricklayers companies or building workers associations, according to the rules and principles of the new social contract.

“Proprietors who occupy their own houses shall retain property therein, as long as suits their interests.” (Property is Theft!, 576)

Note well that in Proudhon’s scheme that housing “shall under the control of the communal administration” and that the tenant gains “a proportional undivided share in the house he lives in, and in all buildings erected for rental, and serving as a habitation for citizens.” In short, the aim is to achieve social ownership of housing and the rent paid does not accrue ownership to the individual worker but rather the commune. This makes sense as, unlike the individual worker, housing does not move. In short, the rent paid in rental by whoever lives in the house over the twenty year period goes towards the commune becoming the owner after twenty years. The worker gains access to all such social housing in every commune.

Engels, in short, either cannot understand Proudhon’s argument or deliberately seeks to distort it. The answer seems to be the latter for in 1851 he accurately noted that Proudhon’s scheme meant “converting interest payments into repayments, all real wealth being concentrated in the hands of the State or the communes” and suggests that “it takes far too long” as these are “systematically protracted measures, extending over 20 or 30 years”. (Marx-Engels Collected Works 38: 421-2) He also accurately quotes Proudhon in the notes of an aborted review around the same time. (Marx-Engels Collected Works 31: 560-1) Clearly Engels did know what Proudhon had actually advocated but decided to distort his ideas.

It should be noted that, Proudhon makes the same suggestion for land:

“Every payment of rent for the use of real estate shall give title to the farmer for a share of the real estate, and shall be a lien upon it.

“When the property has been entirely paid for, it shall revert immediately to the commune, which shall take the place of the former proprietor, and shall share the fee-simple and the economic rent with the farmer.

“Communes may bargain directly with owners who wish to do so for the repurchase of rentals and the immediate purchase of the properties.

“In that case, provision shall be made for the supervision of the communes, for the installation of cultivators, and for the fixing of the boundaries of possessions, taking care to make up by an increase in quantity for any deficiency in the quality of the land, and to proportion the rent to the product.

“As soon as all landed property shall have been completely paid for, all the communes of the Republic shall come to an understanding for equalising among them the quality of tracts of land, as well as accidents of culture. The part of the rent to which they are entitled upon their respective territories shall serve for compensation and for general insurance.

“Beginning with the same date, the former proprietors who have held their title by working their properties themselves, shall be placed on the same footing as the new, subjected to the same rights; in such a manner that the chance of locality or of succession may favour no one, and that the conditions of culture shall be equal for all.

“The tax on land shall be abolished.

“The rural police are placed under the control of the municipal councils.” (Property is Theft!, 578-9)

Notice the references to economic rent which mirror comments in System of Economic Contradictions but with the difference that while in 1846 it went to all in 1851 it is now “the other land workers who hold inferior land” which explains “why in our scheme […] every variety of cultivation should pay a proportional contribution, destined to accomplish a balancing of returns among farm workers, and an assurance of products.” (Property is Theft!, 582) Also of note is that the land would “revert immediately to the commune”, so suggesting the ending of private property with possession as suggested in 1846 when “from now on the question to resolve” was “[h]ow, by destroying property, would men all become proprietors?” Economic rent, “considered in its principle and its aim, is the agrarian law by which all men must become guaranteed and irremovable proprietors of the soil”. (Système II: 271, 314)

Ironically, after Marx (wrongly) proclaiming that economic rent was a category only applicable to farming under capitalist conditions in 1847 Engels admits twenty-five years later that “the abolition of property in land is not the abolition of ground rent, but its transfer, if in a modified form, to society. The actual seizure of all the instruments of labour by the working people, therefore, does not at all preclude the retention of rent relations.” (Marx-Engels Collected Works 23: 386) Unless, of course, this is referring to the kind of transitional system Marx dismissed in 1847 like the state-capitalism he embraced in 1848?

Needless to say, Engels in The Housing Question takes the time to repeat all the standard Marxist nonsense about Proudhon, for example that he had “an aversion to the industrial revolution” and wished “to drive the whole of modern industry out of the temple”. Engels suggests that Proudhon’s use of the term the “productivity of capital” was “an absurdity that Proudhon takes over uncritically from the bourgeois economists” and that he “differs from the bourgeois economists in that he does not approve of this ‘productivity of capital’, but on the contrary, discovers in it a violation of ‘eternal justice’” as it “is this productivity which prevents the worker from receiving the full proceeds of his labour”. It would be abolished by “lowering the rate of interest by compulsory legislation” (Marx-Engels Collected Works 23: 325, 331)

Ignoring the obvious nonsense of being opposed to industry, what of the other claims? In terms of “the productivity of capital”, yes, he does use the term but only to proclaim that the theory is a “fiction” as “all value is born of labour” and so contrasts the “the theory of the real productivity of labour” with “that of the fictitious productivity of capital”. Apparently in Marxism proclaiming something a fiction equates to “uncritically” taking it over. In short, while bourgeois economists use the term “the productivity of capital” Proudhon dismisses it as simply a cover for the exploitation of labour. This, for Proudhon, does violate justice as this requires that “all labour must leave a surplus, all wages be equal to product” so it appears that he is to be mocked for opposing the exploitation of labour by capital! (Système I: 16, 18, 305) Given Proudhon’s position that labour is the source of value and that wages must equal product, he did not think that lowering interest rates would do this directly but rather allow workers to get sufficient credit to create their own companies and so secure the “full proceeds” of their labour by abolishing wage-labour.

The notion of justice has been one which has driven many socialists and working people to change society and it does Engels little favours to mock it so. Needless to say, he adds that “this justice is still called ‘eternal justice’ […] later on, nothing more is said about eternity, but the idea remains in essence” and so he is unaware that Proudhon used the term just once in System of Economic Contradictions compared to four times that by Marx. (Marx-Engels Collected Works 23: 378) As it stands, developments in biological science have indicated that a sense of justice is a product of our evolution and so it is Engels and Marx who have been judged wrong by history rather than Proudhon.

Finally, Engels claimed that Proudhon had in 1851 appropriated, without acknowledgement, Marx’s ideas as his own. In a letter to Marx, he proclaimed that he was “convinced” that the Frenchman had read The Communist Manifesto and Marx’s The Class Struggles in France as “our premises on the decisive historical initiative of material production, class struggle, etc., largely adopted” and a “number of points were indubitably lifted from them – e.g., that a gouvernement is nothing but the power of one class to repress the other, and will disappear with the disappearance of the contradictions between classes”. Another letter states that Proudhon “seems to be making progress” for he “has now come to the conclusion” of “the disguised confiscation of all property by a more or less disguised State”. (Marx-Engels Collected Works 38: 434–5, 418)

Both claims are false – as is the confusion of considering all social organisations “states”.

In reality, Proudhon had concluded that the state was an instrument of class power long before Marxism was invented. For example, in System of Economic Contradictions he noted that the state was “inevitably enchained to capital and directed against the proletariat. No political reform can solve this contradiction […] The problem before the labouring classes, then, consists, not in capturing, but in subduing both power and monopoly […] generating from the bowels of the people […] a greater authority, a more potent fact, which shall envelop capital and the State and subjugate them.” (Système I: 363-4)

As for the claim that in 1851 Proudhon had finally recognised the need for social ownership, in reality in 1840 he had argued that while people “are proprietors of their products […] not one is proprietor of the means of production. The right to product is exclusive […] the right to means is common” and so “all accumulated capital being social property, no one can be its exclusive proprietor” and “all property becomes […] collective and undivided.” (Property is Theft!, 112, 118, 137)

Suffice to say, very little of what Marx and Engels proclaimed against Proudhon can be taken at face value and without taking the trouble of verifying whether it is accurate or not.


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