The libertarian critique of capitalism

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Happy New Year! Wow, where did 2010 go? Well, I ended 2010 on a bit of a flurry. I got Property is Theft! back from the proof-editor and busied myself getting it updated and sent back to AK Press, where it remains being final proof-read and indexed. I hope to see the final version soon! I also published a load of old articles, inspired partly by the last big student demo and the need to use every opportunity to explain anarchist ideas (as I lamented in my article, this is not done as often as it should!)

First of, a review of an anarcho-syndicalist pamphlet on libertarian visions of a free society. Not a perfect work, too dependent on computers for my liking, but a good introduction (it is a short work). Next, a couple of articles I wrote when I was active in the Glasgow Anarchist Group in the early 1990s. First, is on anarchist organisation and I try to summarise my ideas on how anarchists should organise as anarchists. While not a platformist (I agree with Malatesta's criticism), I see the need for anarchists to form specifically anarchist groups to influence the class struggle. The second is a summary of libertarian ideas produced as the Aims and Principles of the Scottish Federation of Anarchists. This federation lasted a few years, produced a magazine (Scottish Anarchist, which I helped write and edit) and newsletter for distribution at demos. It had groups in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee but sadly collapsed when a lot of active members left Scotland. Last two are replies to two different Leninist attacks on anarchism, one in the newspaper Socialist Resistance" (also in pdf format, as I took it to a meeting they had on anarchism) and one by the SWP. The SWP one was serialised in Freedom and was later revised and became an appendix to An Anarchist FAQ). The SWP produced another inaccurate article a year or so again, but I did not do a reply as I did not have the time to refute (yet again!) the same old nonsense.

2010 did not start so well, as the first libertarian article I read was by a "post-leftist" on infoshop. It was terrible, inaccurate from the first sentance and seemed premised on proclaiming that anarchism (i.e., what some call "classical" or "traditional" anarchism) was just leftist and so "authoritarian anarchism"! Why do people who seem to hate what anarchism stands for insist on calling themselves anarchists? And, closer to him, I've also had to make a reply to an old article I wrote after Obama got elected in 2008. This was by some "post-leftist" anarchist and he obviously did not read the bloody thing! And, like many Americans, automatically assumed I was American and, like most "post-leftist" anarchists, assumed I was a "leftist" and so advocated voting Obama and democrat! Perhaps "post-leftism" also means "post-reading"?

Re-reading the article to extract quotes showing that he was complaining about things I never said (indeed, I made the points HE was making!), I thought it had stood up well. Obama has, like Clinton, been governing as a Republican -- in part because he has been pressurised only by the right and business/state and because the democrats ARE a business-party. It also correctly predicted that if people left it to Obama to act for them they would become disillusioned with the lack of change and the lost promise of "change" and "hope". It is a shame that this possibility had come to pass -- but, then, I'm not too surprised. Sadly the Republicans are likely to present a candidate so bad that it will make many people return to the whole "should we vote" debate....

Hopefully the rest of the year will see me reading better quality libertarian work. And I know, in my last blog I said I would be leaving Proudhon for a while but I noticed this over the holidays... Compare and Contrast...

Marx from "The Poverty of Philosophy":

"M. Proudhon . . . takes a step backward and proposes to the worker that he make not only the 12th part of a pin, but successively all 12 parts of it. The worker would thus arrive at the knowledge and the consciousness of the pin. This is M. Proudhon’s synthetic labour."

Proudhon from "System of Economic Contradictions":

"For the rest, if the economists, by exclusive attention to their old routine, have finally lost all knowledge of the present state of things, it cannot be said that the socialists have better solved the antinomy which division of labour raised. Quite the contrary, they have stopped with negation; for is it not perpetual negation to oppose, for instance, the uniformity of parcellaire labour with a so-called variety in which each one can change his occupation ten, fifteen, twenty times a day at will?

"As if to change ten, fifteen, twenty times a day from one kind of divided labour to another was to make labour synthetic; as if, consequently, twenty fractions of the day’s work of a manual labourer could be equal to the day’s work of an artist! Even if such industrial vaulting was practicable . . . it would not change at all the physical, moral, and intellectual condition of the labourer; the dissipation would only be a surer guarantee of his incapacity and, consequently, his dependence."

Looks like Marx has stated Proudhon believes the exact opposite of what he actually thinks (again!). After all, if Proudhon attacks the notion of people changing from one kind of divided labour to another, then how could be favour someone making all 12 parts of a pin? I know that Proudhon discusses the division of labour in chapter XII (on "Community") but I don't think he suggests that making all 12th parts of a pin equals synthetic labour. Can anyone clarify that? As noted, from volume 1 it seems unlikely that Proudhon argues that workers should do all 12 jobs in a row -- has anyone seen anything in volume 2 which would warrant Marx's claim? Or can I add that claim to the already long list of statements by Marx about Proudhon which are incorrect?

Also, Proudhon attacks the notion of multiple job swaps because the supporters of "community" (this is usually translated as "communism" but that can cause confusions) kept a hierarchical workplace:

"This is admitted, moreover, by the organisers, communists, and others. So far are they from pretending to solve the antinomy of division that all of them admit, as an essential condition of organisation, the hierarchy of labour, – that is, the classification of labourers into parcellaires and generalises or organisers, – and in all utopias the distinction of capacities, the basis or everlasting excuse for inequality of goods, is admitted as a pivot."

All interesting stuff (particularly in regards to Parecon and its idea of "balanced job complexes"). These comments fits into his attack on the hierarchical nature of the capitalist workplace -- strange, then, that so many Marxists seem to think Proudhon ignored the relations of production...

I posted that query to two lists I'm on, in the hope that someone would be able to point me to anything in volume two rather than go through that chapter with my bad French. Sadly, no one has got back to me. Someone did email me off-list about Marxists stating Proudhon did not understand capitalist social relations of production. This made me summarise Proudhon's thoughts on the matter, so I thought I would repeat them here. Before doing so, I should note that the emailer stated he only knew Proudhon through Marx -- which shows, I think, that the necessity of my new Anthology of Proudhon's writings! Far too many people know Proudhon only through Marx. This gives them a completely distorted idea of what Proudhon actually argued. It is a shame Marxism started with such an intellectually dishonest work.

My emailer suggested that if Proudhon does not understand the social relations of production, then this did not mean that they were stating Proudhon did not understand how production is currently organised or in the future. Rather, in the sense that capital is a social relation of production. That did not really make things clear, so I summarised Proudhon's analysis of capitalism and I repeat it here now.

Well, Proudhon was well aware that capital was based on wage-labour (indeed, he explicitly states that the current period through which we were passing was marked by "capital and wage-labour"). He was well aware that workers sold their labour (liberty) to a capitalist, who controlled both the worker within a hierarchical workplace and their product. This allowed them to appropriate both the "collective force" and "surplus of labour" produced by said workers. He also argued that labour becomes objectified in its product and that this was not equal to a workers wages (and Proudhon taunts bourgeois economists accordingly).

This was how labour was exploited under capitalism, namely in production. And this could only be ended within production by means of self-management ("association", "the organisation of labour") as the current way of organising labour was "inadequate and transitory."

I would suggest this showed that Proudhon understood quite well the social relations of production within capitalism. The ironic thing is that this essentially "Marxist" theory of exploitation was completely unmentioned by Marx in 1847 -- indeed, there is no theory of exploitation in "The Poverty of Philosophy" at all (something I return to below). When Marx does discuss Proudhon's anticipation of his later "labour/labour-power" distinction he mocks him (before, for good measure, adding, without indicating the different source, sentences from a different chapter and changing, again within indicating, the word "communist" to "economist" to better mock Proudhon). Unsurprisingly, Marx makes no reference at all of Proudhon's critique of bourgeois relations within production, nor his arguments for associated labour. Rather, he asserts that Proudhon's "whole system rests on the labour commodity"!

So, after that summary I pointed out that rather than not understand what capital was I would say that Proudhon's analysis is pretty close to Marx's. Except, of course, he said it first (initally, in 1840 and then in more detail in 1846). A key difference is that Proudhon favoured market exchange so I would guess that many Marxists would proclaim that he ignores the whole "self-expansion of value" definition of capital -- although Marx himself repeatedly stated that when workers' owned their means of production then it was NOT capitalism and the products so created and exchanged were not produced by capital. I did ask the question whether I was wrong and did Proudhon get capitalist social relations wrong? What in his analysis of the capitalist workplace did he get wrong?

The definition of capitalism as "self-expansion of value" did provoke a response -- namely how capitalism results in society being dominated by its products (aka, market forces and the drive to survive on the market by making a profit). However, Marx noted many times that capitalism did not equal the market. It was the market plus wage-labour. The issue of market forces and how they can result in co-operatives making decisions their members would prefer not to do is, of course, a major objection with mutualism. That is one of the reasons I'm not a mutualist. However, Marx's scattered comments on a "social plan" are an even worse solution.

My emailer referred to a distinction between Proudhon basing a system on the "labour commodity" and Marx basing a critique on the commodity to which I pointed out that Proudhon did NOT base his system on the "labour commodity" -- that was an assertion by Marx with no basis in Proudhon's work. He seems to have confused a market in the products of labour with a market in labour itself. By 1867 he seems to have worked out the difference but it does not stop his 1847 assertion being an utter distortion of Proudhon's thought.

Which raises the question of whether, in 1847, Marx thought that "the market" (as such) equals "capitalist social relations of production" -- which would be inconsistent with a great many of his statements in Capital. It would also, of course, imply that wage-labour does not make a system capitalist -- which, again, is inconsistent with a great many of Marx's statements. It also strikes at the heart of any claim that capitalism exploits labour in production for it suggests that even if workers DID own/possess their means of production then "wage-labour" would still exist. That is, workers would be exploited by "capital" even if they received the full-product of their labour and there was NO unpaid labour appropriated by an employer.

This notion of capital as "self-expanding value" which can exist without actual capitalists (whether individual owners or a state) does lead to some strange conclusions. As I suggested in a previous blog, if workers' in a co-operative practice "self-exploitation" because they invest part of their income into new means of production, then bosses practice "self-exploitation" when they invest part of their profits rather than buy a new car. If workers in a co-operative, who recieve all the income from the products they sell, are subject to "capital" then capital is not based on "unpaid" labour -- it can exist when all labour IS paid. In short, focusing on the "self-explansion of value" (or "the market") as the defining feature of capitalism means ignoring what makes that system a unique mode of production and suggesting that exploitation does not, in fact, occur in production after all.

And it does raise some questions on why, if that is the case, at times Marx and Engels seem to advocate a market system of co-operatives as a transitional economy (and so forgetting his own attacks on Proudhon's mutualism). And, in terms of the critique of the Gotha Programme, it is somewhat ironic to see him embrace a similar system he attacked both Proudhon and Bray for advocating. He does state that this would mimic what happens in the market, which suggests that the initial period of "communism" would be planning market exchanges to some degree.

Suffice to say, this does not mean that we cannot argue for (libertarian) communism, just that we need to clear on what defines capitalism and not confuse arguments against the market with arguments against capitalism. They are related (as capitalism involves markets) but they are different. Commodity production, as Marx (in 1867!) and Proudhon suggested, does not equate to capitalism. So retaining the market in products of labour does not mean retaining capitalist social relations of production. Yes, market forces would still reign but it would be, as Marx suggested, a different mode of production than capital.

Thus it seems clear that Marx in 1847 was equating capitalism with the market, arguing against Proudhon that commodity production is inherently capitalist and that it means that society cannot control its own affairs due to market forces. While the later may be true, the former is not. And, to be honest, even the later is not clear -- Marx proclaimed that Proudhon wanted to retain bourgeois relations of production (which he proclaimed Proudhon considered as "eternal"). Proudhon, in contrast, explicitly argued for the abolition of wage-labour, considering it a "transitory" economic form. That Marx suggested otherwise is a complete distortion of his ideas. Needless to say, in terms of society's control over its own affairs, I doubt that Marx's social plan would achieve that. I think that, if it did work, it would produce a society controlled by a bureaucracy. But that is by-the-by.

So Marx argued against commodity production (although some comments by Engels suggest it was acceptable as a transitional measure). Proudhon did not. However, Marx argued that Proudhon advocated "labour as a commodity" in 1847. That is simply not true. At best, you could argue that in 1847 he did not see the difference between markets and capitalism (just as he did not see the difference between labour and labour-power). At worse, you could argue that he did and deliberately distorted Proudhon's ideas (which he did on other issues in "The Poverty of Philosophy"). I think it is probably a combination of the two.

In short, Proudhon DID understand capitalist social relations of production but differed with Marx on the proposed alternative. Unfortunately, as I noted, many Marxists claim that he did not -- they seem to confuse markets with wage labour (as so ignore important parts of "Capital" in the process!). However, a market system based on socialised means of production and worker managed co-operatives would not be the capitalist mode of production nor be based on "labour as a commodity." The desireability of such a system is, of course, a different issue!

It could be suggested, as was, that Marx is arguing that the claim that Proudhon retains "labour as a commodity" means all commodities (presumably because commodities are created by labour and regulated by labour-time). No, I would argue because Marx is quite specific: "He [Proudhon] forgets that his whole system rests on the labour commodity, on labour which is trafficked, bought and sold, exchanged for products." So it is labour which is "bought and sold" obviously refers to the labour market, I would say. I cannot see how it could not. This is confirmed when Marx stated that labour was “itself a commodity” in Proudhon's system.

So I don't think Marx is contending that Proudhon's system would retain markets and so market forces (and so lack of social control). That does not seem obvious at all from Marx's work. Marx explicitly and repeatedly asserts that Proudhon favoured labour itself being bought and sold rather than the products of labour. A reading of "System of Economic Contradictions" shows this not to be the case -- and this position of abolition of the proleariat (or salariat, to use his favoured word) is reflected in ALL of Proudhon works. In terms of Marx actually identifying market exchange as such with capitalism, this could be drawn from comments like this from "The Poverty of Philosophy" I suppose:

“mode of exchange of products depends upon the mode of production... Individual exchange also corresponds to a determined method production, which itself corresponds to the antagonism of classes. Thus there is no individual exchange without the antagonism of classes.”

Yet to make "exchange" the issue means ignoring the relations WITHIN production surely? That means arguing that an economy of artisans, farmers and co-operatives selling goods IS capitalism -- a position which Marx explicitly and repeatedly states otherwise in "Capital." And if that IS the case, surely it means that workers can be exploited even if they is no selling of labour-power, no unpaid labour...

So we are left with two positions. Either Marx, unlike Proudhon, had not understood in 1847 that wage-labour defines capitalism (and instead viewed exchange as the key) or he did and distorted Proudhon's position. I would say that there is an element of both -- there are distortions and confusions in that work. It is not a very good book -- on numerous levels! Happily, this exchange resulted in me bing asked to provide more details of Marx's misrepresentations of Proudhon -- which I was happy to provide. I pointed to the appendix of "Property is Theft!" (a pdf of the whole introduction can be found here). In addition to this, I've footnoted the extracts from volume 1 of "System of Economic Contradictions" to compare what Proudhon wrote and what Marx actually claimed. I also pointed to two blog postings (Proudhon and Marx on Exploitation and Proudhon on Socialisation).

Suffice to say, there is a significant amount of selective quoting and quote tampering going on. It is surprising how much Marx repeats Proudhon's points while implying he is presenting an alternative position to him. This can be seen from the discussion on machinery, for example, where Marx indicates how machinery was used by employers against workers and mocks Proudhon for seeing their "philanthropic end" when, in fact, Proudhon quotes capitalists saying they use machinery against workers and that under capitalism they create “an increase of poverty” as well as bringing “us slavery” and so increased “the abyss which separates the class that commands and enjoys from the class that obeys and suffers” (here, I must admit, my recent review of "System of Economic Contradictions") came in handy!) All of which is reflected in Marx! After all, he likewise noted how machines were used to exploit and oppress the workers and, like Proudhon, concluded that workers should possess and run them themselves... As Marx put in it Capital (and sounding -- as often the case -- very Proudhonian in the process):

"The capitalist mode of appropriation, the result of the capitalist mode of production, produces capitalist private property. This is the first negation of individual private property, as founded on the labour of the proprietor. But capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a law of Nature, its own negation. It is the negation of negation. This does not re-establish private property for the producer, but gives him individual property based on the acquisition of the capitalist era: i.e., on cooperation and the possession in common of the land and of the means of production."

Indeed, Proudhon's discussion (more an extended aside) on how "monopoly, by a sort of instinct of self-preservation, has perverted even the idea of association" in "System of Economic Contradictions" is a similar analysis of how the development of capitalism makes a change from wage-labour to associated-labour based on the socialisation of propery essential. As Proudhon put it in 1848:

"We are socialists... under universal association, ownership of the land and of the instruments of labour is social ownership... We want the mines, canals, railways handed over to democratically organised workers’ associations... We want these associations to be models for agriculture, industry and trade, the pioneering core of that vast federation of companies and societies, joined together in the common bond of the democratic and social Republic."

However, to return to the main point -- all this raises the awkward fact that Marxists have two different definitions of capitalism which they invoke at different times. One is rooted in wage-labour, in the social relations of production and the surplus (unpaid) labour, surplus product and surplus value these produce. The other is based on markets and market forces, one in which the social relations of production are ignored in favour of defining capitalism as "the self-expansion of value." This second definition is invoked when discussing market socialism or co-operatives. The two get mixed up, but to do so just blurs any insights we may have on what capitalism is. Market socialism can and must be critiqued, but to call it "self-exploitation" or "self-managed capitalism" is just confused, lazy -- and wrong.

So, I think that we libertarians need to be clear on what is and what is not capitalism -- it is a mode of production, marked by exploitation within a hierarchical workplace produced by workers' selling their labour/liberty to the owner. It is not market exchange or commodity production as such, which can be the product of different modes of production (e.g., slave, capitalist, state-capitalist, artisan, co-operative/associated). While, I would argue, it may be in the interests of the defenders of capitalism to confuse these issues, it is not for those seeking to increase human liberty and well-being!

Being a new year (if not a new topic of blogging!), I've made a long list of "Things To Do" and I aim to stick to it -- although I've deliberately not included a timescale! Particularly as I've got the new Iain Banks' Culture novel out the library! One is to update AFAQ with the corrections produced by AK Press proof-reading it. Another is to combine in a referenced form Proudhon's analysis of exploitation and compare it to Marx's -- as done informally above. Plus a few reviews, something on Marx and the state (building on section H.3.10 of AFAQ) and a few other things (like replying to various emails sent to AFAQ!). Once I get the final version of Property is Theft! I will update its webpage with the final text. So a busy year planned!

The need to reframe my discussion of Proudhon's theory of exploitation was brought home again just before the holidays. Robert Vienneau (whose blog is well worth checking out if you are interested in radical economics, linked to an interesting collection of papers. Once of which, Gary Mongiovi's paper on Marx's theory of exploitation, struck me as simply wrong. as it suggested that he had developed it in "The Poverty of Philosophy". Yet there is no theory of exploitation in that book and, if you read Mongiovi's summary, you would be forgiven in thinking that he was summarising Proudhon's theory of exploitation from "System of Economic Contradictions"!

I had to cut out some of the quotes from the comments field due to space, but here is what I intended to send. I based it on my chapter in a forthcoming book on anarchist economics. The chapter is called "Laying the foundations: Proudhon's contribution to anarchist economics" and will be put on-line once the book is out. The chapter presents a chronological account of Proudhon's economic analysis and ideas on a free economy, indicating how critique feeds into vision. Here is the comment as originally intended:

Gary Mongiovi: "By the time of his critique of Proudhon, Marx had arrived at many of the essential elements of his account of exploitation. He recognized that workers can be exploited because they have been alienated from the means of production through a historical process of expropriation and technological transformation."

There is no such theory of exploitation in "The Poverty of Philosophy." There is, however, such a theory in Proudhon's "System of Economic Contradictions". Building upon his arguments in 1840's "What is Property?", Proudhon presents a comprehensive analysis of how exploitation occurs in production within capitalism.

First, Proudhon stressed that labour did not have a value but what it created did and so 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.”

Thus Proudhon “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.” (Allen Oakley, "Marx’s Critique of Political Economy", Vol. 1, p. 118)

Second, consequently, when workers are hired there is no guarantee that the value of the goods produced equals their wage. Under capitalism wages cannot equal product as the proprietor secures a profit by controlling both product and labour:

“Do you know what it is to be a wage-worker? It is to labour under a master, watchful for his prejudices even more than for his orders . . . It is to have no mind of your own . . . to know no stimulus save your daily bread and the fear of losing your job.

“The wage-worker is a man to whom the property owner who hires him says: What you have to make is none of your business; you do not control it.”

Third, this hierarchical relationship allowed exploitation to occur:

“the worker . . . create[s], on top of his subsistence, a capital always greater. Under the regime of property, the surplus of labour, essentially collective, passes entirely, like the revenue, 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.”

In short, the capitalist firm “with its hierarchical organisation” means that workers had “parted with their liberty” and “have sold their arms” to a boss who controls them, appropriates the product of their labour and, consequently, the “collective force” and “surplus of labour” they create. Machinery, Proudhon was well aware, was used as a weapon by the capitalism and so produced “an increase of poverty” as well as bringing “us slavery” and so increased “the abyss which separates the class that commands and enjoys from the class that obeys and suffers.”

Gary Mongiovi: "This insight, and the method of analysis by which he arrived at it, are impressive scientific achievements."

Yes, they are -- shame they were first expounded by Proudhon, not Marx!

For more discussion on this, see my discussion Proudhon and Marx on exploitation and the appendix on "The Poverty of Philosophy" in my new Proudhon Anthology "Property is Theft!" may be of interest.

I do hope that my Proudhon Anthology does some way in counteracting the negative impact of Marx's (usually inaccurate) diatribes against Proudhon. I do get sick of people proclaiming the superiority of Marx when Marx was just repeating Proudhon's earlier arguments!

Yet there nothing too new there in my comment. After all noted Marx scholar Ronald L. Meek noted that in "The Poverty of Philosophy" there was “no distinction between ‘labour’ and ‘labour power’, and no serious analysis of surplus value” and “does not directly discuss the question of the emergence and appropriation of surplus value.” ("Studies in the labour theory of value", 2nd ed., p. 144). Samuel Hollander, in his 2008 book "The Economics of Karl Marx" also notes that “Marx says nothing on the technical issue of exploitation” and there is “no substantive statement of Marx’s own view of the nature and source of surplus value.” And concludes that Engels’ later claim that Marx had worked out the source of surplus-value in 1847 was “unsubstantiated” (p. 210, p. 211, p. 210)

Significantly, Marx utterly fails to mention Proudhon's discussion of capitalist firms with their “hierarchical organisation” (Chapter IV: section II) in which wage-workers toil “under a master” (Chapter XI: section III) after they “parted with their liberty” and “have sold their arms” to a boss who appropriates both the “collective power” (Chapter VI: section II) and the “surplus of labour” they create (Chapter XI: section IV). Probably wise he did not, though, for two reasons. First, mentioning that would have made it hard to paint Proudhon as defending the "eternal" social relations of "bourgeous" society. Second, if he had mocked and disputed these points then Marxists would have found it hard to proclaim Marx's genius when he finally discovered in the 1860s what Proudhon had worked out in the 1840s...

And in respect to that, I must note that Hollander quotes respected Marxist scholar Maximilien Rubel arguing that Marx WAS indebted to Proudhon (as Oakley also did). For some reason he does not translate them from French, but here is my attempt! Proudhon in 1846 (in the section I quoted above) raised “the idea of surplus-value which was to then germinate in the mind of Marx” (p. 169) and he had “worked-out surplus-value, and Marx is still here his debtor, who explained” that labour “is a sold commodity, whose value appears after it is put to work.” (p. 229) This analysis, of labour producing more than its wages (a "surplus" and a "collective force"), did exist in 1840's "What is Property?" but "System of Economic Contradictions" expanded on this. It is by no means a complete and fully-developed theory but it is the basic insight Marxists love to proclaim was Marx's! It is a double insult to see it claimed to have been discovered by Marx in 1847 when the book in question does no such thing and mocks a work which does.

Perhaps needless to say, if I had studied Proudhon more and had access to all the new material translated for "Property is Theft!" many sections of An Anarchist FAQ would have been somewhat different -- not least the analysis of how exploitation happens under capitalism in section C.2! As it stands, I will be tweaking some bits of volume 2 with quotes from "Property is Theft!" -- particularly discussions on mandating and recalling delegates and building the new world in the old.

Of course, it must be stressed this is only part of the critique of capitalism from a libertarian position. It concentrates on production, on where liberty is violated and so exploitation can occur. It does not discuss the role of credit, finance and banks (which is discussion in section C.8 of An Anarchist FAQ), crisis theory (section C.7) and so forth. As I've said before, I think that the post-Keynesian school of economics (which, at its best, combines the best of Marx, Keynes, Kaldor, etc.) would be a good basis for a truely libertarian approach to analysing capitalism -- infused, of course, with the contributions of Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin and so on. Sure, anarchist writings on economics are sparse at times (Proudhon excluded) but there are useful insights there which we can build up -- as well as adding the real contributions of thinkers like Marx, Keynes, Robinson and so forth. While, for example, Marxism has proved a disaster for socialism and the labour movement, it does not mean that Marx did not contribute to our understanding of capitalism (although many "Marxist" positions can be traced back to anarchists like Bakunin and Proudhon!).

And talking of Proudhon (which I seem to do a lot these days!), I made a contribution to a discussion of mutualist land ownership in Shawn Wilber's excellent blog. Shawn has done sterling work for the movement, translating a fair wack of Proudhon into English for the first time as well as making numerous texts by individualist anarchists (mostly American) available electronically. He is, I would say, one of the foremost experts on such matters and his blog is always worth a visit.

I had to break my comments into three bits, one each for my quibbles and a final one for my thoughts on justifying use-rights. Here are my thoughts on self-ownership, common ownership and the fundamental premise for justifying use-right access for resources.

Interesting points. I have two quibbles.

First, is the acceptance of "self-ownership" -- that, I think, is problematic because it mixes up something which is inalienable (liberty) with something which is (property). This allows social relations of authority, domination and exploitation to occur.

This can be seen from Locke, who uses "property in labour" to justify the exploitation of workers' labour by their employee -- as intended. It is used this way by propertarians to this day to justify both exploitation and authoritarian social relations.

Given how embedded "self-ownership" is modern thought, and how it is often used to describe autonomy rather than justify authority, it may be difficult to avoid the term.

I would recommend Carole Pateman's work on in (for example, her article Self-Ownership and Property in the Person: Democratization and a Tale of Two Concepts or The Sexual Contract). She was in an anarchist group during her student days, as can be seen by her use of "contractarian" rather than (right) "libertarian" to describe propertarianism. Also, David Ellerman has written on similar themes.

Second, in terms of this:

"The "agrarian" result is much like communism. And, of course, plenty of anarchists have opted for communism. Indeed, from the death of Proudhon onward, the vast majority of anarchists have responded to the difficulties associated with the just appropriation of land and other natural resources by embracing the collective management of these things."

I would suggest that support for common ownership and management of land in anarchism dates right back to Proudhon's What is Property? rather than after his death. In 1840, he argued that "the land is indispensable to our existence, — consequently a common thing, consequently unsusceptible of appropriation" while in General Idea he argued that once "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" and that "provision shall be made for the supervision of the communes, for the installation of cultivators, and for the fixing of the boundaries of possessions." Eventually, "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." That does imply communal and federal management of somekind, I would suggest. As does this comment from 1848:

"We are socialists... under universal association, ownership of the land and of the instruments of labour is social ownership... We want the mines, canals, railways handed over to democratically organised workers’ associations... We want these associations to be models for agriculture, industry and trade, the pioneering core of that vast federation of companies and societies, joined together in the common bond of the democratic and social Republic."

As Proudhon argued consistently that the land cannot be appropriated, I would say that the death of Proudhon is not the watershed event in anarchist perspectives. Indeed, following up on your comment on those "quick to talk about 'marxist' influence", the debates in the First International over "collectivisation" were primarily between followers of Proudhon (Marx and Marxists were not that involved). Both sides agreed on the need for collective management of industry, they disagreed on the question of applying it to the land. Both sides could, I am sure, point to aspects of Proudhon's thought to support their positions.

As I said, quibbles.

In terms of justifying use-rights to resources in terms of "something in the nature of human being" I could say it is not in "self-ownership" but rather liberty, self-government if you like, which holds the key. If liberty is inalienable then we should not have to sell that liberty to gain access to the means of life and so the land and means of production need to be socialised ("undivided", to use Proudhon's term). With socialisation we have free access and with free access we form free associations rather than hierarchical ones. I think that this vision, of free people working as equals, is Proudhon's main message and the basis for his views on both property and possession.

I hope these comments from a sympathetic (libertarian) communist helps a bit. As I've said before, I don't think there is too much difference between the mutualist and communist anarchist visions -- more a disagreement over the best means of achieving the same goals based on a common analysis of the social question.

How could it be otherwise, as collectivist and communist anarchism evolved from mutualism?

I would add that liberty being the driver for how we view association and possession/property is fundamental to anarchism. And my point about liberty being unalienable and so the basis of everything else (analysis of property, view of association, position on the state, etc.) is reflected by this quote from Proudhon's last book:

“If political right is inherent in man and citizen, consequently if suffrage ought to be direct, the same right is inherent as well, so much the more so, for each corporation, for each commune or city, and the suffrage in each of these groups, ought to be equally direct.”

Hence, in addition, Proudhon's call for mandating and recalling delegates should be remembered in this context (a call which predated the Paris Commune by 23 years and which, obviously, influenced its application in 1871 by his communard followers). I should also note that corporation should NOT be confused with modern corporations. The term corporation referenced the producer organisations in medieval France (i.e., like a Guild in Britain) and so Proudhon is referring to a federation of worker-managed co-operatives. So, liberty is inherent in a person, it cannot (like property) be alienated and so a free society must be an anarchy, self-managed, a world without governors and bosses -- a free association of free and equal individuals working together in self-governing associations. This applied both politically and economically, with the hierarchical workplace of capitalism replaced by a self-managed association of workers just as the hierarchical state is replaced by a self-managed commune. As with individuals, these organisational units would federate -- the first into an agro-industrial federation (the "universal association" of 1846) and a social federation of communes.

So any notion that anarchist critique of the state can be divorced from the anarchist critique of property just shows a basic misunderstanding of both anarchist ideas and and the birth and evolution of anarchism as a named political theory and social movement.

I would add that an extra complication would be that American mutualism is not precisely the same as European mutualism. As I suggested in the introduction to Property is Theft!, Tucker did not share a lot of key positions with Proudhon. As such, Mutualism can mean very different things to different people. Rudolf Rocker's Pioneers Of American Freedom: Origin Of Liberal And Radical Thought In America is a good introduction to American individualist anarchism, by a knowledgeable and respected anarchist activist. This means he understand socialism and anarchism and does not get mislead by terms and positions which other commentories (from the right) get confused. Also of note is Eunice Minette Schuster's Native American Anarchism: A Study of Left-Wing American Individualism who, as the sub-title shows, understood the social and political context of American individualist anarchism. Both books are key works in understanding individualist anarchism as the left-wing movement it was and its links with the wider socialist movement (which, needless to say, includes communist and syndicalist anarchism).

And what gets me is how Marxists have debased socialist ideas by dismissing calls for "liberty" as being "petit-bourgeous" or reflecting on how "liberty" is what the capitalists use to defend their system. Apparently we must reject this in favour of "historical materialism" which proves that socialism is inevitable and, by lucky coincidence, it will be wonderfully free as well... As if. You would think that the confusions produced by trying to understand Stalinism (i.e., recognise its state capitalist nature) in the Leninist movement would have got rid of this kind of thinking (after all, how could the revolution have failed if historical materialism showed that after capitalism came socialism?). And what, ultimately, does the vision of Marx and Engels (sounding, again, very Proudhonian) of "an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all" mean, unless a call for both individual and social freedom?

And talking of freedom (and Proudhon), the new year started well with someone in Glasgow sending me a pdf of the extracts from Proudhon's "The Social Revolution Demonstrated by Coup D'Etat of the Second of December" as contained in "December 2, 1851: contemporary writings on the coup d'état of Louis Napoleon" (edited with introductions by John B. Halsted). J. Salwyn Schapiro's article “Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Harbinger of Fascism” (The American Historical Review, Vol. 50, No. 4 (Jul., 1945), pp. 714-737) has to be, after Marx's "The Poverty of Philosophy", responsible for more distortions about Proudhon than any other piece. He uses Proudhon's book to paint a picture of Proudhon (founding father of anarchism!) as a fascist. Yes, really. I discussed this in an old blog posting, made up of extracts from the LONG introduction to the Proudhon book.

Back then I did not have access to Proudhon's book. I do now. Schapiro proclaims, amongst other things, that Proudhon’s “advocacy of personal dictatorship . . . can hardly be equalled in the reactionary writings of his or of our day” and that his “contempt and hatred of democracy overflowed all decent bounds" He based this mostly on (unquoted) references to Proudhon's "The Social Revolution Demonstrated by Coup d'Etat of the Second of December." I always thought that what Proudhon actually wrote would be somewhat different and now I know I was right. In it I discovered Proudhon explicitly stating he opposed both dictatorship and the elimination of universal suffrage! Wow -- that is some "advocacy of personal dictatorship" and "hatred of democracy"!

Looking through Schapiro's essay, I noted that he rarely actually quotes Proudhon on a number of key issues. For example, we have the statements about "his support of the dictatorship of Louis Napoleon" and "his ardent championship of the dictatorship of Louis Napolepn." (p. 729, p. 730) Then there is Proudhon's "advocacy of personal dictatorship" (p. 732) and that "he supported dictatoral government." (p. 736) Then we have this claim: "Forcefully and repeatedly Proudhon drove home the idea that a social revolution could be accomplished only through the dictatorship of one man." (p. 727) No reference. The next sentence has a reference, to ONE page in Proudhon's book (so much for "repeatedly"!). I've now read the extracts from that book and (surprise!) Proudhon's actual arguments have been completely distorted.

For example, looking at Proudhon's alleged "advocacy of personal dictatorship" we find him actually stating: "I am oppposed to dictatorship and any type of coup d'Etat" (p. 276) and "I am repelled by dictatorship . . . I consider it a theocratic and barbarous institution, in every case a mence to liberty . . . To me, dictatorship is only tyranny . . . I hate it. . . " (p. 283)

Yes, clearly someone who "supported dictatoral government"! Ironically, part of his discussion is on universal suffrage and on how Louis-Napoleon gained support by supporting attempts to repeal the Law of May 31, which has restricted the suffrage! The coup was justified, in part, by the Republic's restrictions on voting rights -- something Schapiro never mentions (nor the millions of votes in favour of the coup and the creation of a 10 year Presidency). As regards universal suffrage, Proudhon states the following:

"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 instructed, that it be organised, and that it lives." (p. 261)

This fits in with his comments during 1848, and later. It is part of his suggestion that "In a democracy, there is no place, in the last analysis, for either constitution or government." (p. 246) There is also (to use Marxist terminology) this linking of economic base and political superstructure:

"the vices of this economic regime produce inequality of fortunes and in consequence class distinctions; then, to defend itself, class distinction calls for political centralisation; political centralisation gives rise to parties, with which power is necessarily unstable and peace impossible. Only radical economic reform can pull us out of this circle." (p. 289)

As for supporting the coup, Proudhon proclaims it "the act of a highway robber." (p. 253) So, clearly, Schapiro was completely misrepresenting Proudhon's arguments and ideas. It is disgraceful, though, that people reference this article as if it were accurate!

Talking of which, some more inventions by Schapiro. Schapiro proclaims that “Almost every page of La Guerre et la paix contains a glorification of war as an ideal and as an institution” -- presumably the very last page which proclaims “Humanity does not want any more war" is why Schapiro says "almost every page".... and best not to mention that the book also states that “the end of militarism is the mission of the nineteenth century, under pain of indefinite decadence.” Then there is this classic -- it was Proudhon's “hatred of socialism” which “drove him to advocate anarchy as its very opposite. What he really saw in anarchy was not a solution of social problems but an antidote to socialism.” That would be the same Proudhon who repeatedly proclaimed himself a socialist! Then there is this: "Production was to be individual, not collective" (p. 725) When, in reality, Proudhon had argued in 1846 precisely against that position:

“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.”

At least Schapiro spelt his name correctly, got the dates right... what a shit! Unsurprisingly, that other lying scumbag Hal Draper liked and referenced his article...

But enough of Proudhon... And, finally, we in the UK had some bad news -- The Daily Show would no longer be shown on More4 (we are being palmed off with the weekly "Global Edition"). Good news, though, this webpage lets you configure Firefox to let you see it on-line. And it works! Hurray!

Until I blog again, be seeing you!

AddThis

  


Like what you are reading?  Get a notification whenever we post a new article to

Anarchist Writers via Facebook or Twitter

where you can also like and comment on our articles


 

Posting comments

 Like most sites we have a major problem with bots trying to post spam into the comments section.  While looking for a better solution we are reduced to only on turning on the ability to anonymously comment for brief periods around the posting of new articles.  But if you are a regular visitor you can comment at any time by creating an account on the site and logging in before posting. But the Spammers also set up accounts so to reduce the workload of deleting those we only turn on the ability to create accounts for brief periods which we announce on our Twitter & Facebook accounts so follow those to hear when we have that turned on.  We do want you to be able to engage with us via the comments and we are very sorry for the fact that we can't find a better way of dealing with spam.