Libertarian, Proudhon and “Modern Science and Anarchy” Update

First, an update on the progress of Kropotkin’s Modern Science and Anarchy. The good news is that I have now completely revised all the translations – new and old. It has been sent to AK Press now – so Kropotkin’s final book (ignoring the posthumous and unfinished Ethics) will finally appear complete in English translation. Just 104 years after it appeared in French. Still, it is just 25 years since his first book – Words of a Rebel – appeared complete in English translation!

So what will the book consist of? Ignoring my introduction (which I am still working on), there will be two parts – Modern Science and Anarchy (1913 edition) as well as various Supplementary Materials. Here is the list – indicating translations of chapters which have never appeared before in English (although I must stress that everything has been revised and most chapters are different – sometimes significantly – from previous English translations):

Modern Science and Anarchy (1913 edition)

  • Preface (newly translated)
  • Modern Science and Anarchy
    • The Origins of Anarchy
    • The Intellectual Movement of the Eighteenth Century
    • The Reaction at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century
    • The Positive Philosophy of Comte
    • The Awakening of the Years 1856-1862
    • The Synthetic Philosophy of Spencer
    • The Role of Law in Society
    • The Position of Anarchy in Modern Science
    • The Anarchist Ideal and Previous Revolutions
    • Anarchy
      • Principles
      • Anarchist Ideas amongst the Ancients; in the Middle Ages – Proudhon – Stirner
    • Anarchy (continued)
      • Socialist Ideas in the International – Authoritarian Communists and Mutualists
      • Socialist Ideas in the International – Saint-Simonism
    • Anarchy (continued)
      • Socialist Ideas in the International – Fourierism
      • The Impetus given by the Commune – Bakunin
    • Anarchy (continued)
      • The Anarchist Conception as it appears today
      • The Negation of the State
      • The Individualist Current
    • Some Conclusions of Anarchy
    • The Means of Action
    • Conclusion
  • Communism and Anarchy
    • Anarchist Communism (newly translated)
    • Authoritarian Communism – Communist Communities
    • Small communist communities. Causes of their Failure
  • The State: Its Historic Role
  • The Modern State
    • The Essential Principle of Modern Societies
    • Serfs of the State
    • Taxation: Means of Creating the Powers of the State
    • Taxation: Means of Enriching the Wealthy
    • Monopolies
    • Monopolies in the Nineteenth Century
    • Monopolies in the constitutional England – In Germany – Kings of the Era (newly translated)
    • War
      • Industrial Rivalries
      • High Finance
    • War and Industry
      • Industrial crises due to expectations of war
    • The Essential Characteristics of the State (newly translated)
    • Can the State be used for the emancipation of the workers? (newly translated)
    • The modern constitutional State (newly translated)
    • Is it sensible to strengthen the current State? (newly translated)
    • Conclusions (newly translated)
  • Appendix
    • Explanatory Notes
    • Herbert Spencer: His Philosophy

About 15% of the book’s pages are in chapters that have never been translated before – not to mention significant new material in other chapters (particularly in the “Anarchy” chapters of Modern Science and Anarchy and Communism and Anarchy). In addition, I have added these related works:

Supplementary Material

  • Charles Darwin (newly translated)
  • Anarchy: Its Philosophy, Its Ideal (complete)
  • Co-operation: A Reply to Herbert Spencer
  • Letter to Comradeship
  • Organised Vengeance Called Justice (newly translated)
  • The State: Creator of Monopolies (newly translated)


It makes interesting reading – more importantly, it makes relevant reading. Kropotkin’s discussion of how the State is an instrument of class rule and how it uses taxation to favour certain capitalists reflect how modern neo-liberalism works. Of particular note are the chapters of “The Modern State” which are now translated for the first time – they really drive home that Kropotkin (like all anarchists) see the state as an instrument of (minority) class rule which has developed over time certain features to carry out its task (centralisation, hierarchy, etc.). This means that it cannot be used by the working class as Marxists claimed – and, moreover, something based on the same features – like Lenin’s “soviet” State – will produce a class society. It also brings home how indebted Rudolf Rocker was to Kropotkin – the words from Anarcho-Syndicalism quoted in AFAQ are just (I now know) paraphrasing Kropotkin (“The Modern State” was quickly translated into German and issued as a pamphlet – and Rocker praises it in an article which appeared in Freedom in the early 1920s).

I must also note something else. I quoted George Barrett’s excellent Objections to Anarchism in AFAQ in reply to the question “if you abolish government, what will you put it its place” that the “only thing then that will be put in the place of government will be the free organisation of the workers. When Tyranny is abolished, Liberty remains, just as when disease is eradicated health remains.” Which sums it up very well – the organisations created in the process of fighting exploitation and oppression become the framework of the free society. This can be found in Bakunin, Kropotkin, etc. (see AFAQ) although not quite as succinctly. Well, Kropotkin wrote this in Chapter XV of the French version of Modern Science and Anarchy:

“We see in the incapacity of the statist socialist to understand the true historical problem of socialism a gross error of judgement – a survival of absolutist and religious prejudices, and we fight against it. To tell the workers that they will be able to introduce the socialist system while retaining the machine of the State and only changing the men in power; to prevent the mind of the workers, instead of aiding it, progressing towards the search for new forms of life that would be their own – that is in our eyes a historic mistake which borders on the criminal.”

How very true (and we are living with this error to this day). Hence Kropotkin pointing to trade unions, community assemblies, soviets (in 1905 and 1917) as examples of what organisations would constitute an anarchist society.

So, hopefully, this should be out this year – the introduction needs a lot of work but that should be sent at the end of April.

Second, I should mention my recently posted review of Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy. This is related to my newly published article in the latest Anarchist Studies entitled “Proudhon’s Constituted Value and the Myth of Labour Notes” but goes into “Constituted Value” less and includes a discussion of Marx’s critique of Proudhon’s methodology. It is long – but it could be so much longer given how bad Marx’s “reply” is.

I know that I may have a reputation for being somewhat fixated on Proudhon (not true, although I do find him of great interest) or being anti-Marxist (more true, but still not completely the case!). That review will not do that any good, of course, but I think it important to understand what past anarchists actually argued.

It helps us understand where we are now. The past is how we got here and we need to understand it just as we need to know how we got to a specific location in a longer journey. Saying “we are here” and ripping up our map because we are going elsewhere does not strike me as being particularly sensible. It just means we will may repeat our steps or even go in the wrong direction because we don’t have the necessary knowledge to make an informed decision.

In addition, it is a question of righting historical wrongs. Marx did a serious hatchet-job on Proudhon – inventing and tampering with quotes, selective quoting, false attribution, etc. should not be tolerated. Particularly when it skews our understanding of a person’s actual politics today. So it pains me to read Kropotkin repeating the notion that Proudhon advocated labour-notes – he should have known better (but, then again, I read System of Economic Contradictions a few times before grasping what “Constituted Value” meant). It also pains me to read Marxists smugly reference The Poverty of Philosophy against anarchism – as if it were a good and accurate critique of Proudhon.

So given my comments in the review (and this is just a sample of the many, many issues with his work) why was Marx taken seriously? Well, few people read Proudhon – and little of his voluminous output is available in English. That helps. Also, he was working class and I am sure middle-class academics had no problem believing the ex-student and very respectably bourgeois Marx had put him and his pretensions in their place. And “we” all know that anarchists are crazy and so it is easy to believe Marx that Proudhon did not have a clue… (on this, I would recommend the work by Davide Turcato – particularly his excellent Making Sense of Anarchism: Errico Malatesta's experiments with revolution 1889-1900 – as he states and proves the obvious: anarchists are like everyone else and act in sensible ways).

Of course, this review – like my Anarchist Studies article – is an extraction of a much longer reply to Marx’s reply. That goes through Marx’s book and refutes its claims (and, occasionally, noting he makes a valid point). It also imbeds the marginal notes from Proudhon’s copy (Proudhon mostly comments on Marx’s second chapter, others comment on the first). I can see why Proudhon’s notes are so exasperated in tone and why he did not bother to reply (although the death of his mother and the outbreak of the 1848 revolution may have played their part!) for who, having read his book, would take Marx seriously?

Sadly, he did not count on people not reading his book and viewing Marx not as a man (with all the limitations that suggest and are suggested in his reply) but as a demi-god… Also, sad to say, I don’t think such reviews and articles will – at least initially – produce a change in perspectives but hopefully over time and, initially, in the movement notions will slowly change (and when anarchists are knowledgeable enough of their own theoretical past to forcibly challenge Marxists regurgitating the nonsense of Marx, Lenin, etc. – particularly when we usually said it first). Of course, Proudhon’s many flaws (sexism, racism, reformism, etc.) mitigate against this but we simply cannot understand the evolution of anarchism without understanding Proudhon’s ideas and the key part their play (see this account of the First International, for example).

Nor should I forget to mention Tucker’s championing of Proudhon while being extremely selective in what he took from him. Like the equally selective championing of Kropotkin by the reformists in the British anarchist movement post-War, this skews how a thinker to seen. While I’m glad that Tucker took the time to translate Proudhon and keep his memory alive, I am also painfully aware of how this associated Proudhon with positions Tucker held and which Proudhon explicitly rejected (so next to no associationism in Tucker despite it being so key in Proudhon). And Kropotkin was a class-warrior who wrote far more than Mutual Aid (and which is hardly silent on class struggle!)

Third, I should mention this is the 160th anniversary of the coining of the term “libertarian” in its modern sense – since stolen by the propertarians of the right – by the very interesting Joseph Déjacque in his Open Letter to Proudhon. I am working on a follow-up to my 150 Years of Libertarian for the AFAQ blog (which has been somewhat neglected of late) which will include a new translation of said letter. So hopefully that will appear in May (shortly after the introduction to Modern Science and Anarchy is sent off to AK Press).

I did have a look at the libertarian entry on Wikipedia – god, it is a mess. And the usual battles between anarchists and propertarians continue (that is, only propertarianism is libertarian and other historical nonsense) and it is nice to see An Anarchist FAQ is still causing those muppets dislike (one invoking David Friedman’s words but not, of course, the reply). But that is to be expected – given that American classical liberals simply stole the term “libertarian” from the left in the 1950s (as Rothbard later admitted).

Now, you would think given their stated position on property rights you would conclude once informed of this fact they would stop using the term – but of course not. After all, Rothbard knowingly stole the word and simply ignored all he wrote on the related subjects of theft and names… but, then, he also proclaimed hunting did not bestow property rights to land (to create capitalist property rights in land – and to justify the expropriation of native peoples) and that fishing bestowed property rights to the sea (to create capitalist property rights in water).

In this they are like the capitalists they so happily shrill for – respecting property rights are for other people, the little people, and not for the likes of them or the wealthy. After all, Locke wrote not to defend the freedom and labour of the many but to rationalise and justify the wealth and power of the existing ruling elite.

In France, where the anarchist movement cannot be so easily ignored as in America or Britain, the propertarians have been forced to call their ideology “libertarianisme” and themselves a “libertarienne” – rien, of course, being French for “nothing” or “nought” and so suggesting that it has nothing to do with liberty. This means that rather than a single entry for two distinctly different – nay, opposed – set of ideas with a distinctly different origin and aims as on the English-language Wikipedia, the French site has two entries.

If only we were that sensible – but propertarians insist that theft is property and so seek to keep their appropriated label just as the ruling elite now seek to keep the proceeds of hundreds of years of state (and private!) violence.

Talking of libertarian and its uses, I finally got around to finding Charles T. Sprading’s 1913 book Liberty and the Great Libertarians. The propertarian announcement is funny:

 “Now, not all of these people would be considered libertarians by the modern understanding. Some even called themselves socialists, as absurd as that may sound to us today.”

Not remotely “absurd” as it was socialists who coined the term in its “modern understanding” and, indeed, until the 1950s it was “absurd” to consider defenders of capitalism as libertarians for they advocated a very specific form of authority – that associated with wealth. In this sense, it follows Sprading himself – he notes that the authors “chosen are from different political parties and economic schools” and uses the term in a dictionary manner. Yet these “master minds” are not “in perfect accord when treating liberty” as some of them – not all! – recognise how concentrations of property negatively affect liberty. So it is understatement to suggest that “some of them are not always consistent in their applications of liberty”! As noted in AFAQ, Tucker was hardly consistent when it came to wage-labour.

The propertarian continues:

“But they all exhibited in their writings a deep and abiding attachment to the idea of human liberty. They agree in the primacy of the individual. They agreed that the greatest threat to individual rights is the state. And they believed in fighting for these rights. They believed in the freedom of assembly, freedom of press, freedom of religion, freedom to think and act. They hated war and social control. They rejected every form of authoritarianism, and, in all these areas, they made huge contributions.”

True, at least for the socialist libertarians indicated – for the non-socialists, they defended those freedoms as long as it was not the property-owner restricting them. They may not have favoured “social control” but they firmly wished private control and that “form of authoritarianism” associated with wage-labour and landlordism. Some even acknowledged this power. Herbert Spencer rightly wrote:

“Equity, therefore, does not permit property in land. For if one portion of the earth’s surface may justly become the possession of an individual, and may be held by him for his sole use and benefit, as a thing to which he has an exclusive right, then other portions of the earth’s surface may be so held; and eventually the whole of the earth’s surface may be so held; and our planet may thus lapse altogether into private hands. Observe now the dilemma to which this leads. Supposing the entire habitable globe to be so enclosed, it follows that if the landowners have a valid right to its surface, all who are not landowners, have no right at all to its surface. Hence, such can exist on the earth by sufferance only. They are all trespassers. Save by the permission of the lords of the soil, they can have no room for the soles of their feet. Nay, should the others think fit to deny them a resting-place, these landless men might equitably be expelled from the earth altogether. If, then, the assumption that land can be held as property, involves that the whole globe may become the private domain of a part of its inhabitants; and if, by consequence, the rest of its inhabitants can then exercise their faculties—can then exist even—only by consent of the landowners; it is manifest, that an exclusive possession of the soil necessitates an infringement of the law of equal freedom. For, men who cannot ‘live and move and have their being’ without the leave of others, cannot be equally free with those others.” (Social Statistics, 114-5)

The landlord has the right “to impose just what regulations he might choose on its inhabitants” because they “are the only legitimate rulers of a country – that the people at large remain in it only by the landowners’ permission, and ought consequently to submit to the landowners’ rule, and respect whatever institutions the landowners set up.” These conclusions can “only be repudiated by denying” that “the earth can become individual property.” (121-2) This echoes Rousseau (whose influence on Proudhon is obvious):

“That a rich and powerful man, having acquired immense possessions in land, should impose laws on those who want to establish themselves there, and that he should only allow them to do so on condition that they accept his supreme authority and obey all his wishes; that, I can still conceive [...] Would not this tyrannical act contain a double usurpation: that on the ownership of the land and that on the liberty of the inhabitants?”

Logically, this also applied to industry and Spencer eventually did acknowledge that:

“A wage-earner, while he voluntarily agrees to give so many hours work for so much pay, does not, during performance of his work, act in a purely voluntary way: he is coerced by the consciousness that discharge will follow if he idles, and is sometimes more manifestly coerced by an overlooker. […] For so many hours daily he makes over his faculties to a master […] for so much money, and is for the time owned by him […]. He is temporarily in the position of a slave, and his overlooker stands in the position of a slave-driver.” (Principles of Sociology III: 572-3)

He, however, spent his life in practice ignoring – when not denying! – these points and defending the landlords and capitalists in the name of “liberty”!!!! As Kropotkin notes:

“When a workman sells his labour to an employer, and knows perfectly well that some value of his produce will be unjustly taken by the employer; when he sells it without even the slightest guarantee of being employed so much as six consecutive months -- and he is compelled to do so because he and his family would otherwise starve next week -- it is a sad mockery to call that a free contract. Modern economists may call it free, but the father of political economy -- Adam Smith -- was never guilty of such a misrepresentation. As long as three-quarters of humanity are compelled to enter into agreements of that description, force is, of course, both to enforce the supposed agreements and to maintain such a state of things. Force – and a good deal of force – is necessary for preventing the labourers from taking possession of what they consider unjustly appropriated by the few; and force is necessary for always bringing new ‘uncivilised nations’ under the same conditions. The Spencerian no-force party perfectly well understand that; and while they advocate no force for changing that existing conditions, they advocate still more force than is now used for maintaining them. As to anarchy, it is obviously as incompatible with plutocracy as with any other kind of cracy.” (The Coming Anarchy – second part of what would become Anarchist Communism: Its Basis and Principles, the first part being The Scientific Basis of Anarchy)

How true – and what is shameful about Spencer is that, unlike modern propertarians, he had the intellect and honesty to (sometimes) acknowledge the reality of capitalism. Unlike Rothbard who was more than happy to unwittingly contradict himself defending his system of private hierarchies. For genuine libertarians, human liberty does not end at the workplace door – nor do we think swapping the State for the lord of the land is a step forward. As Kropotkin put it in “Communism and Anarchy” in Modern Science and Anarchy (in a passage not in the previous English translation of its last three sections):

“In today’s society, where no one is allowed to use the field, the factory, the instruments of labour, unless he acknowledge himself the inferior, the subject of some Sir – servitude, submission, lack of freedom, the practice of the whip are imposed by the very form of society. By contrast, in a communist society which recognises the right of everyone, on an egalitarian basis, to all the instruments of labour and to all the means of existence that society possesses, the only men on their knees in front of others are those who are by their nature voluntary serfs. Each being equal to everyone else as far as the right to well-being is concerned, he does not have to kneel before the will and arrogance of others and so secures equality in all personal relationships with his co-members.”

Spencer does recognise to some degree this point but sees worker cooperatives replacing wage-labour sometime far in the future – once working people have been “educated” sufficiently. He also does not grasp – unlike Proudhon and his support of socialisation – how privately owned co-operatives can see wage-labour continue as the co-operative members hire those without property. So Spencer’s position amounts to wishful thinking about the distant future – but, as Kropotkin noted in Modern Science and Anarchy, this places him above the typical bourgeois (although his practical activities contradicted his conclusions, as Kropotkin also notes).

(I mention Spencer because, as can be seen above, Kropotkin has a chapter and an appendix on his ideas in Modern Science and Anarchy so I’ve had to become better acquainted with him – indeed, Kropotkin mentions him regularly if infrequently, there being a chapter on him in Ethics. His conclusion is that while there is overlap in ideas, Spencer was not an anarchist – but at least he could see beyond the bourgeois individualism he defended to something more free.)

Sprading seems to suggest that voluntary hierarchy would be fine (but, then, look at the extract from Bakunin he provides!) but regardless of Nozick or Locke, slavery being voluntary does not make it an example of freedom. If liberty “negates authority and tyranny” as Sprading correctly states then it surely negates the kind of private tyranny Nozick (echoing Locke) defends:

“if one starts a private town, on land whose acquisition did not and does not violate the Lockean proviso [of non-aggression], persons who chose to move there or later remain there would have no right to a say in how the town was run, unless it was granted to them by the decision procedures for the town which the owner had established.” (Anarchy, State and Utopia, 270)

(the difference between Locke and Rothbard is that the latter rejects the former’s final step – namely the landlords forming a joint-stock company and governing their properties (and those servants who live and work their masters) together (this company being named “the State”). Yet this is not actually much of a difference as both regimes would be based on the same – monopoly! – “natural law” reflecting the same capitalist property rights. We are sure that Locke would hardly have objected to competitive private police forces being hired by the owners…)

The propertarian introductory note fails to note that Sprading states “Individualists believe in common ownership of such things as roads, streets and waterways” and that he notes (correctly) that the State “always favours the rich and the powerful” and “invariably interpreted [the law] in their favour” – as if would not be the case with private (wealthy!) judges interpretation of the laws associated with capitalist property rights under any form of propertarianism!

Then there is Sprading’s suggestions to the labour movement. While suggesting that the working class is the industrial type (where, oh where, is that god of the modern propertarian, the capitalist?) he also rejects “militant” action – such as revolutions and, presumably, strikes. He points to the peasants of Mexico who “have taken possession of the land and refused to pay rent for it. This is the passive method” which is “the opposite of the military method” and “suitable to the Industrial type.”

Fine, fair enough, anarchists have long advocated expropriation as a key aspect of social revolution – the seizing of land, industry and housing by those who use but do not own them. But what happens next? Well, the landlords and capitalists call upon the State and its forces (or hire their own goons) to take back their “rightful property”…

The role of defender of property (and the – usually unmentioned – power which goes with it) is precisely the only role which propertarians think the State should have. And if that State had remained restricted to acting on behalf of the wealthy few, we would never have seen “anarcho”-capitalism and right-“libertarianism” develop at all (for both camps in the final analysis seek ways to exclude the many from influencing laws away from this – hence the recurring sight of propertarians embracing dictatorships, even fascism, and Rothbard rejecting the juries of individualist anarchism). As Tucker rightly noted, Spencer “amid his multitudinous illustrations […] of the evils of legislation, he in every instance cites some law passed ostensibly at least to protect labour, alleviating suffering, or promote the people's welfare. But never once does he call attention to the far more deadly and deep-seated evils growing out of the innumerable laws creating privilege and sustaining monopoly.” He was a “champion of the capitalistic class.” (quoted by James J. Martin, Men Against the State, 240)

So Sprading’s book is of interest and many of the writings he includes are worthwhile but it is question begging – for he does not stress that many of the non-socialists he quotes also note the dangers to liberty associated with property and this lack of comment undermines the usefulness of his anthology (perhaps he took it for granted? He does seem well aware of the land question). It is, sadly, an early example of the confusion reflected in Wikipedia in attempting to expand the term “libertarian” wider than its historical coining by the left. But at least he made no attempt to appropriate the word to turn it into the opposite of why it was coined in the first place!

Sure, while the better (classical) liberal – like John Stuart Mill who recognised that wage-labour had to be replaced by genuine co-operative associations and became a (market) socialist (as propertarian von Mises noted before blaming him as the sole cause for Britain’s relative industrial decline!) – the rest are completely blind (or feign to be!) as to economic power and its negative effects on liberty: when they are not defending that power, that authority, that control… But, then, as I noted recently, we should not be surprised as this was what Locke set out to do and the propertarians of today just parrot his just-so stories and his defence of subjugation and exploitation embedded in his words of freedom and the vacuous and misleading – but ever so useful! – notion of “property in the person.” How better to defend tyranny than to wrap it in the flag of liberty?

Freedom should mean more than having a choice of master to tell you to “shut up and do what you are told!” -- as Déjacque argued against Proudhon when he extended the latter’s arguments about the workplace and society to the family 160 years ago.

But enough – I have covered this before, perhaps too often!

Until I blog again, be seeing you…


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