Property is Theft! seems to have got its first review – James Tansey’s “Marx, Proudhon and political struggle”. Well, I say review. It is not really a review, rather it is an extended commentary on my discussion of Proudhon and Marx plus various arguments on why mutualism is capitalist. My book is, in short, utilised as a means of explain why Marx was right. Shame, then, that in so doing the author has to deny various explicit and awkward comments by Marx. Thus we have the strange experience of seeing Marxists arguing against Marx, explaining what Marx “really” meant in the face of what Marx actually wrote.
First off, it is fair to say that the quality of the review is best shown by the fact Tansey does not get my name right. Really, it is on the front of the book (not that I think he actually has seen a copy as I got MY copy after he posted his review!). Still, that is not important as he is not actually reviewing the book. He is explaining why Marx was right and why Proudhon (proclaimed a socialist by both Marx and Engels) actually aimed for capitalism. So, on that basis I will reply to his comments. Unfortunately, this will involve quoting Marx and Engels a bit – such is the way with true-believers though.
He starts off badly, quoting Italian communist Amadeo Bordiga who argued that it is not simply to take-over workplaces and place them under self-management. Quite. I quoted Emma Goldman on precisely that point in the introduction to the book (footnote 237, page 49). He also proclaimed that “Communism involves the reorganisation of the whole of human life, and the old productive model… needs to be denounced, and then totally destroyed from top to bottom.” Again, this is something of a theme in section I of An Anarchist FAQ. Fair enough, I did not explicitly discuss it in Property is Theft! as it was somewhat an aside to the main issue – namely Proudhon’s ideas. However, Proudhon himself was pretty clear that creating co-operatives was just a first stage in a general social transformation – one which could not be specified before hand (as the utopian socialists did).
The author does state that the book “is an important contribution for all students of socialism.” And, yes, he did influence “the French working class movement” and Bakunin. Still, reading Proudhon’s works shows how false it is for Tansey to proclaim that Proudhon “developed a focus on ethical opposition to forms of social hierarchy and authority as a basis for anti-capitalist politics.” This is a mockery of his analysis. As the section of the introduction “On The State” shows, Proudhon rejected using the state because he thought it was “enchained to capital and directed against the proletariat.” (Property is Theft!, p. 226) Unlike Marx, he did not think the working class could use political action to capture it. Proudhon also argued that it could not be used to create socialism as socialism had to be created by the workers themselves, from below.
It would be fair to say that in both of these points, history has proven Proudhon right. Few Marxists these days agree with Marx and Engels that the bourgeois state can be captured by “political action” (the SPGB being an exception and they stick, as I indicate in section H.3.10 of An Anarchist FAQ, with actual Marxism). Most also pay lip-service to socialism from below. Sadly, the experience of Marxist regimes has proven Proudhon correct – the masses did not govern themselves, the party ruled them.
Tansey notes that “Proudhon’s work also serves as a precursor to the varies forms of “market socialism” such as that of David Schweikhart” and “also bears relation to those political economists who, like Keynes, have sought to save capitalist society as a whole by destroying those forms of capital deemed ‘parasitic’, namely financial/interest-bearing capital.” That last comment provokes a footnote:
“Lest the reader think the reference to Keynes ungenerous, we should note that this observation stems from McKay himself who in his introduction notes that Keynes had rated highly the work of one of Proudhon’s followers.”
True, but Tansey completely fails to note that I also mention (in the section “On Credit”) that Proudhon’s critique of “parasitic” forms of capital went far beyond Keynes and included the industrial capitalist! It is easy to understand why, given that for Tansey wage-labour does not actually define capitalism. Still, it would be nice to note that Proudhin viewed himself as destroying capitalism rather than saving it. And I should point out that when Keynes was working on the General Theory he actually made some positive comments on Marx’s analysis which sadly did not end up in the final version. I guess Keynes turned to many thinkers to try and save capitalism from itself.
In short, the “name of Proudhon then, is tied deeply to currents of socialism opposed to that inaugurated by Karl Marx and his associate Friedrich Engels.” Except, of course, Schweikhart considers himself a Marxist and Tansey goes on to proclaim that Proudhon’s ideas are not socialist!
The real reason for this “review” is stated: “Proudhon’s ideas are certain to be invoked . . . by those who would seek to argue that the failure that was the Soviet experience was the result” was “the subjective factor, the Bolshevik’s self-proclaimed ideology of Marxism. This is certainly the argument put forward by the book’s editor, Ian McKay.” And it is, as I discuss in section H of An Anarchist FAQ – obviously, in a book about Proudhon’s ideas I could not expound on this issue and so Property is Theft! would not be the best place to go to find a discussion of the relative importance of objective and subjective factors in the Bolshevik revolution (section H.6 provides a summary).
I apparently believe that “the statist detour of the 20th century working class movement into the avenues of social democracy and “official” communism (otherwise known as Stalinism) is a result of fundamental flaws in Marxian modes of analysis.” Tansey misses out Bolshevism, what was “official” communism until the rise of Stalinism – the one which imposed Party dictatorship, one-man management, extreme bureaucratic centralism, repressed strikes, broke-up and gerrymandered soviets all before 1919 (again, section H.6 provides a summary). Still, best not to mention that….
Tansey seems genuinely shocked that an anarchist would argue that the “alternative is to turn, not to one of the many currents of Marxism developed in opposition to the aforementioned trends, but instead to turn to an analysis based on the theorists of anarchism.” That would be because anarchism has been proven right time and time again – so right, in fact, that Marxists (of many currents) have appropriated our ideas (see section H.3.5 of An Anarchist FAQ). Starting with Proudhon’s ideas…
He does admit that he “cannot possibly claim to deal satisfactorily with all of these fundamental issues in the course of a single article” and so he concentrates on the appendix on Marx. To do this he will “lay out the nature of certain fundamental concepts in Marx’s critique of political economy, in particular the concept of capital.” Sadly, though, he does not. In fact, he explicitly rejects most of them. Ignoring that he just called him a socialist, Tansey proclaims his main aim is to “show that Proudhon advocates a form of capitalism in Marx’s sense and the claimed plagiarism of Proudhon which McKay ascribes to Marx are thus due to a misreading of Marx’s concepts.” Both, of course, are false.
The “first distortion that we find is McKay claiming that Marx appropriated the famous slogan that “the emancipation of the working-class must be the act of the working-class themselves” from Proudhon.” Actually, I did not. This is what I wrote (page 69):
“In terms of politics, Marx also repeated Proudhon. When Marx placed ‘the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves’ in the statues of the IWMA, the mutualist delegates must have remembered Proudhon’s exhortation from 1848 that ‘the proletariat must emancipate itself without the help of the government.’”
In short, both subscribed to the idea of working class self-emancipation. Now, Proudhon did say that in 1848 (repeating similar comments made earlier in the 1840s). The IWMA was formed, by Proudhon’s followers, in the 1860s. Now, would they not have thought that expression sounded familiar?
But Tansey is having none of that! I “should know well enough that this would not have been Marx’s intention, as he had all his life fought for the idea that it was ‘the great duty of the working classes’ to ‘conquer political power’ and that to be successful in their struggle workers’ would have to ‘employ forcible means, hence governmental means’ against the capitalist class.” And does Tansey not know that I commented, in a footnote, that Marx “repeatedly stated that universal suffrage gave the working class political power and so could be used to capture the state. See section H.3.10 of An Anarchist FAQ.” In short, that it is obvious that Proudhon and Marx did not agree on the means for proletarian self-emancipation?
Is Tansey really suggesting that readers would think that Marx and Proudhon advocated the same means of working class self-emancipation? Personally, I think they would know enough about the subject to understand that Marx and Proudhon disagreed on this issue (particularly as, on page 28, the issue of political action dividing the anarchists from Marxists is mentioned). They would also know, I hope, that the net effect of Marxists seeking and gaining governmental power has simply confirmed the anarchist critique! Social Democracy became as reformist as Bakunin predicted and the “dictatorship of the proletariat” proved to be the “dictatorship over the proletariat” as Proudhon (and Bakunin) warned (although, of course, not precisely in those words - see section H.1.1 of An Anarchist FAQ). And I should note that “the government” Proudhon was referring to was the bourgeois government of the time. And I should note that Marx shared Proudhon’s opposition to bourgeois-state funding for co-operatives (as desired by Lasselle)
All of which means that Tansey’s comments that Marx would not be “plagiarising a phrase which he directly disagreed with” seem pointless. I was pointing to their shared support for working class self-emancipation – although, apparently, I seem “determined to dig up anything he can which would implicate Marx in some kind of mean-spirited conspiracy against Proudhon.” You mean, perhaps, like making stuff up? Tampering with quotes? Selectively quoting? And the other activities Marx got up to in The Poverty of Philosophy? But, then, Tansey cannot bring himself to mention that…
Tansey objects to my suggesting that “Marx’s understanding of labour-power and surplus-value sounds “remarkably like” Proudhon’s axiom that “all labour must leave a surplus.”“ No, apparently Proudhon arguing that bosses hire workers, control their labour, keep its product and pocket the surplus is completely different from Marx’s analysis that bosses hire workers, control their labour, keep its product and pocket the surplus! Why? Because Proudhon’s analysis is “trans-historical”! Does that mean slave-owners and feudal lords did not keep the surplus product of their slaves/serfs? Well, yes. As Marx noted:
“Capital did not invent surplus labour. Wherever a part of society possesses the monopoly of the means of production, the worker, free or unfree, must add to the labour-time necessary for his own maintenance an extra quantity of labour time in order to produce the means of subsistence for the owner of the means of production” (Capital, vol.1, p. 344)
Production of a surplus will also apply in a mutualist or communist economy, the difference being that this surplus will be controlled by those who produce it (mutualism) or society as a whole (communism). However, as both Proudhon and Marx noted, capitalism is marked by wage-labour, when (to quote Tansey) “labour-power is a commodity whose use-value is to be a source of value.” This is discussed in various places in the introduction.
Tansey proclaims that “Marx was not the first to note that the worker did not receive back what they produced during a given production period. Ricardian socialists had noted this before Proudhon even.” Shame, then, that both Marx and Engels failed to mention the Ricardian socialists – when Capital was published Engels gushed that Marx was the first to show how exploitation happened in production. I quote Engels saying this (footnote 37, page 9) and compare it to Proudhon’s earlier argument that workers sell their liberty to a boss who makes them produce a surplus. Still, it was remiss of me not to mention the Ricardian socialists – particularly as Marx plagiarised them as well (but that would, I am sure, have counted towards my anti-Marxism!). And I should note that, unlike Marx in the 1860s, Proudhon seemed unaware of the Ricardian socialists in 1840 (until Marx pointed to them in 1847).
Now we get to the fun part, entitled “Proudhon’s advocacy of capitalism”. This is “the meat and potatoes of the argument” as I argue that “Proudhon did not advocate a society which would be recognisable as a capitalist society. To see the validity of these claims, we can start by examining the kind of society which Marx outlined as the basis of his critique in Capital Volume One.” Yes, let us do precisely that. After all, I quote from Capital and other works to support my argument. It will be interesting to see how Tansey gets around these quotes.
Tansey begins by stating that “Marx began his magnum opus, Das Kapital, with an analysis of the social form taken by wealth in capitalist society – the commodity-form.” Yes, he does start there. But the meat of his work is when he moved away from the market into production: “Let us . . . leave this noisy sphere, where everything takes place on the surface and in full view of everyone, and follow them into the hidden abode of production . . . The sphere of circulation or commodity exchange . . . is in fact a very Eden of the innate rights of man . . . When we leave this sphere . . . a certain change takes place, or so it appears.” (Capital, vol. 1, pp. 279-80) This is our first clue that commodity production is not, from Marx’s perspective, enough to define capitalism.
Tansey argues that the “fact that wealth takes on the form of commodities is conceived by Marx in the first chapter of Capital as the result of the atomisation of the producers, their production as isolated enterprise units, as private property owners.” Yet it does not tell us anything about the mode of production! As Marx argued, the “character of the production process from which [goods] derive is immaterial” and so on the market commodities come “from all modes of production” – for example, they could be “the produce of production based on slavery, the product of peasants . . ., of a community . . . , of state production (such as existed in earlier epochs of Russian history, based on serfdom) or half-savage hunting peoples.” (Capital, vol. 2, pp. 189-90) Thus “the production and circulation of commodities do not at all imply the existence of the capitalist mode of production” (Capital, vol. 1, p. 949)
Tansey states that it “would thus appear obvious that Proudhon’s system of worker-managed enterprises competing on the marketplace would fall victim to the critique put forward by Marx in Capital. But McKay denies this.” Not only me, Marx does to! For example:
“Let us suppose the workers are themselves in possession of their respective means of production and exchange their commodities with one another. These commodities would not be products of capital.” (Capital, vol. 3, p. 276)
I do quote that in the introduction (page 78) along with many other references to Marx saying the same thing. I even quote a letter from Engels (page 32) to one of his followers explaining that the production of commodities does not equal capitalism. So the “object of production – to produce commodities – does not import to the instrument the character of capital” as the “production of commodities is one of the preconditions for the existence of capital... as long as the producer sells only what he himself produces, he is not a capitalist; he becomes so only from the moment he makes use of his instrument to exploit the wage labour of others.” (Marx-Engels Collected Works 47: 179-80) In this he repeats Marx:
“It is otherwise with capital. The historical conditions of its existence are by no means given with the mere circulation of money and commodities. It arises ONLY when the owner of the means of production and subsistence finds the free worker available, on the market, as the seller of his labour-power. And this ONE historical condition comprises a world’s history.” (emphasis added, Capital, vol. 1, p. 274)
Tansey then gets a bit confused. He argues that for me, “Proudhon does not advocate capitalism in the sense of the system critiqued throughout the three volumes of Das Kapital, and Marx’s claiming that he did is merely more evidence of Marx’s desire to crush Proudhon’s doctrine through any backhanded means necessary.” Actually, I was explaining the confusions within Marx’s attacks on Proudhon and how they contradict his numerous comments that capitalism did not equal commodity production. I even quote Marx (page 69) nearly recognising this:
“In order that it should be impossible for commodities and money to become capital and therefore be lent as capital in posse [in potential but not in actuality], they must not confront wage-labour. If they are... not to confront it as commodities and money... labour itself is not to become a commodity... this is only possible where the workers are the owners of their means of production... Mr. Proudhon’s hatters do not appear to be capitalists but journeymen.” (Theories of Surplus Value vol. 3, pp. 525-6)
Note that Marx states that when “labour itself is not to become a commodity” then it is “impossible for commodities and money to become capital” as “the workers are the owners of their means of production.” This is important and it is a subject to which I will return.
Tansey does admit that this restatement of Marx’s own position “is only partly accurate” however as confusion between commodity production and capitalism “is actually non-existent.” Really? So Engels and Marx were wrong? Let us see…
Tansey states that “Volume I begins with the fact that capitalist production is the production of commodities” and so ignores the many times when Marx notes that the production of commodities takes place in many different modes of production. Thus “the exchange of commodities” can take place “not just [as] an exchange between the immediate producers” but also in “the slave relationship, the serf relationship, and the relationship of tribute.” (Capital, vol. 3, p. 443) Marx does link this to “social production is carried on by individual enterprises for their own private account” but he was well aware that this did not determine the mode of production. Commodities can be produced by slaves, artisans, peasants, capitalists, a state, and so forth.
Tansey then notes that the ‘simple circulation of commodities involves the exchange of commodities for money, which is then exchanged for commodities which are consumed – selling in order to buy.” This, however, “cannot” be the “basis of a society in which wealth generally takes the form of commodities. The basis of the latter is found in a new form of circulation, wherein the object is no longer use-value, but exchange-value.” This, apparently, ensures that Tansey is “in a position to counter McKay’s arguments with regards to Marx’s supposed confusion between commodity production and capitalism.” This starts badly, as he acknowledges that “in pre-capitalist societies, commodity production did not entail capitalism.” However, in a ‘society of generalised commodity production must therefore necessarily be, in Marx’s theory, a society in which production is the production of surplus-value and hence capital.” But it is not. I’ve just quoted Marx and Engels explicitly stating that this is NOT the case. Here it is again:
“Let us suppose the workers are themselves in possession of their respective means of production and exchange their commodities with one another. These commodities would not be products of capital.” (Capital, vol. 3, p. 276)
He notes that the workers “have created . . . new value, i.e., the working day added to the means of production. This would comprise their wages plus surplus-value, the surplus-labour over and above their necessary requirements [that sounds like a “trans-historic” labour-surplus!], though the result of this would belong to them.” (p. 276) So “surplus-value” has been produced, but it is not the product of capital. Why? Because the workers own their own means of production. Marx was very clear on this:
“the means of production and subsistence, while they remain the property of the immediate producer, are not capital. They only become capital under circumstances in which they serve at the same time as means of exploitation of, and domination over, the worker.” (Capital, vol. 1, p. 933)
Somewhat ironically, Tansey states that in “order to show that we are not just constructing a theory arbitrarily using selective quotation, let us quote directly from Marx’s work.” Sadly, he ignores all those quotes by Marx which do not support his analysis. He does mention my “quoting of Marx’s statement [statement? There are many!] that where the individual producers own their means of production that the means of production do not constitute capital? He uses this to infer that for Marx any society where the producers have formal legal ownership over the means of production (hence a society of co-operatives ala Proudhon) is, for Marx, non-capitalist, and therefore there is a difference between commodity-producing societies and specifically capitalist societies based on whether or not the producers have such legal ownership.” That would be because Marx does state that:
“In order that our owner of money may be able to find labour-power offered for sale as a commodity, various conditions must first be fulfilled. In and of itself, the exchange of commodities of implies no other relations of dependence than those which, result from its own nature. On this assumption, labour-power can appear upon the market as a commodity, only if, and in so far as, its possessor, the individual whose labour-power it is, offers it for sale, or sells it, as a commodity . . .
“The second ESSENTIAL condition to the owner of money finding labour-power in the market as a commodity is this — that the labourer instead of being in the position to sell commodities in which his labour is incorporated, must be obliged to offer for sale as a commodity that very labour-power, which exists only in his living body.
“In order that a man may be able to sell commodities other than labour-power, he must of course have the means of production, as raw material, implements, &c. . .
“For the transformation of his money into capital, therefore, the owner of money must meet in the market with the free labourer, free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labour-power as his own commodity, and that on the other hand he has no other commodity for sale, is short of everything necessary for the realisation of his labour-power.” (emphasis added, Capital vol. 1, pp. 270-2)
So an “essential” condition for capitalism is that the worker does not own the means of production. Now, if the worker does own the means of production then the commodities produced are not products of capital, it is not capitalism. In fact Marx argues that:
“Political economy confuses, on principle, two very different kinds of private property, one of which rests on the labour of the producer himself, and the other on the exploitation of the labour of others. It forgets that the latter is not only the direct antithesis of the former, but grows on the former’s tomb and nowhere else . . . in the colonies . . . the capitalist regime constantly comes up against the obstacle presented by the producer, who, as owner of his own conditions of labour, employs that labour to enrich himself instead of the capitalist. The contradiction of these two diametrically opposed economic systems has its practical manifestation here in the struggle between them.” (Capital, vol. 1, p. 931)
Apparently Marx was wrong. Political economy, according to Tansey, was right to confuse these two forms of property. Marx simply did not understand his own theories when he argued that there is an “antagonism of the two modes of production” and that it is “the expropriation of the labourers” which results in “transformation of their means of production into capital.” (Capital, vol. 1, p. 932) Marx then goes on to distort and misrepresent Marx’s ideas by arguing that:
“property in money, means of subsistence, machines, and other means of production, does not as yet stamp a man as a capitalist if the essential complement to these things is missing: the wage-labourer, the other man, who is compelled to sell himself of his own free will . . . capital is not a thing, but a social relation between persons which is mediated by things.” (Capital, vol. 1, p. 932)
Let us ignore all that. Apparent what I miss “is that when Marx refers to workers individual ownership of the means of the production he refers to individual ownership in the context of societies prior to the socialisation of production and the generalisation of commodity production.” He does do that, of course, but he also stresses that when workers own their own means of production it is not capital. He does not suggest that it is the size of those means of production that counts. Why should it? If a self-employed artisan is not a capitalist then why would 2, 4, 50 of them working together be? Marx, it should be noted, pointed to the co-operative factories as an example of the “political economy of labour” (as opposed to the “political economy of capital”). So size does not seem to be an issue. And, anyway, for Proudhon it was not a question of individual ownership:
“under universal association, ownership of the land and of the instruments of labour is social ownership . . .We want the mines, canals, railways handed over to democratically organised workers” associations . . . We want these associations to be models for agriculture, industry and trade, the pioneering core of that vast federation of companies and societies woven into the common cloth of the democratic and social Republic.” (Property is Theft!, p. 377)
Tansey then proclaims, as if Proudhon were unaware, that individual production excludes co-operation! That Proudhon explicitly opposed such a system seems lost on him (see pages 73 and page 194). So as I made clear (repeatedly) Proudhon argued against individual ownership and for social ownership. This does deter Tansey:
“since Proudhon’s doctrine was formed after the rise of modern capitalism, his ideas about workers” ownership of the means of production can only mean (and indeed McKay takes them to mean) that workers are to take control within an economy which still features the antagonism between socialised production and individual ownership, identified by Marx at the beginning of Capital as the primary feature of capitalism.”
I suppose by “individual ownership” Tansey does not literally mean Proudhon favoured pre-capitalist forms of industry. For if he did then he obviously has not read the introduction or the excerpts placed on-line. I will be generous and assume he means that Proudhon argued that each workers association would control its own work and sell the product of their (collective) labour. So we would have socialised ownership with commodity production. There would be “socialised” production, in the sense that large-scale means of production would be run by the groups of workers using them. Yet, according to Capital, such an arrangement would not be capitalism – Marx’s “essential” and “only” condition for capital to exist is not there, as the workers possess their means of production.
In short, I can only assume Tansey hopes that people reading his review have not read Marx. Marx repeatedly noted that when workers owned the means of production then capitalism did not exist. Commodity production does not equal capitalism. While neo-classical economists wish to confuse the market with capitalism, I am surprised that a Marxist would join them in ignoring the key feature of capitalism – wage-labour.
Tansey argues that human society will end “in communist society in which production is controlled by the associated producers, allowing for the free development of human capacities as an end in themselves.” Nice to know! I guess it would be redundant to note that Marx never pondered whether social planning of millions of goods and labour-times would be an easy task to achieve. Still, I would quite agree with Tansey – I too look forward to a communist society, one which is libertarian, federal, decentralised and self-managed. It is doubtful that Marx’s centralised economic base would produce anything other than a centralised (and bureaucratic) political superstructure.
After completely failing to prove that Proudhon advocated capitalism, Tansey moves on to “Proudhon as an advocate of class society”. This is because, in his opinion, “Proudhon’s mutualism would be a class society in Marx’s sense.” Ironically, to “understand this we need to go back again to Marx’s view of capital” which Tansey does not understand.
Here we get a discussion of surplus-value. He asks what “is the source of the expansion of value, the creation of surplus-value . . . Famously, for Marx, it is wage-labour, labour as a commodity which is bought and sold on the market, which provides the source of surplus-value.” Very true – it was also Proudhon’s position as well. He argued that workers “sold their arms and parted with their liberty” to a boss who appropriates their product, “collective force” and the surplus they produce. That was why Proudhon rejected both capitalism and state socialism and for “a solution based upon equality, – in other words, the organisation of labour, which involves the negation of political economy and the end of property.” He linked his theory of exploitation with his call for associated-labour: “By virtue of the principle of collective force, labourers are the equals and associates of their leaders.” (Property is Theft!, p. 212, p. 202, p. 77) But, then, all that is explained in the introduction.
Tansey suggest that I argue “that because workers” are not bought and sold by capitalists, a mutualist society would not be a society in which wage-labour existed.” Well, that is what Marx made clear: “English socialists say “We need capital, but not the capitalists”. But if one eliminates the capitalists, the means of production cease to be capital.” (Theories of Surplus Value, Part 3, p. 296) And in mutualist society there would be no buying and selling of labour. There would be associations which people would join. These associations would manage their own labour and sell their collectively produced product. There would be no class system of owners and wage-workers, just workers associating together.
Now, it is perfectly fine to object to this vision (communist-anarchists do) but it is hardly a “class society” or “capitalism.” That is the point. You can critique mutualism without making elemental mistakes like confusing markets with capitalism or proclaiming that classes exist when they most obviously do not. Particularly if you are a Marxist and Marx explicitly states, repeatedly, that when workers own their means of production then it is not the capitalist mode of production! So, to provide yet another example, Marx argued that when the worker “is still the possessor of his own conditions of production as a direct producer” is when “the producer is a non-capitalist producer” and this “presupposes the non-existence of the capitalist mode of production” (Capital, vol. 3, p. 735, p. 745) Changing from one person to two, to three, to fifty does not change the fact that the worker possesses their own means of production.
Tansey suggests on his part he believes “this rests on a fundamental confusion which equates capitalists as such with the specific historical form of the individual factory-owner capitalist. For Marx, however, the capitalist is not confined to this form.” And yet, on numerous occasions, it is. I quoted one such instance above. Elsewhere he argues that capitalism is when “the product belongs to the capitalist and not to the workers” and there is “a surplus-value which costs the worker labour but the capitalist nothing” and is “the legitimate property of the capitalist.” Thus Capital is “the means for exploiting the labour of others” (Capital, vol. 1 p. 731 and p. 1019) Apparently Marx did not know his own theory for capital, apparently, exists when both the product and surplus-value belongs to the workers who created it! Marx also argued that:
“In encyclopaedias of classical antiquity one can read such nonsense as this: In the ancient world capital was fully developed, ‘except for the absence of the free worker [i.e., proletarian] and of a system of credit.’” (Capital, vol. 1, p. 271)
So apparently in Communist articles we can now read such nonsense as this: In a socialist society capital is fully developed except for the absence of the proletariat! Still, there is an element of truth to Tansey’s comment and which I will shortly discuss – unfortunately for him, it exposes the state-capitalist nature of his own ideology.
Rest assured, though, Tansey does provide a quote to justify his ignoring of these many comments by Marx. Thus “in joint-stock companies, a collective capitalist” (no surprise there!) but also “a co-operative enterprise does not do away with capital, but the workers’ themselves become it’s representative, ‘the antithesis between capital and labour is overcome within them… only by way of making associated labourers into their own capitalist.’” He notes I quote this passage but I emphasise “certain parts which would appear to have Marx as believing that co-operatives constitute an alternative not just to the hierarchical firm but to capitalism as such. This seems to miss the main thrust of this chapter which shows how capitalism creates the basis for it’s own supersession.”
I’ll ignore the awkward fact Proudhon argued along precisely those lines in 1846 and note that I was concentrating on the issue of whether co-operatives were capitalist or not. Marx was pointing to co-operatives as examples of something which was beyond capital – in a positive way – and so are “transitional forms from the capitalist mode of production to the associated one.” Indeed, I quote Engels (page 67) on the use of co-operatives in the transition to communism – neither he nor Marx “ever doubted that, in the course of transition to a wholly communist economy, widespread use would have to be made of co-operative management as an intermediate stage” (Marx-Engels Collected Works, vol. 47: p. 389) Yet Tansey argues that for Marx and Engels co-operatives are capitalist so suggesting that they advocated a capitalist transitional regime!
Tansey quotes Marx more fully than I did (unsurprisingly, as this is a book about Proudhon!) to suggest that “Marx does not argue that co-operatives constitute a new mode of production” but (quoting Marx) that they ‘show how a new mode of production naturally grows out of an old one, when the development of the material forces of production and of the corresponding forms of social production have reached a particular stage.” He notes that Marx also compared them “to joint-stock companies which turn production by individual capitalists into social production, albeit still within the bounds of the capitalist mode of production.” Interestingly, in this Marx is (again!) repeats Proudhon, who argued in System of Economic Contradictions that such developments showed that capitalism was laying the foundations for socialised property and associated labour! Proudhon, needless to say, argued that “monopoly, by a sort of instinct of self-preservation, has perverted even the idea of association, as something that might infringe upon it, or, to speak more accurately, has not permitted its birth.” (Property is Theft!, p. 227) Much the same can be said of Marx.
He doubts that I “would use this to argue that joint-stock companies also formed a mode of production distinct from the capitalist mode of production.” Except that neither Engels nor Marx argued for a transition period based on joint-stock companies (Lenin did with disastrous and state capitalist results but that is another issue – see section H.3.12 of An Anarchist FAQ). As Marx noted, this was a negative development until the positive one shown by co-operatives – and he does talk about “the means for the gradual extension of co-operative enterprises on a more or less national scale.” He made the same comments as regards the Paris Commune, I should note. Clearly, for Marx, co-operatives were something beyond capitalism which could be utilised to produce communism. If he really thought that they were just capitalist firms then we are left with the strange paradox that Marx (at times) advocated a capitalist transition period to communism.
Still, Marx here was discussing co-operatives developing within capitalism. Thus it makes sense to argue that, in competition with capitalist firms, co-operatives would be under market pressure and adjust themselves to them. Hence the need to “for the gradual extension of co-operative enterprises on a more or less national scale”! And it should be noted that Proudhon, likewise, argued that co-operatives should not remain isolated and create an agricultural-industrial federation to mutually support each other (Property is Theft!, pp. 709-14). This, obviously, would not involve trying (and I stress trying) to centrally plan the actions of millions of people nor predict the future as in Marx but it still shows that the notion of large-scale co-operation was not alien to Proudhon (as Marxists tend to assert).
Tansey then argues that “the co-operatives remain capitalist enterprises, so too the workers’ bought and sold by the co-ops remain proletarians, wage-labourers.” So let us just get this right – workers are bought and sold by themselves? So when they join a co-operative they, collectively, exploit themselves? So why does an artisan not buy themselves? And is Tansey really suggesting that workers owning and controlling the means of production remain proletarians, that is, people without any means of production of their own? So being dispossessed of the means of life is now an optional aspect of being a proletarian? This goes against Marx’s comments in Capital that capital needs workers who are free of the means of production. This allowed capitalists to hire them, control their labour and take their product. This meant that exploitation happened in production and so capitalists acquired the unpaid labour of the proletarians they hire. In fact, Marx argued that “Capital . . . is essentially command over unpaid labour. All surplus-value . . . is . . . unpaid labour-time.” (Capital, vol. 1, p. 672) Where is the “unpaid labour” in a co-operative? There is none. The workers control their own labour and its product. This is because they have access to their own means of production.
Tansey then argues that far from “abolishing the proletarian condition, Proudhon’s schemes would . . . actually generalise it.” Under mutualism, ownership is social. Workers have free access to the means of production. Private property is abolished. The proletarian, as Marx and Engels repeated, did not have access to the means of production. This was, apparently, the “essential” condition for capital. Now, apparently, workers can have free access to the land and workplaces but they remain proletarians! He also confuses payment by deed (labour-income, or “wages” in common usage) with wage-labour (being hired by an employer and paid a fraction of your labour). Yes, Proudhon did not oppose payment by deed but he opposed workers being hired and exploited by owners.
So we have moved from an essential feature of capitalism to an optional one! Sadly for Tansey, it is a core part of the analysis in volume 1 of Capital that workers do not own their means of production. Indeed, the section on “primitive accumulation” would lose much of its force if dispossessing the masses from the means of life were irrelevant to what constitutes capitalism.
Tansey then argues that “for Marx” mutualism would “far from abolishing the antagonism within the capitalist organisation of production” still “contain this antagonism in all its essential aspects.” So in spite of Marx noted that the “antithesis between capital and labour is overcome within” co-operatives, the antagonism between capital and wage-labour would still exist. Why? Because the workers sell their labour to… themselves! They also exploit themselves by… keeping the full product of their own labour!
So for Tansey capitalism is the market and the market capitalism. The social relations of production, the dispossession of the masses from ownership of the world, the hierarchical structure of the workplace which allows the capitalist to control workers and appropriate their product are all utterly irrelevant to defining capitalism. The neo-classical economists are right – what goes on in production IS irrelevant to defining capitalism!
It should be noted that this kind of naturalisation of capitalism is usually associated with defenders of it. Thus we find neo-classical economists proclaiming with a straight face that rent is a feature of ALL economies. Pointing out that, say, peasant-farmers do not have a landlord and so do pay rent is dismissed with the smug comment that they pay rent to themselves, they are their own landlords! The same thing is happening here. Thus capital is universalised and if workers do not have a capitalist and so there is no unpaid labour then it simply shows that they are their own capitalists and exploit themselves!
This can apply to other modes of production as well. For example, Marx (in one of my favourite passages) discusses the “abstinence” apologetic for capital. Marx mocks those who argue that the capitalist denies themselves luxuries and so needs a reward. Marx states that the ‘simple dictates of humanity therefore plainly enjoin the release of the capitalist from his martyrdom and his temptation, in the same way as the slave-owners of Georgia, U.S.A., have recently been delivered by the abolition of slavery from the painful dilemma over whether they should squander the surplus product extracted by means of the whip from their Negro slaves entirely in champagne, or whether they should reconvert a part of it into more Negroes and more land.” (Capital, vol. 1., pp. 744-5)
The last sentence is very suggestive, given that it suggests that the slave-holders sell commodities and are subject to market forces. Clearly, we have capitalist slave-holders along side associated-labour capitalists, artisan capitalists and peasant capitalists! Which suggests, I would say, that for all his concern for avoiding the “personification” of capital into actual individuals Tansey has entered the realms of the “univerisalisation” of capital – the seeing of capital everywhere, regardless of the actual mode of production. Thus what makes capitalism unique gets lost in a general demonisation of “the market” and this mirrors, ironically, the neo-classical perspective. And it always strikes me odd that the conclusion of this so-called “communist” analysis is exactly the same as the neo-classical school. This focus on the market by the defenders of capitalism, as David Schweickart suggests, is no accident:
“The identification of capitalism with the market is a pernicious error of both conservative defenders of laissez-faire [capitalism] and most left opponents . . . If one looks at the works of the major apologists for capitalism . . . one finds the focus of the apology always on the virtues of the market and on the vices of central planning. Rhetorically this is an effective strategy, for it is much easier to defend the market than to defend the other two defining institutions of capitalism. Proponents of capitalism know well that it is better to keep attention toward the market and away from wage labour or private ownership of the means of production.” (“Market Socialism: A Defense”, pp. 7-22, Market Socialism: the debate among socialists, Bertell Ollman (ed.), p. 11)
I would recommend this book, Market Socialism: the debate among socialists, as it discusses the same kind of issues being discussed here (the discussion on Marx’s perspectives on co-operatives before and after a revolution is extremely relevant). Significantly, the opponents of market socialism note, in passing, that in the transition to communism there would be…. markets and commodity production!
So after completely denying vast sections of Marx’s work in favour of what appears to be a single quote from volume 3 of Capital, Tansey argues that “the difference between Marx and Proudhon on this score constitutes a fundamental difference of method. Whereas for Proudhon and McKay capital is understood in terms of specific managerial forms, Marx understands it in terms of its content as the self-expansion of value produced by the alienation of the workers” own product, where the products of the producers present themselves as an alien power which dominates them.” Ah, right, all those arguments by Marx (echoing Proudhon!) on how exploitation occurs in production because workers sell their labour to a boss can be ignored. Exploitation happens in the market because there is commodity production. We are back to The Poverty of Philosophy and its complete lack of a theory of exploitation occurring in production! Impressive.
Now, Tansey proclaims that I do not understand that “the products of the producers present themselves as an alien power which dominates them.” That is quite strange as I make precisely this point in my introduction! Discussing David McNally’s similar flawed attack on Proudhon as advocating “capitalism” I quote (in footnote 157, page 32) Justin Schwartz noting that market forces does not equal wage-labour or exploitation. I also expand on this issue in my discussion of “Mutualism, yes and no” as well as in section I.1.3 of An Anarchist FAQ. So I quite agree that Proudhon downplays the impact of market pressures (although he does not ignore them, as shown by his agricultural-industrial federation) and that can cause workers in co-operatives to make decisions they would prefer not to in order to survive on the market.
So I am well aware of what Tansey’s confused critique seeks to describe. What he is trying to point to is how market forces can make independent producers and members of co-operatives work longer and harder than they would like to do as well as forcing them to invest more of their income into maintaining and developing their means of production. In short, that the market produces a dynamic which those within it have to adjust to in order to survive as well as (potentially) producing and increasing inequalities. That is why I’m a communist-anarchist, not a mutualist. What this does not equal is “capitalism.” The whole point of any theory of exploitation is explain how non-producers appropriate unpaid surplus-labour from the producers. When the producers keep the full product of their labour then, by definition, it is not exploitation. Marx was clear on this. It is a shame that Marxists seem not to be!
Somewhat ironically, Tansey argues that the “difference in method lies in whether to consider the appearance of a phenomenon or its essence, it’s form or content. For Marx, in contrast to vulgar economy and the Proudhonists, “all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided.” Yet, ironically, Tansey agrees with the vulgar economists – they, too, argue that capitalism is the market and the market capitalism. They, too, argue that how a firm is structured internally is irrelevant as capitalism is defined by commodity production. They too argue that it is irrelevant that workers are dispossessed from the means of life. For the vulgar economists, as Marx noted, the market is all and so they ignore production. Tansey concurs.
Tansey proclaims that “[w]ith this elaboration of Marx’s theory of capital, most of McKay’s arguments against Marx crumble into nothing.” Interesting. It seems to me quite the reverse. I have quoted Marx extensively (as I did in my introduction) to show that, for Marx, capital requires the dispossession of workers from their means of production. It is an “essential” condition but apparently Marx does not understand Marxist economics...
Still, perhaps this is an example of dialectics. For Marxists, words are pretty elastic. Thus dictatorship really means democracy (and democracy, dictatorship). Perhaps essential is another example? Thus essential can mean essential AND optional. This does have precedents in Marxist history. Most Leninists argue that democracy is ESSENTIAL to Marxism. However, with the power of dialectics this obviously means democracy is OPTIONAL to Marxism. Which, of course, is precisely what the Bolsheviks did argue – once they were in power.
What fun can be had! Marx can now be used to support and oppose the same thing. All it requires is the appropriate quote and, numerous other quote state the exact opposite, we can utilise the power of dialectics to ignore it...
Now what has Tansey done? He has taken a sentence by Marx on co-operatives within capitalism and generalised it. He confuses the pressures of market forces with wage-labour and exploitation. It also has the unfortunate side-effect of moving the focus away from production onto the market, implying that exploitation happens because of exchange of commodities rather than selling labour.
Now we have an interesting paradox. Apparently “Proudhon did advocate a form of capitalism according to Marx” and so “all Marx’s critiques on this basis are valid.” Yet Engels argued that co-operatives would play a role in the transition to communism. A capitalist transition period? Really?
Then there is Trotsky’s comments in The Revolution Betrayed that the “transitional epoch between capitalism and socialism taken as a whole does not mean a cutting down of trade, but, on the contrary, its extraordinary extension . . . All products and services begin for the first time in history to be exchanged for one another.” Moreover, “the more elementary functions of money, as measures of value, means of exchange and medium of payment, are not only preserved, but acquire a broader field of action than they had under capitalism.” The Soviet State would have “in its hand at the same time the mass of commodities and the machinery for printing money.”
Now, if capitalism equates to commodity production then Trotsky is advocating capitalism. Or does it mean that the intentions of political leaders in the political structure nullify the economic relations within production? It also means that the NEP introduced in 1921 was also capitalism so Lenin and Trotsky re-introduced it into Russian society. Indeed, the parallels of the NEP to the Communist Manifesto’s vision of transition is striking. No mention of “capitalist” workers’ self-management in there, rather we have a money economy (with rent and tax!) alongside creeping nationalisation. Still, workers will be happy to know that they won’t be managing their own exploitation – they will be members of “labour armies” instead…
Simply put, if Tansey is correct than no Marxist could advocate markets under socialism as part of a transition to communism. Most have, including Marx and Engels.
I should note that from an anarchist perspective the Bolsheviks did introduce (state) capitalism, as the workplaces under Bolshevism would not be worker self-managed and so workers were exploited by the state bureaucracy. This was recognised by Proudhon and he said as much in his critique of the likes of Louis Blanc. So in this sense Tansey IS right. You can get rid of individual capitalists and capital can remain – for example, when the Bolsheviks destroyed the factory committees and imposed one-man management. In this sense, getting rid of capitalists is not enough – workers need to manage their own workplaces. As such, capitalism remains if the boss is replaced by, say, the state bureaucracy as they workers till do not possess and control their own means of production. In short, Marxism confuses nationalisation (see section B.3.5 of An Anarchist FAQ) with socialisation (see section I.3.3 of An Anarchist FAQ). The former is a form of capitalism, state capitalism, by turning everyone into wage-workers of the state while the latter abolishes private property by ensuring free access to the means of life. So as I said, this is a valid point but it goes against Leninism, not anarchism!
Things change if workers possess their own means of production. If workers keep the product of their labour and so their surplus-labour remains in their own hands, then this is a completely different social relationship than one in which a boss hires then and appropriates their surplus-labour. To ignore this has serious consequences. This can be seen under the Bolsheviks when they undermined genuine socialistic tendencies in the revolution expressed by the factory committee movement and simply handed over the means of production to the state bureaucracy and appointed one-man managers. For if capital can exist no matter how individual workplaces are managed then how individual workplaces are managed becomes irrelevant. Thus workers’ self-management stops being an essential aspect of socialism and can happily be replaced by, oh, state-appointed one-man management.
As Trotsky put it in 1920, “our Party Congress . . . expressed itself in favour of the principle of one-man management in the administration of industry . . . It would be the greatest possible mistake, however, to consider this decision as a blow to the independence of the working class. The independence of the workers is determined and measured not by whether three workers or one are placed at the head of a factory.” As such, it “would consequently be a most crying error to confuse the question as to the supremacy of the proletariat with the question of boards of workers at the head of factories. The dictatorship of the proletariat is expressed in the abolition of private property in the means of production, in the supremacy over the whole Soviet mechanism of the collective will of the workers, and not at all in the form in which individual economic enterprises are administered.” The term “collective will of the workers” is simply a euphemism for the Party which Trotsky had admitted had ‘substituted” its dictatorship for that of the Soviets (indeed, “there is nothing accidental” in this “‘substitution” of the power of the party for the power of the working class” and “in reality there is no substitution at all.” The “dictatorship of the Soviets became possible only by means of the dictatorship of the party”). The unions ‘should discipline the workers and teach them to place the interests of production above their own needs and demands.” He even argued that “the only solution to economic difficulties from the point of view of both principle and of practice is to treat the population of the whole country as the reservoir of the necessary labour power . . . and to introduce strict order into the work of its registration, mobilisation and utilisation.” (Terrorism and Communism, p. 162, p. 109, p. 143, p. 135)
This is what happens when you downplay the importance of workers self-management. I should also note that the Bolsheviks social planning system which replaced the factory committees was a bureaucratic nightmare and its attempts to centrally manage production were a complete failure.
So, yes, identifying capital with capitalists can cause problems. It can raise an ideological blindness to what happens when the means of production are nationalised and handed over to the state (as can be seen under, say, the Bolsheviks). The “personification” argument only applies when socialists talk about replacing the capitalist with the state. Yes, indeed, the actual capitalists have gone but wage-labour still exists but this time the state bureaucracy is the employer. It is different when the workers themselves possess the means of production. That, surely, is obvious? It does not mean, of course, that an economy based on self-managed firms selling commodities is the best we can do. It does not mean that we stop at just self-management of workplaces without any wider economic structure (Proudhon did not!). It is simply means that workers’ self-management of workplaces is the foundation upon which the workers start to build upon.
Thus Tansey presents us with a completely ahistoric definition of capital. It can exist anywhere commodities are produced and so if co-operatives are capital then so where the slave-owners in the American South and self-employed farmers across the globe. Ironically, he presents my repeating of Marx’s analysis as “a methodological formalism which sees in capital only one of its historically transient incarnations”! So rather than the dispossession of the workers being “essential” to capital, it is merely optional and so capital is transformed from a specific historical economy to a universal one.
He argues that “in a hypothetical world of ‘self-managed’ enterprises exchanging their products” there would still be “human misery caused by the periodical crises” caused by “the logic of capital within the workplace” but which “is now imposed “democratically” and therefore not capitalistically at all of little consequence to the workers still suffering under capital’s iron heel.” There is no denying that markets can cause crisis (Proudhon himself pointed to this). There is no denying that in co-operatives workers do make decisions they would prefer not to in order to survive on the market. I’ve made precisely those comments myself, repeatedly. However, this is not “capital’s iron heel.” If it were then when capitalists are forced by market pressures to invest in machinery rather than, say, a new house or yacht then they, too, are under “capital’s iron heel.” Thus they exploit themselves! Our communist has re-invented the “abstinence” defence of capital…
Of course, Tansey views Marx’s solution of a social plan is viable. He ignores that with the social plan many people may be working longer and harder than they would like as they were outvoted when the plan was agreed – assuming that a meaningful plan could be created (a very big assumption). Assuming that there is voting on the plan – that would mean there would have to be alternative plans to choose from and so the problems multiply. We would avoid the “misery” of mutualism with the joys of a centralised economic system in which information is processed by officials and orders telling workers what to produce and when to produce it flow down. Just like in a capitalist firm. Or to quote Lenin:
“All citizens are transformed into the salaried employees of the state . . . All citizens become employees and workers of a single national state ‘syndicate” . . . The whole of society will have become a single office and a single factory with equality of work and equality of pay.” (Essential Works of Lenin, p. 348)
I will ignore that awkward fact that Lenin is explicitly arguing for the generalisation of “the proletarian condition” which Tansey falsely accuses mutualism of (also see section H.3.13 of An Anarchist FAQ) . Instead, I will limit myself to noting that the attempts by the Bolsheviks to implement such a system shows its deep flaws. I will quote material from see section H.6.2 of An Anarchist FAQ. When the factory committee’s presented their plan for a federated self-managed economy, Lenin rejected it and instead the Bolsheviks created the Supreme Council of the National Economy. This “was an expression of the principle of centralisation and control from above which was peculiar to the Marxist ideology.” In fact, it is “likely that the arguments for centralisation in economic policy, which were prevalent among Marxists, determined the short life of the All-Russian Council of Workers” Control.” (Silvana Malle, The Economic Organisation of War Communism, 1918-1921, p. 95, p. 94)
Sadly, this system “did not know the true number of enterprises” in various parts of industry. To ensure centralism, customers had to go via a central orders committee, which would then past the details to the appropriate offices and, unsurprisingly, it was “unable to cope with these enormous tasks”. As a result, workplaces often “endeavoured to find less bureaucratic channels” to get resources and, in fact, the “comparative efficiency of factories remaining outside . . . increased.” In summary, the ‘shortcomings of the central administrations . . . increased together with the number of enterprises under their control”. (Malle, p. 232, p. 233, p. 250) In summary:
“The most evident shortcoming . . . was that it did not ensure central allocation of resources and central distribution of output, in accordance with any priority ranking . . . materials were provided to factories in arbitrary proportions: in some places they accumulated, whereas in others there was a shortage. Moreover, the length of the procedure needed to release the products increased scarcity at given moments, since products remained stored until the centre issued a purchase order on behalf of a centrally defined customer. Unused stock coexisted with acute scarcity. The centre was unable to determine the correct proportions among necessary materials and eventually to enforce implementation of the orders for their total quantity. The gap between theory and practice was significant.” (Malle, p. 233)
Thus there was a clear “gulf between the abstraction of the principles on centralisation and its reality.” This was recognised at the time and, unsuccessfully, challenged. Provincial delegates argued that “[w]aste of time was . . . the effect of strict compliance of vertical administration . . . semi-finished products [were] transferred to other provinces for further processing, while local factories operating in the field were shut down” (and given the state of the transport network, this was a doubly inefficient). The local bodies, knowing the grassroots situation, “had proved to be more far-sighted than the centre.” For example, flax had been substituted for cotton long before the centre had issued instructions for this. Arguments reversing the logic of centralisation were raised: “there was a lot of talk about scarcity of raw materials, while small factories and mills were stuffed with them in some provinces: what’s better, to let work go on, or to make plans?” These “expressed feelings . . . about the inefficiency of the glavk system and the waste which was visible locally.” Indeed, “the inefficiency of central financing seriously jeopardised local activity.” While “the centre had displayed a great deal of conservatism and routine thinking,” the localities “had already found ways of rationing raw materials, a measure which had not yet been decided upon at the centre.” (Malle, p.269, p. 270 and pp. 272-3)
I’m sure that the workers who had seen the factory committees replaced by state-appointed managers armed with (to quote Lenin) “dictatorial” powers and then saw the resulting bureaucratic mismanagement increase economic collapse would have been happy to know that they were saved from the “misery” of exploiting themselves by managing their own work…
Still, I’m sure the next time Communists seize political power and impose their ideologically correct solutions to the social problem it will work much better… And it would be remiss of me to note that the actions of the Bolsheviks confirmed Proudhon’s critique of utopian socialism from System of Economic Contradictions (which replaced analysing social evolution with fantastic visions) and of the state socialism of the likes of Louis Blanc (see “On State Socialism” in the introduction). Still, best not mention that. Apparently in Marxist circles being proved right is completely irrelevant when considering the importance of a political thinker!
Bordiga is then quoted again, proclaiming that we “would not like the working masses to get hold of the idea that all they need do to take over the factories and get rid or the capitalists is set up councils. This would indeed be a dangerous illusion.” Indeed it would – and revolutionary anarchists like myself have long argued that expropriation of capital must happen at the same time as smashing the state (see section H.2.4 of An Anarchist FAQ). Since Bakunin, in fact. Of course we reject his notion of seizing “political power” as, in practice, this would be simply changing rulers (for some reason Tansey does not mention Bordiga’s support for party dictatorship).
Tansey again asserts that “Marx did not consider co-operatives as an alternative to capitalism but as a form which could be used as a lever for transition in the same way that large joint-stock companies could.” So Marx now thought that joint-stock companies could be used to introduce socialism? Interesting. I wonder how that would work? However, I noted in my introduction (page 69) that Marx saw these as a means of transition towards central planning. And it does not change the awkward fact that Marx supported co-operatives, explaining that they were not capitalist firms. I noted the contradiction between 1847 and the 1860s. Marx himself showed that, to quote Marx, that the “steam-mill” did not have to give you a ‘society with the industrial capitalist.” (Property is Theft!, pp. 73-4) I also noted that co-operatives were not Marx’s final solution but rather a means of socialist transition. It seems strange, then, for Tansey to dismiss these as capitalist!
Tansey then argues that Marx, while supporting co-operatives (why? They are, according to Tansey, capitalist firms!), did not think they were sufficient to create socialism. That political action was needed. Well, what can I say? This book is about Proudhon, not Marx. It seems a strange complaint to make that a book about Proudhon should explain all of Marx’s ideas. The introduction has an appendix on Marx purely to refute some of the distortions Marx inflicted upon Proudhon. Marx, as Tansey and my introduction notes, argued that these would have to “integrate themselves into a system of socially planned production which would supercede not only the hierarchical firm but the whole system of commodity production and the rule of the producers by their productive forces altogether.” Unfortunately Tansey does not seem to know that this social planning is not as easy to implement as it is to summarise. Still, we are discussing Marx’s vision here not whether it is practical or not (just as well!).
Tansey goes onto to argue that Marx argued the working class had to fight “on the political field, and taking political-administrative power into its own hands.” Very true – and when they did take his advice, such as using elections, the net result was to confirm anarchist fears. It is almost like the rise of opportunism in Social-Democracy never happened! Tansey correctly notes that “Proudhon never called on the workers to take political power” but sadly he does not think it wise to explain why he did so (see the sub-section “On The State” of my introduction). History has proven him right, the capitalist state cannot be used to abolish capitalism – and in this most Marxists reject Marx and agree with him! He then argues that “there can be little doubt that Proudhon would have opposed the use of co-operatives as a lever for ending the anarchy of production and instituting planned production by the associated producers.” Yes, as my introduction makes clear he was against one-big centralised Association in favour of a federation of co-operatives selling their goods. And as the experience of the Soviet Union shows (under both Lenin and Stalin), he had a point!
Interestingly, Tansey states that for Proudhon and his followers, “it is not for the working-class to dirty themselves with something as contrary to eternal principles as the wielding of state power.” Here he is repeating Marx – and as I note in my introduction (page 20), such statements are a complete distortion of why Proudhon opposed state action. Nor can it be said that Proudhon thought “the state is something which must be ignored.” Quite the reverse. Proudhon repeated argued that workers should pressurise the state from without (as explained in the sub-section “On Transition”). Given that Tansey claims to have read my introduction, he should be aware of that. He should also be aware that revolutionary anarchists reject the notion that workers need “purely economic efforts to emancipate themselves” – such reformism has long been rejected by most anarchists (see page 49 of my introduction).
He proclaims that “[a]s Marxists, we are fundamentally opposed to this whole line of reasoning.” So was Proudhon! So was Bakunin! So I am! He proclaims that “McKay has provided us with little that will shake our convictions beside distortion and misrepresentation.” Ah, right – that would be more convincing if Tansey has not distorted and misrepresented Proudhon’s ideas or those of revolutionary anarchism! Now, what have I misrepresented and distorted? That Marx repeatedly stated that it was “essential” for workers to be dispossessed from the means of life for capital to exist? Surely it is more of a distortion and misrepresentation to suggest that Marx actually meant “optional”? That Marx did not have identical views to Proudhon on the nature of working class self-emancipation or co-operatives? Yet that is indicated – and would be obvious to anyone with even a basic understanding of either of their ideas!
Still, there is a danger. While Marxists are, well, Marxists “not all are convinced” of the one true way as “in future social upheavals there will be those . . . who urge the workers to avoid anything as horrific as state power.” Yes, after all the seizure of state power by the Bolsheviks was such a great success! And that is the key issue. Proudhon was well aware that the working class could not seize state power – by its very nature it empowered the few, not the many: “We deny government and the State, because we affirm that which the founders of States have never believed in, the personality and autonomy of the masses.” Thus “the only way to organise democratic government is to abolish government” for in the state “the people does not govern itself” and the few “are charged with governing it, with managing its affairs” (Property is Theft!, pp. 484-5) Anarchists have built upon this analysis.
The Bolshevik regime proved Proudhon to be correct – it was the Bolsheviks who seized power in 1917, not the masses. Worse, the Bolsheviks gerrymandering and disbanding soviets and crushing protests to retain that power (see section H.6.1 of An Anarchist FAQ). By 1919, the notion that the dictatorship of the party was the dictatorship of the proletariat was the orthodox position (see sections H.1.2 and H.3.8 of An Anarchist FAQ – and was held by a certain Italian Communist). Suffice to say, given the actual experience of Marxism in power most people are not convinced about the wisdom of repeating it! The political hierarchy and authoritarianism as well as economic mismanagement made a bad situation much worse.
Tansey argues that “the force wielded by the bourgeoisie against the workers through its state will soon see to it that all illusions about a class struggle which avoids political struggle are dispelled.” Suffice to say, anarchists have long rejected the notion that capitalism can be reformed away (I discuss this, like so much else, in my introduction in the section on “Revolutionary Anarchism”). Indeed, we argue that the state needs to be smashed for, to quote Errico Malatesta, “those workers who want to free themselves, or even only to effectively improve their conditions, will be forced to defend themselves from the government . . . which by legalising the right to property and protecting it with brute force, constitutes a barrier to human progress, which must be beaten down . . . if one does not wish to remain indefinitely under present conditions or even worse”: “From the economic struggle one must pass to the political struggle, that is to the struggle against government.” (Errico Malatesta: His Life and Ideas, p. 195)
However, we reject the Marxist notion of “political struggle.” Marx broke the IWMA by imposing “political action” (i.e., standing in elections) onto it – and Social Democracy proved our warnings were correct. Today few Marxists would agree with Marx that universal suffrage meant that “the workers may achieve their aims by peaceful means.” (Marx-Engels Collected Works, vol. 23, p. 255) They would agree with Proudhon that the state “finds itself inevitably enchained to capital and directed against the proletariat. No political reform can solve this.” (Property is Theft!, p. 226) Perhaps they also, like Proudhon (and unlike Marx) proclaim the need for change “from below.” Like revolutionary anarchists, though, they would disagree with Proudhon’s means of change.
And that is the crux. Property is Theft! is not arguing Proudhon was right in every detail. My introduction, in fact, explains how anarchism changed after his death. What Property is Theft! aims to achieve is present to the English speaking world a comprehensive account of his writings in order to get a better understanding of what he argued (and reading Marxist accounts, I would say this was essential). It shows his important contributions to (libertarian) socialism – the need for mandating and recalling delegates, critique of the state, how exploitation happens within production, the evils of wage-labour, critique of property, transformation “from below”, workers’ self-emancipation and self-management, and so on.
The book also corrects the many distortions by Marx – not least the spurious claim that Proudhon advocated wage-labour. Suffice to say, you can accurately present someone’s ideas and still oppose them. You can still argue against mutualism without having to deny it is socialist. You do not need to call it capitalism to point out the problems associated with market forces. If you do that, you can discuss actual issues - like, for example, the negative effects of markets or the practicality (and practice!) of centralised planning. By doing that you open debate as anarchists do not have to spend most of their replies correcting the mistakes (see above!). I'm sure that it just a coincidence that it also has the effect of sexing-up Leninism, at least in comparision to the distorted account of anarchism being presented...
Clearly, as this so-called review shows, we have a long way to go…