First, the big news: “Property is Theft!” has now been proof-read, revised and in the hands of AK Press in America. I also managed to do the promised (for Freedom) review of Proudhon’s “What is Property?”
This means I’ve also completed my Proudhon Review Trilogy (“What is Property”, “System of Economic Contradictions” and “General Idea of the Revolution”). And written in reverse order, so it appears in the chronological order on the webpage… As planned ;)
I worked like a madman a few weeks back to get the anthology done as quickly as possible (3.5 hours sleep on the last night!) and have no idea whether it will be out this year as planned, but it now ready. Hopefully, AK-USA will get it out as soon as possible. I should note that I decided to get rid of the footnotes indicating where I changed previous translations by Tucker and Robinson. This was partly to save space (there was a lot, particularly for Robinson, not to mention the many other footnotes on people, etc.). Partly, it was because there were other changes that should be made (for example, Tucker had translated entrepreneur as “contractor” for some reason, left proletarian as proletaire, etc.) and it would have been a pain to note them all. The originals are available on-line, so people can check if they like.
And I should say a big thanks to Jesse Cohn for his hard work in proof-editing. He was comprehensive and made lots of excellent suggestions.
I’m hoping that the book will transform our understanding of Proudhon in English-speaking countries, plus throw important light on the evolution of anarchism in the 19th century. It should, thanks to the new texts and my introduction, make some re-evaluate their understanding of Proudhon (and, after all, not much has been translated of his prolific output – two of three Memoirs on Property, only one volume of “System of Economic Contradictions”, “General Idea”, and the first part, of three, of “The Federative Principle”, plus a few shorter pieces). Given that Proudhon laid-down the foundations of anarchism, this is unfortunate to say the least. The book should also transform our understanding of how Marx distorted Proudhon’s ideas. This is important. For example, look at this quote from a professor in a peer-reviewed economics journal:
“This was not Marx’s approach. He encountered it on the left in his day, for example in Proudhon, who titled his most famous book Property Is Theft. But if property really is theft, the coherence and survival of capitalism are incomprehensible. No social order can be based on simple plunder, certainly not one as complex and fragile as the capitalist system.” [Andrew Feenberg, “Marxism and the critique of social rationality: from surplus value to the politics of technology”, Cambridge Journal of Economics, Vol. 34, No. 1 (January 2010)
While I would like to be flattered that he considers my yet unpublished anthology “Property is Theft!” to be Proudhon’s most famous book, I guess he really means “What is Property?”... Why was that not picked up in the peer review? As for capitalism being “based on simple plunder”, I guess that he has not bothered to actually READ Proudhon before dismissing him based on a complete misunderstanding of his argument! Needless to say, Proudhon was well aware of the use of technology in the class struggle (Feenberg’s “the politics of technology”) – as can be seen from Chapter IV of “System of Economic Contradictions” (which makes Marx’s lecturing about “the providential and philanthropic end which M. Proudhon discovers in the original invention and application of machinery” disingenuous).
Then there is this gem:
“Marx overcame this legitimating strategy in his theory of surplus value. . . Surplus value is produced by the rational workings of the system itself. Property is not theft because labour is paid at its value.”
Except, of course, Proudhon argued that “property is theft” because the capitalist appropriates the workers’ “surplus” and “collective force”! In short, “property is theft” is a striking phrase which summarises two key facts: first, that our common heritage has been appropriated by the few and, second, that this results in exploitation of labour by capital. Why? Because the proprietor (capitalist or landlord) owns the property, hires wage-workers and controls the worker, who has sold his labour/liberty to the owner, so making them produce more value than they get back in wages. In short, Marx’s “theory of surplus value” is found in Proudhon…
I could go on, but obviously I would be preaching (yet again!) to the converted (so to speak). It just annoys me to see people explaining how Proudhon was wrong when, in fact, they are usually repeating Proudhon’s own thoughts back to him -- as per much of Marx’s “The Poverty of Philosophy”
Talking of which, I came across this abstract for this article by N. Scott Arnold (an anti-socialist) on-line. To quote the first bit:
‘Marx believed that what most clearly distinguished him and Engels from the nineteenth-century French socialists was that their version (or vision) of socialism was “scientific” while the latters’ was Utopian. What he intended by this contrast is roughly the following: French socialists such as Proudhon and Fourier constructed elaborate visions of a future socialist society without an adequate understanding of existing capitalist society. For Marx, on the other hand, socialism was not an idea or an ideal to be realized, but a natural outgrowth of the existing capitalist order.’ [“Marx, Central Planning, and Utopian Socialism”, Social Philosophy and Policy (1989), 6: 160-199]
I’m not commenting on Arnold, as he is repeating what Marx DID believe of his work, but I do find it interesting that Marx is repeating Proudhon’s arguments from “System of Economic Contradictions” as if they were his own. After all, that book (Marxist myths notwithstanding) is mostly a work of criticism. It says very little about mutualist society and what it does say is in the context of discussing developments within capitalism and how they pointed towards a new form of society (i.e., “a natural outgrowth of the existing capitalist order”). There are two key discussions in the book on this.
In chapter one Proudhon attacks the likes of Fourier precisely BECAUSE they presented (to quote Arnold) “elaborate visions of a future socialist society” and he argues that any socialist society will organise itself rather than being PRE-organised by group of ideologues (I made this point in reply to a Parecon supporter who commented on my last blog). As he put it, while political economy “denies the possibility of further progress” socialism “aims at re-establishing society on undiscoverable bases.” Proudhon himself points to this in his (important) letter to Pierre Leroux in 1849 (when he also, importantly, explicitly denies he favours individual ownership of the means of life – his support for and ideas about socialisation is discussed here).
In section II of Chapter VI he discusses how “monopoly, by a sort of instinct of self-preservation, has perverted even the idea of association” and takes developments within capitalism as the basis for discussion of the workplace association of the future. As I previous noted, when I re-read System recently I thought it wise to include these extracts as they feed directly into his vision of a socialised and self-managed economy. I’ve added a footnote (against “articles of association”) in the final version to stress this:
‘The term “acte de société” literally means “deed of partnership.” Proudhon is referring to the process of creating and joining workplaces, contrasting the forms created within capitalism (with wage-labour as management rights reflect the capital provided) to the socialised, egalitarian, and self-managed ones of mutualism (with management rights granted automatically on joining). It should also be noted that “société” can be translated as “society” as well as “company.”‘
So no fantastical visions of a perfect society but rather an analysis of how productive bodies were being transformed by capitalism and discussion of what this means for the future. No abstract comparisons but rather, as Marx did, tweaking out what would come after capitalism from developments within capitalism itself. Thus the partial associations of capitalism would be replaced by the “universal association” (to use Proudhon’s own words) of mutualism.
This obviously feeds into Marx’s so-called critique of Proudhon, that he advocated wage-labour (i.e., labour being sold to a boss). The elements of Proudhon’s critique are scattered across many chapters (one of the limitations of his “period” presentation I mention in my review). So I added another footnote:
‘Cf. Marx: “[Proudhon’s] whole system rests on the labour commodity, on labour which is trafficked, bought and sold…” (63) Proudhon repeatedly contrasts the associated (self-managed) workplaces of mutualism with capitalist firms with their “hierarchical organisation” (Chapter IV: section II) in which wage-workers toil “under a master” (Chapter XI: section III) after they “parted with their liberty” and “have sold their arms” to a boss who appropriates both the “collective power” (Chapter VI: section II) and the “surplus of labour” they create (Chapter XI: section IV).’
As can be seen, Proudhon’s “whole system” was based on abolishing “the labour commodity”! He is obviously presenting an extensive critique of bourgeois relations within production and urging the abolition of the market for labour while (it must be said) keeping a market for the products of labour (something which Marx later acknowledged, repeatedly, was not capitalism!). So much for Marx’s assertion that Proudhon thought in terms of “eternal” relations… In fact, Marx found this critique of economics in Proudhon. As one academic puts it:
“In fact, Proudhon and Lerous before [Marx] had denounced the defects of liberal economics in terms astonishing close to those of Marx . . . these three authors use practically the same formula for stigmatizing the errors of the economists . . . Marx (Proudhon’s critic) made the Leroux-Proudhon thesis his own by denouncing ‘the errors of all the economists who represent bourgeois productive relations as eternal categories’” (Michel Herland, “Three French Socialist Economists: Leroux, Proudhon, Walras”, Journal of the History of Economic Thought (1996), 18: 133-153, pp. 136-7)
Taking into account Proudhon’s anti-utopian perspective, his critique of property (identification of wage-labour as the key), his analysis of exploitation occurring within production, his vision of free access, association, and socialisation of the means of life and possession of what we use, I would suggest that modern socialist starts with Proudhon: His is the divisive break with the schemes of “community” of the utopian socialists; his is the divisive break with property income (unlike Fourier and Saint-Simon, who rewarded the amount invested); his is the vision of socialism as one rooted in self-management (democracy, like liberty, did not figure much in these Utopias).
While Engels proclaimed a comment by Marx as expressing “modern workers’ socialism” for the “first time”, this was, as I noted, simply repeating an earlier idea of Proudhon., at best, built upon this, at worse just ripped it off. And talking of “utopian” visions, I have to note that the few scattered comments by Marx and Engels on planning have effectively ensured that Marxism has been lumbered with a specific vision (central planning) into which all real revolutions have to be squeezed into – as was the case with the Russian Revolution when the Bolshevik’s vision of what was real (“scientific”) socialism was imposed, so destroying the genuine socialism being built by the workers’ own factory committees (as discussed in An Anarchist FAQ).
(Oh, this is not the only example of Leninists squeezing reality into the rigours of ideology. After the Argentine revolt against neo-liberalism, the “revolutionary left” got their knickers in a twist that the Argentine working class were not forming workers’ councils as “scientific socialism” – at least after 1917! – says they should. I incorporated some of this into section H.1.4 – Do anarchists have “absolutely no idea” of what to put in place of the state? Also, I should stress that the federations of neighbourhood assemblies and occupations were pretty much what anarchists had been arguing for some time, as I explained in Black Flag and in another article on community organising, again in Black Flag)
Any thoughts? Other than I’ve been reading too much Proudhon?
I’ve actually discussed Proudhon far more than I intended. Opps. One more thing, though, I’m going to have to write a specific article on the obvious links between Marx’s and Proudhon’s theories of exploitation. This is because what I have done so far are partial accounts and really need to be combined in one article. The first discussion is the section “On Exploitation” (in the introduction to “Property is Theft!”) which stresses that Proudhon’s argued that exploitation occurred in production rather than in exchange. Next, was this blog discussing the respective theories of exploitation in Proudhon and Marx. This needs to be supplemented with various quotes of Marx discussing how capitalists can increase exploitation by increasing the productivity and intensity of labour. Given that he mocked Proudhon for invoking “some mysterious natural attribute of labour”, this seems quite ironic. What is also not mentioned in that blog is Proudhon’s point that value is created by the active labour process. This is what allows a surplus to be created in the first place. I realised later that this needs to be discussed as well. It is covered in my review of “System of Economic Contradictions” as well as in the discussion in the anthology’s appendix of Marx’s “The Poverty of Philosophy.”
As I said, I need to combine and reorganise these pieces and make it better (it will be called “Marxism’s Anarchist Theory of Exploitation” after a version of my blog I sent to Freedom and they were kind enough to publish). Suffice to say, Proudhon (like Marx) viewed exploitation as occurring in production, with being workers under the control of employers who appropriate the surplus they create. Michel Herland also notes this:
“In the eyes of socialists, the capitalist system is unjust because it is based on the exploitation of man by man. The explanation which Marx gave of this is well known . . . It is evident that the Marxist position is in no way original in its foundations, even if its expression is more rigour than that of its predecessors . . . The explanation provided by Proudhon is not very different from Marx’s.” (p. 138)
And talking of utopian socialism, I got sent an email about the launch of a new book (New Lines of Alliance, New Spaces of Liberty) by Félix Guattari and Antonio Negri who have, apparently, “embarked on an extraordinary collaboration to rescue communism from its own disrepute.” Information about the book is listed as:
“The project: to rescue ‘communism’ from its own disrepute. Once invoked as the liberation of work through mankind’s collective creation, communism has instead stifled humanity. We who see in communism the liberation of both collective and individual possibilities must reverse that regimentation of thought and desire which terminates the individual….”
Well, I would suggest that while the failure of “communism” (i.e., Marxism) was predicted but the failure of Marxists to recognise its own limitations was not... Sadly, no matter what it is (standing in elections, workers’ state, central planning, etc.), few Marxists seem able to do anything other than repeat history, although this time as farce rather than tragedy… (significantly, those who do actually learn from history – such as the council communists – are usually labelled as anarchists by their orthodox opponents, perhaps unsurprisingly as they are close to anarchism).
After all, if Marxists were really scientific socialists (a term and aspiration first used by Proudhon in “What is Property?”, incidentally) they would have to conclude that, well, we anarchists were right. Our predictions have come to past, not theirs. Our critique and fears about Marxism have been realised. Equally, Marxism has been marked by a steady appropriation of ideas first argued by libertarians (starting with Proudhon....) – and to add insult to injury, they turn round and proclaim that anarchists don’t recognise the importance of these ideas. For example, I remember one meeting in Glasgow when a SWP member said he understood the Marxist vision of revolution – workers councils, general strike, etc. – but not the anarchist: I had to point out that this “Marxist” vision was first expounded by Bakunin! I had to say the same thing when I was invited to talk at a book fair in Belgium, this time in response to an ICC member.
However, I’m obviously wishing for a lot here – if they did acknowledge the facts then they could hardly consider themselves Marxists! Perhaps the issue is that many feel that rejecting Marxism means denying Marx’s real and important insights? Perhaps, but since anarchists do not deny these I fail to see this as an issue. Perhaps, more likely, Marxists are taught from the start that anarchism is a joke (look at Marx’s “demolition” of Proudhon!) and so there is a lot of intellectual (and emotional) baggage to get over. That is more likely to be the case – but revolutionary politics would be a lot healthier if Marx was seen as one thinker amongst many rather than the founder of an ideology. In short, if Marx was seen the same why as anarchists view Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, etc., then progress would be made. This may be too much to wish for, but I can express a hope…
Then there is the monopolisation of the word “communism” to refer to Marxism. There are communists (like Kropotkin) who aimed for a decentralised and free communism, a libertarian communism – the only kind that would work. And, let us be honest, Kropotkin’s arguments for communism are far more appealing that Marx’s – who seemed to take it for granted it WOULD BE A GOOD THING and see did not need for it to be justified – and why would be need to justify the inevitable? Except, of course, as anarchists pointed out state socialism could, and did, produce a new form of class society. The notion that after capitalism was socialism blinded many Marxists to what was happening under Lenin and then Stalin (although many Leninists find it hard to accept how right the likes of Emma Goldman were on this, and a great deal more).
But ideology is a powerful thing. It makes people not only ignore the facts but also actively deny them (as can be seen from Marx’s attacks on Proudhon and the typical Marxist misrepresentations of anarchism). This applies to mainstream economics with a vengeance (indeed, neo-classical economics can be classified as project designed to deny reality). For example, here is a recent paper on why, despite embracing neo-liberalism with a passion, Mexico has not actually done very well. It is an interesting example of ideology in action as everything is explored except the possibility that economic ideology is at fault!
The paper is by Gordon H. Hanson and is entitled “Why Isn’t Mexico Rich?” (pdf), National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 16470. The problem is obvious, the ideology (sorry, “economic science”) predicts one thing, reality produces something else. The answer is simple: Reality is at fault, we have not applied the ideology correctly... yet!
Here are a few quotes, plus a few Proudhon quotes to show that this economics as ideology (in the service of the rich) has been around for some time.
“Given the vigor of its reforms, it is hard not to sense that Mexico has underachieved”
Proudhon: “Contrary to all expectation! It takes an economist not to expect these things”
“Perhaps what is most striking about Mexico’s recent experience is that the country has tried so hard but achieved so little. The breadth and depth of reform in the country is astounding, yet Mexico does not have much to show for it.”
Proudhon: “Political economy — that is, proprietary despotism — can never be in the wrong: it must be the proletariat”
“In 2006, it was in part disillusionment with the economy that brought Mexico within a hair’s breadth of electing a populist president who campaigned on reversing earlier liberalizations.”
Proudhon: “But the people has a perfect grasp... that political economy, as taught by Messieurs Say, Rossi, Blanqui, Wolowski, Chevalier, etc., is merely the economics of the propertied, the application of which to society inevitably and organically engenders misery”
And, note, the horror of the idea that the people might elect someone who prefers reality to ideology! As Proudhon predicted in 1848: “Either Property will overrule the Republic, or the Republic will overrule Property” As he suggested two years before that:
“the problem of association consists in organising… the producers, and by this organisation subjecting capital and subordinating power. Such is the war that you have to sustain: a war of labour against capital; a war of liberty against authority; a war of the producer against the non-producer; a war of equality against privilege”
Let us hope so! And people in the UK seem to be waking up: “Protesters smashed windows and waved anarchist flags from the roof of the building housing the Conservative party headquarters...” (“Student protest over fees turns violent”). I had to laugh when I saw the Tories and papers like “the Sun” denouncing the “violence” of the students – the very people who was so keen to invade Iraq… What is the real violence? A few windows broken against, what, hundreds of thousands dead? As Max Stirner pointed out “The State’s behaviour is violence, and it calls its violence ‘law’; that of the individual, ‘crime.’” (“The Ego and Its Own”, p. 197)
Suffice to say, resistance needs to be generalised into every community and workplace and extended to strikes, occupations, and so forth. If it remains as isolated riots then it will not stop the cuts and the restructuring of capitalism paid by our misery. Still, nice to see anarchists back on the front-page... The only draw back is that we can now expect the usual patronising and inaccurate meetings and articles by trots....
There was an interesting article in “the Guardian” by John Harris (“Spending Cuts -- the fightback begins”). It was spoiled by this paragraph:
“You had only to look at the crowd to know that the vast majority of them were not anarchists, but reasonably regular twentysomethings. As if to illustrate the point, when one of the people on the roof made the stupid decision to hurl down a fire extinguisher, they were met with an outraged chant of ‘Don’t throw shit! Don’t throw shit!’”
And what, do tell, does an anarchist look like? The writer is making a contrast between the protesters (i.e., “normal” people) and the anarchists who apparently dress in strange ways and are not, therefore, protestors or “normal” people... This is reinforced by the implicit suggestion that it was “the anarchists” who were the ones throwing the extinguisher and that “ordinary” people thought this was stupid. This is, of course, nonsense as “regular” dressed anarchists thought this was extremely stupid and, at the demo, chanted “stop throwing shit” as well.
The media is pushing a line which contrasts the protesters with the anarchists, the former being great and the former, well, do not even dress the same and so can be identified. In reality, very few anarchists could be identified as such (assuming the stereotypes). There are plenty of “reasonably regular 20-somethings” who are anarchists. I consider myself as “reasonably regular 40-somethings” and I doubt anyone looking at me would conclude I was an anarchist.
And, to widen it, this also applies within radical circles with a contrast being made between working class people and anarchists, say. It is a reflection of the Leninist (anti-socialist) model of a vanguard and the masses while, in reality, anarchists are generally working class and are part of “the class” (not that I like that sort of expression, to be honest, but that is what is used!) It is like Trots talking about the Spanish Revolution when they praise “the workers” forming collectives, etc., and demonise “the anarchists” when, in fact, they were usually one and the same people.
The notion that anarchists are not “reasonably regular” people in dress sense (or anything else) and so can be identified at a glance must be combated. We are working class people who take part in struggles as equals with our fellow workers (and, in this case) students.
The cuts are in response to the collapse of neo-liberalism. As I said before, hands off to the Tories for managing to turn the public narrative from a crisis caused by the elite into one caused by New Labour’s spending on the welfare state. Not remotely true, of course, but what do you expect from the Tories? Honesty? A willingness to attack their own? Of course not. What is amazing is that this nonsense has become taken as “commonsense” – it needs to be fought, we need to remind people what caused the crisis and that those who did not benefit from the boom are now expected to pay for the crash need to resist the attacks.
My basic position is that when neo-liberals or “market advocates” point to a country as an example of the joys of the “free market” (i.e., plutocratic capitalism) then its economy going to collapse soon... For example: “James D. Gwartney and Robert Lawson writing for Cato back in 2005 said that Ireland should be seen along with Iceland as an important case study in the success of free market economics.” And I should note that the only impact of the predictable and predicted austerity measures (i.e., cutting wages) in making the crisis worse has been that the Tories don’t mention Ireland as a good example any more… Such is the power of ideology…
And for an additional bonus point, if the word “miracle” is invoked, then the collapse is going to be of epic proportions... For example, Milton Friedman in 1981 about Chile... So far, no exceptions... But rest assured, once the collapse happens the neo-liberal will find some state intervention (which they failed to notice before hand!) is the real cause of the problem... Ah, the joys of ideology...
Talking of which (again!), I was listening to a programme on BBC2 a last week while working on revising “Property is Theft!” on the rise of civilisations and why civilisation was A GOOD THING. According to the presenter, civilisation was marked by the workers producing more of a surplus which was then given to the ruling elite. Wow, the joys of civilisation indeed! Just think, before the rise of civilisation the workers kept everything they produced. Fools! Didn’t they know that this was barbaric! Another benefit was that religions were established and, guess what? Yes, the workers could now give part of their output to a religious elite as well. Otherwise they would suffer in the after-life as they suffered in this life. Lucky them! And as an added bonus, civilisation marked the start of wars. So as well as toiling for an elite, the workers could now kill and be killed for them! Again, lucky them!
And, remember, the presenter is explaining why civilisation is A GOOD THING... I assume that the presenter must think that people before the rise of civilisation were sitting around wishing someone would come along and exploit and oppress them (in their own interests, of course).
When I posted this originally on the anarchy-list. I was wondering is someone would suggest that I was expressing “primitivist” ideas. Someone did. The key difference between my position (which is previous and current civilisation is based on hierarchy, oppression and exploitation) is that I do not think it is wise or possible (without first getting rid of the bulk of the population) to return to pre-civilisation forms of society. Rather, I think it is possible to use technology and the legacy of class civilisation to produce a society where people work (and play!) for themselves and not for a ruling elite. A true civilisation rather than a class one...
And for that, I’m labelled by primitivists as a leftist politician who wants to tinker with the current system rather than transform it... See my letters to Freedom when I tried to debate with primitivists, who are another classic example of ideology stomping on commonsense. Usually you need to dig to discover the contradictions in an ideology, not with primitivism which seems happy to display them to the world…
I was on the way back home after the girls’ school and there was a copy of “the Sun” in the train. It is owned, like Fox, by Rupert Murdoch and reflects his right-wing populism (with added semi-naked women on page 3). It had a two page article on British “Tea Parties” (basically, get togethers of “ordinary people” organised by the paper) and what they would tell the government to do – somewhat ironically, they all asked for MORE government action! Such as more social housing, fixing the (privatised) railways, etc. The only real overlap was an anti-immigrant perspective.
After noting this irony, I suddenly thought -- could anarchists start off a left-wing popularist revolt under “The Herbal Tea Party” banner? Why? Because Proper Tea Is Theft! (Groan!) And then there is T.E.A. – “Totally Exploited, Already”
See, it works! What do people think? Has this been suggested before? Do I have too much time on my hands? (Oh, I wish!)
And, finally, my comments on ideology should not be taken as being anti-theory. There is, of course, a need for theory. The difference was best put by the Situationists: “Theory is when you have ideas, ideology is when ideas have you.” Much of politics (and so-called revolutionary politics) and economics is just ideology, usually rooted in a weak understanding of the facts (e.g., any Leninist account of the Russian Revolution or anarchism!). However, I do feel that in spite of this explicit discussion of what I mean some Leninist somewhere will proclaim I am against theory or some other kind of nonsense…
Until I blog again, be seeing you!