Property is despotism

Well, something strange happened last week. Bill O'Reilly (right-wing talking head on Faux News), by accident I am sure, said something I agree with. Moreover, he agrees with those far-left people Noam Chomsky and Proudhon...

As part of his somewhat insane "War on Christmas" theme (yes, really, I know given that we are deluged by Xmas at this time of year), O'Reilly stated the following ( as reported here):

"O'Reilly: But my point is, that I thought it was fascist -- fascism, which offends a libertarian like you -- for a CEO or a store manager to tell their employees, 'You better not say Merry Christmas' -- even though the reason we're selling stuff is because of Christmas. Isn't that fascism?

Stossel: No, it's ownership. He built the business, if he says, 'Stand on your head and sing when people come in,' you don't have to work there, you can quit, it's his business."

Yes, indeed, a genuine libertarian would be against the tyranny of wage slavery -- it does produce fascist structures. Which is part of the reason why right-wing "libertarians" are propertarians and not genuine libertarians. This recognition of the reality of wage-labour echoes Chomsky, who noted the structure of the capitalist firm is extremely hierarchical, indeed fascist, in nature:

"[It is] a fascist system . . . absolutist - power goes from top down . . . the ideal state is top down control with the public essentially following orders.

"Let's take a look at a corporation. . . [I]f you look at what they are, power goes strictly top down, from the board of directors to managers to lower managers to ultimately the people on the shop floor, typing messages, and so on. There's no flow of power or planning from the bottom up. People can disrupt and make suggestions, but the same is true of a slave society. The structure of power is linear, from the top down." (Keeping the Rabble in Line, p. 237)

Perhaps needless to say, the liberals are mocking O'Reilly for not understanding the nature of ownership and jobs ("That's not fascist, it's just business"). Shame, David Neiwert is usually worth reading...

And, perhaps equally needless to say, if the bosses were ordering people to say "Merry Christmas" I'm sure Bill would not complain... As noted by Neiwert, O'Reilly has himself demanded that people be fired for saying things he believes reflect badly on their employers...

Which brings up another contradiction with the American Conservative right, namely their embrace of free market capitalism alongside "traditional" values. After all, the bosses in a shop are ordering the wage-slaves not to say "happy Christmas" because they presumably think it is good for business. They are not doing it as part of some grand left-wing conspiracy to abolish god, rather they are doing so to make money. Capitalism in its most raw is no protector of the family, of "tradition" and so forth. It erodes all that gets in the way of making profits. Hence we see Reaganism associated with the break-down of the "traditional" family as more mothers had to go to work to make ends meet (as the benefits of growth accumulated at the very top of society). Yet the Conservative right, at least the sincere ones (they must be some!) still eulogise the market...

I noted that Chomsky was echoing Proudhon, for whom "property is despotism". Proudhon was well aware that property "violates equality by the rights of exclusion and increase, and freedom by despotism" and has "perfect identity with robbery." He, unsurprisingly, talks of the "proprietor, to whom [the worker] has sold and surrendered his liberty." For Proudhon, anarchy was "the absence of a master, of a sovereign" while "proprietor" was "synonymous" with "sovereign" for he "imposes his will as law, and suffers neither contradiction nor control." This meant that "property engenders despotism," as "each proprietor is sovereign lord within the sphere of his property." Unsurprisingly, whether on the land or in industry, Proudhon’s aim was to create a society of "possessors without masters." Here is another good quote from Proudhon which sums up things well:

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

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

This is from volume 2 of Systéme des Contradictions Économiques (pp. 230-1), the chapter on Property. Most of this will, hopefully, be translated and included in the Proudhon Reader I'm working on. Shawn Wilbur is working on it, and he has helped make lots of material by Proudhon (not to mention individualist anarchism) available to modern readers. We are lucky to have people like him in the movement!

The reader is coming along nicely. The introduction has been done (I'm chopped the section on Hal Draper, plus a few others, because of space). Most of the material has been translated, while one last letter and a short-ish article are being worked on. It is pretty comprehensive and, as hoped, will revolutionise the understanding of Proudhon in the English speaking world as well as the evolution of anarchism. Some of this material is simply amazing -- I had not realised how often Bakunin was simply paraphrasing Proudhon! Proudhon was hardly perfect, but his contribution to anarchism and socialism in general deserves better than the dismissal he so often gets, thanks to Marx's hatchet-job (The Poverty of Philosophy).

And talking of which, I now understand something that has always bothered me since I read volume 1 of System of Economical Contradictions about ten years ago. Tucker had translated a passage as follows:

"Very good: well-trained, model workers, these! What men these spinners must be that they should submit without complaint to the lash of necessity, because the regulative principle of wages is supply and demand! M. Leon Faucher adds with a charming simplicity: ‘English workers are fearless reasoners. Give them a false principle, and they will push it mathematically to absurdity, without stopping or getting frightened, as if they were marching to the triumph of the truth.’ For my part, I hope that, in spite of all the efforts of economic propagandism, French workers will never become reasoners of such power. Supply and demand, as well as the lash of necessity, has no longer any hold upon their minds. This was the one misery that England lacked: it will not cross the channel"

The last sentence always seemed to me utterly strange. And I was right. Thanks to two comrades (one of whom was Shawn) I have discovered that it is better translated as:

"Very good: well-trained, model workers, these! What men these spinners must be that they should submit without complaint to the lash of necessity, because the regulative principle of wages is supply and demand! M. Leon Faucher adds with a charming simplicity: ‘English workers are fearless reasoners. Give them a false principle, and they will push it mathematically to absurdity, without stopping or getting frightened, as if they were marching to the triumph of the truth.’ For my part, I hope that, in spite of all the efforts of economic propagandism, French workers will never become reasoners of such power. [The notions of] Supply and demand, as well as [of] the lash of necessity, no longer have any hold on their minds. England lacked this poverty [of reasoning power]: it will not cross the channel"

Proudhon’s ironic jab at bourgeois economics gets lost in Tucker’s translation mainly due to his choice to translate "misère" as "misery." He was quite a witty writer, Proudhon...

Perhaps needless to say, Marx turns Proudhon’s very obvious sarcasm into: "‘Well and good,’ cries M. Proudhon, ‘these are well developed model workmen, &c., &c. The poverty we have here does not exist in England; it cannot cross the Channel.’" His claim that "M. Proudhon is so unfortunate as to take the foremen and overseers for ordinary workmen, and to urge upon them the advice not to cross the Channel" is equally misleading as is the notion that Proudhon "cordially agrees with the foremen of Bolton because they determine value by supply and demand." (that is an extract a footnote in the Reader, btw).

That Proudhon said the exact opposite is, of course, lost on the generations of Marxists who read Marx and think he is accurately reporting what Proudhon thought. So as well as discussing Marx's debt to Proudhon in the introduction, I'm covering The Poverty of Philosophy as well as footnoting the extracts from Proudhon's book in order to compare what he said to what Marx claimed he said...

Finally, my union is in dispute with management just now so some of my time is now taken up with that. In addition, I'm still trying to get volume 2 of An Anarchist FAQ revised (nearly there, only section J to go!). Then there is an article I'm doing for Shift magazine (at the request of the editors) on mutualism, namely a critique of it from an anarcho-communist position. It will be called Mutualism, yes and no (a nod to a book by Daniel Guérin about Proudhon). It will hardly be anything new, some of it is covered in The economics of Anarchy (which seems to be my most popular article by far!) as well as section I of AFAQ. However, I will be seeking to point to the links between mutualism and libertarian communism in order to explain why so many anarchists are the later. Hence the yes and no!

As much as I have really enjoyed working on the Proudhon Reader and regardless of how much I have learned from it, it will be nice to see the back of it. It has taken up a lot of time and energy -- and it will be nice to blog about something else :) Much the same can be said of AFAQ, so it is nothing against Proudhon! It will be nice to just read something I've not written or checking for typos and translation issues!

Until I blog again, be seeing you...

  


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