Proudhon Reader update

As I blogged before, I’m working on a Proudhon Reader. This is due for publication by AK Press next year (2010) and aims to mark the 170th anniversary of Proudhon’s “What is Property?” and so the 170th anniversary of anarchism as a named socio-economic theory and movement. This is an update on how this is progressing.

My reasons for this project are sketched in the original blog posting, so I won’t repeat myself. Suffice to say, communist-anarchists (like myself) will find that many, if not most, of our core ideas (self-management, federations of communes, critique of property and wage-labour, anti-statism, economic federalism, and so forth) were first expounded by the Frenchman and took up and enriched by subsequent anarchists like Bakunin and Kropotkin. This anthology should enrich our understanding of the evolution of anarchist theory as well as making Proudhon’s ideas accessible for a new generation of radicals (not to mention combating the various distortions and myths inflicted on Proudhon by his enemies).

A title has been decided upon. Rather than “A Proudhon Reader” or “Proudhon on Anarchism” (which were my original thoughts), I have decided upon “Property is Theft!” with the subtitle “A Pierre-Joseph Proudhon Anthology”. This has a certain ring to it and should, I think, get people picking it up. It also stresses the legacy Proudhon has given anarchism, namely its anti-capitalism and anti-statism (as he put it in General Idea of the Revolution, anarchism is “the denial of Government and of Property”). Needless to say, there will be an introduction and I aim to summarise his ideas and their legacy, as well as refute some of the nonsense directed towards him and his ideas. I’ve also taken the opportunity to read Marx’s “The Poverty of Philosophy” in order to contrast what Marx said Proudhon advocated and what he actually said. The Introduction will also compare and contrast his ideas with Marx (and there is a lot of overlap and Proudhon said it first!), market socialism, Keynes and such like (including the biological concept of mutualism!). Moreover, his legacy will be discussed and this will include his influence on Social and Individualist anarchism, the Paris Commune and such like.

The works will be presented in chronological order and will start with “What is Property?” and cover only those works published during his life. The only exception will be “The Political Capacity of the Working Classes” as he was working on this on his death-bed! Hopefully the introduction will cover posthumously published work, specifically his last work on property. I feel the chronological ordering is best as it shows how his ideas evolved overtime and in response to actual events as well as allowing more of the flow of his works to be presented. The selections grouped around themes used in (long out of print) “Selected Works of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon” does not do his ideas justice.

Proudhon was a prolific writer, which means that even a comprehensive reader would be just presenting a fraction of his work. His works are also full of people, facts and figures of the time, making works like “General idea of the revolution” full of material which goes not necessary add to the importance of his arguments today but were essential  at the time in presenting his case for social reform. Hopefully, be removing such material (when possible) the core ideas come to the fore. I’ve also made translations more consistent and correct. For example, changing Proudhon’s “la salariat” to wage-labour or wage-worker in John Beverly Robinson’s and Benjamin

Tucker’s translations (he often used “wages” which is just wrong!) and using commune rather than town in “General Idea of the Revolution.” I have indicated where changes have been made and given the original French as a guide.

Here is the contents page as it stands now.

Property is Theft! A Pierre-Joseph Proudhon Anthology

What is Property? (extracts)

Chapter I. Method Pursued In This Work. — The Idea Of A Revolution

Chapter II. Property Considered as a Natural Right

§1 Property as a Natural Right

§2 Occupation, as the Title to Property

§3 Civil Law as the Foundation and Sanction of Property

Chapter III. Labour As The Efficient Cause Of The Domain Of Property.

§1 The Land cannot be Appropriated

§2 Universal Consent no Justification of Property

§3 Prescription Gives No Title to Property

§4 Labour: That Labour Has No Inherent Power to Appropriate Natural Wealth

§5 That Labour leads to Equality of Property   

Chapter IV. That property is impossible.

Chapter V. Psychological Exposition Of The Idea Of Justice

Letter to M. Blanqui (extracts)

Letter to Marx          

System of Economical Contradictions: Volume I (extracts)

Chapter I: Of The Economic Science

Chapter II: Of Value

Chapter III: Economic Evolutions – First Period – The Division Of Labour       

§1. Antagonistic effects of the principle of division.

§2. Impotence of palliatives [. . . ]

Chapter IV: Second Period – Machinery

§1. Of the function of machinery in its relations to liberty.

§2. Machinery’s contradiction – Origin of capital and wage-labour

§3. Of preservatives against the disastrous influence of machinery.

Chapter V: Third Period – Competition

§1. Necessity of competition.

§2. Subversive effects of competition, and the destruction of liberty thereby.

§3. Remedies against competition

Chapter VI: Fourth Period – Monopoly

§1. Necessity of monopoly

§2. The disasters in labour and the perversion of ideas caused by monopoly.

Chapter VII: Fifth Period – Police, Or Taxation

System of Economical Contradictions: Volume II (extracts)

Chapter X: Seventh Period: Credit

§1. Origin and Development of the Idea of Credit

Chapter XIV: Summary and Conclusion

Solution of the Social Problem (newly translated) (extracts)

First Chapter: The Revolution in 1848

Chapter II: Democracy

Organisation of Credit and Circulation (extracts)


The Bank of Exchange

The Situation (newly translated)

How Revolutions are Lost (newly translated) 

The Reaction (newly translated)

The Bamboozlement of Universal Suffrage (newly translated)

Address to the Constituent National Assembly (newly translated) (extracts)

The Malthusians

Toast to the Revolution

Election Manifesto of the People (extracts)

Gratuity of Credit (extracts)

First Letter: 19th November 1849

Second Letter: 3rd December 1849

Third Letter: 17th December 1849

Fourth Letter: 31st December 1849

Fifth Letter: 21st January 1850

Sixth Letter: 11th February 1850

The State: Its Nature, Object, and Destiny

I. Of the nature of the State.

II. Of the end or object of the State.

III. Of an ulterior destiny of the State.

Bank of the People (extracts)


Formation of the Company

Report of the Luxembourg Delegate and Workers’ Corporation Commission (newly translated)

Chapter I: The People’s Bank  

Chapter II: Overview of contemplated production or consumption unions

Chapter III: General Consumers’ Union and its Responsibilities

Confessions of a Revolutionary (extracts)

Chapter VII: 17 March: Reaction of Louis Blanc

Chapter XI: Who am I?

General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century (extracts)

First Study: Reaction Causes Revolution

Second Study: Is there Sufficient Reason for Revolution in the Nineteenth Century?

1. Law of Tendency in Society. – The Revolution of 1789 has done only half its work.

2. Chaos of economic forces. Tendency of society toward poverty

3. Anomaly of Government. Tendency toward Tyranny and Corruption.

Third Study: The Principle of Association

Fourth Study: The Principle of Authority

Fifth Study: Social Liquidation

Sixth Study. Organisation of Economic Forces

1. Credit

2. Property

3. Division of Labour, Collective Forces, Machines, Workingmen's Associations

4. Constitution of Value. Organisation of Low Prices

5. Foreign Commerce. Balance of Imports and Exports

Seventh Study. Absorption of Government by the Economic Organism


The Philosophy of Progress


First Letter: Of The Idea Of Progress   

Second Letter: Of Certainty And Its Criterion

Stock Exchange Speculator's Manual          (newly translated) (extracts)


Final Considerations

3. Industrial democracy: Labour-labour partnership or universal mutuality; end of the crisis

I. Workers’ Associations

II. Consumers’ associations

Justice In The Revolution And In The Church


§ I: The coming of the people to philosophy

§ II: The definition of philosophy

§ III: On the quality of the philosophical mind

§ IV: The origin of ideas

§ V: That metaphysics is within the province of primary instruction        

§ VI: That philosophy must be essentially practical

§ VII: The character that must be presented by the guarantee of our judgments and the rule of our actions – Conversion from speculative to practical reason: determination of the criterion

§ VIII: Justice, the universal reason of things — Science and conscience

§ IX: Supremacy of Justice

§ X: Conditions for a philosophical propaganda

§ XI: Law of progress: Social destination

§ XII: A word about the situation

§ XIII: Conclusion

Letter to Workers on Elections (extracts)

The Political Capacity of the Working Classes (extracts)

Second Part: Chapter III: Disengagement of the workers' idea: The Communist System or of Luxembourg

Second Part: Chapter XV: Objections against mutualist policy. Answer. Main cause of the fall of States - Relation of the political and economic functions in the new Democracy

A. Economic Functions

B. Political Functions   

Appendix: The Paris Commune

International Worker’s Association: Federal Council of Parisian Sections

Declaration to the French People

The Internationale

As can be seen, the anthology is pretty comprehensive as it stands now. However, I aim to get more material translated. Here is the “wish-list” of works which I consider it essential to include (and remember this is but a fraction of Proudhon’s collected works!).

Systeme des Contradictions Economiques, tombe II

            Chapters: XI

Les Confessions d'un Revolutionaire

            Chapters: III, VI, X, XIV, XVII, XVIII, XXI

Du Principe Federatif

            First part: Chapters: VI, VII, X, XI

            Third part: Chapters: IX


De la Capacite Politique des classes ourvrieres

            2nd part: Chapters: IV, VIII, XIII

            3rd part: Chapters: IV

Some of this work is in progress, but it would help immensely if more people volunteered to translate some of this. So if you wish to help enrich our understanding of the development of anarchism into the movement and theory it is today and can translate from French, I would urge you to get involved in this project. If you are interested, please contact me at anarchistfaq[at]

I have also suggested that AK Press get all of “Les Confessions d'un Revolutionaire” fully translated and published as part of their “Working Classics” series (which includes such key works as Berkman’s “What is Anarchism?” and Rocker’s “Anarcho-Syndicalism”). I’m not sure whether they will or not, but it is a critical text in the development of anarchism and, of course, as an account of the first major revolution of the proletarian era (so to speak). And it was one of Bakunin’s favourite works by his old friend and comrade, which surely counts for something!

Finally, I will end with a freshly translated short extract from Proudhon’s “Solution of the Social Problem” from March 1848, shortly after the revolution which disposed the Bourbons from the throne and made France a Republic again. He is discussing the Red Flag (something AFAQ blog addressed recently):

 “The Revolution, one cannot deny it, has been made by the red flag:  the provisional Government has decided to keep the tricolour [le drapeau tricolore]. To explain this repudiation M. de Lamartine made speeches, the Nationale of dissertations. Red, they say, in the old days was the colour of royalty; red is the colour of the atrocious Bourbon, tyrant of the Deux-Siciles. Red cannot be the colour of France.

“One is not saying red is the colour of justice, the colour of sovereignty. And since all men like red, would it not mean that red is the symbol of human fraternity? To deny the red flag, the crimson! but it is the social question you are getting rid of. Every time the People, defeated by suffering, wanted to express its wishes and its complaints outside the law that kills it, it has walked under a red banner. It is true that the red flag has not gone around the world like its happy rival the tricolour. Justice, M. de Lamartine stated very well, did not go any further than the Champ-de-Mars. It is too terrible, justice, that one would not know how to hide it enough. Poor red flag. Everyone is abandoning you! Me, I embrace you; I clutch you to my chest. Salute fraternity!

“Let us keep, if you wish, the tricolour, symbol of our nationality. But remember that the red flag is the sign of a revolution that will be the last. The red flag! It is the federal standard of humankind.



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