Second Letter to Socialist Standard on Proudhon

Well, the SPGB has printed to my letter about their terrible review of Property is Theft!. It was a terrible review not because they concluded that Marx was still right (and he was, on certain issues) but rather because the review was so inaccurate. Sadly, the reply to my letter is equally inaccurate. Apparently mere evidence is not enough for them!

I have to say both the "review" and this reply are making the SPGB look extremely bad, like a bunch of ideological nutters who deny plain words in favour of what they "know" is "right"... Suffice to say, the SPGB has (almost?) joined my (long) list of Marxist groups and individuals whom I have little respect for. Their inability to acknowledge their notions about Proudhon are wrong, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, would be impressive if it did not show a deeper problem with Marxism. This problem was expressed by the AWL as well, as I noted in my blog Leninists are Strange. It reminds me of Martin Thomas's dismissal of Bakunin's obvious syndicalist ideas because Bakunin could not be possibly talking about unions as unions were far too small. Of course, that Marx was talking of unions at the same time did not seem to bother him too much...

I particularly liked their "Proudhon was a free-marketeer because he was opposed to government intervention in the economy." By that criteria, Kropotkin was a "free-marketeer" (or Marx, as my letter suggests). Anarchism, by definition surely, opposes state intervention in a free (non-capitalist) economy because it is against the state -- no government, no intervention! Simple...

Which reminds me of a conversation I had about 30 years ago when I was selling anarchist papers and a smug Labour Party activist proclaimed anarchism "right-wing" because we were against state intervention, just like Thatcher... I pointed out that we were against intervention by the capitalist state because it aimed to keep capitalism (and so exploitation and oppression) going. Hardly "right-wing" but I guess that says more about the lack of socialist vision/knowledge in labour party circles than about anarchism.

But then, since March 26th, we have been subjected to more than our fair share of that kind of nonsense. How, some proclaim, can anarchists opposed the cuts -- surely it is reducing the state? I addressed this in the new Black Flag (Does My Society Look Big in This?) but a recent article in the Guardian saw this kind of thing repeated. First was an article on Monday: Anarchists should be reported, advises Westminster anti-terror police. The comments, as usual, go from the excellent (such as "Wow man I know the girl next door reads Chomsky you better get her"; "Oh yea I saw this guy buy Koprotkin and actually read it. I personally couldn't understand a word but you know that's the same with Marx") to the silly. Later the same day, though, we got this: Grass war? Met police retracts call for public to report anarchists. The next day saw this in the letters page: Hu nt the anarchists – start at Number 10:

So the police think "anarchism is a political philosophy which considers the state undesirable, unnecessary and harmful...". They might be interested in a group that meets regularly in their vicinity at 10 Downing Street. (Donald Ross)

That sound is me hitting my head against the wall in despair...

We REALLY need to put a big, big line gap between anarchism and this false notion of anarchism as (purely) "anti-state" which seems far too common these days. This has started, with An Anarchist FAQ (for example) and reviews on books on "Tory Anarchism" and posts like ‘Anarchists are like Tories’ and other fairy tales by Joseph Kay. But there is still much to be done...

But enough of that! This blog is short, as it is unexpected (I really thought the SPGB would do better than that!). I was going to announce my next project - a Kropotkin Anthology. I will do so in more depth shortly. Suffice to say, I expect that project to get a more positive response from some of my fellow revolutionary class struggle comrades... Next up will be something Proudhon related, then an update on volume 2 of An Anarchist FAQ. I've got the final proof-read section back so it is now a matter of making the changes and then trimming 10% of it. Not sure if it will be out this year, but it is nearly there...

And, finally, in response to the SPGB nonsense, I have posted a review of the excellent A Critique of State Socialism by Michael Bakunin and Richard Warren (this should also be in the next Black Flag out in October). In short, we were right in our predictions about Marxism. Given how disastrous state socialism has proven to be, as predicted by Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin and so on, you would think Marxists would be a bit more humble and willing to listen. Sadly, no...

Until I blog again, be seeing you...

Letter to Socialist Standard

Dear Socialist Standard

The reply to my letter on Proudhon (Socialist Standard, August 2011) is hard to take seriously, given that it denies the evidence I provided in favour of invention. Still, some progress has been made, with it being grudgingly admitted that “Proudhon’s arguments against property are mainly against property in land” (my emphasis) rather than the initial claim that they were solely against such ownership.  

Sadly, this is then immediately followed by the assertion that the quotes I provided by Proudhon on “accumulated capital” in fact meant “not being entitled to a property income as it’s the product of labour.” Yet Proudhon was very clear on this – “all accumulated capital” is “social property” and “all property becomes…collective and undivided.”

Apparently this can be ignored because Proudhon “no more objects to private ‘possession’ of capital… than he does to the private possession and use of land.” To re-quote Proudhon: “under universal association, ownership of the land and of the instruments of labour is social ownership.” Or: “it does not follow… that I want to see individual ownership and non-organisation of the instruments of labour endure for all eternity. I have never penned nor uttered any such thing: and have argued the opposite a hundred times over… I deny all kinds of proprietary domain. I deny it, precisely because I believe in an order wherein the instruments of labour will cease to be appropriated and instead become shared.” (Property is Theft!, 499)

It is true that Proudhon argued that “interest as well as rent should be abolished” but this distorts his ideas by ignoring another of his “key” ideas: “wage-labour abolished” (596) He favoured “democratically organised workers’ associations” (377) because of “the immorality, tyranny and theft suffered” within capitalist firms. (584) So the notion that my “book could well have been entitled ‘Property Income is Theft’” simply shows that Proudhon’s ideas are being ignored in favour of Marxist ideology on what Proudhon is meant to think!

Why are you “surprised” that I “object to Proudhon being described as a ‘free marketeer’” after I presented quotes from him on intervention into the market by federations of workers associations? Suffice to say, his perspective on competition cannot be grasped by using the term “free marketeer” – which suggests a blindness to the problems produced by competition, something he obviously did not have. Yet rather than address Proudhon’s ideas on competition, we get pointed to “present-day ‘Mutualists’”! In future should I address Marx’s ideas by pointing to present-day “Marxists” like the SWP’s Alex Callinicos? And I do discuss the (significant) differences between individualist anarchism and Proudhon’s mutualism in my introduction…

Proudhon, apparently, “clearly stated that… there should be no government interference in the workings of the economy.” Would that be because there is no government in anarchy? And does that mean Marx is also a “free marketeer” as there is “no government interference in the workings of the economy” under communism? Or does the SPGB now think there are states and governments in (the higher phase of) communism?

Yes, Proudhon was critical of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.” My introduction discusses this and indicates how Kropotkin argued against this position – which is a far more productive perspective than throwing your hands up in horror and proclaiming his anti-communism means he is not worth reading.  Personally, I think Marx’s state-capitalist notions (including “labour armies”) in the Communist Manifesto are far more “anti-socialist” than anything Proudhon argued yet I would not deny his genuine contributions to socialism.

In terms of what I claim “Marx copied from” Proudhon, you need not “imagine” what it is – I discuss it in my introduction. The Poverty of Philosophy has no theory of exploitation, unlike the book it distorts. Proudhon’s analysis of how wage-labour allows the capitalist to control the work and appropriate the workers’ product, “collective force” and “surplus of labour” is similar to what expounded in Capital (which Engels proclaimed “the most epoch-making achievement of Marx’s work”).

Sadly, rather than engage with Proudhon’s ideas we get, even after supporting quotes are provided, the denial that Proudhon held the ideas he clearly expounded. I had expected better, particularly as these issues are all discussed in detail in my introduction, but my expectations about the SPGB are rapidly getting lower…

Iain McKay

www.property-is-theft.org

Comments

It's a pity you are unable

It's a pity you are unable argue your case without accusing the other side of not reading the material or of giving selective quotes. As it happens I was working from the original French version of Guérin which does have the full stop where I put (it's the translator who changed this to a comma and added "but").

In any event, you are not addressing the substantive issue of the distinction Proudhon made between "possession" and "property". Here's how Kropotkin explains this in his contribution on Anarchism that appeared in the 11th edition of the Encylopaedia Britannica in 1910:

"When he [Proudhon] proclaimed in his first memoir that 'property is theft', he meant only property in its present, Roman-law, sense of 'right of use and abuse'; in property-rights, on the other hand, understood in the limited sense of possession, he saw the best protection against the encroachments of the State."

This is what I was trying to bring out by quoting Woodcock and Guérin.

Kropotkin went on:

"At the same time he did not want violently to dispossess the present owners of land, dwelling-houses, mines, factories and so on. He preferred to attain the same end by rendering capital incapable of earning interest; and this he proposed to obtain by means of a national bank, based on the mutual confidence of all those who are engaged in production, who would agree to exchange among themselves their produces at cost-value, by means of labour cheques representing the hours of labour required to produce every given commodity. Under such a system, which Proudhon described as "Mutuellisme," all the exchanges of services would be strictly equivalent. Besides, such a bank would be enabled to lend money without interest, levying only something like 1 per cent, or even less, for covering the cost of administration. Everyone being thus enabled to borrow the money that would be required to buy a house, nobody would agree to pay any more a yearly rent for the use of it. A general "social liquidation" would thus be rendered easy, without violent expropriation. The same applied to mines, railways, factories and so on. In a society of this type the state would be useless. The chief relations between citizens would be based on free agreement and regulated by mere account keeping. The contests might be settled by arbitration. A penetrating criticism of the state and all possible forms of government, and a deep insight into all economic problems, were well-known characteristics of Proudhon's work."

This is not common ownership but private "possession" of means and instruments of production by individuals and groups of individuals. What Proudhon wanted to abolish was this "possession" giving rise to a non-work, property income.

Production for the market financed by a bank even one lending money without interest is quite incompatible with the common ownership of the means and instruments of production. It presupposes separate owner-producers (or "possessor"-producers) with separately owned/possessed products to exchange. If the means of production were commonly owned then so would the products and the question that would arise would not be to sell them (how can you sell to yourself something you already own?) but how to distribute them.

You seem to be trying to make out that Proudhon was some sort of "libertarian communist" (despite his declared objection to any kind of communism) but the most that the passages you quote show is that he stood for no-ownership (in the Roman law sense) of land and industry, ie no right to draw a property income from using them. He was not an inconsistent communist (proposing common ownership but individual or sectional appropriation of the products) as you suggest, but not a communist at all.

It's a pity you are unable

It's a pity you are unable argue your case without accusing the other side of not reading the material or of giving selective quotes.

As opposed to proclaiming mis-translations? And ignoring the many other quotes provided?

As it happens I was working from the original French version of Guérin which does have the full stop where I put (it's the translator who changed this to a comma and added "but").

I have to admit that I find this extremely funny. Presumably "the original French version" follows on exactly as I have quoted. I wonder why you decided to stop where you did? Guerin seems to be summarising this passage from Proudhon:

“Under the law of association, transmission of wealth does not apply to the instruments of labour, so cannot become a cause of inequality... We are socialists... 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, joined together in the common bond of the democratic and social Republic.”

Note the words "social ownership" and "vast federation of companies and societies" -- which Guerin summarised as "Property would be replaced by federal, cooperative ownership vested ... in the producers as a whole, united in a vast agricultural and industrial federation."

 

In any event, you are not addressing the substantive issue of the distinction Proudhon made between "possession" and "property". Here's how Kropotkin explains this...

Ah, right, so we can forget what Proudhon actually wrote in favour of Kropotkin... sad, really.

This is not common ownership but private "possession" of means and instruments of production by individuals and groups of individuals. What Proudhon wanted to abolish was this "possession" giving rise to a non-work, property income.

Proudhon repeatedly argues that the means of production would be held in common, be non-appropriated, be collectively owned, shared. I've presented more than enough quotes by Proudhon himself to support this. Only someone clouded by ideology would be denying this given the numerous quotes provided -- including the one in which Proudhon explicitly states he is against individual ownership!

Production for the market financed by a bank even one lending money without interest is quite incompatible with the common ownership of the means and instruments of production. It presupposes separate owner-producers (or "possessor"-producers) with separately owned/possessed products to exchange.

It presupposes everyone having access to the means of production and owning the products of their labour. Thus, as Proudhon argued in System of Economic Contradictions, in the universal association everyone who have management rights as soon as they joined an association. Wage-labour (selling your labour to a boss) is replaced by associating with other workers. This presupposes that workers would control their own labour and its product. As Proudhon argued in 1840:

"property in product, if we grant so much, does not carry with it property in the means of production; that seems to me to need no further demonstration... all, if you say so, are proprietors of their products—not one is proprietor of the means of production. The right to product is exclusive... the right to means is common" (112)

That seems pretty clear. The means are common ("social ownership") but those who use it keep the product of their labour. I discuss this in the introduction...

If the means of production were commonly owned then so would the products and the question that would arise would not be to sell them (how can you sell to yourself something you already own?) but how to distribute them.

That is an argument that Proudhon rejected. As I've indicated in the introduction, Kropotkin argued that this position was flawed. I tend to agree. But this is NOT what the SPGB argued. Rather we get comments which suggest they did not read the book being reviewed...

You seem to be trying to make out that Proudhon was some sort of "libertarian communist" (despite his declared objection to any kind of communism)

And where do I suggest that? I state the exact opposite in the introduction, noting his opposition to communism and how libertarian communists argued against this. I do note that both Proudhon and Kropotkin favoured social ownership of the means of production -- their disagreement was over the product of labour. I do suggest that libertarian communism is an extension of Proudhon's analysis AND that Proudhon would probably (almost certainly) rejected such a development.

but the most that the passages you quote show is that he stood for no-ownership (in the Roman law sense) of land and industry, ie no right to draw a property income from using them.

Proudhon stood for (to re-quote him) "social owership", "in common", "common property", "shared", etc., in the means of production (including land). He stated so many, many times. He even explicitly denied he stood for individual ownership. He did so to ensure that workers did not have to sell their labour to those who did own them and to ensure the worker owned the product of their labour.

Given Proudhon repeatedly argued this, starting in What is Property?, and given I have presented numerous quotes to prove this, I fail to see any point in this exchange. Clearly evidence is not sufficient to overcome the ideologically correct position...

He was not an inconsistent communist (proposing common ownership but individual or sectional appropriation of the products) as you suggest, but not a communist at all.

But that is precisely what Proudhon did argue. Workers would have use of common property and own the products of their labour. The means of production would be socially/commonly owned but not the product of the labour of those who use it. He argued this in 1840, as quoted above. I could present more quotes by Proudhon, but clearly these would have as little impact as the ones I've already provided. Still, I'll end by re-quoting Guerin:

"Proudhon... distinguished between possession and ownership. Ownership is absolute, aristocratic, feudal; possession is democratic, republican, egalitarian: it consists of the enjoyment of an usufruct which can neither be alienated, nor given away, nor sold. The workers should hold their means of production in alleu like the ancient Germains, but would not be the outright owners. Property would be replaced by federal, cooperative ownership vested not in the State but in the producers as a whole, united in a vast agricultural and industrial federation."

He understood what Proudhon was getting at. I don't understand why some others are having some much trouble...

The Socialist Standard did

The Socialist Standard did not claim that Proudhon was only against the ownership of land. It only said that this was what his first book "What is Property?" was essentially about. Anybody reading it can confirm that it is mainly a rather legalistic debunking of the arguments for the private ownership of land or rather the right to draw a property income from land ownership (and that it ends up advocating the equal division, not the common ownership, of land).

It is true that we overlooked a passage where Proudhon deals with one argument in favour of a property income from the ownership of instruments of production. This is the argument that as 10 people working together can produce more than 10 people working separately the person who employs them and brings them together is entitled to the extra production. Proudhon points out that logically this extra production should belong to the 10 workers as a group (hence his use of the word "social") and proposes it be shared amongst them in the form of "equal wages".

The only other writing of Proudhon's that you cite to back up your interpretation is his 1849 letter to Leroux which I suspect is a mistranslation. Leroux had accused Proudhon of standing for individual ownership and production. Proudhon replied: No, I don't, I stand for group production.

The reason why I would like to see the original French of "an order wherein the instruments of labour will cease to be appropriated and instead become shared, where the whole earth will be depersonalised" is because I think this can be translated, or taken as meaning: "an order wherein the instruments of labour will cease to be private property giving rise to a property income and instead become shared [by those using them], where all land will be depersonalised [not be owned by private individuals]". (In any event, I'm certain that "all land" is what he meant rather than "the whole earth", the French word for land and Earth being the same).

This interpretation fits in with the rest of his writings and has been made by others more sympathetic towards Proudhon than the Socialist Standard such as George Woodcock and Daniel Guérin.

Woodcock says that, in a speech in 1849, Proudhon "defined his aim as the reduction of property to possession by the abolition of revenues". Guérin that Proudhon "distinguished between possession and ownership. Ownership is absolute, aristocratic, feudal; possession is democratic, republican, egalitarian: it consists of the enjoyment of an usufruct which can neither be alienated, nor given away, nor sold. The workers should hold their means of production in alleu like the ancient Germains".

In other words, he stood, not for social ownership, but for group "possession" of enterprises still producing for sale (what Marx called "commodity production") even if not generating a "property income". Or, as you put, he was a "market socialist" (more accurately, a "market anarchist"). It's a scheme that would never have worked, but that's another matter.

 Ah, the clash between

Ah, the clash between Marxist ideology and facts...

The Socialist Standard did not claim that Proudhon was only against the ownership of land. It only said that this was what his first book "What is Property?" was essentially about.

The original review stated Proudhon "was criticising was the private ownership of land." If you read the extracts from What is Property? in Property is Theft! it becomes obvious that that book critiqued private ownership of capital as well. I provided the appropriate quotes to show that this was the case.

Anybody reading it can confirm that it is mainly a rather legalistic debunking of the arguments for the private ownership of land or rather the right to draw a property income from land ownership (and that it ends up advocating the equal division, not the common ownership, of land).

Please read What is Property?. When you do you will discover Proudhon arguing (as I quoted in my first letter to Socialist Standard) that “all accumulated capital” is “social property” and so “no one can be its exclusive proprietor” and that “all property becomes… collective and undivided.” He also states that the land is a “common thing, consequently unsusceptible of appropriation.” He also stated that "not one is proprietor of the means of production... right to means is common" (112) and "the means of labour shall be shared by all equally, and that each individual shall be free" (97)

It seems clear that he argued that both land and industry would be owned in common, shared by the associated producers.

It is true that we overlooked a passage where Proudhon deals with one argument in favour of a property income from the ownership of instruments of production...

The analysis of collective force, one of the means by which Proudhon argued labour was exploited in production by capital. He uses this concept to also argue for common ownership of the means of production:

"All human labour being the result of collective force, all property becomes, by the same reason, collective and undivided. To speak more exactly, labour destroys property." (137)

The only other writing of Proudhon's that you cite to back up your interpretation is his 1849 letter to Leroux which I suspect is a mistranslation.

The only other? I've quoted from numerous works! As for notion of "mistranslation", that is funny. There is a clash between Marxist ideology on what Proudhon is meant to believe and what Proudhon actually argued -- hence there is a problem with the translation! Priceless... particularly after all the other quotes I provided! Well, here is another quote (from 1841):

"For this value or wealth, produced by the activity of all, is by the very fact of its creation collective wealth, the use of which, like that of the land, may be divided, but which as property remains undivided. And why this undivided ownership? Because the society which creates is itself indivisible — a permanent unit, incapable of reduction to fractions. And it is this unity of society which makes the land common property... property in capital is indivisible, and consequently inalienable, not necessarily when the capital is uncreated, but when it is common or collective." (153)

And note "makes the land common property" -- something we are assured Proudhon did not advocate!

Leroux had accused Proudhon of standing for individual ownership and production. Proudhon replied: No, I don't, I stand for group production.

Leroux accuses Proudhon of wanting "to see individual ownership and non-organisation of the instruments of labour endure for all eternity." Proudhon replies with these words: "I have never penned nor uttered any such thing: and have argued the opposite a hundred times over." That is pretty clear -- Proudhon replied that as regards "individual ownership" he had "argued the opposite a hundred times over." And, as the quotes I have provided show, he had. For example: "“under universal association, ownership of the land and of the instruments of labour is social ownership.”

This interpretation fits in with the rest of his writings and has been made by others more sympathetic towards Proudhon than the Socialist Standard such as George Woodcock and Daniel Guérin.

Ah, right, we should ignore Proudhon's own words for others... Ironically, Guerin agrees with me -- as we will see.

Guérin that Proudhon "distinguished between possession and ownership. Ownership is absolute, aristocratic, feudal; possession is democratic, republican, egalitarian: it consists of the enjoyment of an usufruct which can neither be alienated, nor given away, nor sold. The workers should hold their means of production in alleu like the ancient Germains".

Guerin continues: "but would not be the outright owners. Property would be replaced by federal, cooperative ownership vested not in the State but in the producers as a whole, united in a vast agricultural and industrial federation."

Which is precisely what I am arguing. Now I understand why you selectively quoted Guerin, I don't understand why you thought I would not check!

In other words, he stood, not for social ownership, but for group "possession" of enterprises still producing for sale (what Marx called "commodity production") even if not generating a "property income".

Yet Proudhon argued that “under universal association, ownership of the land and of the instruments of labour is social ownership.” Apparently Proudhon did not know that he did not advocate that... shame the SPGB was not around in 1848 to tell him what he actually stood for.

Or, as you put, he was a "market socialist" (more accurately, a "market anarchist").

As anarchists are socialists, I am being accurate. And I guess that this is an improvement over the assertion that Proudhon was an "anarchist free-marketeer"!

It's a scheme that would never have worked, but that's another matter.

Indeed it is. I had expected by the SPGB would have focused on that, noting the limitations in Proudhon's strategy (which seem minor compared to the SPGB's, but that's another matter!) as well as the contradictions and limitations between advocating socialised ownership of the means of production and distribution according to deed. That would have been fine but instead we get a review which proclaims easily refuted nonsense on what Proudhon was meant to think, a review which suggests the author did not bother to read the book. Hence my letters.

As for unworkable schemes, I think that it is far more workable than Marx's notion of a social plan. His two sentences on this in The Poverty of Philosophy shows he simply had no grasp of how complex that would be, as well as showing a complete ignorance of the fallacy of composition (much the same can be said of his critique of Bray's labour-note exchanges).

As I wrote in my original letter, I had expected better of the SPGB. Clearly my mistake. Sadly, in a clash better Marxist ideology and the facts, the done thing is to question the facts..

Capital is now no longer a

Capital is now no longer a social relationship between those who own capital and those who sell their labour to them? Capital is now just money?

I used to hear arguments like that from supporters of soviet state capitalism. Much like the Peruvian mummy kings, capital remains capital even if the actors are absent, what you describe above is the acme of commodity fetishism.

That the mines (etc.) would be handed over to the workers' associations would effectively make those mines etc. the property of those associations/co-ops.

As for the theory of exploitation, that was widespread before and Proudhon, but took the form of assuming an underpayment. All Marx did was show the difference between labour and labour power, and that wage work was inherently exploitative.

- A Viscious Lurker

I used to hear arguments like

I used to hear arguments like that from supporters of soviet state capitalism. Much like the Peruvian mummy kings, capital remains capital even if the actors are absent, what you describe above is the acme of commodity fetishism.

Ah, right, so capital IS now just money and no longer a social relationship between classes/people? Marx was, at times, clear. Capital exists when workers are separated from their means of production. Under the soviet state, the state bureaucracy owned/controlled the means of production and workers sold their labour/liberty to them.

Sure, capitalism does not need capitalists to exist. State bureaucrats can fill the role easily. It becomes different when workers own and control their own means of production.

That the mines (etc.) would be handed over to the workers' associations would effectively make those mines etc. the property of those associations/co-ops.

It would only become their "property" if they excluded others, so forcing others to be the wage-workers of the so-called association. This is something Proudhon argued against, arguing that all members of a workplace have equal rights and participate in management, etc.

As for the theory of exploitation, that was widespread before and Proudhon, but took the form of assuming an underpayment. All Marx did was show the difference between labour and labour power, and that wage work was inherently exploitative.

A different Proudhon had noted in 1840 and 1846 and which Marx seemed unaware of until the 1850s. After all, he makes no mention of it in The Poverty of Philosophy -- although he finds the time to mock and distort Proudhon when he raised this difference in System of Economic Contradictions.

So, to sum up, capitalism need not need actual capitalists. State bureaucrats, as anarchists have long argued (since Proudhon) can fill that role. Capital exists when workers have to sell their labour/liberty to those who own/control the means of life (and Marx noted this repeatedly in Capital, I should point out). When workers join workers associations then it is a non-capitalist form of economy, a market socialist one. That does not mean it is the best kind of socialism we can achieve, though.

As I've discussed this issue many times in my blog, I'll leave it there.

1) Right, so take a grommit

1) Right, so take a grommit machine. It takes ten people to operate it. take two different grommit machines, one, due to better location (either for parts, or access to markets) makes a greater profit than the other. Should that machine take on supernumery hands to eliminate or distribute that property gained surplus, or should it accrue solely to the 10? What if someone finds a way of working with the identical machine with only five hands? Should they be forced to share the technique? What about the surplus generated from having a more advanced machine - all of these are property incomes derived from 'capitalism without capitalists', and all are income from property. The essence of capitalism, as revealed in the OED, that it would benefit the holders of greater capitals more, would still obtain, even without bureaucrats (booo hiss).
2) I've seen you make the claim re: Proudhon and labour power before, my memory is that the quotes you provided didn't back that up, and simply referred to the master/servant relationship inherent in wage working.
3) Charlie and Fred both viewwed nationalisation as having reaction characteristics, and favoured several methods of bringing about communism - See Fred's 'Speeches at Elberfeld' and Charlie's 'Conspectus on bakunin's statism and anarchy'

-viscious lurker'

What about the surplus

What about the surplus generated from having a more advanced machine - all of these are property incomes derived from 'capitalism without capitalists', and all are income from property.

Ah, right, so now machines create (surplus) value? I thought that, according to Marx, labour produced value... And under mutualism, the workers who produced the goods would get the full product of their labour. There is no "surplus" in the sense of unpaid labour and the workers get all the income generated. Hardly capitalism... as both Marx and Engels repeatedly argued, capital exists when workers do not own their means of production. Marx states this in Capital volume 1, for example.

Now the question of whether this is the best form of socialism available is a valid one. Yes, workers in certain co-operatives could become more wealthy than others. But they would not be able to turn this inequality in labour income into being owners of property -- as the means of production, as Proudhon stressed, would be socially owned. Kropotkin argued well why (libertarian) communism would be a better form of socialism, a position I happen to agree with.

The essence of capitalism, as revealed in the OED, that it would benefit the holders of greater capitals more, would still obtain, even without bureaucrats (booo hiss).

You seem confused about what capital is. As noted, nationalisation (as advocated in The Communist Manifesto with no mention of workers' self-management, for example) replaces the boss with the bureaucrat. Proudhon's scheme returns the means of production to the workers (based on self-management). Sure, distribution by deed is not ideal but it is hardly capitalism.

Ah, this link you give below

Ah, this link you give below seems to bear out what I'm saying, everyone and their brother at that time recognised that workers were exploited, Charlie's difference was that instead of looking at it as a form of underpayment for services rendered, he recognised that workers were getting the full and correct value of the thing they sold - Labour power. he could then reconcile this underpayment with the labour theory of value, that labour porduced all values. It's a small correction, but it does take us away from notions that 'if only workers were paid the full value of their labour' - whisch is miserable bollocks and a complete dead end, there is no commodity relation which can realise that.

-Viscious lurker

Charlie's difference was that

Charlie's difference was that instead of looking at it as a form of underpayment for services rendered, he recognised that workers were getting the full and correct value of the thing they sold - Labour power. he could then reconcile this underpayment with the labour theory of value, that labour porduced all values.

Actually, no. Proudhon noted the difference between wages paid and product created. The boss controlled labour and product, so ensuring that they appropriated the "collective force" and "surplus of labour" produced by workers. He argued that workers should recieve the full value of the product they produced and so argued for a transformation in the relations of production to achieve this. Marx, on the other hand, argued that workers only had the right to the value of their labour-power under capitalism and so argued for a transformation in the relations of production to achieve this. A small difference, indeed.

Both argued that workers were exploited in production and that could only be ended by eliminating a system in which workers sold their liberty/labour to a boss. Whether we are better served by accepting that capitalists do own the commodity labour-power or whether such an exchange is inherently invalid and workers retain their rights over their labour and its product is something to discuss -- perhaps in the pub, as does not seem that important just now...

It's a small correction, but it does take us away from notions that 'if only workers were paid the full value of their labour' - whisch is miserable bollocks and a complete dead end, there is no commodity relation which can realise that.

It is hardly the best we can aim for, sure, but it is perfectly possible to realise -- if the means of production are socially owned and workers control both their work and the product of their labour then, by definition, there would be no "unpaid" labour as the full value of their labour would be owned by them.

This can be seen when Marx addressed the issue of what happens when workers do own and so control their means of production. He discusses when “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.” These workers “have created . . . new values, 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, though the result of this would belong to themselves.” (Capital, vol. 3, p. 276)

So if workers exchange the commodities they produce then workers being paid the full value of their labour is perfectly realisable. Whether that is the best we can achieve is, of course, an important issue. Simply put, you can object to mutualism (as I have) without mislabelling it "capitalism."

Well, you're moving away from

Well, you're moving away from the salient point a little. The section of capital you cite is a hypothetical illustration as part of his argument about the relations of price to value . The paragraph following the one you quote says: "The exchange of commodities at their values, or approximately at their values, thus requires a much lower stage than their exchange at their prices of production, which requires a definite level of capitalist development. Further, we find, "For prices at which commodities are exchanged to approximately correspond to their values, nothing more is necessary than [...] 3) so far as selling is concerned, for no natural or artificial monopoly to enable either of the contracting sides to sell commodities above their value or to compel them to undersell. By accidental monopoly we mean a monopoly which a buyer or seller acquires through an accidental state of supply and demand." Which is the salient point here - such natural monopolies will occur, and benefit the workers in a particular enterprise, and the conditions for the resumption of capitalism would obtain.

But what you're getting away from is the fact that in an industrial widespread economy, there will inevitably be situational monopolies/windfalls that will accrue to those who command a particular part of the means of production.

Further, where industries have very big input costs relative to labour (say steel works) who is going to put in the initial investment? Without bank interest or some sort of profit share system, there is no incentive to invest. I'm afraid it simply isn't a realisable proposition from the get go.

- Viscious Lurker

Well, you're moving away from

Well, you're moving away from the salient point a little.

Not at all. I'm pointing out that value is created by labour, not by machinery. Income from property arises because the workers work for a boss who appropriates their unpaid labour. That does not happen in a co-operative as workers work for themselves. As Marx noted.

The section of capital you cite is a hypothetical illustration as part of his argument about the relations of price to value .

Nope, it is explicitly stating when workers possess their own means of production then it is NOT capital and that they retain all the surplus they produce.  Which is completely relevant to the point being made.

Which is the salient point here - such natural monopolies will occur, and benefit the workers in a particular enterprise, and the conditions for the resumption of capitalism would obtain.

I think you will discover that I've suggested (in section I.3.3 of AFAQ) that inequalities within a mutualist system could result in attempts to re-introduce property (i.e., refusing access to resources unless people sell their labour to others). Of course, suggesting it could degenerate back into capitalism is different from proclaiming mutualism "capitalist" from the start.

And I must note that was why Proudhon argued for universal association (or the industrial-agricultural federation) to counter-act such tendencies. He is pretty clear on this -- hence his calls for social ownership, federalism and so forth. He was not blind to the negative aspects of markets (particularly free ones). He simply did not think the state/utopian socialists of his time appreciated the negative side of state monopolies and so supported limited/modified competition.

But what you're getting away from is the fact that in an industrial widespread economy, there will inevitably be situational monopolies/windfalls that will accrue to those who command a particular part of the means of production.

Not at all, as you seem to think workers benefiting from working more productively equals a property-income... Machinery, Marx argued, merely transferred the value embodied in them. Labour still produces the value. Market conditions can result in prices going above and below a commodities' value, sure -- but it is still a labour income as no-one gets an income without working.

Further, where industries have very big input costs relative to labour (say steel works) who is going to put in the initial investment? Without bank interest or some sort of profit share system, there is no incentive to invest.

Ah, right, so workers would not seek to invest in machinery? They would not seek to start new associations? You need bosses for that do you? Interesting... Still, I guess I have more faith in people -- we are not all driven by profit :)

as for "the initial investment", well, have you not heard of Proudhon's ideas of "The Bank of the People"? In this workers would use labour to finance labour, recognising by my mutually supporting each other they could end having to pay interest to others.

I'm afraid it simply isn't a realisable proposition from the get go.

Ah, you seem to confuse accurately reflecting someone's ideas with actually supporting them. If you read my comments, you will discover that I have been explaining why mutualism cannot be labelled "capitalist". That is all. I've not said it is what we should be aiming for (indeed, I've noted that we could do better).

Still, in terms of being a "realisable proposition" Proudhon's scheme is infinitely more realisable than Marx's two sentences on social planning in The Poverty of Philosophy, for example. I guess the calls for nationalisation in The Communist Manifesto are somewhat more realisable, but unlike Proudhon's works in the 1840s there is no call for workers' self-management. Replacing capitalists with bureaucrats is realisable, but undesireable.

I may prefer Proudhon's market-socialist scheme based on economic democracy to Marx's state-capitalism/centralised-communism, but that does not mean that I think that mutualism is the best we can do...

To conclude, mutualism is not capitalist. Even Marx admitted as much when discussing situations when workers possess their own means of production. Could its competition under mutualism result in such inequality that attempts are made to re-introduce property? That is possible. Was Proudhon aware of that? Yes, hence the industrial-agricultural federation. Is mutualism the best form of socialism we can aspire to? No. Communist-Anarchism makes valid criticism's of mutualism, as I note in my introduction.

Hope that makes it clear.

And a third bite, but looking

And a third bite, but looking for something else, I came across this:

The co-operative factories of the labourers themselves represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new, although they naturally reproduce, and must reproduce, everywhere in their actual organisation all the shortcomings of the prevailing system. But the antithesis between capital and labour is overcome within them, if at first only by way of making the associated labourers into their own capitalist, i.e., by enabling them to use the means of production for the employment of their own labour. 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. Without the factory system arising out of the capitalist mode of production there could have been no co-operative factories. Nor could these have developed without the credit system arising out of the same mode of production. The credit system is not only the principal basis for the gradual transformation of capitalist private enterprises into capitalist stock companies, but equally offers the means for the gradual extension of co-operative enterprises on a more or less national scale. The capitalist stock companies, as much as the co-operative factories, should be considered as transitional forms from the capitalist mode of production to the associated one, with the only distinction that the antagonism is resolved negatively in the one and positively in the other.(KIII, Chapter 27, pg. 317 - Marxists.org ed.)

Just to briefly re-visit the question of Labour power (slightly a distraction). Before Darwin many people theorised about evolution - likewise, before Marx, many people theorised on exploitation (including Proudhon), but Marx, like Darwin, showed the mechanism, i.e. that it was not an arbitrary underpayment, but one based on economic systems and structures with definite determinations. That is the point.

Sorry for a second bite, but

Sorry for a second bite, but I just wanted to clarify something - this whole discussion, at least from my perspective, minus the chaff, is whether or not there would be property income in mutualist commodity society, now, you seem to accept that there will be property income, but try to define it away as not property income. To me, that's the beginning and end of this argument, that there will be property income to different enterprises, and thus inequality.

-Viscious Lurker

Nope, it is explicitly

Nope, it is explicitly stating when workers possess their own means of production then it is NOT capital and that they retain all the surplus they produce. Which is completely relevant to the point being made.

It would only not behave like capital if the magnitude of means of production was sufficiently small as to be paid for out of day-to-day revenue - as soon as large scale investments between many people become involved then a primary sum would have to be invested and turned over, a mere legal change would not alter that (again, this is a frequent argument with the supporters of state capitalism). I think this is born out by the quote I gave: "The exchange of commodities at their values, or approximately at their values, thus requires a much lower stage than their exchange at their prices of production, which requires a definite level of capitalist development." The quality of a large horde of means of production would drive capitalism without capitalists.

Not at all, as you seem to think workers benefiting from working more productively equals a property-income... Machinery, Marx argued, merely transferred the value embodied in them. Labour still produces the value. Market conditions can result in prices going above and below a commodities' value, sure -- but it is still a labour income as no-one gets an income without working.

We both work in grommit factories. Your grommit factory has a more modern machine than mine, so that for each hour worked, you get twice the return I get - if we work equally as hard. That is income that falls to you exclusively through property. I get less than the value of my labour, you get more than the value of your labour (so, in this simplified model, taht is a transfer from me to thee). If I invest my savings in your factory (via the people's bank), and you pay me interest, that is income from my property. If, via the people's bank, you do not pay me interest, then you are robbing me again, my savings contribute to your greater income.

It isn't that mutualism will slide into capitalism, it is that the operation of the difference between price and value means that it remains capitalism from the get go - the situational monopolies inevitably exist in a market economy. This is especially so as it will require large scale industry.

Ah, you seem to confuse accurately reflecting someone's ideas with actually supporting them.

Do I? Where on Earth have I said that or even hinted at such an absurd proposition? I'd give up the mind reading if were you.

I think we've hit the limit here.

-Viscious Lurker.

Nobody has denied that

Nobody has denied that Proudhon wanted to replace working for wages for an employer by factories and workshops being controlled by associations of workers (cooperatives). The Socialist Standard never said he didn't. That has not been the issue. The issue has been his non-communism. You yourself disagree with him on this and described him as a "market socialist". Surely, knowing the SPGB, you didn't think we wouldn't criticise someone who wanted to maintain production for sale, markets and money?

The key issue, as I said, has been what Proudhon meant by "property" and its "abolition". The Socialist Standard argued that he meant that property would be abolished by abolishing property incomes, by reducing the so-called "productivity of capital" (its ability to generate interest) to zero. You argue that he meant rather that he wanted "to achieve production without the mediation of capital" (a rather Marxist way of putting it, if I may say so!) and favoured a non-literal translation of a passage in his writings to show this. But, as his writings and speeches make quite clear, he still wanted capital to play a part in production but in the form of an interest-free loan ("free credit") from a People's Bank. Ok, these loans were not to be made to capitalist enterprises but to workers coops but these coops would still be producing for the market and the loans would be their working capital.

Thanks for the translation of proprietary domain. As you've access to the French original, can you also give the original of "an order wherein the instruments of labour will cease to be appropriated and instead become shared, where the whole earth will be depersonalised". Thanks again.

Nobody has denied that

Nobody has denied that Proudhon wanted to replace working for wages for an employer by factories and workshops being controlled by associations of workers (cooperatives). The Socialist Standard never said he didn't.

Actually, they have -- hence all that nonsense about "Property Income is Theft" and the denial that the means of production would be "social ownership", etc. In fact, the initial review proclaimed he was only against ownership of land. Not sure how you could conclude THAT from reading Property is Theft! but there you go...

That has not been the issue. The issue has been his non-communism. You yourself disagree with him on this and described him as a "market socialist". Surely, knowing the SPGB, you didn't think we wouldn't criticise someone who wanted to maintain production for sale, markets and money?

Except that really has not been the issues raised. Rather we get claims that he was just against property in land, that he was "really" against income property and so on. IF the SPGB HAD just argued that he aimed for socialised means of production but retained individual payment for work done and that was not a desireable form of socialism I would hardly have written my letters. But, no. We get inventions... As I said, I had expected better.

The key issue, as I said, has been what Proudhon meant by "property" and its "abolition". The Socialist Standard argued that he meant that property would be abolished by abolishing property incomes, by reducing the so-called "productivity of capital" (its ability to generate interest) to zero.

Except he obviously did not. Read What is Property?, for example, and he is very clear that property "excommunicates" the proletariat and forces them to sell their liberty to those who DO own the means of life. Hence his call, denied by the SPGB, for accumulated capital and land to be collectively owned, shared, and so forth. The productivity of capital included profits, the appropriation of the surplus produced by workers by their employer. To ignore that is to seriously misunderstand his arguments.

You argue that he meant rather that he wanted "to achieve production without the mediation of capital" (a rather Marxist way of putting it, if I may say so!) and favoured a non-literal translation of a passage in his writings to show this.

Sorry, but what the hell are you talking about? I have presented extensive evidence in the book on his views that the means of production and land should be collectively ownered, "social ownership", and so on. Property is Theft! is full of Proudhon on this issue. His discussions on association and the abolition of property (and wage-labour) are extensive, as shown in Property is Theft!

But, as his writings and speeches make quite clear, he still wanted capital to play a part in production but in the form of an interest-free loan ("free credit") from a People's Bank.

Capital is now no longer a social relationship between those who own capital and those who sell their labour to them? Capital is now just money?

Thanks for the translation of proprietary domain. As you've access to the French original, can you also give the original of "an order wherein the instruments of labour will cease to be appropriated and instead become shared, where the whole earth will be depersonalised". Thanks again.

Ah, right, you think I've twisted the translations because Proudhon argues for something you don't think he did? Really? How sad... I'm surprised you haven't asked for the original French for:

"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."

After all, apparently Proudhon never argued for this so I guess this must be a twisted translation also... not to mention all those other ones in Property is Theft!...

To summarise, IF the SPGB had restricted their review to just criticising Proudhon's advocacy of market socialism then I would hardly have objected. The initial review did not -- in fact it just made stuff up (i.e., proclaiming Proudhon was just against ownership of land). The reply to my letter was almost as bad and still managed to deny he was against social ownership of the means of production... All they had to do was argue that having socialised means of production and individualised ownership of the product of labour was contradictory, that market forces would still operate on co-operatives, etc. But, no. Instead we get Marxist ideology on what Proudhon is meant to think rather than what he actually did advocate...

 

This is becoming a matter for

This is becoming a matter for Proudhonologists!

The key issue would seem to be what Proudhon meant by “property” and its “abolition”. You say he meant abolishing the whole concept of property (which would make him a communist). The Socialist Standard (and others) say he meant that property-income should be suppressed. You yourself concede that this is a controversial issue as , in a footnote (No 5) to the translation of his letter to Pierre Leroux of 14 December 1849 (at anarchism.pageabode.com/pjproudhon/letter-to-pierre-leroux ) you explain how and why you have not given a literal translation:

“The term Proudhon uses, “la productivité du capital,” is literally “the productivity of capital” but such a literal translation unfortunately implies that he simply wishes to end returns to capital. Rather, he wants to achieve production without the mediation of capital and the chosen translation reflects this. (Editor)”

So you translate:

"de faire cesser, par l'organisation démocratique du crédit et la simplication de l'impôt, la productivité du capital"

(rather tendentiously) as:

"to put an end to capital’s role in production by the democratic organisation of credit and a simplification of taxation"

(Incidentally, the reference in the passage in question to “credit” and “taxation” shows that Proudhon can’t have been talking about communism.)

But the next following phrase in the letter also implies a wish to “end returns of capital”:

“Capital having been divested of its power of usury, economic solidarity is gradually created, and with it, an equality of wealth.”

So its unfair of you to accuse the Socialist Standard of distortion just because they (like others) have come to a different conclusion as to what Proudhon meant.

To tell the truth, I am suspicious about other passages in this translation (eg what was the original French for "proprietary domain"?) but can’t find the full French original on the internet. Can you point me to a translation so that I can check? Thanks.

You say he meant abolishing

You say he meant abolishing the whole concept of property (which would make him a communist).

Nope, as Proudhon made clear (as does my introduction) he argued for abolishing property in the means of production. Free access, in other words, to workplaces and the land. The workers who used these would own the product of their labour. In that sense he was not a communist.

So its unfair of you to accuse the Socialist Standard of distortion just because they (like others) have come to a different conclusion as to what Proudhon meant.

And you, like the Socialist Standard, completely ignore Proudhon's position on workers' associations. It is not a case of "a different conclusion" as having a false conclusion based on ignoring key aspects of Proudhon's ideas. Yes, Proudhon thought that "property-income should be suppressed" but he also thought that wage-labour should be abolished by workers' co-operatives. Hence to think he simply advocated the end of property-income is wrong.

In short, this is "a controversial issue" only insofar as you ignore Proudhon's ideas on association and critique of wage-labour. Sadly, this is all too common a misconception of Proudhon's ideas -- and it still seems to hold even after Property is Theft! has been published...

and domaine  proprietaire was translated as "proprietary domain"

  


Like what you are reading?  Get a notification whenever we post a new article to

Anarchist Writers via Facebook or Twitter

where you can also like and comment on our articles