Corrections to "Property is Theft!" (and 2nd edition speculation)

As with any book, particularly one which is as long as Property is Theft!, some errors were not spotted before publication. Since getting my copy, I’ve discovered a few minor mistakes and have listed them on the book’s website, plus corrections as both html and pdf. I include them here as well, before discussing my thoughts on additions to any second edition. As will become obvious, the errors are few and far between and not that significant.

Corrections to Property is Theft!


Original text

New text


Reid writes as follows:

[Thomas] Reid writes as follows:





Buchanan—a commentator on Smith

[David] Buchanan—a commentator on Smith


propriet or



“[in proportion

“[i]n proportion


to pronounce the dissolution of society

to pronounce the dissolution of the company


than monopoly in the definition of society:

than monopoly in the definition of the company:


This is what Kant, as well as Reid

This is what Kant, as well as [Thomas] Reid


imperative mandate [mandate impertif]

imperative mandate [mandat impertif]


generated by ownship

generated by ownership


has them constantly harking back the past?

has them constantly harking back to the past?


Martin Walker (Chapters VI and XVIII)

Martin Walker (Chapters VI, XIV and XVIII)


newspaper sellers,

newspaper sellers,


They admit that it is not a question of the seizure and division of property, or even of its repurchase.

They admit that it is not a question of the seizure and division of property, or even of its buy back.


An across-the-board buyback

An across-the-board buy back


The French word translated here as “buy back” and “buyback,” rachat, can also

The French word translated here as “buy back,” rachat, can also


The State is the external constitution of the social power

The State is the EXTERNAL constitution of the social power


14th December 1849


La Voix du Peuple

13th December 1849


Letter to Pierre Leroux

To Pierre Leroux


and abolition of the man’s government

and abolition of man’s government


the Product of Capital

the Profit of Capital


Jacobins, Girondists,

ists, Terrorists, Indulgents,

Jacobins, Girondists, Mountainists, Terrorists, Indulgents


working for an owner who pays them

working for an entrepreneur who pays them


Worship — Nothing.

Worship — Nothing.


convert them into corporations but

convert them into private stock companies but


The only mistake which could cause problems is the one on page 718, where “corporations” is used rather than “private stock companies.” This is not wrong as such, as Proudhon was referring to corporations in the current sense of the word, that is private stock companies (or capitalist corporation), but elsewhere corporation is used in the sense of either a medieval guild or the future worker-managed workplace. So this is inconsistent and could lead some people to suggest, via selective quoting, that in 1863 Proudhon was against workers’ co-operatives. That is not the case.

I should point out that the change “Letter to Pierre Leroux” to “To Pierre Leroux” reflects that the letter is not only in Proudhon’s correspondence (Correspondance, vol. 14, pages 287-296) but was also published in Voix du Peuple (13th December 1849). I should have indicated that it was an open letter, published publically, but at the time I had not realised that.

Obviously, I may have missed some and if you have seen any I’ve missed please let me know!

Finding these mistakes made me think about a second edition of the book. First, obviously, to fix these minor issues but also in terms of what could go in if AK Press decide to reprint it and agree to expand it. This is, I must stress, complete speculation on my part and I have not raised this with AK Press – I assume, rightly, that they would like to see how the first edition sells! I’m well aware that few share my interest in Proudhon and that is hard to get people to read him thanks to the hatchet-jobs inflicted upon him by Marx, Schapiro and Draper. Not to mention that most of the accepted wisdom on his ideas is, sad to say, simply wrong (thanks, in no small part, to the likes of Marx).

That said, I cannot help thinking about a second edition. First off, the following would be added to the book’s glossary:

Commandite: A form of commercial association, the commandite is a joint-stock company in which there are silent partners who simply contribute capital without acquiring a share in the management or incurring responsibility for the results thereof.

Commandité: Member of a limited partnership company, with shares and who is fully responsible for its debts.

Imperative mandate: The imperative, or binding, mandate [mandat imperatif] is when electors give specific instructions to their delegates/deputies to enact. If they pass policies in opposition to this mandate they can be recalled and replaced. It aims at popular control of delegates and was implemented in the Paris Commune of 1871.

Parcellaire: Divided, fragmented, compartmentalised. Used in association with labour, it refers to work which is subject to extensive division of labour. For example, Adam Smith’s example in The Wealth of Nations of a worker who makes one nineteenth of a pin).

This would involve changing/removing some of the book’s footnotes.

Second, I would also include, as an appendix, Joseph Déjacque’s 1857 letter taking Proudhon (quite rightly) to task for his sexism. Why? Simply because it is an extremely important letter on quite a few levels – it attacks Proudhon’s sexism and patriarchical stupidities, it takes his critique of property and draws anarchist-communist conclusions from it and it coins the term libertarian as an alternative for anarchism (i.e., anti-state socialism). All good stuff!

Third, I would include more extracts from Proudhon (obviously!). For example, at least the chapter (Part III: Chapter III) from The Political Capacity of the Working Classes in which Proudhon argues (as he did in 1848) against delegating power into an executive body (a government) and for the assembled delegates creating committees from their midst. Here is an extract:

“In a democracy organised according to the true ideas of the popular sovereignty, that is, according to the principles of contractual right, every oppressive and corrupting action of the central Power on the Nation is rendered impossible. The mere supposition of such a thing is absurd. And why?

“It is because, in a truly free Democracy, the central Power is not separated from the assembly of deputies, the natural organs of local interests called together in agreement;

“It is because every deputy is the man of the locality which choose him for its representative, its emissary, one of its citizens, its agent [mandataire] changed to defend its particular interests, except when he has to bring them as much as possible into union with the general interests before the country [le grand jury];

“It is because the combined deputies, if they choose from their midst a central executive committee of management, do not separate it from themselves or make it their commander who can carry on a conflict with them.

“It is because the combined deputies, by choosing in their amidst a central executive commission, do not make it distinct from themselves, higher than them, being able to conflict with them, as would be the case with a royal or an elected President of the people.” (De La Capacité Politique Des Classes Ouvrières (Editions du Trident, 1989), pp. 283-4)

This feeds into the vision expounded by the Communards in 1871 and would be good to expressly show (again!) the theoretical influences of Proudhon on them. More from volume 2 of System of Economic Contradictions would not go amiss, perhaps the complete Conclusion and more from the chapter on Property. Other pieces from Proudhon’s polemic with Blanc and Leroux in the winter of 1849, more of his journalism during the 1848 revolution and so on. His correspondence would be worthwhile investigating in more depth, particularly when workers association was at the forefront of his mind in the 1840s. More concretely, I would add these extracts from volume 1 of System of Economic Contradictions.

Chapter II


Now that we have determined, not without difficulty, the meaning of the question asked by the Academy of Moral Sciences touching the oscillations of profit and wages, it is time to begin the essential part of our work. Wherever labour has not been socialised, – that is, wherever value is not synthetically determined, – there is irregularity and dishonesty in exchange; a war of stratagems and ambuscades; an impediment to production, circulation, and consumption; unproductive labour; insecurity; spoliation; insolidarity [insolidarité]; want; luxury: but at the same time an effort of the genius of society to obtain justice, and a constant tendency toward association and order. Political economy is simply the history of this grand struggle. On the one hand, indeed, political economy, in so far as it sanctions and pretends to perpetuate the anomalies of value and the prerogatives of selfishness, is truly the theory of misfortune and the organisation of misery; but in so far as it explains the means invented by civilisation to abolish poverty, although these means always have been used exclusively in the interest of monopoly, political economy is the preamble of the organisation of wealth.

It is important, then, that we should resume the study of economic facts and practices, discover their meaning, and formulate their philosophy. Until this is done, no knowledge of social progress can be acquired, no reform attempted. The error of socialism has consisted hitherto in perpetuating religious reverie by launching forward into a fantastic future instead of seizing the reality which is crushing it; as the wrong of the economists has been in regarding every accomplished fact as an injunction against any proposal of reform.

For my own part, such is not my conception of economic science, the true social science. Instead of offering a priori arguments as solutions of the formidable problems of the organisation of labour and the distribution of wealth, I shall interrogate political economy as the depositary of the secret thoughts of humanity; I shall cause it to disclose the facts in the order of their occurrence, and shall relate their testimony without intermingling it with my own. It will be at once a triumphant and a lamentable history, in which the actors will be ideas, the episodes theories, and the dates formulas.

The last paragraph indicates well Proudhon’s approach, rejecting the utopian visions in favour of critically analysing both reality, developments within it and the political economy which allegedly exists to describe it. Thus, as the work indicates, he takes an evolutionary approach and takes tendencies within capitalism as the basis for his socialism. This approach fits in with his call for a “scientific socialism” in 1840’s What is Property? and, of course, is what Marx later claimed to be doing in contrast to the utopian socialists…

A potential problem with Proudhon’s approach is, by saying he would “interrogate political economy” he could be simply taking the assumptions of bourgeois economics for granted. This, when you strip his comments of the distortions, inventions and bile, was Marx’s basic point. I don’t think Proudhon did that, although his willingness to accept the need for (a modified form of) competition (in part because we are passing through capitalism and “progress” is never mistaken) could be used (as Marx did) to suggest otherwise. Proudhon, though, was very clear on the need to transcend current forms of competition as well as eliminating bourgeois social relationships within production. Hence his many comments on “organising labour”/”organisation of labour” and the “negation of political economy.”

Suffice to say, Marx’s centralised money-less planning accepts the logic of the bourgeois economy in terms of big business laying the foundation for socialism. Unlike Proudhon’s vision, it would simply not work – but that will not stop Marxists pointing to the few scattered remarks of Marx and Engels as if they were viable. And talking of which (and utopianism!), I should note here Marx’s comments on his vision of socialism in The Poverty of Philosophy, namely two sentences on how “we understand beforehand the number of hours necessary to employ in material production... an understanding based on the relation of the sum of the productive forces to the sum of existing wants.” (pp. 83-4) That is it. The activities and “existing needs” (what about future needs?) of millions are, apparently, easily gathered, processed and co-ordinated…

I sketch this issue in the introduction of Property is Theft!, when discussing Proudhon’s critique of State Socialism as well as Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy. Suffice to say, I think history confirms Proudhon’s arguments here. Particularly when Marx’s critique of the flaws in workers exchanging products seems to be an example of the fallacy of composition. This arises when one infers that something is true of the whole from the fact that it is true of some part of the whole. In short, it is not a valid inference to go from two workers to a whole society of workers. This is both in terms of the critique of Bray/Proudhon (and did Proudhon actually advocate labour-notes? Marx provides no evidence he did…) and the notion of workers coming to “an understanding” in (centralised) communism. Sure, two workers could come to such an understanding, but millions of them?

Nor is this some abstract point as these kinds of scattered utopian remarks by Marx did have an impact on the development of socialism and Bolshevik practice once they seized power. As discussed in section H.6.2 of An Anarchist FAQ, the ignored the factory committees vision of a federation of workers’ associations (shades of Proudhon’s “agricultural-industrial federation” there!) in favour of a centralised system based on state-capitalist structures inherited from Tsarism. It soon became clear that producing “an understanding” was nowhere as easy as Marx assumed, spawning bureaucrats as well as ignorance of “the productive forces” and “existing wants” in equal measure… A utopian scheme in the worse sense and one which has had seriously negative real-world consequences (this was a theme of my recent speech in my recent debate with the Trotskyist AWL, for example).

This does not mean that planning is impossible. Of course not. All economies plan and a libertarian communist one will – at appropriate levels. Large-scale capitalist firms manage to plan, as Marxists note to justify their arguments. However, they fail to mention because they manage to do so because the firm’s bosses reduce decision-making criteria to one – will it make a profit. The bosses also do not take into account all relevant information as internal workplace hierarchies block information (section I.1.1 of An Anarchist FAQ) as does the market mechanism itself (section I.1.2 of An Anarchist FAQ). The Stalinist regimes could also plan (however badly) because, in part, they did not abolish money but mostly because they did not need to bother too much about meeting actual needs. Planning in a dictatorship is easier because no one can really complain when you produce shoddy goods!

Marxists, like Marx, extrapolated from capitalist planning to social planning and so for failed to understand that socialism is based on tendencies within but against capitalism which could transcend it rather than tendencies within it which could intensify it (i.e., go from private to state capitalism). I discuss this in section H.3.12 of An Anarchist FAQ and won’t do so now other than note that if Proudhon can be faulted for retaining the market within socialism, Marx can be faulted for taking big business as evidence that planning can and should be centralised even more. Both, in their own way, were limited with the horizons of the (capitalist) society they lived in.

This is not, I should say, an argument against communism (I am a communist-anarchist, after all) but rather one against centralised money-less planning (I would not class this as “communism” as it is premised, by necessity, on centralising power into a few hands). As I discuss in section I.1.2 of An Anarchist FAQ, communism needs to be decentralised to even be remotely feasible. As such libertarian communism will be far closer to Proudhon’s mutualism than Marx’s social planning – particularly as Proudhon stresses workers’ self-management far more than Marx (The Communist Manifesto, for example, makes no mention of it while Proudhon’s 1848 manifesto places it at the heart of its vision).

It should be mentioned, and it is usually ignored, that Marx’s 1847 forthright rejection of Bray’s scheme of transitional market-socialism was, in turn, forthrightly rejected soon after in The Communist Manifesto. Then it was a case of taxation of non-labour incomes, slow-and-steady nationalisation of property, “labour armies” and a host of other state-capitalist transitional schemes (these “labour armies” must have been a comfort to Trotsky when he penned Terrorism and Communism in 1920). A few decades later comes Critique of the Gotha Programme when a Bray-style labour-note scheme is advocated as a transitional measure during the “lower” stage of communism (what Lenin later termed socialism as opposed to communism and the end of money).

Perhaps unsurprisingly given this when Trotskyist intellectual Hillel Ticktin produced an essay on socialist society a few years back he postulated multiple (I think five!) transitional periods – one of which was included, undoubtedly, in order to allow him to proclaim the Bolshevik state a transitional socialist regime rather than the state-capitalist party-dictatorship it was. I plan to discuss this when I get round to doing Proudhon and market-socialism, because this vocal opponent of market-socialism happily sees markets being used under socialism in the (lengthy) transition to communism… oh, hum!

Then there is another issue, namely Marx mocking Proudhon for invoking “progress” to show how capitalism laid the foundations for socialism. Surely this was what Marx did, except instead of “progress” he invoked the notion that developing the “productive forces” means socialism was inevitable. By a strange coincidence, “historical materialism” produces the same conclusions as Proudhon’s “progress”…

Similarly, with Marx’s mocking that Proudhon wished to the need to keep the good side while abolishing the bad side of certain things. Surely Marx did likewise? After all, Proudhon wished to keep machinery while (via co-operatives) seeking to abolish its tendency to enrich the few at the expense of the many. In Justice in the Revolution and in the Church Proudhon explicitly argued that mutualism ensuring the “land to those who cultivate it”, “Capital to those who use it” and the “product to the producer” would be possible because labour is “reconciled by its free nature with capital and property, from which wage-labour banished it, [and so] cannot cause a distinction of classes.” This “makes society, as well as [economic] science, safe from any contradiction.” (Oeuvres Complètes, vol. 22, p. 264) Marx, likewise, wished to keep machinery (and the increased production they allowed) while abolishing the enrichment of the few. Same with the division of labour and so on. Proudhon was well aware that under certain social relationships machinery (and so on) had certain effects which, under others, need not apply. He was not, as Marx suggested, arguing we could keep bourgeois social relationships and end the negative aspects of machinery, etc.

Suffice to say, more could be said on this and, undoubtedly, I will get round to it sometime…

Chapter III


One question, among others, seems to have been prepared for a final judgment, – pauperism. Pauperism, of all the phenomena of the civilised world, is today the best known: we know pretty nearly whence it comes, when and how it arrives, and what it costs; its proportion at various stages of civilisation has been calculated, and we have convinced ourselves that all the specifics with which it hitherto has been fought have been impotent. Pauperism has been divided into genera, species, and varieties: it is a complete natural history, one of the most important branches of anthropology. Well I the unquestionable result of all the facts collected, unseen, shunned, covered by the economists with their silence, is that pauperism is constitutional and chronic in society as long as the antagonism between labour and capital continues, and that this antagonism can end only by the absolute negation of political economy. What issue from this labyrinth have the economists discovered?

This last point deserves a moment’s attention.

In primitive communism misery [. . .] is the universal condition.

Labour is war declared upon this misery.

Labour organises itself, first by division, next by machinery, then by competition, etc.

Now, the question is whether it is not in the essence of this organisation, as given us by political economy, at the same time that it puts an end to the misery of some, to aggravate that of others in a fatal and unavoidable manner. These are the terms in which the question of pauperism must be stated, and for this reason we have undertaken to solve it.

What means, then, this eternal babble of the economists about the improvidence of workers, their idleness, their want of dignity, their ignorance, their debauchery, their early marriages, etc.? All these vices and excesses are only the cloak of pauperism; but the cause, the original cause which inexorably holds four-fifths of the human race in disgrace, – what is it? Did not Nature make all men equally gross, averse to labour, wanton, and wild? Did not patrician and proletarian spring from the same clay? Then how happens it that, after so many centuries, and in spite of so many miracles of industry, science, and art, comfort and culture have not become the inheritance of all? How happens it that in Paris and London, centres of social wealth, poverty is as hideous as in the days of Caesar and Agricola? Why, by the side of this refined aristocracy, has the mass remained so uncultivated? It is laid to the vices of the people: but the vices of the upper class appear to be no less; perhaps they are even greater. The original stain affected all alike: how happens it, once more, that the baptism of civilisation has not been equally efficacious for all? Does this not show that progress itself is a privilege, and that the man who has neither wagon nor horse is forced to flounder about for ever in the mud? What do I say? The totally destitute man has no desire to improve: he has fallen so low that ambition even is extinguished in his heart.


This extract shows Proudhon’s perspective on inequality, recognising it is a product of social relationships and institutions rather than individuals. I also have to admit to liking Proudhon’s comment that “pauperism is constitutional and chronic in society as long as the antagonism between labour and capital continues, and that this antagonism can end only by the absolute negation of political economy.” Written in such a matter-of-fact way, but the implications of it are quite staggering.


For the rest, if the economists, by exclusive attention to their old routine, have finally lost all knowledge of the present state of things, it cannot be said that the socialists have better solved the antinomy which division of labour raised. Quite the contrary, they have stopped with negation; for is it not perpetual negation to oppose, for instance, the uniformity of parcellaire labour with a so-called variety in which each one can change his occupation ten, fifteen, twenty times a day at will?

As if to change ten, fifteen, twenty times a day from one kind of divided labour to another was to make labour synthetic; as if, consequently, twenty fractions of the day’s work of a manual worker could be equal to the day’s work of an artist! Even if such industrial vaulting was practicable, – and it may be asserted in advance that it would disappear in the presence of the necessity of making labourers responsible and therefore functions personal, – it would not change at all the physical, moral, and intellectual condition of the worker; the dissipation would only be a surer guarantee of his incapacity and, consequently, his dependence. This is admitted, moreover, by the organisers, communists, and others. So far are they from pretending to solve the antinomy of division that all of them admit, as an essential condition of organisation, the hierarchy of labour, – that is, the classification of labourers into parcellaires and generalisers or organisers, – and in all utopias the distinction of capacities, the basis or everlasting excuse for inequality of goods, is admitted as a pivot. Those reformers whose schemes have nothing to recommend them but logic, and who, after having complained of the simplism, monotony, uniformity, and extreme division of labour, then propose a plurality as a SYNTHESIS, – such inventors, I say, are judged already, and ought to be sent back to school.


This is important as it addresses, however incompletely, Proudhon’s vision of the workplace of the future and the division of work within it. It also makes a mockery of Marx’s assertion in The Poverty of Philosophy that “M. Proudhon... proposes to the workman that he should not only make the twelfth part of a pin, but the whole twelve parts in succession... Such is the synthetic labour of M. Proudhon. No one can deny that to make one movement forward and another backward, is equally to make a synthetic movement.” (p. 157) Clearly that extract would be footnoted to show the contrast between what Marx claimed Proudhon argued and what Proudhon actual wrote… Particularly as Proudhon explicitly states he is not going to discuss his ideas on how to overcome the problems associated with division!

This extract is also of note because of how it shows how certain Parecon notions have a long history (fittingly, back to the utopians!) and how, for Proudhon, self-management is so important. Hence his comment on “the hierarchy of labour”, namely “the classification of labourers into parcellaires and generalisers or organisers.” For Proudhon such a classification (and as I will show, the utopians were very much into rule by “talent” with their perfect communities) strikes at the heart of equality and unsurprisingly he proclaimed in 1840 that leaders “must be chosen from the workers by the workers themselves, and must fulfil the conditions of eligibility.” (Property is Theft!, p. 119) Replacing the boss with a “generaliser” was hardly an improvement in Proudhon’s eyes – and rightly so…

Chapter IV – Part I


These preliminaries were indispensable in order to clearly appreciate the role of machinery and to make plain the series of economic evolutions. And just here I will remind the reader that we are not constructing a history in accordance with the order of events, but in accordance with the succession of ideas. The economic phases or categories are now contemporary, now inverted, in their manifestation; hence the extreme difficulty always felt by the economists in systematising their ideas; hence the chaos of their works, even those most to be commended in every other respect, such as Adam Smith’s, Ricardo’s, and J. B. Say’s. But economic theories none the less have their logical succession and their series in the mind: it is this order which we flatter ourselves that we have discovered, and which will make this work at once a philosophy and a history.

This should go in simply because it summarises Proudhon’s rationale and structure for the book. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is not at the start… Still, it indicates that Proudhon recognises that the issues he discusses manifest themselves in ways different from the way he discusses them.

Chapter VI – Part II


[…] We cannot now enter upon a more fundamental criticism of the civil and commercial societies […] We will reserve this subject for the time when, the theory of economic contradictions being finished, we shall have found in their general equation the programme of association, which we shall then publish in contrast with the practice and conceptions of our predecessors.

A word only as to silent partnership[commandite].

One might think at first blush that this form of joint-stock company, by its expansive power and by the facility for change which it offers, could be generalised in such a way as to take in an entire nation in all its commercial and industrial relations. But the most superficial examination of the constitution of this company demonstrates very quickly that the sort of enlargement of which it is susceptible, in the matter of the number of stockholders, has nothing in common with the extension of the social bond.

In the first place, like all other commercial societies, it is necessarily limited to a single branch of exploitation: in this respect it is exclusive of all industries foreign to that peculiarly its own. If it were otherwise, it would have changed its nature; it would be a new form of company, whose statutes would regulate, no longer the profits especially, but the distribution of labour and the conditions of exchange; it would be exactly such an association as […] the jurisprudence of monopoly excludes.

This last addition is significant, as it relates to Proudhon’s ideas on association, on how self-management (and free access) would replace wage-labour. This is part of the discussion on how monopoly affects association and the comments on silent partnership (commandite) arise again in one of the corrections I would make:

“Socialism, in spite of its high-sounding name, has so far been no more fortunate than monopoly in the definition of society: we may even assert that, in all its plans of organisation, it has steadily shown itself in this respect a plagiarist of political economy.”


“Socialism, in spite of its high-sounding name, has so far been no more fortunate than monopoly in the definition of the company: we may even assert that, in all its plans of organisation, it has steadily shown itself in this respect a plagiarist of political economy.”

The French word “société” can be translated as “society” as well as “company” and that is what Tucker did here and elsewhere. In the context of this discussion on association, I feel that it would be better as company (i.e., productive association). I made changes along these lines in the book, but missed this one. Particularly given the actual views of the utopian socialists on the perfect communities and because this analysis was made in 1841:

“The economists, questioned in their turn, propose to associate capital and labour. You know, sir, what that means. If we follow out the doctrine, we soon find that it ends in an absorption of property, not by the community [communauté], but by a general and indissoluble commandite, so that the condition of the proprietor would differ from that of the worker only in receiving larger wages. This system, with some peculiar additions and embellishments, is the idea of the phalanstery.” (Property is Theft!, p. 151)

It is important to place these comments in their political context, specifically the ideas of the utopian socialists. If you look at the community urged by, say, Fourier you discover that they are actually not that socialist (The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier (Beacon Press, Boston, 1971) Jonathan Beecher and Richard Bienvenu (eds.), pp. 249-250):

“The internal administration of the Phalanx will be directed at the outset by a regency or council to be composed of those shareholders who have been made the greatest contribution in terms of capital and industrial or scientific knowledge . . . dividends must be shared according to each individual’s contribution in term of labour, capital and talent . . . the regency issues 1728 exchangeable shares. These shares are backed by the property of the Phalanx… The regency issues shares, or portions thereof, to each member in accordance with his contribution to the Phalanx. It is possible to be a member without being a shareholder; it is also possible to be an outside shareholder without being an active member…

“The annual profits are divided into three unequal portions and distributed in the following manner:

“5/12 to manual labour,

“4/12 to capital,

“3/12 to theoretical and practical knowledge”

This is as Proudhon indicated basically a joint-stock company in which management rests in those who have invested most capital, supplemented by “talent” (i.e., experts). The notion of socialism as workers’ self-management, while core for Proudhon, was not of any consequence for Fourier. It also suggests quite strongly that “société” in this discussion on economic association is better translated as “company.”

Needless to say, the actual views of the Utopian Socialists are not well known (I did not know this aspect of their ideas until relatively recently). It also means that Proudhon’s critique of the Utopian Socialists is harder to understand if this information is unknown. Rather than a blanket dismissal of “socialism”, Proudhon’s position is actually defending basic socialist positions (free access and self-management) against state-capitalist style schemes.

Significantly, Proudhon returns to this in his discussion of association in Political Capacity, reiterating in his final work the themes he raised in the 1840s that communist associations are exclusive and just like capitalist firms. The ironic thing is, with his vision of free access, self-management and elimination of returns and influence of capital, his ideas on workplace organisation are pretty much what most (libertarian) communists today subscribe to.

Interestingly, Proudhon puts into the mouth of an economist (so indicating what he SHOULD say, rather than what he does) that economic science should investigate “how social value continually eliminates fictitious values, – in other words, how industry effects the socialisation of capital and property” (System of Economical Contradictions, p. 128) This fits into his comments six years previously that “the means of labour shall be shared by all equally, and that each individual shall be free”, that “not one is proprietor of the means of production… the right to means is common  and because “all accumulated capital being social property, no one can be its exclusive proprietor.” (Property is Theft!, 97, 112, 118)

In short, Proudhon was one of the first modern socialists. The means of production should be held in common (socially owned) to ensure free access and workers’ self-management in order that labour owned what it produced. To downplay or deny that means ignoring a significant aspect of Proudhon’s analysis, indeed it distorts it as it is “Property is Theft” NOT “Property Income is Theft”!

Suffice to say, Proudhon’s work is a classic example of the blind men and an elephant. In this story, a group of blind men touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but only one part, such as the side or the tusk. They then compare notes and learn that they are in complete disagreement. I feel this is what critics of Proudhon do – they concentrate on one aspect and completely final to integrate it into his wider positions. Shame, then, that some of them seem keen to dismiss those of us who do have a wider understanding of Proudhon.

To conclude this speculation on a second edition, there may be other extracts and articles which should be included in any second edition. That such key works as Confessions of a Revolutionary, The Political Capacity of the Working Classes, volume 2 of System of Economic Contradictions have not been translated makes it hard to both identify extracts and get a clearer idea of Proudhon’s ideas. However, I hope that Property is Theft! helps fill a huge hole in our understanding of both Proudhon’s ideas (and these are much misunderstood when not misrepresented!) and the evolution of socialist ideas in the 19th century. That it is incomplete simply shows how much Proudhon wrote, how involved he was with the political/social/economics ideas and struggles of his time – ironically, given how he is often presented as being “anti-political”…

Finally, I have also had (a big thanks to Paul Sharkey!) Proudhon’s marginal notes to Marx’s The Poverty of Philosophy translated and will be posting these on-line in due course. There are not that many (and some of the notes on Proudhon’s copy are by someone else). However, they are pretty interesting as Proudhon recognises, unlike Marxists today, that Marx is often just repeating his arguments. Here are a few quotes:

 “Is Marx bent on claiming all of this as his own and at odds with something contrary that I am supposed to have said?”

“What! Come on now! The preceding pages are copies of my own.”

“Plagiarism of my first chapter.”

 “All of which is precisely what I am saying.”

“So there you have it. I have the misfortune still to think as you do [. . . ] The real meaning of Marx’s work is that he regrets that throughout I thought as he thought and that I uttered it before he did.”

“Lie it is precisely what I say”

And so on. I am temped to do through Marx’s book and fully compare his claims to what Proudhon actually argued, but that would be a large task – which I don’t have time to do just now. As the distortions are pretty much on every page, it would be a task which would tax anyone’s time and patience. Not, of course, that any Marxist would bother to read System of Economic Contradictions – nor, sadly, would many revolutionary anarchists who take their perspective on Proudhon from Marx and Marxists – unlike Kropotkin who commented that “Proudhon is undoubtedly one of the greatest writers who have ever dealt with economical questions . . . he is one of the most suggestive . . . amongst those writers who lead men to think for themselves.” (Act for Yourselves, p. 97)

As has become clear when I bring up Proudhon in class struggle libertarian forums, some communist-anarchists seem happy to believe the Marxist stereotypes about Proudhon – perhaps because they want to be taken seriously by Marxists? Who knows? Anyway, I’m toying with doing a review of The Poverty of Philosophy (to complement my one on System of Economic Contradictions) but I doubt I will do so any time soon.

I have to note that while Marx made a big thing on how System of Economic Contradictions was a worse book than What is Property?, the awkward fact is that the former is an extension of the ideas argued in the latter. In terms of the critique of “communism” and “socialism”, that was started in 1840 and was not some new development in 1846. Ironically, while in 1880 Marx proclaimed that the “drastic tone of this polemic” was Proudhon’s fault “as he heaped coarse insults on the utopian socialists and communists whom Marx honoured as the forebears of modern socialism” (Collected Works, vol. 24, p. 326) in 1846 he asserted that the “only point upon which I am in complete agreement with M. Proudhon is the disgust he feels for socialist sentimentalising. I anticipated him in provoking considerable hostility by the ridicule I directed at ovine, sentimental, utopian socialism.” (vol. 38, p. 104) As I indicate in Property is Theft!, that was hardly the “only” thing he agreed with Proudhon on…

Suffice to say, I still aim to do a blog on Proudhon and Market Socialism but I really cannot say when that will be done.


When will I get my copy? Ian

When will I get my copy?

Ian Harvey
Ottawa, ON

It should have been sent to

It should have been sent to you months ago by AK Press! It sent them your details after you sent them to me.

I will check with AK-US and make sure you get it. Sorry about that!


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