This month’s (somewhat delayed!) release from “Property is Theft!” is 1851's “General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century.”
Kropotkin described this work as being written “[u]nder the recent impression of what he had seen during the Revolution of 1848” and was a “powerful work . . . in which he boldly proclaimed Anarchism and the abolition of the State.” Quite rightly he suggested that “[w]e understand then that at the bottom of Proudhon’s [General Idea of the Revolution] . . .lay a deeply practical idea – that of Anarchy.” [“Modern Science and Anarchism”, “Evolution and Environment” p. 56, p. 75] According to Daniel Guérin, this, along 1849’s “Confessions of a Revolutionary” was one of “the two books by Proudhon preferred by Bakunin.” [“From Proudhon to Bakunin”, “The Radical Papers”, p. 30] I did a review of it for Freedom last year, if you wish a taste of it.
It is easy to see why, as it was Proudhon’s most constructive book yet. As K. Steven Vincent suggests, this was “a work which in Proudhon’s own mind presented the solution to the antinomies which he had so extensively examined in his Systéme des Contradictions Économiques” (“Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and the Rise of French Republican Socialism”, p. 191) Proudhon himself argued that this was “a considerable work” which was “the scientific and positive conclusion which System of [Economic] Contradictions was only the preamble.” (Correspondance, vol. 3, p. 377) While there are glimpses of Proudhon’s positive vision in his works before the 1848 revolution, that work was mostly critique. He explicitly argued this in 1846:
“We will reserve this subject [the organisation of labour] 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.” [“System of Economical Contradiction”, vol. 1, p. 311]
His 1851 work, building on his activities during the 1848 revolution, was precisely that. Which, as an aside shows how accurate Leninist David McNally was, in his (misleading and usually wrong) account of Proudhon’s ideas, to suggest that System “was designed to be a more constructive and expository work.” (“Against the Market”, p. 150) Correcting McNally’s plainly wrong discussion of Proudhon will be reserved to a later blog on “Proudhon and Market Socialism”, although I will address one point related to “General Idea” and Proudhon’s theory of exploitation below. However, back to the topic!
“General Idea” combined a positive programme for social transformation alongside critiques of state, capitalism and state socialism (it should be placed in the context of Proudhon’s polemics with state socialists Louis Blanc and Pierre Leroux). He iterates that anarchism is a critique of both state and property, proudly noting that “I was the first to cast into the world a denial which has since obtained great renown, the denial of Government and of Property.” The notion of anarchism being just “anti-state” would have been pretty foreign to him, nor was it shared by the likes of Bakunin, Kropotkin, Goldman and so on (ad infinitum). Nor, it should be said, many activists – regardless of the claims of both Marxists and propertarians both keen, for their own reasons, to deny anarchism’s socialist credentials. Hence Proudhon’s little rant against bourgeois laissez-faire economists:
“The school of Say, sold out to English and native capitalism, the chief focus of counter-revolution next to the Jesuits, has for ten years past seemed to exist only to protect and applaud the execrable work of the monopolists of money and necessaries, deepening more and more the obscurity of a science naturally difficult and full of complications . . . Thus the disciples of Malthus and Say, who oppose with all their might any intervention of the State in matters commercial or industrial, do not fail to avail themselves at times of this seemingly liberal attitude, and to show themselves more revolutionary than the Revolution. More than one honest searcher has been deceived thereby: they have not seen that this inaction of Power in economic matters was the foundation of government. What need should we have of a political organisation, if Power once permitted us to enjoy economic order?”
And I should note, more than one dishonest ideologue has raised the suggestion that anarchism is purely anti-state and, as such, certain laissez-faire economists (ideologists) claims to be anarchists should be taken at face value. Sadly for such claims, the actual arguments of the likes of Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, and so on, show that anarchism has always been far more than just opposition to the state -- an institution which Proudhon, like all anarchists, recognised was an instrument of class rule:
“Laws! We know what they are, and what they are worth! Spider webs for the rich and powerful, steel chains for the weak and poor, fishing nets in the hands of the Government.”
“Experience, in fact, shows that everywhere and always the Government, however much it may have been for the people at its origin, has placed itself on the side of the richest and most educated class against the more numerous and poorer class; it has little by little become narrow and exclusive; and, instead of maintaining liberty and equality among all, it works persistently to destroy them, by virtue of its natural inclination towards privilege.”
Or (and being somewhat unfair to Rousseau):
“In a word, the social contract, according to Rousseau, is nothing but the offensive and defensive alliance of those who possess, against those who do not possess; and the only part played by the citizen is to pay the police, for which he is assessed in proportion to his fortune, and the risk to which he is exposed from general pauperism.”
As I’ve indicated in a previous blog, Proudhon had explicitly argued in 1846 that the state was “inevitably enchained to capital and directed against the proletariat.” Thus Kropotkin was right to argued that “Proudhon was the first to use the word ‘An-archy’ (No-Government) and to submit to a powerful criticism the fruitless efforts of men to give themselves such a Government as would prevent the rich ones from dominating the poor.” (p. 62) Comments by Proudhon like the ones I’ve just quoted place this justly well known rant in it from the Epilogue into more context:
“You know it, and you permit it. To be governed is to be kept in sight, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right, nor the wisdom, nor the virtue to do so.... To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction, noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorised, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under the pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, trained, ransomed, exploited, monopolised, extorted, squeezed, mystified, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and, to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, outraged, dishonoured. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.”
This book is something of a rarity, being translated into English! As such, when John Beverly Robinson translated it in 1923 it joined “What is Property?” and volume 1 of “System of Economic Contradictions” as works available to English reading anarchists (like those works, it is available in full on-line). It has remained the sole book by Proudhon translated into English in the 20th century (Part 1 and the first chapter of Part 2 of “The Federative Principle” was translated in the 1980s). I’m still surprised that “Confessions of a Revolutionary” has not been translated (given what I have read in the chapters included in “Property is Theft!”) but, then again, we still do not have all of Bakunin’s works available so perhaps I’m being overly optimistic in my hopes!
The “General Idea”, like “Confessions of a Revolutionary”, was produced at spped when Proudhon was a political prisoner. Ostensibly, he was in prison for sedition due to his vigorous campaign against then President Louis-Bonaparte whom he had argued had dictatorial and Imperial ambitions (the 2nd of December 1851 proved him right). The National Assembly stripped him of his immunity (he was an elected representative at the time) in order to imprison him. This was part of the general wave of repression against the Left, of whom Proudhon was the most famous personality.
The title is somewhat misleading as Proudhon is actually discussing a strategy of reform, not revolution in the popular sense of insurrection. Suffice to say, he considered his ideas as a means of avoiding violent revolt and he stressed that his reforms would benefit all and so all classes had an interest in supporting them. This seems somewhat indigenous, given that they aimed to abolish classes and inequalities in wealth and power! Surprisingly, the wealthy did not heed his calls and continued their policies of crushing the working class and the left (including imprisoning Proudhon himself for 3 years on spurious charges – ironically, for being right about the President and his dictatorial aims). Like his opposition to strikes, this reformism seems driven by his fears that any revolt would fail in its goals as well as his firm believe in the superiority of reforming credit as a means to the goal of socialism. Most later anarchists (like Bakunin) rejected Proudhon’s reformism, adding strikes, unions, insurrections and revolution to the ideas of self-management, federalism and such like they inherited from his ideas.
Here I am not going to discuss Proudhon’s ideas on reforming capitalism, beyond correcting some of the misreading by Marx and Engels. Rather, I’m going to discuss his end goal, his vision of socialisation. Before doing that, I’ll make a few comments on the extracts included in the anthology.
First, I have corrected some of the translations. For example, translating the various ways Proudhon described his co-operatives consistently and more in line with Proudhon’s actual words. Robinson had, for example, “workingmen’s associations” for Proudhon’s “compagnies ouvrières” (and related terms) and this has been consistently changed to “workers’ companies” (while associations or co-operatives may be more in-line with what was meant, Proudhon did not use those precise words). I’ve also brought some paragraphs more in line with the original text. For example, Robinson had translated one passage on association as “It is in such a case that association seems to me absolutely necessary and right” while, in fact, this was slightly abridged. It should have read: “It is in such cases, perfectly defined, that association, due to the immorality, tyranny and theft suffered, seems to me absolutely necessary and right.”
I’ve also slightly revised Proudhon’s call to arms for workers’ associations and their role in a free society. It now reads:
“It is for this reason that workers’ associations, which have now almost changed their character as to the principles which guide them, should be judged, not by the more or less successful results which they obtain, but only according to their silent tendency to assert and establish the social republic. Whether the workers know it or not, the importance of their work lies not in the petty interests of their company but in the negation of the capitalist regime, [both] stock-market speculator [agioteur] and governmental, which the first revolution left undisturbed. Later, with the political lie, mercantile chaos and financial feudality overcome, the companies of workers, abandoning luxury goods and toys, will have to take over the great departments of industry, which are their natural prerogative.”
Robinson ended this paragraph with “Whether the workers know it or not, the importance of their work lies, not in their petty union interests, but in their denial of the rule of capitalists, money lenders and governments, which the first revolution left undisturbed. Afterwards, when they have conquered the political lie, the mercantile chaos, the financial feudality, the bodies of workers, abandoning the article of Paris and such toys, should take over the great departments of industry, which are their natural inheritance.” Hopefully this will make Proudhon’s meaning clearer. For example, “l’article de Paris” refers to luxury goods, not some kind of political statement suggested by a translation of “the article of Paris” while “petty union interests” does not refer to trade unions as some may think.
I should note that this support for workers associations comes immediately after his critique of centralised state socialism, i.e., “The Principle of Association”, which have lead some to conclude he was opposed to co-operatives
Of extra note is Proudhon’s call that “[t]here will no longer be nationality, no longer fatherland, in the political sense of the words: they will mean only places of birth. Whatever a man’s race or colour, he is really a native of the universe; he has citizen’s rights everywhere.” This places his personal bigotries into context, with an explicitly anti-racist demand including in Proudhon’s most constructive work. It also fits into a vision of a world of free association and socialisation of the means of life. Given this and similar comments, it really is incredulous to paint Proudhon as a forerunner of the Nazis (as numpties like Hal Draper have done).
Third, I’ve consistently left Proudhon’s references to “Communes” intact. This is because it fits into subsequent anarchist terminology much better (terminology influenced by Proudhon, needless to say!) and Robinson’s “towns” did not really reflect the French use of the word “Commune” (which goes from the smallest hamlet to Paris!). It also shows clearly his position of socialisation and decentralisation (communalisation, in practical terms).
I should mention I thought about changing Robinson’s translations of “chaos” for Proudhon’s “anarchie” but decided to leave it. While there is a joyful irony of the first self-proclaimed anarchist using the term “anarchie” in its negative sense in a work arguing for anarchy in its positive sense, that would necessitate more footnotes and the work is already got more than its fair share.
I will reiterate that Proudhon’s work is two-fold (and this was an issue he repeatedly turned to), namely to attack both the state and capitalism; to urge economic and political reform. Thus we find him on fine form attacking the state in all its forms while suggesting a socialism based on associations to replace capitalism. The two are intertwined, with “the anti-governmental idea, the idea of Labour, the idea of Contract, which is growing, mounting, seizing with its tendrils the workers’ societies, and soon, like the grain of mustard seed of the Gospel, it will form a great tree, with branches which cover the earth.” So mass participation would exist in both the economy and society. The later requires anarchy, the former socialisation.
As regards the former, we get such great quotes from his critique of “The Principle of Authority” as:
“We may conclude without fear that the revolutionary formula cannot be Direct Legislation, nor Direct Government, nor Simplified Government, that it is No Government.
“Neither monarchy, nor aristocracy, nor even democracy itself, in so far as it may imply any government at all, even though acting in the name of the people, and calling itself the people. No authority, no government, not even popular, that is the Revolution.
“Direct legislation, direct government, simplified government, are ancient lies, which they try in vain to rejuvenate. Direct or indirect, simple or complex, governing the people will always be swindling the people. It is always man giving orders to man, the fiction which makes an end to liberty; brute force which cuts questions short, in the place of justice, which alone can answer them; obstinate ambition, which makes a stepping stone of devotion and credulity.”
However, it is regards the latter, socialisation, that we turn here. Proudhon’s anti-statism is well known but his views on workers’ associations and socialisation are not. In What is Property?, Proudhon argued that if “the labourer is proprietor of the value which he creates, it follows” that “all production being necessarily collective, the labourer is entitled to a share of the products and profits commensurate with his labour.” However, “the land is indispensable to our existence,—consequently a common thing, consequently insusceptible of appropriation” and so just “as the traveller does not appropriate the route which he traverses, so the farmer does not appropriate the field which he sows.” This is not applicable just to natural resources for “all accumulated capital being social property, no one can be its exclusive proprietor.”
In 1841’s “Letter to M. Blanqui” (the Second Memoir) Proudhon explicitly denies the suggestion “that the opponents of property refer only to property in land”, stating that “they merely take it as a term of comparison.” He goes on to argue that:
“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, and which, as M. Considérant says, renders its use imprescriptible in the case of every individual. Suppose, indeed, that at a given time the soil should be equally divided; the very next moment this division, if it allowed the right of property, would become illegitimate. Should there be the slightest irregularity in the method of transfer, men, members of society, imprescriptible possessors of the land, might be deprived at one blow of property, possession, and the means of production. In short, property in capital is indivisible, and consequently inalienable, not necessarily when the capital is uncreated, but when it is common or collective.”
Thus use rights replace property-rights, with common ownership being the means by which individuals and groups control both their labour and the means of production used. Rejecting “community” (usually translated as communism), Proudhon argues that he had “shown that this third term is ASSOCIATION, which is the annihilation of property.”
In “General Idea”, Proudhon develops these themes. In terms of land, he argues that “[e]very payment of rent for the use of real estate shall give title to the farmer for a share of the real estate, and shall be a lien upon it” and when it “has been entirely paid for, it shall revert immediately to the commune, which shall take the place of the former proprietor, and shall share the fee-simple and the economic rent with the farmer.” Once “all landed property shall have been completely paid for, all the communes of the Republic shall come to an understanding for equalising among them the quality of tracts of land, as well as accidents of culture” This was because:
“What is called economic rent in agriculture has no other cause than the inequality in the quality of the land: without this inequality there would be no economic rent, since there would be no means of comparison. Therefore if anybody has a claim on account of this inequality, it is not the State, but the other land workers who hold inferior land. That is why in our scheme for liquidation we stipulated that every variety of cultivation should pay a proportional contribution, destined to accomplish a balancing of returns among farm workers, and an assurance of products.”
A similar proposal is made for housing, which “shall pass under the control of the communal administration” with the communes dealing “with bricklayers companies or building workers associations” for “repairs, management, and upkeep of buildings, as well as for new constructions.” He also argued that Communes rather than the state run public works, based on “the initiative of communes and departments as to works that operate within their jurisdiction” and “the initiative of the workers companies as to carrying the works out.” This applies to “all that we are in the habit of considering in the domain of the State.” For “there is no further pretext for political centralisation; it is absorbed in industrial solidarity, a solidarity which is based upon general reason, and of which we may say . . . that its centre is everywhere, its circumference nowhere.”
Thus we have a system where the land and housing are owned communally, with public works organised by the communes and run by workers associations. That is not all, for workers associations were required as well for “it becomes necessary for the workers to form themselves into democratic societies, with equal conditions for all members, on pain of a relapse into feudalism.” This would ensure that “Capitalist and landlord exploitation [is] stopped everywhere, wage labour abolished.” This follows on from Proudhon’s October 1848 election manifesto:
“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 woven into the common cloth of the democratic and social Republic.”
In 1863, he termed this the “agricultural-industrial federation” in “The Federative Principle.” For “industries are sisters; they are parts of the same body; one cannot suffer without the others suffering because of it. I wish that they federate then, not to absorb one another and merge, but to mutually guarantee the conditions of prosperity that are common to them all and that none can claim the monopoly of.” Without this, there would be “economic serfdom or wage-labour, in a word, the inequality of conditions and fortunes.” The agricultural-industrial federation “tends to approximate more and more equality” as well as “guaranteeing work and education” and “allow[ing] each worker to evolve from a mere labourer to a skilled worker or even an artist, and from a wage-earner to their own master.” Significantly, he states “[t]he public, that for fifteen years it has been following my works, knows what I mean” (i.e., from 1848).
This, it should be stressed, was making true his 1846 statement that “to unfold the system of economical contradictions is to lay the foundations of universal association.” (“System of Economical Contradictions”, vol. 1, p. 132) As noted, Proudhon saw his work after the 1848 Revolution as being essentially a positive programme built upon his critiques of “What is Property” and “System of Economical Contradictions”. As he put in the later work:
“We will reserve this subject [the organisation of labour] 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.” (p. 311)
The 1848 revolution was the catalyst for this positive programme and Proudhon, basing himself on what was happening around him, flung himself into it. Thus the discussion of socialisation was laying “the foundations of universal association” and the suggestion of workers’ companies a means to achieve “the organisation of labour.” As he put it in 1846 when attacking bourgeois economists:
“The remedy for competition, in your opinion, is to make competition universal. But, in order that competition may be universal, it is necessary to procure for all the means of competing; it is necessary to destroy or modify the predominance of capital over labour, to change the relations between employer and workman, to solve, in a word, the antinomy of division and that of machinery; it is necessary to ORGANISE LABOUR: can you give this solution?” (p. 196)
This is sketched in “General Idea.” In these “workers’ companies” (or co-operatives), as would be expected, “every individual” (and with an interesting exception to Proudhon’s usual sexism, “whether man, woman”) has “an undivided share in the property of the company” with “the right to fill any position, of any grade, in the company” as “all positions are elective, and the by-laws subject to the approval of the members.” This was because of the “collective force” which such workplaces produce:
“By participation in losses and gains, by the graded scale of pay, and the successive promotion to all grades and positions, the collective force, which is a product of the community, ceases to be a source of profit to a small number of managers and speculators: it becomes the property of all the workers.”
This, incidentally, refutes part of Leninist David McNally’s wonderfully self-contradictory and incredulously bad critique of Proudhon. Referring to another part of “General Idea” he asserts that this exposes “a classic example of the ‘adding on’ theory of exploitation according to which illegitimate charges are added to the real value of some things . . . Exploitation becomes thereby a consequence of market disequilibria -- the upward and downward deviations of price from value.” [Against the Market, p. 142] Thus Proudhon’s well-known theory of “collective force” is ignored, as are his comments on the “surplus” left by labour and how it is monopolised by the property-owner. As can be seen from the above quote, Proudhon was well aware that exploitation happened in production.
Proudhon, in 1846 (as he had in 1840) that workers produced more value than they received in wages, with the boss keeping the difference. This was Proudhon recognised something which would become a mainstay of Marxist economics, namely that labour itself had no value but rather its product did and that it was this difference which allowed exploitation to happen:
“Labour is said to have value, not as merchandise itself, but in view of the values supposed to be contained in it potentially. The value of labour is a figurative expression, an anticipation of effect from cause . . . it becomes a reality through its product. When, therefore, we say: This man’s labour is worth five francs per day, it is as if we should say: The daily product of this man’s labour is worth five francs.” (“System of Economical Contradictions”, vol. 1, pp. 81-2)
Ironically, Marx mocked Proudhon’s arguments (adding, without indication, a couple sentences from a different chapter as well as changing a quite important word!). However, that does not stop the awkward fact that Proudhon “anticipated an idea that Marx was to develop as one of the key elements in the concept of labour power, viz. that as a commodity, labour produces nothing and it exists independently of and prior to the exercise of its potential to produce value as active labour.” (Allen Oakley, ‘Marx’s Critique of Political Economy: intellectual sources and evolution, Vol.1, 1844 to 1860’ (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984), p. 118) It is the use of labour-power in the production process which, argues Proudhon, which allows exploitation to happen as the capitalist has control over the worker and keeps the product of their labour, so benefiting from both the “collective force” and “the surplus of labour” produced by the wage-worker.
This fact that exploitation happens in production feeds directly into Proudhon’s arguments for workers’ associations and socialisation. As “all labour must leave a surplus, all wages be equal to product” and “[b]y virtue of the principle of collective force, labourers are the equals and associates of their leaders.” [“System of Economical Contradictions”, vol. 1, p. 340 and p. 411] I have to note that these quotes, so important to understanding Proudhon’s ideas, are buried in chapter VII (on taxation/state) and chapter VIII (on God!), respectively. It is not a well organised book! In another chapter, he suggests:
“In order that association may be real, he who participates in it must do so, not as a gambler, but as an active factor [mais d’entrepreneur]; he must have a deliberative voice in the council; his name must be expressed or implied in the title of the society; everything regarding him, in short, should be regulated in accordance with equality. But these conditions are precisely those of the organisation of labour, which is not taken into consideration by the code” (pp. 251-2)
This references the discussion on monopoly (pp. 247-9) and how, “by a sort of instinct of self-preservation, has perverted even the idea of association, as something that might infringe upon it, or, to speak more accurately, has not permitted its birth.” This discussion is on the current types of association, all of which are based on “capital, whose presence alone constitutes them and gives them a basis; their object is monopoly, – that is, the exclusion of all other labourers and capitalists, and consequently the negation of social universality so far as persons are concerned.” He argues that if a “a commercial society which should lay down as a principle the right of any stranger to become a member upon his simple request, and to straightway enjoy the rights and prerogatives of associates and even managers” then “the courts would officially pronounce its dissolution, its non-existence.” Yet, “humanity has been thrown naked and without capital upon the earth which it cultivates” and “it is evident that all the tendencies of humanity, both in its politics and in its civil laws, are towards universalisation, – that is, towards a complete transformation of the idea of society as determined by our statutes.” Therefore:
“Whence I conclude that articles of association which should regulate, no longer the contribution of the associates, – since each associate, according to the economic theory, is supposed to possess absolutely nothing upon his entrance into [the commercial] society, – but the conditions of labour and exchange, and which should allow access to all who might present themselves, – I conclude, I say, that such articles of association would contain nothing that was not rational and scientific, since they would be the very expression of progress, the organic formula of labour, and since they would reveal, so to speak, humanity to itself by giving it the rudiment of its constitution.”
(I must note the current extracts from “System of Economic Contradictions” do not include these quotes but I’m hoping to include these, plus a few others, in the finished book – the webpage will be updated when this is done).
Thus the association of the future would be based on free access (“should allow access to all who might present themselves”) and self-management (“to straightway enjoy the rights and prerogatives of associates and even managers”). This flows from his analysis of both exploitation occurring in production as well as a keen awareness of the exploitative and oppressive nature of the capitalist workplace – “the workshop with its hierarchical organisation” means that workers had “parted with their liberty” and “have sold their arms” to a boss who appropriates their product and “collective force.” (p. 204, pp. 301-2)
Need I point out that these comments from 1846 map exactly to his practical suggestions in 1851 for “Organisation of Economic Forces” on co-operatives. Thus (and sorry for the re-quoting) “every individual employed in the association . . . has an undivided share in the property of the company” as well as “the right to fill any position” for “all positions are elective, and the by-laws subject to the approval of the members.” Wages would be equal to product as “each member shall participate in the gains and in the losses of the company, in proportion to his services” and “the collective force, which is a product of the community, ceases to be a source of profit to a small number of managers and speculators: it becomes the property of all the workers.” Thus there would be a new form of economic organisation based on “the co-operation of all who take part in the collective work.”
I should also note that this call for industrial democracy, for the abolition of wage-labour, dates back to 1840 and when he first called himself an anarchist: “leaders . . . must be chosen from the labourers by the labourers themselves, and must fulfil the conditions of eligibility.” In that work he also, as noted, called for collective ownership of workplaces and land. Anti-capitalism, in short, has been a core part of anarchism from the start.
Significantly, in a letter to state socialist Pierre Leroux written in December 1849, Proudhon responses angrily to the suggestion he was in favour of individual ownership of the means of life:
“You have me saying, and I really do not know where you could have found this, that ownership of the instruments of labour must forever stay vested in the individual and remain unorganised. These words are set in italics, as if you had lifted them from somewhere in my books. And then, on the back of this alleged quotation, you set about answering me that society, or the State that stands for it, has the right to buy back all property assets, that it has a duty to pursue such buy-backs and that it will do so.
“But it does not follow at all from my speaking on the basis of socialism in order to reject the buy back of such assets as nonsensical, illegitimate and poisonous 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 make no distinction, as you do, between real ownership and phony ownership: from the lofty heights of righteousness and human destiny, 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; where the whole earth will be depersonalised; where, all functions having become interdependent [solidaires], the unity and personhood of society will be articulated alongside the personality of the individual.”
Needless to say, this is not the position usually assigned to Proudhon. As becomes clear when you read Proudhon and compare that to what people say Proudhon thinks, the difference is quite extreme.
Proudhon’s vision of economic free association rests on socialisation. As economist David Ellerman (who has a blog) explains more recently, “[e]very enterprise should be legally reconstructured as a partnership of all who work in the enterprise. Every enterprise should be a democratic worker-owned firm.” The democratic workplace “is a social community, a community of work rather than a community residence. It is a republic, or res publica of the workplace. The ultimate governance rights are assigned as personal rights . . . to the people who work in the firm . . . This analysis shows how a firm can be socialised and yet remain ‘private’ in the sense of not being government-owned.” This means the end of the labour market as there would be free access to workplaces and so workers would not be wage-labourers employed by bosses. Instead, there would be a people seeking associations to join and associations seeking new associates to work with. “There would be a job market in the sense of people looking for firms they could join,” Ellerman continues, “but it would not be a labour market in the sense of the selling of labour in the employment contract.” [The Democratic Worker-Owned Firm, p. 43, p. 76 and p. 91]
Ellerman argues that many “still look at the world in bipolar terms: capitalism or (state) socialism.” Yet there “are two broad traditions of socialism: state socialism and self-management socialism. State socialism is based on government ownership of major industry, while self-management socialism envisions firms being worker self-managed and not owned or managed by the government.” State socialism is not a real solution for “[i]nstead of abolishing the employment relation,” it “nationalised it . . . Only the democratic firm – where the workers are jointly self-employed – is a genuine alternatives to private or public employment.” [“The Democratic Worker-Owned Firm”, p. 147 and p. 209] This echoes Proudhon:
“Either competition, – that is, monopoly and what follows; or exploitation by the State, – that is, dearness of labour and continuous impoverishment; or else, in short, a solution based upon equality, – in other words, the organisation of labour, which involves the negation of political economy and the end of property.” (“System of Economical Contradictions”, vol. 1, p. 203)
This opposition to state socialism is also expressed in “General Idea” – with Jacobin socialist Louis Blanc being the main focus for attack. I should also note that this vision of free association, free access and self-management is expressed in the book Proudhon was working on in his death bed, “The Political Capacity of the Working Classes.” The relevant chapter is translated for “Property is Theft!” and here are a few extracts. As in 1846, Proudhon attacks the existing notions of association as exclusive in nature:
“The general characteristics of these societies, recorded by the Code, show their narrowness of spirit and the limits of their impact. They are composed by a determinate number of people, to the exclusion of all others; these persons naturally are designated by their names, professions, residences, qualities; everyone furnishes a contribution to the capital of the enterprise; the society is formed for a special goal and an exclusive interest, and for a limited duration. Nothing in all of this responds to the great hopes that the workers’ Democracy had placed in the idea of the association”
Somewhat ironically, he attacks the communist associations on the same grounds:
“On this first and quick glance, the same holds as much for the communist associations, which anyway remain only in the state of projects, as it does for general partnerships [les sociétés en nom collectif], mixed liability company [en commandite], anonymous, such as have been conceived within mercantile anarchy and are pursued, with the sanction of the legislator and the protection of the Government, by the new feudalism. The result: that the former as much as the latter have been founded on private interests and with an eye towards selfish goals; that nothing in them indicates a single thought of reform, any superior view of civilisation, nor the least concern for the progress and destiny of humanity; on the contrary, acting, like individuals, in an anarchic fashion, they can always only be considered like little churches organised against the largest one, in the centre and at the expense of which they live.”
It should be stressed that the communists that Proudhon was attacking where those who aimed to create highly regulated communities based on contributing a sum of money to join and whose product was distributed, in part, in relationship to the sum invested. Proudhon’s critique is precisely that these communities are not based on socialisation, but rather nationalisation. Access would still be restricted and workers would still not get the full-product of their labour as it would be taken by the “Community” and distributed according to property invested.
In short, from a libertarian communist perspective these “communist” associations were nothing of the kind and Proudhon’s critique cannot be taken as a critique of communist-anarchism. That, however, is another story…
The mutualist association of the 1860s shares the same characteristics of free access as did those of the 1840s:
“Note first of all that in virtue of the principle which characterises it, the ranks of the Association are open to whomever, having recognised the spirit and the goal, asks to join; exclusion is contrary to it, and the more it grows in number the more advantages it gains. From the point of view of personnel, the mutualist association is therefore by nature unlimited, which is the opposite of all other associations. . . .
“The mutualist association . . . admits, insofar as it is mutualist, everyone in the world, and tends towards universality; – it is formed not directly with the aim of profit, but of security; – one is required to contribute neither money nor other valuables, or even one’s industry; the only condition demanded is to be faithful to the mutualist pact; – once formed, its nature is to generalise itself and to have no end.”
Thus we have a decentralised market socialist system based on federations workers’ associations to which all individual’s have free access to (i.e., they become associates when they join a workplace, not wage-slaves to an employer or the state). In short, a system rooted in the socialisation of the means of life – something Proudhon had been consistently arguing from 1840. The associations will have substantial autonomy, making contracts and selling the product of their labour, but within a federal system and socialised property. The key difference between this and communist-anarchism would be the selling of the products of labour – the vision of a federation of free access, self-managed workers associations using socialised property is the same.Also is the motive driving it, namely to increase freedom in society by getting rid of hierarchical relationships in the workplace. In Herbert Read’s words (as quoted in AFAQ’s discussion of what socialisation means):
“The essential principle of anarchism is that mankind has reached a stage of development at which it is possible to abolish the old relationship of master-man (capitalist-proletarian) and substitute a relationship of egalitarian co-operation. This principle is based, not only on ethical ground, but also on economic grounds.” [Anarchy and Order, p. 92]
All this (socialisation, workers’ self-management, socio-economic federation, etc.) may be a far cry from the accepted stereotype of Proudhon as a defender of petit-bourgeois (“small-scale”) property but that was always more caricature than reality anyway. Such elements do exist in his work (but that is because they reflected the socio-economic circumstances of the time) but they have always been stressed by his enemies at the expense of his arguments for workers’ associations and socio-economic federalism. As Daniel Guérin summarised:
“Proudhon extolled limited personal property in so far as he saw in it a measure of personal independence. What Marx failed to grasp was that for major industry, in other words for the capitalist sector, Proudhon came down fair and square on the side of collective ownership . . . For large-scale modern industry he is resolutely collectivist. What he calls the ‘workers’ companies’ would play, in his eyes, a considerable role, that of managing the major employers of labour, such as the railways and the large manufacturing, extractive, metallurgic, and maritime industries.” [“Marxism and Anarchism”, ‘For Anarchism,’ David Goodway (ed.), p. 117]
In short, Proudhon rejected centralised, top-down, Association in favour of a federation of artisans, peasants and associations – which reflected the economy of the France of his time! History, I would suggest, shows the wisdom of not trying to force the collectivisation of artisans and peasants as well as the necessity for workplace autonomy in economic decision making.
It is necessary to mention that Proudhon’s views were at the heart of the debates in the First International (as discussed in the introduction to the anthology). As his support for socialisation and self-management are not well known, these debates have been turned (particularly by Marxists) into one of “Marxism” against “mutualism.” For example, P.W. Postgate introduces some extracts from the debates and revolutions of the IWMA by stating there were “two main currents of opinion”, namely Marxism and Mutualism. The former, much to Bakunin’s surprise I am sure, “was called Collectivism or Communism” while the latter “was based on small proprietorship.” (‘Revolution from 1789 to 1906’ (Harper Torchbooks, 1962), P.W. Postgate (ed.), p. 392) Thus followers of Proudhon like Bakunin and de Paepe are lumped into Marxism and Proudhon’s actual ideas ignored!
Strangely, this conclusion is reached in spite of de Paepe being quoted as stating he agreed with one of his opponents on the need of “working class Companies” to run railways, canals, public services, etc., “in submission to the general principles of mutualism” and “that the only difference” was that he “wishes to extend it to the land.” (pp. 392-3) The resolution of 1868 is exquisitely mutualist that workplaces “will be conceded by society not to capitalists as to-day, but to workers’ Companies.” (p. 293) Hardly a “victory” for Marxism, given that the resolutions reflect exactly Proudhon’s on the matter of workers’ companies and public ownership!
Finally, one of the joys (or at least less grim ironies) of reading Marx and Engels on Proudhon and Bakunin is how they so dismissive of ideas which they subsequently praise to the hilt when the Paris Commune does it. Thus we discover Proudhon’s suggestion that the functions of the rural police be devolved to municipal councils being dismissed by Engels as “Colossal nonsense.” (Collected Works, vol. 11, p. 563) Sadly, he forgot to tell Marx who praised the Commune in 1871 for having “stripped” the police of its “political attributes, and turned into the responsible, and at all times revocable, agent of the Commune.” This was to be applied in “even the smallest country hamlet” as the Commune’s “political form” was to be applied everywhere. (vol. 22, p. 331, p. 332) Funny how “Colossal nonsense” becomes praiseworthy when working class people do it…. Still, this is part of a wider pattern (including the general strike).
This also applies to later-day Marxists who wish to proclaim Leninism as “socialism from below” while Marx, Engels and Lenin were dismissive of Bakunin’s arguments for social revolution from below. That, though, is (yet again) another story…
Engels went on to argue that Proudhon “has treated Parisian small-scale industry as the normal state of affairs, instead of seeing in the development of large-scale industry, machinery and division of labour . . . a need for association which requires for its satisfaction a quite different type of amalgamation and centralisation of forces than the Parisian toy associations and the Proudhonist workers’ companies.” (vol. 11, p. 556)
Perhaps this was because in France in 1851 such “small-scale industry” was “the normal state of affairs”? Proudhon was, of course, writing a manifesto to influence the course of the 1848 revolution. As such, it would be expected to reflect the reality of the society of the time – to do anything else would be utterly utopian. According to Proudhon in “General Idea”, of a population of 36 million, 24 million were peasants and 6 million were artisans. The remaining 6 million included wage-workers for whom “workers associations” would be essential both as “a protest against wage-labour and for “the management of large instruments of labour.” Where wage-labour existed, association was required:
“In such cases, it is one of two things; either the worker, necessarily a piece-worker, will be simply the employee of the proprietor-capitalist-entrepreneur; or he will participate in the chances of loss or gain of the establishment, he will have a voice in the council, in a word, he will become an associate.
“In the first case the worker is subordinated, exploited: his permanent condition is one of obedience and poverty. In the second case he resumes his dignity as a man and citizen, he may aspire to comfort, he forms a part of the producing organisation, of which he was before but the slave; as, in the town, he forms a part of the sovereign power, of which he was before but the subject.
“Thus we need not hesitate, for we have no choice. In cases in which production requires great division of labour, and a considerable collective force, it is necessary to form an ASSOCIATION among the workers in this industry; because without that, they would remain related as subordinates and superiors, and there would ensue two industrial castes of masters and wage-workers, which is repugnant to a free and democratic society.”
So rather than seeking to turn back the clock, Proudhon was simply reflecting and incorporating the aspirations of all workers in his society – an extremely sensible position to take. In the words of German anarchist Gustav Landauer:
“Karl Marx and his successors thought they could make no worse accusation against the greatest of all socialists, Proudhon, than to call him a petit-bourgeois and petit-peasant socialist, which was neither incorrect nor insulting, since Proudhon showed splendidly to the people of his nation and his time, predominantly small farmers and craftsmen, how they could achieve socialism without waiting for the tidy progress of big capitalism.” (“For Socialism”, p. 61)
Equally, it would be churlish but essential to note that Proudhon did address (repeatedly!) the need to run “large-scale industry” in his arguments for “workers’ companies” – indeed, he explicitly argues that such co-operatives would have to move beyond “luxury goods and toys” and “take over the great departments of industry, which are their natural prerogative.” And, I must add, this makes a mockery of Engels’ comment that Proudhon was “[a] wretched fellow, who knows only fancy goods and petty Parisian handicraft industry without division of labour or machinery!” (p. 565) Anyone reading “General Idea” would know that to be simply an invention by the German. Sadly, far too many Marxists take his comments at face value.
Engels also discusses Proudhon’s notion of “collective force” and singularly fails to understand what he means by it, taking his examples to explain the basic concept as the be-all-and-end-all of his ideas on the matter. Thus Engels opines that “the primitive, crude form of collective force which Proudhon has in mind (mass labour in the construction of obelisks, pyramids, etc.,) has long been almost entirely replaced by the use of machines and horses, division of labour, etc.” (p. 553) If you read what Proudhon wrote, it becomes clear that he was simply not limiting his idea to his illustrative examples. Indeed, he explicitly points to those “industries, which require the combined employment of a large number of workers, a vast array of machines and hands, and, to make use of a technical expression, a great division of labour, and in consequence a high concentration of power” when concluding that “collective force or of an extreme division of labour” is “a necessary condition for association” and “all workers must associate, inasmuch as collective force and division of labour exist everywhere, to however slight a degree.”
Interestingly, for the Marxist theory of the state, Engels also states that Proudhon “confuses the French Bureaucratic government with the normal state of a bourgeoisie that rules both itself and the proletariat.” (p. 548) This feeds into Marx’s comments in “The Civil War in France” and the necessity of smashing “the ready-made state machinery” which he stressed cannot be utilised by the working class. As I discuss in AFAQ, recognising the difference between the state and “state machinery” is crucial to understand and reconcile all the contradictory statements by both Marx and Engels – most obviously, the many comments on peaceful revolution via universal suffrage made by both of them before and after the Paris Commune.
For example, as is well known (or should be) Marx stated that in America, England and, perhaps, Holland “the workers may achieve their aims by peaceful means.” Engels later looked into Holland and concluded that “a residue of local and provincial self-government” and “an absence of any real bureaucracy in the French or Prussian sense” meant that “only a few changes will have to be made to establish that free self-government by the working [people] which will necessarily be our best tool in the organisation of the mode of production.” This was because, alone in Western Europe, it did not have an “absolute monarchy” between the 16th and 18th century. (vol. 47, pp. 397-8) Which fits in perfectly with his comments against Proudhon and is extremely difficult to reconcile with the notion that after the Paris Commune Marx and Engels understood the necessity to smash the state!
All the above quotes (bar the letter on Holland, obviously) are from a review of “General Idea” which Engels never finished. Probably just as well, given its blatant distortions of Proudhon’s ideas and what it could have, potentially, said about the state.
This aborted review was made in response to an exchange of letters between Marx and Engels provoked by the appearance of “General Idea.” Discussing the obvious support for socialisation of land expressed in the work, Engels states that Proudhon “has at last come to realise the need for more or less covert confiscation is . . . a step forward.” (vol. 38, p. 420) Which is a strange way of expressing Proudhon’s re-statement of a long-held belief that the land should be held in common. It is almost like he has forgotten Proudhon’s previous arguments. On the issue of turning rent into part-payment of property, he opposes Proudhon “because it takes far too long” (p. 421) Most communist-anarchists would concur.
For Marx, “the whole [book] is first and foremost a polemic against communism” (p. 423) While it is true that Proudhon, during his critique of “The Principle of Association” and Louis Blanc’s ideas, attacks the idea of “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs” that is not the overall aim of the book. The book attacks centralised state power as well as state socialist notions of centralised Association, but most of it is about making positive suggestions for social reform. What is significant is that Marx takes Proudhon’s criticisms of Blanc’s state socialist ideas as attacks on “communism” – does that mean his vision of communism was closer to Blanc’s than many have suggested? How does that square with attempts to distance Marx from the vision of a highly centralised state-run economy by libertarian Marxists? Interestingly, Bakunin suggested that Marx was “a direct disciple of Louis Blanc” (although Marx “never admitted” that). [“Statism and Anarchy”, p. 143] Comments from the “Communist Manifesto” on the need for “centralising all the means of production into the hands of the state” point in that direction (Guérin suggests that work was “directly inspired” by Blanc’s ideas [p. 123]).
Also significantly, Marx suggests that Proudhon “he is so afraid of these industrial ‘guilds’ that he reserves the right” for society “to dissolve them.” (p. 424) Presumably, Marx considers this an expression of Proudhon’s “petit-bourgeois” hostility to large-scale industry rather than the, more likely, awareness on Proudhon’s part that even socialist associations can develop interests separate from society and so could abuse any economic power or advantage they possess. Marx’s comments suggest a blindness to the abuses that could result from large-scale organisation in society, something which became a reality in the bureaucracy in state-socialist regimes across the world.
Marx also asserts that Proudhon’s reforms were “a means of building a ‘healthy’ bourgeois society.” (p. 423) Yet how “bourgeois” is a society with socialised property? Not to mention “Capitalist and landlord exploitation stopped everywhere, wage labour abolished”? Not very, as he repeatedly acknowledged elsewhere. Strangely, he states that Proudhon “entirely fails to elucidate either the commune’s share in the house and land” (p. 424) when, in fact, he clearly argued that both would revert into the hands of the commune once the current owners had been paid (what part of “it shall revert immediately to the commune” is hard to understand?).
Marx was on firmer ground when suggests that Proudhon does not show “how the workers come into possession of the factories” (p. 424). Yet even here Proudhon makes the suggestion that rather than “fatten certain contractors,” the state should create “a new kind of property” by “granting the privilege of running [public utilities], under fixed conditions, to responsible companies, not of capitalists, but of workmen.” (p. 151) In terms of other industries, Proudhon is somewhat vague – perhaps he assumed his work on mutual banks well enough known? He does address this issue of transition later in the 1850s. Essentially, he argues that people (and mutual banks) should invest in co-operatives and once their loan is repaid, the firm becomes a proper socialised workplace. This was suggested in 1846 by this comment:
“All invested capital must return to the producer in the form of interest; all labour must leave a surplus, all wages be equal to product. Under the protection of these laws society continually realises, by the greatest variety of production, the highest possible degree of welfare.” (System, vol.1, p. 340)
As David Ellerman notes, when workers own the full product of their labour then they are responsible for paying for the inputs used up in the production process. That is, they pay other workers for the products of their labour from the process of selling the new goods produced. The same, apparently, for loans – for the mutual bank would ensure that interest would be so low as to ensure that any loan would not be a source of enrichment (i.e., exploitation). Thus socialised credit would ensure socialised production and workers would receive the full product of their labour and those investing in a firm would get their loan back, and no more. This will be discussed later when the appropriate material is posted on-line.
However, to return to the letters. Engels also proclaims that he was “convinced” that Proudhon had read ‘The Communist Manifesto’ and Marx’s ‘The Class Struggles in France’ as “our premises on the decisive historical initiative of material production, class struggle, etc., largely adopted”: “A number of points were indubitably lifted from them – e.g., that a gouvernement is nothing but the power of one class to repress the other, and will disappear with the disappearance of the contradictions between classes.” (vol. 38, 434-5) Which is, of course, a dubious assertion has Proudhon had argued all these points in the 1840s, specifically in “System of Economic Contradictions.” Perhaps Engels took Marx’s account of what he thought Proudhon thought with Proudhon’s actual positions? He would not be the first, or last, Marxist to do so…
Much later, after the Commune, Engels returned to Proudhon and “General Idea” in his articles “On the Housing Question.” He suggests that Proudhon viewed the industrial revolution as “something which really ought not to have taken place” and that this hostility to industry was “sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly expressed.” (vol. 23, p. 324, p. 325) Sadly he failed to present any evidence for this claim – a feature of Marxist commentary on Proudhon which continues to this day. However, as K. Steven Vincent (as quoted in the introduction to the anthology) states:
“On this issue, it is necessary to emphasise that, contrary to the general image given in the secondary literature, Proudhon was not hostile to large industry. Clearly, he objected to many aspects of what these large enterprises had introduced into society . . . But he was not opposed in principle to large-scale production. What he desired was to humanise such production, to socialise it so that the worker would not be the mere appendage to a machine. Such a humanisation of large industries would result, according to Proudhon, from the introduction of strong workers’ associations. These associations would enable the workers to determine jointly by election how the enterprise was to be directed and operated on a day-to-day basis.” (“Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and the Rise of French Republican Socialism”, p. 156)
Engels goes on to state that to abolish interest and the “mass of surplus value extracted from the working class by the capitalist class would remain the same; only its distribution would be altered.” (p. 333) Yet Proudhon was keen to stress in “General Idea” (indeed, re-iterate time and time again) that “the organisation of credit, the deprivation of the power of increase of money” was just one part of a series of reforms which included “the limitation of property” and “the establishment of workers companies.” So Proudhon did not aim just to abolish interest, he aimed to abolish the extraction of surplus from the workers in all its forms. To suggest otherwise is to distort his ideas.
According to Engels, for the Proudhonists “the individual worker becomes the owner of the dwelling, the peasant farm, the instruments of labour.” He argues that Proudhon thought that the worker would “become first part owner and then full owner of his dwelling” (vol. 23, p. 386, p. 323) and paints a picture of wage-workers moving from town to town becoming fractional owners of various properties as a result. The notion of a worker having, as a result of moving jobs and houses, 1/320th share in a house in Glasgow, a 1/120th of one in London, a 1/65th of one in Liverpool is, of course, ridiculous and Engels mocks Proudhon accordingly. Shame, then, Proudhon made neither suggestion. To quote, as Engels does not do, the “General Idea”:
“all payments made as rental shall be carried over to the account of the purchase of the property . . . such payment shall purchase for the tenant a proportional undivided share in the house he lives in, and in all buildings erected for rental . . .The property thus paid for shall pass under the control of the communal administration, which shall take a first mortgage upon it, in the name of all the tenants, and shall guarantee them all a domicile, in perpetuity . . . for new constructions, the communes shall deal with bricklayers companies or building workers associations.”
So rather than “individual” ownership, the houses are “under the control of the communal administration” while the rent is used not to give individual workers a fractional ownership in many houses but, far more sensibly, to ensure communal ownership by contributing to the communal purchase of the property. The worker, like “all the tenants”, whose rent has been used by various communes to buy the housing from the landlord has a right “in all buildings” so purchased. The commune would build new housing, via contracts with the appropriate co-operatives.
In short, a socialised housing market would be the end result of Proudhon’s schemes. Thus Engels presents Proudhon’s system as the direct opposite of what he actually advocated. As should become obvious by now, you simply cannot take as accurate anything Marx and Engels claim about the Frenchman’s ideas – or, for that matter, any Marxist (some, though, are better than others).
As I noted in the introduction’s discussion of the Paris Commune to the Proudhon Anthology, Engels argued that the “economic measures” of the Commune were driven not by “principles” but by “simple, practical needs.” This meant that “the confiscation of shut-down factories and workshops and handing them over to workers’ associations” were “not at all in accordance with the spirit of Proudhonism but certainly in accordance with the spirit of German scientific socialism” (p. 370) Given that the “Communist Manifesto” failed to mention co-operatives (stressing nationalisation as it does) while Proudhon’s “General Idea” placed them at the centre of its programme for social reform, his assertion is incredulous – particularly given the influence of mutualists in the Commune and that the number of Marxists equalled one. However, dubious comments seem the norm when Marx and Engels discuss Proudhon’s ideas!
One last thing. Engels states that, under Marxism, the working people as a whole “remain the collective owner of the houses, factories and instruments of labour, and will hardly permit their use, at least during a transitional period, by individuals or associations without compensation for the cost.” Thus Marxism “does not at all preclude the retention of rent relations.” (p. 386) Yet if there are rent relations, then there must be money. If there is money then workers must still be paid wages (otherwise how could they pay rent on their houses). Presumably, this applies to workplaces as well, with whoever is running the factories (perhaps co-operatives?) deducting from their funds sufficient amount to cover the rent.
So individual workers and specific associations would have incomes and pay part of it in rent to the “collective owner” of the means of life. This is hardly the free access desired by Proudhon (and libertarian communism) and suggests some sort of state-capitalist arrangement in which the state is the owner of the means of life and which appropriates some of the surplus-labour of the workforce. At best, it would be co-operatives who are hiring the workplaces but the fact remains that Engels is sketching a state-capitalist transition period – which makes Marx’s 1846 attacks on Proudhon for advocating labour-notes somewhat ironic.
As can be seen, Proudhon (like later anarchists like Bakunin and Kropotkin) advocated socialisation – free access to the means of life. Contrary to the perceived wisdom, he explicitly and repeatedly argued for collective and common ownership of workplaces, housing, land, and so on. As he put it in 1848: “under universal association, ownership of the land and of the instruments of labour is social ownership.” The aim of free access was to ensure that working people where not exploited and oppressed by owners. Such socialisation would eliminate wage-labour and increase freedom in society by ensuring that people became associates rather than master and servants in production – and freedom in production was a driving force for Proudhon who argued that mutualism would ensure that workers “will attain to wealth and – what is a thousand times more precious than wealth – liberty.” (“System of Economical Contradictions”, vol. 1, p. 149).
Moreover, as use rights replace property rights this socialisation would achieve the liberty of the producers as they would control both their workplaces and the product of their labour. Thus the independence and autonomy associated with property would be guaranteed and workers would not became enslaved to the state or some other centralised “collective owner” (as suggested by Proudhon’s term “Community”).
The main difference between Proudhon’s mutualism and communist-anarchism is that the later extends socialisation to the products of labour. The reasons for this change were discussed by Kropotkin in “The Conquest of Bread” and his arguments for (libertarian) communism are still the best, in my opinion. Suffice to say, the pros and cons of mutualism and communism is a discussion best conducted at a later stage.
Next up, a discussion of the confusions and distortions which afflict most Marxists when they try and discuss market socialism. I will cover the knots David McNally gets into when he tries to discuss Proudhon’s ideas. This will be imaginatively entitled “Proudhon and market socialism”! I have not decided which Proudhon text will accompany this yet.