Proudhon Reader Introduction

I've added quite a few sections, including most of the introductory material and the glossary of terms, people and events. Hopefully the introduction will give some idea of why Proudhon is important as both a thinker in his own right and as founder/father of anarchism. In addition, I've posted two chapters of Proudhon's own works, namely What is Property? and his somewhat atypical Stock Exchange Speculator’s Manual.

These two books are more related than first seems. Yes, the Stock Exchange Speculator’s Manual was written to make Proudhon some money when times were hard in the 1850s. It was mostly full of tables charting stock prices (which seems somewhat ironic, given his constant attacks on spectulation) and was, initially, published anonymously. However, it contains the first use by Proudhon of the term "industrial democracy" to describe his vision of a free and just economy. This was part of an extensive discussion of how capitalism must be replaced by a system of self-managed workers associations which, I am sure, came as a surprise to anyone buying the book to make some money on the stock market!

The reason why this book has something in common with the classic What is Property? is that the 1840 Memoir on Property included a call for workplace democracy. As I note in the introduction, anarchist support for workers' self-management is as old as anarchism itself. And as the introduction shows, the critique of capitalism and the state were one and the one for Proudhon -- both forms of social hierarchy were to be opposed for the same reason. This is a point Proudhon continually returned to.

Obviously both Stock Exchange Speculator’s Manual and What is Property? are extracts of much bigger works. The later is available on-line in full. It really is a classic, one I found really useful when writing the sections on property and exploitation in An Anarchist FAQ. While some of it has dated (particularly in the apologists quoted and some of the language used), its arguments and analysis are still fresh and important. It is one of Proudhon's best books and laid the groundwork for other socialists to build upon. The former has not been translated before, although one key quote appeared in Martin Buber's Paths in Utopia. I am sure there is more in that book which could be usefully translated.

All this talk of workers self-management and associations may come as a surprise to some. As the introduction makes clear, many account's of Proudhon's ideas simply ignore his consistent and very public support for workers associations to end wage-labour (the glossary discusses "le Salariat" which seems to be his preferred term for that oppressive and exploitative social relationship). Needless to say, Marxists are at the forefront of that -- portraying him as an almost exclusive advocate of small-scale (essentially individual) production. That Proudhon explicitly denying he advocated such a solution to the exploitation and oppression of wage-labour has not stopped Marxists from Marx onwards asserting it (an issue I'll address when the extracts of System of Economic Contradictions are placed online).

However, as I said, I cover this (and much more!) in the introduction. I expect that many revolutionary anarchists will be surprised (like I was) to discover that many of the ideas we associate with Bakunin (such as a federalism based on mandated and recallable delegates) were first raised by Proudhon.

Similarly, the section on the Paris Commune may come as a surprise to those, reading Marx, who think that 1871 was the first time that a council based on mandated and recallable delegates who fused executive and legislative powers was formulated. I would be surprised if Marx had not read Proudhon's arguments for these -- particularly as they date from the 1848 revolution and were repeated afterwards. Only someone who had never read Proudhon could think that it was a case, to quote Marx, of “the political form at last discovered under which to work out the economical emancipation of labour”!

The discussion of exploitation should also be of interest to those, like your typical Marxist, who thinks Proudhon thought it occurred due to "unequal exchange." Once you read What is Property? it becomes pretty clear that the Marxist theory of surplus value was first expounded by Proudhon. Suffice to say, I provide the quotes to back this up. The appendix on Proudhon and Marx (which will be uploaded later this year) discusses the other aspects of Proudhon's analysis Marx appropriated.

Hopefully these few examples will show why Proudhon is important and why this anthology is such an important book. It will fill in a big hole in our understanding of the evolution of anarchism and where many key libertarian ideas come from (and quite a few Marxist ones as well!). Needless to say, I'm not suggesting we dump what came afterward Proudhon -- rather it is a case of giving credit were credit is due. Others, such as Bakunin and Marx, developed Proudhon's ideas in many fruitful ways and we must recognise that while acknowledging who built the foundations.

Finally, I will be updating the contents page regularly. I'm toying with the idea of uploading Proudhon's articles from 1848 on the same days they were written. However, I think first I will upload the Marx related material.

  


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