Saturday, September 19, 2009

James Guillaume on Federation

In the second issue of Solidarité, dated April 1871, James Guillaume contributed this piece on the federative principle, in the context of the Paris Commune. Note the use of Proudhon's concept of "collective force." I'm working on translating a series of texts on nationality and the federative principle, to go with forthcoming issues of LeftLiberty.


The true character of the revolution that was accomplished at Paris commence has been outlined in so marked a fashion that you, even the minds most unfamiliar with political theories, can now perceive it clearly.

The revolution of Paris is federalist.

The Parisian people want to have the liberty to organize themselves as they intend, without the rest of France having to mix in Parisian affairs; and at the same time, they renounce on their side all interference in the affairs of the departments, by urging them each to organize as their please, in the fullness of communal autonomy.

The different organizations which would be in this way freely constituted could then freely federate in order to mutually guarantee their rights and their independence.

It is important not to confuse federalism as it is understood by the Paris Commune with the so-called federalism which exists in Switzerland and in the United States of America.

Switzerland is simply a federative State, and that word alone already expresses all the differences between these two systems. Switzerland is a State, that is, it is a national unity; and, as a result, despite the federative appearance, sovereignty there is attributed to the nation in its ensemble. The cantons, instead of being considered as distinct individualities and absolute sovereigns, are supposed to be only fractions of a whole which is called the Swiss nation. A canton does not have the free disposition of itself: it can indeed, to a certain degree, manage its own affairs; but it does not possess true autonomy, its legislative faculties are limited by the federal constitution; and that federal constitution is not a contract, in the true sense of the word; it has not been accepted individually by each of the parties: it has been imposed on the cantons by the vote of a majority. A canton does not have the right to terminate the federal contract; it is forbidden from leaving the federation; it is even forbidden, as we see at this moment in the affairs of the Tessin, to divide in order to form new cantons. The least political or socialist movement, a strike for example, can bring federal troops into the canton.

Thus, federation, in Switzerland, is only in the words. It is not federation which is the true name of the Swiss system, it is decentralization. Switzerland realizes closely the system that had been established in France by the constitution of 1791, and that the Assembly of Versailles, “inspired by the great principles of 1789,” proposes to restore in order to seem to give in to federalist aspirations.

Federalism, in the sense given to it by the Paris Commune, and that was given to it many years ago by the great socialist Proudhon, who first scientifically outlined the theory,—federalism is above all the negation of the nation and the State.

For federalism, there is no more nation, no more national or territorial unity. There is only an agglomeration of federated communes, an agglomeration which has for its determining principle only the interests of the contracting parties, and which consequently has no regard for the questions of nationalism or of territory.

There is equally no more State, no more central power superior to the groups and imposing it them its authority: there is only the collective force resulting from the federation of the groups, and that collective force, which acts to maintenance and guarantee of the federal contract,—a true synallagmatic contract this time, stipulated individually by each of the parties,—this collective force, we say, can never become something prior and superior to the federated groups, something analogous to what the State is today to society and to the communes. The centralized and national State thus no longer exists, and the Communes enjoying the fullness of their independence, there is truly an-archy, absence of central authority.

But let us not believe that after having suppressed the States and nationalism, federalism leads to absolute individualism, to isolation, to egoism. No, federalism is socialist, and for it solidarity is inseparable from liberty. The communes, while remaining absolutely autonomous, feel themselves, by the force of things, in solidarity; and, without sacrificing any of their liberty, or, to put it better, to better assure their liberty, they unite themselves tightly by federative contracts, where they stipulate all that which touches their common interests: the large public services, the exchange of products, the guarantee of individual rights, and mutual aid in case of any aggression.

Let the French people, awakened finally by their misfortune, open their eyes to the light of truth: let them be in 1871 the initiators of the Federalist and Social Republic, as they were in 1793 the proclaimers of the rights of men; and in Europe, preserved from the gothic restoration with which the German Empire threatens it, will shine in a near future the days of liberty and equality.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The other "Equitable Commerce" of 1846

1846 was the year that Josiah Warren published Equitable Commerce at New Harmony, Indiana. He had previously published a number of magazines and newsletters about the system of equitable commerce. He had debated it in the papers of Cincinnati in the late 1820s, and had introduced the notion to members of the Workingman's Party in New York in 1830. Starting in 1849, he would be a regular lecturer in Boston, and his writings on equitable commerce would be regularly featured in the Boston Investigator, but prior to 1846, Warren and equitable commerce were relative unknowns in his native Massachusetts. Warren does not seem to have contributed to the Investigator until 1849, when he was lecturing in the city, but the spring of 1846 saw three articles with the title "Equitable Commerce; or, Association without Combination." The first two were by Maria L. Varney, and the third was by her husband, Thomas Varney. One response to Maria's essays was also published. Maria Varney shows up a contributor to the Cincinnati Herald of Truth in 1847, and as an advocate of women's rights in Connecticut in 1850. Samuel Byron Brittan (J. K. Ingalls' friend and sometimes publisher) reprinted part of letter sent by her from San Francisco in 1853. Thomas Varney is described in some sources as an inventor. In 1847, he published John Pickering's The Working Man's Political Economy, "stereotyped in [Josiah] Warren's new patent method," which is notable for its final chapter, which consists of an attack on Warren's equitable commerce. The Varneys appear repeatedly in the radical literature, but only briefly in Warren's orbit, mostly during that year of 1846.

But in 1846, the Varneys were doing heavy lifting for the cause of equitable commerce. Aside from the three essays in the Boston Investigator, now available online and soon to appear in a Corvus Edition pamphlet, they published a periodical, The Problem Solved, which Warren listed among the more or less "official" publications of the equitable commerce movement.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Kevin Carson on Corvus, and an update

Kevin Carson's latest post talks about my micropublishing project, Corvus Editions, as an example of "household and informal microenterprise." It includes some details about operating costs and such, taken from a mailing list exchange, which will be new to readers of this blog.

I'll be producing a report on the first three months of operations, in the first issue of M. Corbeau's Blackbird, sometime around October 1. I expect to have about 100 titles in the catalog at that point, including a third issue of LeftLiberty, a collection of mutualist, proto-mutualist, and near-mutualist texts from the Owenite "high tide" of 1825-7, the first issue of M. Coulicou’s Aviary of Wild, Rare and Frequently Odd Birds, a thick collection of radical social science from back in the day, and the first batch of a new line of facsimile reprints, including some IWW-related material. With a little luck, the first issue of Mme. Oscine's Songbird will also appear yet this month, but my focus really has to be on ironing out some operational concerns. One of the disadvantages of "household and informal microenterprise" is that it often takes place in spaces also used for other purposes. I'm still developing a physical organization and workflow which let's me do Corvus stuff efficiently, without Corvus stuff crowding out the rest of my life.

As a business, Corvus Editions is limping along somewhere at the fixed-cost level, and a number of developing partnerships have had the entirely predictable effect of putting extra stresses on operations. With a large, but rather obscure catalog, an unsuccessful bookfair or tabling event can drain a lot of resources. When a very unsuccessful event was followed by a flukey supply delay and some pokey bookstore payments, I ended up being pretty slow filling orders in August. Live and learn. I've dealt with some of the potential issues by whittling away at operating costs, and by starting to build more of a standing stock of key titles—to the extent that my limited business lets me identify those titles. All in all, things are about where I expected them to be at this stage of the game, with the difference that it is almost entirely four or five folks who have accounted for most of the retail sales and the feedback on the catalog, which makes it harder to evaluate and plan than it would be with a broader base. Ultimately, this is a business that will run, if it runs, on nickels, dimes, and informative thank-yous.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Instead of a Translation - Proudhon on the clubs

Some 19th century "translations" end up being little more than summaries, and some summaries end up being haphazard translations of bits and pieces. A number of the pieces that introduced Americans to Proudhon and Leroux fit one of these two categories. A series of summaries of chapters from Proudhon's Confessions appeared in The Spirit of the Age in 1849-50. This is certainly a work that needs full translation, but the summaries are interesting, both for the information they contain and as an example of how many Americans first encountered Proudhon.





Reaction made another step, from the republicans of the morrow to the doctrinaires; but one more false move of the democrats, and we fell into the hands of the Jesuits. Step by step we advanced towards the completion of the revolution, the annihilation of authority. It was necessary first that government should show itself incapable of existing either with the constitution, with free institutions, with principles or classes; the first was attacked by Odillon Barrot, the second by Leon Faucher, in his bill against the clubs, the others would come afterwards, under the government of Louis Bonaparte, who was destined to lead governmental authority to the final act of its suicidal course; and this was done with a consistency and strictness that belong to no other country; for the French are the most logical people in the world.

The attack upon the clubs was an attack upon all the institutions established and confirmed by the revolution; it was, as M. Cremieux loudly declared on the 21st March, a direct violation of the constitution. Henceforth there were two classes in the country; a majority and a minority, the oppressors and the oppressed; for everywhere the socialists were hunted down, and those who were only suspected of opinions then looked upon as aggravating circumstances, were treated as common malefactors,

The right of insurrection can only exist under an absolute government, where the people have no voice in the constitution; but in the present case, universal suffrage remaining to us, our only legitimate mode of defeating our adversaries was by legal resistance; and the plan proposed by Le Peuple, namely, an organized refusal to pay the taxes all over the country, would have been a most effectual instrument. Since the 13th June, however, this is no longer practicable or necessary; my proposition was received with distrust by the radicals: if the people refuse to pay taxes once, said these slavish advocates of government, they will refuse them altogether, and then government will be impossible: and my reward was a fine of 10,000 francs and ten years' imprisonment.

But to my shame, I must confess, we were all blind to our own real interest, and the event has proved that radicalism was better served by its own incapacity than it could have been by the means I proposed. Since the 13th June, we have done with parties and governments; and that is much better than to have established the mountain in the room of the doctrinaires and Jesuits. The revolution has left us nothing further to do. II mondo va da se! The world moves of itself.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Mutualism is Approximate (from LeftLiberty 2)

Mutualism: The Anarchism of Approximations
[continued from Part II]

  • Mutualism is approximate.
  • Mutualism values justice, in the form of reciprocity.
  • Mutualism is dialectical. (Or “trialectical.” Or serial.)
  • Mutualism is individualism and socialism—or it is neither.
  • Mutualism recognizes positive power.
  • Mutualism is progressive and conservative.
  • Mutualism is market anarchism.


Philosophical Observations (continued)

Mutualism is approximate. It rejects absolutism, fundamentalism, and the promotion of supposedly foolproof blueprints for society. What it seeks to approximate, however, is the fullest sort of human freedom.

In The Theory of Property, Proudhon claimed that “humanity proceeds by approximation,” and proceeded to list seven “approximations” that he considered key:

1st. The approximation of the equality of faculties through education, the division of labor, and the development of aptitudes;

2nd. The approximation of the equality of fortunes through industrial and commercial freedom.

3rd. The approximation of the equality of taxes;

4th. The approximation of the equality of property;

5th. The approximation of an-archy;

6th. The approximation of non-religion, or non-mysticism;

7th. Indefinite progress in the science, law, liberty, honor, justice.
This “indefinite” progress “is proof,” he said:
…that fate does not govern society; that geometry and arithmetic proportions do not regulate its movements, as in minerology or chemistry; that there is a life, a soul, a liberty which escapes from the precise, fixed measures governing matter. Materialism, in that which touches society, is absurd.

Thus, on this great question, our critique remains at base the same, and our conclusions are always the same: we want equality, more and more fully approximated, of conditions and fortunes, as we want, more and more, the equalization of responsibilities.
Here is the first of mutualism’s basic principles.

I imagine I can hear the murmurs already. This sounds like “settling for less,” and perhaps less than anarchism. It’s too uncertain for much of the natural rights crowd, and probably comes off as downright defeatist to the revolutionaries. But Proudhon was, of course, a partisan of “the Revolution,” as he understood it, every bit as much as he was engaged in the project of grounding right in a scientific understanding of the individual and society. And he was the inheritor of notions that were both anti-utopian and perfectionist. While he rejected the “patent office” schemes of the Fourierist phalanx and of Leroux’s “ternary order,” he embraced the portions of Fourier’s passional analysis and Leroux’s “doctrine of Humanity” which emphasized a constant, restless, progressive movement—the work, as he put it, of “a life, a soul, a liberty which escapes….” So Proudhon declared that he wanted “equality,” but also—and this is at least as important—that he wanted “more and more.”

Following that lead—or, if you prefer, following the “blazing star” of William B. Greene—mutualism is unafraid of the very active pursuit of practical approximates. It is experimental. If it has at times made excessive claims for its particular schemes—and it certainly has—it can at least be held accountable for that failing. Meanwhile, arguments that “true anarchy,” “property,” or the conditions under which an individual could safely say “I am just,” are “impossible” (in some absolute sense) shouldn’t leave the mutualist sobbing in the corner. If we can’t reach perfection at a leap, even if we can’t ultimately reach it at all we can always at least try to take another step forward—and then another step forward, always—and this is the point at which people begin to work things out, as best they can under the circumstances, with the understanding that that current “best” is a step towards the next best, and so on, “indefinitely.”

The acknowledgment that progress is a matter of approximation—or the corollary acknowledgment that “there are degrees in everything,” including justice and right—does not lend itself to an “ah well, anything goes” sort of attitude. Indeed, the best-developed aspect of mutualist philosophy has probably been its analysis of how progress is, in general, not made. In that same passage from The Theory of Property, Proudhon continued:
We reject, along with governmentalism, communism in all its forms; we want the definition of official functions and individual functions; of public services and of free services.
Notice that in this case “communism” is not—or rather is not solely—an approach to property. Like Josiah Warren, Proudhon seems to have intended by the term a subordination of individual concerns to the collective, but the thing that seems most objectionable about “communism” in this context is that it leaves important things undefined. Proudhon wanted “definition.” And it’s a thing that any good experimentalist should want—and mutualism is nothing if not essentially experimental. To move on—and on—we need to know what we’ve got going, what we are involved with and connected to, and we need to know all of that in fairly fine detail, and then we need to rearrange things according to out best understanding of the context and the tools at hand. We need to put our understanding of our condition and our options to the test. And then we need to do it again, because we have inevitably left something—more likely someone—out of our calculations. I know… “Calculation” is one of those words likely to press some buttons. But the social problem posed by “calculation” is really most serious where the calculators and experimenters fail to carry the costs of their own experiments. Indeed, developing an ethic for mutualist experiment is undoubtedly one of those experimental processes that we will have to take very seriously—and it is there that the history of mutualist experiment may really serve us best.

I don’t know if a Warrenite, or Andrusian, labor-dollar is going to be of particular use to contemporary mutualism. And I suspect that mutualists pursued the mutual bank much longer than that pursuit made much sense. But I suspect that the story of Josiah Warren’s various experiments—of their successes and failures, and of the specific ways that their pursuit developed according to the circumstances—is probably still a gold mine. Similarly, I think the history of land-banks, mutual banks, banks of the people, etc., and of the propaganda in support of them, still has practical secrets to offer up to our continued exploration.

Our best tools will probably be a grasp of these specific experimental histories, and a general concern with avoiding what Proudhon called simplism. Indeed, that second concern may be the real heart of mutualist method. Approximation is incompletion in the sense of being “not there yet, but on the road,” but simplism is incompletion as a failure to even get a proper start. Proudhon seems to have borrowed the term from Fourier, and a Fourierist, Hippolyte Renaud, defined it in these terms:
One of the inherent characteristics of Civilization is simplism. Simplism is the fault of viewing a complex question from only one side, of advancing on one side by retreating on the other, so that the real progress is null or negative.
It should come as no surprise that mutualism, a political philosophy rooted in reciprocity and balance, would find one-sidedness to be a problem. And all of Proudhon’s various philosophical stages—from the early emphasis on synthesis, to the final emphasis on antinomies that “do not resolve”—involved a concern that social problems be addressed from multiple perspectives. For example, Proudhon changed his mind about the precise problem with the various existing understandings of “property,” but he seems to have consistently consider simplism a part of the problem. In The Theory of Property—in the passage immediately following the one on “definition”—he wrote:
There is only one thing new for us in our thesis: it is that that same property, the contradictory and abusive principle of which has raised our disapproval, we today accept entirely, along with its equally contradictory qualification: Dominium est just utendi et abutendi re suâ, quatenus juris ratio patur. We have understood finally that the opposition of two absolutes—one of which, alone, would be unpardonably reprehensive, and both of which, together, would be rejected, if they worked separately—is the very cornerstone of social economy and public right: but it falls to us to govern it and to make it act according to the laws of logic.
Let’s be clear about Proudhon’s final approach to “property:” alone it was “unpardonably reprehensible,” and it would be the same if it operated alongside some alternative or alternatives. It appears as a tool for justice and right only when it enters into a dynamic relation with other principles which would be equally objectionable if alone or acting in parallel. In terms of methodology, the dynamic relation only appears when Proudhon begins to complicate his analysis of property—adding an analysis of “aims” to his analysis of philosophical justifications, and in that adding an analysis of the workings of “collective reason” to his individual analyses.

Proudhon barely began that expanded analysis. “Property” itself never really appears as anything but a simplist, or one-sided, concept. Its incorporation in a non-simplist property-state antinomy is some sort of advance—perhaps a necessary step towards something more useful—but inevitably one which tends to focus us on one part of a complex problem, to the exclusion of other parts. If we take that approach, then we have the option of attempting to focus on some higher-order concept, such as social justice or mutuality, which incorporates property as one of its aspects, or of attempting to rethink property in some other way. Proudhon attempted the first approach, with somewhat mixed results, but he explicitly suggested the possibility of the second. In the “New Approximation” which begins in this issue, I’m pursuing the other course, starting to address individual property in its “collective” aspects, in order to avoid some confusions that seem “built in” with Proudhon’s approach.

In this way, breaking with the founders is an act of fidelity to the tradition. We don’t encounter the originators of the mutualist tradition as masters, but as fellows, and the task put to us is to do the next thing, and advance the tradition in ways which respond at once to the general spirit of the thing we have inherited and to the specific conditions we face. What part or parts of the current mutualist movement will contribute most significantly to increasing liberty and clarifying the task for those who undertake the next set of approximations, is something that we can’t know until we put them to the test.

[to be continued in Issue Three…]