Monday, December 27, 2010

An update and a call

I'm taking the next month or so to write (The Mutualist #2, and "The Anarchism of Approximations"), and to consolidate the lessons of the last year into some kind of routine, both for Corvus Editions and for my scholarly work. Over the next week, much of the Corvus shop will come down, to be replaced with improved content, reflective of the new print catalog I'm currently assembling. It looks like 2011 will start for me, with a new (part-time, unpaid) job, as curator and bookkeeper for a small cooperative retail space in Portland, within which Corvus and a number of other small presses and artisan projects will have their own little slice of storefront within an existing volunteer-run radical bookstore. Details will follow, as we nail things down, but this little project is a big turning point for my various projects, since it allows/forces me to focus on a particular sort of primary outlet for my work, imposes some concrete, periodical deadlines, etc.

The model that we're using for the cooperative space involves breaking the space-rent and general expenses (including some equivalent for the volunteer staffing) down into shares corresponding to shelf-feet, making it possible to bring a small catalog into the store for as little as $5/month [$1.50 - $3.00/shelf-foot, depending on labor volunteered for store staffing.] Expenses are covered up front, so sales go to individual vendors directly, with no consignment fees. I started Corvus Editions to provide low-cost, high-quality materials for bookstores and infoshops with very little money to spend on new stock. I established a constant flow of new releases, from a fairly broad range of traditions, so that tiny, cash-poor operations could always have something new if they could afford even a few dollars to invest on inventory. As it happens, I think identified the right problems, but too late... both because cash-flow concerns, and rising postage costs, have curtailed almost all non-consignment acquisition by many of the shops I was thinking of, but also because distribution channels have collapsed or centralized to such a degree that it's simply a lot harder to reach the right shops. And, of course, for a variety of reasons, "the good old stuff" from the radical traditions doesn't have the street cred it once did. You can bring a hundred different titles to an anarchist bookfair, but you won't necessarily find many browsers.

Live and learn. It turns out that a 19th-century socialist-feminist encyclopedia entry, that's hard to give away (despite its merits) as a $2 pamphlet, is cute and interesting as a tiny $5 book. Recycled paper is good, and farm-waste paper is better, but books bound in recycled Pendaflex folders and upholstery scraps are good enough to take home. If you're going to bother to be a publisher of real books, here at the far edge of the Gutenberg Galaxy, it doesn't hurt to make a statement. Everybody knows you can't judge a book by its cover, but we mostly do it that way anyway.

So a big part of January's labor will be translating the various "libraries" in the Corvus Catalog, and the unpublished catalogs in my various digital archives, into something that will look like a library when placed on the shelf. For the Portland bookfair I brought out some prototype bindings for the New Proudhon Library, and I've got text formatted for a number of uniform hardcover volumes:
  • What is Property? - First Memoir
  • A Letter to M. Blanqui - Second Memoir
  • System of Economical Contradictions, Vol. 1
  • Philosophy of Progress
  • General Idea of the Revolution
  • Gratuity of Credit
  • Galileo: A Drama, with commentary
  • Langlois's P.-J. Proudhon: His Life and Works
 and I've bound several of those (as you can see) with wrap-around spine labels, to look good on the shelf, and bindings that let you open them wide to read and study. And I'm working on the first of a set of Miscellanies, collecting early translations of, and response to, Proudhon's work.

That's where I could use a little help:

The early translations were partial, and often paraphrases rather than real translations, scattered in various odd places. I have, from the period before Benjamin R. Tucker began his work:
  • William B. Greene's translations, from Mutual Banking (and later translations published in The Word)
  • William Henry Channing's translation of "The Coming Era of Mutualism"
  • the partial/paraphrased translation of "Confessions of a Revolutionist" from the London Weekly Tribune, reprinted in The Spirit of the Age
  • Charles A. Dana's articles from The Spirit of the Age, reprinted by Tucker in Proudhon and his Bank of the People
  • the "Hymn to Satan," from the Ladies Repository
  • the excerpts translated in William Lucas Sargant's Social Innovators and their Schemes (1858)
And all of these are of interest, if only as evidence of the specific ways that Proudhon's work was interpreted during his lifetime, or shortly thereafter.

But I'm sure there are more bits and pieces out there, so if anyone knows of things I'm missing, please let me know.

    Sunday, December 26, 2010

    Joseph Déjacque - The Humanisphere (Preface)

    The Humanisphere:
    Anarchic Utopia

    Joseph Déjacque

    UTOPIA: "A dream not realized, but not unrealizable."

    ANARCHY: "Absence of government."

    Revolutions are conservations. (P. J. PROUDHON)

    The only true revolutions are the revolutions of ideas. (JOUFFROY)

    Let us make customs, and no longer make laws. (EMILE DE GIRARDIN)

    So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty…. Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.

    For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. (SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE)

    What is this Book!

    This book is not a literary work, it is an infernal labor, the cry of a rebel slave.

    Being, like the cabin boy of the Salamander, unable, in my individual weakness, to strike down all those who, on the ship of the legal order, dominate and mistreat me, when my day is done at the workshop, when my watch is finished on the bridge, I descend by night to the bottom of the hold, I take possession of my solitary corner and, there, with teeth and claws, like a rat in the shadows, I scratch and gnaw at the worm-eaten walls of the old society. By day, as well, I use my hours of unemployment, I arm myself with a pen like a borer, I dip it in bile for grease, and, little by little, I open a way, each day larger, to the flood of the new; I relentless perforate the hull of Civilization. I, a puny proletarian, on whom the crew, the horde of exploiters, daily inflict the torment of the aggravated misery of the brutalities of exile or prison, I open up the abyss beneath the feet of my murderers, and I spread the balm of vengeance on my always-bloody scars. I have my eye on my Masters. I know that each day brings me closer to the goal; that a formidable cry—the sinister EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF!—will soon resound at the height of their joyous intoxication. A BILGE-RAT, I prepare their shipwreck; that shipwreck alone can put an end to my troubles and to those of my fellows. Come the revolution, will not the suffering have, for biscuit, ideas in reserve, and, for life-line, socialism!

    This book is not written in ink; its pages are not paper sheets.

    This book is steel, turned in octavo, and charged with fulminate of ideas. It is an authoricidal projectile that I cast in a thousand copies on the cobblestones of the civilizées. May its shards fly far and mortally pierce the ranks of the prejudiced. May it split the old society down to its foundations.

    Privileged ones!—for those who have sown slavery, the hour has come to reap rebellion. There is not a worker who, in the hidden reaches of his brain, does not clandestinely fashion some thoughts of destruction. You, you have the bayonet and the penal code, the catechism and the guillotine; we have the barricade and utopia, sarcasm and the bomb. You, you are pressure; we are the mine: one spark can blow you up!

    Know that today, in their iron shackles, beneath their superficial torpor, the multitudes are composed of grains of powder; the fibers of the thinkers are its caps. Also, is it not without danger that one crushes liberty in the face of the somber multitudes. Rash reactionaries!—God is God, you say. Yes, but Satan is Satan!... The elect of the golden calf are few, and hell is full of the damned. Aristocrats, it is not necessary to play with fire, the fire of hell, understand!...

    This book is not a document, it is an act. It has not been traced by the gloved hand of a fantasist; it is filled with heart and logic, with blood and fever. It is a cry of insurrection, a strike of the tocsin rung with the hammer of the idea in the hearing of the popular passions. It is moreover a chant of victory, a triumphant salvo, the proclamation of individual sovereignty, the advent of universal liberty; it is full and complete amnesty for the authoritarian sorrows of the past by anarchic decree of the humanitarian future.

    This is a book of hatred, a book of love!....


    “Know yourself.”

    Social science proceeds by inductions and deductions, by analogy. It is by a series of comparisons that it arrives at the combination of truth.

    Thus, I will proceed by analogy.

    I will try to be brief. The large volumes are not those that are most read. In preference to long dissertations, to classical pedagogies, I will employ the colorful phrase, it has the advantage of being able to say a lot in a few words.

    I am far from being infused with science. I have read a bit, observed more, and meditated a great deal. I am, I believe, despite my ignorance in one of the one of the most favorable places to sum up the needs of humanity. I have all the passions, although I cannot satisfy them, those of love and those of hate, the passion for extreme luxury and for extreme simplicity. I understand all appetites, those of the heart and of the belly, those of the flesh and of the mind. I have a taste for white bread, but also for black bread, for stormy discussions and also for sweet causeries. I know all the appetites, physical and moral; I have the intuition of all intoxications; all that which excites or calms has seductions for me: the café and poetry, champagne and art, wine and tobacco, milk and honey, spectacles, tumult and lights, shadow, solitude and pure water. I love work, hard labors; I also love leisure, soft idleness. I could live a little and find myself rich, consume enormously and find myself poor. I have looked through the keyhole at the intimate life of opulence, I know its hot houses and it sumptuous salons; and I also know from experience both cold and poverty. I have been overfull and I have been hungry. I have a thousand caprices and not one pleasure. I am likely to commit at times what the argot of the civilized blacken with the name of virtue, and more often still what they honor with the name of crime. I am the man most empty of prejudices and most full of passions that I know; proud enough to not be vain, and too proud to be hypocritically modest. I have only one face, but that face is as mobile as the face of the waves; at the least breath, it passes from one expression to another, from calm to storm and from anger to tenderness. That is why, as a multiple passionality, I hope to deal with human society with some chance of success, because treating it well depends as much on the knowledge that one has of one’s own passions, as on the knowledge that one has of the passions of others.

    The world of anarchy is not of my invention, certainly, any more than it is the invention of Proudhon, nor of Pierre, nor of Jean. Each by himself invents nothing. Inventions are the result of collective observations; is the explanation of a phenomenon, a scratch made on the colossus of the unknown, but it is the work of all men and all generations of men linked together by an indissoluble solidarity. Now, if there is invention, I have the right at most to a patent of improvement. I would be rather poorly praised if some hoaxers wanted to apply to my face the title of the chief of a school. I know that one expounds ideas bringing together or straying more or less from known ideas. But what I do not understand is that there have been men who accept them slavishly, in order to make themselves the followers of the first comer, to model themselves on his way of seeing, to imitate him in the least details: and to put on, like a soldier or a lackey, his uniform or his livery. At least adjust them to your waistline; trim them or widen them, but do not wear them as-is, with sleeves too short or tails too long. Otherwise, it is not a sign of intelligence; it is hardly worthy of a man who feels and thinks, thus it’s ridiculous.

    Authority aligns men under its flags by discipline, it shackles them by the code of military orthodoxy, passive obedience; its imperious voice commands silence and immobility in the ranks, autocratic fixity. Liberty rallies men to its banner with the voice of free examination; it does not petrify them in the same line. Each lines up where he likes and moves as he pleases. Liberty does not regiment men under the plume of the head of a sect: it initiates them in the movement of ideas and inculcates in them the sentiment of active independence. Authority is unity in uniformity! Liberty is unity in diversity. The axis of authority, it is knout-archie [literally, government by whip]. Anarchy is the axis of liberty.

    For me, it is much less a question of making disciples than of making men, and one is a man only on condition of being oneself. We incorporate the ideas of others and incarnate our ideas in others; we combine our thoughts, and nothing is better than that; but let us make of that mixture a conception henceforth our own. Let us be an original work and not a copy. The slave models himself on the master; he imitates. The free man only produces his own type; he creates.

    My plan is to paint a picture of society as society appears to me in the future: individual liberty is moving anarchically in the social community and producing harmony.

    I do not presume to impose my views on others. I do not descend from cloudy Sinai. I do not march escorted by lightning and thunder. I m not send by the autocrat of the whole universe to reveal his words to his so-humble subjects and publish the imperial ukase of his commandments. I inhabit the depths of society; I have drawn from them some revolutionary thoughts, and I pour them forth, rending the darkness. I am a seeker of truths, a herald of progress, a star-gazer for enlightenment. I sigh after happiness and I conjure up its ideal. If that ideal makes you smile, do as I do, and love it. If you find imperfections in it, correct them. If it displeases you, create another. I am not exclusive, and I will willingly abandon mine for your, if yours seems more perfect to me. However, I see only two great figures possible; one can modify its expression, that is not to change its traits: there is absolute liberty or absolute authority. As for me, I choose liberty. We have seen the works of authority, and its works condemn it. It is an old prostitute that has never learned anything but depravation and never engendered anything but death. Liberty still only makes herself known by her timid smile. She is a virgin that the embrace of humanity has still not made fertile; but, let man allow himself to be seduced by her charms, let him give her all his love, and she will soon give birth to generations worthy of the great name that she carries.

    To weaken authority and criticize its acts is not enough. A negation, in order to be absolute, needs to complete itself with an affirmation. That is why I affirm liberty, why I deduce its consequences.

    I address myself above all to the proletarians, and the proletarians are for the most part still more ignorant than me; also, before giving an account of the anarchic order, a portrait which will be for this book the last stroke of the author’s pen, it is necessary to outline the history of Humanity. I will follow then its march across the ages in the past and in the present and I will accompany it into the future.

    In this sketch I have to recreate a subject touched with a master’s hand by a great artist in poetry. I don’t have his work at hand; and if I had it, I rarely reread a book, as I have neither the leisure nor courage for it. My memory is my only library, and my library is often quite disordered. If some reminiscences escape me, if I happen to draw from my memories, believing I drew it from my own thoughts, I declare at least that it will be without knowing or wishing to. I hold plagiarists in horror. However, I am also of the opinion of Alfred de Musset, I thus think what another has thought before me. I would desire one thing, it is that those who have not read the book of Eugène Pelletan, Le Monde Marche, will want to read the book before continuing the reading of mine. The work of this brilliant writer all a museum of the reign of humanity up through our times, magnificent pages that it is always good to know, and which will be an aid to more than one civilizee, leaning on his elbows before my work, not only to supply what it lacks, but also to aid in understanding its shadows and lights.

    And now, reader, if you want to travel along with me, stock up on intelligence, and let’s go!

    [to be continued...]

    Jeanne Deroin, "Letter ... on the Organization of Credit" (1851) - 3

    Letter to the Associations on the Organization of Credit

    [Conclusion; continued from Part IPart II]

    Revolutions cannot produce the well-being toward which the suffering classes aspire, they almost always serve as stepping stones for a few ambitious types to come to power.

    And when they are achieved, they continue the habits of the past. They find no other means to combat poverty, when the sufferers grow weary and irritated, than the compression which provokes resistance and prepare new battles.

    And when the sufferers resign themselves, alms, which adds moral degradation to poverty, and which is an outrage to human dignity.

    It is because the rights of the disinherited are misunderstood that revolutions are providentially necessary; and, in that case, the justice of the people is the justice of God.

    And it is the disagreement on the choice of means to combat poverty and constitute well-being which has caused reactions up to the present.

    But social science had come to bring the light.

    Socialism is the synthesis of all the social truths taught by the reformers.

    The various schools differ in the means of organization, but, deep down, they all have the same basis: SOLIDARITY;

    The same principal means: ORGANIZATION OF LABOR;

    The same goal: WELL-BEING FOR ALL.

    They differ on the degree of solidarity;

    On the mode of organization;

    On the nature and enlargement of well-being that suits the human being.

    These differences manifest the wisdom of the ways of Providence, which intended that the teaching of social verities should simultaneously penetrate the various classes of society, in the forms most in harmony with their various needs and aspirations.

    And the discussions that rise from these differences must cast light on the great questions of social economy.

    But practice alone can give a certain solution to these grand questions, rectify the errors of theory, and demonstrate the truth by the facts.

    The suppression of our liberties and the blindness of power, not permitting the various schools to procure the means of putting into practice their systems of organization, which can be put to work in a coordinated manner, and on a vast enough scale, only with considerable capital and a great freedom of action.

    The discussion continues, becomes complicated, and sometimes embittered from the difficulties of the present situation, and minds remind divided.

    It is important then for the laborers, left to suffer and wait, to enter the path of practice by a simple and easy means, which springs, it is true, from social science, but which does not prejudice in anything social and political questions. Already the association of tailors in Clichy has employed the bills of credit. It is necessary only to give it a greater circulation, to centralize operations, and to organize the manner of establishing the exchange of products between a great number of workers in various professions.

    The bill of credit is in reality only an effect of commerce, a simple quittance or receipt, having by itself no numeric value; its guarantee is in labor, it represents some labor and facilitates the exchange of products; it is a means of organizing mutual credit, it is a purely industrial fact, which is not prohibited by any law, and to which one cannot legally put any obstacle, without undermining commercial and industrial transactions.

    The organization of mutual credit is a practical fact, industrial and commercial; but that fact is accomplished with a social aim, which is to acquire by labor, progressively and peacefully, the instruments of labor, necessary to the worker in order to exercise their professions, without being subjected to patronage and exploitation,

    That aim is a social aim. We neither can nor wish to deny it, it is in accord with the aim of the members of all the associations which are really fraternal, and founded in order to free the workers from exploitation and patronage.

    This aim is in agreement with the needs of the situation, and with the political and social opinions of all the democratic socialists, whatever the nuance of those opinions.

    What is the basis of the question for political men? (I do not speak of the intriguers and the ambitious.) Why are they justly irritated when one limits all our liberties. It is because they demand for themselves and their children the right to live by laboring, and because they want to preserve the means of reaching that aim. What do the socialists of all schools demand? What is the aim of what our adversaries call the socialist utopias? It is to insure for all the means of true liberty, the complete development and free exercise of all human faculties by the organization of labor, which is to say by an equitable division of labor, instruments and products of labor.

    And all the socialist democrats, by participating in the organization of mutual credit, will accomplish a work of peaceful liberation and conciliation, without ceasing to watch over the maintenance of the Republic, and without neglecting the interests of a greater and more complete realization. They will only rally around a practical means, in order to immediately improve the situation of the laborers and prepare the way for the organization of labor.

    The organization of mutual credit is a work of conciliation, it is to enter the path of peaceful progress.

    It is the means of demonstrating, by the facts, that the socialist workers want to acquire the instruments of labor only by labor, honestly, progressively and peacefully, and the organization of mutual credit is a work of liberation.

    By gradually substituting the loan in cash with the loan in labor and products of labor, by the circulation of bills of credit, that loan, far from being onerous, facilitates the enlargement of consumption and production, and the direct exchange of products, and it eliminates the interest which, at only 5 percent, becomes, at the end of twenty years, a veritable spoliation.

    And, by gradually substituting remuneration in cash with payment in labor and products of labor, by the progressive extension of the circulation of bills of credit, which would become then a true labor-note, employed only to facilitate exchange, the instrument of exploitation will be paralyzed in the hands of the speculators. Labor being exchanged only against labor and the instruments of labor, the speculators, in whose hands the possession of cash has accumulated the instruments of labor, would exchange those instruments against the labor-notes for their consumer needs.

    The possession of the instruments of labor, by freeing the workers from exploitation, will facilitate the organization of labor, that is, an equitable division of labor, of the instruments of labor, and of the products of labor, and will produce well-being for all.

    The resources of the Credit Bureau increasing with the number of the subscribers to the mutual credit, it will be easy to extend the advantages of credit to the workers who cannot associate in order to labor in common, either because of the genre of their work, or from a preference for isolation, but who will not hesitate to subscribe to the direct exchange of products, and to the mutual loan that will connect them to the association, and free them from exploitation. It will become possible to make the necessary advances, and to give professional instruction to those who, by a fateful effect of social improvidence, have not learned a profession, and are constrained to servitude or exposed to the temptations of poverty and despair: they will be released.

    And it will also be possible to free, from their entry into life, the child of the worker who is born a slave to poverty and deprived of their part of the common inheritance.

    Francois I, claiming his part of the possession of Canada, said: “I would really like to the article of Adam’s will that excludes me from the division.”

    But the child of the poor man could ask more justly which article of Adam’s testament excludes them from their part and their right in the possession of the earth, that instrument of labor that God has given to all the generations, past, present and future, that common heritage the is of divine right, inalienable and indivisible.

    The earth belongs to all in common, like the sun (but happily, God has mot put the sun in the hands of the speculators.)

    The child who enters into life has not asked to be born, and often even its parents have not desire it. It is one more laborer sent by Providence to come to the aid of its brothers and sisters.

    But in order for it to accomplish its mission, it has a right to the complete development of all its faculties. It should receive the complete education and professional instruction, according to his vocation and aptitudes, and the instruments of labor that are necessary to him.

    Then he will be really indebted to society.

    But with the present mode of remuneration of labor, let that remuneration be egalitarian or proportional, the father or the mother of the family having to provide for the needs of their children and sometimes of their parents, not however gaining more and sometimes gaining less than a bachelor, and are obliged to impose on themselves the harshest privations in order to provide for the needs of several with the labor of one or two persons.

    Thus, a numerous family is for the worker a source of poverty and suffering, even in the heart of the association.

    It is still insolidarity, the each by himself, each for himself, that produces all the sufferings of society.

    Association, based on solidarity, should adopt all the children who, bearing equally, by being born, the right to live a complete life, physical, intellectual and moral; it should take care of the sick and infirm, because society is responsible for the health of its members; the majority of maladies and infirmities have for their cause the privations and the excess that result from a poor organization.

    And it should surround with respect and recognition the old age of those crippled by labor and insure for them an honorable and sweet rest.

    It should free from the yoke of poverty and the humiliations of charity those who have contributed to its prosperity, and who have acquired, by labor, the right to repose.

    And when the resources of the bureau of credit allow the advance of the necessities to the children of the laborers subscribed, in order to acquire the complete development of their faculties and the instruments of labor necessary to exercise them freely, it is a debt that they have contracted and of which they will acquit themselves towards the invalid laborers.

    And all the children of the subscribers to the mutual credit having the right to credit, the speculators by coming to exchange the instruments of labor against their consumer needs could insure the future of their infants, often compromised by speculations so dire for the laborers and sometimes for themselves.

    And all will be freed or protected from the yoke of poverty and from the exploitation which produces it.

    And when the workers in the countryside have understood the solidarity which should unite the laborers of all the professions, by subscribing to the mutual credit, they will free their children from all of the miseries with which they are burdened.

    The bill of exchange has contributed to the liberation of the communes from despotism, from nobiliary feudalism.

    The bill of credit will free the laborers from despotism, from financial feudalism.

    The organization of mutual credit, the gradual elimination of cash, of the instrument of exploitation and corruption, is the honest and peaceful struggle against the principles of domination and exploitation.

    It is the liberation of labor by labor.

    It is the means of putting an end to violent struggles and of entering into the practice of a new faith, of the social religion, a religion of love and liberty which wants well-being for all,

    Which has for dogma: SOLIDARITY;

    For worship: LABOR;

    For morality: THE LOVE OF HUMANITY.


    Saturday, December 25, 2010

    Jeanne Deroin, "Letter ... on the Organization of Credit" (1851) - 2

    Letter to the Associations on the Organization of Credit

    [continued from Part I]

    The circulation of these bills of credit assuring to each of the associations adhering to the mutual credit the business of all the other subscribing associations.

    In order to form a mutual credit bureau, it is not necessary to form public gatherings. All that is required, to give the first impetus, is a few associations of various professions which have understood all the present advantages and all the possible results of this mode of credit.

    The bills of credit should have a character of unity, and come from a common center, in order to give the mutual credit a more powerful guarantee, and to avoid making an emission of bills surpassing the resources of the credit.

    But when two or three associations of different professions resolve to establish the mutual credit, and take the initiative to establish a credit bureau, no discussion will be necessary to lead the other associations: those who do not want to take part will not receive the bills, and they will await the results.

    There will be nothing to discuss; it is not a question of a theory, but of a practical fact, and practical means are the best means of propaganda; the least fait accompli often has more value than an axiom.

    The associations that wish to subscribe at the founding of the Bureau of Mutual Credit, will make a loan to that bureau, by subscribing an emission of bills of credit which cannot surpass the amount of consumption that they can make of the products and labors of the other adherent associations for three or six months.

    That loan must be based on consumption, because it is an advance made in proportion to the consumptive needs of the lenders.

    That loan can cause them no inconvenience, it does not put them in a deficit and it assures them the business of the other subscribing associations.

    And each of those associations, by subscribing thus a loan in bills of credit equal to their consumption from the other adherent associations, acquires, by that act, the business of those associations and the right of credit.

    And every association that has need of credit must first subscribe an emission of bills of credit equal to its consumptive needs from the other the other adherent associations.

    The total credits can not surpass the total value of the consumption of the subscribing associations among themselves.

    Thus, for example, if only three associations began the foundation of that Bureau of Mutual Credit, each of them could ne subscribe to an emission of bills of credit which would surpass the value of the consumption that it could make of the labor and products of the two other associations, during three or six months.

    And that credit will be accorded with preference to those of the three of which, its labors or products not being sufficient to the needs of consumption of the other two others, should give more expansion to its operations.

    These bills of credit that it will employ in payment for the labor and products of the two other associations, will give it the faculty of disposing of the cash that would have been necessary for that payment.

    The consumption that each subscribing association could make of the labor and products of the other adherent associations will increase in proportion to the number of associations of various professions which subscribe to the mutual credit.

    And the emission of the bills of credit being in proportion to the consumption of those associations among themselves, the use of the cash will become less and less necessary to them for the greatest part of the objects of habitual consumption.

    They could employ, for the acquisition of the instruments of labor and raw materials that one could not find in the subscribing associations, the cash that they will receive in payment for the products or labor made for non-adherents.

    And the clientele of each of the associations being composed of all the other associations and becoming more and more numerous, the credits would be employed to give the greatest possible extension to production, by facilitating to the associations of which the products and labors could not suffice to the needs of consumption of all the others, the means of procuring the instruments of labor and the raw material necessary, and to increase the number of their associates, in order to always be able to satisfy the demands of the bearers of the bills of credit.

    The subscription of each new association will simultaneously increase production and consumption, and by adding a new loan, will facilitate more and more the mutual exchange of labor and products, by giving a greater extension to the circulation of the bills of credit.

    When the associations of the same profession will subscribe to the mutual credit, they will become committed to not competing for the price of their labors and products, in order that the price be the same for objects of the same quality, because the association have to struggle against competition, it would be obliged to reduce more and more the part of remuneration of its associates, or no longer find an outlet for its products.

    The price of the labors or products of the association subscribed to the mutual credit should no longer be inferior to that of foreign commerce, because competition from without would be so much more difficult to sustain in this regard, that the bosses, manufacturers and merchants in possession of the cash which accumulates in their hands the instruments of labor and allows them to loan them according to their will to the laborers, and when they have made a ruinous competition among themselves, they can reduce more and more the price of hand-labor, in order not to pay the costs of war.

    Competition is contrary to the principles that are the basis of association; it is not liberty for all, but only for those who can withstand it; it is always the right of the strongest; it is not peace and union, but war at the expense of the workers.

    The associations belonging to the mutual credit will have no interest in decreasing the price of hand-work, but, on the contrary, to maintain it as high as possible, in order to lead to the association of a great number of intelligent and industrious workers.

    The emulation of the workers will have for motive the desire to do honor to the bills of credit; being simultaneously lenders and creditors, by the fact of the circulation of these bills, they will all have an equal interest in the success of the operations of the mutual credit bureau. A register must always be open to the claims of the consumers belonging to the mutual credit; the poor quality of the products or labors exchanged against the bills of credit must be a cause of expulsion from the membership of the producers.

    The associations of the same profession will also find in that that bureau a means of withstanding competition from without; with the help of the credit that they receive from it, they could buy in bulk and at a common cost the instruments of labor and the raw materials that they don’t find in the subscribing associations.

    Finally, the foundation of a bureau of mutual credit will be a means of conciliation between the all the classes of society, since all those who would want to testify to their sympathies for the workers could make an advance to labor by depositing, in cash, the quantity of the consumption that they want to make with the associations belonging to the mutual credit, and by accepting in exchange the bills of credit refundable in products or labors of the associations belonging to the mutual credit.

    That advance made to labor will facilitate the acquisition of the instruments of labor and raw materials cannot be obtained from the adherent associations.

    The credits in cash will be preferably granted to the associations that can not procure, except with cash, the instruments of labor and the raw materials necessary to the exercise of their profession.

    And as these associations would also subscribe a loan in bills of credit equal to the value of their consumption from the other associations, they could take part, in that same proportion, in the circulation of the bills of credit, without having to fear that it could hinder their operations.

    The associations belonging to the mutual credit having a real interest in giving the greater extension possible to the circulation of the bills of credit, when the resources of the bureau of credit permit it, one will be occupied more especially to found associations of laborers in professions whose products and labor are lacking and will be necessary to respond to the demands of the holders of the bills of credit.

    It is quite evident that if some workers of ALL the professions belonged to the mutual credit, they could, by means of the circulation of the bills of credit, directly exchange their products and labors, and eliminate between them the use of cash which will no longer be except for the uses of foreign commerce, until the moment when all the laborers will be included: but it is necessary to gradually substitute the remuneration in products of labor for payment in cash.

    Because the products of labor should only be exchanged against labor or the instruments of labor, in order to acquire, progressively and peacefully, by that exchange, the instruments of labor that are in the hands of the capitalists.

    To acquire by labor, by means of the gradual elimination of cash, the instruments of labor: such should be the object of the constant efforts of the laborers.

    This means is the sole peaceful means of attaining the real aim of association, which is the honestly acquired possession of the instruments of labor, in order to be freed from bossism and the salariat.

    It is labor that makes the earth fruitful; it is labor that produces all that is necessary to the needs of life and well-being; it is labor that produces all the marvels of science and the fine arts; cash is only a product of labor and a sign of agreement which produces nothing; let us leave it in the hands of the capitalists, who make an instrument of exploitation of it.

    It is by labor that we must redeem the instruments of labor, that labor has produced.

    It is the sole means, for the laborers, to acquire the possession of the instruments of labor without undermining property.

    The establishment of the mutual credit and the circulation of the bills of credit would be at once a work of emancipation and a work of conciliation: the first step towards the peaceful solution.

    Proletarian and privileged, we have only one single enemy to combat, and it is poverty.

    It causes the sufferings of the former, and troubles the security of the latter.

    It is the true and only cause of revolutions; it is not only political liberties that the people want to win; they only demand them in order to help themselves to acquire true liberty, that is to say the complete development of free exercise of all human faculties, well-being for all by the means of an equitable division of labor, instruments of labor and products of labor.

    [to be concluded...]

    Wednesday, December 15, 2010

    Jeanne Deroin, "Letter to the Associations on the Organization of Credit" (1851)

    The radical literature that any of us are actually familiar with always seems to be just a drop in the bucket. There are masses of largely ephemeral publications in every language, and all of the advances in digital archiving have only really begun to make any sort of dent in the work to be done. We can't ignore all that ephemera, unless we're content with a sort of abstract, top-down understanding of our traditions. After all, for every Proudhon, there were a dozen Greenes and Langlois, and for every one of them there were dozens of Junquas and Blackers, and for every one of them there were hundreds and thousands of rank-and-file radicals, many of them with ideas all their own. When we scour all the radical papers, we'll still only get a sample of the real history of the radical movements—but at least it will be a start.

    In the meantime, a lot of the work to do involves relatively "big names" in radicalism. Some of that is, of course, translation. There's still a lot of work to do on Proudhon, and we've hardly started on his collaborators. We've also hardly started on his critics—and the literature of direct responses to Proudhon is huge by itself. This last weekend, while I was tabling the Portland Anarchist Bookfair, I dedicated my transit time to a pair of pamphlets debating the merits of Proudhon's work: "Histoire de M. Proudhon et de ses principes," by "Satan" and "Réponse à Satan au sujet de M. Proudhon" by "l'Archange Saint-Michel." "Satan" was apparently Georges-Marie Dairnvæll, the author of a number of other works, and the "Response" was published by the Société d'Education Mutuelle des Femmes, a group founded by Jeanne Deroin and Desirée Gay. I recently translated the manifesto of the Fraternal Association of Socialist Democrats of Both Sexes, and have been looking at some of Deroin's other work, though I had no inkling of the connections this weekend, as I was reading the feminist defense of Proudhon (yep!) in the "Response." Indeed, I didn't take the time to research that piece (which was packed up with my bookfair stuff) until after I had tackled a couple of new translation chores. I've been correcting and revising the early, and generally quite good, translation of Louis Blanc's "The Organization of Labor," published in 1848 as "The Threatened Social Disorganization of France." And I've been having a good time wading into the work of Jeanne Deroin, who was both an important critic and an important supporter of aspects of Proudhon's work. Deroin's "Letter...on the Organization of Credit" is a later development in the same series as Proudhon's mutual banking experiments, William B. Greene's American proposals, and the "Mutuality of Laborers" proposed by Lechevalier and his collaborators, when Proudhon was forced to flee in 1849. It is, in some ways, more like Proudhon's than that of his erstwhile collaborators. The question of credit and a circulating medium occupies center stage, with other sorts of solidarity and cooperation being understood as logical results of "the organization of credit." Here's the first third of the letter:


    The delegates of the association and the members of the commission of the Union have been condemned for having acted with a political aim.

    That judgment has just been confirmed by the denial of our appeal.

    I impose silence on my conscience and do no come to protest that condemnation, but to bring out from it that which can be useful to the cause of the laborers, before which personal feelings must be silent and individual interests must step aside.

    In the things that have been done, in that condemnation even, there is still a lesson and an encouragement.

    That it what it is important to demonstrate.

    The accusation, by relying on legal conventions and on the political and socialist antecedents of the accused, and by attributing to them a political aim, has proved that it was impossible to incriminate by itself the solidarization of the associations.

    The constitution guarantees the right of association, and the associations cannot be legally prohibited from associating together in order to exchange their products, and to provide credit to one another with the aim of obtaining an assured clientele and instruments of labor, and in order to come to the aid of children, the elderly, the sick and the infirm.

    That aim, so brotherly and so eminently industrious and peaceful, is not in any way illegal, it is not hostile to individuals, but only to the principles of exploitation and servitude.

    The adversaries that it encounters, the obstacles that it gives rise to, testify loudly to its importance and its power to improve the condition of the workers.

    The workers must then persevere, but in a manner to avoid the obstacles which have stopped us, and to convince our adversaries that it is really a question of a work of conciliation.

    These obstacles rise principally from the suspension of the right of assembly, from the shackles placed on the freedom of the press, and from the opposition of those who imagine that the extinction of exploitation threatens their fortune and the future of the children.

    Finally, the most grievous of all the obstacles is the hesitation to enter seriously on the path of practice.

    The suspension of the right of assembly and the shackles placed on the freedom of the press permits no discussion.

    But what is most important is not to discuss, to formulate theories or plans of organization, but to act, to put into practice the simplest and most certain means for arriving progressively and peacefully at the goal.

    The means that is indicated by the necessities of the present situation, and which has long been proposed in various forms by the most enlightened economists of our era is the organization of mutual credit. It is enough to consider the motives and the aim of that work, in order to deduce the means of giving the first impetus; then the organization will develop and perfect itself progressively by the modifications that will be made to it, step by step, by practice, according to the indications given by experience.

    These motives will emerge from the moral and material situation of the associations.

    The associations have been formed with the aim of liberating the workers from exploitation and patronage.

    The majority have based their act of association on the most elevated principles of democracy and socialism; but the difficulties of the present situation, the habits of the past and the lack of cohesion in this great industrial movement, are obstacles, constantly reborn, to the prosperity of the associations, and alienate from it a great number of workers who dread having to suffer much without attaining the desired result.

    And, in fact, when some laborers want to associate, it is often very difficult for them, with the modest contribution of each, to constitute a social capital sufficient for the acquisition of the instruments of labor, and of raw materials, necessary to the exercise of their profession.

    They loan at interest or take on credit, and they are obliged to impose the harshest privations, and to deduct from the common fund only the minimum of what they normally earn with the bosses, and sometimes they are even reduced to half or a quarter of a day’s or week’s pay, in order to pay for the material that they have acquired through borrowing.

    It is necessary for them to procure, from day to day, what is necessary for the maintenance of this material, and the acquisition of raw materials, that they can only buy en detail, at higher prices, and nearly always, in this case, of inferior quality.

    The need of money often obliges them to hurry, which takes perfection from labor.

    That penury prevents them from admitting as associates some skillful and intelligent laborers, but who cannot contribute their share of the social capital.

    Sometimes also, and it is the most grievous thing that can happen, these same pecuniary difficulties lead them to admit, in view of a sufficient social contribution, either from a loan, from men who have not understood the principle of fraternal solidarity which should be the basis of the associations, or from the secret agents of the reaction who introduce themselves there in order to make trouble, to stir up suspicion, discouragement, and thus bring about disorganization within and discredit without.

    Finally, a great cause of embarrassment, and sometimes of as considerable losses, is credit, as it has been made up to the present among the associations.

    The credits are inscribed on the registers, and are often paid off only at long intervals, or in fractions so negligible, that there results from it a real harm to the lenders.

    And the debtors do not always find, in this mode of credit, all the help that is necessary for them; they often cannot obtain sufficient advances and an extension so distant, to give to their labors all the extension necessary to put them at their ease; and sometimes the period of the payments arrives at the time when they still have to struggle arduously that every new establishment almost always encounters.

    Sometimes also false associations which usurp that title, either to serve the designs of the enemies of association or in view of some particular interest, and which are made up of a personnel very dubious with regard to principles, deplete the other associations by credits obtained in the name of fraternity, in order to continue exploitation under the aegis of the egalitarian level, and thus make splash back on the principles of association the discredit which surround them.

    Thus, if, on the one hand, credit is necessary to advance the workers who want to associate the instruments of labor of which they have need, and in order to come to the aid of associations already formed;

    On the other hand, credit, such as it is practiced now, is often a cause of ruin and discredit for the lenders and debtors.

    But, if we consider that the majority of these credits have been made in products or in labors of the lenders, we will recognize that they could be acquitted more easily by the products and labors of the borrowers, who very often cannot meet their obligations, because they cannot find distribution for their products, or because they lack labor.

    If the creditors’ association, instead of inscribing the credits on their registers, accepted, in payment of their products or labors, some bills of credit having a numeric denomination in order to facilitate exchanges, but payable only in the labor or product of the debtors, they could employ these bills to procure the objects of their habitual consumption, which they would be obliged to pay for with the cash that they have o hand, if that credit remained inscribed on their books.

    By this act they would assure their clientele to the debtors.

    By supposing that the products or labors of the debtors are not objects of habitual consumption for the lenders, the placing in circulation of these bills of circulation will facilitate for them the means of exchanging them against products or labors which will be most useful to them.

    And if a great number of associations of various professions put mutual credit into practice, the debtors would experience difficulty in paying the debt, being able to immediately exchange the bills that they would receive in payment for their labors or products, for the products or labors that they need, until the time when they could be paid off.

    Thursday, December 02, 2010

    Radix Media update

    There are 35 hours left in the Radix Media Kickstarter campaign, and less than a thousand dollars to raise to make sure they get funding for equipment upgrades. Radical media really needs basic infrastructure improvements are pretty much all levels, so that the energy expended by printers, publishers, distributors, retailers, tablers, etc., is not constantly a sort of hamster-wheel affair, where ever-increasing amounts of effort always seem to bring us back to about where we started. A little thing like being able to automate pamphlet-making (the goal of the Radix campaign) can free up critical hours for all the other tasks that keep precarious projects moving forward.

    The thing that is probably not clear about alternative media, to those who have not already been absorbed by its concerns, is that, as often as not, a huge percentage of the work involved in being a successful radical printer, or binder, or bookseller, etc., is not the application of your specialized craft, but all the other tasks that come with working against the grain of "the economy." Like it or not, just keeping a serious zine project afloat generally requires one to be artisan, entrepreneur, diplomat, prognosticator, visionary, one-person army in the fight for social change, etc.—and most of our mutual aid networks are not robust enough to much more than balance the support they give with a new set of energy-demands. We have to work hard, but we would do well to work smart—and to contribute to one another's efficiency when we can. There's a delicate balance of devotion and business sense, defensive capitalization and gift economy, that we have to strike if we are to make alternative media something other than a cross that some of us bear. Fortunately, the costs—all the various sorts of costs—are comparatively small, and become rapidly less onerous when we commit to sharing them.

    Think, while there's still time in this campaign, about chipping in a little to help Radix Media work both harder and smarter.

    Monday, November 29, 2010

    The Red and Black Cafe + Portland Collective Housing

    Portland's Red and Black Cafe is raising funds for a down payment on the building they occupy. The plan is to purchase the building as part of the Portland Collective Housing project. Both partners in this project are worthy of support, and the plan is a good one, securing the space for the cafe and expanding the tenant-managed, low-income holdings of PCH. See the ChipIn page to contribute.

    Emile Pouget, "Sabotage" (from the Almanach du Père Peinard, 1898)

    This short essay on sabotage covers some of the same ground as Pouget's famous book, but where that work is in some ways rather scholarly, this piece, from the 1898 Almanach du Père Peinard, is written in the language of the street. It's profane in places, sometimes rather gratuitously so, and that poses some translation problems. Mitch Abidor has previously translated the piece for the archive, and in a few places I have followed his translation more or less word-for-word. In others, our translations diverge significantly. And then there are a whole series of stylistic differences. Enjoy!


    Emile Pouget

    Sabotage is a fine stratagem which, before long, will make the capitalos laugh out of the other side of their mouths. At the last Congrès Corporatif at Toulouse, where a lot of good chaps have gathered, sent by the Syndicates, from the four quarters of France, sabotage has been loudly acclaimed.

    The enthusiasm was staggering.

    And all delegates have pledged, once they returned to their home towns, to popularize the thing so that the workers can put it into practice all over.

    And I assure you, my friends, that the enthusiasm is not the result of a passing enthusiasm,—a straw fire.


    The idea of Sabotage will not remain in the state of a blue dream: we will use the trick!

    And the exploiters will finally understand that the job of boss will no longer be all rosy.

    That said, for the good sorts who still don’t know what this is about, I’ll explain what sabotage is.

    Sabotage is the conscious shirking of duties, it is the botching of a job, it is the grain of sand cunningly stuck in the fine gears so that the machine remains broken down, it is the systematic sinking of the boss…. All this practiced on the sly, without making a fuss, or showing off.

    Sabotage is the younger cousin of the boycott. And, hell, in a whole string of cases where the strike is impossible it can render damn good service to the proles. When an exploiter senses that his workers are not in a position to strike, he doesn’t deprive himself of the pleasure of humiliating them. Caught in the spiral of exploitation, the poor buggers, afraid of being sacked, dare not say a word. They are eaten up with anger, but bow their heads: they submit to the bosses’ indignities, burning up inside.

    But they suffer it! And, whether it is with or without rage, the boss doesn’t give a damn, provided they do as he wishes.

    Why is it this way?

    Because the proles have not found a means to respond tit-for-tat and, by their actions, neutralize his nastiness.

    Yet the means exists:

    It is sabotage!

    The English have been practicing it for a long time,—and they find it a damned good thing.

    Suppose, for example, some big labor camp whose boss, all of a sudden, has some acquisitive whim,—whether it’s a new mistress to maintain, or he has bad luck in the purchase of a house, or another fantasy which necessitates an increase of profits on his part. The bastard does not hesitate: in order to realize the profit that he wants he cuts back on workers—on the pretext that business is bad—he has no fucking lack of bad reasons.

    Let us suppose that this mangy character has made his plans very well and the tightening of the screws coincides with a situation so tangled that his proles cannot attempt a strike. What happens then?

    In France, the poor exploited will protest loudly, and curse the vampire. Some—the shrewdest—will raise a ruckus and leave the camp; as for the others, they will suffer their sad fate.

    In England, things would pass otherwise, for fuck’s sake! And that is thanks to sabotage. Quietly, the proles of the factory slip the watchword in the ear: “Hey, friends, we sabot... we must go piano, piano…” And, without further ado, production will find itself slowed. Indeed it will be so slowed that if the boss is not a complete simpleton, he will not persist in his loutishness: he will return to the old tariff,—for he will realize that in this little game, for every five sous that he chisels on the daily wage of each prole he loses four times as much.

    What it is to have a nose for these things!

    There where some suckers had been swindled, some clever devils, stuffed with common sense and initiative, pull themselves out of the mess.


    The English picked up sabotage from the Scots, for the Scots are loafers, and they even borrowed from them the system’s baptismal name: the Go canny.

    Recently, the International Longshoremen’s Union, which has its offices in London, sent out a manifesto advocating sabotage, so that the dockers will have the nerve to practice it, since up to this point, the English proles have used sabotage particularly in the mines and textile factories.

    Here is the manifesto in question:

    What does “Go canny” mean?

    It’s a short and useful word to designate a new tactic employed by workers instead of going on strike.

    If two Scotsmen are walking together and one is going too fast the other says to him: “Go canny,” which means, “Slow down.”

    If someone wants to buy a hat worth five francs he has to pay five francs. But if he wants to only pay four then he’ll have one of lesser quality. A hat is a form of “merchandise.”

    If someone wants to buy six shirts at two francs each he has to pay twelve francs. If he only pays ten he’ll only get five shirts. A shirt is a form of “merchandise sold in the market.”

    If a housewife wants to buy a piece of beef worth three francs she has to pay for it. And if she only offers two francs then she’ll be given bad meat. Beef, too, is a “merchandise sold in the market.”

    Well, the bosses declare that labor and skill are “merchandises for sale in the market,” like hats, shirts, and beef.

    Perfect, we answer. We’ll take you at your word.

    If it is “merchandise” we’ll sell it like the hat maker sells his hats and the butcher his meat. They give bad merchandise for bad prices, and we’ll do the same.

    The bosses have no right to count on our charity. If they refuse to discuss our demands, well, we’ll put in practice the “Go canny,” the slowdown, while waiting for them to listen to us.
    Here, then is sabotage neatly defined: for bad pay, bad work!

    Well, it will be damn swell when the stuff has entered our customs: a dirty trick on the bosses’ band, when those apes are convinced—by experience—that, from now on, the blow is always ready to fall on their heads. The fear of losing cash and of sliding towards bankruptcy will soften the arrogance of the capitalists.

    Feeling themselves vulnerable,—at the cash register, which serves them for a heart!—they will think twice before producing some of their customary bullshit.

    Certainly, there are some good fellows who, under the pretext that we should look avidly for the radical disappearance of capitalism, will find it too little to limit themselves to holding the apes at bay and preventing them from showing their claws.

    They forget to look at the double face of the Social Question: the present and the future.

    Now, the present prepares the future! If ever the proverb “As one makes his bed, so must one lie on it!” has been fitting, it is certainly here:

    The less we allow ourselves to be put down by the bosses, the less intense will be our exploitation, the strong will be our revolutionary résistance, the greater will be the consciousness of our dignity and the more vigorous our desires for liberty and well-being.

    And, consequently, the more able we will be to prepare the blossoming of the great society where there will be no more governors, nor capitalists;

    And, more able as well, when we have achieved it, to evolve in the new milieu.

    If, on the contrary, instead of beginning now the apprenticeship of liberty, we show no interest in daily life, and show contempt for the needs and passions of the present hour, it won’t be long before we wither in a world of abstractions and become renowned only as hair-splitters. In this way, living too much in dreams, our activity will dampen, and as we have lost all contact with the masses, the day we want to shake off our torpor, we will be as tangled up as an elephant who has found an enema pump.

    There’s no question about it: in order to realize equilibrium in life, to carry human activity to the highest degree, it is necessary to neglect neither the present, nor the future.

    When one of the two prevails over the other, the rupture of equilibrium which results produces nothing helpful: when we are all in the present, we get caught up in pettiness and silly games; but when we sail off into the blue skies, we end up trapped in the realm of the ideal.

    And that is why I will drum it into those lads who have some pluck, that they not neglect either the present or the future.

    In this way, they will activate the germination of rich ideas and of the spirit of rebellion.

    Saturday, November 27, 2010

    M. Corbeau's Corvine Call - the Corvus Editions blog

    Last weekend,  I took Corvus Editions out to my first juried arts and crafts bazaar, and yesterday deposited a handful of books in a brand new boutique space for goods made from recycled and repurposed materials. Today, I launched M. Corbeau's Corvine Call, a blog dedicated to Corvus Editions, book arts, sustainable craft production, micro-enterprise and related topics.

    After a lot of experimentation of the sort that leaves your fingers too glue-covered to blog much, it's time to get back to the account I started in the "Taking Wing" posts, and start to talk more specifically about the logistics of creating and maintaining sustainable counter-media micro-projects. I'll be treating those questions in a more focused manner on the new blog, and concentrating here on anarchist history and theory.

    Sunday, November 14, 2010

    Sustainable counter-media — Radix Media on Kickstarter

    Radix Media, a Portland-based radical offset printing and design operation, has launched a modest $5000 Kickstarter campaign, to upgrade their presses and invest in booklet-making equipment. They describe the project as representing the difference between continuing the project, and making it sustainable.

    Sustainable operation is the goal that so few radical projects reach—and the failure to properly plan, capitalize and equip projects carries a hefty cost in failed projects, badly-used resources and harried radicals, beaten down by the constant difficulties associated with just getting by. When you're working on a shoe-string, a wing and a prayer, every set-back is a potential disaster—and set-backs tend to snowball.

    For example, Corvus Editions had a thoroughly enjoyable, but financially lack-luster Summer and Fall. The bookfairs that usually push things along were not quite break-even affairs, however successful they were as social gatherings and busman's holidays. When all was said and done, I had a bit more merchandise printed, assembled and on-hand than I had at the start of the summer, but I was running short on the farm-waste papers I use to print most of the newer and more popular titles in the catalog. Working hand-to-mouth, the hundred bucks required for a paper order isn't always there. Making a smaller paper order changes the cost of the product dramatically, since shipping costs have to be absorbed by fewer products. But there's no time to waste in restocking, since a paper order may take a week to arrive. Since the shoestring is what it is, the logical way to order paper is to refill toner cartridges, but that's a risky game in terms of predictable print quality. And so on. The trade-offs are all risky, and the calculations are all exhausting. And sometimes you make the best use of the resources available to you and things just don't pan out. I spent the Fall juggling resources while sales sagged—and then about the time sales started to pick up I had a batch of handmade cover paper go wrong on me and my laser printer (a wonderful little workhorse up to this point, but one I have worked hard) started to give out. The decision to go another $300 in debt to maintain a project that still isn't really breaking even, in an economy that may well get harder on really small businesses before the pendulum swings the other way, was, to say the least, a wrenching one. In the end, I decided that I didn't really have a lot of options but to push forward—but, having been in the surplus labor pool for quite awhile now, and being, I think, pretty realistic about the hurdles facing radical microenterprise, I'm not sure I could claim it was the right decision. As much as anything, it seems necessary to push back as hard as you can against a system which forces you to ask whether a few hundred bucks might be more than your project—or your life—is worth. So, as of day before yesterday, I have a gently-used HP Laserjet 8150dn, (slightly out of date, but still formidable, with automatic duplexing and tabloid-printing capability) complete with the 2000-sheet feeder-cart and an extra HP toner cartridge, which I was able pick up for a song—but not until I borrowed the song. In the short-term, it means late order will only get a couple of days later. In the long term, it opens up the possibility of doing large-format reprints of periodical like The Firebrand or Liberty, and re/producing broadsides at the size they really require. It opens the possibility of experimenting with soy toner, which has been making inroads precisely through companies supplying cartridges for this sort of workgroup printer. As a much heavier-duty printer, it already seems to have improved the project's print quality, fusing toner more consistently on better and more unusual paper, at a significantly lower per-page cost. (And I'll finally be able to do that skewer-binding projects, using the metal rails from pendaflex folders...)

    My printer upgrade is probably a good gamble, but it raises the stakes for the Corvus project—and the more general project of keeping a roof over my head and kibble in the cats's dish. But assuming that the basic project is sound, and I still think it is, the increased risk is probable worth it.

    That said, it certainly would have been nice to do this when there wasn't a crisis, on a basis that wasn't an intensification of my current uncertain situation. The brilliance of micro-financing on the Kickstarter model is that it reduces risks considerably on all sides. Donation is possible, but the standard means of support is the purchase of a specific good or service. And nobody is charged until the target amount is reached, so either the project is launched or expanded with a reasonable level of funding or nothing moves forward. There is a reasonable expectation that any project that seems moderately well-budgeted will at least produce the products committed to.

    There is no question in my mind that we can develop networks of sustainable presses, printers, distributors and infoshops, all on the nickle-and-dime micro-enterprise model. The only question is whether enough of us will ante up with the nickles and dimes to make it happen. When it comes to choosing projects to support, particularly at this stage in the struggle, committed printers and publishers seem like something of a no-brainer. The improvements that Radix Media has proposed would amplify their ability to do their job—which is to amplify the voices of radicals. Take a look at the proposal and consider contributing.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Proudhon's "New Theory" (3 of 3)

    §2.—Abstention from all regulatory law in that which concerns the possession, production, circulation and consumption of things. Analogies from love and art. Mobilization of the immovable. Character of the true proprietor.

    If the reader has understood what has just been said, from the political point of view, of property, namely: one the one hand, that it can only be a right if it is function; on the other, that it is in the very abuse of property that it is necessary to seek that function, he will have not trouble grasping what remains to be said about the ends of property from the point of view of public economy and morals: which will permit me to be more brief.

    When I say that the ends of property, that is its functionality, and thus its right, must be sought in its abuses, each understands that in expressing myself in this way I do not intend in any way to glorify the abuse, bad in itself, and that everyone would like to abolish. I mean that, property being absolute, unconditional, starting off indefinable, one can know its destination, if it has one, the function, if it is true that it is part of the social organism, only by the study of its abuses, if not by research then,—the function of property once understood and the right proven by the aim of the institution,—how one could triumph over this very abuse.

    Property is abusive, from the economic point of view, in that not only is it an object of monopolization, as we have seen earlier, which tends to deprive a multitude of citizens of their legitimate share; but in that is can be parceled out and split up: which causes a serious harm to agriculture. I believe I recall that in France the 25 million hectares of workable land, in which is found included consequently neither woods, nor meadows, nor vines, nor garden plots, etc., and which form nearly half of the territory, are divided 290 or 300 million parcels: which makes the average of those division less that one-tenth of a hectare, a square of thirty meters on a side. There are many that are smaller. One conceives the harm done to the nation by this parceling out. Fourier estimated that the normal extent of an agricultural exploitation, together with the essential industries that it entails, and disposing of all the mechanical means, should be around a league square, served by a population of 15 to 1,800 persons of every age, sex, profession and grade. That was what gave him the idea of his phalanstery. One of the causes of the inferiority of agriculture in France is that excessive division, which does not exist in England, country of feudal tenure. We have thought many times of preventing that parceling out by facilitating the exchange of parcels: which would allow divided inheritances to be reconstituted. Nothing has succeeded. The division goes its way, without anyone being able to stop it, short of a law of public utility which would undermine property.

    Another abuse, no less prejudicial than the preceding, is that of an anarchic exploitation, without concert between the farmers, without sufficient capital, given to ignorance and chance. It is to that evil that the schools of agriculture, the agricultural associations, the model farms, the crédit foncier, etc, attempt to remedy. Doubtless, we have already succeeded in obtaining some improvements: progress made itself felt little by little, even in the most remote countryside, and science wins everywhere. But it is necessary that the cure be better than the evil; far from that, it most often only aggravates the malady. It would be necessary to reduce the property taxes by half: is that possible? It would be necessary that the mortgage loans could be granted at no more than one and a half percent, half of the net revenue of the land; now, the rate of interest is regularly five. It would be necessary that the small proprietor would be able to profit from all the discoveries of science in order to withstand the competition of the large farms, but that is what can take place only by associating the small properties; which is indeed to return to Slavic possession, and to renounce that which is most attractive in property, the free and absolute disposition. This is the objection that I made, twenty years ago, to the disciples of Fourier, who claimed to preserve property to the phalanstery.

    The third abuse, still more serious than those preceding, since it involves at once public economy and morals: property has found means of separating, in agricultural exploitation, the net product from the gross product. That separation has led to the divorce of man from the earth, and makes of the earth an object of speculation [agiotage], I nearly said of prostitution.

    It is here that property appears decidedly inferior to feudal tenure, and I have never been able to conceive how the economists, denouncing and combating all the abuses, protesting against division, routine and bad methods, preaching to the proprietor love of the soil, and residency, and labor, riding roughshod over politics, how, I say, they cam consider themselves partisans of property. The rent is doubtless a good thing for the one that consumes it and who takes no part in the agricultural labor: but what it is not easy to accept, is that the country and its customs find it equally good. Christianity had abolished slavery; the Revolution suppressed feudal privileges: but what is it then, I ask you, but tenant farming?...

    Here is what I wrote in that regard, in 1858, in my work on Justice in the Révolution and in the Church, 5th study:

    “The metaphysics of property has devastated the French soil (by the arbitrariness of the exploitations), decrowned the mountains, dried up the headwaters, changed the rivers into torrents, graveled the valleys: all with the authorization of the government. It has rendered agriculture odious to the peasant (tenant farmer); more odious still homeland; it encourages depopulation... One no longer values the soil, as in the past, because one inhabits it, because one cultivates it, one breathes its emanations, one lives on its substance, one has received it from his fathers with the blood, and one will transmit it from generation to generation in his race, because one taken there his body, his temperament, his instincts, his ideas, his character, and could not separate himself from it without dying. One values the soil as a tool, less than that, at an inscription of rents by means of which one collects each year, on the common mass, a certain revenue. As to that profound feeling for nature, that love of the soil which the rustic life alone gives, it is extinct. A sensibility of convention, particular to the blasé societies to which nature no longer reveals itself except in the novel, the salon and the theater, has taken its place.

    “... Man no longer loves the land: as proprietor, he sells it, he rents it, he divides it by shares, he prostitutes it, he trifles with it, he makes it an object of speculations; the cultivator, he torments it, violates it, he exhausts it, he sacrifices it to his impatient cupidity, but he never unites with it...”

    The practice of net product, much more clever in our day than it was in antiquity, has carried human egoism to the last degree of refinement. Certainly, the old Roman patrician was miserly, more harsh with his slaves than we are with our domestics; but in the end he worked with them, he inhabited the same holding, breathed the same air, and ate at the same table; from him to the absentee landlord, the difference was enormous. So Italy was beautiful, rich, populous and healthy as long as it was cultivated by its proprietors: it became deserted, pestilential when it was abandoned to slaves, and the master went to Rome to consume its/his immense revenues. And mores will fall with the culture, at the same time that the proprietor, exercising his right, was unaware of his duties.

    Such are, from the economic and social point of view, the abuses of property, flagrant abuses, that every conscious reproves, but which do not constitute, in the eyes of the law, either crime or offense, and that official justice could not pursue, since they are an essential part of the right of the proprietor, and one could not suppress them without destroying property by the same blow; abuses, consequently, that we are careful not to conceal or diminish, since they should serve to reveal to us new ends in property, the knowledge of which will serve us to master its excesses.

    One of the attributes of property is the power to be divided, parceled out, the division the division pushed as far as the proprietor pleases. It is necessary for the mobilization of the soil: there indeed is the great advantage of allodium over fief. With feudal tenure or the ancient Germanic or Slavic possession, still in use in Russia, society advances all of a piece, like an army ranged in battle. It is in vain that individuals have been declared free, and the State subordinated to the assembly of the people; the freedom of action of the citizen, that faculty of initiative, that we have indicated as the character of constitutional States, remains powerless; the immobilism of the soil, or, to put it better, the incommutability of the possessions always returns to social stasis, and consequently autocracy in government. Property must circulate itself, with man, like a merchandise, like a currency. Without that, the citizen is like Pascal's man that the universe crushes, who knows it, who senses it, but who cannot prevent it, because the universe does not hear him, and because the law that presides over the movements of the heavens is deaf to his prayers. But change that law, make is to that universe moves at the will of the imperceptible creature who is for it only a thinking monad, and straightaway all will change: it is no longer the man who will be ground between the worlds; it is the worlds which will whirl at his command, like pith balls. That is exactly what occurs by the mobilization of the soil, accomplished by the magic power of that single word, property. It is thus that our species has elevated itself from the inferior regime of patriarchal association and undivided land to the high civilization of property, a civilization to which no one can have been initiated, and wish to turn back. Let on figure what will happen if suddenly, property abolished, the land divided new, all possessors of land were forbidden from selling, exchanging, alienating their share; if, I say, the soil was again, and for good, immobilized! Isn’t it true that the possessor, although working for himself alone and no longer paying any rent, would believe himself tied, as in the past, to the glebe?... I leave it to the reader to explore more deeply that which I can only indicate here.

    Another attribute, another abuse of property, is in the faculty recognized in the proprietor to dispose in the most absolute manner. Give for the products of labor and genius; give for what we may call the proper creations of man; but for the land, nothing, it seems, is more contrary to all legal and contractual habits. The sovereign who makes a mining concession, for example, the proprietor who leases his land or who leaves it in an annuity, both never fail to impose certain conditions on the concessionaire, the tenant farmer, the donee. He must preserve the thing, exploiter en bon père de famille, etc. Here the sole condition imposed is that of the Abbey of Thélème, to do as one wills.

    It looks like a comedy of Panurge. Never, certainly, were legislators, prince or national assembly, advised of any such idea, and that is for me proof that property is no legislative institution; it has not been declared by an assembly of representatives, pronouncing after careful deliberation and in knowledge of the causes; it is the product of social spontaneity, the expression of a self-confident will, which is affirmed equally in individuals and in the mass.

    Let us note the profound reason for this constitution. There are things, expressed the wisdom of nations, for which the human conscience demands full and complete freedom, and rejects any sort of regulation. Of this number are love, art and labor; we must add property to the list.

    From the point of view of moral perfection, every affection of the soul, every act of the will, being more or less tinged with selfishness, may be deemed as sin or as inducing sin. There is only the sense of right that is pure; justice is incorruptible by nature, never being able to harm, serving on the contrary as panacea. Thus love, flower of life, sustains the creation, without which all existence is desolated, love is not pure: despite the charms that poetry gives it, it resolves itself finally in immorality and corruption. What then will the moralist legislator do here? Will he, after having established the marriage and the pulled the family from promiscuity, impose a regulation on the husband, to make lois d'alcôve [laws of the bedroom], sometimes to invite action, sometimes to prescribe abstinence, to give amorous recipes and to make an art of conjugal love? No: the law of marriage extends a veil over the nuptial bed. It imposes on the conjoined fidelity and devotion; it forbids the husband from fixing his regard on the wife and child of his neighbor; the wife from looking at a stranger; it reminds them to respect themselves, and then abandons them to their own discretion. Let them go now in the mutuality of their tenderness, conscious of the rights of the other and of their own dignity, and it will be on love transfigured by Justice that the unshakeable edifice of the family will be raised; it will be by this that the wife, immodest and provocative by nature, will become holy and sacred.

    What we have just said of love is equally true of art and of labor. That does not mean that the works of genius, the labors of the industrious, know neither rule nor measure, nor rhyme nor reason: in that regard, the romantic school taken a completely false route. That means that the operations of the industrial worker, of the artist, the poet and the thinker, though subject to principles, to technical procedures, exclude on the part of public authority, as of the Academy, every sort of regulation, which is very different. Liberty, such is here the true law: in which I am of the opinion of M. Dunoyer and of the majority of the economists.

    I add that it must be with property as with love, labor and art. Not that the proprietor is to imagine that he is above all reason and all measure: as absolute as the law makes him, he will soon perceive, at his cost, that property cannot live with abuse; that it too must bow before common sense and before morals; he will understand that if the absolute aspires to depart from its metaphysical existence and to become something positively, that can only be by reason and justice. As soon as the absolute tends to realize itself, it becomes amenable to science and right. Only, as it is essential to the progress of justice that the conformity of property to truth and morals be voluntary, that to this end the proprietor must be master of his own movements, no obligation will be imposed on him by the State. And this fits perfectly with our principles: the aim of civilization, we have said, he work of the State being that every individual exercise the right of justice, becomes organ of right and minister of the law; which leads to the suppression of written constitutions and codes. The least laws, I mean of regulatory prescriptions and official statutes, possible, such is the principle which rules property, the principle of an obviously superior morality, by which alone the free man is distinguished from the slave.

    In the system inaugurated by the revolution of 89, and consecrated by the French Code, the citizen is more than a free man: he is a fraction of the sovereign. It is not only in the electoral associations that his sovereignty is exercised, nor in the assemblies of his representatives; it is also, it is especially in the exercise of his industry, the direction of his mind, the administration of his property. The legislator has desired that the citizen enjoy, at his own risks and perils, the most complete autonomy, responsible only for his acts, when they harmed a third party, society or the State considered itself as a third. In these conditions only, the revolutionary legislator has believed that society could prosper, advance on the paths of wealth and justice. He has rejected all the feudal hindrances and restrictions. That is why the citizen, in so far as he works, produces, and possesses,—function of society,—is not at all a functionary of the State: he depends on no one, does what he wants, disposes of his intelligence, of his arms, of his capital, as it pleases him; and the events proves that indeed, it is in the countries where that industrial autonomy, that proprietary absolutism reigns, that there is the most wealth and virtue.

    The legislator, in order to guarantee that independence of initiative, that unlimited freedom of action, has thus wanted property to be sovereign in all the force of the expression: one wonders what would have happened if he had wanted to submit it to regulation? How to separate the use from the abuse? How to predict all the malpractice, repress the insubordination, to remove the laziness, the incapacity, to monitor the clumsiness, etc., etc.—In a few words, exploitation by the State, the governmental community rejected, there was no other choice.

    Thus, let the proprietor separate as much as he wants the net product from the gross product; instead of attaching himself closely to the land by a religious culture, let him seek only the rent, responsible only to the conscience and opinion, he will not be pursued for that. It is good, in itself, that the rent be distinguished from the gross product and become an object of speculation; lands being of different qualities, social circumstances favoring unequally these exploitations, the calculation and pursuit of the rent can become an instrument of better division. Experience will tell individuals when the practice of rent becomes detrimental and immoral to all; the abuse will then be restrained by itself, and there will remain only right and liberty.

    Let the same proprietor borrow on his title, as on his clothes or his watch: the operation can become very dangerous for his, and full of miseries for the country; but the State will not intervene anymore, if it is not to compete with the usurers, by providing money to the borrowers at a better price. Mortgage credit is the means by which property in land enters into relation with movable wealth; agricultural with industrial laboratories: an excellent thing in itself, which facilitates enterprises, adds to the power of production, and becomes a new means of leveling. Experience alone can determine for each with regard to it, the liberty, to fix the measure and impose a curb.

    Let the proprietor, finally, turn and turn again his earth, or leave it to lay, as he intends; let him make plantations, seedbeds or nothing at all; that he raises thorns there, or puts in cattle, he is the master. Naturally, society will have its part of the damage occasioned by an operation that is lazy or badly intended, as it suffers from every vice and every individual aberration. But it is still better for society to support this prejudice, than to ward it off with regulations. Napoleon I said that if he saw a proprietor leave his fields fallow, he would take his property from him. It was a thought of justice that the conqueror said, but it was not a thought of genius. No, not even in the case where it pleases the proprietor to leave his land without cultivation, you must not, you chief of State, intervene. Let the proprietor be the example will not be contagious; but do not commit to a labyrinth without exit. You permit one proprietor to fell a forest that provided heat for an entire district; another to transform five hectares of land in wheat into a park, and to raise foxes there. Why would you not allow him to grow bramble, thistle and thorn? The abuse of property is the price you pay for its inventions and its efforts: with time it will correct itself. Laissez faire.

    It is thus that property, founded on egoism, is the flame which will purify egoism. It is by property that the self,—individual, unsocial, greedy, envious, jealous, full of pride and bad faith,—is transfigured, and makes itself like the collective self, its master and model. The institution which seems made to deify concupiscence, as it has been so often reproached by Christianity, is precisely that which will return concupiscence to conscience. If selfishness never becomes in us identical and adequate to Justice; if the moral law is sought with the same zeal as profit and wealth; if, as Hobbes claimed, the rule of utility can one day serve as the rule of right; and one cannot doubt that would be, indeed, the aim of civilization; it is to property that the world would owe this miracle.

    Depending on whether we envision property according to its principle or its ends, it will appear to us as the greatest and most cowardly of immoralities, or as the ideal of civil and domestic virtue.

    Look at that vulgar face, on which shines no glint of genius, love or honor. The eye is suspicious, the smile false, the front inaccessible to shame, features clash, the formidable jaw, not the jaw of the lion, but of a hippopotamus. The whole physiognomy seems to say: All is nothing, except to have goods, to have enough of them, in whatever manner they have been acquired. The character is not so coarse that he does not understand that property is no merit; but he makes no case for merit, convinced that nobility, bravery, industry, talent, probity, everything that men esteem, without Holdings, is zero, and that he who can say: I have, can very well pass on the rest. He will not argue with you about the origin and legitimacy of property; he is inclined to believe, in petto, that property was in its origin only a usurpation which the legislator has just let slide. But as, according to him, what was good to begin is good to continue, he has only one thought: it is, aside from respect for the sergeants, to increase his Holdings, by all the dubious means which have served to establish them. He exploits the poor, disputes wages with the worker, plunders everywhere and gleans, digs a furrow in the field of his neighbor, and moves the markers when he can do it without being seen. I have seen one who took up in his hand the earth in the ditch and removed it from his side: one would have said that he ate it. To his is rendered of the rent, of the interest on money, all that they can render: so he is the worst usurer as he is the worst master and the very worst paymaster. For the rest, hypocrite and poltroon, fearing the Devil and Justice alike, afraid of effort, not opinion; measuring all men by his own yardstick, which is to say regarding them as rogues; foreign especially to public affairs and not mixing with the government, if it is not in order lighten his share of the tax or pay for his vote, happy that he finds around him citizens to the prejudice of which the incorruptible suffrage permits him to make a good profit of his own. This is the proprietor according to the letter and principle, which amounts to saying, according to egoism and matter.

    Cast your eyes now to the other side, and consider that figure on which is painted, with dignity and sincerity, the high thoughts of the heart. What distinguishes this subject first of all, is that never, in the candor of his soul, would he have invented property. He would have protested with all the force of his conscience against that institution of absolutism and abuse; out of respect for the right, in the interest of the masses, he would have maintained the ancient possession; and without being aware of it, against his formal intention, he would have eternalized despotism in the State, servitude in society. Property exists presently; the accident of birth has made him one of its owners. He possesses without being possessed; he believes in good faith in a principle that he has not wanted, and the responsibility of which weighs on everyone. But he said at the same time that property obliges, and if the law demands nothing of him, his conscience imposes all. Prince of labor, the guardian of law and of liberty, the life of the owner is not to be a life of enjoyment and parasitism, but a life of struggle. He was in the old Rome, noble laborer, head of the austere family, reuniting in his person the threefold capacity of priest, justice and master, made immortal, glorious like the kings, the name, today almost ridiculous, of citizen. It was he who, in 1789, armed both against feudal despotism and against the world. Conscription has replaced the battalions of volunteers, but if the armies of the Empire have rivaled in courage those of the Republic, they have remained inferior in virtue. Friend of the working people, never its courtesan, awaiting the progress of equality; it is also he who said in 1848 that democracy was intended not to shorten coats, it is to lengthen jackets; he finally who supports contemporary society against the assaults of an unbridled industrialism, a corrupt literature, a long-winded demagoguery, a Jesuitism without faith and a politics without principle. Such is the proprietor according to the aims, that one could also call the proprietor according to the spirit.