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.

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