Friday, July 08, 2011

Proudhon and Communism — II

It didn't take long for the communism-friendly interpretation of Proudhon's "Theory of Property" to draw criticism from Henry Seymour. Or, rather, the charge that Proudhonians "so-called Proudhonians" (nice touch, that) don't follow Proudhon "in preaching Individualism and private appropriation" drew some minor counter-criticisms.

"Proudhon and Communism"


In the August issue of Liberty you print an excerpt from Proudhon's posthumous work "The Theory of Property," prefaced by a statment that "the so-called Proudhonians like to tell us that in preaching Individualism and private appropriation they follow his teachings. ... To private property he personally preferred Slavonic or Communal possession of land." I do not see anything to warrant the charge of inconsistency on the part of the disciples of Proudhon. In the first place, they rigorously renounce Individualism, no less than Communism, considered exclusively. But they have always preached Communism in relation to land and natural products, for the reason that such are in nowise due to the efforts of individuals; on the other hand they have simply emphasized the right of personal appropriation of labor-products, for the reason that they are due to personal effort. Now, the denial of the right to personal appropriation of labor-products, carries with it the denial of Communism in this particular, for, if the man who conceives and carries out the production of a commodity has no right to consume or appropriate what he has produced, how can some other men (the community so-called) have a right to consume or appropriate it who have not produced it?—Yours truly, Henry Seymour.

[Source: Liberty (Chiswick), September 1894.] 

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It's an interesting response, if not entirely on point all the time. The bit about rejecting "individualism" and "communism" considered separately would certainly have been true of some of Proudhon's disciples at the time, though clearly not true of some of them, but the claim that Proudhonians "have always preached Communism in relation to land and natural products" strikes me as fairly bizarre. But, in what followed, that strange claim was glossed over almost completely, as Bevington took off on something of a tangent of her own.

Next: Louisa Sarah Bevington, "The Last Gasp of Propertyism"

3 comments:

Derek said...

I have written about Proudhon's property theory in the same manner here, distinguishing between land and the products of labor.

I agree that Seymour's use of the word "Communism" with regard to property in land is peculiar. Certainly Proudhon advocated common property in land, but he also advocated individual tenureship of land within a (loose) common property framework. I think the use of "Communism" connotes a more regulated use of land than Proudhon had in mind.

Shawn P. Wilbur said...

I would say that even "common property" is a stretch for Proudhon. Even in his "last word" in "The Theory of Property," communal *possession* seems to be about as far towards "common property" as he will go.

My sense is that Proudhon never quite worked out how the "property" of collective beings would work, although he had assembled the tools to approach the question. It's obviously not such an easy question, since full mutuality of recognition between conscious individuals and collectivities poses any number of problems.

Anonymous said...

I agree, the tendencies that coincide with communism and Proudhon's Theory of Property are not there on a complete level, and highly critical in various aspects. The relation between this essay and say Stirner's conception of property are very similar too, even though there happens to be some fundamental differences in their philosophy as a whole.

To say it is exclusively or inclusively propertarian or communistic is to misunderstand the the nature of his synthesis.