Friday, December 30, 2011

Joseph Déjacque, on "Exchange"


Joseph Déjacque
(from Le Libertaire, No. 6, September 21, 1858)

“Be then frankly an entire anarchist and not a quarter anarchist, an eighth anarchist, or one-sixteenth anarchist, as one is a one-fourth, one-eighth or one-sixteenth partner in trade. Go beyond the abolition of contract to the abolition not only of the sword and of capital, but also of property and of authority in all its forms. Then you will have arrived at the anarchist community; that is to say, the social state where each one is free to produce or consume according to his will or his fancy without controlling, or being controlled by any other person whatever; where the balance of production and consumption is established naturally, no longer by the restrictive laws and arbitrary force of others, but in the free exercise of industry prompted by the needs and desires of each individual. The sea of humanity needs no dikes. Give its tides full sweep and each day they will find their level.”
(The Human Being, Letter to P.-J. Proudhon.)

Exchange, like all things, can be considered from three perspectives: the past, the present, and the future.

In the past, those who would gather the scattered products of industry and agriculture in a bazaar, the merchants who would spread under a portico what they called their merchandise, would thus engage, to a certain degree, in exchange. Today, we call this commerce, which is to say parasitism, and we are right to do so. For if, relative to the state of places and minds, they had been of some use in their time, in our own time those who keep shops have not the same excuses for continuing to live at the expense of the producers and consumers. The trader is purely and simply a legal thief. In a district of the city, for example, where just one bazaar would be sufficient, and where a few hundred employees could easily provide the service, there exist perhaps a thousand shops and six thousand, or even ten thousand, owners or clerks. To the extent that there are more intermediaries than those hundreds strictly necessary to meet the needs of exchange, there are parasites, thieves. And now, if we consider how much labor these shops have cost, how much manpower and materials have thus been diverted from their true destination, let us judge the quantity of production squandered daily to satisfy the appetites of that rapacious and pedantic bourgeoisie, a caste of monopolists and mercenaries destined by collegiate education and paternal tradition for the noble mission of salesman, civil service brats, practiced from infancy in the handling of coins, raised with a love of plunder. The character of commerce is not debatable: it is organized pillage. It legally robs both those who produce and those who consume.

The shopkeeper—at wholesale, wholesale to the public, or retail—is not the only intermediary between the producer and consumer. That triple usury only fastens itself to their flanks in the last instance.

The producer who does not have in their possession the instruments of labor (and that is the majority, if not the totality), is also exploited by another sort of parasite—the industrialist—the head of the factory and his clerical staff, to say nothing of the banker and his assistants, fed by the manufacturer, and consequently fed by the worker, since nothing productive is done except by the worker’s hands, and since everything done by those hands passes under control of the owner. In exchange for the instruments of labor the workers delivers their labor to the master and receive a wage from him. They give the master an apple to eat, so that the master will leave them the seeds. What a curious compensation! What a laughable exchange! It is the same for the peasant with regard to the landlord, for the proletarian with regard to the proprietor. The proletarians have built the house; the masons, carpenters, roofers, joiners, locksmiths, painters, to say nothing of the quarry-workers, lumberjacks, miners, foundry workers and smiths, potters and glass-blowers, all those who work the earth, the sand and stone, the wood and iron have labored there. It is they who have made the house, from the foundations to the roof’s peak. Well! To live there, even in the attic, they still must pay an odious, quarterly tribute, house-rent, to the fortunate lazy-bones who holds the property. All these proprietors, these landlords, these factory bosses and their clerical personnel, their superiors, the bankers, and the budgetary bureaucracies, all these are so many swarms of locusts who swoop down on the harvest of the towns and the countryside, and devour the wheat while it is green, the bread before it is cooked. Thieves! Thieves! Thieves!

And yet all these vampires are within the law, these rogues are honest people! Will you rely then on official qualifications?

Such is exchange, as the reactionaries understand it, otherwise known as commerce, or exploitation, or theft. It is exchange in civilization, in its barbarity, in its primitive savagery, exchange in its original arbitrariness, exchange by divine right, commerce in its absolute despotism.

At the present time,—not in fact, since commerce, exploitation, and theft always have legal force, but as an idea,—exchange is understood differently.

The uselessness of the owner and shopkeeper once recognized, we say to ourselves: everything that is useless is dangerous, and what is dangerous should be suppressed; the intermediary must disappear. Parasitism, like the barren fig tree, is condemned by the masses to be cast in the revolutionary inferno to be destroyed. “That which does not produce is unworthy of life.” The idea of justice, growing more prominent in public opinion, has expressed exchange thus: the right to the possession of the instruments of labor, that is, to free credit; and the right to the possession of the fruits of their labor, that is the democratization of property, universal and direct commerce,—a formula for social transition which in the political order corresponds to this: the right to the instruments of government, that is, democratization of government, universal and direct legislation.

Commerce and government thus understood,—commerce, as direct exchange, and government, as direct legislation—is a transitory organization which preserves the tradition of the past, while letting the future begin to speak. As soon as we could apply this organization, that is, as soon as we want it, our society, which declines today in misery and slavery, amidst bundles of sticks and piles of coins, will immediately enter into an ascending phase of wealth and liberty. The mark of authoritarian prejudice, the stain of propertarianism and legalism will be little by little wiped from the human brain; intellectual and moral exercise will develop the anarchist sentiment in the individual; industrial and legislative exercise will develop the sentiments of social community and individual liberty in society.

In beginning this article, I only wanted to speak of exchange, and I have been led to also speak of government. It was the least that I could do. Indeed, if contract is the law between the laborers, law is the contract between the people. A national or departmental or communal administration should no more make laws than an agricultural or industrial administration should make contracts. It is the business of all the laborers in the group to contract among themselves and with others, as legislation is a matter for all the inhabitants of a commune or nation. The administration, whether agrico-industrial, or communal, or national, does not command, but obeys. The administration is the delegate; the group of laborers or inhabitants is the master—and doesn’t the master always have the right to stop the wages and immediately dismiss the agent who fulfills their functions poorly?

Without doubt, conventional right, contract and law, even universally and directly exercised, is not natural right, or justice. It is a compromise between anarchy and authority, and everything that is not completely just is injustice. Direct exchange, that reform introduced into popular thought by Proudhon, is still a halfway measure. It is an addition of capacities, the diversification of the commercial census. However, we require not only the absolute overthrow of commerce that we require, but also the overthrow of constitutional or contractual commerce. We require, with regard to productive and consumptive circulation, the declaration of the individual rights of the human being, and the proclamation of the commonwealth, the res publica, that is, the freedom of production and consumption accorded to every individual with regard to the unity and universality of capital.

Nonetheless, a change similar to that which direct-exchange would produce would be a great social improvement, towards which all laborers should strive today. All their efforts should be directed towards this point, and we will arrive there before long, I hope. But in the end, that point is not the goal, that progress is not justice. It is only a stage on the best route, a step made in the direction of justice. We can relax and refresh ourselves there for a moment; but it would be dangerous to sleep there. In revolution it is necessary to double or triple the stages; we must gain ground on the enemy, if we want to escape their pursuit and instead track them down. The point farthest from the past, passing through the present, that is the point that we must try to reach. Abandoning commerce to enter into direct-exchange, we must push all the way to natural-exchange, the negation of property; moving from governmental authority to direct legislation, we must push all the way to anarchy, the negation of legalism.

By natural exchange I mean the unlimited liberty of all production and all consumption; the abolition of every sign of property, whether agricultural, industrial, artistic or scientific; the destruction of all individual monopolization of the products of labor; the demonarchization and demonetization of manual and intellectual capital, as well as instrumental, commercial and monumental capital. Every individual capital is usurious. It is a hindrance to circulation; and everything that hinders circulation hinders production and consumption. All of that is to be destroyed, and the representative sign as well: it accounts for the arbitrariness in exchange, as well as in government.

In mechanics, we almost always proceed from the simple to the composite, and then from the composite to the simple. One man discovers the lever, a simple instrument, endowed with a certain power. Others come who take hold of it, and in their turn make of it a more complicated device. They add wheels and gears, and they increase its power tenfold. However, continual frictions occur which are detrimental to the operation of this mechanism. One overloads it with other wheels and gears; one obtains results that appear more satisfactory, but always very imperfect, and above all small in relation to the care and labors spent on the improvement. Then there comes another engineer, free from the spirit of routine and having in his head the idea for a new motor; experiment has shown to him that an old mechanism overloaded with complications will not be repaired; that it must be replaced by simplifying it; and having cast down this malformed thing,—which drags along its blade on the edge of a ditch whose flow, exhausted at its source, no longer feeds it sufficiently,—he reconstructs on entirely new plans a considerably simplified machine, driven by steam or electricity, which functions this time without loss of force and produces a hundred times what was produced by the old apparatus.

It is the same for the social organism. Primitive commerce has been the lever, the simple and artless instrument of circulation; production and consumption have received an initial impetus. Today, it is an old mechanism which disgraces progress, which has, between its gears of metal, ground up enough (more than enough) of the laborers, of whose sweat and blood and tears it is the expression. Innumerable modifications, each more complicated and more monstrous than the others, have been supplied; and still it isn’t worth a thousandth part of what it has cost the proletarian. This is ruinous for the producer as well as for the consumer.

Direct-exchange, the possession by the laborer of the products of his labor, will certainly change the face of things and accelerate in considerable proportion the movement of production and consumption, and thus it will increase the amount of individual and social well-being. But numberless upsets will still take place, and circulation will not always be free, and without the liberty of circulation there is no liberty of production, no liberty of consumption.

Once more there will be progress, but not justice. An evolution is not a revolution.

In principle, should the laborers have the produce of their labor?

I do not hesitate to say: No! although I know that a multitude of workers will cry out.

Look, proletarians, cry out, shout as much as you like, but then listen to me:

No, it is not the product of their labors to which the workers have a right. It is the satisfaction of their needs, whatever the nature of those needs.

To have the possession of the product of our labor is not to have possession of that which is proper to us, it is to have property in a product made by our hands, and which could be proper to others and not to us. And isn’t all property theft?

For example, suppose there is a tailor, or a cobbler. He has produced several garments or several pairs of shoes. He cannot consume them all at once. Perhaps, moreover, they are not in his size or to his taste. Obviously he has only made them because it is his occupation to do so, and with an eye to exchanging them for other products for which he feels the need; and so it is with all the workers. Those garments or shoes are thus not his possessions, as he has no personal use for them; but they are property, a value that he hoards and which he can dispose of at his own good pleasure, that he can destroy if it pleases him, and which he can at least use or misuse as he wishes; it is, in any case, a weapon for attacking the property of others, in that struggle of divided and antagonistic interests where each is delivered up to all the chances and all the hazards of war.

In addition, is this laborer well justified, in terms of right and justice, in declaring himself the sole producer of the labor accomplished by his hands? Has he created something from nothing? Is he omnipotent? Does he possess the manual and intellectual learning of all eternity? Is his art and craft innate to him? Did the worker come fully equipped from his mother’s womb? Is he a self-made man, the son of his own works? Isn’t he in part the work of his forebears, and the work of his contemporaries? All those who have shown him how to handle the needle and the scissors, the knife and awl, who have initiated him from apprenticeship to apprenticeship, to the degree of skill that he has attained, don’t all these have some right to a part of his product? Haven’t the successive innovations of previous generations also played some part in his production? Does he owe nothing to the present generation? Does he owe nothing to future generations? Is it justice to combine thus in his hands the titles of all these accumulated labors, and to appropriate their profits exclusively to him?

If one admits the principle of property in the product for the laborer (and, make no mistake, it really is a property, and not a possession, as I have just demonstrated), property becomes, it is true, more accessible to each, without being for that better assured to all. Property is inequality, and inequality is privilege; it is servitude. As any product will be more or less in demand, its producer will be more or less harmed, more or less profited. The property of one can only increase to the detriment of the property of the other, property necessitates exploiters and exploited. With the property of the product of labor, property democratized, there will no longer be the exploitation of the great number by the smallest minority, as with property of labor by capital, property monarchized; but there will still be exploitation of the smaller number by the larger. There will always be iniquity, divided interests, hostile competition, with disasters for some and success for the others. Without doubt these reversals and triumphs will not be at all comparable to the miseries and scandalous fortunes which insult social progress in our time. However, the heart of humanity will still be torn by fratricidal struggles which, for being less terrible, will not be less detrimental to individual well-being, to well-being in general.

Property is not only inequality, it is also immorality. Some producer favored with a lucrative specialty could, in their prosperity, use their daily earnings as an excuse to distract from their work a woman (if he is a man), or a man (if she is a woman), and infect them with the virus of idleness, the contagious germ of physical and moral degradation, the result of prostitution. All the vices, all the depravations, all the pestilential exhalations are contained in that substantive hieroglyphic, a case that is only a coffin, a mummy from ancient civilizations, which has arrived in our time carried by the tides of commerce, by centuries of usury,—property!

Thus let us accept direct-exchange, like direct legislation, only conditionally, as an instrument of transition, as a link between the past and the future. It is a question to present, an operation to accomplish; but let that operation be like the welding of a transpresent cable with one end touching the continent of the old abuses, but whose other end unwinds towards a new world, the world of free harmony.

Liberty is Liberty: let us be its prophets, all of us who are visionaries. On the day when we will understand that the social organism must not be modified by overloading it with complications, but by simplifying it; the day when it will no longer be a question of demolishing on thing in order to replace it by its fellow, by denominating and multiplying it, on that day we will have destroyed, from top to bottom, the old authoritarian and propertarian mechanism, and recognized the insufficiency and harmfulness of individual contract as well as the social contract. Natural government and natural exchange,—natural government, which is the government of individuals by individuals, of themselves by themselves, universal individualism, the human self [moi-humain] moving freely in the humanitary whole [tout-humanité]; and natural exchange, which is individuals exchanging of themselves with themselves, being at once producers and consumers, co-workers and co-inheritors of social capital, human liberty, infinitely divisible liberty, in the community of goods, in indivisible property. On that day, I say, of natural government and natural exchange, an organism driven by attraction and solidarity will rise up, majestic and beneficent, in the heart of regenerated humanity. And authoritarian and propertarian government, authoritarian and propertarian exchange, machineries overburdened with intermediaries and representative signs, will collapse, solitary and abandoned, in the dried-up course of the flood of ancient arbitrariness.

So let all these Babylonian institutions perish quickly, with their unnatural wheels and gears, and on their ruins let the universal and fraternal solidarization of individual interests, society according to nature, be enthroned forever!

People of the present, it is necessary to choose. Not only is it immoral and cowardly to remain neutral, it is degrading, but still there is peril. It is absolutely necessary to takes sides for or against the two great, exclusive principles that the world debates. Your salvation is at stake. Either progress or devolution! Autocracy or anarchy!—For a radically flawed society, radical solutions are required: for large evils, grand remedies!

Choose then:

—Property is the negation of liberty.

—Liberty is the negation of property.

—Social slavery and individual property, this is what authority affirms.

—Individual liberty and social property, that is the affirmation of anarchy.

People of progress, martyred by authority, choose anarchy!

 [Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur; revised 2/28/2012]

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Mother Earth—raw bibliography

I've posted a listing of bibliographic data for articles in Mother Earth—in "raw" form, as complete as I have been able to make it, given the state of the card catalog data I was working with and the digital files I have been able to double-check that data against. As I mentioned when the data was all entered into the Libertarian Labyrinth wiki archive, this is a project which I would love to pursue—and not just with Mother Earth—assuming people see this sort of work as useful.

I'll update the listings as I can verify and complete them.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Varieties of "theft" and "property"

It's generally nice to avoid taking complex problems and making them even more complex—but not always. There may be some real advances in clarity to be gained from incorporating our new questions about "theft" into the larger puzzle regarding Proudhon and "property." But we're going to have to proceed cautiously. Let's begin with a sort of catalog of the concepts that may or may not be in play, as we try to unpack Proudhon's infamous phrase, "property is theft," in the contents of his remarks on the commandment, "thou shalt not steal."

THEFT: We have two likely definitions of the term "theft." It may be taken in a fairly conventional sense, to mean misappropriation of already-existing "property." 

Alternately, it may mean some broader category of blameworthy resource misuse, involving "holding, turning or putting aside." Perhaps we shouldn't call this "theft" at all, since presumably it is "the concept mistranslated as 'theft' (in the first sense)," except that our most immediate concern is whether or not the "theft" in "property is theft" should be understood according to a narrow definition, presupposing some form of legitimate "property," or more broadly, in a sense that may be antagonistic to all forms of "putting away." We'll think of both as possible definitions of "theft" in this particular context, and I don't think we'll have gone too far wrong. 

RESOURCE RELATIONSHIPS THAT ARE NOT THEFT: With the first, narrow sense of "theft," we know that the other key concept presupposed by the definition is, in fact, "property." We may not know the details of what that "property" entails, but we know that we can't very well get to "theft" (of "property") without that other term. (The vaguer our notion of "property," the vaguer, naturally, will be our concept of "theft"—and we know that there is an extremely vague notion of "property" lurking in the background of Proudhon's work. We also know, however, that he seems to have been addressing the phrase "property is theft" to a much more clearly defined variety.)

But if "putting aside" is not blameworthy because there is a previously existing form of legitimate property that is somehow being abused, but because of some other sort of impropriety (and, yes, the two may be hard to separate), we are left to figure out what "not putting aside" is in its positive form, and what is positive about it. If, for instance, "property is theft" because the precondition for any sort of property would be an accumulation or "putting aside" that would violate the broader interpretation of the injunction against "theft," we would be left to determine just what relationship or order is being disrupted by the diversion of resources. The most obvious candidate for an equivalent of "not putting aside" is probably the "community" (communauté) that Proudhon proposes as the first form of sociability, and the thesis to the antithesis of "property," in 1840. That term has unfortunately been translated by Tucker as "communism," leading to misunderstandings and questionable "clarifications" about what Proudhon was objecting to in his criticisms of "community." I think this is a case where we're frequently been too quick to leap to the defense of labels, when a little closer attention to the relevant texts would have made it clear that Proudhon was playing a rather different game. This isn't the place for a thorough treatment of what Proudhon said about "community" in 1840, but it probably is worth noting that he characterized it in one key passage as the "spontaneous movement" of "sociability." If the antithesis of individual "holding, turning or putting aside" is a spontaneous and sociable movement, maybe we at least have the beginnings of a little more convincing thesis/antithesis relationship, a more interesting basis for that "synthesis of community and property" that Proudhon associated with "liberty" most of the ones we have proposed thus far. 

PROPERTY: That leaves us with the slipperiest of Proudhon's key-terms: "property." While he was fairly explicit about his definitions at every stage, it's not clear that he was always entirely faithful to his stated definitions, and, even if he was, he made a bit of a tangle of them. As I've already noted, Proudhon acknowledged a broad, vague category of "property," within which the key terms of his 1840 analysis, "simple property" and "simple possession," can be counted as possible varieties. This is the point on which he was probably least consistent, however, since at times he did not want to call "possession" by the name of "property" while at others he did—but during the period when he did not want to do so, he still acknowledged (in the introduction to the second edition of What is Property?) that by "property" he meant "the abuse of property." He never seems to have denied the possibility of a "property" that would not be "theft" for very long at a stretch.

"Simple property," or "domain," was consistently defined as a "matter of right," and specifically of "the right of use and abuse," and it was this "property" about which Proudhon said that "property is theft" in 1840. And it was a particularly strong form of "simple or allodial property" around which Proudhon built his "new theory" of property in The Theory of Property. In that final work, it was precisely the absolute nature of "simple property," its character as "theft," that gave it its desirable character, since that theory depended on the use of property to create a space within which the individual would be sheltered from the absolute demands of other proprietors and whatever "state" or state-like institutions might exist in a free society.

"Simple possession," which Proudhon constantly lumps together with "fief," is, on the contrary, a "matter of fact." Proudhon admitted, in The Theory of Property, that he hadn't really defined "possession" in his earlier works, and he made the following remarks on the subject:
Possession, indivisible, untransferable, inalienable, pertains to the sovereign, prince, government, or collectivity, of which the tenant is more or less the dependent, feudataire or vassal. The Germans, before the invasion, the barbarians of the Middle Ages, knew only it; it is the principle of all the Slavic race, applied at this moment by the Emperor Alexander to sixty millions peasants. That possession implies in it the various rights of use, habitation, cultivation, pasture, hunting, and fishing—all the natural rights that Brissot called property according to nature; it is to a possession of that sort, but which I had not defined, that I referred in my first Memoir and in my Contradictions. That form of possession is a great step in civilization; it is better in practice than the absolute domain of the Romans, reproduced in our anarchic property, which is killing itself with fiscal crises and its own excesses. It is certain that the economist can require nothing more: there the worker is rewarded, his fruits guaranteed; all that belongs legitimately to him is protected. The theory of possession, principle of civilization of the Slavic societies, is the most honorable of that race: it makes up for the tardiness of its development and makes inexpiable the crime of the Polish nobility. 
But is that the last word of civilization, and of right as well? I do not think so; one can conceive something more; the sovereignty of man is not entirely satisfied; liberty and mobility are not great enough.
(Unfortunately, Proudhon also observed, in What is Property?, that: "Possession is a right; property is against right." This isn't necessarily a contradiction of the other characterizations, but it certainly will complicate matters more than a bit, when the time comes to talk about "right" and "rights.")

The Theory of Property contains a chapter on "The Various Meanings of the Word 'Property'," which clarifies a few points in the earlier works. But most of the difficulties in Proudhon's works on property are not really terminological. Of those that are, most of the thorniest revolve around the ill-defined or undefined "possession." 

If we focus, for the moment, on unpacking the possible meanings of the phrase "property is theft," we seem to have most of what we need. There are a range of potential interpretations, the least interesting of them being the one suggested by the redefinition of "property" as "abuse of property," which means that the phrase can be rendered as: The abuse of property is theft. And this in turn breaks down, depending on how we define "theft," into either "the abuse of property is the abuse of property," or, perhaps, "the abuse of property—which is based on "putting aside," which makes it theft—is theft." But if we accept the broader definition of "theft," then we've already essentially defined "simple property" as "theft." Honestly, neither formulation seems to pack quite the punch of the phrase with all of its apparent scandal and paradox intact. But we've probably become a little too attached to the scandal and paradox anyway.

What have we gained from all this complication and exploratory explication? I think we have at least clarified the sorts of questions we need to answer to move beyond the in/famous phrase, and perhaps more successfully pursue the project of that "synthesis of community and property," and to confront the thorny problem of "possession."

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Two new translations from "l'Almanach de la Question Sociale" for 1895

I've been puttering away at translating some short items from one of the radical socialist almanacs available online. This evening, I've posted an article on "Worker Mortality," by Paule Mink, and an obituary of Emile Digeon, the hero of the Narbonne Commune and theorist of "rational anarchism." There are quite a number of other interesting items in the Almanach de la Question Sociale. I'm working on a letter about Louise Michel at the moment [now complete], and I'll probably return to a couple of other items by Paule Mink and Louise Michel as time allows.

Friday, December 23, 2011

"Community" and "Property"

There is a lot more that could, and ultimately should, be said about the relationship between Proudhon's The Celebration of Sunday and his later works, but a detailed treatment will have to wait until I can complete and post the ongoing translation. There are lots of interesting issues raised in that early work that seem to resonate with those that came later—and in some cases much later. And the temptation to wander off on one of half a dozen fascinating tangents is something I've been fighting off with only partial success. For the moment, however, there are probably enough questions raised by the "energetic" interpretation of the commandment against theft, which raises the possibility that theft is a precondition for property, rather than the other way around, and puts Proudhon's infamous phrase in a rather different light.

I want to tackle a number of the immediate consequences of this alternate reading is some fairly short posts.

In the fifth chapter of What is Property? Proudhon proposed a "dialectical" reading of the development of "sociability," according to which society developed from "community" (communauté, unfortunately rendered as "communism" in Tucker's translation) to "property" and then, by a sort of "synthesis" of the two previous forms, to "liberty." We know that Proudhon gradually shifted his method from the application of a more-or-less Hegelian, and fairly mechanical dialectic, through an attempt to adapt Fourier's serial method, to a preoccupation with antinomies, which, ultimately, did not resolve themselves. We also know that his concerns remained relatively constant, but we have certainly complicated the project of determining just how consistent by our translation of communauté as "communism," and, at least potentially, by not taking "property" in its most "energetic" sense.

When we look at Proudhon's account of "dialectical" development, with the terms understood as we have generally understood them, the first two terms are obviously opposed approaches, but it isn't at all clear that "community" (or "communism") and "property" have a thesis-antithesis relationship. As critical as the battle between rival schools of property theory has been, it's almost certainly a mistake to proceed as if there is really a dialectic at work. It has, in fact, been commonplace for even anarchists to agree with Marx that Proudhon was a bit of a bungler in his attempt to apply Hegel's approach. But we have to at least consider whether or not it is perhaps Proudhon's critics who have been a little clumsy. If "property is theft," "theft" is a matter of "holding, turning or putting aside," and "community" is, in its primitive form, not much more than the absence of property—a form of society in which there is not "holding, turning or putting aside"—then the thesis-antithesis relationship looks a lot more convincing.

Proudhon, property and theft, in 1839

Over the last few years, I've spent a lot of time demonstrating how the very suggestive general observations in Proudhon's What is Property? only really emerge as a property theory when we bring them together with developments in his later writings—and how, even then, we are arguably left to pick up his positive project, imagining a property that would not be theft, ourselves. As it turns out, there are also some clarifications to be made by looking back at Proudhon's earlier work, from 1839, The Celebration of Sunday.

The Celebration of Sunday is a peculiar mix of things. It's mostly a celebration of the genius and foresight of Moses, whose legislation is presented as a canny mix of realpolitik and insights so deep that he could only present them in the form of a seed which might germinate and flower under other conditions. For those who know Proudhon as the guy with some harsh things to say about the Jews, his high praise for Israelites may come as a bit of a surprise—and/or his criticisms of the Talmudic tradition may come as a kind of confirmation. I think a bit of both reactions is probably appropriate, and that adding some content to our sense of Proudhon's position can only help. In relation to Proudhon's economic and social theory, we can also see a lot of his early attempts to come to terms with issues like equality, the role of the family, the nature of just authority and government, etc.—and in one passage on the Decalogue's injunction against theft, we get a very interesting first look at Proudhon attempting to relate theft and property. Here is the passage in French:
L'égalité des conditions est conforme à la raison et irréfragable en droit, elle est dans l'esprit du christianisme, elle est le but de la société ; la législation de Moïse prouve que ce but peut être atteint. Ce dogme sublime, si effrayant de nos jours, a sa racine dans les profondeurs les' plus intimes de la conscience, où il se confond avec la notion même du juste et du droit. Tu ne voleras pas, dit le Décalogue, c'est-à-dire, selon l'énergie du terme original lo thignob, tu ne détourneras rien, tu ne mettras rien de côté pour toi (1). L'expression est générique comme l'idée même : elle proscrit non-seulement le vol commis avec violence et par la ruse, l'escroquerie et le brigandage, mais encore toute espèce de gain obtenu sur les autres sans leur plein acquiescement. Elle implique, en un mot, que toute infraction à l'égalité de partage, toute prime arbitrairement demandée, et tyranniquement perçue, soit dans l'échange, soit sur le travail d'autrui, est une violation de la justice communicative, est une concussion.
And the accompanying footnote reads: "Le verbe ganab signifie littéralement mettre de côté, cacher, retenir, détourner." (The verb ganab literally means to put aside, to hide, to hold, to divert." Some of these terms also have more specific applications to commerce. Détourner can mean to swindle, but Proudhon seems to be arguing for a rather literal translation of the terms, one which respects the original "energy" of an injunction which he associates with a basic "equality of conditions and goods." So we might be inclined to translate the passage in this way:
Equality of conditions is in conformity to reason and an irrefutable right. It is in the spirit of Christianity, and it is the aim of society; the legislation of Moses demonstrates that it can be attained. That sublime dogma, so frightening in our time, has its roots in the most intimate depths of the conscience, where it is mixed up with the very notion of justice and right. Thou shalt not steal, says the Decalogue, which is to say, with the vigor of the original term, lo thignob, you will divert nothing, you will put nothing aside for yourself. The expression is generic like the idea itself: it forbids not only theft committed with violence and by ruse, fraud and brigandage, but also every sort of gain acquired from others without their full agreement. It implies, in short, that every violation of equality of division, every premium arbitrarily demanded, and tyrannically collected, either in exchange, or from the labor of others, is a violation of communicative justice, it is a misappropriation
There is a fair amount here that requires some clarification, some of which is undoubtedly somewhat different than the positions that Proudhon would adopt later. Approaching the passage on the treacherous ground of probably authorial intent, I'm honestly torn between two readings. The first is comparatively cautious. We have, after all, a catalog of the varieties of robbery in What is Property?
We rob,—1. By murder on the highway; 2. Alone, or in a band; 3. By breaking into buildings, or scaling walls; 4. By abstraction; 5. By fraudulent bankruptcy; 6. By forgery of the handwriting of public officials or private individuals; 7. By manufacture of counterfeit money. ... 8. By cheating; 9. By swindling; 10. By abuse of trust; 11. By games and lotteries. ... 12. By usury. ... 13. By farm-rent, house-rent, and leases of all kinds. ... 14. By commerce, when the profit of the merchant exceeds his legitimate salary. ... 15. By making profit on our product, by accepting sinecures, and by exacting exorbitant wages.
And what these fifteen varieties of theft have in common is that they all seem to involve something which could be considered abuse—even, if we are careful about our terms, the abuse of property. If we choose to translate détourner as swindle, and proceed as if those other synonyms for theft also refer specifically to unjust forms of holding, turning or putting aside, then we seem to be in general agreement with the work of 1840, and if there are some awkward elements in that work—perhaps particularly the definition, in the introduction to the second edition, of "property" as "the abuse of property,"—we are at least no worse off than we were before.

The more "energetic" approach is to treat the prohibitions against holding, turning or putting aside much more literally. Instead of assuming that the target of the commandment is abuse, and thus that Proudhon's reading of 1839 is in agreement with his catalog of the forms of robbery in 1840, we can see that holding, turning or putting aside are the very means by which any sort of property, beyond the most transient sort of use or consumption, might be established—and property is theft, in a much more literal and consistent sense than any we find in What is Property?

[Continued in "'Community' and 'Property'"...]

Thursday, December 22, 2011

A couple of historical gems

Roderick Long has posted a translation of a chapter from Gustave de Molinari's 1893 work on "Labor-Exchanges." I doubt anyone not already interested in Molinari's work will be won over, but it's a very interesting bit of that particular puzzle—and it's good to see more of Molinari's work in translation. Our understanding of all the players in anarchist/libertarian circles is enhanced by making more works available to more readers.

Readers of French may be interested in P.-J. Proudhon's review of the "Essai sur l'analyse physique des langues, ou Alphabet méthodique," by Paul Ackermann, which Woodcock cites as Proudhon's first published article.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

M. Corbeau's Gallery of Rogues

‎"M. CORBEAU’S Gallery of ROGUES" is the monthly miscellany of radical auto/biography that I'm hoping to launch about January 15, 2012. I've said that I won't release an issue until I have three ready to print, so there are minimal hassles with subscriptions and standing orders. I'm just a couple of dozen pages of translation from that point, and feeling pretty good about how things are coming together. Here are tentative contents for those first three issues.


1. Shawn P. Wilbur—“Who was Eliphalet Kimball?” (with texts and working bibliography)
2. Charles Malato—“Some Anarchist Portraits”
3. Shawn P. Wilbur—“Josiah Warren: A Most Unlikely Internationalist” (with articles)
4. Dio Lewis—On Lysander Spooner’s eating habits
5. The Worcester Spy—On William Batchelder Greene
6. “Bolton Hall, the Man and His Books”
7. Clippings: Louise Michel
8. The People of the Comune: Jules Allix
9. Paul Adam—“Eulogy for Ravachol”
10. Serial story—“Ravachol: The Man with the Dynamite”


1. Shawn P. Wilbur—“Calvin Blanchard!!” (with “My Undertaking and Its Auspices,” miscellany and working bibliography)
2. Elbert Hubbard—“Max Stirner” & “I Am an Anarkist”
3. Maximilien Buffenoir—“Feminism in Lyon before 1848,”—I
4. J. Wm. Lloyd—“Gordak the Poet”
5. Shawn P. Wilbur—Josiah Warren and Spiritualism
6. Two Poems on Equitable Commerce
7. Claude Pelletier: Atercracy (and Artificial Flowers)
8. “Write, Let Children Starve:” The Strange Case of the Brokaws
9. Octave Mirbeau on Ravachol
10. Serial story—“Ravachol: The Man with the Dynamite”


1. Shawn P. Wilbur—“Lewis and Ann Masquerier” (with miscellany and working bibliography)
2. Emma Goldman—Was My Life Worth Living?
3. Maximilien Buffenoir—“Feminism in Lyon before 1848,”—II
4. Bessie Greene—A Miscellany
5. C. L. James and the “Vindication of Anarchism”
6. Charles Keller—“Their Poor Reasons” (poem) [to Andre Leo]
7. Benjamin R. Tucker—On Clement M. Hammond
8. Anselme Bellegarrigue, “Minister plenipotentiary of the Republic of San-Salvador”
9. Anarchist prisoners in French penal colonies
10. Serial story—“Ravachol: The Man with the Dynamite”

Issue 4 is likely to be a Mother Earth issue, with the majority of the material drawn from that magazine.

Stephen Pearl Andrews on Equitable Commerce, 1850

Stephen Pearl Andrews was a bizarre, multi-faceted character, whose contributions to anarchism have sometimes been overshadowed by the peculiarity of his contributions in other fields of study. I've been slowly-but-surely trying to make sense of my notes on Andrews, and in the course of trying to fill some gaps in the story of his involvement with a sort of perpetual-motion machine scheme (a story in which Josiah Warren also plays at least a bit part), I discovered that the Library of Congress had made large runs of the New York Daily Tribune available online. They aren't pretty—they are, in fact, some of the roughest scans it has been my privilege to attempt to read—but they're there, and sort of searchable. The particular story I'm tracking down has all sorts of inherent difficulties of its own: too many players, with names that people seemed intent on misspelling; no very stable set of keywords to search; a few keywords particularly prone to frustrating OCR programs, etc. As a result, it's been slow going digging the details out of a daily like the Tribune, and I will admit to resorting to the microfilm at Portland State University for the serious searching, but I have been much more successful in digging out the other contributions that Andrews made to the paper at the same time. Having been instrumental in introducing shorthand into the United States, Andrews actually worked for awhile as a reporter in Washington, DC contributing his own brand of political journalism to a number of papers, including the Tribune. And, as it turns out, he was also engaged in introducing the paper's readership to Josiah Warren's system of equitable commerce. 

Andrews' series on "Equitable Commerce" ran for seven installments, between August 3 and November 7, 1850. I haven't had a chance to transcribe the series, but all the issues are on the LOC archive site. For easiest reading, download the pdf pages.

An Index to "Mother Earth"—Phase One

My friend Barry Pateman, of the Kate Sharpley Library, recently provided me with the raw data for an index of Mother Earth magazine. I had a couple of very specific questions that I needed to answer, but looking through the listings reminded me that I had gone as far as copying the contents pages for the full run and starting to digitize them some years back. I set myself the task of at least typing in the listings for a handful of major figures—Emma Goldman, Voltairine de Cleyre, C. L. James, etc. As it turns out, I managed to accomplish a lot more than that.

The complete author listings—minus a few unsigned reviews, which were slightly out of place anyway, plus a couple of omissions I caught in this first stage—are now available in the Libertarian Labyrinth archive. I've created a category for Contributors to "Mother Earth", with "contributions" including reprints, and typed in bibliographic entries for every article. Some are incomplete, and it is possible that there are still a few uncaught errors. About 60% of Mother Earth is accessible online in various archives, and I have verified every entry I could, adding full page-ranges where the entries only had starting-pages, etc. In a later phase I'll do the necessary travel to compare the remaining entries to the actual issues—possibly in connection with more digitization. 

Obviously, this is one more element in my campaign to transform the Libertarian Labyrinth into a much more useful and scholarly resource. I'm currently exploring the possibilities, but I expect to be doing quite a bit more of this sort of work, and to be concentrating quite a bit of my energy on my Mother Earth-related work through at least the first quarter of 2012.

Author listings for The Rebel, in a similar state, can also be found in the archive.

[Also available: a bibliographic listing of Mother Earth articles, organized by author.]

Friday, December 09, 2011

Proudhon's "Celebration of Sunday," and other works-in-progress

You can see parts of three ongoing projects, as they appear, over on From the Libertarian Library. The most interesting is probably Pierre-Joseph Proudhon's The Celebration of Sunday, the book he wrote just before What is Property? It's a very interesting read, with something to tell us about a number of aspects of Proudhon's thought, and it's something I've been puttering away at for several months. I have posted a translation of the first quarter of the book, which is relatively short, and expect to have the second major section, which takes us up to about the halfway point, typed in and posted within the next couple of days. My hope is to be able to take a relatively polished translation of the whole work to this year's Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair (March 31-April 1), along with a revised and corrected edition of The Philosophy of Progress.

Among the other texts I'm hoping to have ready for the bookfair is Gray Light, by Paul Brown, the early American communist, friend of Josiah Warren, enemy of Robert Owen, etc. It is an interesting, sometimes frustrating, but also unjustly neglected work of more or less libertarian communism, which has not, as far as I can see, ever been published as a separate work, after its run in the New-Harmony Gazette. Its serial run was thirty-two installments, over parts of three years, and the originals are of poor enough quality that I'm having to type the whole thing in by hand, but I think it will be worth the trouble to begin to reestablish Brown in his proper place in our radical histories. Once Gray Light is finished, I have some essays from the Boston Investigator that I'll probably transcribe. You can get a taste of Brown's idiosyncratic style in the portions of Gray Light I have already uploaded.

The third in-progress project is a translation of Ravachol—the Man with the Dynamite, a popular fictional account of the life and deeds of the in/famous anarchist. I had begun to work on this about a year ago, when other things took precedence, and it's been hard to find an excuse to come back to it at all seriously. Among other things, it's a fairly massive tome, and there are a lot of more significant projects already in the queue. But I've been working hard to get together the first three issues of the forthcoming Corvus monthly, M. Courbeau's Gallery of Rogues, which will be a collection of biographical and autobiographical writings about anarchists and fellow travelers, and it struck me that a serial publication of the Ravachol book might be a fun addition to that project. So here we go. The first chapter is now online.