Thursday, November 28, 2013

On Proudhon's income tax proposal

Here's a bit from The Theory of Property (which I have been working on some again), which discusses the relationship between Proudhon's famous proposal to the provisional government and his developing theory.
My famous proposition of July 31, for a tax of one-third on income, one-sixth to profit the farmer or tenant, one-sixth to profit the nation, should not even be considered as an application of my principles. It was a question, let us not forget, of immediate solutions, from day to day. In the crisis which struck all the forms of production, agriculture, manufacturing industry, commerce, income [rente] remained, inviolable and inviolate; agricultural products declined by half, land rent did not decrease; the tenants saw their wages reduced by fifty percent; the proprietor did not accept a reduction in his rent; taxes had been increased by the famous 45 centimes, and the rentier of the State received his annuities; he even received them in advance. In a nutshell, labor produced less by half and paid just as much to the right of aubaine. Celui-ci, receiving as much as in the past, bought the products at half the cost. The Republic was short on resources. So I made my tax proposal. By giving up a third of his income, the national [domanial] proprietor was still less effected by the crisis than the average laborers. The collection/allocation of the tax being entrusted to the diligence of the debtor, it would have cost the State neither costs of inspection, nor costs of receipt. The tax relief of one-sixth for the profit of the tenant and farmer was a compensation arriving just to the appropriate persons, without costing a penny to the tax authorities; the government finally found a considerable resource, as easy to realize as it was certain.
Despite the scandal that was made around my proposal and the developments that I had given it, I persist in saying that I had found a solution of irreproachable circumstances, and of a complete efficacy; and that all the detailed expedients imagined then and since, have weakened the institution of property more than my project, without pulling us from the crisis.
To say that I expected the solution of the problem of property from the success of my proposition would be absurd. I was aiming then at comprehensive solutions, the plan of which is sketched out in my General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century.
The liberty of the agricultural laborer being, from the economic point of view, the only reason to be for property in land, I naturally had to ask myself: How can society help the agricultural workers to replace the idle proprietors? To which I responded: By organizing the crédit foncier [land bank].

Monday, November 25, 2013

Translation priorities poll

I've set up a poll over on the Working Translations blog, with five possible book-length translation projects, and would love to have folks pick the one that's seems most interesting. All are to some extent already in-progress. I don't necessarily promise to follow the recommendations, or promise not to substitute some similar project for the ones listed, but as I start to press towards publication of the next set of longer works, it would be nice to know in what instances I have a little extra push behind me.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Joseph Déjacque, "The Humanisphere: Anarchic Utopia" (1858)

I've now posted a complete working translation of Joseph Déjacque's, "The Humanisphere." There are a small number of problem sections, which I believe will be obvious. I hope, too, that much of what is really special about the work will be obvious as well. There is still a fair amount of editing, smoothing and annotating to be done before we can move forward with publication, first with the collaboration of another translator and then with the comrades at Little Black Cart. But it seems to me, based on my first quick revision of the text, that there is less of that to do than I had feared.

Enjoy! There is a great deal of interest in the work.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Six years (so far) in the making

I just finished the last paragraphs of a first-draft translation of Joseph Déjacque's The Humanisphere, a major milestone in a process I started back in 2007, when I translated an excerpt, "Authority and Idleness," that I at first didn't even know was from a longer work. As I mentioned when I completed the draft of Part I, Déjacque's style poses all sorts of interesting challenges, so there are a few stages yet to go before this goes to press, including handing it off to a comrade for his suggestions. But the hardest parts are finished, and I think the start-from-scratch approach will pay off for readers in the end. If has already paid off for me, in a much improved understanding of Déjacque's voice and thought, and quite a bit of general French-language skill-sharpening. 

The next step is to get a second-draft working translation posted, which I will do just as quickly as possible.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Joseph Déjacque's style

I've finally completed a first-draft translation of Part I of Joseph Déjacque's The Humanisphere, which is not long, but has to be one of the most difficult translation tasks I've attempted. I decided to start from scratch, despite the existence of several previous attempts, because I encountered some obvious problems and missed references. If I had known quite how many difficulties I would encounter, I might not have taken the task on, but I'm glad I did. 

Déjacque's style is at once fascinating and maddening. Taking Scandal, as often as not, for his muse, he had a tendency to rant a bit, and sometimes much more than a bit, and the rants often took the form of catalogs of the offenses of capitalism, the church, Civilization, etc. Sometimes the sentences would be semi-colon-spliced catalogs of catalogs, in paragraphs sometimes 500 or more words long. On top of that, Déjacque was fond of literary references and often almost purely gratuitous word-play. He was apparently one of those writers who never met a metaphor he couldn't mix, and sometimes things spiraled out of his control a bit, and the reader finds themselves in a sort of cascading free-association of ideas and images. But one of his most interesting tricks was to construct passages in which two or more metaphors or sets of associations were sustained. The French word lame meaning both "blade" and "wave," Déjacque constructed a passage which kept both sets of associations in play. Whether or not the argument is enriched by the maneuver is open to debate, but from a purely aesthetic or technical point of view, the result is engaging. 

My favorite of these double metaphors comes to its climax in the following passage:
"The great barons of usury and the baronets of small business walled themselves up [literally "crenelated themselves"] in their counting-houses, and from the height of their platform launch at the insurrection enormous blocs of armies, boiling floods of mobile guards."
He was talking about the repression of the uprisings in June 1848. Because Déjacque saw capitalism as a financial feudalism, and because he was Déjacque, it wasn't enough for the repression of the June Days to be war; it had to be a war that was like another war, with forces deployed against the people as if from siege engines. So we have "bloc(k)s" of armies from symbolic trebuchets, and metaphorical cauldrons of boiling mobile guards.

It's all fascinating, and a bit mad, and will require some combination of fine editing and footnotes to present clearly. But I'm really looking forward to that stage of fine-tuning. It isn't every text that gives you so much to work with. 

Since Part III was completed some time ago, along with parts of Part II, I expect to have a working draft of the entire work by the end of the year, and then a comrade and I will tackle any additional fine tuning and correction that is necessary. For those who have yet to experience any of The Humanisphere, some of the completed sections are available online.

More Proudhon manucripts online

There is another batch of Proudhon's manuscripts, 1300+ pages worth, available on the Gallica site.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

By Deed

I've just finished a working translation of Ravachol's "Memoirs," which were dictated to his prison guards in 1892, and am taking the opportunity to also post two related documents, "The Hare and the Hunters," the article for which Ravachol's accomplice Georges Etiévant was tried and convicted in 1898, and a letter to the "Comrades of l'Endehors," by Emile Henry, written in response to Malatesta's "A Little Theory," in the wake of Ravachol's trials.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Proudhon manuscripts online

The Ville de Besançon, home of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, has an excellent digital archive site, which I just discovered includes scans of several of Proudhon's manuscripts, including Pologne (source of The Theory of Property), Chronos, and notes on a number of the published works. We can hope that Economie and La propriété vaincue will eventually be available, but what is already there amounts to thousands of pages of material most of us have never had a chance to examine.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Proudhon on "libertarians" in 1858

I've been working my way through those sections of Proudhon's Justice in the Revolution and in the Church which I didn't have to consult carefully while writing the chapter on the State, as the next step towards organizing the Proudhon book. There have been a few moments when I've kicked myself for not going back and looking at sections, and more than a few where passages I read through in 2008-9 look very different to me now. There are two studies which I've never even begun to really do justice, but, so far, the most interesting surprise has come from a rereading of the First Study, on "The Position of the Problem of Justice," which I've felt pretty comfortable with.

In that study, Proudhon attempted to show that two prominent tendencies, which he frequently identified as "communism" and "individualism," cannot lead to an adequate theory of justice. In the argument he was covering some of the same ground that Pierre Leroux had covered in his essay on "Individualism and Socialism." He was also returning to a version of his own opposition of "community and property," from What is Property? and moving beyond the "synthesis" proposed in that work to a theory of liberty and immanent justice that would incorporate the notion of the antinomies. 

It's a key moment in the development of his thought, but what struck me this time through was a shift in his vocabulary that I had not previously noticed. For what appears to be the first and last time in the writings I have been able to search, Proudhon spoke of les libertaires—the libertarians. This was in 1858, the same year that Joseph Déjacque launched his newspaper, Le Libertaire, in New York. But while Déjacque was using the term in what would become its standard form for many years, to designate anarchists, Proudhon seems to have anticipated the libertarians of the 20th century, using the term to designate the proponents of laissez faire, and free markets in which all interests would be harmonized to the extent that they were truly understood, provided the "interference of authority" was prevented.

It's a peculiar, and rather prescient, moment. It should not, of course, surprise, given Proudhon's back-handed acknowledgment of some kind of "market anarchy," but the term libertaire is not one that we associate with Proudhon. I had, in fact, pretty well convinced myself that he had not used the term. (I notice that a friend and colleague, whose working translation of the study I had access to, had highlighted the term where it first appeared.) But to find that he had indeed, however briefly, used the term, and in very much the sense used by the modern proponents of laissez faire, while, of course, consigning those he designated by the term among those who cannot construct an adequate theory of justice, adds another interesting wrinkle to the intellectual history, as well as to the present-day wrangling over labels.

Here's the section:
VI. — The mind goes from one extreme to the other. Advised by the failure of Communism, we are driven to the hypothesis of an unlimited freedom. The partisans of that opinion maintain that there, at base, no fundamental opposition between interests; that men all being of the same nature, all having need of one another, their interests are identical, and therefore easy to grant; that only ignorance of economic laws has caused this antagonism, which will disappear the day when, more enlightened with regard to our relations, we will return to liberty and nature. In short, we conclude that if there is disharmony between men, it comes above all from the interference of authority in things which are not within its competence, from the mania to regulate and legislate; that there is nothing to do but let liberty do its work, enlightened by science, and that all will infallibly return to order. Such is the theory of the modern economists, partisans of free trade, of laissez faire, laissez passer, of every man for himself, etc.
As we see, this is not yet to resolve the difficulty; it is to deny that it exists. – We have only to make your Justice, say the libertarians, since we do not admit the reality of the antagonism. Justice and utility are synonymous for us. It is enough that the so-called opposing interests are understood for them to be respected: virtue, in the social man, just as in the recluse, being only selfishness properly understood.
This theory, which makes social organization consist solely of the development of individual liberty, would perhaps be true, and we could say that the science of rights and the science of interests are merely one and the same science, if, the science of interests, or economic science, having been created, the application did not encounter any difficulty. This theory would be true, I say, if the interests could be fixed and rigorously defined once and for all; if, having been equal from the beginning, and later, in their development, having advanced at an equal pace, they had obeyed a constant law; if, in their increasing inequality, we did not encounter so much chance and the arbitrariness; if, despite so many shocking anomalies, the slightest project of regularization did not raise sharp protests on behalf of affluent individuals; if we could already foresee the end of the inequality, and consequently of the antagonism; if, by their essentially mobile and evolving nature, the interests did not continuously create obstacles, creating new and worsening inequalities between them; if they did not tend, despite everything, to invade, to supplant one another; if the mission of the legislator were not precisely, in the end, to consecrate by his laws, as it emerges, this science of the interests, of their relations, of their balance, and of their solidarity: a science which would be the highest expression of right if we could ever believe it to be complete, but a science which, coming always after and not before the difficulties, forced to impose its decisions through public authority, can very well serve as an instrument and auxiliary of order, but could not be taken for the very principle of order.
By these considerations, the theory of liberty, or enlightened self-interest, irreproachable on the assumption of an accomplished economic science and a demonstrated identity of interests, is reduced to question-begging. It believes realized things which cannot ever be realized; things whose ceaseless, approximate, partial, variable realization constitutes the interminable work of the human race. So, while the communist utopia still has its practitioners, the utopia of the libertarians could not receive the least beginning of execution.

VII. — The communist hypothesis and the individualist hypothesis being thus both set aside, the first as destructive of individuality, the second as chimerical, there remains one last part to take, on which, in any case, the multitude of the peoples and the majority of legislators agree: It is that of Justice.