César De Paepe: From Mutualism to Collectivism

Man of the Day

This month marks the 150th anniversary of the Brussels Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association (the so-called First International). It was one of the most important congresses of the International. The majority of the Belgian members hosting the Congress had been developing a libertarian socialist approach that presaged anarcho-syndicalism. One of their more eloquent speakers was César De Paepe, who had been influenced by Belgian and French socialists, including Proudhon, whose “anarchy” De Paepe had extolled in 1863 (see Shawn Wilbur’s full translation here). At the International’s Laussane Congress in 1867, De Paepe had used Proudhon’s own arguments about property to convince Proudhon’s “mutualist” followers in the International to support the collectivization of land in addition to the collectivization of larger enterprises like mines and railways. The issue remained undecided until the Brussels Congress the following year, when a majority of delegates voted in favour of the collectivization of land as well as of industry. This position became known as “collectivism,” which was contrasted with mutualism and, later, libertarian or anarchist communism. Here I present Shawn Wilbur’s translation of an article published by De Paepe in 1869 after the Basle Congress setting forth the arguments for collectivism that he made in the International. I review these debates in more detail in my book, ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement.

TO THE ANTI-COLLECTIVISTS

Thanks to a dialectics put in the service of a method more often metaphysical than scientific (which it is necessary to avoid confusing with the historical and objective method of Karl Marx), Proudhon has discovered in the social world some laws that observation confirms more from day to day; it is, however, incontestable that hypothesis still plays an infinitely more considerable role in the works of that thinker and that often he has concluded a priori or from insufficient observations: witness the conclusions of his last works relative to the social role of strikes and trades-unions, and those relative to the tendencies of modern production towards association and thus towards the collective appropriation of land and the large instruments of labor, two phenomena of which Proudhon has misunderstood the immense scope from the point of view of the organization of the future, and that he condemned even in the name of reason and logic, while Marx, already well before 1848, in the name of observation and history, considers them the two principal elements of the solution of the social problem. The majority of the writers of Liberté have made the defects of Proudhon their own by sacrificing, so to speak absolutely, his scientific side.

The article of Liberté of September 26, titled Conclusion, is a striking example of these “conclusions [that are] a priori or based on insufficient observations.” Liberté has been informed, by us, as well as by l’Egalité of Geneva, that the account of the Congress of Basel that it published from the Réveil, contained many errors, and that in particular the arguments of the collectivists were presented in a more or less false light; its observation of what is called the “Basel Congress” can thus only be insufficient, since it ignores in large part the reasons which have pushed the majority of the Congress to vote in favor of collective property. Well, despite that insufficiency of observations, Liberté nonetheless presents its “conclusion” which thus can only be a conclusion a priori. That “conclusion” is a work of high fantasy, where shines a disdain for the observation of reality, which is equaled only by the puerile pretention of imposing on humanity purely subjective laws, such as the antinomic laws of Capital and Property, born in the brain of their author and destined to never extend their real existence outside of that small, fantastic and imaginary world.

All the reasoning of the anti-collectivists has for point of departure a hypothesis! The very social necessities which have formerly demanded the constitution of individual property, still demand and will doubtless always demand the support of individual property. That support is fatal; the force of things demands it; divisions or successions parcel out the soil, it is true; but the drawbacks of parceling will not lead to association, to the putting-in-common of the parcels, etc.; that is to say: the soil tends to be divided more and more, and we conclude from it that there may be a natural limit to this division. Why do you conclude that? By what right, on what basis, do you claim that individual property in land is alone practical? Do you know another means of remedying the division, to the parceling out of the soil, but the reunification of the parcels, whether that reunification is made for the profit of a single proprietor who makes the other proprietors of parcels his waged workers (a system that we all recognize as contrary to the aspirations of our era), or for the profit of several by means of co-proprietorship, that is a sort of collective property, however large or narrow this co-property may be? Is there in agriculture itself, that is to say, independent of the effects produced in France and in some adjacent countries by the sale of national properties and the law regarding successions,—two political, extra-economic facts.—Is there in agricultural industry the least tendency to purely individual labor? Is that this industry like the others, does not demand the application of the collective force, the division of functions, the use of machines, production on a grand scale and with unity? Are not the harvest, haymaking, and grape-picking the types par excellence of collective labor?

You want the contrary, and that is why, taking your wish for a positive tendency of society, you misread the facts, and believe that the natural evolution is diametrically opposed to what it is in reality; and that idea well-fixed in your brain, that the natural evolution conforms to your desires, you go so far as to reject revolution which is the thoughtful and intelligent intervention of men to hasten the dénouement of a natural evolution, even, if need be, putting force in the service of the new ideas and not, as you describe it, the violent intervention of a higher and foreign will in society.

And you call yourself revolutionaries! Alas! Your maxims and your method are borrowed from the code of the bourgeois economists, who have also not wanted the intervention of men in the blind play of economic laws, and laugh at the spontaneous and collective efforts of the workers to hasten the period of necessary modifications; laissez faire, laissez passer.

You think that Society has the right to maintain individual property of the soil and to oppose itself to its return to collective property.

In the name of what society do you speak? And if it has the right to do it, does it have the power? If at a given moment it can intervene in a revolutionary manner to regulate its own affairs and make all at once a great step forward towards its natural destinies, can it overturn the natural order of things? Society has only one right, which is to conform to its own laws, to the laws of its historic development; to hasten or slow the natural tendencies that follow the facts, by modifying in one sense or another certain institutions, such is the power of the body of individuals who make up society at a given moment, a power in which each participates to a certain degree according to their greater or lesser influence on their contemporaries. When the anti-collectivist Proudhonians have proved to us that their individual property without rent either to the profit of individuals, or to the profit of society as a whole, that their leveling of the land-rent, is an observable phenomenon; when they have studied and classified the relations of that force that we have thus far encountered among the proprietarian phenomena; when they have classified and generalized these relations in order to draw some laws from them, we will bow before these laws, unless we can neutralize them by contrary laws; until then were are right to say that the rent is a natural fact resulting from the unequal fertility of the soil, an inequality that one can, certainly, diminish by means of certain agronomical procedures, irrigation, rotations, enrichments, etc., but that one can never level because they result from forces placed beyond the power of man, such as the exposure of a plot of land to the south or north, the vicinity of mountains, waters, forests, etc.; until then we will be right to say that their system is only an abstraction and that they are themselves only abstractors of quintessence.

It is otherwise with collective property, that is an observable phenomenon. Mr. Bakunin has cited the example of the Russian commune, and Mr. Cowel-Stepney a tribe of Indians. Certainly, the Russian commune is not observable in France, Belgium, Italy or England; nor are we Indians, and we do not live in the United States. But what does that prove? If collective property is not an observable fact among us today, does that demonstrate that it does not conform to the most imperious social necessities, those most generally felt, and that consequently it will not be observable tomorrow. — In England, is there the least tendency towards our system of small farmer-proprietors; is there not actually, in fact, a tendency to the greatest concentration of property in land between an always more restricted number of landlords; and doesn’t that very present tendency already produce today a contrary tendency in minds that demand the return of the soil to collective property, a demand which tomorrow some minds will transform into deeds, because it alone conforms to the social necessities that, on the one hand, want large-scale agricultural production and, on the other, demand equality between men. It is certain that the English people, on the day when they have worn out the system of large individual property, can only choose between collective property with large-scale agricultural production, or small-scale property with small-scale production, and that this last alternative is hardly probable in a country where they are accustomed to all the advantages of large-scale agriculture. And if in Belgium and France, the division still continue in many places, don’t we already see certain facts that indicate that the period of division nears its end and that those of association and collectivism will commence? These facts are, on one hand, cooperative association, the pooling of the parcels recognized as useful by the élite among our cultivators, and on the other the application of the public company to agricultural industry. For the first case, let us cite this passage from the January 17, 1869 issue of the Journal de la Société agricole du Brabant the editors of which are certainly not complicit with the laborers of the Basel Congress!

“The possible situation of the agricultural populations has awakened the concern of the governments and the economists in recent years. But the remedies that they have proposed, if they tend to attenuate the evils, cannot always make them disappear entirely. It is in freely formed association that must be found the most effective means of combating the drawbacks that we have highlighted. The association would aim to pool capital as well as land, which by their situation are particularly suitable to make up a single operation. Then it could carry out a division of labors that would be set out again between the different chiefs of the operation, in conformity with the special aptitudes of each of them.

“Let us arrange ourselves; and since it is impossible to make a suitable division of the lands that we use, the good lands being found on your side, the poor ones on mine, let us work them all in common. In this way we will avoid competition, we could distribute the rotation in a manner to gather in a single bloc all the homogeneous crops. It would be possible for us to employ those machines of recent invention that function with so much speed and economy; the transportation of fertilizer and return of the harvest would be must easier; and we would no longer be forced to race constantly from one parcel to another, from one end of the commune to the opposite extremity.”

For the second case, we will content ourselves with citing the public companies of the vineyards in France, and notably the one that spent 12 million on small properties in the Gironde and transformed them into one great rural operation (see the Rive Gauche for June 3, 1866).

Just as in manufacturing industry we see the small boss or artisan who labors alone and directly for their clientele, give way to cooperative associations of laborers or associations of capitalists, public or joint-stock companies, we can expect to see the small farming boss and the small proprietor, cultivating their own land, give way to the cooperative association of the rural laborers or to the public agricultural company. That is to say that here again, although by other means than in England, the new tendencies that we can already see here and there push towards a system of collective property and agriculture, rather than the system of the individual possessing proprietor, dreamed of by Liberté. Certainly, these forms of collective property are not those of the collectivism of the Basel Congress, — the earth belonging to the whole of humanity — but they can be a movement towards the collective appropriation of the soil by society, while certainly they are not a movement towards individual property. All this only proves that, although everywhere the earth must be the collective property of society, the solution does not seem as simple to the collectivists as one might say, and that the means of transition between that collective property and present property seem to them to differ necessarily according to the particular constitution of property in land in the different regions.

Whatever the case, a little earlier or a little later, depending on the country, the phenomena of agricultural industry and property in land unfold before our eyes according to the same law as those of manufacturing industry and capital, and form with those two series of analogous, if not completely identical facts. That analogy is one of extreme importance, and Liberté has not even glimpsed it; if it had done so, perhaps it would not have so lightly, with the stroke of a pen, abolished an economic phenomenon.

First series of phenomena. The profits collected by capital in the form of dividends, interest, profits, bribes, etc. increase more and more; labor’s portion decreases, for if the nominal wage has increased for certain workers, the real wage has diminished. Capital tends to centralize, manufacturing work to become collective.

Second series of phenomena. The revenue of the agricultural proprietor increases; the wage of the agricultural workers decreases, although their nominal wage has generally increased. Agricultural property, which tends to centralize in certain countries, also tends to parcel out in others; but even in these latter countries a new tendency begins to show itself beside the other: agricultural property, in order to meet new needs, will centralize, and agricultural labor, by the use of machines, the division of functions, the application of the theory of crop rotation, tends to become collective in all its parts, labor, sowing, reaping, hoeing, clearing, etc., as it has always been, more or less, in some of its essential parts, harvest, haymaking, etc.

Thus, we are in presence of two orders of facts which may seem contradictory at first, but which, after a little deeper analysis, appear to follow the same course.

We do not claim to have resolved here, in a few lines, the problem of the collectivity of the soil; we have simply shown:

l° That the observation of actual facts, of present tendencies, as well as the observation of social necessities that these facts create, alone can lead to solutions.

2° That contrary to the opinions of Liberté, agricultural property, like all capital (machines, workshops, factories, mines, teamsters, etc.) tends to become collective.

3° That a rational comparison of laws, contradictory in appearance, but analogous at base, such as the laws of agricultural property and capital, is often enough to lead to the solution of social problems.

4° That not only is the system of individual property without rent, by the equalization of land, an impossible solution, but that, if it was possible, it would not be not a plausible solution.

The inequality of the land-rent of the individuals brought to the same level by the attribution of all the rent to the social collectivity, the application of scientific processes to agriculture, the transformation of the landlord and tenant, agricultural employers, cowhands, and all the small proprietors—the transformation of everyone into co-proprietors of the soil and into co-workers accomplished, the mutualists can reassure themselves, man will no longer be exploited by man, no more by the individual than by the human collectivity, given that society will deduct nothing from the labor of the farmers, but will be content to use the soil in conformity with the general interests and to allocate the rent, which is not the fruit of the individual labor of the cultivators, but rather the combined result of the forces of nature and of society.

César De Paepe

From mutualism to ?

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Kropotkin on Proudhon’s Justice

Recently I have been reading criticisms of Kropotkin’s claims that Proudhon advocated the use of labour notes, accompanied by the suggestion that he had only a superficial understanding of Proudhon’s ideas. While he may have been wrong (as were many others) to attribute the advocacy of labour notes to Proudhon, he was not ignorant of Proudhon’s work. In his last book, Ethics: Origin and Development, where he analyzed ethical conceptions from a naturalist, evolutionary point of view, he devoted the following section to Proudhon’s theory of justice, showing the connections between Proudhon’s conception of justice and Kropotkin’s own ideas regarding mutual aid and morality. Several selections by Proudhon and Kropotkin can be found in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, including excerpts from Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid and “Anarchist Morality.”

Proudhon on Justice

Among the socialists, Proudhon (1809–1865) approached nearer than any other the interpretation of justice as the basis of morality. Proudhon’s importance in the history of the development of ethics passes unnoticed, like the importance of Darwin in the same field. However, the historian of Ethics, Jodl, did not hesitate to place this peasant-compositor, — a self-taught man who underwent great hardships to educate himself, and who was also a thinker, and an original one, — side by side with the profound and learned philosophers who had been elaborating the theory of morality.

Of course, in advancing justice as the fundamental principle of morality, Proudhon was influenced on one side by Hume, Adam Smith, Montesquieu, Voltaire and the Encyclopædists, and by the Great French Revolution, and on the other side by German philosophy, as well as by Auguste Comte and the entire socialistic movement of the ‘forties. A few years later this movement took the form of the International Brotherhood of Workers, which put forward as one of its mottoes the masonic formula: “There are no rights without obligations; there are no obligations without rights.”

But Proudhon’s merit lies in his indicating clearly the fundamental principle following from the heritage of the Great Revolution — the conception of equity, and consequently of justice, and in showing that this conception has been always at the basis of social life, and consequently of all ethics, in spite of the fact that philosophers passed it by as if it were non-existent, or were simply unwilling to ascribe to it a predominating importance.

Already in his early work, “What is property?” Proudhon identified justice with equality (more correctly — equity), referring to the ancient definition of justice: “Justum aequale est, injustum inaequale” (The equitable is just, the inequitable — unjust). Later he repeatedly returned to this question in his works, “Contradictions économiques” and “Philosophie du Progrès”; but the complete elaboration of the great importance of this conception of justice he gave in his three-volume work, “De la Justice dans la Révolution et dans l’Église,” which appeared in 1858.[200]

It is true that this work does not contain a strictly systematic exposition of Proudhon’s ethical views, but such views are expressed with sufficient clearness in various passages of the work. An attempt to determine to what an extent these passages are Proudhon’s own ideas, and how far they are adaptations from earlier thinkers, would be difficult and at the same time useless. I shall, therefore, simply outline their main contentions.

Proudhon regards moral teaching as a part of the general science of law; the problem of the investigator lies in determining the bases of this teaching: its essence, its origin, and its sanction, i.e., that which imparts to law and to morality an obligatory character, and that which has educational value. Moreover, Proudhon, like Comte and the encyclopædists, categorically refuses to build his philosophy of law and of morality on a religious or a metaphysical basis. It is necessary, he says, to study the life of societies and to learn from it what it is that serves society as a guiding principle.[201]

Up to this time all ethical systems were constructed more or less under the influence of religion, and not a single teaching dared to advance the equity of men and the equality of economic rights as the basis of ethics. Proudhon attempted to do this as far as was possible in the days of Napoleonic censorship, always on guard against socialism and atheism. Proudhon wished to create, as he expressed it, a philosophy of the people, based on knowledge. He regards his book, “On justice in the Revolution and in the Church,” as an attempt made in that direction. And the object of this philosophy, as of all knowledge, is foresight, so that the path of social life may be indicated before it is actually laid out.

Proudhon considers the sense of personal dignity as the true essence of justice and the fundamental principle of all morality. If this sense is developed in an individual it becomes with reference to all men — regardless of whether they are friends or enemies — a sense of human dignity. The right is an ability, inherent in all, to demand from all others that they respect human dignity in their own person; and duty is the demand that everyone should recognize this dignity in others. We cannot love everybody, but we must respect each man’s personal dignity. We cannot demand the love of others, but we unquestionably have a right to demand respect for our personality. It is impossible to build a new society on mutual love, but it can and should be built on the demand of mutual respect.

“To feel and to assert human dignity first in all that pertains to us, and then in the personality of our fellow-men, without falling into egoism, as well as not paying attention either to deity or to society — this is right. To be ready under all circumstances to rise energetically in defence of this dignity — this is justice.”

It would seem that at this point Proudhon should have declared quite definitely that a free society can be built only on equity. But he did not so declare, perhaps because of the Napoleonic censorship; in reading his “Justice” this conclusion (equity) seems almost inevitable, and in a few passages it is more than implied.

The question of the origin of the sense of justice was answered by Proudhon in the same manner as by Comte and by modern science, that it represents the product of the development of human societies.

In order to explain the origin of the moral element Proudhon endeavoured to find for morality, i.e., for justice,[202] an organic base in the psychic structure of man.[203] Justice, he says, does not come from above nor is it a product of the calculation of one’s interests, for no social order can be built on such a basis. This faculty, moreover, is something different from the natural kindness in man, the feeling of sympathy, or the instinct of sociality upon which the Positivists endeavour to base ethics. A man is possessed of a special feeling, one that is higher than the feeling of sociality, — namely, the sense of righteousness, the consciousness of the equal right of all men to a mutual regard for personality.[204]

“Thus,” Jodl remarks, “after his most vigorous protests against transcendentalism, Proudhon turns, after all, to the old heritage of intuitional ethics-conscience.” (“Geschichte der Ethik,” ch. 11, p, 267.) This remark, however, is not quite correct. Proudhon merely meant to say that the conception of justice cannot be a simple inborn tendency, because if it were it would be difficult to account for the preponderance it acquires in the struggle with other tendencies continually urging man to be unjust to others. The tendency to protect the interests of others at the expense of our own cannot be solely an inborn feeling, although its rudiments were always present in man, but these rudiments must be developed. And this feeling could develop in society only through experience, and such was actually the case.

In considering the contradictions furnished by the history of human societies, between the conception of ‘justice native to man and social injustice (supported by the ruling powers and even by the churches), Proudhon came to the conclusion that although the conception of justice is inborn in man, thousands of years had to elapse before the idea of justice entered as a fundamental conception into legislation, — at the time of the French Revolution in the “Declaration of the Rights of Man.”

Like Comte, Proudhon very well realized the progress that was taking place in the development of mankind and he was convinced that further progressive development would occur. Of course, he had in mind not merely the development of culture (i.e., of the material conditions of life), but mainly of civilization, enlightenment, i.e., the development of the intellectual and the spiritual organization of society, the improvement in institutions and in mutual relations among men.[205] In this progress he ascribed a great importance to idealization, to the ideals that in certain periods acquire the ascendancy over the petty daily cares, when the discrepancy between the law, understood as the highest expression of justice, and actual life as it is developed under the power of legislation, acquires the proportions of a glaring, unbearable contradiction.

In a later part of this work we shall have occasion to return to the significance of justice in the elaboration of the moral conceptions. For the present I will simply remark that no one prepared the ground for the correct understanding of this fundamental conception of all morality so well as Proudhon.[206]

The highest moral aim of man is the attaining of justice. The entire history of mankind, says Proudhon, is the history of human endeavour to attain justice in this life. All the great revolutions are nothing but the attempt to realize justice by force; and since during the revolution the means, i.e., violence, temporarily prevailed over the old form of oppression, the actual result was always a substitution of one tyranny for another. Nevertheless, the impelling motive of every revolutionary movement was always justice, and every revolution, no matter into what it later degenerated, always introduced into social life a certain degree of justice. All these partial realizations of justice will finally lead to the complete triumph of justice on earth.

Why is it that in spite of all the revolutions that have taken place, not a single nation has yet arrived at the complete attainment of justice? The principal cause of this lies in the fact that the idea of justice has not as yet penetrated into the minds of the majority of men. Originating in the mind of a separate individual, the idea of justice must become a social idea inspiring the revolution. The starting point of the idea of justice is the sense of personal dignity. In associating with others we find that this feeling becomes generalized and becomes the feeling of human dignity. A rational creature recognizes this feeling in another — friend or enemy alike — as in himself. In this, justice differs from love and from other sensations of sympathy; this is why justice is the antithesis of egoism, and why the influence which justice exerts upon us prevails over other feelings. For the same reason, in the case of a primitive man whose sense of personal dignity manifests itself in a crude way, and whose self-aimed tendencies prevail over the social, justice finds its expression in the form of supernatural prescription, and it rests upon religion. But little by little, under the influence of religion, the sense of justice (Proudhon writes simply “justice,” without defining whether he considers it a conception or a feeling ) deteriorates. Contrary to its essence this feeling becomes aristocratic, and in Christianity (and in some earlier religions) it reaches the point of humiliating mankind. Under the pretext of respect for God, respect for man is banished, and once this respect is destroyed justice succumbs, and with it society deteriorates.

Then a Revolution takes place which opens a new era for mankind. It enables justice, only vaguely apprehended before, to appear in all the purity and completeness of its fundamental idea. “Justice is absolute and unchangeable; it knows no ‘more or less’.”[207] It is remarkable, adds Proudhon, that from the time of the fall of the Bastille, in 1789, there was not a single government in France which dared openly to deny justice and to declare itself frankly counter-revolutionary. However, all governments violated justice, even the government at the time of the Terror, even Robespierre, — especially Robespierre.[208]

Proudhon pointed out, however, that we should guard against tramping upon the interests of the individual for the sake of the interests of society. True justice consists in a harmonious combination of social interest with those of the individual. Justice, thus interpreted, contains nothing mysterious or mystical. Neither is it a desire for personal gain, since I consider it my duty to demand respect for my fellow-men, as well as for myself. Justice demands respect for personal dignity even in any enemy (hence the international military code).

Since man is a being capable of progressing, justice opens the path to progress for all alike. Therefore, wrote Proudhon, justice found expression in the earliest religions, in the Mosaic law, for example, which bade us love God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our might, and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves (in the book of “Tobit,” where we are told not to do unto others what we do not want done unto us).[209] Similar ideas were expressed by the Pythagoreans, by Epicurus, and Aristotle, and the same demand was made by non-religious philosophers like Gassendi, Hobbes, Bentham, Helvétius, etc.[210]

In short, we find that equity is everywhere considered the basis of morality, or, as Proudhon wrote: as regards the mutual personal relations — “without equality — there is no justice.”[211]

Unfortunately, all the worshippers of the ruling power, even the State — socialists, fail to notice this fundamental principle of all morality and continue to support the necessity of the inequality and non-equity inherent in the State. Nevertheless, equity became in principle the basis of all the declarations of the Great French Revolution (just as it was accepted earlier in the Declaration of Rights in the North American Republic). Already the Declaration of 1789 proclaimed that “nature made all men free and equal.” The same principle was reiterated in the Declaration of July 24, 1793.

The Revolution proclaimed individual equality, equality of political and civic rights, and also equality before the law and the courts. More than that, it created a new social economy by recognizing instead of private rights, the principle of the equivalent value of mutual service.[212]

The essence of justice is respect for our fellow-men, Proudhon constantly insisted. We know the nature of justice, he wrote; its definition can be given in the following formula:

“Respect thy neighbour as thyself, even if thou canst not love him, and do not permit that he or thyself be treated with disrespect.” “Without equality — there is no justice.” (I. 204, 206).[213]

Unfortunately, this principle has not as yet been attained either in legislation or in the courts, and certainly not in the Church.

Economics suggested one way out — the subdivision of labour in order to increase production, which increase is, of course, necessary; but it has also shown, at least through the testimony of some economists, such as Rossi, for example, that this division of labor leads to apathy among the workers and to the creation of a slave class. We thus see that the only possible way out of this situation is to be found in mutuality of service, instead of the subordination of one kind of service to another (I. 269), — and therefore in the equality of rights and possessions. This is just what was asserted by the declaration of the Convention of February 15, and July 24 of 1793, in which Freedom and the Equality of all before the law were proclaimed, and this declaration was reiterated in 1795, 1799, 1814, 1830, and 1848, (I. 270.) Justice, as Proudhon sees it, is not merely a restraining social force. He sees in it a creative force, like reason and work.[214] Then, having remarked, as Bacon had already done, that thought is born of action, and dedicating for this reason a series of excellent pages to the necessity of manual labour and of the study of trades in schools as a means of broadening our scientific education, — Proudhon proceeds to consider justice in its various applications: with respect to individuals, in the distribution of wealth, in the State, in education, and in mentality.

Proudhon had to acknowledge that the development of justice in human societies requires time: a high development of ideals and of the feeling of solidarity with all, is required, and this can be attained only through long individual and social evolution. We will return to this subject in another volume. I will only add here that all this part of Proudhon’s book, and his conclusion in which he determines wherein lies the sanction of the conception of justice, contain very many ideas stimulating to human thought. This quality of mental stimulation is characteristic of all Proudhon’s writings, and it was pointed out by Herzen and by many others.

However, in all his excellent words about justice, Proudhon did not indicate clearly enough the distinction between the two meanings given in the French language to the word “Justice.” One meaning is equality, an equation in the mathematical sense, — while the other meaning is the administering of justice, i.e., the act of judging, the decision of the court, and even the taking of the law into one’s own hands. Of course, when justice is mentioned in ethics it is interpreted only in the first sense, but Proudhon at times used the word Justice in its second sense, which circumstance leads to a certain indefiniteness. This is probably the reason why he did not try to trace the origin of this concept in man, — a problem with which, as we will see later, Littré dealt at some length.

At any rate, from the time of the appearance of Proudhon’s work, “Justice in the Revolution and in the Church,” it became impossible to build an ethical system without recognizing as its basis equity, the equality of all citizens in their rights. It is apparently for this reason that the attempt was made to subject this work of Proudhon’s to a unanimous silence, so that only Jodl was unafraid of compromising himself and assigned to the French revolutionist a prominent place in his history of ethics. It is true that the three volumes which Proudhon devoted to justice contain a great deal of irrelevant matter, a vast amount of polemics against the Church (the title, “Justice in the Revolution and in the Church,” justifies this, however, all the more because the subject under discussion is not justice in the Church, but in Christianity and in the religious moral teachings in general); they also contain two essays on woman, with which most modern writers will, of course, not agree; and finally they contain many digressions, which, though they serve a purpose, help to befog the main issue. But notwithstanding all this, we have at last in Proudhon’s work an investigation in which justice (which had been already alluded to by many thinkers who occupied themselves with the problem of morality) was assigned a proper place; in this work, at last, it is stated that justice is the recognition of equity and of the striving of men for equality, and that this is the basis of all our moral conceptions.

Ethics had for a long time been moving toward this admission. But all along it had been so bound up with religion, and in recent times with Christianity, that this recognition was not fully expressed by any of Proudhon’s predecessors.

Finally, I must point out that in Proudhon’s work, “Justice in the Revolution and in the Church,” there is already a hint of the threefold nature of morality. He had shown in the first volume though in a very cursory way, in a few lines, — the primary source of morality — sociality, which is observed even among the animals. And he dwelt later, toward the end of his work, on the third constituent element of all scientific, as well as of religious morality: the ideal. But he did not show where the dividing line comes between justice (which says: “give what is due,” and is thus reduced to a mathematical equation), and that which man gives to another or to all “above what is due,” without weighing what he gives or what he receives — which, to my mind, constitutes a necessary, constituent part of morality. But he already finds it necessary to complete justice by adding the ideal , i.e., the striving for idealistic actions, due to which, according to Proudhon, our very conceptions of justice are continually broadened and become more refined. And indeed, after all that mankind lived through from the time of the American and the two French Revolutions, our conceptions of justice are clearly not the same as they were at the end of the eighteenth century, when serfdom and slavery called forth no protest even from liberal moralists. We have now to consider a series of works on ethics by thinkers who take the evolutionist viewpoint and who accept Darwin’s theory of the development of all organic life, as well as of the social life of man. Here ought to be included a succession of works by modern thinkers, because almost all who wrote on ethics in the second half of the nineteenth century show evidence of the influence of the evolutionist theory of gradual development — which rapidly conquered the mind, after it was so carefully elaborated by Darwin in its application to organic nature.

Peter Kropotkin

Karl Marx RIP

Karl Marx (1818-1883)

We have already had the 200th anniversaries of the births of two of the founding figures of modern anarchism, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (2009) and Michael Bakunin (2014). Now has come the turn of their younger and more famous contemporary, Karl Marx. Even some of the mainstream media have published articles on Marx’s revolutionary ideas, how prophetic his writings were, and how relevant his politics continue to be. Over the years, I have posted various anarchist critiques of Marx and Marxism, and will continue to do so. The first anarchist to criticize Marx’s approach was Proudhon himself, in a letter that he wrote to Marx in 1846, the year before Marx wrote his scathing (and unfair) critique of Proudhon, The Poverty of Philosophy. Proudhon sensed even then Marx’s tendency toward intellectual intolerance of conceptions of socialism contrary to his own, an intolerance that came to the fore in the International Workingmen’s Association, where Marx did everything he could to neutralize Proudhon’s followers, and the more explicitly revolutionary federalists and anti-authoritarians associated with Bakunin, engineering the expulsion of Bakunin and his comrade, James Guillaume, from the International in 1872 (something which I cover in more detail in my book, ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’ – The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement).

Proudhon (1809-1865)

Proudhon’s Letter to Marx

My dear Monsieur Marx,

I gladly agree to become one of the recipients of your correspondence, whose aims and organization seem to me most useful. Yet I cannot promise to write often or at great length: my varied occupations, combined with a natural idleness, do not favour such epistolary efforts. I must also take the liberty of making certain qualifications which are suggested by various passages of your letter.

First, although my ideas in the matter of organization and realization are at this moment more or less settled, at least as regards principles, I believe it is my duty, as it is the duty of all socialists, to maintain for some time yet the critical or dubitive form; in short, I make profession in public of an almost absolute economic anti-dogmatism.

Let us seek together, if you wish, the laws of society, the manner in which these laws are realized, the process by which we shall succeed in discovering them; but, for God’s sake, after having demolished all the a priori dogmatisms, do not let us in our turn dream of indoctrinating the people; do not let us fall into the contradiction of your compatriot Martin Luther, who, having overthrown Catholic theology, at once set about, with excommunication and anathema, the foundation of a Protestant theology. For the last three centuries Germany has been mainly occupied in undoing Luther’s shoddy work; do not let us leave humanity with a similar mess to clear up as a result of our efforts. I applaud with all my heart your thought of bringing all opinions to light; let us carry on a good and loyal polemic; let us give the world an example of learned and far-sighted tolerance, but let us not, merely because we are at the head of a movement, make ourselves the leaders of a new intolerance, let us not pose as the apostles of a new religion, even if it be the religion of logic, the religion of reason. Let us gather together and encourage all protests, let us brand all exclusiveness, all mysticism; let us never regard a question as exhausted, and when we have used our last argument, let us begin again, if need be, with eloquence and irony. On that condition, I will gladly enter your association. Otherwise — no!

I have also some observations to make on this phrase of your letter: at the moment of action. Perhaps you still retain the opinion that no reform is at present possible without a coup de main, without what was formerly called a revolution and is really nothing but a shock. That opinion, which I understand, which I excuse, and would willingly discuss, having myself shared it for a long time, my most recent studies have made me abandon completely. I believe we have no need of it in order to succeed; and that consequently we should not put forward revolutionary action as a means of social reform, because that pretended means would simply be an appeal to force, to arbitrariness, in brief, a contradiction. I myself put the problem in this way: to bring about the return to society, by an economic combination, of the wealth which was withdrawn from society by another economic combination. In other words, through Political Economy to turn the theory of Property against Property in such a way as to engender what you German socialists call community and what I will limit myself for the moment to calling liberty or equality. But I believe that I know the means of solving this problem with only a short delay; I would therefore prefer to burn Property by a slow fire, rather than give it new strength by making a St Bartholomew’s night of the proprietors …

Your very devoted,

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

May 17, 1846

Shawn Wilbur: Anarchy and Self-Government

Here are some excerpts from Shawn Wilbur’s final contribution to the Center for a Stateless Society’s forum on anarchy and democracy. It begins with a reference to David Graeber’s social anarchist approach to democracy, which emphasizes alternative conceptions of participatory democracy, drawing on various peoples’ actual practices of non-hierarchical collective decision-making, and then discusses a Proudhonian approach to anarchy and democracy, which provides a place for certain “democratic practices” within the context of Proudhon’s concepts of “self-government” and voluntary federation. I included several selections from Proudhon on workers’ self-management, anarchy and federalism in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. I discuss the historical development of anarchist approaches to anarchy, democracy, organization and federalism in ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement.

Anarchy and Self-Government

As the market advocates among us are almost certainly aware, it is a common trope among Graeber-inspired anarchists that people only turn to counting and calculation as a means of organizing themselves when society (characterized in this view by a basis in communism and informal democracy) begins to break down. And that reading seems generally faithful to Graeber’s variety of social anarchism, at the core of which is a faith that people can work things out without recourse to mechanisms like market valuation or vote-taking…

I then want to undertake a limited defense of democratic practices, including voting, in a way that draws on Proudhon’s later works and, in a sense, completes the argument against the democratic principle

I would simply like to pick out one aspect of Proudhon’s theory—his frequent use of the English term self-government among the synonyms for anarchy—and propose the bare outline how anarchic self-government might function in practice.

Let’s figure out how we might build a road, or undertake similar projects, using the principle of federation and the sociology of collective force. Readers can then determine whether the distinctions that I have been proposing do or do not actually make a difference.  I’ll structure the sketch around four basic observations about social organization:

  1. The importance of specific decision-making mechanisms or organizational structures to the organization of a free society is almost certainly overestimated. If we are considering building a road, then there are all sorts of technical questions to be answered. We need to know about potential users, routes, construction methods, ecological impacts, etc.—and the answers to all of these questions will significantly narrow the range of possible proposals. We need to make sure that the plans which seem to serve specific local needs can be met with local resources, which will further narrow the possibilities. And in a non-governmental society, there can be no right to coerce individuals in the name of “the People,” nor can there be any obligation for individuals to give way to the will of the majority—and this absence of democratic rights and duties must, I think, be recognized, if the society is to be considered even vaguely anarchistic—so new limitations are likely to appear when individuals feel that their interests are not represented by proposals.

The simplest sort of self-government, where individuals simply pursue a combination of their own interests—including, of course, their interests as members of various social collectivities—and the knowledge necessary to serve them, will either lead to proposals that are acceptable to all the interested parties or they will encounter some obstacle that this sort of simple self-government appears unable to overcome. This second case is presumably the point at which a vote and the imposition of the will of the majority might seem useful. But what is obvious is that such a resolution does not solve the problem facing this particular polity. This sort of democracy is what happens when the simplest sort of self-government—which is probably not worth calling government at all—breaks down, and it involves relations that seem difficult to reconcile with the notion of self-government.

But perhaps this very simple self-government revolves around the wrong sort of self.

  1. The “self” in anarchic self-government is neither simply the human individual, nor “the People,” understood abstractly, but some real social collectivity. The vast majority of Proudhon’s sociological writings actually relate to the analysis of how unity-collectivities, organized social groups with a unified character, emerge and dissolve in society, but what is key for us to note here is that we are not talking about abstract notions like “the People.” Instead, if we are talking about a sort of social self-government, it would seem that the avoidance of exploitation and oppression is going to depend on carefully identifying real collectivities to which various interested parties belong. While “the People” may find their mutual dependence a rather abstract matter, the more precisely we can identify and clarify the workings of specific collectivities, the less chance there should be that purely individual interests undercut negotiations among the members of those collectivities.

One of the important elements of Proudhon’s sociology is his recognition that collectivities may have different interests than the strictly individual interests of the persons of which they are composed. That means that individuals may find themselves forced to recognize their own interests as complex and perhaps in conflicts, depending on the scale and focus of analysis. This may mean, for example, that there will be hard choices between the direct satisfaction of individual desires and various indirect, social satisfactions. But it should also mean that the more strictly individual sorts of satisfaction cannot be neglected when members are thinking about the health and success of the group.

To the extent that real collectivities can be identified, and decisions regarding them limited to the members of those collectivities, negotiations can be structured quite explicitly around the likely trade-offs. To the extent that the health and success of the collectivity depends on lively forms of conflict among the members (and Proudhon made complexity and intensity of internal relations one of the markers of the health—and the freedom—of these entities), then the more conscious all members must be of the need to maintain balance without resorting to some winner-take-all scenario.

It will, of course, not always be possible to resolve conflict by bringing together a single collectivity. There will be issues that can be resolved through additional fact-finding or compromises within the group, but there will be others that call for the identification of other groups of interested parties, whether in parallel with the existing groups, addressing different sorts of shared interests, at a smaller scale, addressing interests that can be addressed separately from the present context, or on a larger scale, addressing issues shared by the given group and other groups as well. We can already see how this analysis leads to federalism as an organizing principle, but perhaps it is not quite clear how and why these various groups might be constituted.

  1. The “nucleus” of every unity-collectivity is likely to be a conflict, problem or convergence of interests. One of the consequences of breaking with the governmental principle ought to be the abandonment of the worldview that sees society always present as “the People,” a fundamentally governmental collectivity always present to intervene in the affairs of individual persons. While there might be a few institutions of self-government that enjoy a perpetual existence, anarchists should almost certainly break with the notion that that each individual is obliged to stand as a citizen of some general polity whenever called to account for themselves.

Instead, the principle of voluntary association and careful attention to real relations of interdependence ought to be our guides. And the rich sort of self-interest we’ve been exploring here ought to serve us well in that regard. To abandon the assumptions of governmentalism and take on the task of self-government is going to be extremely demanding in some cases, so we might expect that individuals will desire to keep their relations simple where they can, coming together to form explicit associations only when circumstances demand it—and then dissolving those association when circumstances allow.

Where existing relations seem inadequate to meet our needs and desires, then some new form of association is always an option—and with practice hopefully we will learn to take on the complex responsibilities involved. Where existing relations seem to bind us in ways that stand in the way of our needs and desires, we’ll learn to distinguish between those existing associations which simply do not serve and those of a more fundamental, inescapable sort—and hopefully we will grow into those large-scale responsibilities from which we cannot extricate ourselves. Conventions for the use of property, the distribution of revenue and products, the mechanics of exchange, etc. can probably be approached in much the same way we would approach the formation of a new workgroup, the extension of a roadway, the establishment of sustainable waste or stormwater disposal, etc.

  1. Organization, according to the federative principle, is a process by which we identify—or extricate—specific social “selves,” on the one hand, or establish their involvement in larger-scale collectivities, on the other, and establish the narrow confines within which various “democratic” practices might come into play. If we are organized in anarchistic federations, then we can expect that organization to be not just bottom-up, but very specifically up from the problems, up from the local needs and desires, up from the material constraints, with the larger-scale collectivities only emerging on the basis of converging interests. Beyond the comparatively temporary nature of the federated collectivities, we should probably specify that we are talking about a largely consultative federalism, within which individuals strive to avoid circumstances in which decision among options is likely to become a clear loss for any of the interested parties. If we are forced by circumstances to resort to mechanisms like a majority vote, then we will want to contain the damage as much as possible. But I suspect we will often find that the local decisions that are both sufficiently collective and divisive to require something worth calling “democratic practices,” but also sufficiently serious to push us to confrontations within local groups may find solutions through consultation with other, similar groups. Alternately, if the urgency is not simply local—if, for example, ecological concerns are a factor—they may find themselves “solved,” not by local desires at all, but by consideration of the effects elsewhere.

Taking these various observations together, it should be clear that I do indeed believe that sometimes we will be required to fall back on familiar sorts of democratic practices, but I hope it is also clear why, in very practical terms, I believe that this will constitute a failure within an anarchist society.

Shawn Wilbur

Robert Graham: Anarchy and Democracy

My most recent post was from a group of Brazilian anarchists advocating direct democracy in response to the current political crisis in Brazil. Whether anarchists are or should be advocates of direct democracy is a matter of long-standing debate, going back to the origins of anarchism as a political (or anti-political) movement in the 19th century. Previously, I have posted a number of contributions to this debate from both anarchist advocates of direct democracy and those who argue that anarchy dispenses with all forms of government, including directly democratic ones. The Center for a Stateless Society is currently hosting an online symposium on this subject. I have written on this topic over the years, advocating a form of what I call “associational” direct democracy that rejects simple majority rule, drawing on the ideas of the feminist political theorist, Carole Pateman (see for example, “The Role of Contract in Anarchist Ideology,” in For Anarchism (1989), ed. David Goodway). Recently, I contributed a piece to the Anarcho-Syndicalist Review, in which I discuss the historical origins of the debate and some of the more theoretical issues, including the development of anarchist conceptions of direct democracy that seek to transcend a simple majoritarian decision-making model.

Anarchy and Democracy

The relationship between anarchy and democracy has always been ambivalent. Both concepts have had many different interpretations, both positive and negative. Anarchy is equated with chaos, a “war of all against all,” and terrorism. Democracy is equated with “mobocracy,” one step away from tyranny, or simply as a sham. But when conceived in a more positive light, anarchy and democracy share some similar characteristics, particularly when democracy is conceived as a form of social organization that gives people the power to participate directly in the making of the decisions regarding their own lives, workplaces and communities, instead of that decision-making power being given to “representatives” who then make those decisions, allegedly on the people’s behalf. Anarchy and direct, as opposed to representative, democracy, both seek to realize a social form of freedom in equality and equality in freedom. Both therefore are subversive of the existing social order.

But the tension between anarchy, which seeks to reject all rule, and even direct democracy, which purports to provide for collective self-rule, remains. And this tension is something that anarchists have grappled with since the time of the 1789 French Revolution.

During the French Revolution, there was open conflict between the supporters of representative government, or “parliamentarianism,” and advocates of direct democracy, and between them and the advocates of revolutionary dictatorship. The proponents of parliamentary democracy advocated a system by which people (usually just male property owners) would elect representatives who would then form a government that would rule over everyone (including those without any right to vote, such as women and workers). The proponents of direct democracy advocated that everyone should be able to directly participate in political decision-making by voting on policy matters in their own assemblies, neighbourhoods, districts and communes. Both groups were inspired by the French political philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778).

In his book, The Social Contract (1762), Rousseau developed two related arguments which both his later followers, and many of his critics, including anarchists, often conflated. His first purpose in the book was to provide a rational justification for authority by means of the notion of a “social contract” that everyone must be assumed to have entered into in order to create a system of government that would guarantee everyone’s rights and freedoms. Anarchists later denounced this argument on historical and theoretical grounds, because the social contract was entirely hypothetical, and because the system of government that everyone had purportedly agreed to did not and could not guarantee everyone’s rights and freedoms. In reality, governments acted in the interests of the small minority of the rich and powerful, guaranteeing the exploitation and domination of the masses.

But what many anarchists failed to fully appreciate was the second part of Rousseau’s argument, namely what sort of government would guarantee everyone’s rights and freedoms. And in this regard, Rousseau advocated a system of direct, not parliamentary, democracy, despite the claims of many of his so-called followers, including some of the Jacobins during the French Revolution. In a noteworthy passage regarding the English system of parliamentary government, Rousseau wrote that: “The people of England regards itself as free; but it is grossly mistaken; it is free only during the election of members of parliament. As soon as they are elected, slavery overtakes it, and it is nothing. The use it makes of the short moments of liberty it enjoys shows indeed that it deserves to lose them.”

However, Rousseau’s notion of direct democracy was unitary, based on his notion of the “general will,” which led him (and his followers) to reject direct democracy conceived as a federation of directly democratic associations, and to the idea that you can “force people to be free,” by forcing them to conform to the “general will,” as expressed by the majority, which purportedly expressed their real wills. The Jacobins used these kinds of arguments to justify banning trade unions in France during the Revolution, and any other kind of association which could challenge their power.

But other people took Rousseau’s ideas in a more libertarian direction. During the French Revolution itself, the people of Paris created the “Commune of Paris,” based on general assemblies in each district, where people would vote directly on political matters. The anarchist communist, Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) later argued that this was an example of “the principles of anarchism” being put into practice. Jean Varlet (1764-1837), a French revolutionary who denounced the Jacobin dictatorship, argued that only the people in their directly democratic assemblies could express the “general will,” and that anyone delegated the task of representing the views of the assemblies must be subject to recall so that they could not substitute their “individual wills” for the will of the people.

Working people in Europe began to create their own nascent trade union organizations, such as mutual aid societies and societies of “resistance,” in order to pool their resources and to coordinate actions against their employers. In France, a practice of direct democracy developed within many of these organizations, with the general members directly voting on policy matters, and any elected officials being subject to recall if they did not act in accordance with the membership’s wishes.

By the 1840s, when Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865) first gave explicit expression to anarchist ideas in France, there were numerous workers’ societies and associations that practiced some form of direct democracy. Although Proudhon distinguished anarchy, “no government,” from democracy, “self-government,” when he came to propose alternative forms of social organization as a positive form of “anarchy” to replace existing economic and political institutions, he included directly democratic forms of organization with recallable delegates subject to imperative mandates, such as the “People’s Bank” that was to replace the Bank of France. With respect to large scale enterprises, he advocated a form of workers’ self-management, where the workers would manage their workplaces on a directly democratic basis.

But Proudhon was aware of the problem of adopting a system of simple majority rule, even in directly democratic organizations. In contrast to Rousseau, he advocated voluntary association and federalism. Individual workers (or anyone else) could not be compelled to join an association, and both individuals and groups that federated with other groups would be free to secede from their respective associations and federations. Consequently, someone or some group that found themselves continually in the minority on votes within an association or federation would be able to leave the group and to form or join another one composed of people with more similar views. But a tension remained regarding whether within a particular group the minority could be forced to comply with a decision by the majority.

When followers of Proudhon (many of whom, admittedly, were not anarchists), began trying to organize an international association of workers in the 1850s and early 1860s, culminating in the founding of the International Workingmen’s Association in 1864, this practice of working class direct democracy had become well established in France. The Proudhonist members of the International saw it as a voluntary international association of workers’ organizations that should be based on Proudhon’s notion of federation, with no central governing power. The International’s so-called General Council was to be an administrative, not a governing body, and all policy matters were to be decided by recallable delegates subject to imperative mandates at the International’s annual congresses.

Karl Marx (1818-1883), who was on the General Council, fundamentally disagreed with this approach, which eventually led to the split in the International in 1872 between Marx and his supporters, and the “federalists,” “anti-authoritarians,” and “anarchists.” Marx tried to turn the General Council into a governing body that could impose policies on the members and groups belonging to the International, and expel anyone who did not comply with them. He opposed any attempts to turn the General Council into a council of delegates mandated by the member associations, such that the General Council became (at best) a representative body, not a directly democratic one. One of the policies Marx tried to impose, despite the opposition of the majority of the International’s member groups, was the requirement that they create working class political parties that would participate in existing systems of representative government, with the object of “conquering” political power.

It was through the conflict with the Marxist approach to the internal governance of the International, and Marx’s imposition of a policy committing the International’s member groups to participation in parliamentary politics, that many of Marx’s opponents in the International began to identify themselves as anarchists. In the process, they came to develop new, and sometimes diverging, ideas about the relationship between anarchy and democracy.

Michael Bakunin (1814-1876) is a case in point. Prior to joining the International in 1868, Bakunin had sketched out various revolutionary socialist programs advocating an anarchist form of direct democracy. For example, in his 1866 program for the “International Brotherhood” of revolutionary socialists, Bakunin advocated a federation of autonomous communes, within which individuals and groups would enjoy full rights to freedom of association, but envisaged these federations eventually being replaced by federations of workers’ associations “organized according to the requirements not of politics but of production.” These views were very similar to Proudhon’s and the more radical Proudhonist elements in the International, although they did not yet identify themselves as anarchists.

What some of them eventually came to share with Bakunin was a concept of anarchy as a form of what I would describe as “associational” direct democracy – direct democracy conceived as an association (or federation) of associations without any central authority or state above them, with the member groups, each with its own directly democratic decision-making procedures, coordinating their activities through voluntary federation with other associations, using recallable delegates subject to imperative mandates at the higher levels of federation in order to pursue common courses of action.

However, as a result of Marx’s attempts to turn the International into a top-down organization with the General Council acting as its executive power, Bakunin and some other Internationalists began to develop a critique of federalist organization that raised issues regarding associational direct democracy, both in terms of the manner in which the federated groups could coordinate their activities while preserving their autonomy, and in terms of the internal organization and decision-making procedures within the associated groups.

Bakunin and others argued that the only way to prevent a higher level coordinating body, such as the General Council, from being transformed into an executive power, is to do away with such coordinating bodies altogether. Instead, the various associations would communicate directly with each other in order to coordinate their activities, including the organization of policy conferences or congresses, where delegates from the various groups would debate the issues of the day, such as the revolutionary general strike v. the revolutionary commune, anarchist communism or anarchist collectivism, propaganda by the deed and insurrection.

When the anti-authoritarians, federalists and anarchists reconstituted the International, they compromised on this issue, agreeing to have a coordinating correspondence bureau, but the seat of the bureau was to rotate from one federation to another each year. More importantly, the anti-authoritarian International decided that any policies endorsed at an International congress would not be binding on the member groups. It was up to each group, and its members, to ultimately determine which policies they were to adopt. This was meant to ensure that it was the members themselves, through their own directly democratic organizations, who would make the policies they were to follow, rather than delegates at international congresses, even if the latter were supposed to be subject to imperative mandates (which the delegates could violate, as had happened at the 1872 Hague Congress, when some delegates from federalist sections sided with the Marxists, contrary to their mandates).

But if policies endorsed at a congress of delegates subject to imperative mandates, and to recall if they violated their mandates, could not be binding on the member groups, whose own members were to decide these issues, then how could policies adopted by the members of the constitutive groups be binding on other members of these groups who did not vote in favour of them? Bakunin, for one, began to develop a critique of binding policies, or legislation, even if they were decided by a directly democratic vote. This led to the idea that voting should be replaced by “free agreement,” and to the development of anarchist theories of organization based more on notions of voluntary association than on notions of direct democracy. Anarchy and democracy began again to be conceived as distinct, rather than complimentary, concepts, mainly by anarchist communists, such as Elisée Reclus (1830-1905), Errico Malatesta (1853-1932) and Kropotkin.

Writing about the Paris Commune of 1871, Kropotkin suggested that the Commune had no more need for an internal government than for a central government above it, with the people instead forming “themselves freely according to the necessities dictated to them by life itself.” Rather than a formal structure of even directly democratic assemblies federated into a commune or city-wide organization, then regional, national and international federations, there would be “the highest development of voluntary association in all its aspects, in all possible degrees, for all imaginable aims; ever changing, ever modified associations which carry in themselves the elements of their durability and constantly assume new forms which answer to the multiple aspirations of all.”

While some of the anarchists and socialists in the anti-authoritarian International began to move toward a “communalist” position, such as Paul Brousse, Gustave Lefrançais and Adhemar Schwitzguébel, advocating participation in municipal elections and the creation of socialist communes, Elisée Reclus and other anarchist communists rejected that approach, reminding everyone that they were “no more communalists than statists; we are anarchists. Let us not forget that.” As Malatesta later put it, “anarchists do not recognise that the majority as such, even if it were possible to establish beyond doubt what it wanted, has the right to impose itself on the dissident minorities by the use of force.”

In various parts of Europe, some of the anarchist communists opted for small groups of anarchist militants with no formal networks or federations, with decisions being based on the free agreement of each member. In Spain, the majority of the anarchists continued to advocate the use of revolutionary trade unions and to utilize a directly democratic federalist structure with recallable delegates subject to imperative mandates at the higher levels of the federations. According to the anarchist historian Max Nettlau (1865-1944), the anarchist communist groups in France, which today would be described as “affinity groups,” remained isolated from the people; there was a “fine flowering” of anarchist ideas, “but little concern for the fruit that should issue from the flower.”

There was a return to more federalist forms of organization based on directly democratic base groups when anarchists again turned their focus on working class movements for self-emancipation, leading to the rise of revolutionary and anarchist syndicalist movements prior to the First World War. During revolutionary upheavals, workers began to create their own political structures, many of which had directly democratic structures, in opposition to existing governments.

Anarchists participated in the first soviets during the 1905 Russian Revolution, and again in the soviets that arose during the 1917 Russian Revolution. But there were concerns that the soviets functioned more like workers’ parliaments, with many of their members representing the platforms of their respective political parties rather than the views of the workers they were supposed to represent. This led some of the Russian anarcho-syndicalists to advocate a new form of directly democratic organization: the factory committee or council. Anarchists in Italy and Germany also supported the factory and workers’ council movements there. During the Spanish Revolution (1936-1939), yet another directly democratic form of self-governance arose under anarchist impetus, the libertarian “collectives,” in which all members of the community participated regardless of their role in the production and distribution process.

Anarchists critical of the notion of majority rule, even in directly democratic organizations, such as Malatesta, nevertheless participated in these movements, seeking to push them as far as they could go. This was also the approach advocated by Kropotkin. Despite having anarchy as their goal, where social relations and collective decision-making would be based on free agreement and voluntary association, they recognized that directly democratic popular organizations were a step toward that goal.

In the 1960s, Murray Bookchin argued for directly democratic community or neighbourhood assemblies, that would enable everyone to participate directly in policy making, as the political basis for a decentralized ecological form of anarchism. But he also saw a positive role for both affinity groups, which would act as revolutionary “catalysts” and would also form the “cell tissue” of an eco-anarchist society, and factory or workplace councils through which workers would manage their own workplaces. Later he became more narrowly focused on the concept of directly democratic municipal government, which he called “communalism,” and eventually rejected the anarchist label altogether.

During the anti-nuclear movements of the 1970s and 80s, among the more radical “second wave” feminist movements of the same era, and then the so-called “anti-globalization” and “Occupy” movements of more recent years, anarchists have sought to create affinity group based social movements that coalesce into broader networks or webs, creating an amalgam of social forms that combine affinity based small group organization with various forms of direct democracy and voluntary federation, similar to what Bookchin had advocated in the 1960s.

But contemporary anarchists, such as David Graeber, conceive of direct democracy in broader terms than Bookchin, recognizing that there are “Non-Western” forms of direct democracy that are more consensus based, in contrast to systems where decisions are ultimately based on a majority vote. Feminist political theorists, such as Carole Pateman, have also criticized simple majority rule within directly democratic forms of organization, arguing that those in the minority cannot be forced to obey, as this would reintroduce domination within the groups.

Yet the debate about whether anarchy and democracy are compatible continues. One can argue for more sophisticated decision making processes that are more inclusive and which are meant to prevent the domination of directly democratic groups by powerful personalities, or simply by those who are more active or have greater stamina; or one can argue that the concept of “democracy” has become so corrupted that anarchists should no longer make any use of it.

But one could just as well argue that the concept of “anarchy” has become so twisted in the popular imagination that its negative connotations now outweigh the positive to such an extent that the concept should simply be abandoned. It really depends on the concrete circumstances in which you find yourself. Rather than arguing about which labels to adopt or promote, perhaps it would be better to work with others in creating non-hierarchical organizations in which everyone really does have an equal voice, and then see where they can take you.

Robert Graham

Bourdon & Varlin: Freedom of Education (1866)

The Geneva Congress 1866

The Geneva Congress 1866

This September marks the 150th anniversary of the first policy Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association in Geneva, Switzerland (from September 3 to 8, 1866). It was at the Geneva Congress that the Statutes of the International were officially adopted (with the French version fatefully referring to every “political movement” being subordinate to the “economic emancipation of the working classes,” whereas the English version referred to every political movement only being subordinate to economic emancipation “as a means”; Marx later used the English version to argue that anarchism was contrary to the International’s Statutes, which he wrote, no doubt with this arcane distinction in mind). The French delegates were largely Proudhonist in orientation. They presented a report to the Congress that quoted extensively from Proudhon’s General Idea of the Revolution, one of his most anarchist works. However, the majority of the French delegation agreed with Proudhon’s view that fathers should be in control of their children’s education. Two of the French delegates presented a “minority” report on this issue, Antoine-Marie Bourdon, a Fourierist, and Eugène Varlin, a radical socialist federalist, in which they argued that education is a social responsibility. During the debates at the Congress on the position of women, Varlin also argued in favour of equal rights for women, because the reality is that women must be allowed to earn a living by working, otherwise they would be condemned to prostitution or reliance on charity. Here, I reproduce Shawn Wilbur’s translation of Bourdon and Varlin’s minority opinion on education. I discuss the Geneva Congress in more detail in ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It”: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist movement.

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Opinion of the Minority of the French Delegation

Finding ourselves in agreement on the obligation to be educated in a society where we profit each day from the insights of other; recognizing the necessity of education being at once scientific and professional, we are radically divided on the means of spreading it: some maintain that this responsibility falls on the family; the others, that it must be borne by society.

The convictions being equally profound on both sides, we believe that we should indicate here the principles that we have taken for a guide in the study of this question. These principles can be summarized in two words: Justice, Liberty. Justice in social relations, equality of rights and duties, equality in the means of action put by society at the disposition of the individual, equality for the individuals in the burdens of society.

Individual liberty, the right for each and the power to employ their faculties, and to use them according to their will.

As long as the individuals could only arrange unequal means of action, the tasks that fall to them will be unequal, and justice will not exist. As long as one constraint prevents the use of the self, liberty will not exist. That said, let us enter into the facts.

The complete incapacity of the human being, at their birth, requires in its favor an advance of services of which it will have to take account, when the development of its faculties will have put it, so to speak, in possession of itself, when it becomes a being capable of action.

With man in the state of nature, a comparatively small amount of services suffices for the child of:

That the mother directs his first step; that the father teaches him to hunt and gather the fruits with which he must nourish himself, and his education is complete. He can live freely and in conditions of complete equality with his fellows. The number of his brothers, even the loss of his parents would not be for him causes of inequality; the bit of demand for such an education is the guarantee that he will receive it from a strong being, whatever it may be.

In the civilized state, it is something else: Man being created for enjoyments, that habit has transformed into needs, in order to satisfy them, he must produce, produce a great deal; muscular strength no longer suffices, he must put intelligence to work. From then on, education becomes complicated; to the physical development is added the intellectual and moral development.

The more the faculties of man will be developed, the more and better he will produce, the more he will be useful and the more he should be happy. The less educated he will be, the less useful he will be and the more miserable, for inferiority is misery.

Now, the advance sum necessitated by an education capable of developing all the faculties of the child and to put him level with science and industry, being considerable, it is no longer a matter of indifference to ask who will furnish it.

It is just that this should be by those who must profit from it; but what is especially important is that all the children are assured of receiving it complete, so that none begin life in conditions of inferiority.

Some say that the responsibility for education falls on the family! Can the family furnish equal means of education to all children? No.

Depending on whether the family has more or less children, it will have more or less resources; and while the father of one could, without depriving himself, give them not only primary education, but also secondary and even higher education, the father responsible for many children will barely give them elementary instruction. The son of the first will become the manager of enterprises for which the children of the second will be the laborer. Inequality for the children in the results, inequality of burdens for the families, and thus no justice.

To shield themselves from these shocking inequalities, the partisans of education by the family propose to found some cooperative insurance societies in order to provide, in equal parts, for the costs of education of their children, whatever their number. That idea is certainly very laudable, but is it capable of guaranteeing the education of all the children? No.

There will always be improvident fathers. Unconcerned for their dignity and the interests of their children, they will not insure it; and, if education becomes too heavy a burden for them, they will neglect it.

Some quantity of children will still find themselves at risk of lacking education, or of only having due to the public or private charity that our opponents energetically reject, as it applies to men who have consciousness of their dignity. But if it is good to guarantee oneself against all protection, all charity, wouldn’t it be better still to destroy them by leaving them no place any longer, no void to fill?

As for us, we do not accept that a single child should be deprived of instruction, that charity finds a single child to instruct. Let society take education under its charge, and the inequalities cease, charity would disappear. Education becomes an equal right for all, paid for by all the citizens, no longer according to the number of their children, but according to their ability to contribute.

Incidentally, who will profit from the education of the child? Isn’t it the entire society, rather than the family? Now, if it is society, let it be society that covers the costs.

But there is not only the question of tasks and expenses; there is also, and especially, a question of direction, and it is to this that the partisans of education by the family cling most.

The fear of the absorption of the individual by the state, the terror of official education, makes them forget all the costs of education, all the social inequalities that inequality of instruction brings about.

Certainly, we can only agree with their criticisms of university education, only applaud the blows struck by them against the monopoly of education, for it is not to us that all that is addressed. We even make this declaration, that if we only had to choose between the monopoly of education in the hands of a despotic, absolute power, of the government of one man or a few men, and the liberty of education as the responsibility of the family, we would opt for liberty.

But when we demand that education be the responsibility of society, we mean a truly democratic society in which the direction of the education would be the will of all.

It will doubtless be objected that everyone will never have the same will and that the minority must be subject to the majority. That will occur even with mutual insurance. But we are allowed to hope that the habits of liberty will lead the citizens to make some reciprocal concessions, and that the programs of study will be formulated according to generally accepted ideas, excluding above all affirmations without proof and accepting only the sciences and reasonable things.

In our mind, the central administration, having formulated a program of study including only the essential notions of universal utility, will leave to the communes the task of adding what seems good and useful to them in relation to the places, manners and industries of the country, and to choose their instructors, to open and direct their schools.

What is more, that education by society will find an excellent corrective in the liberty of education, in the natural right that the individual has to teach what they know, and learn what they don’t know. A right of which we are presently deprived, and that we are all resolved to demand with all our energy.

This right of education would not only allow some teachers to offer courses concurrently with the public schools, either for general studies or more often for specialized studies; but still, by leaving to each the ability to establish courses or conferences critical on the points found incomplete or on flaws in teaching, would permit the presentation of these objections to the students and the public who would [be the] judge. This would force the public educators to hold themselves to the level of science and to the improvements of teaching methods in order to leave the least possible foothold for criticism.

It seems to us that in this manner the parents would have as large a part as desirable in the direction of education; and the children would be assured of all receiving an education as complete as necessary.

But in order for all to be assured of receiving that instruction, there must be an obligation! Should it be real or simply moral? If the obligation is real, it is said, you strike at the liberty of the child and the authority of the father.

As for the liberty of the child, we respond: in order to be free, it must have the enjoyment of all its faculties to be able to suffice for its own existence; now, the child is not free, and to become free, has need precisely of education. In terms of paternal authority, a father does not have a right to refuse education to his child.

Now, society having the duty of safeguarding the interests of its members, in the name of the interest of the child when its father leaves it in ignorance, it should take it and instruct it. We conclude then for education by society, under the direction of the parents and compulsory for all children; but we also demand, whatever happens, the freedom of education.

Antoine-Marie Bourdon and Eugene Varlin

Geneva Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association, September 1866

 

 

Uri Gordon: Is Anarchy Democracy?

crimethinc democracy

As part of its series on anarchy and democracy, CrimethInc posted a piece by Uri Gordon, “Democracy: The Patriotic Temptation,” in which he highlights the perils of promoting anarchy as the only genuine form of democracy. I have left out the historical introduction, where Gordon summarizes the anarchist critique of democracy that goes back at least to Proudhon. However, I disagree that “the association between anarchism and democracy makes its appearance only around the 1980s, through the writings of Murray Bookchin.” While it is true that Bookchin made great efforts to associate anarchism with direct democracy (starting in the 1960s, in essays like “The Forms of Freedom,” excerpts from which are included in Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas), at times even 19th century anarchists, particularly Proudhon himself, associated anarchy with forms of direct democracy. Drawing on the heritage of direct democracy that came to the fore during the French Revolution and was carried on by workers’ associations well into the 19th century, Proudhon advocated voluntary federations of directly democratic functional groups, with the delegates to the various federations being subject to imperative mandates and recall should they violate their mandates, much the same sort of direct democracy that Bookchin advocated in the 1960s (although even then Bookchin put much more emphasis on community assemblies than Proudhon ever did).

dejacque

Other anarchists, such as Joseph Déjacque, also advocated forms of direct democracy (I included selections from Déjacque’s writings in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas). The anarchists in the First International argued that the International should be organized on “federalist” lines, with the delegates to the International’s congresses, and the members of the General Council themselves, subject to imperative mandates from and recall by the sections of the International that had delegated them. Marx and his cohorts, despite the Marxist propaganda regarding his alleged support for direct democracy (based on the misconception that the government of the Paris Commune was some kind of direct democracy, when it was actually a representative form of government), opposed any attempts to require the members of the General Council to be delegated by the member sections of the International, and expressly attacked the anarchists’ advocacy of direct democracy within the International at the 1872 Hague Congress, where they ridiculed the anarchists’ insistence that delegates follow the mandates given to them by the sections that had delegated them to attend the Congress. I review this history in some detail in ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement.

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Selling Anarchism as Democracy

Essentially, the association of anarchism with democracy is a two-pronged rhetorical maneuver intended to increase the appeal of anarchism for mainstream publics. The first component of the maneuver is to latch onto the existing positive connotations that democracy carries in established political language. Instead of the negative (and false) image of anarchism as mindless and chaotic, a positive image is fostered by riding on the coattails of “democracy” as a widely-endorsed term in the mass media, educational system, and everyday speech. The appeal here is not to any specific set of institutions or decision-making procedures, but to the association of democracy with freedom, equality, and solidarity—to the sentiments that go to work when democracy is placed in binary opposition to dictatorship, and celebrated as what distinguishes the “free countries” of the West from other regimes.

Yet the second component of the maneuver is subversive: it seeks to portray current capitalist societies as not, in fact, democratic, since they alienate decision-making power from the people and place it in the hands of elites. This amounts to an argument that the institutions and procedures that mainstream audiences associate with democracy—government by representatives—are not in fact democratic, or at least a very pale and limited fulfilment of the values they are said to embody. True democracy, in this account, can only be local, direct, participatory, and deliberative, and is ultimately achievable only in a stateless and classless society. The rhetorical aim of the maneuver as a whole is to generate in the audience a sense of indignation at having been deceived: while the emotional attachment to “democracy” is confirmed, the belief that it actually exists is denied.

Now there are two problems with this maneuver, one conceptual and one more substantive. The conceptual problem is that it introduces a truly idiosyncratic notion of democracy, so ambitious as to disqualify almost all political experiences that fall under the common understanding of the term—including all electoral systems in which representatives do not have a strict mandate and are not immediately recallable. By claiming that current “democratic” regimes are in fact not democratic at all and that the only democracy worthy of the name is actually some version of an anarchist society, anarchists are asking people to reconfigure their understanding of democracy in a rather extreme way. While it is possible to maintain this new usage with logical coherence, it is nevertheless so rarefied and contrary to the common usage that its potential as a pivot for mainstream opinion is highly questionable.

an open question

an open question

The second problem is graver. While the association with democracy may seek to appeal only to its egalitarian and libertarian connotations, it also entangles anarchism with the patriotic nature of the pride in democracy which it seeks to subvert. The appeal is not simply to an abstract design for participatory institutions, but to participatory institutions recovered from the American revolutionary tradition. Bookchin (1985) is quite explicit about this, when he calls on anarchists to “start speaking in the vocabulary of the democratic revolutions” while unearthing and enlarging their libertarian content:

That [American] bourgeois past has libertarian features about it: the town meetings of New England. Municipal and local control, the American mythology that the less government the better, the American belief in independence and individualism. All these things are antithetical to a cybernetic economy, a highly centralized corporative economy and a highly centralized political system… I’m for democratizing the republic and radicalizing the democracy, and doing that on the grass roots level: that will involve establishing libertarian institutions which are totally consistent with the American tradition. We can’t go back to the Russian Revolution or the Spanish revolution any more. Those revolutions are alien to people in North America.

Cindy Milstein’s formulation in her article “Democracy is Direct” (Milstein 2000) works directly to fulfil this program by seeking to build on American origin myths:

Given that the United States is held up as the pinnacle of democracy, it seems particularly appropriate to hark back to those strains of a radicalized democracy that fought so valiantly and lost so crushingly in the American Revolution. We need to take up that unfinished project… Like all the great modern revolutions, the American Revolution spawned a politics based on face-to-face assemblies confederated within and between cities… Those of us living in the United States have inherited this self-schooling in direct democracy, even if only in vague echoes… deep-seated values that many still hold dear: independence, initiative, liberty, equality. They continue to create a very real tension between grassroots self-governance and top-down representation.

The appeal to the consensus view of the American polity as founded in a popular and democratic revolution, genuinely animated by freedom and equality, is precisely intended to target existing patriotic sentiments, even as it emphasises their subversive consequences. Milstein even invokes Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address when she criticises reformist agendas which “work with a circumscribed and neutralized notion of democracy, where democracy is neither of the people, by the people, nor for the people, but rather, only in the supposed name of the people.” Yet this is a dangerous move, since it relies on a self-limiting critique of the patriotic sentiment itself, and allows the foundation myths to which it appeals to remain untouched by critiques of manufactured collective identity and colonial exclusion. While noting the need not to whitewash the racial, gendered, and other injustices that were part of “the historic event that created this country,” Milstein can only offer an unspecific exhortation to “grapple with the relation between this oppression and the liberatory moments of the American Revolution.”

wells athenian democracy

Yet given that the appeal is targeted at non-anarchist participants, there is little if any guarantee that such a grappling would actually take place. The patriotic sentiment appealed to here is more often than not a component of a larger nationalist narrative, one that hardly partakes of a decolonial critique (which by itself would have many questions about the Western enlightenment roots of notions of citizenship and the public sphere). The celebration of democracy in terms that directly invoke the early days of the American polity may end up reinforcing rather than questioning loyalties to the nation-state that claims, however falsely, to be the carrier of the democratic inheritance of the colonial period. This is especially poignant in the context of the recent wave of mobilization, which displays precisely this mix of quintessentially anarchist-influenced means of organization and action, and distinctly patriotic and nationalist discourses—from the Egyptian revolution’s embrace of the military, through the Jeffersonian sentiments pervading the Occupy movement, and on to the outright nationalism of the Ukrainian revolution.

There is, indeed, one reason to question this concern—namely, the democratic and nationalist sentiments that have been expressed by movements with which anarchists have good reasons to sense an affinity. The most prominent of these are the struggles of communities in Chiapas linked to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation in southeast Mexico and the revolutionary movement in Rojava or Syrian Kurdistan. Both have not only employed the language of democracy to signify a decentralised and egalitarian form of society, but also an explicit agenda of national liberation. The Kurdish movement has publicly endorsed Bookchin as a source of inspiration. Does this mean that anarchists are wrong to maintain active solidarity with these movements? My answer is “No”—but due to a crucial difference that also vindicates the general argument above. It is not the same thing for stateless minorities in the global South to use the language of democracy and national liberation as it is for citizens of advanced capitalist countries in which national independence is already an accomplished fact. The former do not appeal to patriotic founding myths engendered by an existing nation state, with their associated privileges and injustices, but to the possibility of a different and untested form of radically decentralised and potentially stateless “national liberation.” To be sure, this carries its own risks, but anarchists in the global North are hardly in a position to preach on these matters.

Thus we return to the main point: for anarchists in the USA and Western Europe, at least, the choice to use the language of democracy is based on the desire to mobilize and subvert a form of patriotism that is ultimately establishment-friendly; it risks cementing the nationalist sentiments it seeks to undermine. Anarchists have always had a public image problem. Trying to undo it through the connection to mainstream democratic and nationalist sentiments is not worth this risk.

Uri Gordon

we-dont-need-patriotism

We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It

we do not fear the book cover

AK Press now has a graphic for the cover of my forthcoming book, “We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It”: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement. I have already posted a few excerpts on this blog. The book should be out next Spring. Here, I set forth some excerpts from the Introduction, where I provide a definition of anarchism based on the way the anarchists in the International conceived it. The quote in the title, “We do not fear anarchy – we invoke it,” is from Bakunin.

goldman quote

Defining Anarchism

During his polemics within the International against the “authoritarians” and “bourgeois socialists,” Bakunin set forth six primary grounds for distinguishing his anarchism from the views of his opponents: first, his rejection of any kind of institutional, coercive authority (anti-authoritarianism); second, his opposition to the modern state, even as a “transitional” power to abolish capitalism (anti-statism); third, his opposition to any participation in existing systems of government or “bourgeois politics” (anti-parliamentarianism); fourth and fifth, his advocacy of voluntary federation during the struggle against capitalism and the state and in a post-revolutionary society (federalism), so that the revolutionary means were consistent with the revolutionary ends (libertarianism); and sixth, his call for the immediate abolition of the state and capitalism by means of direct action, including insurrection and the expropriation by the workers themselves of the means of production (social revolution).

In identifying Proudhon as an anarchist, Bakunin focused on Proudhon’s critique of the state and private property, Proudhon’s opposition to the authoritarian politics of the Jacobins and any sort of “revolutionary” dictatorship, and Proudhon’s concept of “agro-industrial federation,” a libertarian form of socialism wherein the state and capitalism are replaced by voluntary federations of agricultural, industrial and communal organizations with no central authority above them. Where he differed from Proudhon was in his advocacy of insurrection and expropriation and in his rejection of Proudhon’s view that capitalism and the state could be gradually supplanted through the creation and ever widening expansion of voluntary associations of workers, peasants, professionals and other functional groups with access to free credit through their own credit unions, or “people’s bank.”

Following Bakunin’s approach, anarchism, whether his, Proudhon’s or someone else’s, can be distinguished from other doctrines on the basis of its anti-authoritarianism, anti-statism, anti-parliamentarianism, federalism, libertarianism and advocacy of direct action. Bakunin included Proudhon in the anarchist camp despite Proudhon’s opposition to insurrection and expropriation and his gradualist approach. Bakunin recognized that despite these differences Proudhon was still an anarchist. Both advocated direct action, but with Proudhon emphasizing non-violent direct action that would gradually hollow out existing institutions and replace them with voluntary agro-industrial federations.

While Proudhon and Bakunin were both proponents of “social” revolution, Proudhon’s social revolution was conceived in gradual, pacific terms, not in insurrectionary terms, in contrast to Bakunin. Furthermore, all socialists of their era agreed on the need for some kind of “social” revolution, given the failure of the preceding “political” revolutions (the French Revolution and the European revolutions of 1848-1849). Consequently, advocacy of social revolution does not distinguish anarchism from other doctrines, such as socialism.

For the purposes of this study, therefore, I will proceed on the basis that anarchism can be defined as a view that rejects coercive authority, the state and participation in existing systems of government, and which advocates federalism (or voluntary association), libertarianism and direct action. This is consistent with Proudhon and Bakunin’s conceptions of anarchism and, as will be seen in the chapters which follow, the views of those members of the International who came to identify themselves as anarchists and to create an international anarchist movement.

Arguably, some of these six defining characteristics can be derived from the others. For example, the state and government can be seen simply as specific examples of coercive authority, so that anti-authoritarianism is the primary defining characteristic of anarchism. As Sébastien Faure (1858-1942) put it, “whoever denies Authority and fights against it is an Anarchist.”[i] Be that as it may, in historical terms I believe that it was on the basis of these six characteristics that anarchism came to be distinguished from other political orientations. These six criteria help to flesh out the content of anarchism in a more substantive sense, providing a more robust and “political” conception of anarchism as something more than mere “anti-authoritarianism.” To define anarchism simply on the basis of what it is that anarchists oppose fails to take into account the positive anarchist alternatives to authoritarian institutions and practices that also distinguish anarchism from other doctrines.

Robert Graham

[i] Woodcock, The Anarchist Reader, 1977: 62.

what is

1848: Anarchism and Revolution in Europe

1848 European Revolutions

This is the next installment from the Anarchist Current, the afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in which I survey the origins and development of anarchist ideas from ancient China to the present day. In this section, I discuss the role of anarchist ideas in the 1848 revolutions in Europe and their immediate aftermath, with a focus on Proudhon, his anarchist critic, Joseph Déjacque, Anselme Bellegarrigue, Carlo Pisacane, Ernest Coeurderoy and Pi y Margall.

1848-granger

Anarchism and the European Revolutions of 1848

In early 1848, revolution broke out in Sicily, quickly spreading throughout the Italian peninsula. The February 1848 Revolution soon followed in France, with the king being overthrown and a provisional republican government proclaimed. There were revolutions in various parts of Germany and Eastern Europe (with Bakunin somehow managing to take a part in most of them until his arrest in Dresden in May 1849). Anarchist ideas began to gain some currency, particularly in France, in no small part due to Proudhon’s own efforts.

The provisional government in France instituted universal male suffrage, which Proudhon referred to as “the counter-revolution” because the election of representatives, no matter how broad the electoral base, gives power to those representatives, not of the people, but of particular interests, legitimizing rule by those interests by making it appear that a government elected by universal suffrage represents the interests of the people. In fact, the Constituent Assembly elected in April 1848 was dominated by right-wing and bourgeois representatives. Rejection of and opposition to representative government and participation in parliamentary politics distinguished the anarchists from other socialist currents and helped lead to the split in the First International between Marx and his followers, who advocated the creation of national political parties to represent the interests of the working class, and the proto-anarchist anti-authoritarian federalists associated with Bakunin (Volume One, Chapters 5 & 6).

In Confessions of a Revolutionary (1849), Proudhon denounced the alliance between capital, religion and the state:

“Capital, which in the political field is analogous to government, in religion has Catholicism as its synonym. The economic idea of capitalism, the politics of government or of authority, and the theological idea of the Church are three identical ideas, linked in various ways. To attack one of them is equivalent to attacking all of them… What capital does to labour, and the State to liberty, the Church does to the spirit. This trinity of absolutism is as baneful in practice as it is in philosophy. The most effective means for oppressing the people would be simultaneously to enslave its body, its will and its reason.” (Nettlau: 43-44)

In The General Idea of the Revolution in the 19th Century, written from prison while Proudhon was incarcerated for having denounced Napoleon III as the personification of reaction, Proudhon wrote that the “fundamental, decisive idea” of the Revolution is this: “NO MORE AUTHORITY, neither in the Church, nor in the State, nor in land, nor in money” (Volume One, Selection 12). He described the law as “spider webs for the rich and powerful, steel chains for the weak and poor, fishing nets in the hands of the government,” advocating in their place a “system of contracts” based on the notion of equivalent exchange (Volume One, Selection 12). While subsequent anarchists were, for the most part, to reject Proudhon’s notion of equivalent exchange, they concurred with Proudhon that social relationships should be based on free agreements between individuals directly and between the various voluntary associations to which they may belong (Graham, 1989).

In Spain, anarchists referred to these agreements as “pacts” (pactos). In 1854, Francisco Pi y Margall (1824-1901), who introduced Proudhon’s ideas to a Spanish audience, argued that between “two sovereign entities there is room only for pacts. Authority and sovereignty are contradictions. Society based on authority ought, therefore, to give way to society based upon contract” (Volume One, Selection 15).

Not only in Spain, but throughout the nascent international anarchist movements, anarchists advocated contract, conceived as free agreement, as the means by which people would voluntarily federate into broader trade union, communal, regional and international organizations with no central authority above them, with each person and federated group being free to disassociate or secede from any federalist organization (Graham, 1989). They agreed with the argument put forward by Proudhon in his influential book, On the Political Capacity of the Working Classes (1865), that without the right of secession, federalism would be “merely an illusion, empty boasting, a lie” (Volume One, Selection 18).

In the aftermath of the 1848 French Revolution, Proudhon was not alone in advocating anarchy as a positive ideal. In 1850, the young journalist, Anselme Bellegarrigue, briefly published a newspaper, L’Anarchie, in which he argued that “anarchy is order, whereas government is civil war” (Volume One, Selection 13), echoing Proudhon’s comment in What Is Property that society “finds its highest perfection in the union of order with anarchy” (Volume One, Selection 8).

The Italian revolutionary, Carlo Pisacane (1818-1857), demanded the abolition of all hierarchy and authority, to be replaced by a form of socialism similar to Proudhon’s mutualism, based on voluntary contract and “free association”. Anticipating the doctrine of “propaganda by the deed,” Pisacane argued that the most effective propaganda is revolutionary action, for ideas “spring from deeds and not the other way around” (Volume One, Selection 16).

Joseph Déjacque (1821-1864), the first person to use the word “libertarian” as a synonym for “anarchist,” conceived of anarchy as the “complete, boundless, utter freedom to do anything and everything that is in human nature” (Volume One, Selection 14). Exiled from France after the 1848 Revolution, he called for the abolition of religion, private property, the patriarchal nuclear family, all authority and privilege, and for the “liberation of woman, the emancipation of the child.”

Déjacque's Le Libertaire

Déjacque’s Le Libertaire

Déjacque’s Critique of Proudhon

Déjacque’s anarchist critique was much broader than Proudhon’s. Proudhon saw the patriarchal nuclear family as the basis of society, and argued that woman’s place was in the home. He did not advocate the complete abolition of property, arguing instead for a fairer distribution of wealth based on individual contribution and equivalent exchange.

Déjacque took Proudhon to task on both points, arguing for the complete abolition of “property and authority in every guise” (Volume One, Selection 17). He rejected Proudhon’s mutualism as a “system of contracts” for determining each person’s “allotted measure” of things instead of everyone having access to whatever their “nature or temperament requires.” Déjacque believed that everyone should be “free to consume and to produce as they see fit,” advocating a form of anarchist communism twenty years before similar views were to be adopted by anarchists associated with the anti-authoritarian wing of the First International (Volume One, Chapter 8).

Rejecting Proudhon’s views on women, Déjacque argued that “the issue of woman’s emancipation” must be placed “on the same footing as the issue of emancipation of the proletarian” (Volume One, Selection 17). He looked forward to “man and woman striding with the same step and heart… towards their natural destiny, the anarchic community; with all despotism annihilated, all social inequalities banished.”

Ernest Coeurderoy

Ernest Coeurderoy

Ernest Coeurderoy: Citizen of the World

Another French exile with anarchist sensibilities was Ernest Coeurderoy (1825-1862). In a passage from his Days of Exile, remarkably similar to comments made by Subcomandante Marcos in the 1990s, Coeurderoy identified himself with all of the oppressed, writing that:

“In every land there are folk who are kicked out and driven away, killed and burnt out without a single voice of compassion to speak up for them. They are the Jews.—I am a Jew.

Skinny, untamed, restless men, sprightlier than horses and as dusky as the bastards of Shem, roam through the Andalusian countryside… The doors of every home are barred to them, in hamlet and town alike. A widespread disapproval weighs upon their breed… Such men are known as Gitanos.—I am a Gitano…

In Paris one can see wayward boys, naked, who hide under the bridges along the canal in the mid-winter and dive into the murky waters in search of a sou tossed to them by a passing onlooker… Their trade consists in purloining scarves and pretending to ask for a light but swapping cigarettes. These are the Bohemians.—I am a Bohemian…

Everywhere, there are people banned from promenades, museums, cafes and theatres because a heartless wretchedness mocks their day wear. If they dare to show themselves in public, every eye turns to stare at them; and the police forbid them to go near fashionable locations. But, mightier than any police, their righteous pride in themselves takes exception to being singled out for widespread stigma.—I am one of that breed” (1854).

Robert Graham

1848 Horace_Vernet-Barricade_rue_Soufflot

Additional References

Graham, Robert. “The Role of Contract in Anarchist Ideology.” In For Anarchism: History, Theory and Practice. Ed. D. Goodway. London: Routledge, 1989.

Nettlau, Max. A Short History of Anarchism. London: Freedom Press, 1996.

European Anarchism Before 1848

Prelude to Revolution

Prelude to Revolution

This is the next installment from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterward to Volume Three of my anthology of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. Here, I discuss some of the revolutionary ideas that were emerging in Europe prior to the European revolutions of 1848-1849.

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Revolutionary Ideas in Europe

In the 1840s there was an explosion of radical ideas and movements in Europe, culminating in a wave of revolutions that swept the continent in 1848-49. In Germany, radical intellectuals inspired by and reacting against the philosophy of Hegel, sometimes referred to as the “Young” or “Left Hegelians,” began developing a “ruthless criticism of everything existing,” as Marx put it in 1843. The previous year, Bakunin had published his essay, “The Reaction in Germany,” in which he described the revolutionary program as “the negation of the existing conditions of the State” and “ the destruction of whatever order prevails at the time,” concluding with the now notorious phrase, the “passion for destruction is a creative passion, too!” (Volume One, Selection 10). Max Stirner’s masterpiece of nihilistic egoism, The Ego and Its Own, came out in 1844 (Volume One, Selection 11). Arnold Ruge, one of the most prominent of the “Young Hegelians,” called for “the abolition of all government” in favour of “an ordered anarchy… the free community… of men who make their own decisions and who are in all respects equal comrades” (Nettlau: 53-59).

Three aspects of the Young Hegelian critique had a lasting impact on Bakunin, and through him on the development of anarchist ideas. The first was the Young Hegelian critique of religion. The second was the development of a materialist worldview, from which all “divine phantoms” were banished. The third, which followed from the first two, was atheism. Bakunin and later anarchists were to denounce the alliance of Church and State, particularly the role of religion in pacifying the masses and in rationalizing their domination and exploitation, advocating a materialist atheism that emphasizes human agency because there are no divine or supernatural forces to protect or deliver the people from their earthly misery. The people can only liberate themselves through their own direct action.

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Max Stirner

Max Stirner (1806-1856) took the Young Hegelian critique of “divine phantoms” to its furthest extreme, attacking all ideal conceptions, whether of God, humanity, or good and evil, as “spooks” or “wheels in the head” which dominate the very consciousness of the unique individual, preventing him or her from acting freely.

In The Ego and Its Own, Stirner argued that through upbringing, education and indoctrination, people internalize abstract social norms and values, putting the individual “in the position of a country governed by secret police. The spy and eavesdropper, ‘conscience,’ watch over every motion of the mind,” with “all thought and action” becoming “a matter of conscience, i.e. police business.” Anticipating radical Freudians like the anarchist psychoanalyst, Otto Gross (Volume One, Selection 78), Stirner observed that everyone “carries his gendarme within his breast.”

Stirner advocated freedom “from the State, from religion, from conscience,” and from any other power or end to which the individual can be subjected. He rejected any concept of justice or rights, arguing that the unique individual is free to take whatever is in his or her power. Whenever the egoist’s “advantage runs against the State’s,” he “can satisfy himself only by crime.” After Stirner’s writings were rediscovered in the late 1890s, this aspect of his critique was developed by individualist anarchists, such as Albert Joseph (“Libertad”), into the doctrine of “illegalism,” which was used by the Bonnot Gang as an ideological cloak for their bank robberies in the early 1900s in France (Perry, 1987).

Stirner denounced socialism for seeking to replace the individual capitalist with a collective owner, “society,” to which the individual will be equally subject, but nevertheless argued that the workers need only stop labouring for the benefit of their employers and “regard the product of their labour” as their own in order to bring down the State, the power of which rests on their slavery.

Another aspect of Stirner’s thought that was to have some influence on later anarchists is his distinction between insurrection and revolution. Revolutions seek to rearrange society into a new order. Insurrection or rebellion, by contrast, is “a rising of individuals… without regard to the arrangements that spring from it” (Volume One, Selection 11). In light of the defeats of the anarchists in the Russian and Spanish Revolutions, Herbert Read (1893-1968) sought to revive Stirner’s distinction, arguing that anarchists must avoid creating “the kind of machinery which, at the successful end of a revolution, would merely be taken over by the leaders of the revolution, who then assume the functions of government” (Volume Two, Selection 1). During the 1960s, many of the younger anarchists endorsed the notion of “spontaneous insurrection” (Volume Two, Selection 51). More recently, Hakim Bey has argued in favour of the creation of “temporary autonomous zones,” which can be seen as “an uprising which does not engage directly with the State, a guerilla operation which liberates an area (of land, of time, of imagination) and then dissolves itself to re-form elsewhere/elsewhen, before the State can crush it” (Volume Three, Selection 11).

Anarchy is Self-Management

Anarchy is Self-Management

Proudhon: Machinery and Worker Self-Management

In one passage in The Ego and Its Own, Stirner described individuals as mere cogs in the “State machine.” In Proudhon’s 1846 publication, The System of Economic Contradictions, he argued that the first and “most powerful of machines is the workshop” The workshop degrades “the worker by giving him a master.” The “concentration of forces in the workshop” and the introduction of machinery “engender at the same time overproduction and destitution,” rendering more and more workers redundant, such that in a capitalist economy it is continually necessary to “create new machines, open other markets, and consequently multiply services and displace other” workers. Industry and wealth, population and misery, “advance, so to speak, in procession, one always dragging the other after it” (Volume One, Selection 9).

This focus on and opposition to relationships of subordination in both the economic and political spheres sharply distinguished Proudhon and the anarchists from many of their socialist contemporaries. In his sarcastic attempt to demolish Proudhon, The Poverty of Philosophy (1847), Marx dismissed Proudhon’s critique of factory organization and machinery as a reactionary demand for a return to a pre-industrial utopia of skilled craft production. In the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), co-written with Friedrich Engels, Marx called for the centralization of “all instruments of production in the hands of the State… to increase the total of productive forces as rapidly as possible.” This would require the establishment of “industrial armies, especially for agriculture.”

Proudhon’s solution to this problem was neither to advocate a return to a pre-industrial craft economy nor the creation of industrial armies, “for it is with a machine as with a piece of artillery: the captain excepted, those whom it occupies are servants, slaves” (Volume One, Selection 9). While Proudhon argued that free credit should be made available so that everyone would have the opportunity to engage in whatever productive activity they chose, he recognized from the outset the advantages of combining one’s labour with the labour of others, creating a “collective force” that in existing society was being exploited by the capitalists who reaped the benefit of the resulting increase in productive power. “Two hundred grenadiers stood the obelisk of Luxor upon its base in a few hours,” Proudhon wrote in What Is Property, “do you suppose that one man could have accomplished the same task in two hundred days?” (Volume One, Selection 8).

Proudhon therefore advocated workers’ control or worker self-management of industry, later referred to in France as “autogestion,” an idea that became a major tenet of subsequent anarchist movements (Guérin, Volume Two, Selection 49). In Proudhon’s proposals, all positions in each enterprise would be elected by the workers themselves, who would approve all by-laws, each worker would have the right to fill any position, “unpleasant and disagreeable tasks” would be shared, and each worker would be given a “variety of work and knowledge” so as to avoid a stultifying division of labour. Everyone would “participate in the gains and in the losses” of the enterprise “in proportion to his services,” with pay being “proportional to the nature of the position, the importance of the talents, and the extent of responsibility” (Volume One, Selection 12).

Robert Graham

Additional References

Nettlau, Max. A Short History of Anarchism. London: Freedom Press, 1996.

Perry, Richard. The Bonnot Gang. London: Rebel Press, 1987.

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