Saturday, August 28, 2010


My how the time flies. It has been 170 years since the 'father of anarchism' Pierre Joseph Proudhon first published his famous definition of his beliefs ie "I am an anarchist". It is also 170 years since his famous slogan, 'Property is Theft'. Now, even though I have often described myself as a "mutualist", this description is not exactly true especially if you consider what 'mutualism' has become in its majoritarian American manifestations. However much I may appreciate the American mutualists, especially in comparison to some other less savoury trends in modern anarchism I just cannot believe in either the labour theory of value nor in the overwhelming superiority of a free market in all things. On the other hand I cannot believe in the overwhelming superiority of a 'communist' economy for all things. In sum I am very much a believer in a 'mixed economy' in any anarchist society in the far distant future ie part free market, part communist and part managed prices. I don't think, however, that arguments about an unlikely future system mean much in the day to day events of today.

My own attraction to mutualism is because of its 'gradualist' approach and also because of its emphasis on cooperatives. Both the former and the latter are very easily integrated into an anarcho-syndicalist practice that acts in the here and now rather than speaking of the glories of the day after the revolution. Proudhon was a very contradictory writer. Few writers aren't. He believed different things at different times. One might say that he was almost as contradictory as Marx and perhaps equally personally obnoxious for different reasons. The emphasis on gradualism and cooperatives, however, went beyond the original author and became the basis for the first manifestation of anarchosyndicalism in the world ie the French members of the First International. As such it became a social force very much divorced from the merits or demerits of one of its founders.

Over at the Anarchist Writers blog an author, Anarcho by pen name, has posted a review of what Proudhon has meant to anarchism. While the full article is too long to reproduce here I am posting the first few paragraphs. To see more of this incisive essay go to this link.
"I Am An Anarchist": 170 Years Of Anarchism

In 1840, two short expressions, a mere seven words, transformed socialist politics forever. One put a name to a tendency within the working class movement: “I am an Anarchist.” The other presented a critique and a protest against inequality which still rings: “Property is Theft!”

With “What is Property?” Pierre-Joseph Proudhon became one of the leading socialist thinkers of the nineteenth century and the libertarian movement was born, that form of socialism based on “the denial of Government and of Property” and which did “not want the government of man by man any more than the exploitation of man by man.”

Proudhon’s ideas played a key role in the development of revolutionary anarchism in the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA). Their application in the Paris Commune of 1871 was praised by Marx (although he did not mention the obvious source). Michael Bakunin proclaimed that “Proudhon is the master of us all” while for Peter Kropotkin he laid “the foundations of Anarchism.” It is easy to see why, for Proudhon was the first to discuss most of the ideas we associate with anarchism: the critique of property and capitalism; critique of the state; socio-economic federalism; free association; socialisation of the means of life; decentralisation; the abolition of wage-labour by self-management; and so on.


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