Pierre-Joseph Proudhon facts for kids
Quick facts for kids
Portrait by Gustave Courbet, 1865
15 January 1809
|19 January 1865
Passy, Paris, France
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (UK: //, US: /, /, French: [pjɛʁ ʒɔzɛf pʁudɔ̃]; 15 January 1809, Besançon – 19 January 1865, Paris) is considered by many to be the "father of anarchism". His background was as a French socialist, politician, philosopher, economist and the founder of mutualist philosophy. He was the first person to declare himself an anarchist, using that term, and is widely regarded as one of anarchism's most influential theorists. Proudhon became a member of the French Parliament after the Revolution of 1848, whereafter he referred to himself as a federalist. Proudhon described the liberty he pursued as "the synthesis of community and property". Some consider his mutualism to be part of individualist anarchism while others regard it to be part of social anarchism.
Proudhon, who was born in Besançon, was a printer who taught himself Latin in order to better print books in the language. His best-known assertion is that "property is theft!", contained in his first major work, What Is Property? Or, an Inquiry into the Principle of Right and Government (Qu'est-ce que la propriété? Recherche sur le principe du droit et du gouvernement), published in 1840. The book's publication attracted the attention of the French authorities. It also attracted the scrutiny of Karl Marx, who started a correspondence with its author. The two influenced each other and they met in Paris while Marx was exiled there. Their friendship finally ended when Marx responded to Proudhon's The System of Economic Contradictions, or The Philosophy of Poverty with the provocatively titled The Poverty of Philosophy. The dispute became one of the sources of the split between the anarchist and Marxist wings of the International Working Men's Association. Some such as Edmund Wilson have contended that Marx's attack on Proudhon had its origin in the latter's defense of Karl Grün, whom Marx bitterly disliked, but who had been preparing translations of Proudhon's work.
Proudhon favored workers' council and associations or cooperatives as well as individual worker/peasant possession over private ownership or the nationalization of land and workplaces. He considered social revolution to be achievable in a peaceful manner. Proudhon unsuccessfully tried to create a national bank, to be funded by what became an abortive attempt at an income tax on capitalists and shareholders. Similar in some respects to a credit union, it would have given interest-free loans. After the death of his follower Mikhail Bakunin, Proudhon's libertarian socialism diverged into individualist anarchism, collectivist anarchism, anarcho-communism and anarcho-syndicalism, with notable proponents such as Carlo Cafiero, Joseph Déjacque, Peter Kropotkin and Benjamin Tucker.
Early life and education
Proudhon was born in Besançon, France, on 15 January 1809 at 23 Rue du Petit Battant in the suburb of Battant. His father Claude-François Proudhon, who worked as a brewer and a cooper, was originally from the village of Chasnans, near the border with Switzerland. His mother Catherine Simonin was from Cordiron. Claude-François and Catherine had five boys together, two of whom died at a very young age. Proudhon's brothers Jean-Etienne and Claude were born in 1811 and 1816 respectively and both maintained a very close relationship with Proudhon.
As a boy, he mostly worked in the family tavern, helped with basic agricultural work and spent time playing outdoors in the countryside. Proudhon received no formal education as a child, but he was taught to read by his mother, who had him spelling words by age three. However, the only books that Proudhon was exposed to until he was 10 were the Gospels and the Four Aymon Brothers and some local almanacs. In 1820, Proudhon's mother began trying to get him admitted into the city college in Besançon. The family was far too poor to afford the tuition, but with the help of one of Claude-François' former employers, she managed to gain a bursary which deducted 120 francs a year from the cost. Proudhon was unable to afford basic things like books or shoes to attend school which caused him great difficulties and often made him the object of scorn by his wealthier classmates. In spite of this, Proudhon showed a strong will to learn and spent much time in the school library with a pile of books, exploring a variety of subjects in his free time outside of class.
Entrance into the printing trade
In 1827, Proudhon began an apprenticeship at a printing press in the house of Bellevaux in Battant. On Easter of the following year, he transferred to a press in Besançon owned by the family of one of his schoolmates, Antoine Gauthier. Besançon was an important center of religious thought at the time and most of the works published at Gauthier were ecclesiastical works. During the course of his work, Proudhon spent hours every day reading this Christian literature and began to question many of his long-held religious beliefs which eventually led him to reject Christianity altogether. In his first book, What is Property?, he stated his religious journey began with Protestantism and ended with being a Neo Christian.
Over the years, Proudhon rose to be a corrector for the press, proofreading their publications. By 1829, he began to become more interested in social issues than religious theory. Of particular importance during this period was his encounter with Charles Fourier, who in 1829 came to Gauthier as a customer seeking to publish his work Le Nouveau Monde Industriel et Sociétaire. Proudhon supervised the printing of the book, which gave him ample opportunity to talk with Fourier about a variety of social and philosophical issues. These discussions left a strong impression on Proudhon and influenced him throughout his life. It was also during this time that Proudhon formed one of his closest friendships with Gustave Fallot, a scholar from Montebéliard who came from a family of wealthy French industrialists. Impressed by Proudhon's corrections of one of his Latin manuscripts, Fallot sought out his friendship and the two were soon regularly spending their evenings together discussing French literature by Michel de Montaigne, François Rabelais, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, Denis Diderot and many other authors to whom Proudhon had not been exposed during his years of theological readings.
Decision to pursue philosophy and writing
In September 1830, Proudhon became certified as a journeyman compositor. The period following this was marked by unemployment and poverty, with Proudhon travelling around France (also briefly to Neuchâtel, Switzerland) where he unsuccessfully sought stable employment in printing and as a schoolteacher. During this period, Fallot offered financial assistance to Proudhon if he came to Paris to study philosophy. Proudhon accepted his offer despite concerns about how it might disrupt his career in the printing trade. He walked from Besançon to Paris, arriving in March at the Rue Mazarin in the Latin Quarter, where Fallot was living at the time. Proudhon began mingling amongst the circle of metropolitan scholars surrounding Fallot, but he felt out of place and uncomfortable amidst people who were both wealthier and more accustomed to scholarly debate. Ultimately, Proudhon found that he preferred to spend the majority of his time studying alone and was not fond of urban life, longing to return home to Besançon. The cholera outbreak in Paris granted him his wish as Fallot was struck with the illness, making him unable to financially support Proudhon any longer. After Proudhon left, he never saw Fallot (who died in 1836) again. However, this friendship was one of the most important events in Proudhon's life as it is what motivated him to leave the printing trade and pursue his studies of philosophy instead.
After an unsuccessful printing business venture in 1838, Proudhon decided to dedicate himself fully to scholarly pursuits. He applied for the Suard Pension, a bursary that would enable him to study at the Academy of Besançon. Proudhon was selected out of several candidates primarily due to the fact that his income was much lower than the others and the judges were extremely impressed by his writing and the level of education he had given himself while working as an artisan. Proudhon arrived in Paris towards the end of autumn in 1838.
In 1839, the Academy of Besançon held an essay competition on the subject of the utility of the celebration of Sunday in regard to hygiene, morality and the relationship of the family and the city. Proudhon's entry, titled De la Célébration du dimanche, essentially used the essay subject as a pretext for discussing a variety of political and philosophical ideas and in it one can find the seeds of his later revolutionary ideas. Many of his ideas on authority, morality and property disturbed the essay judges at the Academy and Proudhon was only awarded the bronze medal (something in which Proudhon took pride because he felt that this was an indicator that his writing made elite academics uncomfortable).
In 1840, Proudhon published his first work Qu'est-ce que la propriété?, or What Is Property? His third memoir on property was a letter to the Fourierist writer Considérant, published in 1842 under the title Warning to Proprietors. Proudhon was tried for it at Besançon, but he was acquitted when the jury found that they could not condemn him for a philosophy that they themselves could not understand. In 1846, he published the Système des contradictions économiques ou Philosophie de la misère (The System of Economic Contradictions, or The Philosophy of Poverty) which prompted a book-length critique from Karl Marx entitled The Poverty of Philosophy, commencing a rift between anarchism and Marxism and anarchists and Marxists that would be continued by the Bakuninists and collectivist anarchists (the followers of Mikhail Bakunin) in the First International and that lasts to this day.
For some time, Proudhon ran a small printing establishment at Besançon, but without success. Afterwards, he became connected as a kind of manager with a commercial firm in Lyon, France. In 1847, he left this job and finally settled in Paris, where he was now becoming celebrated as a leader of innovation. In this year, he also became a Freemason.
In Spain, Ramón de la Sagra established the anarchist journal El Porvenir in La Coruña in 1845 which was inspired by Proudhon's ideas. Catalan politician Francesc Pi i Margall became the principal translator of Proudhon's works into Spanish and later briefly became President of Spain in 1873 while being the leader of the Federal Democratic Republican Party. According to George Woodcock, "[t]hese translations were to have a profound and lasting effect on the development of Spanish anarchism after 1870, but before that time Proudhonian ideas, as interpreted by Pi, already provided much of the inspiration for the federalist movement which sprang up in the early 1860s". According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, "[d]uring the Spanish revolution of 1873, Pi i Margall attempted to establish a decentralized, or 'cantonalist,' political system on Proudhonian lines".
Later life and death
Proudhon died in Passy on 19 January 1865 and was buried in Paris at the cemetery of Montparnasse.
Proudhon was the first person to refer to himself as an "anarchist". Proudhon's anarchist mutualism is considered as a middle way or synthesis between individualist anarchism and social anarchism. According to Larry Gambone, Proudhon was a "social individualist anarchist". Both anarcho-communist Peter Kropotkin and individualist anarchist Benjamin Tucker defined anarchism as "the no-government form of socialism" and "the abolition of the State and the abolition of usury", respectively. In this, Kropotkin and Tucker were following the definition of Proudhon, who stated that "[w]e do not admit the government of man by man any more than the exploitation of man by man."
In What Is Property?, published in 1840, Proudhon defined anarchy as "the absence of a master, of a sovereign" and wrote that "[a]s man seeks justice in equality, so society seeks order in anarchy". In 1849, Proudhon declared in Confessions of a Revolutionary that "[w]hoever lays his hand on me to govern me is a usurper and tyrant, and I declare him my enemy". In The General Idea of the Revolution (1851), Proudhon urged a "society without authority".
Towards the end of his life, Proudhon modified some of his earlier views. In The Principle of Federation (1863), Proudhon modified his earlier anti-state position, arguing for "the balancing of authority by liberty" and put forward a decentralized "theory of federal government". In the posthumously published Theory of Property, Proudhon argued that "property is the only power that can act as a counterweight to the State".
Daniel Guérin criticized Proudhon's later life by stating that "many of these masters were not anarchists throughout their lives and their complete works include passages which have nothing to do with anarchism. To take an example: in the second part of his career Proudhon's thinking took a conservative turn. His verbose and monumental De la Justice dans la Revolution et dans l'Eglise (1858) was mainly concerned with the problem of religion and its conclusion was far from libertarian."
In What Is Property?, Proudhon moved on from the rejection of communism and private property in a dialectical manner, looking for a "third form of society. [...] This third form of society, the synthesis of communism and property, we will call liberty." In his System of Economic Contradiction, Proudhon described mutuality as "the synthesis of the notions of private property and collective ownership."
Proudhon's rejection of compulsory communism and privileged property led him towards a synthesis of libertarian communism and possession, just as the apparent contradiction between his theories of property represents an antithesis which still needs synthesizing. Proudhon stated that in presenting the "property is liberty" theory, he is not changing his mind about the earlier "property is theft" definition. Proudhon did not only rely on "synthesis", but also emphasized "balance" between approaches such as communism and property that apparently cannot be fully reconciled. American mutualist William Batchelder Greene took a similar approach in his 1849–1850 works.
For Proudhon, mutualism involved free association by creating industrial democracy, a system where workplaces would be "handed over to democratically organised workers' associations. [...] We want these associations to be models for agriculture, industry and trade, the pioneering core of that vast federation of companies and societies woven into the common cloth of the democratic social Republic." Under mutualism, workers would no longer sell their labour to a capitalist but rather work for themselves in co-operatives. Proudhon urged "workers to form themselves into democratic societies, with equal conditions for all members, on pain of a relapse into feudalism". This would result in "[c]apitalistic and proprietary exploitation, stopped everywhere, the wage system abolished, equal and just exchange guaranteed".
As Robert Graham notes, "Proudhon's market socialism is indissolubly linked to his notions of industrial democracy and workers' self-management". K. Steven Vincent notes in his in-depth analysis of this aspect of Proudhon's ideas that "Proudhon consistently advanced a program of industrial democracy which would return control and direction of the economy to the workers". For Proudhon, "strong workers' associations [...] would enable the workers to determine jointly by election how the enterprise was to be directed and operated on a day-to-day basis".
Proudhon adopted the term mutualism for his brand of anarchism and socialism which involved control of the means of production by the workers. In his vision, self-employed artisans, peasants and cooperatives would trade their products on the market. For Proudhon, factories and other large workplaces would be run by "labor associations" operating on directly democratic principles. The state would be abolished and instead society would be organized by a federation of "free communes" (a commune is a local municipality in French). In 1863, Proudhon wrote: "All my economic ideas as developed over twenty-five years can be summed up in the words: agricultural-industrial federation. All my political ideas boil down to a similar formula: political federation or decentralization".
Proudhon called this use-ownership possession (possession) and this economic system mutualism (mutualisme), having many arguments against entitlement to land and capital, including reasons based on morality, economics, politics and individual liberty. One such argument was that it enabled profit which in turn led to social instability and war by creating cycles of debt that eventually overcame the capacity of labor to pay them off. Another was that it produced despotism and turned workers into wage workers subject to the authority of a boss.
Proudhon continued to oppose both capitalist and state property. In Theory of Property, Proudhon maintained that "[n]ow in 1840, I categorically rejected the notion of property for both the group and the individual", but then he also states his new theory of property that "property is the greatest revolutionary force which exists, with an unequaled capacity for setting itself against authority" and the "principal function of private property within the political system will be to act as a counterweight to the power of the State, and by so doing to insure the liberty of the individual". However, the authors of An Anarchist FAQ write that "this is a common anarchist position. Anarchists are well aware that possession is a source of independence within capitalism and so should be supported". At the same time, Proudhon continued to oppose concentrations of wealth and property, arguing for small-scale property ownership associated with peasants and artisans. Proudhon also still opposed private property in land, writing: "What I cannot accept, regarding land, is that the work put in gives a right to ownership of what has been worked on." In addition, Proudhon still believed that property should be more equally distributed and limited in size to that actually used by individuals, families and workers associations. Proudhon supported the right of inheritance and defended "as one of the foundations of the family and society", but he refused to extend this beyond personal possessions, arguing that "[u]nder the law of association, transmission of wealth does not apply to the instruments of labour".
As a consequence of his opposition to profit, wage labour, worker exploitation, ownership of land and capital as well as to state property, Proudhon rejected both capitalism and state socialism, including authoritarian socialism and other authoritarian and compulsory forms of communism which advocated state property. The authors of An Anarchist FAQ argue that his opposition to "communism" was because "libertarian communism", while having some forerunners such as François-Noël Babeuf, would not be as widespread until after his death and so, like Max Stirner, "he was directing his critique against the various forms of state communism which did [exist]". While opposed to the charging of interest and rent, Proudhon did not seek to abolish them by law, writing: "I protest that when I criticized the complex of institutions of which property is the foundation stone, I never meant to forbid or suppress, by sovereign decree, ground rent and interest on capital. I think that all these manifestations of human activity should remain free and voluntary for all: I ask for them no modifications, restrictions or suppressions, other than those which result naturally and of necessity from the universalization of the principle of reciprocity which I propose."
Proudhon opposed dictatorship, militarism, nationalism and war, arguing that the "end of militarism is the mission of the nineteenth century, under pain of indefinite decadence" and that the "workers alone are capable of putting an end to war by creating economic equilibrium. This presupposes a radical revolution in ideas and morals." As Robert L. Hoffman notes, War and Peace "ends by condemning war without reservation" and its "conclusion [is] that war is obsolete". Marxist philosopher John Ehrenberg summarized Proudhon's position that "[i]f injustice was the cause of war, it followed that conflict could not be eliminated until society was reorganised along egalitarian lines. Proudhon had wanted to prove that the reign of political economy would be the reign of peace, finding it difficult to believe that people really thought he was defending militarism."
Proudhon argued that under mutualism "[t]here will no longer be nationality, no longer fatherland, in the political sense of the words: they will mean only places of birth. Man, of whatever race or colour he may be, is an inhabitant of the universe; citizenship is everywhere an acquired right." Proudhon also rejected dictatorship, stating in the 1860s that "what I will always be [...] a republican, a democrat even, and a socialist into the bargain". Henri-Marie de Lubac argued that in terms of Proudhon's critique of democracy "we must not allow all this to hoodwink us. His invectives against democracy were not those of a counter-revolutionary. They were aimed at what he himself called 'the false democracy'. [...] They attacked an apparently liberal 'pseudo-democracy' which 'was not economic and social', [...] 'a Jacobinical democracy.'" Proudhon "did not want to destroy, but complete, the work of 1789" and while "he had a grudge against the 'old democracy', the democracy of Robespierre and Marat", he repeatedly contrasted it "with a 'young democracy', which was a 'social democracy.'"
According to historian of anarchism George Woodcock, some positions Proudhon took "sorted oddly with his avowed anarchism". Woodcock cited as an example Proudhon's proposition that each citizen perform one or two years militia service. The proposal appeared in the Programme Revolutionaire, an electoral manifesto issued by Proudhon after he was asked to run for a position in the provisional government. The text reads: "7° 'L'armée. – Abolition immédiate de la conscription et des remplacements; obligation pour tout citoyen de faire, pendant un ou deux ans, le service militaire; application de l'armée aux services administratifs et travaux d'utilité publique" ("Military service by all citizens is proposed as an alternative to conscription and the practice of 'replacement', by which those who could avoided such service"). In the same document, Proudhon also described the "form of government" he was proposing as "a centralization analogous with that of the State, but in which no one obeys, no one is dependent, and everyone is free and sovereign".
Private property and the state
Proudhon saw the privileged property as a form of government. In his earliest works, Proudhon analyzed the nature and problems of the capitalist economy. While deeply critical of capitalism, Proudhon also objected to those contemporary in the socialist movement who advocated centralized hierarchical forms of association or state control of the economy.
In asserting that property is freedom, Proudhon was referring not only to the product of an individual's labor, but also to the peasant or artisan's home and tools of his trade and the income he received by selling his goods. For Proudhon, the only legitimate source of property is labor. What one produces is one's property and anything beyond that is not. Proudhon advocated workers' self-management and was opposed to the private ownership of the means of production.
While Proudhon was a revolutionary, his revolution did not mean civil war or violent upheaval, but rather the transformation of society. This transformation was essentially moral in nature and demanded the highest ethics from those who sought change. It was monetary reform, combined with organizing a credit bank and workers associations, that Proudhon proposed to use as a lever to bring about the organization of society along new lines. This ethical socialism has been described as part of the liberal socialist tradition which is for egalitarianism and free markets, with Proudhon, among other anarchists, taking "a commitment to narrow down the sphere of activity of the state". James Boyle quotes Proudhon as stating that socialism is "every aspiration towards the amelioration of society" and then admitting that "we are all socialists" under this definition.
About the 1848 French Revolution and the Second French Republic, Proudhon took a radical stance regarding the National Workshops, criticized for being charity whilst criticizing the June Days Uprising for using violence. Proudhon's criticism of the February Revolution was that it was "without an idea" and considered some parts of the revolution too moderate and others too radical. According to Shawn Wilbur, those contradictions were caused by his dialectical phase with the System of Economic Contradictions and was prone to viewing nearly all his key concepts as being worked out in terms of irreducible contradictions.
Although the revolutionary concept of dual power was first used by Vladimir Lenin, it was conceptually first outlined by Proudhon. According to Murray Bookchin, "Proudhon made the bright suggestion, in his periodical Le Représentant du peuple (28 April 1848), that the mass democracy of the clubs could become a popular forum where the social agenda of the revolution could be prepared for use by the Constituent Assembly—a proposal that would essentially have defused the potency of the clubs as a potentially rebellious dual power."
Proudhon called himself a socialist, was recognized as one and still is. As one of the first theorists of libertarian socialism, Proudhon opposed state ownership of capital goods in favour of ownership by workers themselves in associations. Proudhon was one of the main influences on the theory of workers' self-management (autogestion) in the late 19th and 20th century. Proudhon strenuously rejected the ownership of the products of labor by capitalists or the state, arguing in What Is Property? that while "property in product [...] does not carry with it property in the means of production", "[t]he right to product is exclusive" and "the right to means is common". Proudhon applied this to the land ("the land is [...] a common thing") and workplaces ("all accumulated capital being social property, no one can be its exclusive proprietor"). Proudhon argued that while society owned the means of production or land, users would control and run them (under supervision from society) with the "organising of regulating societies" in order to "regulate the market".
By the 1840s and 1850s, socialism came to cover a rather broad range. Proudhon's writings from the years following the French Revolution of 1848 are full of passages in which he associated himself with socialism, but he distanced from any particular system of socialist economics or type of socialism. As a broad concept, socialism is one or more of various theories aimed at solving the labor problem through radical changes in the capitalist economy. Descriptions of the problem, explanations of its causes and proposed solutions such as abolition of private property and support of either cooperatives, collective property, common property, public property or social property varied among socialist philosophies.
Proudhon made no public criticism of Karl Marx or Marxism because in Proudhon's lifetime Marx was relatively unknown. It was only after Proudhon's death that Marxism became a large movement. However, he criticized authoritarian and state socialists of his period. This included the French socialist Louis Blanc, of whom Proudhon said that "you desire neither Catholicism nor monarchy nor nobility, but you must have a God, a religion, a dictatorship, a censorship, a hierarchy, distinctions, and ranks. For my part, I deny your God, your authority, your sovereignty, your judicial State, and all your representative mystifications." It was Proudhon's book What Is Property? that convinced the young Marx that private property should be abolished. In The Holy Family, one of his first works, Marx stated: "Not only does Proudhon write in the interest of the proletarians, he is himself a proletarian, an ouvrier. His work is a scientific manifesto of the French proletariat." However, Marx disagreed with Proudhon's anarchism and later published a vicious criticism of Proudhon. Marx wrote The Poverty of Philosophy as a refutation of Proudhon's The Philosophy of Poverty. In their letters, Proudhon expressed disagreement with Marx's views on revolution, stating: "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."
More than Proudhon's anarchism, Marx did take issue with what he saw as Proudhon's misunderstanding of the relationship between labor, value and price as well as believing that Proudhon's attack on bourgeois property was framed in terms of bourgeois ethics rather than transcending these ethics altogether. Anarchists, among others, have since criticized Marx and Marxists for having distorted Proudhon's views. Iain McKay argues that Marx took many concepts such as his criticism of private property, scientific socialism and surplus value from Proudhon. Similarly, Rudolf Rocker argued that "we find 'the theory of surplus value, that grand 'scientific discovery' of which our Marxists are so proud of, in the writings of Proudhon.'" Edward Hyams summarized that "since [The Poverty of Philosophy] no good Marxists have had to think about Proudhon. They have what is mother's milk to them, an ex cathedra judgement." In spite of their personal diatribes, Marx always maintained a certain respect for Proudhon, although this did not stop Marx from expelling Proudhon's follower Mikhail Bakunin (in spite of his criticism of Proudhon) and his supporters from the First International. In his obituary of Proudhon which was written on 24 January 1865, almost two decades after The Poverty of Philosophy, Marx called What Is Property? "epoch-making".
While favoring individual ownership for small-property holdings, Proudhon advocated social ownership and worker cooperatives or similar workers' associations and workers' councils. Proudhon advocated industrial democracy and repeatedly argued that the means of production and the land should be socialized. In What Is Property?, Proudhon wrote that "land is indispensable to our existence, consequently a common thing, consequently insusceptible of appropriation". In a letter to Louis Blanqui in 1841, Proudhon wrote that "all capital, whether material or mental, being the result of collective labour, is, in consequence, collective property".
In Spanish: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon para niños
- Cost the limit of price
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