Pierre-Joseph Proudhon : Father of Anarcho-Mutualism

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(1809 - 1865)


...he turned his talents instead to the printer's trade, a profession which gave birth to many anarchists, but the first to call himself an anarchist was Proudhon. By mid-century, Proudhon was the leading left intellectual in France or for that matter, all of Europe, far surpassing Marx's notoriety or Bakunin's. Proudhon...

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From : Dana Ward Bio


"Revolutions are the successive manifestation of justice in human history. — It is for this reason that all revolutions have their origins in a previous revolution."

From : "Toast to the Revolution," by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

"The revolution, in that epoch, without abandoning its first given, took another name, which was already celebrated. It called itself philosophy."

From : "Toast to the Revolution," by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

"What is your flag? Association! And your motto? Equality before fortune! Where are you taking us? To Brotherhood!"

From : "Toast to the Revolution," by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon


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About Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

 Pierre-Joseph Proudhon 1

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon 1

Proudhon: A Biography
by Dana Ward

Proudhon is a rarity among anarchist philosophers in that he was of quite humble peasant origins. He began his working life herding cows and doing chores at home. His mother, Catherine Simonin, was determined that he get some education, however, and when the family moved into town in 1820 arrangements were made to enroll him in a school. The fees were waived through his father's employer's connections. Still without sufficient funds, he was routinely punished at school for "forgetting" the books he could not afford to buy. Although he intended to go on to study for a baccalaureate, family financial difficulties prevented him from pursuing a higher degree upon graduation and he turned his talents instead to the printer's trade, a profession which gave birth to many anarchists, but the first to call himself an anarchist was Proudhon.

By mid-century, Proudhon was the leading left intellectual in France or for that matter, all of Europe, far surpassing Marx's notoriety or Bakunin's. Proudhon, as Hyams noted (1979, p. 1), was among the inventors of socialism, along wih Marx, Bakunin, Blanqui, Blanc, Herzen, Lassalle and Engles. Of these, Proudhon had the profoundest effect upon the workers' movement in the 19th century and his ideas influenced some of the most notable later anarchists, including both Tolstoy and Bakunin, both of whom knew Proudhon personally. Indeed, throughout his life Proudhon acquired and kept a remarkable collection of friends, and as his notoriety spread, so did his acquaintances. Friendship for Proudhon was more important than sexual love or marriage.

Before becoming a widely recognized public figure, Proudhon tramped the countryside in search of work at his trade. In 1832, at just about the time his fellow countryman, Alexis de Tocqueville, was roaming around the the United States, Proudhon set out on his own "Tour de France" looking for work. In the process he saw that the conditions of poverty which set him walking through France in search of work were not limited to his own hometown. While he was able to find enough work to move from place to place, his search for permanent work met with little success These experiences contributed to an already developing senses of economic injustice. The seeds for this sense of injustice may have been planted via his maternal grandfather, Tornesi Simonin, who "had been the spokesman and leader of the small farmers and artisans in all their quarrels with the nobility: he had been particularly resentful of and ready to break the game-laws...and, as a formidable poacher, [was] repeatedly involved in rows and brawls with the local great landowners' gamekeepers." (Hyams, 1979, p. 10.) In 1833, after receiving news of his brother's mysterious death during military training after having threatened to expose his captain for misuse of army funds, Proudhon became an implacable enemy of the existing order. Much like Lenin, then, some of Proudhon's resentment toward authority may derive from a brother's death at the hands of abusive authority. (On Lenin's brother, see Buzinkai, D. "V.I. Lenin: Adolescent Rivalry and Identification", paper delivered at the 1982 Annual Meeting of the Northeast Political Science Association.)

Back in Besançon by the Fall of 1832, Proudhon was offered a job as an editor of a Fouriériste newspaper. His work as a printer allowed him access to a wide range of intellectual discussions, and in this haphazard way he acquired a wide ranging education. He taught himself Latin and became a much demanded compositor of Latin texts, and eventually held the more prestigious position of "corrector". It was through these activities that he came into contact with various authors of the day and eventually was able to win a fellowship that would allow him to pursue his studies full time and with complete independence, despite the fact that he did not have an academic background. Such was the strength of his native intellect.

For a period of years Proudhon moved back and forth between his native Besançon and Paris, never growing to appreciate the attractions of the capital. Nevertheless he pursued scholarly activities, producing an article on the letters of the alphabet, and on the significance of Sunday as a day of rest. In the latter article the first glimmerings of his anarchist future were so clearly seen that when his sponsors read the article, they warned him to avoid drifting into radical thought while awarding him a bronze medal for the essay. By this time he had managed to set up his own press with two partners and began publishing his own and others' works. But for his first overtly political book he sought other publishers. What is Property? An Inquiry into the Principle of Right and of Government brought Proudhon his first substantial public recognition, some of it not particularly welcome. In a characteristic gesture, he dedicated the book to the Academy of Besançon which had provided the fellowship and which would surely be scandalized by the product their largesse had wrought. In that work "He was denouncing the property of the man who uses it to exploit the labor of others without any effort on his own part, the property that is distinguished by interest, usury and rent, by the impositions of the non-producer upon the producer. Toward property regarded as 'possession', the right of a man to control his dwelling and the land and tools he needed to work and live, Proudhon had no hostility; he regarded it as a necessary keystone of liberty, and his main criticism of the Communists was that they wished to destroy it." (Woodcock, 1956, p. 45) To understand Proudhon's argument, one must grasp this distinction between possession and property, a distinction he graphically illustrated by comparing a lover as a possessor, and a husband as a proprietor! (Proudhon, 1994, p.36.) Property, for Proudhon is a legal faculty; Possession is a fact.

Like Godwin, Proudhon based his attack on property on his concept of justice: "'I build no system. I ask an end to privilege, the abolition of slavery, equality of rights, and the reign of law. Justice, nothing else. That is the alpha and omega of my argument.'" (Woodcock, 1956, p.46) "He argues that labor alone is the basis of value, but that this nevertheless does not give the laborer a right to property, since his labor does not create the material out of which the product is made. 'The right to products is exclusive; the right to means is common'." (ibid, p. 47.) Proudhon quotes the Scottish political economist Thomas Reid as follows: "The right to life implies a right to the means of life, and that rule of justice which demands respect for the life of an innocent man also demands that he not be deprived of the means of life: these two rights are equally sacred...To prevent the labor of another is the same sort of injustice as putting him in chains or throwing him into prison, and it provokes the same resentment." (Proudhon, 1994, p. 46-7.) Proudhon takes this principle and follows the reasoning to its logical conclusion. If there is a right to life, there is a right to the means of life, and since the right to life is shared equally by all, the right to the means to life must be equally shared. Proudhon reasoned: "Man needs to labor in order to live; consequently, he needs tools and materials to work upon. His need to produce constitutes his right, and his right is guaranteed by his fellows, with whom he makes a similar agreement." (ibid, p. 54.) Thus, society is formed not to protect property, but to protect access to the means of production.

For Proudhon, property and society are incompatible. In Chapter Two of What is Property, Proudhon wrote: "Property... is a right outside of society; for it is clear that if the wealth of each were social wealth, the conditions would be equal for all...Thus, if we are associated for the sake of liberty, equality, and security, we are not associated for the sake of property; thus if property is a natural right, this natural right is not social but antisocial. Property and society are completely irreconcilable with one another. It is as impossible to associate two proprietors as to joint two magnets by their opposite poles. Either society must perish, or it must destroy property." (Proudhon, 1994, p. 42-3.)

At the core of this conception is the principle of equality. Rights, by definition, are equal rights. Liberty, must be liberty for all, for "Liberty is the original condition of man; to renounce liberty is to renounce the quality of man." (Proudhon, 1994, p. 38.) He sums up this conception near the end of section one, chapter two: "... liberty is an absolute right because it is to man what impenetrability is to matter, a sine qua non of existence; equality is an absolute right because without equality there is no society; security is an absolute right because in the eyes of every man his own liberty and life are as precious as another's. These three rights are absolute, that is, susceptible of neither increase nor diminution because every member of society receives as much as he gives, --liberty for liberty, equality for equality, security for security, body for body, soul for soul, in life and in death." (Proudhon, 1994, p. 42.) This is equivalent to a marriage vow to society. To protect that marriage, property, in the sense of ownership, must be eliminated, for it is out of the inequality of property that war, violence, crime, and other social pathologies emerge.

This conception of property, as Woodcock has noted, was essentially a peasant's view of property relations. Proudhon knew little of the industrializing 19th century world. His experience was the experience of the peasant and small shopkeeper. Nevertheless, it was a vision that captured essential points about the transition from an agrarian to an industrialized society, and it clearly was a vision many of his contemporaries shared. The fame which What Is Property brought Proudhon, propelled him into the forefront of radical politics for the rest of his life, indeed throughout the 19th century and on through the Spanish Civil War. He was by far a more well known and influential figure than Marx as the revolutions of 1848 erupted. His fame led to his election to the National Assembly in 1848 where, in public debate, he drew attention to the rising power of the working class. As early as 1842 Proudhon had declared: "'Workers, laborers, men of the people, the initiative of reform is yours...The new socialist movement will begin by...the war of the workshop,' he wrote in his diary, and added another thought that echoed through the history of Latin Syndicalism down to the Spanish Civil War when he noted: 'The social revolution is seriously compromised if it comes through a political revolution.'" (Woodcock, 1992, p. 149.)

The main themes of Proudhon's thought were constant throughout most of his work. He criticized political revolutions from above, clearly identifying the darker side of the socialist vision to which revolutionaries in the Marxist tradition have succumbed. Centralized government, organized for whatever purpose, is an evil to be countered by a decentralized, mutualist economy. The federalist theme which runs through his work was designed to counter the centralization of the developing nation states. It was a federalism far different from the federalism pursued in the United States or Switzerland. It was a federalism in which real power resided at the local level, rather than being "devolved" from on high. Finally, he clearly identified the working class as an autonomous revolutionary force which would eventually win its own freedom.

From : "Proudhon: A Biography," by Dana Ward, from Anarchy Archives


This person has authored 75 documents, with 536,475 words or 3,322,238 characters.

Besançon, May 31, 1837. PIERRE-JOSEPH PROUDHON, CANDIDATE FOR THE SUARD PENSION TO THE GENTLEMEN OF THE ACADÉMIE DE BESANCON. Gentlemen, I am a compositor and proofreader, son of a poor craftsman who, as the father of three boys, could never bear the cost of three apprenticeships. I knew evil and trouble early; my youth, to use a very popular expression, was passed through a fine sieve. Just so Suard, Marmontel, and a host of writers and scholars struggled with fortune. May you, gentlemen, upon reading this memoir, have the thought that between so many men famous for the gifts of intelligence, and the one who now seeks your votes, the community of misfortune is perhaps not the only point of resemblance. ... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Preface The celebrated Sir Francis Bacon was called the reformer of human reason for having replaced the syllogism with observation in the natural sciences; the philosophers, following his example, teach today that philosophy is a collection of observations and facts. But, certain thinkers have said to them, if truth and certainty exist in philosophy, they must also exist in the realm of politics: thus, there is a social science responsive to evidence, which is consequently the object of demonstration, not of art or authority, not, that is, of arbitrary will. This conclusion, so profound in its simplicity, so innovative in its consequences, has been the signal for a vast intellectual movement, comparable with that which manife... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
THE COMING ERA OF MUTUALISM. From the "System of Contradictions in Political Economy," [V. II, 527-9] BY P. J. PROUDHON. [English translation] If I am not deceived, my readers must be convinced at least of one thing, that Social Truth is not to be looked for either in Utopia or in the Old Routine; that Political Economy is not the Science of Society, and yet that it contains the elements of such a science, even as chaos before creation contained the elements of the universe; and finally, that in order to arrive at the definitive organization which would appear to be the destiny of our race upon this globe, it is only necessary to make a general equation of all our contradictions. But what shall be the formula of this equation? A... (From : proudhonlibrary.org.)
  Part One     Chapter I: Political Dualism — Authority and Liberty: Opposition and Interconnection of the Two Ideas     Chapter II: A Priori Conceptions of Political Order: Regime of Authority, Regime of Liberty     Chapter III: Forms of Government     Chapter IV: Compromise Between the Principles: Origins of Political Contradictions     Chapter V: De Facto Governments: Social Dissolution     Chapter VI: The Political Problem Posed: The Principle of a Solution     Chapter VII: Isolation of the Idea of Federation     Chapter VIII: A Progressive Constitution &... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Introduction by Shawn P. Wilbur Proudhon was fond of scandal and provocation — and it got him, and his friends, into hot water. In his System of Economic Contradictions, he wrapped his already provocative thesis about the evolution of institutions around a scandalous narrative about “the hypothesis of God.” Proudhon was fascinated with Christianity, and wrote about it from a variety of perspectives and in a variety of tones, but he is probably best remembered for writings like his “Hymn to Satan” and the final chapter of the first volumes of the Economic Contradictions, where he worked himself up to a sort of declaration of war against the very idea of God: “If God did not exist” ... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
There is something odd about the fate of the writer of these lines. No matter how little he may be tempted to take pride in an all but unprecedented situation, he would be compelled to believe that, just at the moment, everybody, excepting only himself, has taken leave of their senses; or that he himself, through some inexplicable freak, has gone mad, albeit a madness of the most erudite, considered, thought out, conscientious, philosophical sort and (in terms of its principle, its purpose, its deductions) the sort that conforms most closely to pure science and common sense. But God forbid that we should mentally entertain this presumptuous alternative: and would do better to investigate whether the contradiction currently existing b... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
These letters, addressed to Frederic Bastiat, an economist, originally appeared in a debate published in The Voice of the People, in 1849. Interest and Principal Arguments Drawn from the Operations of the Bank of France It is not true--and the facts just cited prove beyond a doubt that it is not--that the decrease of interest is proportional to the increase of capital. Between the price of merchandise and interest of capital there is not the least analogy; the laws governing their fluctuations are not the same; and all your dinning of the last six weeks in relation to capital and interest has been utterly devoid of sense. The universal custom of banks and the common sense of the people give you the lie on all these points in a m... (From : Anarchy Archives.)
These letters, addressed to Frederic Bastiat, an economist, originally appeared in a debate published in The Voice of the People, in 1849. Interest and Principal A Loan is a Service On the one hand, it is very true, as you have unquestionably established, that a loan is a service. And as every service has a value, and, in consequence, is entitled by its nature to a reward, it follows that a loan ought to have its price, or, to use the technical phrase, ought to bear interest. But it is also true, and this truth is consistent with the preceding one, that he who tends, under the ordinary conditions of the professional lender, does not deprive himself, as you phrase it, of the capital which be lends. He lends it, on the contra... (From : Anarchy Archives.)
These letters, addressed to Frederic Bastiat, an economist, originally appeared in a debate published in The Voice of the People, in 1849. Interest and Principal The Origin of Ground Rent I said before that in ancient times the landed proprietor, when neither he nor his family farmed his land, as was the case among the Romans in the early days of the Republic, cultivated it through his slaves: such was the general practice of patrician families. Then slavery and the soil were chained together; the farmer was called adscrpitus gleboe, joined to the land; property in men and things was undivided. The price of a farm depended (1) upon its area and quality of its soil, (2) upon the quantity of stock, and (3) upon the number of slav... (From : Anarchy Archives.)
These letters, addressed to Frederic Bastiat, an economist, originally appeared in a debate published in The Voice of the People, in 1849. Interest and Principal The Circulation of Capital, Not Capital Itself, Gives Birth to Progress Thus it is with interest on capital, legitimate when a loan was a service rendered by citizen to citizen, but which ceases to be so when society has acquired the power to organize credit gratuitously for everybody. This interest, I say, is contradictory in its nature, in that, on the one hand, the service rendered by the lender is entitled to remuneration, and that, on the other, all wages suppose either a production or a sacrifice, which is not the case with a loan. The revolution which is effecte... (From : Anarchy Archives.)
Lyon, 17 May 1846 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 favor 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 pr... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
My dear Pierre Leroux, I really must forgive you your incessant accusations, for you do not know me and do not engage in debate. For a start, you haven’t read me, so you have a cheek attacking me; next, I think you need telling and everything that you have written over the past month is there to prove it: you have absolutely no method. As a result of rehashing your empty formulas, wallowing in your sterile imaginings and focusing your thoughts upon some world beyond the senses, you have rendered yourself incapable of grasping other people’s thinking; the upshot being that, all unbeknownst to yourself, your criticisms amount, I am sorry to say, to unrelenting demonization. On the basis of a few snatches of te... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
Citizens and friends: This work was inspired by you and belongs to you. Ten months ago you asked me what I thought of the electoral manifesto published by sixty workers from the Seine. You especially wanted to know if, after having pronounced yourselves at the elections of 1863 with a negative vote, you should persist in this line or if, because of the circumstances, you were permitted to support with your vote and your influence the candidacy of a comrade worthy of our sympathy. There can be no doubt concerning my opinion on the thoughts expressed in your manifesto, and I frankly expressed it when I received it. To be sure, I was pleased by this reawakening of socialism: who in France had more right to be pleased than ... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
The Malthusians Le Représentant du Peuple 10th August 1848 Translator: Benjamin Tucker Dr. Malthus, an economist, an Englishman, once wrote the following words: “A man who is born into a world already possessed, if he cannot get subsistence from his parents on whom he has a just demand, and if the society do not want his labor, has no claim of right to the smallest portion of food, and, in fact, has no business to be where he is. At nature’s mighty feast there is no vacant cover for him. She tells him to be gone, and will quickly execute her own orders...”[1] As a consequence of this great principle, Malthus recommends, with the most terrible threats, every man who has neither labor nor income upon which to ... (From : anarchism.pageabode.com.)
[Undated fragment from Ms. 2971, Ville de Besançon] I always see the fathers of families, sufficiently enlightened regarding the value of religious fables, worry nonetheless about the Education to give their children, and ask on what the moral principles that they will be taught will rest. Morals and superstition have been so thoroughly mixed together that the majority of men do not manage to separate them, and, for them, to destroy the latter it is always a matter of compromising the former. I am an honest man, says a father, and I know where I stand on the question of the cults. I do not need religion to lead me as a man of honor. But my children must be educated, and I know what that costs. It disgusts me to p... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
There must, says holy Scripture, be factions [partis] [1]: For there must be heresies [Oportet enim hoereses esse]. – Terrible. There must! writes Bossuet [2] in profound adoration, without daring to search for the reason behind this There must! A little reflection has revealed to us the principle and the significance of factions: the point is to know their goal and their end. All men are equal and free: society, by nature and destination, is thus autonomous, one might say, ungovernable. If the sphere of activity of each citizen is determined by the natural division of labor and the choice one makes of a profession, social functions are combined so as to produce an effect of harmony, and the order results from the free a... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
THE NEW PROUDHON LIBRARY. VOLUME 20, Part 1. THE PHILOSOPHY OF PROGRESS. BY PIERRE-JOSEPH PROUDHON1 LEFTLIBERTY 2009 _________ FOREWORD France has exhausted the principles that once sustained it. Its conscience is empty, just like its reason. All the famous writers that it has produced in the last half-century,—the de Maisters, the Chateaubriands, the Lamennais, the de Bonalds, the Cousins, the Guizots, the Lamartines, the Saint-Simons, the Michelets, Catholics, eclectics, economists, socialists, and members of parliament,—have not ceased to predict that moral collapse which, thanks to God's mercy, man's foolishness, and the necessity of things, has finally arrived. The philo... (From : Anarchy Archives.)
Benjamin R. Tucker translation THE STATE: Its Nature, Object, and Destiny. By P. J. PROUDHON. Translated from the Voix du Peuple of December 3, 1849, by Benjamin R. Tucker. The Revolution of February raised two leading questions: one economic, the question of labor and property; the other political, the question of government or the State. On the first of these questions the socialistic democracy is substantially in accord. They admit that it is not a question of the seizure and division of property, or even of its repurchase. Neither is it a question of dishonorably levying additional taxes on the wealthy and property-holding classes, which, while violating the principle of property recognized in the constitution, would serve ... (From : proudhonlibrary.org.)
October 17, 1848 Citizens, When our friends of the democratic republic, apprehensive of our ideas and our inclinations, cry out against the qualification of socialist which we add to that of democrat, of what do they reproach us? — They reproach us for not being revolutionaries. Let us see then if they or we are in the tradition; whether they or we have the true revolutionary practice. And when our adversaries of the middle class, concerned for their privileges, pour upon us calumny and insult, what is the pretext of their charges? It is that we want to totally destroy property, the family, and civilization. Let us see then again whether we or our adversaries better deserve the title of conservatives... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)
What is Government? What is its principle, its object, its right? -- This is incontestably the first question that the political man poses to himself. Now, this question, which appears so simple and the solution of which seems so easy, we find that faith alone can answer. Philosophy is as incapable of demonstrating Government as it is of proving God. Authority, like Divinity, is not a matter of knowing; it is, I repeat, a matter of faith. That insight, so paradoxical at first glance, and yet so true, merits some development. We are going to try, without any significant scientific apparatus, to make ourselves understood. The principal attribute, the signal trait of our species, after THOUGHT, is belief, and above all thi... (From : TheAnarchistLibrary.org.)


January 15, 1809 :
Birth Day.

January 19, 1865 :
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November 15, 2016 ; 4:47:52 PM (America/Los_Angeles) :
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March 18, 2020 ; 8:54:33 AM (America/Los_Angeles) :
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