Pierre Joseph Proudhon’s PhilosophyJune 27, 2021
Even though the seeds of anarchist ideas are found in Fourier, we need to go as far as Proudhon (1809-1865) before we can find a writer who can take an open stance against capital and the state and who has the courage to formulate the idea of anarchy as we understand it today.
Proudhon began to do this with his work, which became a phenomenon all over Europe in 1840. Even the title of his work was a program. “What is Property? Or Studies in the Foundations of Justice and Governments”.
Proudhon, after proving that property is only a form of robbery, pillage, and theft, showed that one of the main consequences of property is despotism. “What form of domination do you envision?” He immediately answered “none” to the question. “So who are you?” “I am an anarchist; I am an anarchist in the truest sense of the word, even though I love order.” “Society seeks order in anarchy, just as man seeks justice in equality,” he added. Anarchy, the absence of power, is the form of political organization that today’s societies necessarily approach. Nobody is sovereign. “We are united whether we like it or not.”
Since every human work is the product of a combined power, since every tool is the fruit of combined thought and combined labor, so must property be communal. A person or a group can have only temporary ownership (zilliyet) of the land and the natural wealth created by society and the means of production. And since every exchange must be based on the equivalence of the things or services exchanged, “profits are unjust”. In Proudhon’s opinion, the only way to achieve this equivalence is to measure the value of each product by the number of working hours spent at a given level of technique to produce it; to do this, the working hours of each member of society must be taken to be of equal value to that of another.
If society is organized on this basis, if free associations are formed between producer and consumer groups, if equal rights and fair exchange are established on all means of production, then the management of people by people will turn into unnecessary oppression. The full development of society will come when order is combined with anarchy – the absence of any form of government. These basic ideas constitute the essence of the current of thought that we call anarchy. Later, Proudhon (learning lessons from the failed revolution of 1848) elaborated the basic principles of anarchy in particular in his two books, “Reflections on Revolution in the 19th Century” (written in prison, published in 1851) and “Confessions of a Revolutionary” (1849). In these books, he sharply criticized those who aimed to help the government system through referendums or “binding mandates” (mandate), etc. He later developed his ideas about exchange under the name “mutualism” (mutual aid). He embodied the freeing of work in “work bonds” to be paid by a national bank, in which each person’s work hours spent on production and utilities would be overstated.
Moreover, he tried to implement the exchange in practice with these checks to be paid by his own Halk Bank. Of course, this attempt, carried out on a necessarily small scale, failed and proved once again that any partial reform in the economic foundations of society is doomed from the start. Not because it is small-scale, but because capital will have the power of economic exploitation and political domination as long as there are millions of people who have to sell their workforce and personal independence under the dictates of hunger.
Pyotr Kropotkine; The Development of Anarchist Thoughts
P.J. Taken from Proudhon’s Essays.
Translation M. Tüzel, Birey Publications, July 1992.