On Proudhon: Joseph Déjacque, James Guillaume and a Socialist Catechism

Time has not been kind and I’ve not been able to work on my planned release of a new chapter of Property is Theft! and blog on “Proudhon and Market Socialism”. I have, however, decided to expand the Supplemental Material (online only), specifically material about Proudhon and his ideas.

First off, there is a “Socialist Catechism” by Charles-François Chevé, an associate of Proudhon. It was first published in The Voice of the People on October 29, 1849 and as a pamphlet the following year (context is provided by Shawn Wilbur). Suffice to say, it is an excellent summation of the ideas of Proudhon’s circle during these days -- ideas they were spreading quite successfully into working class circles through their newspapers. It is notable for his discussion of the state (which mirrors Proudhon’s in his polemic with Louis Blanc and Pierre Leroux), popular self-government/sovereignty, the imperative mandate and recall and his critique of property. For example, his discussion of mandating and recalling delegates echoes Proudhon’s comments from March 1848:

“In the end, we are all voters; we can choose the most worthy.

“We can do more; we can follow them step-by-step in their legislative acts and their votes; we will make them transmit our arguments and our documents; we will suggest our will to them, and when we are discontented, we will recall and dismiss them.

“The choice of talents, the imperative mandate, and permanent revocability are the most immediate and incontestable consequences of the electoral principle. It is the inevitable program of all democracy.” (Property is Theft!, p. 273)

Economically, it also reflects Proudhon. It “sums up Socialism” by “EQUAL EXCHANGE, the abolition of all interest on capital, and ASSOCIATION, which means solidarity, reciprocity, and mutualism between all men for production, consumption and exchange.” So it is a socialist catechism due to its support for distribution according to deed, not need (“To each according to his works; and each associate must be remunerating in proportion to his labour”). In this, he is repeating Proudhon -- as he also does when he recognises the need for socialised property: “give to every labourer the rights of an associated partner.”

So the call for equal exchange and association echoes Proudhon (as noted in the introduction to Property is Theft!, Proudhon’s consistent arguments for workers associations are not as well known as they should be). As Proudhon put it in 1840, “all . . . are proprietors of their products — not one is proprietor of the means of production. The right to product is exclusive . . . the right to means is common” (Property is Theft!, p. 112) Proudhon had argued for workplace democracy and associated labour since 1840 and was (unsurprisingly) reflected in his 1848 election manifesto:

“the capitalist profits by his capital without working . . . poverty and proletariat are the inevitable consequence of property . . . under universal association, ownership of the land and of the instruments of labour is social ownership . . . We want the mines, canals, railways handed over to democratically organised workers’ associations . . . 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 and social Republic.” (Property is Theft!, pp. 373-8)

So Chevé’s little “Socialist Catechism” is an excellent summation of the ideas within Proudhon’s circle during the 1848 revolution and so should be better known. I’ve made a few slight changes to Shawn’s translation and hopefully have improved it (this is the orginal translation). Moreover, given its Succinct nature I’ve turned it into a pdf file as well -- it is a good summation of the ideas current in Proudhon’s circle at the time. Also, given that Proudhon’s November 1848 Election Manifesto is also a Succinct introduction/summation of his ideas, I’ve added a pdf to that as well. Both texts provide, I would argue, an excellent introduction to libertarian socialist ideas during the 1848 revolution and expound many ideas which have become thanks to the Paris Commune and Marx’s defence of it) accepted positions on the left (at least lip-service is paid to ideas like mandates and recall by the Leninists). Sadly, most Marxists have no idea that much of what they like in the Paris Commune was advocated by Proudhon in 1848 -- I just hope anarchists are a bit better informed given that this is part of our ideas and history and so our contribution to socialist theory!

Then there is Joseph Déjacque’s 1857 letter taking Proudhon (quite rightly) to task for his sexism. This translation was originally produced in two parts for and made available by Shawn Wilbur (Part I and Part II). I fixed a few typos and made the translation consisent with Property is Theft! (notably, changing “property is robbery” to “property is theft”). This is an extremely important letter on quite a few levels -- it attacks Proudhon’s sexism and patriarchical stupidities, it takes his critique of property and draws anarchist-communist conclusions from it and it coins the term libertarian as an alternative for anarchism (i.e., anti-state socialism).

The introduction mentions the self-contradictory nature of Proudhon’s support for patriarchy and that numerous anarchists have criticised it, starting with Déjacque:

First, its proponents rejected Proudhon’s support for patriarchy in the family as being inconsistent with the libertarian principles he advocated against capitalism and the state. This was an obvious self-contradiction, which anarchists have critiqued by means of the very principles Proudhon himself used to criticise the state and capitalism. Joseph Déjacque, for example, wrote a critique of Proudhon’s sexist views in 1857, urging him to renounce “this gender aristocracy that would bind us to the old regime.” André Léo, a feminist libertarian and future Communard, pointed out the obvious contradiction in 1869: “These so-called lovers of liberty, if they are unable to take part in the direction of the state, at least they will be able to have a little monarchy for their personal use, each in his own home... Order in the family without hierarchy seems impossible to them – well then, what about in the state?”

Proudhon’s sexism is not discussed in any detail in the introduction for a few reasons. First, due to its obvious non-libertarian nature (an-archy excludes patri-archy by definition). Second, it is not what anarchists take from Proudhon’s ideas. Third, space considerations -- spectulating on why did he whole-heartedly supported patriarchy and so remained (in this case) “a man of his times” when so many other radicals saw through it would take too much time and research. Suffice to say, he was completely wrong and no anarchist spends much time with this aspect of his ideas. Rather, we take his arguments for self-management and apply them to the voluntary associations between men and women. In other words, we consistently apply his critique of state and capital to all relationships -- sexual as well as social, political and economic. Or, as Déjacque puts it, we are “an entire anarchist and not a quarter anarchist, an eighth anarchist, or one-sixteenth anarchist”!

This letter is also notable for the use of the term libertarian (libertaire”) as an alternative to anarchist. The following year, 1858, saw Déjacque use the term “libertaire” as the title of an anarcho-communist newspaper published in New York. So, ironically given the appropriation of the term “libertarian” by the American propertarian right, the term was first used in America to describe an anti-property perspective even stronger than Proudhon and his “Property is Theft”/”Property is Despotism”!

This seems little known these days, even within propertarian circles. Perhaps this is unsurprising, for to know of and/or acknowledge this theft would involve either denying their beloved “absolue” private property rights or, assuming they take their ideology seriously rather than an excuse not to pay taxes or bash working class people, renouncing using libertarian to describe their authoritarian ideology. Suffice to say, the indignation anarchist use of our own word can be ironically amusing. Thus, for example, we find leading propertarian Walter (Voluntary Slavery) Block showing his ignorance of the origins of the term libertarian in an article entitled Say ‘Yes’ to Capitalism:

“But, the enemies of libertarianism are always trying to take words away from us. They have already long ago stolen ‘liberal.’ We must now call ourselves ‘classical liberals’ if we want to use that appellation at all. Some have recently had the audacity to try to take away the word ‘libertarian.’ I refer, here, to Noam Chomsky, who has the temerity to characterize himself as a libertarian . . . this [is] attempted theft . . . True, Chomsky does not try to pass as a plain old libertarian. Rather, he describes himself as a ‘libertarian socialist.’”

It would be churlish, but essential, to note that Chomsky has to describe himself as a “libertarian socialist” because of the propertarian theft of the word “libertarian” in the 1950s. After all, it is a fact that libertarian was first used in its modern sense by Déjacque in 1857 and publically as a name of a journal in 1858. By the end of the century it had become an internationally used alternative for anarchist (see 150 years of libertarian). Until the 1950s that is, when American right-wingers decided to appropriate the term to describe their non-libertarian ideology. Here is someone Block may have read discussing this, Murray Rothbard the inventor of “anarcho”-capitalism:

“One gratifying aspect of our rise to some prominence is that, for the first time in my memory, we, ‘our side,’ had captured a crucial word from the enemy . . . ‘Libertarians’ . . . had long been simply a polite word for left-wing [sic!] anarchists, that is for anti-private property anarchists, either of the communist or syndicalist variety. But now we had taken it over, and more properly from the view of etymology; since we were proponents of individual liberty and therefore of the individual’s right to his property.” (Murray N. Rothbard, The Betrayal of the American Right, Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn, 2007, p. 83)

In short, the likes of Block are accusing anarchists of “audacity”, “theft” and “temerity” because we dare to use the word “libertarian” in the original, traditional, meaning it had before (to use Rothbard’s words) the laissez-faire right had “taken it over” and “captured” it “from the enemy”! While in America the term libertarian seems to have been lost (it is associated with almost every anti-worker initiative you can imagine) in other countries (such as the UK) the appropriate is not complete and should fought. It is a disgrace that “libertarian” is being associated with the kind of politics and economics Proudhon spent so much time fighting (see, for example, Chapter 1 of System of Economic Contradictions or “The Malthusians”).

Given its use of libertarian and its subsequent fate in America during the 20th century, it is ironic that Déjacque’s letter seems to the first example of someone taking Proudhon’s critique of property and extending into (libertarian) communist conclusions. In this he was a trail-blazer, given that it took until the early 1870s for the revolutionary anarchists of the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA) to come to the same conclusions. Some, incorrectly, think that Kropotkin was the father of communist-anarchism but, in reality, he was the best known advocate of an idea which had already developed in the Italian section of the IWMA (see Caroline Cahm’s excellent Kropotkin and the Rise of Revolutionary Anarchism 1872-1886 for details). Suffice to say, Déjacque letter reflects many of the arguments for communism made much later by the likes of Kropotkin (for example, The Collectivist Wages-System in The Conquest of Bread). Space preludes an extensive discussion of his libertarian communism beyond noting that while the thrust of his arguments are certainly correct, some of the specifics of his vision are flawed. For example, the notion that if we just produce what we want then it will match what is needed is hopelessly optimistic. Similarly, no economy could operate without free agreements or contracts (i.e., an agreement to produce specific goods at a specific time for specific people) -- to just produce as and when would mean either waste (as the wrong goods are produced) or delays (as the right goods are produced at the wrong times). But remember this is a letter, a statement of aspiration, rather than a detailed discussion of how libertarian communism could work.

Looking at the letter, its forcefullness, its correctness, its use of the term libertaire” and its early development of Proudhon’s mutualism into (libertarian) communism, it should be better known. I think that if there is ever a second edition of Property is Theft! then it should be added as an appendix. For the time being, I’ve also turned it into a pdf file and hopefully that will get more people aware of Déjacque (and the real origins of the word libertarian!).

Last is an article by James Guillaume on federalism written during the Paris Commune. It is notable for his explicit linking of the Paris Commune to Proudhon’s ideas and the (correct) use of the term “collective force” in relation to federalism. Originally used as part of his theory of exploitation (and, along with much else, taken up by Marx), Proudhon generalised the concept. In 1840 he used it to (also) argue that: “All human labour being the result of collective force, all property becomes, by the same reason, collective and undivided” (Property is Theft, p. 137). In 1846 he used to it argue for self-managed workplaces: “By virtue of the principle of collective force, labourers are the equals and associates of their leaders” (System of Economical Contradictions, p. 411) (See the discussion of The Poverty of Philosophy in the introduction of Property is Theft!). By 1858, he was using it in “Petit Catéchisme Politique” (De La Justice dans La Révolution et dans L’Église, 4th Study -- Property is Theft! pages 654-683) as the foundations for his arguments for decentralised social self-management/self-government.

In short, “collective force” underpined Proudhon’s analysis of exploitation, his arguments for workers’ association (industrial democracy), his decentralisation based on functional/natural groups and his federalism. (see the glossary of Property is Theft!) So Guillaume (like Bakunin) had obviously read his Proudhon and so the links between the reformist anarchism of the 1840s and 1850s and the revolutionary anarchism which developed in the International Workers’ Association in the late 1860s and early 1870s. As the introduction discusses Proudhon’s (obvious) influence in the Commune, I will leave it here.

Finally, a few links to works by Proudhon which have not been placed on the Property is Theft! site. First off, there are two new chapters from (the posthumously collated and published) The Theory of Property -- the (very short) Chapter Two and Chapter VI. Then there is part 1 (“Economic Demonstration”) of Les Majorats Littéraires (Literary Property) is available at Collective Reason ( as well as on a different webpage).

Then there are two articles from 1849 in which he discusses his conclusion in Chapter VIII of 1846’s System of Economic Contradictions that “God is Evil” (sadly none of this chapter is in Property is Theft! but at least it is easily available on-line). Or to quote the whole passage (and it really should!):

“God is hypocrisy and falsehood; God is tyranny and misery; God is evil. As long as humanity shall bend before an altar, humanity, the slave of kings and priests, will be condemned; as long as one man, in the name of God, shall receive the oath of another man, society will be founded on perjury; peace and love will be banished from among mortals. God, take yourself away! for, from this day forth, cured of your fear and become wise, I swear, with hand extended to heaven, that you are only the tormentor of my reason, the spectre of my conscience.”

The articles were written on May 6, 1849 and published the following day in Le Peuple (No. 169) Proudhon clears up what he meant three years before in a two part article “God is Evil” and “Man is Free” (available, with introduction, as one article). And on this theme, there is this “Hymn to Satan” from Justice in the Revolution and in the Church (1858), from Section XLVII, which ends Chapter 5, “Function of Liberty” which, in turn, is the final chapter of the Eighth Study (“Conscience and Liberty”).

All of these works were brought to my attention by Shawn Wilbur. If you have not visited his excellent webpage (currently called Two-Gun Mutualism & the Golden Rule) then I would recommend that you do. If you are interested in libertarian history and its ideas then I can think of no place better.

Finally, Shawn has stated that he is “currently working my way through the third memoir on property, Notice to the Proprietors.” I can hardly wait! As its a polemic against a Fourierist, we can assume that there will be some sexist comments but it would be nice to have all three memoirs in English. Particularly as it has this in it:

“Workers, labourers, men of the people, whoever you may be, the initiative of reform is yours. It is you who will accomplish that synthesis of social composition which will be the masterpiece of creation, and you alone can accomplish it.”

Suffice to say, a revised and complete edition of all three memoirs of What is Property? would be a significant contribution to our understanding of Proudhon and the development of libertarian ideas in the 1840s.