On P. J. Proudhon’s ‘What is property?’

Original text available  free at Marxists.org

On our journey through anarchist philosophy, we arrive at the fourth stop.

In Hindsight, I wish I had arrived here first. The archetypal treatise known as ‘what is property? has helped me to understand the rest of the reading at a far deeper level than I had been able to ascertain prior.

Having gone through most of  the works of Mikhail Bakunin, several by William Godwin, and a brief but enjoyable stop at ‘The Communist Manifesto’ by Karl Marx; We now find ourselves at the literary doorstep of Pierre Joseph Proudhon as he lends assistance toward our understanding of the state, our place (within), and how we think about the government and our lives as a whole.

I would almost go so far as call it the Anarchist version of the communist manifesto. If Marx dealt with the who and the how of the state and revolution; Proudhon dealt with the what and the why. 

While their comparison requires one to speak in terms of apples and oranges; Proudhon seems to have peered both deeper into the roots of society, as well as having done so with better spirit and intention than Marx and at the same time falls short on Marx’s ability to verbally paint detailed pictures of societal constructs and functions as well as predict the course of their (r)evolutions. 

Highlights

1. “What is slavery? and I should answer in one word, It is murder, my meaning would be understood at once.”(Proudhon 1840)

At first our mind does not wish to reconcile these two phenomena as identical; but upon closer inspection we may begin to see the parallel. Murder is too end the life of another through execution. Slavery forces one to forfeit their life for the sake of somebody’s profit. If one is too live merely for someone else’s gain, and that alone; are they truly better off than dead?

If one is doing so for a good reason such as a parent living purely for their children or an activist living purely for their cause than certainly, because those things hold a legitimate importance and bear meaning too the individual.

However if one is living purely for the profit of a malignant superior whom they did not choose, than I say they may as well seek liberation or die trying.

While the majority of us do not live under such conditions this may just as fluently speak to smaller more personal instances, which may only pose a risk to certain degrees of comfort, wealth, free time and or reputation. A perfect example would be liberation from a destructive addiction, a toxic partner, an unfair landlord or a shitty job that has a hold on you.

 2. “What is property! may I not likewise answer, It is robbery, without the certainty of being misunderstood; the second proposition being no other than a transformation of the first? “(Proudhon 1840)

If we are a mere microcosm of the earth; than any attempt to lay claim on it is in fact a glorified act of robbery.

If you go hiking through the woods and catch a tick, does that tick now legally possess the right to unpack, set up shop, start a dynasty, partition your skin, seize your bodies means of production and create a monopoly on your skin cells and hair follicles?

Didn’t think so; most of us would likely remove it as soon as we were aware of it’s presence, which causes one too wonder if this is part of the planet’s agenda.

The irony here is that some conservative thinkers are fond of deeming those who collect social security parasites; while this in a sense this may be true, they are in fact only leaching off a larger and more destructive parasite. In another sense this need not be true. Unlike real parasites, every parasitic force in this world has the ability to become a mutualite. That is too say that you contribute something to your host. If every parasite underwent this transformation, the world would be a perfect place.

This is not communism, this is not too say you work only for the state, but you work for the state and yourself. I believe however taxes aren’t a very good way to accomplish this. Charity, and investments into the quality of life of the public at whatever reasonable level you can afford, ought to be mandatory and replace the idea of taxation.

That said a perfect society, would be a capitalist direct-democratic society in which anyone with wealth and power was an egalitarian who thought like a Green-Market Socialist, an Anarcho-syndicalist , or an outright saint. Those who believe such a feet to be out of reach will be in for a rude awakening.

     3. Property is robbery! That is the war-cry of ’93! That is the signal of revolutions!”(Proudhon 1840)

This was also the war cry of 2000s anarcho-punk band Wingnut dishwashers Union on their track ‘Proudhon in Manhattan’ “Throw your hands in the air cause property is robbery.”

4. “If your conscience is free, if your mind can unite two propositions and deduce a third therefrom, my ideas will inevitably become yours.” (Proudhon 1840)

Proudhon makes it a point to inform us that utilizing what he has left us will require arduous deductive reasoning in order to read between the overlapping borders of his ideological web.

The process of deducing additional information from the cross reference of two statements will be key in the analysis of his work.

5.”every perception received by the mind is determined by certain general laws which govern the mind;”(Proudhon 1840)

That is to say that we view all that we are met with in terms of how our mind wants us too see it. To say that our individual perspectives are sculpted by and in conformity with our worldview.

That while our worldview may grow and change it always serves to reconcile our experiences and knowledge with it’s own most primitive form.

6.”If the mind has no innate ideas, it has at least innate forms” (Proudhon 1840)

If the mind cannot produce ideas which are purely independent of what it is exposed to, it would still however possess the ability to take shape and execute functions which exist independently of the mind.

Systems like anarchism and communism may be modeled and replicated in the mind while existing independently of it’s container.

Likewise our minds may take variants of pre-determined shapes according to what types of problems we want too solve, what kind of tasks we wish to complete, and how we wish to exist and portray ourselves.

This allows archetypal personality types such as Tyrant, Artist, Peasant, Merchant and Scholar to take forms which are transient of the minds they occupy.

7.”(That) very thing which exists implies the ideas of substance, mode, relation, number.”(Proudhon 1840)

For something to exist:

  1. It must consist of one or more smaller somethings (substance)

2. Must be identifiable with some form of categorically qualitative property (mode)

3. Must have the ability to interact with other somethings (relation)

4. Must be rationally quantifiable. (number 

9. “Even when we are fighting against a principle which our mind thinks false … we obey it while attacking it” (Proudhon 1840)

This speaks to a strange situation many who seek communities or roles of resistance find themselves in. It causes one to antagonize the host from the inside, yet itself being a working component of that society.

Kinda like an unending game of ‘devils advocate’; in which ones mind is always always at odds with the bodies actions due to ideological or emotional friction created by the subjected scenario therein.


10. This principle, impaired by our ignorance, is honored and cherished; for if it were not cherished it would harm nobody, it would be without influence … what is it? Can it be religion? (Proudhon 1840) 

The answer is yes.

People have used religion as an excuse to do harm but this does not make any religion inherently harmful. One may also make the same claim about the Arts, Philosophy and Mathematics. For all of these exist primarily to serve as tools for our mental canvas and a point of reference for thoughts and ideas.

The exception being religion (and art depending on how you look at it) in serving for it’s subscribers as a way to facilitate spiritual growth or a ‘personal connection’ with God/Universe/Allah/Yahweh if you believe in that sort of thing.

Faith is something I would probably recommend purely because it has improved my quality of life, but everyone is and ought to always be free to form their own choices and beliefs.

The last thing I want is too appear as if I’m telling anybody what they ought to believe; unless that consists of telling people to believe in equal opportunity, non-violence, and freedom of speech.  

11. Do unto others that which you would that others should do unto you; Do not unto others that which you would not that others should do unto you.(Proudhon 1840)

This age old wisdom is still repeated today as the golden rule of ‘treat others how you’d like to be treated’ I don’t think the fact that it carries a tremendous amount of merit on any and every level of the social sphere needs much explaining.

Well this just covers the tip of the iceberg for this work, but I don’t wanna drag you along all day just quite yet. If you find this sort of stuff interesting, by all means read the original text! I hope all of you have a wonderful day, and let us not forget ladies and gentleman: PROPERTY IS ROBBERY!

 

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On Bakunin’s Catechism(1851)

Original Text (1971 English Translation)

Before my intentions have the chance to be skewed I want to explicitly state that I strongly disagree with all anti antisemitic claim made by Mikhail Alexandrovich Bakunin.

Despite this flaw of character I find most of his other sociological outlooks to be in many ways quite innovative, under examined and potentially even prophetic(if one believes in that sort of thing).

For those who are unaware of who he is, (I suspect many would be as not many people I have met have the desire nor time to study anarchist philosophy.) Bakunin was a Russian political-philosopher became well known for a school of ideological thought known as syndicalism.

This is often thought to be a sub-type of anarchism, and while Bakunin certainly did carry many anarchist ideals along with a very-anti-authoritarian outlook, I question whether or not I would consider the fundamental ideas behind the initial backbone of this theory established throughout his 1851 work: Catechism to be inherently anarchistic.

Regardless the translator cites this accreditation in the preface by H. E, Kaminski which refers to this work as “The spiritual foundation of the entire anarchist movement….”

Herein are many of the defining principals and conditions which it posited, along with an attempt to analyze, simplify, and draw associative connections throughout to the best of my ability.

“III. Freedom is the absolute right of every adult man and woman to seek no other sanction for their acts than their own conscience and their own reason, being responsible first to themselves and then to the society which they have voluntarily accepted.”(Bakunin 1851)

Here we can see the anti-authoritarian fail-safe that will become a backbone to protect the anarchist ideal from the less libertarian parts of this theory. This means that all individuals ought to possess the right to voluntarily choose what society or ‘syndicate‘ one would like to live in. This also guarantees the anarchist-friendly principal which allows any to act as an autonomous entity if one so desires.

Furthermore, it advocates that while their responsibility to their society ought to be upheld, their duty to satisfy their own basic necessities for themselves ought to supersede, which to me sounds like an idealistic portrayal of certain aspects found in modern capitalism.

“V. The freedom of each is therefore realizable only in the equality of all. The realization of freedom through equality, in principle and in fact, is justice.”(Bakunin 1851) 

Contrary to his anti-Semitic claims he appears to display a very Egalitarian sociological outlook. This is demonstrated by the claim that the freedom of all is a necessary requirement for the freedom of any. It does this by positing equality to be responsible and inherently required for the existence of genuine freedom.

“VII. Absolute rejection of every authority including that which sacrifices freedom for the convenience of the state.” (Bakunin 1851)

Here we can see anarchist fundamentals beginning to take shape. This makes a broad call which underlies a key ideal common among most if not all anarchist thinkers being the abolition of all authoritarian power structures.

This Particularly addresses administrative functions of society which infringe on the Liberty of it’s people in order to maintain order and protect the interests of leadership. It’s easy to see imagine that Bakunin probably would’ve despised the United states Patriot Act!

“Liberty must result from the greatest possible realization of individual liberty, as well as of liberty on all levels of social organization.”(Bakunin 1851) 

Unlike many modern conceptions of Anarchism, Bakunin’s theory did not inherently call for the abolition of organized society, merely the parasitic authoritarian power structures. He believed that in the absence of all authoritarian leadership, humans would still be capable of fully organizing themselves around the necessities of liberty and the preservation of collective interests such as production, maintenance of equality through justice; and functions which serve the general good of society such as education and health services.

At first this comes off as a bit Utopian, but think about it. If the cells in our body could evolve over time into a working homeostasis as complex as the human body, who’s to say that humans could not also be capable of doing the same on a macro-cosmic scale. As if the principals of biological evolution were carrying over into sociological evolution.

To some this may start to be sounding a bit like Marxism, and while many key ideas of Karl Marx are compatible with the ideas of Bakunin he seems to condense the Marxist societal model into only a portion of his own, allowing it to mutually coexist with multiple other flavors of voluntary cooperation.

Bakunin believed that society ought to be formed “according to the principles of free association and federation.” This can be a little difficult to fathom at first, but once you catch on, an entire new world of possibility for the socioeconomic future of mankind becomes available for contemplation.

“\The life of each nation is subordinated to a plethora of different historical, geographical, and economic conditions, making it impossible to establish a model of organization equally valid for all. Any such attempt would be absolutely impractical. It would smother the richness and spontaneity of life which flourishes only in infinite diversity and, what is more, contradict the most fundamental principles of freedom.”(Bakunin 1851)

Above is what I believe to be one of the most compelling arguments for the development of such a system. This vastly multi-paradigmatic societal system could potentially be compared to the different organ structures which make up an organism, as well as the different components which compose a working machine, depending on how one would prefer to look at it.

With this principal in place, societies could theoretically coexist in such a way that a barter capitalist society, a 60s counter-culture styled hippy commune, a direct-democracy, and a socialist-republic could all co exist peacefully as co-operating participants of a larger collective unit, and everyone would get a voluntary choice over which type of society they would like to live under if any, or start there own should they please. This allows for lack of better words the existence of a modular form of society.

In some ways this could almost be seen as similar to modern day United States… If we were to eliminate the need for federal and state governments as we know them today, instead delegating all leadership to court systems and what appears to be the purest form of popular sovereignty I have yet to come across.

Bakunin goes into further detail into explaining the intricacies of his ideas throughout the rest of the essay as well as his many subsequent works. These are however outside the scope of this article’s goal of painting a broad conceptual analysis and explanation of his often overlooked and poorly understood syndicalist-anarchist school of thought.

I hope we all were able  to get something out of this. Even more so, I hope you are inspired to read further into the works of Bakunin and the world of Anarchist Philosophy and political theory in general.

Since I began reading his works the revolutionary ideas within have never ceased to stir up, intrigue, and inspire the intellectual capacities of my mind. You can likely expect more on him as I progress through his work and occupy myself with the contemplation, association, and analysis of his thoughts and ideas.

Until than I wish you all a wonderful day/evening/!

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