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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Property is Theft! A Proudhon Anthology

Property is Theft! A Pierre-Joseph Proudhon Anthology. Edited by Iain McKay (AK Press, 2011).

Every time I look through this book, I'm amazed at the sheer amount and quality of material in it, and the scholarly apparatus included with it.

As I keep telling people, the last major Proudhon anthology out there -- if you can call it that -- was Stewart Edwards' Selected Writings of P. J. Proudhon. Calling Selected Writings an anthology is generous. Its format was actually more like that of Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, with a long series of short excerpts from assorted works grouped together under topic headings. It totalled 262 pages, which meant that even if someone took the trouble to assemble all the scattered excerpts from any particular book in order in a single place, the result would hardly qualify as an abridgement.

On the other hand, this effort by Iain McKay -- widely familiar as the principal author of An Anarchist FAQ -- is over 800 pages, with almost twice as many words per page. It includes modestly abridged versions of almost all of Proudhon's major works, along with dozens of shorter works in their entirety. The abridgements of longer works include What is Property?, both volumes of System of Economic Contradictions, Solution of the Social Problem, Organisation of Credit and Circulation, Bank of the People, Confessions of a Revolutionary, Interest and Principal, General Idea of the Revolution, The Federative Principle, The Political Capacity of the Working Classes, and The Theory of Property. The excerpted material from General Idea of the Revolution, for example, is over fifty pages, and over forty pages are excerpted from Political Capacity of the Working Classes.

A considerable portion of the material is in English translation for the first time, some of it translated by Proudhon scholar Shawn Wilbur.

Iain McKay's fifty-page Introduction is not only a studied bibliographic essay on Proudhon, but also a closely argued thesis regarding the place of markets in the anarchist movement and anarchism in the socialist movement. As such, it is the latest contribution to the ongoing and often heated "Who is an anarchist?" debates, and will no doubt attract careful attention from my market anarchist comrades at Center for a Stateless Society.

Edwards' venture at a Proudhon anthology, for better or worse, was pretty much it for thirty years or so. I expect this one will stand -- far more deservedly -- as the standard anthology for at least that long.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

wait. iain mackay is a red anti market prick. i smell vulgar here. y r u siding with ppl like this?

November 24, 2011 11:58 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Iain's an anarcho-communist who's quite open-minded about the possibility of markets in an anarchist society; and in any case his Proudhon scholarship stands on its own merit. I'm proud to consider him a comrade.

November 24, 2011 4:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what are his views about the possibility of property in an anarchist society? ya that's what I thought.

December 31, 2011 8:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My position on property is the same as Proudhon's in 1840, namely:

"I prove that those who do not possess today are proprietors by the same title as those who do possess; but, instead of inferring therefrom that property should be shared by all, I demand, in the name of general security, its entire abolition. If I fail to win my case, there is nothing left for us (the proletarian class and myself ) but to cut our throats: we can ask nothing more from the justice of nations" (Property is Theft!, p. 91)

Or in 1846:

"a solution based upon equality,— in other words, the organisation of labour, which involves the negation of political economy and the end of property." (p. 202)

Property in an anarchist society is an impossibility -- why do to all the trouble to end public authority only to replace it with private authority of a boss or landlord?

However, if by "property" you mean a worker (or group of workers) who wishes to stay outside of a commune in order exchange the product of your labour with those who associate on a communistic basis then I (like other libertarian communists like Kropotkin, Malatesta, etc.) have no problems with that.

So, please, do myself and others the justice of finding out what they advocate before inflicting strawmen arguments against them...

An Anarchist FAQ

January 17, 2012 7:34 AM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

And by my definition -- any set of rules for determining priority of access rights, transfer of possession, etc. -- the possessions of communes, collectives and syndicates, as well as usufructory land possession of individuals, is "property."

January 17, 2012 2:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Property in an anarchist society is an impossibility -- why do to all the trouble to end public authority only to replace it with private authority of a boss or landlord?"

a landlord? if your referring to a person who has 'authority' over his own person and had mixed their labour with a previously unowned resource, or acquired it through exchange, then he does have the right to what his labour has cultivated. if we dont have this right we are just slaves to a collectives whims (something u would like no doubt). my life and my property are none of your god damn business.

a boss? how about a client. someone who voluntarily pays someone in exchange for a service. again, if im not coercing u, non of your business how i exchange with another individual (i know u hate that word).

"However, if by "property" you mean a worker (or group of workers) who wishes to stay outside of a commune in order exchange the product of your labour with those who associate on a communistic basis then I (like other libertarian communists like Kropotkin, Malatesta, etc.) have no problems with that."

what? Bahahahahah! omg youre hilarious. so as long as i exchange the products of my labour in a commie manner it's ok. any other manner of exchange IS NOT ALLOWED SAYS THE GLORIOUS WORKERS COMMUNE OF RED FUCKS. lol u collecto-fags r seriously jokes.

AnComm = Organize How We Say. Resistance Is Futile.

January 28, 2012 1:14 PM  
Blogger ianmathwiz7 said...

@Anonymous: I'm not an anarcho-communist, but I frequently find myself defending that philosophy, because so many people like yourself have no idea what they're talking about. Indeed, your lack of understanding of the philosophy you're critiquing is on the level of "idiotic douchebag."

For example, when most social anarchists say "landlord," they're almost always referring to the same sense that Tucker used; i.e. a person who doesn't "mix their labour" with the land, but charges others to live on it. Tucker himself once compared rent to robbery.

A client? How about a boss, who is in charge of a firm and can implement what amounts to tyranny on it? Somebody else owns the means of production, despite never using them. Sure; I think, Carson thinks, and presumably you think that this form of tyranny wouldn't be likely to exist in a free market, but that doesn't mean that any non-free-market society itself is tyranny.

He wasn't saying that you have to exchange on a communistic basis; he was saying that you can exchange with those who do (or those who don't, for that matter). Indeed, please point to one anarcho-communist that's at all well-supported among his fellow communists who thinks that communism should be compulsory. Hell, read the Anarchist FAQ McKay himself helped write; it explicitly distances itself from the notion that communism is compulsory.

Throughout your post, you seem intent on the idea that anarcho-communists hate the individual and want to subject people to some kind of collective tyranny. They don't, and you haven't shown that anyone else in this conversation does. Please shut up and go educate yourself before posting next time.


February 04, 2012 9:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i cant impose a tyranny and coerce ppl on a property i own dumbass, especially not in a competitive free market anarchist society. and the products of my labour remain mine even if i am not occupying or using this means of production all the time. i can only contract the products of my labour voluntarily with another individual. it seems that any social relation involving property or profit that u dont personally like SHOULD NOT BE DONE EVER. find me an ancap that u redfags hate so much that objects to voluntary communes? not one will. but as soon as u hear profit? OH NOEZ! so if communism would be laissez faire, y cant greed or selfishness exist alongside communism? does it fit in with the collective proletarian will? no? well guess what? fuck u and your collective. :)

February 07, 2012 7:54 PM  
Blogger ianmathwiz7 said...

You don't have to be using it "all the time" (whatever that even means); you just have to be a producer who uses the means of production to make something. If you don't use the means of production, it's not the product of your labour, is it?

Find me an anarcho-communist that wouldn't allow a free market, or even anarcho-capitalism. You can't, can you? As for greed and selfishness, they can coexist. Your ignorance is particularly enlightening, since there's a situationist group that's proclaimed that "greed in its fullest sense is the only possible basis for a communist society." And you think that communists necessarily think they're incompatible? Faceplant. By the way, the Anarchist FAQ seems to agree somewhat with that sentiment.

Of course, the truly epic fail is that you seem to think that I myself am a communist. I invite you to read the first sentence of my previous comment, which reads, "I'm not an anarcho-communist." Forget about educating yourself before you post; I'll be happy if you manage to learn how to read.


February 07, 2012 9:24 PM  
Blogger ianmathwiz7 said...

Kevin, I definitely enjoyed this book. I was wondering what you thought of Shawn Wilbur's criticism of it, that it's a biased look at Proudhon (e.g. he left out the last chapter of Theory of Property, which was the important part of Proudhon's argument).

March 12, 2012 2:30 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Ian: I'm afraid that giving the argument the attention it deserves would be beyond my resources right now, given the time constraints from my primary research. A shame, though -- I imagine this is one of the most significant debates in Proudhon scholarship.

March 12, 2012 8:26 PM  
Anonymous kuro said...


zOMG! go back to 4chan you fucking geek.

"i cant impose a tyranny and coerce ppl on a property i own dumbass"

Sure you can, you fucktard. You believe in self ownership, don't you? You believe in the right to contract being integral to self-ownership don't you? You believe anything that an individual can own, can also be sold by said individual, don't you?

If an individual can own him or herself, s/he can sign a contract specifying that said person is now the property of a another. Given that every will is part of the same self which we've already established is owned by each one of us, the inalienability of the will is irrelevant for the purpose of claiming that such a contract is unenforceable in a society with a propertarian law code, since the self includes the will.

But as far as coercion goes, inalienability means that just because the contract is signed voluntarily one moment, free will doesn't suddenly become set in the stone of contract. Therefore the free will, at any moment after the signing of the contract, is may or may not clash with the will represented in the contract. In the event that it does, and the owner decides to enforce, you have what those in the reality-based community would call coercion. Unless you reject human nature and believe that free will isn't dynamic.

So yes, you fucking wanker, it's possible to coerce people in your property. A capitalist conception of property does allow for non-anarchistic relations. So you can jack off to your galtian fantasies of ubermenschen triumphing over their "redfag" oppressors while being horrified at the idea that an anarcho-communist would have no interest in enforcing such a shitty code, despite there probably being a market demand for enforcement.


November 12, 2012 11:45 PM  
Blogger swetha said...

Hey Kevin!
I did check out Property is Theft!
A master piece!
Apartments in Raipur

April 12, 2013 11:02 PM  

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