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Pierre-Joseph Proudhon

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (January 15, 1809 - January 19, 1865) was a French anarchist of the 19th century. Born in Besançon, Doubs, France, he is most famous for asserting "Property is theft", in his missive What is Property? Or, an Inquiry into the Principle of Right of Government. In the same book, he became the first person to call himself an anarchist, a word which had previously been used as a term of abuse during the French Revolution.


Proudhon also claimed that "Property is impossible." Although he was against capitalism, he rejected communism and believed that individual possession — which he distinguished from private property — was necessary both for liberty and for an efficient economy.

He adopted the term Mutualism for his brand of anarchism, which involved control of the means of production by the workers. In his vision self-employed artisans, peasants and cooperatives would trade their products on the market. He advocated non-capitalist markets, markets without wage labor or private property. Factories and other large workplaces would be run by 'labor associations' operating on directly democratic principles. The state would be abolished, instead society would be organized by a federation of 'free communes' (community assemblies). In 1863 Proudhon said, "All my economic ideas as developed over twenty-five years can be summed up in the words: agricultural-industrial federation. All my political ideas boil down to a similar formula: political federation or decentralization." Proudhon rejected violent revolution, favoring a gradual evolution of society into anarchy.

He made few public criticisms of Marx or Marxism because in his lifetime Marx was a relatively minor thinker, it was only after Proudhon's death that Marxism became a large movement. He did, however, criticize other authoritarian socialists of his time period. This included the state socialist Louis Blanc, of which Proudhon said, "let me say to M. Blanc: you desire neither Catholicism nor monarchy nor nobility, but you must have a God, a religion, a dictatorship, a censorship, a hierarchy, distinctions, and ranks. For my part, I deny your God, your authority, your sovereignty, your judicial State, and all your representative mystifications." It was Proudhon's book What is Property? which convinced a young Karl Marx that private property should be abolished. In one of his first works, the Holy Family, Marx said, "Not only does Proudhon write in the interest of the proletarians [working class], he is himself a proletarian, an ouvrier. His work is a scientific manifesto of the French proletariat." Marx, however, disagreed with Proudhon's anarchism and later published vicious criticisms of Proudhon. Marx wrote The Poverty of Philosophy as a refutation of Proudhon's The Philosophy of Poverty. In his libertarian socialism, Proudhon was followed by Michael Bakunin, in contrast to the authoritarian socialism that followed from Marx.

His works were first translated into English by Benjamin Tucker, an advocate of individualist anarchism, who promoted Proudhon's ideas in the United States.

His essay on what is government is also quite well known.

"To be GOVERNED is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be place under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality." (P.-J. Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, translated by John Beverly Robinson (London: Freedom Press, 1923), pp. 293-294.)

Another famous quote was his 'dialogue with a philistine' in What is Property?:

"You are a republican."
"Republican, yes; but that means nothing. Res publica is 'the State.' Kings, too, are republicans."
"Ah well! You are a democrat?"
"What! Perhaps you are a monarchist?"
"Constitutionalist then?"
"God forbid."
"Then you are an aristocrat?"
"Not at all!"
"You want a mixed form of government?"
"Even less."
"Then what are you?"
"An anarchist."

In private Proudhon expressed a few anti-semitic and sexist feelings, but these were not an important part of his philosophy and were absent from his published works.

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