Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VI: Proudhon's Theories - Socialistic Fallacies
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CHAPTER VI: Proudhon's Theories - Yves Guyot, Socialistic Fallacies 
Socialistic Fallacies (London: Cope and Fenwick, 1910).
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Scholastic methods—“Property is theft”—“The proprietary right of the worker to his produce”—“The worker cannot purchase his produce”—Production of utility and diminution of value—Solution of the problem—Freedom of credit—The party of labour and the party of capital—“The government of man by man and the exploitation of man by man”—Anarchy—Opposition of the ancient guild to the State — The federal pact — Family resemblance between the Utopians and Socialists of 1848.
Proudhon was born at Besancon, his father being a brewer's cooper. He became a working compositor, and as such he read the “Fathers of the Church,” and was initiated into Hegel's dialectics, by M. Chas. Grun, “a German professor of philosophy, who understood nothing of what he taught,” according to Karl Marx. Becoming acquainted later in life with the science of economics, he brought to it the methods of scholasticism, and attempted by running his head against words to cause the lightning to burst forth. He was incapable of giving clear expression to his thoughts, and sought to astonish the Philistines by his answer to the question propounded in the title of his work, published in 1840, “What is property? Property is theft.” This had not even the merit of originality. Brissot de Warville in his “Recherches philosophiques sur le droit de propriété et le vol” (1780), had said “private property is a theft as against nature. Its owner is a thief.” On this point Proudhon's doctrine is summarised in these two propositions: (1) The right to possess is the same for all; (2) Man can only work with the help of the instruments of labour. It follows that, all men having the right to work, they have an equal right to the instruments of work. Therefore (3) these instruments cannot become the object of private property. But in “La Theorie de la Propriété” (published after his death in 1866) he says: “Property, if one appreciates its origin, is a principle inherently vicious and anti-social, but destined to become by its own general distribution and the joint action of other institutions, the pivot and mainspring of the social system.”
In “Qu'est ce que la propriété?” (1840) he put forward this further idea, which is in singular contradiction with the other. “The worker preserves a natural right of property over the thing which he has produced, even after the receipt of his wages.” That is to say that the tradesman who has sold an apple to a purchaser preserves his right to his goods even after they have been consumed. Nevertheless, it is clear that the workman receives wages in exchange for a product or a service, and once the product has been delivered, the service rendered, and the wages received, the contract has been fully executed, and all obligations thereunder fulfilled.
Proudhon, possibly under the influence of Rodbertus, denounces property as rendering impossible the redemption of his produce by the workman. If twenty millions of workmen have provided products of a value of twenty millions of francs they are obliged to buy them for twenty-five millions. The workers who ought to have bought these products in order to live, are obliged to pay five francs for what they have bought for four. “They have to fast one day in five.” Workmen who are members of co-operative societies have learned the lesson that they cannot redeem what they have themselves produced at the price which was paid for it. There has to be added so much per cent. upon the original article, necessary to cover general expenses and profit, to compensate unfavourable purchases by the profit derived from purchases effected under favourable conditions, interest and depreciation of capital, commission paid to salesmen, discounts to retail merchants, interest upon capital from the time of manufacture to the time of sale, insurance, etc. Nevertheless, recent writers, such as Gronlund, Hertzka and Hobson, have sought to show that this system is the cause of universal over-production.1
Proudhon's “Contradictions Economiques” are a mere congeries of digressions, in which he discusses everything under the pretence of applying Hegel's antinomies. In fact, he bases his book entirely upon the conflict set up by J. B. Say between useful and exchangeable value.2 Necessary as they are to one another, they stand to one another in an inverse ratio. In proportion as the production of utility increases, its value diminishes. Proudhon added that this contradiction is necessary. Accordingly, the more the nations work, the poorer they become. And he added the words, “The philosophy of misery” as the subtitle of his work. I have explained in my book “La Science Economique”3 how this problem is stated and have given the following solution:— The criterion of economic progress is the absolute and relative increase in the value of fixed capital, the decrease in the value of the units of circulating capital, and the increase in their total value.
Proudhon concludes his book by pointing out the existing confusion between his conceptions when he says that the object of economic science is “justice.” In order to establish this he is obliged to include in a “general equation” all his economic contradictions.4 “My philosopher's stone,” he says, “is gratuitous credit and the abolition of money.” As against various parties, he sets up two, the party of labour and the party of capital. This is the struggle of classes, the conception of which he develops in his book “De la capacité des classes ouvrieres” (1863).
Proudhon adopts the assertion of Helvetius, that the capacity of all human beings is equal and is differentiated merely by the circumstances of education and environment. The value of each man's labour at the same time is, therefore, the same, and the proper amount of wages should be the amount of the total produce divided by the number of workers.
He proclaims the end of the “government of man by man” and of the “exploitation of man by man.” Does he desire that man should be governed by apes? He is often, in fact, governed by women, by children, and by his own passions. He is not exploited only by man; he is exploited by all the forces of nature over which it is his duty to triumph, by microbes and insects against which he has so much difficulty in defending himself, and, above all, by his prejudices and by the charlatans who know how to use them to their own advantage. Proudhon behaves like a man who beats a big drum in order to attract children, when he employs the antithesis of which he has already made use as regards property, and exclaims that “anarchy is the true form of government.” And he is careful, in order to complete the confusion of the thoughtless, to explain the etymology of the word “anarchy” as meaning the absence or negation of government. He then develops his theme by repeating an idea of St. Simon's. “The science of government rightly pertains to a section of the Academy of Sciences, and inasmuch as every citizen may send a thesis to the Academy, every citizen is a legislator. The people constitutes the guardian of the law, the people constitutes the executive power.”1 In another work he adds to this quibble the declaration that “the workshop will cause government to disappear.”
There reappears in this declaration a conception of the ancient guild or corporation as an autonomous, exclusive body, opposed to everything which is not itself and to all general interests. He concludes with his romance of the “federative pact,” and imagines that he can, by unrehearsed effect, transform France by subdividing it into thirty-six sovereignties of a mean extent of 6,000 square kilometres, each with a million of inhabitants.2 He did not condescend to observe that a federation is a grouping of independent states; when a centralised state is subdivided, the operation is the exact opposite of federation; the proper name for it is dismemberment and its consequence dissolution.
He virulently attacked Louis BlanC's childish ideas on “labour as a point of honour,” Fourier's on the phalanstery and Cabet's on fraternity, yet he employs their vocabulary against the exploitation of man by man, he demands the confiscation of the instruments of labour and their delivery to the workers; he desires the abolition of competition and, while proclaiming himself as an anarchist, he appeals to the State to realise his conceptions. However hostile they may be to one another, all the Utopians of 1848 present a family resemblance, they are all obscure and declamatory, pin their faith to empty and sonorous phrases, and disregard actual facts.
Bourguin, “Les Systèmes socialistes,” p. 318.
“Qu'est ce que la propriété,” p. 94.
3rd ed. Book vi., ch. i., p. 233.
“Contradictions économiques,” ch. ii.
“Qu'est ce que la propriété?” p. 242.
“Du principe fédératif,” 1863.