Hal Draper 1969

A Note on the Father of Anarchism

Source: New Politics, Volume 8, no 1, Winter 1969. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

The myth of ‘libertarianism’ rides again, as George Woodcock celebrates the Notebooks [1] left by Proudhon, the ‘father of anarchism’, in the September 1969 issue of Encounter. Woodcock’s was not an easy task, since the Notebooks contain the most massive evidence we have that this rhetorician of liberty was one of the most authoritarian and anti-democratic minds of the nineteenth century.

Everybody knows and has said that Proudhon’s writings are a contradictory mass of opinions, and that he is therefore a very ‘complex’ thinker. Quoting him is risky, since there is a long list of subjects on which he has written on a minimum of two sides. But the business of quoting Proudhon on any side of any question, and therefore seeing in him whatever one wants to see, has its limits.

Firstly, on many big political and social questions his preponderant tendency is visible, and the ‘contradictory’ passages are often rhetorical. Secondly, what should we think of a Holy Man who commits murder and mayhem only half the time, while for the rest he preaches saintly doctrine? Obviously he is contradictory and complex, and any negative attitude toward him is bound to be ‘one-sided’.

So it is with Proudhon, and we cannot do him justice, with a rounded analysis, within these few pages. We are concerned with something else. If a hagiographer writes up our complex Holy Man and tells us only of the saintly sermons, then it is relevant to ask equal time for the murders and mayhems.

This was once done for Proudhon, with instructive results. It was done by no less eminent an historian than Professor J Salwyn Schapiro, in a very long study which consisted mainly of detailed documentation. [2] The result was that not one of the zillions of subsequent articles, books and references to Proudhon paid the slightest attention to this utterly damning mass of material. The old litany went on. Schapiro was never refuted or discussed; his essay was simply consigned to the Memory Hole. For didn’t everyone know that Proudhon was the apostle of libertarianism?

Professor Schapiro is the single exception to the rule that, in most of the past century, Proudhon has enjoyed a good press not only from anarchoids but also from liberals and social-democrats (Eduard Bernstein himself gave him the accolade), since he has been useful as a dead cat to throw at Marx, his ‘rival’. Freedom-loving elocution is available in Proudhon by the running mile, and this reconciles his apologists to his peccadilloes.

Virulent anti-Semitism, for example.

Woodcock has a long apologia on this point: the apostle of libertarianism merely had common ‘anti-Jewish feelings’, he merely objected to the Jews’ ‘exclusiveness’, and his remedy was ‘assimilation’. Now read the main passage on the Jews [3] in Proudhon’s Notebooks, of which Woodcock quotes only one sentence:

JEWS – Do an article against this race, which poisons everything, thrusting itself everywhere, without ever blending with any people.

Call for its expulsion from France, except for individuals married to Frenchmen; abolish the synagogues; admit them to no employment; in fact, abolition of this creed.

It is not for nothing that Christians have called them god-killers. The Jew is the enemy of the human race. It is necessary to send this race back to Asia, or exterminate it.

H Heine, A Weil, and others are nothing but secret spies; Rothschild, Crémieux, Marx, Fould – evil, bad-tempered, envious, sour, etc, etc, beings who hate us.

By means of iron or fusion or expulsion, it is necessary that the Jew disappear. Tolerate the old ones who can no longer beget children.

Work to be done. What the people of the Middle Ages hated by instinct, I hate on reflection, and irrevocably.

The hatred of the Jew as of the English must be an article of our political faith. [2:337ff]

Now it is true that what Woodcock calls ‘dislike of Jews’ was (and is) common, but the demand for their extermination as a part of a political program was not common. It had to wait...

The one sentence which Woodcock quoted – the last – led him only to this comment: ‘Nobody, to my knowledge, has become very much concerned over Proudhon’s Anglophobia.’ True. As Schapiro found out, nobody has become concerned about any of Proudhon’s racist rantings; but our libertarian’s racism was not limited to the Jews.

This ‘complex’ freedom-lover not only considered blacks inferior – that was common – but also denounced the liberals for advocating the abolition of slavery [2:81], and later supported the rightness of slavery in the American South.

On England, Proudhon’s chauvinist hymns of hate make the later German yells of ‘Gott strafe England’ sound like blessings – true. But Proudhon’s thinking can be understood only if one also reads his plans, detailed with timetables and all, on how France will become master of the world – including colonial master, especially in Algeria – when Proudhonism takes over. [4]

I do not have the space to trace through the Notebooks half the themes of this nature, to be put alongside the saintly rhetoric which flowed so readily from our complex and contradictory subject. [5] This note will therefore concentrate on one thing which is found only in the Notebooks: Proudhon’s detailed plan for his very own authoritarian utopia (a word he detested, of course).

Throughout the first two volumes, we find copious jottings on a precisely worked-out project for a Société Progressive or Association which is to start a consumers’ and producers’ cooperative enterprise (a limited-liability company) and soon take over all of society, substituting itself for the government. (We will call it the Association, as Proudhon usually does.) It is the most circumstantial picture of the Proudhonian New Order in existence.

The economic details of the plan are of little interest; but it must be understood that, for Proudhon, this enterprise is to become the government by one or another route – displacing the present government, swallowing it up, etc [cf 1:76, 82, 86, 211]. Proudhon repeatedly refers to it as the future ‘government’ and ‘state’. This may surprise people who have read of his denunciations of any government and any state; but they will be relieved to know that other, highly moral denunciations of government and state are to be found in the Notebooks also, quite separate from his practical plans to establish his very own government and state. And tomorrow the world:

Before 1860, the globe will be overrun in every direction by the Association; the refractory and inferior races either progressively reduced, or renewed and absorbed. [1:115]

1) Organization and Discipline

In form, the Association will be a business; internally, it is to be run as a disciplined social movement.

A supervisory council of some sort, to be chosen by the affiliated companies, screens every applicant for membership on various grounds, including if not especially sexual-moral grounds. [6] It establishes ‘discipline’, penalties for breaking discipline, and ‘regulations for internally policing’ the organization. If possible, offenders are prosecuted before the public courts (outside the Association). If that is not possible, ‘the Society would constitute itself the correctional and criminal tribunal’ and ‘execute its verdicts’ as it decides. Every member takes an oath to ‘make his conduct conform’ to the statutes, ‘obey the regulations’, and execute the decisions of the council when required to do so [1:80].

Each company will be run by a ‘manager’. This title, he says, will be ‘the highest function, the highest rank in the state’ [1:90]. Above the managers, the exact hierarchy is vague but there are at least ‘ministers’ and ‘directors’ [1:91]. There will also somewhere be a Procurator-General, ‘inspecteur et surveillant’ [1:81ff]. We will see later what Proudhon plans about elections. Membership is ‘voluntary’, of course, but since the Association is to be all of society in short order, opting out of it means Coventry.

Thus, Proudhon tells himself [1:83], the Association ‘is the very synthesis of liberty and order’.

2) The Boss Man

Proudhon, we are informed by Woodcock, is to be ‘among’ the managers. Very modest. The truth is more ‘complex’.

In the very first line of his very first note about the Association, our libertarian puts down the name of the boss: ‘Société Progressive... Mr Proudhon manager.’ [1:74] After a note about setting up the thing in a list of French cities: ‘Have myself named Director of all these sociétés.’ [1:76] He next refers to himself, quite in passing, as ‘Managing Founder’ of the organization, and ‘Associate Director of all the companies’ [1:78]. Later he assigns himself the ‘consular power’ in the organization [1:272] though it is not clear where this tip of the hierarchy reaches. On mentioning that the Association will issue a Bulletin he writes: ‘It is I who will edit it’ [1:206], and, after another mention: ‘It is necessary that I be Editor, Director and Entrepreneur.’ [1:292]

In a long, remarkable passage, he tells himself he must act – ‘... set up my Association, establish branches; that’s the business!’ Then: ‘Once I have taken my place, no one can think of disputing it with me.’ There follows a paragraph describing by what steps he becomes the strong man, ending with: ‘Paris trembles. We are the masters!’

He next sets down some guidelines on how to behave in the mastership, ‘if I can succeed in getting myself accepted as leader and Director’. Like: ‘Make those whom I lead believe that it is they who lead me.’ And:

The Association must be like a single man, speaking through my mouth... Always collect opinions: discipline my people! ... Having proved myself a certain number of times, I am beyond criticism... Tell the parliamentarians... that I myself am the Association, and that the Association must hear everything, although I alone reply... [1:283ff]

3) The Masters in Power

The reader may already have noticed Proudhon’s ‘We are the masters!’. It is not a slip of the pen. He jots down:

Draw up a secret program, for all the managers: irrevocable elimination of Royalty, democracy, owners, religious service, priests, men of science and men of letters [this goes on to lots more – HD]... No deals, no concession, as long as we have not become absolute masters. [1:78]

When we will be masters, Religion will be what we want it to be; Education, same; philosophy, same; administration and government, same. We will not make war against men: but we shall know how to recognize our own; and we will keep those who please us. [1:91]

About the great time coming when the movement has spread:

Then we will be Kings of opinion, and arbiters of government, and masters of Europe. [2:340]

One day he is irritated by how much trouble the liberal opposition is making for the government of Louis Philippe: [7]

It [the opposition] will finish by turning the country upside-down. The French nation is undisciplinable; it supports neither liberty nor equality. It needs a master, and I wish it gets one. [2:356]

In a passage in which he is advising himself on the need to take the initiative in politics, he reflects:

Take the initiative in everything, that is the only way to remain the Master. Despotism is nothing else. [1:278]

Since undisciplined France needs a master, Proudhon knows just the right man. The government, he tells himself, is too weak because it pays too much attention to numbers, that is, public opinion. (It is the monarchy he is complaining about.)

Such a government has handed in its resignation. There is nothing more to do with it except an 18 Brumaire. This 18 Brumaire will take place, and cannot fail to come soon...

If I play my cards right, the constitutional 18 Brumaire will come inside of a year. [1:363] [8]

He has cozy thoughts on how masters act:

Association – Determine my line of conduct and my plan in advance: utilizing men and sacrificing them as soon as they become an obstacle and don’t work anymore, or as soon as they want to drag the Society along a false road. No politics of liberalism... [1:270]

Obviously our libertarian knows what men mean to him. A little later he writes it down as a maxim:

I worship humanity; but I spit on men! [2:56]

4) Political Purge and Outlawing of Opposition

Let us get a more concrete idea of what Proudhon understands by mastership, once he gets power. The Notebooks are chock-full of imprecations against his enemies – not just political or moral ones. He shakes his fist:

We will not compromise: we are in the right... Woe [malheur] to anyone who hounds us! Woe! Woe! Woe to everybody who will hinder us, or give resistance. [1:93]

Ah, we are persecuted today, poor proletarians that we are. All right! It is up to us to make ourselves the persecutors. [1:372]

People who have been force-fed on the Proudhonian myth and Woodcock’s writings may not take these threats seriously. So let us see how Proudhon specifies, particularly about other socialistic groups:

Association – After the first criticisms, carry out the repression of the publications and utopias of the Cabetists, Fourierists and of L'Unité.

Demonstrate the mystification of these ideas.

Place a prohibition on meetings, banquets, private gatherings, lectures, propaganda, subscriptions, magazines, newspapers and pamphlets. [1:275]

On the same page he takes up the interesting question, why the same procedure could not properly be turned against him. His answer – complete:

I preach the purest morals; my political economy is of the same order; my polemical good faith is complete; I make no propaganda; I do not take collections [of money].

So outlaw every other political group, because they are ‘immoral’ or worse, but we have the right to scream moral protests at the same treatment, because we are good and right...

The more or less avowed doctrine of Communism [Cabet] and phalanstery [Fourier] we have the right to label immoral, and to prosecute it with the rigor of the laws. [2:113]

These two political rivals of his – the followers of Cabet, then known as ‘Communists’ or Icarians, and the followers of Fourier, ‘Phalansterians’ led by Considérant, are most often singled out for special persecution:

No compromise with parties: Communists, Fourierists, etc, annihilate around us, or assimilate. [1:270]

He promises that they will be investigated for all past offenses and rigorously prosecuted:

I am above the principle of retroactivity [of law]. In revolution, everything gets looked into. [1:270]

Nor will the Proudhonian state recognize any right to asylum [2:168].

On another day he rages, in his Notebook, against an article by the socialistic Pierre Leroux entitled Liberté des Sectes, which advocates the right of the political groups to exist. Proudhon violently disagrees:

Can it [society], under the pretext of liberty, let Communists, Fourierists, Ignorantines, Capuchins, etc, alone? [2:361]

It sounds like Sidney Hook on heresy and conspiracy, or like the Regents of the University of California. Proudhon will not admit that these deviationists should be let alone: everything retrogressive must be ‘rejected, forbidden’. He writes down a law to be adopted:

Law on the sects – Every teaching, every association, every theory or utopia that would be tried or propagated in a direction contrary to the authentic development of institutions and of liberty, will be prohibited...

Thus every religious sect, other than the traditional recognized religions; every economic or political sect, repeating the condemned errors of Plato, Manes, Campanella, Robespierre, Baboeuf – prohibited.

The citizen must stay in the line of movement and progress: every liberty is given to him to go forward; it must be forbidden him to make society deviate or retrogress...

Contrary to P Leroux, we therefore say Abolition of the sects, in accordance with some recognized control. [2:361]

In another place he makes a note for himself that when his gang is in power, the existing laws (of the monarchy) on press, associations, wall posters, banquets, etc, should be maintained:

These laws will serve us. It is not good that men should hold private meetings of more than 20 people separately. It is an offense against society.

It might be legal to get together in a public place. But who?

No associations that gets in the way of liberty. Permission to form them within the limits of justice; but no sect...

Any adherence to any association whatever is an alienation of liberty.

Have casual and special meetings: classes, schools, worship, academies, general and municipal councils, national assembly; scientific congresses, spectacles, marriages, funerals, etc. But political societies, reform societies! No. [2:283ff]

He looks to a purge on getting power: his word is expurgation [1:223]. ‘A general inquisition is necessary’, he proclaims, and applauds the day when the Vandals ‘massacred all the Romans [in Africa] without pity’ because their barbarian sense of chastity was so revolted by the ‘Roman abominations’:

If justice is to be done in our days, something like that must be seen against the base and corrupted bourgeoisie. The people, I know, are scarcely less corrupted... Public thieves, traitors, adulterers, charlatans, etc, etc; we shall see an innumerable massacre made of them...

No, this multitude of rogues and prostitutes cannot remain unpunished... It is necessary to strike! Forced labor or death... [9]

It is necessary to search out all the crimes; a general inquisition is necessary. [2:282ff]

In 1848 he puts down a long list of kinds of people who are to be arrested after his revolution; the list runs for a printed page [3:268ff]. Here the word for purge is épuration. Much before this, he had made a note:

Get together lists of suspects, men of ill repute, etc. Fine them on entry into the Association or leave them outside – excommunicate them... Excommunication, expiation (entry fine), and elimination will be the vengeance of the people. [1:78ff]

Another elimination:

Eliminate men of every opinion, who by manifestations of opinion have pronounced their own downfall. (Ex... [There follows a list of names, all political opponents of his; the last ‘example’ is simply ‘socialism, etc’.])

No hatred! No, no hatred. Eliminate as a matter of principle. [1:283] [10]

In a list of things not to forget to do after the revolution:

3. Necessity of executing intriguers [Proudhon’s common term for political opponents – HD], speculators, stockjobbers, and of keeping society pure, as its principle. [1:85]

He promises conciliation to anyone who yields to the new order, but: ‘If [any]one repulses me: War!’ [1:276] ‘Elimination’ is a favorite word – I suppose it would be anachronistic to translate it liquidation. He likes to plan the purging of writers, artists and other intellectuals, especially poets. There is a typical printed-pageful of categories who are to be forced to ‘work, not loaf’. It ends:

So, elimination of this parasitic tribe of writers, journalists, scribblers, talkers, humbuggers, critics, daubers, designers, loafers, idlers and incompetents. [1:88]

Since he regards himself as the only living economic expert, the economists of the time are his pet hate. He sets it down that there are only two ways of treating economists:

Economists must be thanked by the state and publicly rewarded, or else dismissed, driven out, and proscribed. [1:285]

Heads will roll is a theme he comes back to. After a complaint about the way ‘we’ are treated:

Oh! There will be reprisals – that’s all I have to say, gentlemen. From you we have inherited the state of siege [martial law], war councils, the High Court, the September laws restored and strengthened, arbitrary arrests, preventive arrest, convict ships and transportation; we have only the scaffold to set up. [3:235]

Before that he had yearned for a ‘blood bath’ (literally – Bain de sang) to wash away the ‘social iniquities’ of the world [1:322]. In any case, the upshot is typically pictured in the following rapturous summary of the Great Day:

We are freed of orators, capitalists, representative government, swashbucklers, administrative tyranny (henceforth subordinated), Catholic mysticisms, etc, and of all disturbances whether monarchical or democratic. We are free!!! [1:146]

So it is clear that Proudhon loved freedom, specifically his own.

5) Abolition of Free Press, Free Speech and Elections

Let us dot a few is on Proudhon’s specific promises on democratic rights. Here is a very brief summary note:

Decidedly, government is impossible with freedom of the press, and parliamentary discussion. [2:353]

He is even more enraged by the concept of freedom of assembly as we know it. This comes out especially in the months before the 1848 revolution, when the liberal opposition to the monarchy is evading the anti-democratic laws by holding ‘banquets’ which are really political rallies. Proudhon is indignant:

By the fact alone that the Constitution exists, every other political meeting must be prohibited; if that was not understood, the first thing a Republic would have to do is adopt a law saying so...

The right to hold a meeting, in politics and for politics, cannot be tolerated as the radicals and O Barrot understand it: if it [the right] were possibly in existence, it would be necessary to abolish it in a hurry...

But that all minorities can assemble, hold meetings and obstruct the majority: that is intolerable, impossible in a government by majority.

The right of assembly is something to be created, to be organized, and whose limits must be set down. But absolute right of assembly is absurd. [2:364ff]

This was written down when the 1848 uprising was already looming. Proudhon actually adds in utter disgust:

And yet Paris is on the point of taking up arms to defend an alleged right which is nothing else than the right of insurrection by the minority against the majority!

The reader must remember, unbelievable though it may seem, that the looming ‘insurrection by the minority’ to defend elementary democratic rights was being directed against the monarchy of Louis Philippe! Freedom of assembly, argues our libertarian, is not properly ‘exercise of individual liberty; it is a usurpation of collective liberty, which has no representative but the state’ [2:361]. Here the state is the only representative of ‘collective liberty’ against the democrats – but we must remind again that, on other occasions, Proudhon is capable of yards of invective against the state in the abstract.

There are other passages in which Proudhon indicates that freedom of the press is, like freedom of assembly, a matter that must be ‘organized’, limited, and strictly disciplined by the state (his state). It is possible, for example, to quote a statement which seems to open the Association organ to ‘all opinion’, but it is followed by provisos and conditions designed to exclude the possibility of organized opposition [cf 1:89ff, 154, 206ff]. The pattern is familiar in the twentieth century.

Comes the revolution, things will be run differently. He notes:

Up to me to police the press and [public] opinion. [1:276]

He wants to burn a rival’s book [1:399]. Or:

Drive out all the old ones of the press, everyone who has been writing for 40, 30, 20, 15 and 10 years. [1:150]

After making a note to get rid of the ‘representative system’:

The country’s affairs will get on only when all our orators have their mouths stuffed [emmerdée politely translated – HD].

The next sentence is:

On that, I am of the opinion of despotism.

After the ‘talkers, orators, etc’ have been ‘reduced to silence’, he sees his movement as:

A power occult, mysterious, irresistible, swelling and rising like the sea. [1:75ff]

Among other things that are occult and mysterious is Woodcock’s flat denial that Proudhon is ‘anti-democratic’. This is the same Woodcock who, when he was himself formerly an anarchist theoretician and propagandist, knew and preached that anarchism was anti-democratic on principle, because the most democratic democracy still meant ‘the coercion of the individual’: – ‘even were democracy possible, the anarchist would still not support it’, and:

Anarchists do not advocate political freedom. What they advocate is freedom from politics, freedom from the institution of government... (Anarchy or Chaos, pp 20, 108 and others)

This is the candid anarchist doctrine, and in this respect Proudhon was a full-blooded anarchist [cf 2:270 for one of many examples]. Schapiro’s essay has documented enough of Proudhon’s fulminations against democracy, but it can be added that the Notebooks supply several more bushels of the most unbridled vituperation against democracy (not ‘bourgeois democracy’ but any democracy), against all democratic institutions, representative government as such, the very idea of the sovereignty of the people, or any society based on popular ‘opinion’, however truly and completely the opinion may be reflected by the government.

I shall not bother to collect these – there are hundreds – though some have already crept in, since they are so abundant throughout the volumes. Here I take note only of Proudhon’s repeated promise that there will be no nonsense about voting and elections in his social order – the one that the Association is going to organize – or that at any rate the first vote would be the last.

The first passage occurs when Proudhon is setting down for the umpteenth time his condemnation of the campaign which the liberal democrats are conducting for ‘electoral reform’ against Louis Philippe:

Electoral reform – We will have the people vote, when we shall have put them in position to judge. And when they will be able to judge, then there will be no more voting. [2:201]

Also under the heading of ‘Electoral Reform’:

... it is completely useless to me; and in any case I do not see that it can serve twice; since, once the Mutualist [Proudhonian] reform has been carried out, there is no longer room for general elections.

It cannot serve for anything, I say, not even to get decreed what I regard as the truth... [2:322]

No, once again, I have no need of elections, nor of representation [that is, any representative body – HD], on the day when everything will be done by Mutualism. [2:336]

6) The Superman Complex

There is a gradual spectrum running from the man who merely knows his worth, through the amusing braggart, and so on up to the most extreme pathological case. Proudhon is the end of the line:

... if I had to sacrifice the human race, I would sacrifice it to what seems the truth to me, and I would take pride in thinking, while making this sacrifice, that I represent humanity by myself alone, and that though losing a million millions of men, nothing has been lost. [1:185]

One of the many forged quotations ascribed to Lenin says something like this, though not as repellently. Little did the forger know he was plagiarizing the Apostle of Libertarianism! The megalomaniac mood is not rare with Proudhon:

The representative of the people – that is Me. For I, I alone, am right. [2:307)

I have translated c'est Moi colloquially as ‘that is Me’ to show the capitalization. Proudhon imitates the more famous L'Etat, c'est moi also with his La Révolution, c'est moi. This is soon after the 1848 Revolution, around the beginning of April, and he is bitter because no one pays any attention to him:

Thought – If 35 million men had offended me, I would not pardon them. I would be better than 35 million men.

La Révolution, c'est moi. That is why I have no pity for the provisional government. For 10 years I have asked for and awaited justice and publicity, without being able to get it. A social revolution takes place: I am kept on the sidelines. For 18 months I have elucidated all social questions: that makes no difference, they keep me in the shadow. My ideas alone are true but they are ignored. They commit mistake after mistake that I would have prevented, if they had read me. But there is room only for the chatterboxes of Democracy and socialism. I am right against everyone: that is why I am hated! [3:39]

Not long before the revolution he had confided a similar pathetic bitterness to his Notebook – note the conclusion:

Decidedly ideas are going ahead. But then why is there never any question of me? Why am I thus downtrodden, put aside, kept in the shadow? Injustice! Injustice. Never has such an example of injustice been seen. And it is the writers, the publicists, the critics who are guilty of this regarding me! And wouldn’t I revenge myself! [2:266]

Injustice, injustice! Woodcock begins his article with the ineffable cry of Proudhon’s: ‘Whence comes to me this passion for justice...?’ and treats it reverently.

Revenge, revenge! The other side of his desire for revenge against the pismires who refuse to acknowledge his mastership is his repeated self-assurances, written down, that only he is right, etc. He prints in capitals:


Although the public neglects him, ‘Anyway it is indeed certain that nothing gets done without me’ [2:213], the idea being that everyone is stealing his ideas. Of one of his schemes [11] he remarks quite as usual: ‘That must be so, that cannot be otherwise.’ [1:83] There are many other such passages [cf 1:341, 346].

As against those fallible sects who have to be outlawed, he represents mankind and reason:

They accuse me of wanting to elevate myself alone over the ruins of all the parties. What nonsense! I am of the way of thinking [avis] of the human race, of general reason, pure and unfailing, against the aberrations of all the parties. [1:374]

The papal tone is not entirely accidental. There is a fascinating passage, headed with the biblical Ego vox clamantis in deserto, which has a deliberately religious swing to its incantations:

I am the voice of the people who feel, seek, want, speak and act...

I am the spontaneous and the reflective reason of the proletariat...

I am both in accord with the people and at the same time I am their guide, their master, their leader. [2:91]

How could electoral nonsense and other democratic tomfoolery appeal to the master and leader who knows?

I am the expression of the people; the organ of their intimate thought, the Word of the spirit that thinks within them. [2:108]

My thought itself does not belong to me; I am only an organ of the infinite intelligence: if I do not obey the idea, I am faithless, I lie to the Holy Ghost. [3:78]

Anyone who disagrees with him is an Enemy of the People:

The silence of the parties regarding me proves my independence from all parties... But their behavior regarding my doctrines proves that all are enemies of the true interests of the people... This crime is the crime of all the parties regarding me. [2:288]

Why is everyone against me, he asks in another note, and answers:

Ah! That is because no one among these people sincerely wants the remedy. [2:329]

He alone is sincere, as well as master, Holy Spirit and genius of the People.

He consoles himself constantly with his ‘Association’ scheme, which is so marvelous that it is ‘capable of procuring me great influence’ [1:200]. ‘There is not, there cannot be, any other system of organization and reform’ [1:81], and it will triumph:

... for, since there is only one truth, this truth, once it is perceived by a single man, must make it possible for him to bring all divergent opinions over to his opinion. [1:155]

He is thus assured of triumph [1:161]. Even so, there are few rivals in literature to the following passage, which I give complete – the suspension points (...) are in the original:

Association – 18 years ago; I told myself: If a man of genius presented himself to reform society, a universal savant, the first in everything, by enlightenment, logic and eloquence, artist and man of war, industrialist and merchant, possessing virtue and courage unflinchingly, bearing a secret, a panacea capable of converting all hearts for him... This man, this secret, this assemblage of all the talents, I supply it with the theory of Association. [1:183]

From the standpoint of the ‘biographical’ and personal approach to Proudhon which Woodcock urges: how can such a universal genius, master and leader tolerate that anyone tell him what he can or cannot do, however democratic the authority that does the telling? And is it not a soul-searing ‘coercion of the individual’ when the only man who carries the world panacea in his own pocket is not ‘free’ to follow the Abbey of Thélème motto: ‘Do what thou wilt'?

From this point, the biographical approach must inevitably move on to the more important problem of the whole social and political content of Proudhonism and anarchism which is involved here. The Notebooks supply new and definitive material on the bourgeois or petty-bourgeois nature of Proudhon’s ideology – particularly his own frank avowals, which he committed to paper in spite of Woodcock’s ruling that this is all Marxian ‘nonsense’. But to pursue this more important theme would mean another and longer article.

I have confined myself to exhibiting some contents of the Notebooks. But even within these limits, I would raise the following question for meditation.

Suppose that just a few per cent – no more – of what I have quoted from Proudhon’s Notebooks could be found in Marx or Lenin! Whole articles, theses and books would be written on each syllable demonstrating that the man is obviously a totalitarian and the harbinger of Stalinism. Since this stuff cannot be found in the writings of Marx or Lenin, one makes do and the articles and books get written anyway. The fairy tale about the ‘élitist’ concepts of Lenin’s What Is To Be Done? is as firmly embedded in historical mythology as is the legend of Proudhon’s libertarianism, and Marx is still being proved a ‘dictator’ from his dyspeptic grunts and even his adolescent love poems!

These revolutionary democrats are freely reviled, while the racist authoritarian Proudhon is celebrated as democrat and freedom-lover by a wide united front of apologists. Unlike Proudhon, Marx would have no trouble understanding what this was all about.

Dostoyevsky’s Shigalev also understood: ‘Starting from unlimited freedom, I arrive at unlimited despotism.’ The contradictory complex again. On the political plane (where we are now) the origin of the Proudhonian contradictions lies in the germ idea of anarchist ‘libertarianism’. It is not concerned with the winning of democratic control-from-below, but only with the destruction of ‘authority’ over the individual ego, even the most extremely democratic version of authority imaginable.

To Proudhon the principle of Thélème meant literally:

... any man who cannot do what he wants and anything he wants has the right to revolt, even alone, against the government, even if the government were everybody else. [2:301; cf also 2:270, 294]

The only man who can enjoy this ‘freedom’ unlimited by society is a despot.

Against this conception rejecting authority as such, Marx posed the goal of democratic control-from-below over all authority. Right there is the historic counterposition between Proudhon and Marx, between revolutionary democracy and ‘libertarianism’.


1. Carnets de P-J Proudhon, edited by Pierre Haubtmann, Rivière, Paris; three volumes published so far. Volume 1 (1960) covers 1843-46; Volume 2 (1961) goes up to the February Revolution of 1848; Volume 3 (1968) continues to 1850. According to the original announcement two or three more volumes may be expected. All bracketed references in this article are to volume and page number; all emphasis in quotation as in original.

2. ‘Pierre Joseph Proudhon, Harbinger of Fascism’, American Historical Review, July 1945; included as a chapter in the author’s Liberalism and the Challenge of Fascism. Nothing of Schapiro’s material is repeated in this article but it is required reading. Schapiro has no analytical framework worth mentioning; as a liberal, he regards Proudhon basically as a devilish case of anti-democracy. Schapiro’s contribution is simply to the truth.

3. For other passages on the Jews see 1:133; 2:22ff, 108, 150. Editor Haubtmann points out [2:337] that when Proudhon later [3:81] lists articles to be written, it is no accident that the subject ‘Dr Marx’ is immediately followed by ‘The Jews’.

4. Cf 1:182ff, 196, 323, 389; 2:131, 133, 183ff, 157, 290, for some for the most hair-raising social-imperialism ever written down before 1914.

5. But I must mention, in view of Woodcock’s effort to ‘imagine what Proudhon would have done’ during the Paris student struggles of 1968, that Proudhon did have his say on such student demands. He wrote against academic freedom for professors, condemned students for wanting to ‘express an opinion’ on teachers or courses, and advocated using the rod (la férule) on them for such impertinence [2:80ff]. A little later he noted: ‘Announcement has been made of a new school journal, L'Avant-Garde. Should students have the right to write? Let them be put in barracks, these minors!’ [2:355] How modern!

6. Further on, Proudhon sets down a list of eleven sexual crimes for which the Association will provide suitable punishment. A husband can kill his wife out-of-hand as soon as he sees her for the first time after having ‘learned’ of her infidelity. We cannot deal here with Proudhon’s psychopathological views on sex and women, on which subject Woodcock is as reliable as on others. For Proudhon, women are animals – the exaggeration is slight if at all. To compare his viewpoint on this subject with the Nazi Kinder – Kirche – Küche is unfair to the Nazis.

7. That Proudhon was a political supporter of the Louis Philippe monarchy against its liberal opponents, and an admirer and supporter of Guizot – this I hesitate to mention because it sounds so incredible. Yet it is true. But then Proudhon, at one time or another, also came forward as supporter of Russian Tsarism, General Cavaignac (the butcher of the 1848 June Days) and three Bonapartes – Napoleon I, Louis Bonaparte, and the adventurer Prince Jerome.

8. The 18 Brumaire in this passage refers to Napoleon’s coup d'état of 1799. For glowing tributes to Napoleon I in the Notebooks, see especially 1:286ff, 349, 356ff, 362, 396; 2:333. The ‘18 Brumaire’ of Louis Napoleon had, of course, not yet taken place. Proudhon wrote his book supporting it only after it took place, whereas Woodcock’s article quotes Proudhon most amply on his doubts about Louis Napoleon before the coup, when Proudhon did not expect the man to win. As we see here, our apostle of libertarianism was already thinking about an 18 Brumaire of his very own.

9. In this passage, the cry ‘Forced labor or death’ for his opponents is a little different from Patrick Henry’s but not rare in Proudhon. Right after the sententious ‘Marx is the tapeworm of socialism’, a bit of wisdom which Woodcock quotes, is a passage which he does not quote: ‘Once the Revolution is made, we shall have several millions of individuals of both sexes to condemn to forced labor! Prostitutes male and female, pimps and procurers, rapists, seducers, violators of girls, thieves pointed out by [public] opinion who have remained unpunished, etc, etc.’ His estimate more exactly is ‘perhaps three million culprits. So be it. It is necessary to punish.’ [2:201] In another note, he plans to replace prisons with ‘travaux publics’ as the only punishment, that is, forced-labor camps instead of jails [2:357]. Proudhon was always against idleness. He also had a plan to have the seasonal agricultural tasks – reaping, sowing, plowing – done by ‘corvées by everybody’, corvée being the historical term for feudal forced labor-service [1:236]. In general, he was for increasing the severity of punishment [for example, 2:13]. Instead of ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’, he proposed substituting ‘Liberty, Equality, Severity’ [1:169]. Of course: except when in jail himself, when he produced freedom-loving disquisitions on the wrongness of all punishment...

10. ‘No hatred’ today. But for other days see especially 1:158, 279, 381; 2:25ff, 289, and, for one of the most bloodcurdling hymns to raw hatred ever penned, see 2:166.

11. This scheme was his solution for overpopulation: make people work so hard as to reduce their ‘erotic passions’ and therewith the size of families.