Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Challenge in Proudhon's Thought

Part of the project here has to be presenting a picture of Proudhon that is a more useful alternative to those we have inherited. I have been arguing that there is a Proudhon who is not the failed precursor we so often think of, but who is instead a pioneer who still remains in some very important ways out in from of us, waiting for us to catch up.  So what is the defining character of that Proudhon's thought? I still can't think of a more exemplary text for addressing that question than The Philosophy of Progress. In the past, I've indicated his central concerns fairly broadly, but let me repeat two short passages from that work, in order to zero in on a very important dynamic. First, there is the "if I could live a thousand years" passage, which constantly comes back to me as a sort of challenge, as I try to engage with Proudhon's thought as a living, ongoing project:
If, then, I could once put my finger on the opposition that I make between these two ideas, and explain what I mean by Progress and what I consider Absolute, I would have given you the principle, secret and key to all my polemics. You would possess the logical link between all of my ideas, and you could, with that notion alone, serving for you as an infallible criterion with regard to me, not only estimate the ensemble of my publications, but forecast and signal in advance the propositions that sooner or later I must affirm or deny, the doctrines of which I will have to make myself the defender or adversary. You would be able, I say, to evaluate and judge all my theses by what I have said and by what I do not know. You would know me, intus et in cute, such as I am, such as I have been all my life, and such as I would find myself in a thousand years, if I could live a thousand years: the man whose thought always advances, whose program will never be finished. And at whatever moment in my career you would come to know me, whatever conclusion you could come to regarding me, you would always have either to absolve me in the name of Progress, or to condemn me in the name of the Absolute. 
And then there is this:
“What could a few lapses, a few false steps, detract from the rectitude of my faith, the goodness of my cause?... You will please me, sir, to learn for yourself what road I have traveled, and how many times I have fallen along the way. Far from blushing at so many spills, I would be tempted to boast of them, and to measure my valor by the number of my contusions.”
This is, in many ways, Proudhon at his best. And one of the things that we know about Proudhon is that he was not always at his best. But Proudhon himself seems to have known that, and provided us with a challenging view of what he himself thought was constant in his thought.

The first passage contains everything we need to identify Proudhon as, on the one hand, a thinker with fixed commitments (opposition to the absolute, commitment to progress) and, on the other, a thinker whose thought is always changing and will never be complete, even if he could live a thousand years. The second passage simply reminds us that if your thought is constantly evolving, even for a dozen years, let alone a thousand, you're going to spend a good deal of time being at least partially wrong.

In terms of our critical encounters with Proudhon in the present, we need to be clear whether we are engaging with those commitments that he considered essentially eternal or whether we are dealing with evolutions in their application to particular problems. We can then judge Proudhon on the consistency with which he applied his own principles, and we can differ. But the way that we overtake Proudhon's thought is not by pointing to another of his hard-earned contusions, but by traveling, and falling, and picking ourselves up again (and again), and showing ourselves finally capable of advancing that project (opposition to the absolute, commitment to progress) across the lost time and forward beyond what we might expect a long-lived Proudhon to have accomplished.

If we really want bragging rights over the grand old man, it seems that our challenge is clear: Think about all that Proudhon accomplished between 1839 and the beginning of 1865. Consider the potential of the project he set in motion. Now think of the nearly 150 years that have passed since his death, and the almost complete neglect of his project. What would it take for us to make good on the promise of that restless, experimental, determined, anarchist thought, even just to pick up it where Proudhon left it in 1865, let alone to realize the promise of the years lost?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Scraping some rust off the "two guns" of mutualism

As I mentioned in the last post, one of the results of turning my back on the "Two-Gun Mutualism" project, and focusing specifically on the anarchic "social system" of "the encounter," has been to reawaken my interest in the abandoned TGM: Rearmed book project. Much of that interest comes, as I've said, from my continuing interest in that atercratic counter-history that I expect will be occupying a lot of my time in upcoming months. But there is another element of my original mutualist project which I have had a hard time clarifying specifically enough to really do it justice, an element invoked in different ways in two unfinished essays—"The Anarchism of Approximations" and "Two-Gun Mutualism and the Golden Rule"—and then again more recently in some posts beginning to deal with the notion of "guarantism." I that most recent material, I made a somewhat clumsy attempt to draw the material on the "two guns" of anarchist theory into the new toolkit.
As we are also currently in the midst of clarifying the relations between this phase of exploration and those that have come before, I suppose it makes sense to note that these new poles of this new antinomy are much like the "two guns" the last phase, transferred for the moment to the realm of method and practice. Instead of our old "brace of rusty pistols," individualism and socialism, we have, on the one hand, the principled opposition to everything of an absolutist or hierarchical nature, an analysis always open to the devils in the detail, bound to sacrifice everything else to a relentless consistency, should the critique lead that way, and, on the other, we have the commitment to make the sort of real change, material improvement in conditions without which no principles, however obsessively pursued, really amount to much. As with the antinomies more familiar from earlier studies, we can probably say that either emphasis, without the balance of the other, is unlikely to take us where we want to go, but from this we cannot simply fall back on some compromise or middle way—particularly if Proudhon is our guide. For him, we must not forget, liberty was always something enhanced as much by the complexity and intensity of complication and conflict as it was by the mere absence of constraint. 
The notion of "Two-Gun Mutualism" was always a metaphor that needed more development, a poetic provocation to audiences that showed little interest in being provoked. For me, it was the convergence of a desire to suggest that mutualism, rather than being some tame reformism, was really—if we took up the challenge and played our hand with sufficient boldness—among the most radical currents in anarchism. It's that dangerous, revolutionary edge that I've been examining in an anarchy and anarchism that seem more and more ungovernable, and its the centrality of that ungovernable anarchism to Proudhon's project that threatens to make a "Two-Gun History of the World" the provocative story of how the modern anarchist sects emerged through the dismembering and taming of a revolutionary mutualism. For better or worse, most modern adopters of the "mutualist" label have been considerably more modest in their claims for it, so that aspect of the earlier project never really drew much more than some derisive comments and a few in jokes with friends. But even in distancing myself from the metaphor I've never abandoned the conviction that the apparently middle-of-the-road anarchism that I began to explore not all that long ago was really, on closer examination, something powerful and more than a little dangerous.

The old sidebar description was more provocation, but I always felt like it was a provocation that got to the heart of something really wrong with an awful lot of the anarchist theory I encountered, particularly in the days of the left-libertarian ALLiance, though certainly not just, or even primarily, from within those circles.

Picking up threads from Proudhon's early works—“the synthesis of community and property”—and his mature works—“the antinomy does not resolve itself"—and the wonderful image of the two pistols from Pierre Leroux's “Individualism and Socialism,” we get a silly name for a fairly heady, potentially risky project: to arm ourselves with both individualism and socialism—two ill-kept old implements indeed—and to try to make them serve the needs of an anarchism that slights neither individualities (at a dizzying range of scales) nor collectivities (ditto), when it's all too obvious that neither one is quite the tool for the job. It's a tactical, transitional project, an opportunity to gather ourselves, and tend to our tools, before the next campaign…
The brace of rusty pistols, apparently necessary for the struggles ahead, but also as likely to blow up in our faces as to do us any good, seems all to apt a way to describe an awful lot of our rhetorical toolkit. For example, it's hard to see much of anything in an awful lot of what passes for debate in online political forums except a sort of constant blowing-up-in-our-faces, which we hardly seem to notice, imagining all the while that we're mowing down opponents.

But there was more to the adaptation of the image from Leroux's essay than just some edgy language and a nod-and-a-wink to friends for whom images of pistols and such are a more common political stock in trade. The stories that Leroux told about the standoff in the French Revolution and the massacre in the Rue Transnonain, the backdrop for his examination of individualism and socialism, were there to illustrate a sort of general dynamic, according to which fear leads to fratricidal violence. For the Pierre Leroux of 1834, individualism and socialism were the two faces of that single dynamic, the two paths by which that fratricidal violence seemed inevitable, if some means was not found to harmonize the two extreme, one-sided, simplist impulses—if some means was not found to head off the runaway fear before it became fundamentally self-destructive violence. By 1848, of course, a number of attempts at synthesis had been made, many of them under the name of socialism, but we know that as the 19th century progressed, the two concepts diverged once more and the circumstances of their origins were mostly forgotten.

Four years ago, when I began the essay "Two-Gun Mutualism and the Golden Rule," I had a lot of stories to tell, and bits and pieces of several of them found their way into the essay. That's one of the reasons that there was never a second part of the work. It was both a little overwhelming to continue and specifically more than a little overwhelming to continue without any real feedback. The third and final post in the series took on Leroux's antisemitism and Proudhon's anti-feminism directly, in what I think are ultimately terms as damning as anything written by critics like Déjacque. Allow me another long quote:
In “The Gift Economy of Property” and other writings, I have suggested some alternatives to Proudhon’s final approach to property—alternatives which are no less highly charged, but are perhaps less martial in their approach. I’m not certain that there is anything in that work, however, that clearly raises it to or above the level of The Theory of Property. But we can perhaps more clearly see the dangers of the progressive approach if we look at Proudhon’s response to potential changes in the institution of the family, and in gender roles. Proudhon was at once progressive and conservative when it came to most economic questions, and questions regarding institutional government. Even when he advocated the conservation of existing forms—or when he advocated a strengthening of private property, provided it was widely distributed—it was with the understanding that those forms would fulfill a substantially new function. When it was a question of changes to the family, he instead denied progress, at best bringing new justifications to bear for institutions which would ultimately pull against the general trajectory of his libertarian thought. With regard to women’s rights, his thought was worse than simply conservative. In “picking up the pistols” with regard to property, he sought to shelter individuals in such a way that liberty was preserved for all, and progressive change had a space within which to occur. When it came to women, his impulse was to shelter them from change. The defenses of the traditional family that he developed could just as easily have supported any number of non-traditional living arrangements. A strong case could be made—and was being made at the time—that the aims of the family could be at least as well addressed by other forms. The patriarchal rights that he ultimately defended were, like the private property rights of The Theory of Property, an intensification—Leroux might have said “exaggeration”—of existing rights, and we might suspect that they were driven by nothing other than “horror”—again the word is Leroux’s—of the polar alternative. Proudhon once again “picked up the pistols,” but because he turned against his own stated principles—affirmation of progress, opposition to the absolute, movement by an indefinite sequence of approximations—and, most seriously, quite simply denied women full participation in society, he could hardly do better than the soldiers in the Rue Transnonain. “[W]e are ordered to do this, we are compelled to obey, though it makes us as wretched as you…” Treating the traditional family and patriarchy as providential, Proudhon could hardly avoid discharging both pistols at women in general, jeopardizing his entire project in the process.
But to move forward with this critique of a horrified Proudhon, it was really necessary for me to feel like I had moved the conversation past the default treatment of Proudhon as simply horrifying—at least for some segment of my specific audience. And that's something I've never really felt. There are, of course, any number of pressures within the anarchist milieu's that make any hint of sympathy for those already cast out, however summarily, even in the course of criticism, grounds for at least a cold shoulder.

More than anything, of course, I suspect that I had simply not made the case for sympathy, had not sufficiently clarified the potential horror, we might even say the lurking fear at the heart of the anarchic "social system." Perhaps I have now made a good start at that, though not in those terms. But I suspect those who stuck with me through the lengthy exploration of the anarchic encounter last year won't have too much trouble attaching that slightly Lovecraftian label to all the things we find we cannot say with any certainty about the anarchic encounter.

For the "little Proudhon book" I'm currently writing, I've been keeping things simple, and relatively comfortable. If we throw out everything not included in the simple anarchist "social system" as involving illegitimate authority of some sort, and embrace that notion that "another world is possible" at literally every encounter, then part of what opens for us is a way of remapping what is anarchistic in any given social setting, a sort of anarchology by which we could sort out what does and doesn't conform to our ideal. That's an important addition to the toolkit, and one which, in some ways, reduces our uncertainties about the project of anarchism. We can simply focus on whether or not given relations—and relations are all that a Proudhonian social science lets us talk about with any degree of certainty—make the cut, and if not, how we can relate with one another in a more anarchistic manner. The approach seems as marvelously adaptable as it is straightforward—once we accept the notion that we'll be traversing that "dizzying array of scales," a move made possible by Proudhon's particular approach to the question of "individuals."

And then we try to apply our anarchology in pretty much any real-world context, and nothing seems all that simple anymore. The elegant design of the tools in our kit doesn't change the complexity of the problems we have to solve, and we find ourselves facing the universe of relations with just one tool. That pushes a lot of the responsibility for ingenuity back onto us, and that sort of focused responsibility is just the sort of thing that can push us to one sort of "exaggeration" or another.

We begin by isolating an encounter, and identifying its elements: individuals, manifestations of collective force. But our individuals are always already groups, and themselves manifest collective force. These complexities will scale both upwards and downwards, just as far as we choose to pursue them.

We'll never pursue them "all the way," and yet we have to proceed with organization, with practice. Our commitment to contr'archy, to the negation of everything that might emerge as an archy, even when it calls its self anarchy, enlists us on the side of active ungovernability, demanding chaos before governmentalism. The more we succeed in this side of our anarchism, the more the dark star to which we've hitched our wagon may begin to look like a black hole. It is not coincidental that Proudhon's transitional summary, The Philosophy of Progress, took the form of a discussion of the criterion of certainty, and that ultimately he never identified any criterion beyond justice, understood as balance. Proudhon claimed that if he lived a thousand years his thought would always be driven, in part, by his opposition to the absolute.

So if we are attempting to rethink our "two gun problem" in a context broad enough to address Proudhon's failures with regard to questions of gender, or even to extend it to what I've gestured at as "The Larger Antinomy," perhaps we've identified one of our "guns" in what we might call anti-absolutism, contr'archy, negation, etc. In the essay on the larger antimony it seems important to me to also highlight the extent to which that side of the antinomy was also fairly conventionally gendered, or at least genderable, as feminine.

And if anti-absolutism and contr'archy are one "gun," then the other must be practical, institutional progress and guarantism. If we naturally fear that the first emphasis will simply carry us away, or carry our anarchism away from our very real, practical needs, we also always have to fear that any or all of our approximations may settle into archic forms. Proudhon's was not sparing in his scorn for the various patent-office utopias of his contemporaries, often employing the anti-absolutist side of his thought as a wrecking ball, but neither was he bashful about promoting the virtues of his own practical projects.

If we were to pose this rethinking of the essay on "Individualism and Socialism" to a particularly long-lived Pierre Leroux, I like to think that he wouldn't have too much trouble picking up the threads of his own argument and arguing for a harmonization of the two complementary projects. Unfortunately, I share Proudhon's sense that harmony is less likely than antinomic balance. If, on the other hand, we were to present the matter to a Proudhon headed on towards his "thousand years," it's harder to know if he would recognize what I believe I have drawn fairly directly from the implications of his thought.

Why do I say this? Since writing the original "Two-Gun Mutualism" essay, I've had a lot of opportunity to engage with Proudhon's thought. Recently, while finishing up the translation of The Theory of Property, I encountered a chapter which looked more than a bit like a repetition of material elsewhere in the book—until I realized that what really seems to be at stake was an account of the shifting balance of power between State and family with regard to property. What doesn't seem to have been true about Proudhon's attachment to small-scale production does seem to have had a parallel in his eventual attachment to small-scale, specifically family-based property. We can probably say that when it came time to balance property against property and property against the State, Proudhon's concern with balancing anti-absolutism against progressive guarantees was pushed at least slightly aside. There is a kind of accidental minarchism that enters his practical proposals, despite plenty of indications that his theoretical commitment to anarchism had not diminished. His mistaken beliefs about women's capabilities seem to have conspired with the complexity of the problem he confronted to undermine the degree of justice which he could actually incorporate in his proposed solution.

As I said in the "Two-Gun Mutualism" essay, it's a serious, really disastrous failure, but it's probably just one of many that anyone wishing to take up Proudhon's sociology will have to guard against. And one of the ways to begin to take precautions is probably to think about the lesson Leroux presented to us as simply one illustration of a more general danger. It might be, after all, that focusing on "individualism" and "socialism," out of all the various manifestations of some larger antinomy, might be as disastrous as getting swept up in a particular opposition between men and women, or the family and the State. We can probably pretty easily point the evidence of that fact. The balancing act of anarchist justice has to at least aspire, even in its practical manifestations, to a positive care and inclusiveness equal in intensity to our commitment to negating and tearing down authoritarian structures. And then we have to be able to take those two intense tendencies and find some means of striking a balance between them. The sort of positive anarchy that Proudhon was seeking will demand pretty much everything we can give it, and it is likely we will always still fall short in our various anarchisms.

I personally see that as the attraction, as much as the danger of would-be anarchist activity, but it's obviously a bit of both, and there is an important sense in which attempting to drag anarchism back out onto the rather bare stage proposed by Proudhon threatens to increase both the dangers and the attractions tremendously. Leroux's concern was that the two primary means of thinking about society at the time he wrote his essay were dangerous weapons, more likely to do harm than good to those who attempted to use them. For him, there was another way forward, a way to not pick up the guns by devoting oneself to a project of harmonizing extremes. There is, I think, a good deal to admire in that approach, but if Proudhon's general analysis was correct, we still have to set it aside, at least for the foreseeable future, along with any notion of lasting harmony.

To take on this theory of the encounter as the entire anarchist social system is necessarily also to, as we've been putting it, "pick up the guns," and take on all of the dangers that come with it. It is to knowingly position ourselves in a position where we have to resist the urge to give way to any of the powerful impulses held in tension within our model and method. We can expect that when we have scraped all the rust off our brace of pistols they will not be less deadly, even to ourselves, but potentially more so, just as they will be more capable of harm to others if we fail to use them with care.

There is a lot of "scraping" yet to do before it is even clear just what sort of tools this "brace of rusty pistols" is and can be, but I'm once again finding myself drawn to the metaphor, and perhaps also to a specific identification with "mutualism." But what remains for me to confront are some enormously thorny questions about anarchism and identification itself.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

History and Possibility

This year's million-word translation push has a couple of different motives behind it. At a basic level, it's a way to make productive what looks like an otherwise disastrous year for me. Last year was a year of wrong guesses, zigs that probably should have been zags, and an increasingly isolation on most fronts. I'm having to rethink a lot of things, make even more of my very limited resources, and try to keep my chin up through the process. In the past, really bad years have meant that Liberty got scanned and much of the deep background research that informs current projects got done. But in terms of realistic prospects, this might be the worst year of all, and it will be necessary to make whatever I fill my days with to keep sane also contribute as much as possible to some more viable projects going forward. 

The compensation for last year's stress and alienation has been a really exciting rediscovery of anarchy and anarchism, which has, naturally, brought its own quota of stress and alienation along with it. But in many ways the notion of the anarchic encounter has been the more-or-less mutualist principle I have been trying to isolate and articulate for about a decade now, and the discovery of the tensions in Proudhon's idea of anarchy, and all of the speculations that have arisen over the last year regarding that discovery, has clarified some of what was still unclear to me about what a genuinely neo-Proudhonian account of anarchism should probably involve. I feel surprisingly calm and confident with regard to what I've been calling "the little Proudhon book," which is slowly but surely coming together in the hours not occupied by wrestling with translation. In fact, I've written parts of three "little Proudhon books," with different styles and emphases for different audiences, and even toyed with resurrecting the "Two-Gun Mutualism" project.

I spent much of 2012 and 2013 trying to decide whether I should be directing my anarchist projects towards a narrower audience, which might or might not be there, with an interest in those provocative outliers in radical history of which I've ended up making something of a specialty, or towards a broader audience, more likely to be concerned with fundamental questions about the nature of anarchism than the details, however fascinating, of the movement's history. Corvus Editions has always been a bit split between a commitment to reprinting what seems useful and otherwise unavailable across the tradition and a more focused agenda of challenging the hegemonic account of "anarchist history." That's undoubtedly been a problem from a commercial standpoint, as anarchist consumers are at least as driven by brand loyalty as other consumers, and perhaps often more so. One of the lessons learned fairly definitively in 2013 was that my perceived personal demographics was always going to be more important in face-to-face movement settings, like anarchist book fairs, than whatever content I quite literally brought to the table at the events, a lesson that, along with the changing economics of book- and zine-fairs, has pretty well taken me off the circuit for 2014. But the theoretical and historical lessons of the same period, that new clarity about the origins of anarchism, might well have pushed me in the same directions anyway. 

I continue to be very extremely interested in archiving the full range of anarchist materials, and will no doubt continue to do so, and will probably even continue to publish collections of more familiar anarchist figures, but I will most likely do so, at least for the near term, primarily in digital form, developing the new Libertarian Labyrinth catalog. I will also have some opportunities to publish some more introductory and mainstream material with other publishers, starting with the anthology from the Anarchisms Archive and an Emma Goldman collection drawn from La Frondeuse. And, of course, I will be dedicating a lot of my time and energy to The Bakunin Library, which is moving steadily forward, and which has become a lot of fun, along with being a lot of work. In some cases, those projects will expand the received "canons" quite a bit, often simply by actually presenting texts which have always been presumed to occupy a place in the central literature of the tradition, but simply haven't been read much. The slow-but-steady work on Proudhon amounts to the same sort of transformation of the "canonical" body of work by actually presenting it. I think that what I've done so for with Proudhon demonstrates that this sort of transformation can be fairly radical. But correcting the historical record is really just a means to other ends for me, ends which have much more to do with future possibility than an accurate rendering of the past.

While I suppose, based on the responses, or lack thereof, that it has not always been clear, most of my work from about "The Lesson of the Pear-Growers' Series" (originally posted November 21, 2007 on the now defunct on ALLiance blog) has had one foot in a sort of atercratic counter-history of anarchism and its related traditions, not quite an alternate history, but a persistent marking of possible points of divergence from the history of the anarchist tradition that we are all, to one extent or another, more of less forced to accept. It is the "Two-Gun History of the World" section of TGM: Rearmed that seems most likely to really still need writing, if the work that I've done and continue to do is going to have any of the impact that it seems capable of having on the way we think, here and now, about anarchism, anarchy, etc. It seems to me that, despite all of our loud resistance to "history" and "theory," that one of the things that defines anarchists at present is a rather peculiar certainty about just those things. It seems like everyone I encounter "knows" substantially more about Proudhon than I expect I will ever learn in whatever lifetime of study is left to me, while at the same time apparently possessing an exhaustive understanding of "property," of "mutualism," and of a really astounding number of other topics that seem extremely complex and thorny to me.

Finding myself stuck between an anarchy and an anarchism that seems more and more ungovernable and a kind of empty "certainty" that seems to be the main strategy for governing those things, it seems likely that if there is not simply an unconquerable differend between approaches, then the only strategy for breaking down the impasse is to uncover more and more of the possibility hidden within the tradition, behind our rather empty certainty about that tradition's ultimate meaning. For me, that undoubtedly means more and more engagement, but also more overt, systematic engagement, with the growing constellation of alternate references I have been gradually assembling.

If last year's work was in large part a reassembly of the greater part of my theoretical writings around the concept of the encounter, and that seems to have been the case, it appears that this year will begin a similar reassembly of historical references around that notion of atercratic or "two-gun" counter-history. So expect much more of folks like Claude Pelletier, Gustave Lefrancais, Eliphalet Kimball, Flora Tristan, Jenny P. d'Hericourt, Calvin Blanchard, Joseph Perrot, Jeanne Deroin, Andre Leo, Lewis Masquerier, Joshua King Ingalls, etc., etc. And expect a fresh infusion of weird science and invention, fiction and poetry, and perhaps even a bit of the genuinely alternate history I've been squirreling away in my "Distributive Passions" notebooks. Certainly expect that style and art will play a different and more prominent role. If the result looks a bit like anarchist history's equivalent to steampunk, that's okay with me, but the point is to highlight the extent to which the history that we think we know already contains worlds full of possibility, ripe for our own use, without any need to make much of anything up.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Million Words

It's been quiet here on the blog, which usually means I've been busy elsewhere. This time is no exception. The next phase of the work on Proudhon involves writing up some truly introductory material, which is always slow, meticulous work. The Corvus Editions project is at another awkward transitional point, unsurprisingly given the state of the book trade, so I've been trying to take a hard look at the viable options there. And I've also made a number of publishing commitments, which are taking big bites out of my work day. Mostly, though, 2014 looks like it's shaping up to be what I initially thought 2013 was going to be—a year largely dedicated to translation.

Back in November I took another look at the plan for the Bakunin Library, as the publisher and I negotiated the contents of the Bakunin Reader, and started to schedule what I would need to accomplish myself to make sure that we could complete the Bakunin Library volumes on a fairly regular schedule with the available translation help. Then I took a look at the translation projects that I had discussed with other publishers—works by Joseph Déjacque and Ravachol—and the short list of works that I have been puttering away at, in some cases for years. I roughed out a schedule that for November and December that would let me finish The Humanisphere, The Adventures of Nono and The Theory of Property, make a good dent in The Claque-Dents and still devote a lot of time to Bakunin—as long as I kept at the translation work steadily just about every day.

Things went pretty well in the first stage, and I pushed through the final sections of The Humanisphere very rapidly. That draft translation has passed through the hands of a comrade, who made some very useful suggestions, and I'm in the process of working through the manuscript again, smoothing the translation where Déjacque's prose allows.

In late November, I laid out a more formal schedule for December-February, with the goal of pretty well clearing the decks of old projects and getting ahead of schedule on the Bakunin material. Some rethinking of the structure of the Bakunin Library has sent me on a second pass through Bakunin's work, searching for overlooked gems and exploring the possibility of some small, topically focused volumes. I've been coming to terms with just how huge The Knouto-Germanic Empire really is. On November 28 I started an experiment, attempting to translate the equivalent of 2740 words each and every day. That's roughly 5 1/2 pages per day, which can either be pretty simple or darn near impossible, depending on the texts. I tried to create a mix of easy and difficult texts, on different subjects and in different styles, that would keep me interested and give me a fighting chance at keeping up the pace. The mixture of forced march and labor of love is not the easiest balance to strike.

At the end of December, I had translated just over 95,000 words (plus at least 6000 words of revision of old partially-edited machine translations dating back five years or so.) Nono and The Theory of Property have been added to the revision pile, and The Claque-Dents is more than half completed. I need to steal a couple of full days to clean up Theory of Property, which I worked on for too many years for it to be an entirely consistent translation, and at some point I need to complete the very interesting appendix (from 1855) on the Perpetual Exhibition, an extension of the Bank of the People which resembles in some ways the projects Anselme Bellegarrigue was proposing at roughly the same time in Le Commanditaire. There has been a steady stream of new translations appearing at the Bakunin Library blog. The Bakunin Reader is shaping up to be what I think will be a very useful volume, and I'm at the point where most of the lengthy translations are either complete or nearly so.

By the time I reached the 45th day of the experiment, I had translated in a month and a half roughly what I had translated in the previous year and a half, and I had learned some interesting lessons. First, Proudhon is comparatively tough going, and I really need to take the time to work up a glossary of 19th century French financial terms before I do too much more with the Perpetual Exhibition proposal or the revision of The Theory of Property. That may have to wait until Spring. In the meantime, I'll probably get back to work on The Political Capacity of the Working Classes. Second, I love Fourier's crazed prose, but translating it so that anyone not already immersed in his general can make heads or tails of it is an enormous challenge. I have been making ridiculously slow headway on a very short collection of the works on gastronomy. Third, no matter how appealing, or how different, anarchist programs may be, I can't translate more than one of them at a time. I have been making steady headway on Emile Armand's Anarchist Individualist Initiation, but an interesting individualist program is still, in important ways, a program, and I probably won't throw myself into it wholeheartedly until I'm done with Bakunin's secret societies. Fourth, Bakunin is full of surprises and I'm having a lot more real fun with that work than I had expected. 

Probably the biggest realization, or perhaps re-realization, which will probably shape the future of Corvus Editions as much as my translating schedule, is that an awful lot of what keeps me going with all these projects is the exploratory work and the work that at least potentially expands and opens up the conversation about anarchism. If I'm not working on at least a few things that absolutely nobody is waiting for, I'm probably not doing it right. As December went along, I found that a couple of the texts I was working on—the Initiation and The Claque-Dents, both of which I like very much—were getting left until the end of the day. So I've been mixing things up a bit, so that at least some of what I'm working on is entirely new to me. January should see a complete translation of Flora Tristan's strange, but fascinating The Emancipation of Woman, or, The Testament of a Pariah, and probably also an interesting section from Jenny d'Héricourt's Woman Affranchised. I've been mixing in short sections from Ernest Coeurderoy's beautiful, over-the-top Hurrah!!! or the Revolution by the Cossacks when nothing else moves me at the end of the work day. I'm trying to mix in more shorter, and recently uncovered texts, like the letter by d'Héricourt that I just posted to the Black and Red Feminist History blog. Even at a good, steady clip, something like the Initiation is many months worth of work under current circumstances. That's easier to keep at if there are also some good items that get translated and posted the day I find them.

I'm 52 days into the experiment, which means that if I can do what I've done roughly six more times, that will be a year's worth of translating, and a year's worth of 2740 words each day is just over a million words of new translation. It's sort of a crazy New Year's resolution to make, but that feels like a worthy goal. Because I know I'll have to take a week or two off to deal with publishing projects and the other parts of my life that occasionally intrude, I'm expecting I will take about a month off in 2014, and spread twelve months of work over the thirteen between December 2013 and December 2014.

As February rolls around, I'll have to be thinking very hard about how to financially sustain the project, with some mix of Corvus Editions, selling off some things and perhaps some form of crowd-sourcing. A Million Words of newly translated anarchist-related material seems like the sort of thing that ought to be sustainable, but it's often very hard to tell what, if any, support there is out there. For now, I'm just want to put it out there that the project is ongoing. Wish me luck!