Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Return of the Proudhon Seminar

Starting in May, one of the projects I'll be working on is the evaluation, revision and/or annotation of the existing translations of Proudhon's works, starting with Tucker's translations of the first two memoirs on property. As part of the process, I've proposed a group reading of the material. When we read What is Property? five years ago, in the original "Proudhon Seminar," our shared understanding of Proudhon's work was, I think, very different than it is now. I've recently come back to the work in a couple of different contexts and been amazed at how different it looks to me. 

We've set up a "Proudhon Seminar" group on Facebook, to discuss this and other projects, but I expect the reading itself to take place on an email list or forum unassociated with the major social networking sites. I'll post updates here as they are available.

A Million Words: Day 115

As expected, this has been a slightly more distracted month. I managed to get sick for a week, and had to burn a couple of my allocated "sick/vacation days," and then made up most of the lost time with a couple of unusually easy bits of translation. I'm nearing the halfway mark in the main text of Fribourg's history of the International, and have probably a third of the supplementary documents and endnotes completed. I'm also making pretty good headway through Jenny P. d'Héricourt's Woman Affranchised. I finished a draft translation of all the material for the collection of Fourier's writings on gastronomy and gastrosophy, but will need to do quite a bit more work to properly annotate it.

On the Proudhon front, I completed a translation of his 1837 application for the Suard Pension, and have a long section from The Creation of Order in Humanity, on the criterion of certainty, that is about an hour of correction and revision away from being posted. And I have just started to transfer some of my keyword files to the Proudhon Library wiki (and will post more about this project when I'm a bit farther along with it.)

I've had a delay on the Bakunin Reader, which may or may not actually delay the book a few months, but have been continuing to post translations to the Bakunin Library site, and recent additions include some interesting material on cooperation, strike funds and solidarity, the conflict with Marx, etc. I've got some fairly venomous material aimed at the Parisian workers of the "Sixty," but will probably hold onto that until I have time to give it the historical context it deserves. This delightful bit showed up in a very short, undated fragment:
There is one other point that profoundly separates me from our pan-Slavists. They are still partisans of unity, always preferring discipline, the yoke of authority, majestic and monotonous uniformity and public order, to liberty. Me, I am an anarchist; I am a partisan of the life from below against all laws imposed in an authoritarian and doctrinaire manner from on high and I always and everywhere prefer liberty to order…"
The best real surprise of the last couple of weeks has been Claude Pelletier's 1867 work, The Revolutionary Socialist Heretics of the 15th Century, a five-act play that transplanted the concerns of the French revolution of 1848, and the thought of figures like Proudhon and Pierre Leroux into the context of the Hussite rebellion in Bohemia. I've posted the preface, and will post the play as soon as it is finished. Much of it is really quite interesting, and it is certainly interesting to find that Pelletier was combining influences from Leroux and Proudhon in his form of mutualism.

I'm starting the day with a little over 312,000 words translated since Thanksgiving, which is probably getting close to the amount that I've translated in the rest of my relatively brief career, and the pace is feeling relatively natural now. That said, the sense that there is always far, far too much still to be tackled doesn't go away. What I'm finding is that I'm still most often researching first and translating as a part of that research process, in order to better share and support what I'm finding—much as, in other phases of my work, archiving has been largely a means of citing otherwise inaccessible sources. What I have not been able to incorporate into my schedule as much as I had hoped is the translation of more works just "for the fun of it," and I may make some effort, once this period of racing to meet deadlines is over, to build in a regular slot for some of the various bits of weird science and imaginary voyage narratives that I have started on at various times.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Mapping Mutualism

As I've mentioned, several of my projects have been intersecting recently, and I've been feeling better able to start mapping out the various currents and traditions that we would have to account for in any really adequate history of mutualism. Let's just get some of those elements laid out so we can refer back to them:
  1. Proudhon's own writings. We are fortunate to have a great deal of Proudhon's work now available online, including quite a number of the manuscripts. There are a number of articles that remain uncollected and there are some omissions in the Mélanges volumes. There are also omissions and questionable edits in the volumes of correspondence. And there is an enormous amount of translation to be done. But the body of work that is readily available is remarkable.
  2. The contents of the newspapers that Proudhon was affiliated with. The most serious problem with the Mélanges collections is that the articles are lifted from their original context, and we can tell very little about the conversations that Proudhon was involved with. There were allies and adversaries of Proudhon active in the same papers, and some of those figures were very significant voices. 
  3. The works of Proudhon's collaborators and literary executors. Some of Proudhon's circle produced lengthy works, like Langlois' L'Homme Et La Révolution and Darimon's various histories, which continued or contextualized Proudhon's own work. A number of these figures also figured in subsequent chapters of radical history, often as adversaries in the stories told by Bakunin, Louise Michel, etc. 
  4. The workers of The Sixty and the "Proudhonian" workers in the International. The last phase of Proudhon's career saw him increasingly involved with the French workers' movement, and the individual workers influenced by works like The Political Capacity of the Working Classes went on to take part in the International, in a variety of cooperative ventures, and in politics. But, again, our understanding of them is complicated by the fact that they were opposed on some key points to what became the dominant currents in the International and the anarchist movement. 
  5. The collectivist anarchists. The collectivists made attempts to present themselves as the true inheritors of Proudhon's legacy, and it has been difficult to evaluate those claims, given the fairly obvious misunderstandings between factions and the fairly rapid eclipse of anarchist collectivism by anarchist communism. 
  6. The later, isolated Proudhonians. There seems to have been a steady stream of writers with an interest in developing Proudhon's thought, but without close ties to other elements in the anarchist movement. Joseph Perrot, P. F. Junqua, Edmond Lagarde, and a number of other explicit disciples of Proudhon published a fairly extensive literature.
  7. The mutualists and individualists in the United States. Proudhon's ideas made a fairly immediate impact in the U. S., beginning in the 1840s, and aspects of his thought remained influential as the mutualism of figures like William B. Greene gave way to the individualism of Benjamin R. Tucker, James L. Walker, the various mutual bank enthusiasts, etc. 
  8. The tradition of Josiah Warren and equitable commerce. Although Warren held Proudhon's thought in something like horror, the French mutualist tradition and the movement for equitable commerce became thoroughly mixed in the development of individualism in the U. S. 
  9. The exiled French workers in the United States.  While the French-speaking workers appear to have had limited contact with the American mutualists and individualists, we do find connections to Greene through the International, and we find fairly major developments of Proudhon's ideas in the works of figures like Claude Pelletier.
  10. Other influences on Proudhon, Greene, etc. Some thinkers, such as Charles Fourier and Pierre Leroux, inevitably come back into our story because of their importance to later thinkers.
And this list doesn't even begin to deal with the influence of Proudhon beyond the French and English literatures. There is a fairly substantial Spanish-language literature to track down as well. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

Bakunin on Proudhon and Marx (update)

Back in 2011, I posted some brief remarks by Bakunin on Proudhon and Marx. In an 11th-hour shuffle of some of the contents of the Bakunin Reader I tracked down the manuscript from which those remarks were taken, an unpublished letter "To the Brothers of the Alliance in Spain," which focuses on the question of the necessity of maintaining the secret society, the International Alliance, alongside the International Workingmen's Association, and develops the previously translated remarks into a pointed attack on Marx and his faction.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

The criterion of certainty in 1841

A funny thing happened on the way to "property is theft!" In the Second Memoir on property (1841), Proudhon explained the course of study that led him, somewhat indirectly, to his work on property:
By taste as well as by discretion and lack of confidence in my powers, I was slowly pursuing some commonplace studies in philology, mingled with a little metaphysics, when I suddenly fell upon the greatest problem that ever has occupied philosophical minds: I mean the criterion of certainty.
Those of my readers who are unacquainted with the philosophical terminology will be glad to be told in a few words what this criterion is, which plays so great a part in my work.
The criterion of certainty, according to the philosophers, will be, when discovered, an infallible method of establishing the truth of an opinion, a judgment, a theory, or a system, in nearly the same way as gold is recognized by the touchstone, as iron approaches the magnet, or, better still, as we verify a mathematical operation by applying the proof. Time has hitherto served as a sort of criterion for society. Thus, the primitive men—having observed that they were not all equal in strength, beauty, and labor—judged, and rightly, that certain ones among them were called by nature to the performance of simple and common functions; but they concluded, and this is where their error lay, that these same individuals of duller intellect, more restricted genius, and weaker personality, were predestined to serve the others; that is, to labor while the latter rested, and to have no other will than theirs: and from this idea of a natural subordination among men sprang domesticity, which, voluntarily accepted at first, was imperceptibly converted into horrible slavery. Time, making this error more palpable, has brought about justice. Nations have learned at their own cost that the subjection of man to man is a false idea, an erroneous theory, pernicious alike to master and to slave. And yet such a social system has stood several thousand years, and has been defended by celebrated philosophers; even to-day, under somewhat mitigated forms, sophists of every description uphold and extol it. But experience is bringing it to an end.
Time, then, is the criterion of societies; thus looked at, history is the demonstration of the errors of humanity by the argument reductio ad absurdum.
Now, the criterion sought for by metaphysicians would have the advantage of discriminating at once between the true and the false in every opinion; so that in politics, religion, and morals, for example, the true and the useful being immediately recognized, we should no longer need to await the sorrowful experience of time. Evidently such a secret would be death to the sophists,—that cursed brood, who, under different names, excite the curiosity of nations, and, owing to the difficulty of separating the truth from the error in their artistically woven theories, lead them into fatal ventures, disturb their peace, and fill them with such extraordinary prejudice.
Up to this day, the criterion of certainty remains a mystery; this is owing to the multitude of criteria that have been successively proposed. Some have taken for an absolute and definite criterion the testimony of the senses; others intuition; these evidence; those argument. M. Lamennais affirms that there is no other criterion than universal reason. Before him, M. de Bonald thought he had discovered it in language. Quite recently, M. Buchez has proposed morality; and, to harmonize them all, the eclectics have said that it was absurd to seek for an absolute criterion, since there were as many criteria as special orders of knowledge.
Of all these hypotheses it may be observed, That the testimony of the senses is not a criterion, because the senses, relating us only to phenomena, furnish us with no ideas; that intuition needs external confirmation or objective certainty; that evidence requires proof, and argument verification; that universal reason has been wrong many a time; that language serves equally well to express the true or the false; that morality, like all the rest, needs demonstration and rule; and finally, that the eclectic idea is the least reasonable of all, since it is of no use to say that there are several criteria if we cannot point out one. I very much fear that it will be with the criterion as with the philosopher’s stone; that it will finally be abandoned, not only as insolvable, but as chimerical. Consequently, I entertain no hopes of having found it; nevertheless, I am not sure that some one more skilful will not discover it.
Be it as it may with regard to a criterion or criteria, there are methods of demonstration which, when applied to certain subjects, may lead to the discovery of unknown truths, bring to light relations hitherto unsuspected, and lift a paradox to the highest degree of certainty. In such a case, it is not by its novelty, nor even by its content, that a system should be judged, but by its method. The critic, then, should follow the example of the Supreme Court, which, in the cases which come before it, never examines the facts, but only the form of procedure. Now, what is the form of procedure? A method.
I then looked to see what philosophy, in the absence of a criterion, had accomplished by the aid of special methods, and I must say that I could not discover—in spite of the loudly-proclaimed pretensions of some—that it had produced any thing of real value; and, at last, wearied with the philosophical twaddle, I resolved to make a new search for the criterion. I confess it, to my shame, this folly lasted for two years, and I am not yet entirely rid of it. It was like seeking a needle in a haystack. I might have learned Chinese or Arabic in the time that I have lost in considering and reconsidering syllogisms, in rising to the summit of an induction as to the top of a ladder, in inserting a proposition between the horns of a dilemma, in decomposing, distinguishing, separating, denying, affirming, admitting, as if I could pass abstractions through a sieve.
I selected justice as the subject-matter of my experiments. Finally, after a thousand decompositions, recompositions, and double compositions, I found at the bottom of my analytical crucible, not the criterion of certainty, but a metaphysico-economico-political treatise, whose conclusions were such that I did not care to present them in a more artistic or, if you will, more intelligible form. The effect which this work produced upon all classes of minds gave me an idea of the spirit of our age, and did not cause me to regret the prudent and scientific obscurity of my style.
I'll be posting a couple more sections touching on this same problem, which occupied a surprisingly central place in Proudhon's thought. It was, of course, the central concern of the 1853 Philosophy of Progress.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

A Million Words (Day 93)

I passed the 250,000-word mark night before last. February was the month to wrap up the Bakunin Reader translation as much as possible, so I can turn to the introduction and annotations. That work is pretty well done, and I got a headstart on the Collectivist Reader, which is going to involve a lot of archival digging before I'm through. Check out the Bakunin Library blog for a lot of recent material, including a couple of letters by Bakunin regarding Proudhon. That work got me wondering what it would take to assemble a Mutualist Reader, which still looks like a mighty tough job, but I did get started on some background research, including translations relating to the execution of Gustave Chaudey and the influence of mutualism in the International, along with some of Chaudey's contributions to Proudhon's Political Capacity of the Working Classes. On the Proudhon front, I also posted a fairly rough draft-translation of The Theory of Property, and I've been puttering away at both the Appendix on the "Perpetual Exhibition" and on the sections of Political Capacity that relate most directly to mutualism. If I get excited about the Appendix, I might push through that this month, but it is more likely that my Proudhon work will be a little less focused, and the Appendix will get wrapped up sometimes in April. I have two longer, largely-completed works, Louise Michel's novel, The Claque-Dents (which you can sample at the Working Translations blog), and the previously untranslated sections of Jenny P. d'Héricourt's Woman Affranchised (see La Frondeuse #4), which I hope to finish over the next two months. However, March and April will also be littered with writing deadlines, as I try to get a small stack of manuscripts together for publication, so my workdays start to get a little more complicated at this point. I've piled up a couple of comparatively straightforward pieces to tackle on the days when I feel the need to play catch-up on word-count, and it seems likely that, for example, André Léo's "The Social War," a speech to the League of Peace and Freedom after the Paris Commune, will get finished. The remainder of the "Visions," from Coeurderoy's Hurrah!!! or the Revolution by the Cossacks, should probably get finished as well.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

From the "Sixty" to the International

One of the tasks of this phase of the exploration here is to fill in some of the details about the period of transition, during which the anarchist movement began to take on collectivism in the realms of production and property as one of its key principles. Given all of the historical attention given to the First International, that might seem like a fairly simple project, but the truth is that the currents that it is necessary to trace on the mutualist/proudhonist side of things often just appear in the accounts of the International as the opposition to the protagonists of revolutionary history, and their ideas hardly appear at all, except in the distorting mirror of partisan conflict. So it has been nice to begin to work through E. E. Fribourg's work, L'Association Internationale des Travailleurs, which is, in its own way, as one-sided as many of the other accounts, but which specifically attempts to tell the story of the International from the point of view of the French workers of the "Sixty." I'll be translating Fribourg's book gradually, so that people can see what the history of the International looks like when it starts from roughly the point at which Proudhon's career ended. And I've made a start at that, with a draft translation of the 1866 Report of the French Delegates to the Geneva Congress, the statement presented by a group, including Tolain, Varlin, Malon, and Fribourg himself, which outlined the initial position of the French (more or less "mutualist") workers. The influence of Proudhon is obvious, in both good and bad ways.