Proudhon, Pierre Joseph

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus.

Proudhon, Pierre Joseph

(pyĕr zhôzĕf` pro͞odhôN`), 1809–65, French social theorist. Of a poor family, Proudhon won an education through scholarships. Much of his later life was spent in poverty. He achieved prominence through his pamphlet What Is Property? (1840, tr. 1876), in which he condemned the abuses of private property and embraced anarchism. He also edited radical journals. After the Revolution of 1848, he was elected a member of the constituent assembly; at that time he tried unsuccessfully to establish a national bank for reorganization of credit in the interest of the workers. As a replacement for the existing social and political order, Proudhon developed a theory of "mutualism," by which small, loosely federated groups would bargain with each other over economic and political matters within the framework of a consensus on fundamental principles. He hoped that man's ethical progress would eventually make government unnecessary and rejected the use of force to impose any system. Proudhon left a great mass of literature, which influenced the French syndicalist movement. Among his most important books are System of Economic Contradictions; or The Philosophy of Poverty (1846; tr. of Vol. I, 1888) and De la justice dans la révolution et dans l'église [of justice in the revolution and in the church] (3 vol., 1858).


See his selected writings, ed. by S. Edwards (1970); biography by G. Woodcock (1956, repr. 1987); A. Ritter, The Political Thought of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1969); C. M. Hall, The Sociology of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1971); R. L. Hoffman, Revolutionary Justice: The Social and Political Theory of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1972); H. De Lubac, The Un-Marxian Socialist (1948, repr. 1978); S. Condit, Proudhonist Materialism and Revolutionary Doctrine (1979); E. Hyams, Pierre-Joseph Proudon: His Revolutionary Life, Mind and Works (1979); K. S. Vincent, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and the Rise of French Republican Socialism (1984).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Proudhon, Pierre Joseph


Born Jan. 15, 1809, in Besançon; died Jan. 19, 1865, in Paris. French petit bourgeois socialist; theoretician of anarchism.

The son of a cooper and brewer (a member of the small-scale peasantry), Proudhon worked as a compositor and proofreader from 1827. From 1836 to 1838 he was the co-owner of a small printing shop. After receiving his secondary diploma in 1838, he was granted a stipend by the Besançon Academy for scientific studies.

Proudhon gained reputation with the publication of the book What Is Property? (1840; Russian translation, 1907), in which, discussing large-scale capitalist property, he stated that “property is theft.”

In Paris in 1844–45 Proudhon made the acquaintance of the Young Hegelians, who were German emigrés. He also met K. Marx, who attempted to persuade him to adopt a revolutionary position. However, Proudhon continued to advocate Utopian, petit bourgeois, reformist views. In his System of Economic Contradictions, or the Philosophy of Poverty (1846), he proposed the peaceful transformation of society by means of reforms in credit and circulation, and he sharply attacked communism. Marx demolished Proudhon’s ideas in the Poverty of Philosophy (1847).

In 1847, Proudhon settled in Paris. During the Revolution of 1848 he was elected to the Constituent Assembly. He also edited a number of newspapers, and in a series of works he described plans for economic cooperation among classes and outlined the anarchist theory of the “abolition of the state.” Sentenced to three years in prison for his sharp newspaper attacks in 1849 against Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, the president of France, Proudhon continued to write polemical articles in prison and developed, in his words, “socialism from the point of view of bourgeois interests.” He acclaimed the Bonapartist coup of Dec. 2, 1851, as a type of “social revolution.” Later, he criticized the Bonapartist government for its support of the big bourgeoisie, but his advocacy of political indifference retarded the political activity of the working class.

Proudhon was sentenced to prison in 1858 for his anticlerical writings, but he evaded imprisonment by emigrating to Belgium. Pardoned in 1860, he returned to France in 1862. At the end of his life Proudhon elaborated the program for mutualism.


Système des contradictions économiques ou philosophie de la misère, vols. 1–2. Paris, 1846.
Les Confessions d’un révolutionnaire. Paris, 1849.
La Révolution sociale démontrée par le coup d’état du 2 décembre, 2nd ed. Paris, 1852.
De La Justice dans la révolution et dans l’église, vols. 1–3. Paris, 1858.
De La Capacité politique des classes ouvrières, 3rd ed. Paris, 1865.


Marx, K. Nishcheta filosofii. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 4.
Marx, K. “O Prudone.” Ibid., vol. 16.
Zastenker, N. “Prudon i bonapartistskii perevorot 2 dek. 1851 g.” lstoricheskii zhurnal, 1944, nos. 10–11.
Zastenker, N. “Prudon i Fevral’skaia revoliutsiia 1848 g.” In the collection Frantsuzskii ezhegodnik: 1960. Moscow, 1961.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.