Proudhonism

Proudhonism

 

a form of petit bourgeois socialism based on the philosophical and sociological views of P. J. Proudhon; a petit bourgeois, social reformist ideology that leaves the foundations of capitalism untouched.

Although Proudhonism condemns large-scale capitalist property as “theft,” it rejects communism and supports “proprietorship”—small-scale property not based on the exploitation of another man’s labor. Proudhon did not understand the true sources of class exploitation, which he attempted to explain as a result of the non-equivalent exchange prevalent in bourgeois society. Consequently, he believed it possible to abolish class exploitation by purely economic reforms in the sphere of circulation, including the exchange of commodities without currency, as well as the availability of credit without interest. In Proudhon’s opinion, these reforms would make it possible to transform all the working people into independent producers, while maintaining private property in the means of production. The independent producers would exchange equivalent goods and services on the basis of mutual aid (mutualism).

From this petit bourgeois Utopian theory, Proudhon deduced the possibility of carrying out a “social revolution” by peaceful means, on the basis of cooperation between the proletariat and almost the entire bourgeoisie. Political struggle was repudiated, but the state, which Proudhon considered the principal cause of divisions in society and of parasitism and repression, was to be abolished. “Not abolishing capitalism and its basis-commodity production—but purging that basis of abuses, of excrescences, and so forth; not abolishing exchange and exchange value, but, on the contrary, making it ‘constitutional,’ universal, absolute, ‘fair,’ and free of fluctuations, crises, and abuses—such was Proudhon’s idea” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 24, p. 131).

Developing his theories during the Revolution of 1848 and particularly under the Second Empire, Proudhon concluded that the resolution of social contradictions is conceivable only if a balance among social forces is achieved. He shifted the center of gravity of the problem of social transformations to the realization of ideas of justice and to the moral perfection of the human personality. (He believed, for example, that his ideals could not be realized unless women refused to work in industry or participate in public life.) Proudhon replaced his plan for the “abolition of the state” with the idea of a federal restructuring of the state. He advocated the partitioning of the centralized states of his time into small autonomous regions. Therefore, he was opposed to the Italian and Polish national liberation movements. Confronted with the increasing power of large-scale capital and the development of factory production, Proudhon agreed to the necessity of transferring large industrial enterprises and railroads to associations of workers and employees, but he continued to defend the existence of private ownership of the means of production in the rest of industry and in agriculture.

In the 19th century, Proudhon’s views were widely known in France, as well as in a number of other countries characterized by a large petite bourgeoisie, many of whom were becoming members of the working class. The French sections of the First International were established and initially led by Proudhon-ists. However, the decisive struggle of K. Marx and F. Engels and their followers against Proudhonism ended in the total victory of Marxism and in the rejection of Proudhonism by the advanced elements of the proletariat. Moreover, the French sections of the International fell under the control of the “left” Proudhonists—proponents of revolutionary class struggle, many of whom became active members and leaders of the Paris Commune of 1871. The entire experience of the Paris Commune demonstrated the fallaciousness and harmfulness of Proudhonism, thereby playing a decisive role in the downfall of the ideology.

Proudhon’s views were used by M. A. Bakunin in developing his mutinous anarchism, as well as by various currents of peaceful anarchism. Thus, Proudhonism became part of the ideological arsenal of anarchosyndicalism. In the Social Democratic movement the reformists, beginning with E. Bernstein, attempted to revive Proudhon’s ideas in various guises and under various designations. Proudhon’s critique and denigration of democracy, political parties (including democratic ones), and the class struggle were also used by the ideologists of the imperialistic reaction. Later, his ideas were used by the theoreticians of fascism in Italy, France, Germany, Spain, and Latin American countries.

REFERENCES

Plekhanov, G. V. Anarkhizm i sotsializm. Moscow-Leningrad, 1929.
Zastenker, N. E. “Ob otsenke Prudona i prudonizma v ‘Kommunisticheskom Manifeste.’” In the collection Iz istorii sotsial’no-politicheskikh idei. Moscow, 1955.
Zastenker, N. E. “Ideinoe bankrotstvo sovremennogo prudonizma.” Voprosy istorii, no. 9, 1968.
Pervyi Internatsional, parts 1–2. Moscow, 1964–65.
Nettlau, M. Der Vorfrühling der Anarchie. Berlin, 1925.
Bougie, C. La Sociologie de Proudhon, [Paris] 1911.
Guy-Grand, G. La Pensée de Proudhon. [Paris] 1947.

N. E. ZASTENKER

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