A Ridiculous Claim
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A Ridiculous Claim.
Some three years ago John Host’s “Freiheit,” which then had nothing but sneers for Proudhon, declared that he was not an Anarchist, that he belonged to the past, and that his followers had dwindled to the number of about two hundred in the entire world. Since the announcement of the publication of Proudhon’s works in English, “Freiheit” has discovered that he was not only an Anarchist, but an Anarchistic Communist; that his works are an arsenal of overwhelming arguments for use in the cause of the Revolution; that the Communism which he combatted was simply Icarian utopias, and not at all the modern theory of the common ownership of goods; that he was a Communist, because a foe of private property; and that his disciples should seek to comprehend him and supplement him. I give this in substance rather than attempt a translation of the “Freiheit’s” idiomatic German, but have tried to avoid misrepresentation.
The claim put forward today that Proudhon was a Communist, of the Anarchistic or any other variety, is as ridiculous as the claim of three years ago that he was not an Anarchist was false. He was always a vigorous and almost vindictive opponent of Communism of all varieties. If “Freiheit” does not believe it, I hope that, in fulfilling its promise to print extracts from the monthly parts as they appear, it will give its readers the whole of the chapter on Communism contained in the second volume of the “Economical Contradictions.” There it will be seen that he singled out Cabet and his Icaria for attack as logically representative of all the other Communistic schools, whose formulas, he claimed, were all reducible to Cabet’s: “My science is fraternity.”
It is perfectly true that the need of comprehending Proudhon is great, but nowhere is it more obvious than in the office of the “Freiheit,” as is shown by its echo of the capitalistic commonplace that Proudhon was an enemy of property and therefore a Communist. No person of average honesty and intelligence could make such a remark after reading his works. He looked upon Communism as an antithetical caricature of property, and upon both as equally unrighteous and absurd. The property which he criticised and condemned was not the principle of individual possession, of which he was among the staunchest of advocates, but the aggregate of capitalistic privileges granted and sustained by the State. He defined this aggregate as the institution of property, and rejected it with horror; but in it he found one element which he declared “necessary, immutable, and absolute,” — namely, “individual and transmissible possession; susceptible of exchange, but not of alienation; founded on labor, and not on fictitious occupancy, or idle caprice.” Than this there can be no more admirable and concise summary of the anti-Communistic position.
I might proceed to fill columns with extracts of a similar tenor, but for the present I will content myself with the following, from the declaration which prefaces the constitution of the banking association of P. J. Proudhon & Co.:
I make oath before God and before men, upon the Gospel and upon the Constitution, that I have never held or professed any other principles of social reform than those set forth in the accompanying articles of association, and that I ask nothing more, nothing less than the free and peaceful application of these principles and their logical, legal, and legitimate consequences.
I declare that, in my innermost thought, these principles, with the consequences which flow from them, are the whole of Socialism, and that outside of them there is naught but utopia and chimera.
I protest that, in making a criticism of property, or rather of the sum total of institutions of which property is the pivot, it was never my intention to attack either individual rights recognized by laws previously enacted, or to contest the legitimacy of acquired possessions, or to provoke an arbitrary distribution of goods, or to place any obstacle in the way of the free and regular acquisition of property by sale and exchange; or even to prohibit or suppress, by sovereign decree, rent of land and interest on capital.
I think that all these manifestations of human activity should be left free and optional to all; I admit no modifications, restrictions, and suppressions of them, save those which result naturally and necessarily from the universalization of the principle of reciprocity and the law of synthesis which I propose.
When the Anarchistic Communists shall adopt this creed, they may then claim Proudhon as one of them, and I will join them too. At present it is the very creed that they most hate. But I am bound to say, in conclusion, that “Freiheit’s” notice of the “Proudhon library” was unexpectedly hospitable, in view of the attack which I was compelled to make a year ago, and which I do not retract, upon certain mad acts of folly perpetrated by persons of the “Freiheit” school.
Benjamin R. Tucker, “A Ridiculous Claim,” Liberty 4 no. 15 (February 12, 1887): 4.