THE HISTORY OF MR. PROUDHON
AND HIS DOCTRINES
I have been, for an entire month, delivered to the “jackals of the press and the owls of the gallery. Never has a man, neither in the past or in the present, been the object of as much execration as I have become, simply because I make war on the cannibals.”
P. J. Proudhon
No, citizen Proudhon, you will not persuade me that there are still cannibals among us in France. As for the owls of the gallery and the jackals of the press, they have attacked your evil doctrines and your detestable pride. If this is why you and your friends lavish abuse on them, they can be proud of it; for you have judged yourself in these few lines: “The slanderers of the Republic are those who rend it because they understand it; those who betray and exploit it, because they make light of everything, the Republic as well as the monarchy and religion.”
Mr. Proudhon’s principles are not new, no matter what he says; he has found them while flipping through the Encyclopedia of d'Alembert and Diderot; he has found them in the infamous boudoir manuals, which appeared at the end of the 18th century; he has found them in the writings of Dulaurens and Morelli, of d'Holbach and the elder Mirabeau, that friend of men, who was the hardest, most merciless man of his century. From all of that, and his own evil thoughts, he has made what he calls his system.
The citizen Proudhon claims to represent socialism! This producer of poison puts a false label on his bottles of arsenic. What does he hope to achieve with that maneuver? To kill property, or to kill socialism?
And it is because I see him as the adversary of socialism and property that I want to fight him to the bitter end. It is not at the moment when philanthropy attempts to reform the prisons, that we should let the whole society be demoralized by a proud, wicked annalist.
Mr. Proudhon is not a socialist; he is a demolisher. He is not an ardent, committed partisan; he is a sophist. To attract attention to himself, he does care if he strikes fairly. He prefers to strike hard. This is why he has cried Property is theft, when he could have said with justice: The abuse of property is theft.
The evil is not in property, but in the abuse of property. The abuse of a strong liquor is death; must we then cry that liquor is a poison?... That, however, is how the citizen Proudhon proceeds.
If Proudhon loved the people, he wouldn’t seek to make a scarecrow of socialism. He would make it attractive, and prove finally that socialism is the principle of social happiness. He would not demand the abolition of property, but its regulation. He would not call for violence, but reason.
For thirty years the rents have increased in a frightening manner, and that is an abuse of property that must be suppressed, because that abuse attacks industry and commerce above all, and because dead capital (immovable property) kills the shopkeeper and the manufacturer. The state must itself regulate the price of rents as it regulates the price of bread. That price is no longer in proportion today; everywhere property is rented at usury. But, it is said, to touch the rent is to attack property. Did Napoleon attack property when he reduced the legal rate on money to five percent? Obviously not. Well, what Napoleon has done, the National Assembly has the right to do; let it reduce the rents to their fair value, and so that the state loses nothing, let it relieve the proprietor proportionally to the reduction of the rents and let it apply this relief to the tenant. What kills industry today is the tyranny of dead capital, it is the usurious price of sites and shops.
Here is what ordinarily happens: a merchant rents a store for a certain number of years; at the end of his lease, when he appears to renew it, his landlord demands a large increase, based on the business of the merchant, who find himself obliged to pay a tax of labor to idleness, or else he must abandon his clientele and go somewhere else to start a new establishment.
— Is it fair? Is it moral that an idle proprietor disposes in this way of the fortune and honor of the merchant, for to impose new charges on him is to perhaps put a strain on his present and his future; it is perhaps to write his name in the book of the year’s bankruptcies.
Let no one say to me that this is an exceptional act, for I could name hundreds of proprietors given to this odious calculus.
The regulation of the rents by the state would be a just and useful measure, which would return large amounts of capital to industry and allow merchants to employ a greater number of arms.
I do not, however, posit that proposition as the salvation of humanity; I believe it good, but I could be in error, and it is only false prophets who would not admit as much.
What I want above all is the happiness of my country, the happiness of the people; to improve the condition of the workers is a duty for all, but the condition of the merchants is no less worthy of interest. To cast division into the heart of the people by dividing them into bourgeois and proletarians, is to do the work of a bad citizen; that work is the work of the citizen Proudhon!
Why divide France into two camps? Why close to the proletariat the ranks of the bourgeoisie? And, first of all, what is the bourgeoisie? What is the bourgeois? According to the rigorous sense of the word the bourgeois is one who does not labor, the idler who lives on his rent, in short, it is the proprietor.
According to Mr. Proudhon and his wretched following the bourgeois is just a merchant; any man who can get credit or the instruments of labor is a bourgeois; however little he possesses, citizen Proudhon calls him a thief. What, then is the citizen Proudhon? This proletarian of the pen who sells his rantings at the highest price possible, and receives 25 francs a day in the National Assembly as well? You have done well, blond Attila of property! you are a bourgeois, but, I hasten to add, a very bad bourgeois, as you are a very bad citizen. And here is the proof: Your associate, Mr. Fauvetty, a rich hosier in the suburb of Saint-Denis, could easily make the bail for your paper, but there are risks involved and you cry: The people’s press is dead, and you hold out your hand to these proletarians that you fool, so that if there are losses or fines, they do not come out of your money, but from that of the people.
For twelve years I have also defended the people, but I have defended them at my cost and not at theirs, and I do not flatter them. You, citizen Proudhon, this is how you treat the proletarians whose representative you claim to be, though it is true that you only write this in works costing 8 francs volume. The people have not read you there, citizen Proudhon, but they will certainly read you in this brochure.
“The heart of the proletarian, like that of the rich man, is only a cesspool of boiling sensuality, a seat of hedonism and impostures.”
Now, if you want to understand how citizen Proudhon understands fraternity, charity, and virtue, read:
“In vain do you talk to me of fraternity and love: I remain convinced that you love me but little, and I feel very sure that I do not love you.”
“Charity is base mystification. Remember only, and never forget, that pity, happiness, and virtue, like country, religion, and love, are masks.”
Is this the language of a socialist? That is terrible and cynical, but it is still nothing: this man will insult God; he will write the following lines without his pen breaking. He counts on the scandal we will make; what does a little infamy more or less matter to him? People will talk about him.
— The conclusion of social science is this: there is for man only one duty, only one religion, it is to renounce God. Hoc est primum et maximum mandatum.
“Let the priest finally realize that the true virtue, what makes us worthy of the eternal truth, is to struggle against religion and against God.
“God is essentially hostile to our nature, and in no way do we fall under his authority. We come to science despite him, to well-being despite him; our every progress is a victory, but which we crush divinity.
“God, there you are, dethroned and broken. Your name, so long the hope of the poor, the refuge of the repentant, this name henceforth doomed to scorn and anathema, will be hissed among men; for God is folly and cowardice, hypocrisy and lies, tyranny and misery; God is evil. So long as humanity will bow before an altar, humanity will be condemned. God, be gone! For from today, cured of fear and becoming wise, I swear, my hand extended towards heaven, that you are nothing but the executioner of my reason.
Alas! these sad blasphemies merit more pity than anger, more disgust than scorn. But, in good faith, can the man who has been so unfortunate to write such lines be the regenerator of a society?
Let us applaud Proudhon as we applaud the feats of strength of an acrobat. I agree that there is sometimes some originality in his paradoxes, and the lie is always better dressed than the truth. But to make Proudhon the serious leaders of socialism, to intoxicate him with praise, to lavish flattery on him to kill with him, without pain and without effort, all social ideas, that is what I cannot accept. That, however, is the work of Mr. Thiers. There are more links between these men than one could believe at first. For both are enemies of property. Mr. Thiers strikes it a fatal blow by rejecting all the concessions which could save it and all the reforms which are just and useful. Mr. Proudhon attacks it from his side with the weapons of bad faith, and by appealing to the bad passions of humanity.
Thiers and Proudhon are the logicians of falsities and lies; both stand for a selfish personality and not a principle.
M. Thiers wants to repulse the right to work, because he does not love the people and he does love financial feudalism... Mr. Proudhon cries so loudly: — “The right to work is communism; the right to work is the abolition of property,” only because he hopes in this way to make the right to work be rejected by the National Assembly, and to slow down the improvement of the condition of the workers and thus cast the leaven of civil war into the heart of the poor.
Is that clear?
That is how Thiers and Proudhon are heard to love the people.
In this fit of folly or frankness, the reader will choose, citizen Proudhon exposes his principles in all their nakedness. Example:
“They want labor to be financed by a few crowns, by capital, while labor must create capital from nothing and finance itself by reciprocity in exchange.
“We repudiate power and money. Our principle is the negation of every dogma; our first premise is nothing. To deny, always to deny is our method of construction in philosophy. It is by following this negative method that we have been led to posit as principles, atheism in religion, anarchy in politics, non-property in political economy.
Thus atheism, anarchy and theft; for non-property is nothing else: such are the foundations of society following the spirit of the citizen Proudhon.
His system is a calumny against France and against all of society; for property is civilization. You could destroy property for a day, but it would reconstitute itself the next day, and only the proprietors would have changed. That is, you could wrest by force the paternal heritage or the fruits of labor in order to make an endowment for the robbers.
The earth belongs to no one, you say; it was stolen by the first occupant. Perhaps it was, a thousand years ago and more, something true in what you say. But our proprietors in France are legitimate proprietors.
Algeria, a fertile country that colonization will make still more fertile, will be divided among the unemployed workers, that poverty will make cultivators. In twenty or thirty years, this soil given for nothing will perhaps have a great value due to the work of the settlers. Well, according to you, these men, who have spent thirty years working the land, making it fertile, so that their children have less work and more leisure, these honest and hard-working laborers who, in order to increase the value of the gift that France has made to them, exposed to the bullets of the Arabs and the dangers of the African climate, these proletarians, become proprietors, would thus only be thieves?
Your doctrine, citizen Proudhon, confines the worker within a hell from which he is forbidden to leave! Oh! I know that for men like you, it is necessary that the people suffer; hunger and poverty must trouble their reason so that they will listen to your poisoned advice, so that they will man the barricades when you urge them, while you remain at home, a coward trembling before your books.
Your precursor Baboeuf did not tremble, at least; he was less cynical than you, but also more courageous. To prove it, I will place your doctrines side by side:
DOCTRINES OF G. BABOEUF
REGARDING PROPERTY.“Property in all the goods held in the national territory is one, and belongs inalienably to the people, who alone have the right to share its use and usufruct.“Nature has given to each man an equal right to the enjoyment of all goods.“The land belongs to no one; the fruits of the earth belong to everyone. We declare that we can no longer suffer the great majority of men to work for the good pleasure of the extreme minority.“The labor necessary for the upkeep of society, equally shared by all able-bodied individuals, is for each of them a duty whose accomplishment the law demands. Let there be no difference made between men but those of age and sex. Since everyone has the same needs and the same faculties, let there only be one education for them, one single nourishment. They are content with a single sun and a single atmosphere. Why would the same portion and quality of foodstuffs not suffice for all of them?“That which is not transmissible must be frankly deducted.
“The French Revolution is only the forerunner of another, much great, much more solemn revolution, which will be the last.”
DOCTRINES OF PROUDHON
REGARDING PROPERTY.“Property, it is robbery! He has not said, in a thousand years, two words like those. I have no other goods on the earth than that definition of property: but I hold it more precious than the millions of the Rothschilds, and I dare say that it will be the most significant event of the government of Louis-Philippe. M. Michelet responds to me that in France there are twenty-five million proprietors who will not give it up. Why does he suppose anyone needs consent?“Do you think that the workers will not rise in their anger, and that once masters in their vengeance, they will settle for an amnesty?“I believe that the bourgeoisie have deserved all the evils which threaten them, and my duty is to establish the proof of their guilt.“Property, a regime of spoliation and misery, must perish as soon as civilization gains consciousness of its own laws. Property, in its principle and essence, is immoral; consequently, the code which determines the rights of property is a code of immorality; jurisprudence, that so-called science of right, is immoral.“And justice, which orders us to come to the aid against those who would oppose themselves to that abuse; which afflicts whoever is so daring as to claim to mend the outrages of property, justice is infamous! and property which comes from this odious lineage of justice is infamous!"
How naïve and tame the good Baboeuf appears next to Proudhon! It is true that Baboeuf proposed expelling the rich from their houses and lodging the poor there, leaving nevertheless necessary lodgings to the poor.
Like the citizen Proudhon, he wanted to liquidate society with or without its consent, with a little coercive medium that was known as the guillotine. Mr. Proudhon does not say the word, but we know well enough what he thinks.
The first word of the babouvist system, like that of the proudhonian system, is a bloody dictatorship.
In 1793, this was called minting coins at the foot of the scaffold.
Citizen Proudhon calls it proceeding with the liquidation without the consent of the proprietors.
The words are changed ; the things remain the same.
Proudhon's writings deserve to be burned in the middle of a prison.
He has denied and insulted God.
He has treated justice despicably.
He has made property theft.
He denies universal suffrage.
He calls charity a base mystification.
Pity, virtue, religion, and the homeland, masques.
There is nothing sacred to this man; he spreads his poison on everything. The bad passions of humanity alone find favor with him. And yet he began his life with the publication of the Fathers of the Church. Son of a poor cooper, he was educated at college for free. The mantle of savant has preserved the demolisher from the effects of justice, and it is because that justice has not struck him in the past that his writings are reprinted today, and abuse public morals and decency.
The bottle of poison spreads its contents in minds inclined to bad influences.
The national tribune, it is said, has dealt with this man; his doctrines could not stand the light of day, which has killed them. Think again. For fair and honest minds, Mr. Proudhon does not exist, and he knows it well. But he does not speak for honest folk. His hope was to be heard outside [en dehors], to speak to evil, envious and corrupt minds. His hope, in short, was social war, the most horrible and most detestable of all wars.
He has said that the right to work was the abolition de la property, but he lied. Property is the right of the laborer. The right to work is the guarantee of bread accorded to those that labor has still not rewarded.
Proudhon takes his example from 1793 and maintains that then property paid its debt to the Republic. The citizen Proudhon is still in error, the good citizens made some voluntary donations, but the tax imposed was not paid because France lacked money. I maintain, moreover, that if France again found itself n danger, the National Assembly would have the right to levy a tax on income. When each citizen sheds their blood for the homeland, it is just that the rich give their gold.
Proudhon’s system tends to suppress all currency. Exchange is the great remedy for all our wrongs; exchange will double the markets and make it so that instead of consuming 75 centimes, we will consume all for 7 francs 50 centimes. I have already seen exchange at work, and it is far from producing such good results; exchange was not invented by Mr. Proudhon, any more than his fine theories on justice and property; exchange is as old as the world. In order to be able to subsist without the aid of gold or silver, all the industries would have to be able to produce equal products. So long as the great Mr. Proudhon has not found the equality of products, I defy him to make his bank of exchange the philosopher’s stone of the human race.
In his horror of property, he even attacks the savings banks, that first step that the laborers make before becoming proprietors, before assuring bread for their old age. Living day to day, enjoying as much as possible and never thinking of tomorrow, such is the doctrine of pigs in manure, and of Proudhon, such is the morality that this would like to see adopted by the workers. He loves the proletarians so much!
He has found that a very sweet, very safe little method for killing property is to establish a national bank which will loan at 0 percent interest the 2 billion francs that it has in its fund. But where to find these 2 billions. This good Proudhon knows just the place to go. This bank, lending for nothing, will necessarily make rent and the price of properties fall; as soon as one can have money for nothing, it is certain that one could have houses and properties for nothing, and thus pay no rents of any kind. But as the citizen Proudhon is generous, he will leave the proprietors the right to make some repairs.
According to the great reformer, the Republic is incompatible with property, for in February 1848 all contracts were abolished by right, property was suppressed, and if the debtors still pay what they own, it is because they wish to.
The citizen Proudhon forgets by design that the combatants of February shot thieves. He thinks he has the right to insult the Revolution of February, as he insults socialism; if he touches good ideas it is to soil them. If the Assembly takes some generous actions, he hastens to speak in order to stop them. He associates himself with reform bill in order to kill them, and calls himself the representative of the proletariat in order to have the right to harm the proletarians; if he demands an amnesty for the insurgents of June, he does so in such terms that terms that he makes the anger burst from those for whom he asks clemency. He is extremely clumsy. — Clumsy?. — No, he is wicked, and that is the whole secret of the contradictions and blunders of that would-be logician.
He calls himself the representative of socialism, and finds only too many people disposed to believe it; the enemies of all progress are overjoyed when they encounter men like Proudhon, men who have within them a genius for evil.
“To annihilate property is not to destroy it (he would say gravely); to shoot the proprietors is not to rebuild the scaffold.
Meanwhile, the citizen Proudhon makes himself the denier of all principles, all laws, all the rights. — Why? Because that negation prepares for anarchy, and Proudhon’s entire system can only live in the years of anarchy; in the supreme anarchy which comes before the end.
The citizen Proudhon denies universal suffrage, because it has produced the National Assembly and because universal suffrage, whatever one does, will always be the echo of the people, the expression of the supreme will of France. Now, Proudhon feels his isolation well; if he raises his voice it is not to convince; he does not want proselytes; if he speaks it is prevent order from reestablishing itself, and confidence being reborn.
The day when France is happy and free, Mr. Proudhon will hang himself, or die of despair like the serpent who has lost its sting.
The day when the National Assembly gave Mr. Thiers as a rival for M. Proudhon, it constructed a pedestal for him; the cunning and bad faith of Mr. Thiers was too great in the debate. To prove the falsity of the doctrines of Proudhon, the voice of an honest man would have sufficed.
In the session of July 31, there was too much anger; since we had made the mistake of opening the platform to a man who would defile it for three hours, he necessarily only had disdain and contempt for it. the most violent interjections were met, without bringing the red of shame to the face of Proudhon; he heard, without batting an eye, the most searing truths, without a word from the heart testifying that anything beat in his chest.
This was not a fanatic or a thinker, but a sort of big grocer, fair and chubby, who promises to grow fat, and has meanwhile weighed, dissected, and distributed his merchandise; that merchandise was society, property, morality and the family.
For him everything was a fact he explained in his own way; the citizen Proudhon does not see right anywhere, not even in the National Assembly; according to him, force alone rules, and if the rebels of June had had the strength, they would have had the right. Such doctrines are not astonishing on the part of the defender of theft, who while denying the legal right delegated to the representatives of the people recognized their right to make the constitution. We would never finish this study if we wanted to highly all the contradictions of this alleged socialist. We believe, however, we have made them sufficiently known; after his failure, there remains to console him only the esteem and friendship of the deputy Greppo, and the calculated devotion of the young hosier Fauvety, naïve and interesting copy of Jérôme Paturot.
Thus we want neither Mr. Thiers nor Mr. Proudhon, because we want neither reaction nor anarchy.
Now, Mr. Thiers is reaction; Mr. Proudhon is anarchy.
 Is this clear? The population being thirty-five million people, Mr. Proudhon calls on the ten million non-proprietors to rob the others. That is the ethics of the cartridge.
 See the Société d'échange of Marseille, founded in 1831.
 The second part of this work appeared under the title: Proudhon et les Malthusiens.
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]