Marx and Proudhon

glevy at acnet.pratt.edu glevy at acnet.pratt.edu
Wed Aug 2 19:01:33 MDT 1995


Steve's post raises a number is issues, only one of which I will respond
to at this time.

Marx, of course, was influenced by many,  especially Hegel,
Feuerbach, Ricardo, and Proudhon.

First, the quotes that Steve gives do not show that Marx was basing his
understanding of the commodity on Proudhon. They show, instead, that he
attempted to critique *all* existing thought on political economy.  He
did this mostly in the _Grundrisse_ and Theories of Surplus Value_.  The
penetrating criticisms that Marx levels against Proudhon are mirrored in
other criticisms of classical and vulgar political economy.

Second, the major thrust against Proudhon from Marx did not concern his
critique of political economy but Proudhon's political theories -- which
were anarchist.  Although Marx worked with anarchists in the First
International and the Paris Commune, those relations were very far from
being cordial.  Marx viewed the anarchists as a opposition group within
the workers' movement and attempted, practically and theoretically, to
discredit the anarchists of his time, including Proudhon and Bakunin.

Some background on Proudhon (from the very readable Tom Bottomore ed.
_A Dictionary of Marxist Thought_):

"Believing that 'the abolition of exploitation of man by man and the
abolition of government are one and the same thing" ..., he argued that
working men should emancipate themselves, not by political but by
economic means, through the voluntary organization of their own labour --
a concept to which he attached redemtive value. His proposed system of
equitable exchange between self-governing producers, organized
individually or in association and financed by free credit, was called
"mutualism'.  The units of the radically decentralized and pluralistic
social order were to be linked at all levels by applying 'the feudal
principle'.  In _The Holy Family_ (ch 4, s. 4) Marx praised Proudhon's
_What is Property?_ (1840) as a 'great scientific advance', making
possible for the first time 'a real science of political economy'. But in
_The Poverty of Philosophy_ (ch. 2), the first major presentation of
Marx's own 'critique of political economy', Proudhon was severely and
vituperatively condemned for his failure to rise above 'the bourgeois
horizon'. Instead of recognizing that 'economic categories are only the
theoretical expressions, the abstractions of the social relations of
production', Proudhon, 'holding things upside down like a true
philosopher', saw in actual relations 'nothing but the incarnation of
these ... categories'." (p. 400).

Hopefully, the above will serve as a little background for us to pursue
this thread. In addition to what has been written above, I believe that
Marx's understanding of Proudhon, Bakunin, and other anarchists was
influenced by his distinction between "utopian" and "scientific" socialism
in _The German Ideology_.  I have no doubt that Marx's relationship to
Proudhon was based *primarily* on the differences politically between the
two (anarchist/utopian vs. communist/scientific socialist).

Jerry


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