Tactical Problems: The Disparity Between Means and Ends

In matters of reform, it is not ordinarily the objective that is lacking, or the will to reach it, but the means."1 Proudhon directs this charge at his adversaries, but it also applies to him, for one of the most striking features of his theory is the disparity between its ambitious ends and the impotent methods relied on to attain them.

The cause of this disparity is Proudhon's perfectionist attitude toward his highest norms. So valuable are the rules of respect that they must apply to means no less than to ends. The path to freedom and justice must also be free and just. Hence tactics for achieving mutualism must be judged "strictly from the viewpoint of principle, . .. never after the event, from the viewpoint of success."2 What this purism entails in practice is avoidance of the tactics most favored by radical reformers, such as violence, propaganda, and legislation. These tactics are all strictly forbidden by respect's imperatives; only the mildest and most conciliatory are sanctioned.3

If his perfectionist rigor explains why Proudhon chose moderate strategies, the situation he faced accounts for their impotence. The fact is that prevailing conditions doom efforts to achieve mutualism by scrupulously respectful means. Such efforts might conceivably succeed if they did not provoke hostility. But the mutualist program is so controversial that it is bound to arouse vigorous opposition. In the face of such resistance, the moderate tactics prescribed by respect cannot possibly succeed.

The Varieties of Perfectionist Impotence

Though Proudhon consistently put his trust in moderate tactics, he did not always espouse the same ones. On the contrary, the record of his strategic thought shows him restlessly turning from one tactic to another in a vain search for one that would meet both the imperatives of respect and a growing appreciation of the obstacles to mutualist reform.

At the beginning of his career Proudhon showed little awareness of strategic difficulties. As he then viewed the problem of reform, the only bar was ignorance. Hence it is not surprising that in his first writings his perfectionist impulse is allowed free reign. He relied exclusively on an especially pure kind of education for the attainment of his ends. "Stimulate, warn, inform, instruct, but do not inculcate," he prescribed.4 Inculcation had to be avoided because use of threats, rewards, or psychological conditioning was morally inadmissible; it was also strategically unnecessary, because rational education was psychologically compelling. Once men had been exposed to his principles, Proudhon then believed, they could be counted on to apply them. "Wherever this discourse is read or made known,... there privilege and servitude will sooner or later disappear."5

No tactic could be more respectful than rational education; but none could be more impotent. So long as Prou-dhon relied solely on compelling knowledge to attain his ends, he was sure not to reach them. In the Contradictions he still counted on the salutary effects of education, but his appreciation of the obstacles to reform was growing.6 Hence, while he still used moral principles to certify the measures he prescribed, he also tried to show the futility of the palliative reforms that were then the main alternative to a perfectionist strategy. Since the other options are tactically hopeless, he argues in effect, the wise choice is to stick with measures that are at least morally pure. The relevance of the Contradictions for tactics thus lies far more in its attack on rival strategies than in its defense of Proudhon's. It is a locus classicus for subsequent arguments against meliorism.

The book's main strategic point is that "the needs of the established order" preclude all attempts at palliative reform. "Society can only subsist at that price."7 Under existing conditions, some palliatives have the exact opposite of their intended effect; instead of improving the lot of the oppressed, they make it worse. Schemes to give workers control of industry, for instance, are meant to raise income, but would in fact lower it, for in the long run they would reduce entrepreneurial skill and thus diminish productivity.8 Proudhon sees the same short-coming in price and wage controls. They deprive the economy of the flexibility it needs for rapid economic growth.9

Another palliative, the progressive income tax, is ruled out for a more subtle reason. Although this measure might increase the incomes of the oppressed, it would reduce their ultimate chances for liberation by committing them to the status quo. The progressive income tax "makes taxation a kind of privilege for the privileged; a bad idea, because it gives de facto recognition to the legitimacy of privilege, which in no case, and in no form, is worth a thing."10 Savings banks have a similar effect; they give the oppressed a tangible stake in the hierarchic order, thereby weakening their hostility to it.11

A final example of a subtly conservative kind of palliative is the public nursery for working mothers. In a sense this institution is even more insidious than progressive taxes and savings banks, because it alters the basic character of tliose it benefits. The administrators of such nurseries, by limiting their services to mothers "who behave properly," put a premium on the sort of docile character that suits die privileged classes.12 Here Proudhon has provided the gist of an argument against welfare policies that continues to be heard in our own day. The welfare worker and his partisans may regard themselves as benefactors of the poor, but the effect of their activity is to reconcile the unprivileged to their lot by inducing them to adopt the bourgeois outlook of their superiors.

The outbreak of revolution in 1848 caused a major revision in Proudhon's tactics. As is well known, he greeted die events of tliat year with consternation. One source of his dismay was dislike for the revolutionaries who, perhaps unavoidably, violated his highest principles. But Proudhon was less concerned to criticize the men who had seized power than to expose critics on the left—mainly Victor Considerant, Louis Blanc and Auguste Blanqui —who proposed a different revolutionary strategy from the one actually followed. Considerant, who hoped to revolutionize die world with model communities, is condemned for needing "minds to experiment on, which he may mould as he sees fit." Such moulding of personality is forbidden by a perfectionist application of respect's imperatives. "What! You want to increase men's freedom . . . and yet, as a precondition to die happiness you promise them, you ask them to surrender their bodies, their souls, tlieir minds, their traditions, their goods, to put tlieir entire being into your hands! But who are you to substitute your limited wisdom for eternal reason ?"13 Blanc's welfare state is also easy to condemn from this point of view. "As he writes himself, he needs dictatorial authority to improve the world."14 It matters little that the administrators of the welfare state would be popularly elected. They would still impose restrictions on action and choice. Reform "must have everyone as author and accomplice"; otherwise, it is disrespectful. Nor does Blanc's plan to nationalize industry legitimize his tactics. If you substitute government for private ownership, "nothing is changed but the stockholders and the management; beyond that, there is not the least difference in the position of the workers."15 The same criticism holds even more strongly for a Blan-quist dictatorship. Blanqui's strategy is "a glorification of force. It is the theory of all governments turned against the governing classes; the problem of tyrannical majorities resolved in favor of the workers, as it is today in favor of die bourgeoisie."16 If Blanc is wrong to oppress minorities, then Blanqui is all die more culpable, since he proposes to oppress majorities.

But if Proudhon was to further the mutualist cause, he had to do more than criticize his opponents' tactics. He had to find some path to reform that was a viable alternative to coercive change. The method of rational education was now too obviously insufficient to recommend; events were moving too rapidly and opposition was too strong for the slightest chance of success. The device Proudhon turned to as a substitute for education under revolutionary conditions was die Ban que du peuple, his free credit scheme. To prove its merits, he made the two points one would expect. He argued tliat it was both respectful and effective.

His case for die respectfulness of die Bank is easy to accept. No one would be compelled to do business there, while those who did would not obstruct abstainers in any way. Hence the Bank "interferes with no legitimate interest, it menaces no liberty."17

Proudhon's proof of the Bank's effectiveness is harder to grant. By 1848 he no longer saw ignorance as die major bar to reform. He now believed that "men, unlike speculative philosophers, are motivated not by pure love of beauty and justice, but by dieir interests."18 Hence the Bank's capacity to build mutualism depended on proof that it was profitable to those it affected rather than that it was good for them. Such proof is difficult to adduce. Prou-dhon's attempt consists of a social analysis purporting to show that only a small segment of the population had an interest in opposing the Bank, and that this segment can be dealt with by respectful means.

That the Bank would profit both the workers and the commercial middle class was self-evident, at least to Proudhon. "No opposition to revolutionary measures can arise from that quarter."19 The only class diat would find the Bank unprofitable were bourgeois "holders of government bonds, usurers,... and big property owners."20 This class was neither numerous nor vigorous enough to block free credit, once die workers and the middle class had begun organizing it. Hence it could be left undisturbed. As the Bank's depositors grew in number, the bourgeoisie would be convinced "by a sense of the inevitable and concern for its interests, to voluntarily change the employment of its capital, unless it preferred to run the risk of consuming it unproductively and enduring swift and total ruin as a result."21 The one group opposed to free credit would be overcome without infringing on its right to respect in any way.

This social analysis was defective on several scores: because it underrated the power of the bourgeoisie, exaggerated that of the commercial middle class, described as the "mainspring of progress," and because it portrayed the workers and the middle class as sharing common interests. All of these errors made Proudhon's image of French society much too consensual. It is true tliat in France at this time industrialization had just begun, so that the power of capitalists and the conflict between the commercial middle class and the workers were not yet fully apparent. But the June Days had already entered history; the new pattern of social relations was clear enough. Proudhon's failure to point it out is a symptom of his tactical preoccupations. His appreciation of the opposition to reform had grown. He had therefore come to doubt that tactics forceful enough to achieve mutualism could conform to die rules of respect. Yet he was unwilling to resort to measures at odds widi his moral scruples. Hence his only option was to distort his analysis of social reality so as to make it appear more favorable to his enterprise than it was in fact.

Even if Proudhon's social analysis had proved that everyone except a few bourgeoisie would benefit from the Bank, it would not have explained how the Bank could reconstruct society on mutualist lines. To show that it could not possibly have diis effect, one need only consider its general mode of operation. The Bank was to conduct two sorts of business: it would exchange commodities for an equivalent sum of money, and it would issue interest-free loans. The suppression of the "royaute de l'argent" achieved by these activities was supposed to end economic oppression and inequality, thus making government un- necessary and paving the way to total mutualist reform.22 In Proudhon's intoxicated words, die Bank was "die solvent of all authority," which would "change the basis of society, shift the axis of civilization."23

Numerous technical objections have been raised to this scheme. Laissez-faire economists have pointed out that if the Bank's administrators took risks, the result would be inflationary; if diey were cautious, the Bank could not produce its intended effects. Marxists have shown that even if the Bank operated as Proudhon hoped, it could not possibly remedy the profound causes of economic inequality, whose source was in die labor, not the money, market. It is even more noteworthy tliat die Bank, being a strictly monetary device, could have little effect on the forces Proudhon finds at the root of oppression, such as deference and law, yet these are the very forces he presumably intended to control. It is because he expected preposterously important results from a rather trivial institution diat Proudhon has rightly acquired a reputation as a "money crank."

No doubt, in 1849, after his plans for the Bank had collapsed, Proudhon took a more modest view of its purpose. In retrospect he saw it as a prototype of fully developed mutualism, designed to prove its merits and diffuse its principles. It was to "prepare for political reform by an example of spontaneous centralization."24 This more sober appraisal of the Bank does nothing to release Proudhon from the charge of exaggerating its effects. Both when he expected extravagant results from the Bank, and when, with hindsight, his hopes became more modest, he claimed that its establishment would lead to mutualism. This claim cannot withstand serious examination. Like his distorted analysis of social forces, his excessive hopes for the Bank have tlieir source in the need to convince himself and others that respectful tactics can really achieve mutualism.

Proudhon did not give up economic gadgets until 1855.25 The opening of the Universal Exposition in that year occasioned a Projet d'exposition perpetuelle that adapted his ideas about free credit to current events. But his remarks on strategy in the "Cours," which also date from this period, show that the tactics he was suggesting in private are free of the technical defects that encumber his published ones. The "Cours" says little about free credit, but contains a curious scheme for a "dictatorship by the people of Paris," apparently designed to reconstruct society forcibly on mutualist lines. By calling this tactic a dictatorship, Proudhon suggests that it is the exact opposite of the one he was publicly favoring at this time. In his unpublished writing, it appears, he recognized that intractable opposition compelled resort to disrespectful tactics, even at the cost of moral compromise.

The exacting preconditions imposed by the "Cours" to make a dictatorship permissible show that this is not the case. According to that work, a dictatorship is only permissible if "the people in triumph—I say 'the people' because I assume that the bourgeoisie voluntarily withdraw—knows what its problem is, understands its cause, and therefore its cure, . . . and is resolved to use this cure."26 In other words, those who hold power must apply mutualist principles, and no one must object to their doing so. However, the establishment of mutualism under such conditions hardly counts as dictatorial, under any ordinary meaning of that word. On the contrary, dictatorship as described in the "Cours" is an eminently respectful tactic, since it could interfere with no man's conduct or choice. Hence, despite appearances, the strategy Proudhon privately supported in the early 1850's was consistent with the one he was espousing in public. Though tiie "dictatorship" is unencumbered by die technical flaws tJiat impair free credit, it is just as respectful and, consequently, just as impotent.

1855 marks a turning point in Proudhon's approach to strategy. He then decided that the major bar to reform was not personal interest after all, but moral error. To devise a strategy that profited everyone was not sufficient and perhaps not even necessary for the attainment of mutualism. What was needed was a transformation of man's conscience. "The real object" of a search for adequate tactics became forcefully and thoroughly "to examine . . . the moral question."21 The outcome of this endeavor was De la Justice, whose program is summarized in its announcement tiiat "it is the disposition of consciences that must be changed."28

Proudhon's new concern with ethics had a strong impact on his strategy. For one thing, it led to disenchantment with monetary devices. Now the ethical effects of free credit seemed most important, although at the time he had favored it, it was its effect on personal interest diat he had stressed. "Behind my ardent polemics there lay thoughts of moral renovation more than a dieory of political economy," he now maintained.29 Proudhon's turn toward ethics also affected his strategic thought more positively by inspiring a return to education as a way to mutualism. In its revived form, Proudhonian education was more moral and less technical than it had been. It concentrated on the basic principles of mutualism, not the details of its practice. Along witJi this shift in strategy from concern with interests to concern with ethics went a clearer vision of the obstacles to successful reform. No longer did Proudhon delude himself with a rosy but false social analysis of the prospects for mutualism. Nor did he persist in overestimating the reformative power of education. "The conversion of societies is never sudden. ... It is assured, but one must know how to wait for it."30 While remaining convinced that education would ultimately secure the triumph of his ideal, Proudhon no longer hoped for its prompt realization. All one could do was teach and wait. As he aptly said, his tactical stance had become that of "attente revolutionnaire."31

In view of the hopelessness of this strategy, it is not surprising that in his last years Proudhon was pessimistic about tiie prospects for his enterprise. In April 1859 he confided to one of his closest friends: "Discouragement overtakes me bit by bit as I witness the stupidity and dishonesty of mankind. My juvenile indignation of former times is wearing out; with greater lucidity of mind, inertia gets hold of me and I become sad. I see nothing that will defeat this troublesome disposition except serious long-term studies addressed to the future and another generation."32 Despite his hopelessness, Proudhon put his trust in moral education until almost the end of his life. In 1863, however, the turn of events, abetted by the sting of pessimism, suggested a new strategy, which comes closer than any other he recommended to allying respectfulness with potency. This new strategy is worked out in De la capacite politique des classes ouvrieres.

Two events occasioned it. The first was the legislative election of 1863. For the first time in the history of the Second Empire a majority of the Parisian voters withdrew their support from the official candidates and backed the legal opposition. Proudhon observed tJiat many of those who had turned against the official slate were workers, and he drew a conclusion of the highest consequence. Until 1863, he pointed out, the votes of the workers had been a mere "imitation of bourgeois votes, or rather, a supplement to them." But in the election of that year, the workers finally "asserted their will and character."33 By doing so, they suggested to Proudhon that they might be a more effective instrument for achieving mutualism than he had previously thought.

Another event strengthened his confidence in the proletariat. An important by-election was held in Paris in 1864. In anticipation, a number of workers, led by Henri Tolain, published a manifesto urging their comrades to nominate candidates of their own class, rather than vote for those of die legal opposition, as they had in 1863. Proudhon enthusiastically praised the manifesto as further evidence of the workers' developing sense of class solidarity. Its writers "faced the situation that events and the law had imposed on them, and they spoke from the depths of their working class consciousness."34

One trouble with Proudhon's new assessment of the proletariat was tJiat it disagreed with the social analysis he had made in 1848 to support his scheme for free credit. Then he had called the proletariat a passive adjunct of the commercial middle class. The events of 1863-1864 led him to revise this analysis in a way that not only confirmed his new trust in tlie workers but drew a more accurate picture of social reality.

The same three classes figure in Proudhon's revised analysis of society as in his old one: bourgeois capitalists, commercial middle class, and proletariat. Their mutual relations are also the same. The bourgeoisie is portrayed as hostile to a proletariat and a middle class tJiat are potential allies. Where the new analysis differs from the old is in its ascription of power to the three groups. The workers now appear as an ascending, self-reliant class, rather than as the dependent clients previously described. The bourgeoisie is also recognized for what it is: not a troublesome but insignificant minority, which would disappear without protest if only its opponents would unite, but a strong and united elite, "which is rich, which dominates, which has know-how and power."35 As for the middle class of artisans, shopkeepers, and small businessmen, it is demoted from its place as leader in tlie fight for mutualism to that of a passive follower. "The middle class is being slowly smothered, attacked head on by rising wages and the development of private corporations, and on its flanks by taxes and foreign competition, or free trade. It will ultimately be replaced by officialdom, tlie bourgeoisie and the wage-earning class."36

The heightened realism of this analysis is evident. Proudhon has deleted from his picture of society many of the features that once made it too consensual. What was formerly a harmonious society, under the improbable leadership of the commercial middle class, is now a conflicting one, with rival bourgeoisie and proletariat vying for predominance.

One furtJier aspect of Proudhon's amended social analysis is noteworthy. In the Capacite he devotes special attention to tlie peasantry, a group he had previously ignored. Since die farmers live at the margin of industrial society, he now says, they have special aims, which set them apart from other classes. The peasant "wants to rule alone over his land," as a yeoman farmer, and so is hostile to the entire urban population, rich or poor, which he associates witii absentee ownership.37 By making this point about the peasantry, Proudhon adds another note of realism to his analysis. His completed picture of society has a place for the conflict between urban and rural, as well as between upper and lower classes.

Reference to the social facts, which this picture is meant to describe, underlines its accuracy. In France, tlie peasantry was then, and still is today, a larger and more independent group than in most Western countries. To ignore it is to distort one's image of reality. In France too, the commercial middle class carries its sympathies unusually far to the left. Hence Proudhon's hope that the middle class would ally with the workers was better warranted in the French context than it would have been in many others.

The implications for tactics of this new analysis are straightforward. To begin with, it offers positive proof that no free credit scheme can possibly succeed. Since the bourgeoisie is now described as large and strong, the Banque du peuple, which does not benefit this class, would not appeal to the interests of the vast majority. On the contrary, it would intensify class rivalry by augmenting conflict between the bourgeoisie and the rest of the population.38 What is called for now, according to Proudhon, is a campaign that rallies the peasantry, the workers and the middle class remnant to the mutualist cause. Otherwise, mutualism cannot possibly secure the wide popular support needed for its triumph. The leaders of this new alliance can be none but the workers. They alone come close to having what Proudhon calls political capacity, for they have two of the traits that characterize it: they are aware of themselves as a class whose fortunes depend on common action, and they also understand the objectives of mutualism.39 The middle class lacks both of these qualifications; the peasants have only the first. Not even the workers have the final qualification: they "have not yet succeeded in deducing a correct overall practice and an appropriate policy from tliese [mutualist] principles."40 Though they want to act in concert for die proper objectives, they do not know what strategy to use. Proudhon thinks that this lack was demonstrated by their electoral behavior in 1863-1864. The proletariat's "debut was at once a great victory and a great mistake,"41 for, though it co-operated to affirm mutualist principles, it did not act prudently. By participating in the elections and by proposing worker candidates, it helped shore up a system that could only damage its own true interests.

How, then, does Proudhon suggest that the workers lead the peasants and middle class to victory? He does not offer any clear advice. True, he warns the workers that they must find points of common interest witii the peasants. Nothing is more important than that these two great classes agree on the measures to be pursued in common.42 It is also true that Proudhon tells the proletariat and its allies to follow a tactic of withdrawal. "Since the old world rejects us," there is nothing to do but "separate ourselves from it radically."43 What this involves is not very clearly stated, although Proudhon is sure that "it is the most powerful weapon, as it is the most loyal," i.e., that it is botli effective and respectful.44 Certainly it includes avoidance of all involvement in the established political system. It may also entail, as the syndicalists later believed, the founding of embryonic mutualist institutions, open to all partisans of the cause. We will never know exactly what, if anything, Proudhon had in mind when he outlined his tactic of withdrawal, because he died before he could say.45

Unfortunately, nothing he might have said could have protected his final strategy from ineffectiveness. His strict adherence to the rules of respect led him to favor an excessively mild version of withdrawal, just as it had earlier led him to support excessively mild sorts of education and economic reform. That withdrawal is a respectful tactic is easily seen. By retiring from established institutions the workers would in no way hinder the conduct and choice of others; they would simply have as little to do with them as possible.

Proudhon also thought withdrawal was effective. He believed that if the workers and their allies retreated from the established order, they would develop their self-reliance and swell their ranks until they became a self-conscious majority of the population. Presumably, he believed that experience with embryonic mutualism would convince participants of its advantages and win new partisans. It can at least be said of this belief that it is better warranted than his earlier ones, since there is more reason to think that practicing mutualists will develop enthusiasm for die cause than that education or free credit will have this result. Hence, the tactic of withdrawal comes closer than any other to meeting Proudhon's strategic needs.

But even withdrawal does not meet them. The most it could produce would be a mutualist majority. The problem remains of dealing with the minority who choose to stay outside die camp. Proudhon offers different solutions to this problem. On occasion he urges persuasion of the abstainers in a way tJiat respects their aims and conduct. "After having made known their idea," by developing it in isolation, "the working classes . . . convert all of France to it."46 Here mutualism is established by "the reflective will of all," without infringing on any dissenter's freedom.47 Unfortunately, reliance on this ill-defined process of conversion is a prescription for failure. The mutualists, even though a majority, would tie their hands by such strict adherence to their own principles.48 For this reason, even Proudhon's most promising tactic does not fill his strategic needs. At the end of his quest, as at the beginning, his perfectionist determination to use respectful means led him to choose an ineffective strategy.

Misdirected Expediency: Proudhon as a Collaborator

Was this choice necessary ? In other words, could Proudhon have decided on a more vigorous strategy without betraying his basic values? There can be no doubt that such a choice would have entailed sacrifice of perfection. Whatever the outcome, decisive tactics would have been tainted with coercion and so could not have conformed perfectly witii the imperatives of respect. But a sacrifice of perfection is not the same as a betrayal of die rules of respect. If imperfect means could have begotten mutualism, they would have been more faithful to die ideal of respect tJian pure means, which did not. The central issue, therefore, is whetJier Proudhon would have remained truer to his principles by abandoning perfection tJian he did by adhering to it.

Fortunately, this matter need not be decided wholly in the abstract. At one critical point in his life, after Louis Napoleon's coup d'etat, Proudhon gave up perfection by resorting to tactics that were vigorous, and hence inherently disrespectful. If this anomalous strategy could have created a respectful world, then his habitual reliance on a pure strategy was unnecessary. By consistently favoring diis more vigorous course he could have moved society down the road to mutualism.

As late as tlie summer of 1851 Proudhon was still hoping that his doctrine would more or less spontaneously "seize hold of the masses and propel diem into the future with irresistible impetus."49 The coup dashed these hopes. The masses had proved by their inertness that diey were indifferent to liberation. By their indecision, the leftist parliamentary leaders had shown that tJiey were inept and unreliable. Counter-revolutionary forces now occupied all the seats of power and could not be expected to relinquish them. Faced by this situation, Proudhon had to reassess the prospects for attaining mutualism with respect. Formerly he had believed that the worst consequence of rigorous adherence to his principles was indefinite postponement of success. As he then assessed matters, hostile forces were not strong enough to increase oppression; the most they could do was maintain the status quo. Now that Bonaparte was in power, reliance on morally pure tactics entailed more than postponement of success: it invited defeat. Since the new regime would certainly intensify oppression, refusal to interfere with aims or actions would now mean suicide for the mutualist cause. In the face of a militant and powerful opposition, tie mutualists would have to be militant too, even if this meant violating their principles.

The first sign that Proudhon was abandoning perfection appears in a note of March 1852. Whereas formerly he had judged tactics "strictly from die viewpoint of principles," now he complains that "we democrats and socialists always start from moral principles, and that is why we lose all our contests."50 Proudhon had learned his lesson. However moral the rules of respect might be, their application to tactics was highly inexpedient. Immediately after drawing this lesson, he began work on a strategy intended to succeed at any price. The outcome of this effort was La revolution sociale demontree par le coup d'etat du deux decembre, the book in which, by reasoning "like Themistocles or Machiavelli, from the viewpoint of expediency," he defended collaboration with Bonaparte.51

This strategy would have accorded with Proudhon's principles only if it would really have led to murualist reform. On its face, collaboration with a usurping dictator hardly seems likely to have done so. It is therefore not surprising tiiat Proudhon's espousal of collaboration has become a focus of controversy. Some of his severest critics have ascribed his strategy in the Revolution sociale to defection from the cause of freedom.52 Others have traced it to admiration for Bonaparte.53 About the most tJiat sympathetic writers have been able to do is point out that his collaborationism is no more than a momentary aberration.5*

The truth is that Proudhon's personal justification of collaboration is perfectly consistent with his highest values. What conflicts with them is its expectable results.

It is this gap between Proudhon's subjective reasons for favoring collaboration, on the one hand, and its objective consequences, on the other, that explain die controversy it has provoked. Those who think he remained true to the cause of freedom stress his personal grounds for favoring collaboration; his critics point to its likely consequences.

Proudhon had two explicit reasons for backing collaboration. The first was a conviction that tlie Republicans' failure to collaborate with Bonaparte had caused dieir defeat in the period just before die coup d'etat. He was especially critical of their attack on Bonaparte in November 1851, just after diey had finished supporting his unsuccessful campaign to restore universal suffrage. This attack arose from the Republicans' fear of a coup, and from dieir wish to disassociate themselves. Proudhon accuses them of a grave blunder here. Everyone knew the coup was coming; by protesting in advance, the Republicans may- have saved their principles, but they lost their power. "Instead of mounting a purely personal attack on Louis Bonaparte, [the Republicans] had only to keep quiet and prepare to divide the fruits of victory with him. Would it not have been better ... for Michel (de Bourges) to have been minister of State or president of the Council on December 4, than for him to have fled to an inglorious exile in Brussels?"55 The effective course for the Republicans, Proudhon is saying, was to collaborate with the new regime and influence it from within, rather than to oppose it from without.

Proudhon's other reason for backing collaboration was his firm belief that the new government would advance the mutualist cause, if only it received the proper guidance. He feared that if this "power, still without roots, just as surprised as the nation at its existence," were left to its own devices, "the revolution would retrogress by ten degrees."56 This disaster could be avoided. If Proudhon and his sympathizers rallied to the regime and offered it their guidance, it was sure to be followed. "The Second of December is the signal for a forward march on the revolutionary road, and . . . Louis Napoleon is its general," whether or not he knows it. The mutualists' job is to inform him of his role; then he is sure to fulfill it.57

Despite his faith in collaboration, Proudhon had an inkling of its dangers, for he decided to espouse it with reluctance, and tried to put conditions on it that would forestall unfavorable results. His Carnets disclose that his decision to write die Revolution sociale caused him great anguish. After working on it for only about a week, he had a change of heart. "I am giving it up. It seems to me that I am deceiving myself about the utility of this pamphlet. The more I tiiink about it and the more I write, the more I seem to see tliat there is only one rational way to deal with the reigning order of things, tJiat is with total war and by sounding the alarm against it as against a gang of robbers."58 At this point, the vanity of collaboration seems to have dawned on him. He questions its utility, thus betraying doubts about its favorable consequences. But the counsel of all-out war suggested here is really no more likely to succeed than collaboration. Prou-dhon never seriously considered any other strategies.

Hence, it is not surprising to find him writing in his notebook six days later, after a long meditative walk, "I have returned home with the intention to publish something after all." In the same entry he lists some objections to this course: "I understand that this work can only compromise me seriously without compensating advantages. It involves participating in the crime to a certain extent, by breathing some life into it. . . . To find a way out of a nest of thieves, an explanation for an ambush! a meaning for perjury! an excuse for cowardice, a point to imbecility! a rationale and a cause for tyranny! To do this is to prostitute reason, it is to abuse one's powers to think, observe and judge."59 These objections, unlike his earlier ones, are based on grounds of principle. Collaboration is condemned as intrinsically evil, whatever its result, not as imprudent owing to undesired consequences. Arguments such as these could not be decisive, given Proudhon's disenchantment with perfectionism. Hence, the Revolution sociale was published three months later, despite its author's serious reservations, TACTICAL PROBLEMS Scrutiny of this book shows that Proudhon's qualms were not confined to his preliminary jottings. In the published text he went out of his way to prevent unfavorable consequences from collaboration by strictly limiting the conditions under which it could occur. Hence, despite the caricatures, Proudhon was no sycophantic admirer of the Prince President, willing to go to any lengths to curry favor. On the contrary, the dictator would have to go extraordinarily far in Proudhon's direction to enlist his support. He would have to reform the constitution by making it more democratic. "The President's powers are out of all proportion to his duties: it is no longer an idea that reigns, but a man."60 Nor is this all. Since "industrial liberty is inseparable from political liberty," Bonaparte would have to carry out social and economic, as well as political, reform.61 In short, he would have to begin building mutualism, and by respectful means. "The government ... is caught between anarchy and arbitrary rule."62 Unless it chooses the former, and works for it by example and education, mutualist collaboration is to be denied it. These stipulations certainly qualify the collaboration espoused in the Revolution sociale, but they do not eliminate it. No doubt the book, strictly interpreted, does rule out collaboration. So exacting are the conditions set for collaboration that they could not possibly be met. Such a strict interpretation is too subtle, however, because it overlooks the book's impact on its audience. The rather casuistic argument of tie Revolution sociale was sure to go over the public's head; all it would grasp was that Proudhon, an apostle of liberty, had lent the dictator his good name and support. Hence the book was bound to strengthen the new regime, rather than the cause of freedom, whatever its author's intention.63

This conclusion helps resolve the central question about Proudhon's tactics—whether he could have remained truer to his principles by abandoning perfection or by adhering to it. On the one occasion when he sacrificed perfection in order to recommend vigorous tactics, the measures he favored did not lead to tJie end sought. A misdirected though vigorous strategy like collaboration is even less compatible with his ideals than the impotent ones he usually favored. The latter could not build mutualism, but at least they conformed to the imperatives of respect. Collaboration, though equally ineffective, lacked this compensating virtue. Being incompatible with the norms of respect as well as unable to realize them, it was the worst possible tactic for the partisans of mutualism.

Radicalism, Perfection, and Tactical Effectiveness

Though Proudhon failed to discover an effective but imperfect strategy, it is far from certain that none could possibly have been devised. Such an inference could be drawn only if Proudhon had been a capable tactician; otherwise, the possibility would remain that a shrewder strategist could have found a path to mutualism.

There can be no doubt that Proudhon was a singularly inept tactician. The clearest sign of this is his expectation of mutualist reform by Bonaparte, an expectation which bespeaks a total misreading of Bonaparte's character, an erroneous assessment of his intentions, and a grave mis-judgment of the risks in supporting him, with however many qualifications. To be sure, Proudhon, who thought Bonaparte a "genie mediocre" was not the only one to misread his character. Thiers' famous boutade, "c'est un cretin que Ton menera," shows that he was of the same opinion. But Thiers was wise enough to avoid the conclusion that collaboration was the best policy. It is also true that in early 1852 the Prince President had not yet made his intentions crystal clear. Proudhon was not the only one to be duped by Bonaparte's professions of concern for the poor and his re-establishment of universal suffrage into thinking (or hoping) that he represented a victory for the left against a threatening monarchist restoration. The fact remains that no one else on the left was reckless enough to preach collaboration with the new regime. Had Proudhon been more astute, he too would have seen the dangers in such a course.

Perhaps the failure of Proudhon's strategic vision can be ascribed to his perfectionist bent of mind. To think strategically means to use prudence, by compromising values in the light of probabilities. This is just the sort of activity in which anyone like Proudhon, who finds moral compromise outrageous, is bound to be inept.

Whatever its explanation, Proudhon's ineptness at strategy means tJiat his failure to discover a tactic for begetting mutualism is no proof of such a tactic's unavailability. An argument to prove this must show that even if Proudhon had been a master of strategic prudence, he still could not have found a way to mutualist reform.

Whether or not prudence can promise success for a political change depends on die scope and clarity of the goals being sought. If they are modest, clearly defined, and attainable in the short run, prudence can show how to reach them. But if they are comprehensive, vaguely conceived, and attainable only in the distant future, prudence cannot be of any help. In such cases the choice of means will always be treacherous and unreliable. To reach a vast and vague end, extremely energetic and wide-ranging measures are required. Such measures are sure to have numerous unexpected consequences, and may have none of the intended ones. Hence the goal sought will not be reached or, if it is, unwanted side effects will be produced.64* The conclusion is obvious. Since it is just this sort of imprecise but all-inclusive goal that Proudhon aspired for, even the most skillful use of prudence could not have helped him. Prudence promises no greater chance of success than the perfectionism that claimed his allegiance.

It can even be argued that Proudhon's adherence to perfectionism was fortunate, since it kept him from taking steps calculated to reach his goals but actually leading to disaster. Had he been indifferent to applying the imperatives of respect to tactics, his radical objectives and keen sense of the obstacles to reaching them might well have induced him to favor treacherous strategies. The moral element in his thought prevented this, by counteracting the dangerous alliance of radicalism and realism formed by its other two ingredients.

Since prudence is no better than perfection in finding a way to mutualism, it appears that Proudhon's strategic problem is insoluble. Before this conclusion can be drawn, a third way of devising tactics must be considered. Perhaps a method that used both principled and prudential reasoning could satisfy Proudhon's strategic needs. Such a method would involve a constant readaption of ends to the changing conditions that affect their attainability, and a repeated testing of means to assure their accordance with the values being sought. Certainly this is how tactics must be arrived at if ends are not to become "disembodied rituals" and means are not to "contradict die values originally stated." The ethical consequences of decisions about means and the practical consequences of decisions about ends must receive equal consideration.65

Unfortunately, this procedure is not open to Proudhon. It is a suitable method only for a theorist who does not favor wholesale change and so is willing to trim his aspirations when they are difficult to realize. This Proudhon was not prepared to do. Respect is a value so supremely important that its embodiment in ends can no more be compromised than its application to means. Since he was committed to the integral attainment of respect and faced a world where such attainment was extremely difficult, Proudhon was left witii only die two equally cruel alternatives this chapter has described. No matter how great his strategic talents, he would have had to choose between relying on ineffective though vigorous tactics and accepting some form of perfectionist "attente revolutionnaire." His radicalism left him no third choice. Given his premises, and existing conditions, his problem was botJi unavoidable and insoluble.

If there is anytJiing inexplicable about Proudhon's attitude toward tactics it is not that he shifted between policies of misdirected opportunism and impotent perfectionism, but that he so rarely chose the first and so doggedly stuck to the second. Adherence to morally pure strategies ruled out all chance of foreseeable success, yet he remained true to them, only once succumbing to expediency and, even more striking, never to complacency or despair. Nothing would have been easier man to use die manifest obstacles to the achievement of mutualism as an excuse for indolence, for refraining from efforts to improve society while yet professing to favor radical change. Here, as at so many other points in his political theorizing, Proudhon shows that blend of sincerity and single-mindedness in die face of overpowering adversity which is his signal intellectual trait.

Proudhon's tactical stance, and its dilemma, anticipate those of contemporary libertarian radicals. Like him, diey are uncompromising advocates of radical change. Like him, they are unwilling to use coercive means to achieve it. A final resemblance is that they too recognize tliat few approve of their ends and that even fewer are willing to help achieve them.66 Their position differs from Prou-dhon's in that they rarely wish to change society as profoundly as he did. This makes their tactical problem somewhat easier. But their situation differs from his in another way that offsets this advantage. Whether in Europe or America, they are faced by an affluent, self-satisfied society, far less incipiently revolutionary than the industrializing France to which Proudhon addressed himself. Hence, though they want less than he did, their chances of getting it by morally pure means are also smaller. Given existing conditions and the radicalism of their principles, they, like him, must choose between a course of expedient compromise that violates their principles and one of moral purity that condemns them to impotence. If they take the second alternative, their only remaining choice, like that of their predecessor, is between using perfectionism as an excuse for inaction or as a support for perservering without hope of foreseeable success.


1 Justice, in, 56.

2 Mel., 11, 59.

3 Carnets, m, 106. "No authority is compatible with the principle of mutuality, but no authority can help bring about reform. For all authority is antithetical to equality and justice."

4 Ibid., vi, 269; cf. Justice, 1, 227. — 164-

5 Prop., p. 345.

6 Cont., 11, 406; but cf. Corr., 11, 257, where, in a letter of 1842, Proudhon already expresses doubts about the power of knowledge.

7 Cont., 1, 323.

8 Ibid., 1, 148, 196.

9 Ibid., 1, 201.

10 Ibid., 1, 295.

11 Ibid., n, 152.

12 Ibid., 11, 145.

13 Con]., pp. 252-53.

14 Ibid., p. 252.

15 Mel., in, 118.

16 Carnets, ix, 2.

17 Conf., p. 252; cf. Mel., 11, 43.

18 Corr., in, 97.

19 R.S., p. 206.

20 Mel., m, 123.

21 p. 206.

22Charles Gide and Charles Rist, Histoire des doctrines economiques (7th ed., Paris, 1947), 1, 344.

23Cornets, vn, 203; Mel., 11, 1.

24Conf., p. 247.

25 Edouard Dolleans, Proudhon (Paris, 1948), pp. 286-87. -172-

26 "Cours" I-14D' (75). 27 Corr., vi, 175.

28 Justice, iv, 476.

29 Cited in Dolleans, p. 286. 30 Justice, iv, 489.

31 Ibid., iv, 468.

32 Corr., ix, 71, to Chaudey. 33 Cap., pp. 61, 72.

34 Ibid., p. 96.

35 Ibid., p. ioo. 3e Ibid., p. 230. 37 Ibid., pp. 67-68.

38 Ibid., p. 239. 39 Ibid., p. 91.

40 Ibid., p. 92. 41 Ibid., p. 73.

42Ibid., p. 70. As for the commercial middle class, it "will soon be only too happy to obtain" an alliance with the workers, whatever terms are offered, p. 231.

43Ibid., p. 236. 44 Ibid., p. 237.

45 It may be precisely because it was so inexplicit that this part of his theory had some influence. Many non-Marxist members of the First International, as well as later syndicalists, said they were indebted to Proudhon for his strategy of withdrawal.

46 Ibid., p. 74.

47 Conf., p. 174.

48 At some points in the Capacite, Proudhon seems to realize this. He then suggests that the mutualist majority use force against dissenters, rather than persuasion, pp. 101, 240. This version of the tactic of withdrawal is certainly more vigorous than the other, but it is just as inadequate. For it too assumes (mistakenly) that withdrawal can win a majority of the population to the mutualist cause.

49 1.G., p. 121.

50 Cited in Dolleans, p. 252.

51 R.S.,P. 157.

52 See, e.g., Georges Cogniot, Proudhon et la demagogic bona-partiste (Paris, 1958), p. 27.

53 Among those taking this line are Karl Heinz Bremer, "Der sozialistische Kaiser," Die Tat, xxx (1938), p. 160. Bremer's motive for adopting this view is obvious. He wants to enroll Proudhon in the ranks of Bonaparte's admirers. More recently, George Lichtheim has taken a similar position, for less obvious reasons. See The Concept of Ideology, Vintage Book edition (New York, 1967), p. 260.

54 E.g., Georges Guy-Grand, Pour connaitre la pensee de Proudhon (Paris, 1947), p- 82. Some friends of Proudhon simply ignore the whole problem, e.g., George Woodcock, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (New York, 1956), pp. 178, 182.

55 RS.,p. 157.

56 Ibid., p. 113.

57 Ibid., p. 177. Whether or not Proudhon thought Bonaparte was aware of his "destiny" is a subject of dispute. Cogniot, p. 29, says he did think so, but cf. R.S., p. 295.

58 Carnet entry of April 7, 1852, cited in Edouard Dolleans and Georges Duveau, "Introduction" to R.S., p. 70.

59 Carnet entry of April 13, 1852, cited in ibid., p. 71, ellipsis in original.

60 R.S., p. 218.

61 Ibid., p. 275.

62 Ibid., p. 276.

63 That the book would harm the cause of freedom, whatever its intention, was noted at the time by Leon Plee. "Must M. Proudhon furnish arms to the reactionaries and strengthen our enemies whenever he speaks?" Article from Le siecle (August 19, 1852), reprinted in R.S., p. 370.

64See the judicious elaboration of this point by George Kateb in Utopia and its Enemies (N.Y., 1963), pp. 44-67.

65 See Gunnar Myrdal, Value in Social Theory (London, 1958), pp. 157-64, 210-13; and Stanley Hoffmann, ed. Contemporary Theory in International Relations (Englewood Cliffs, i960), pp. 187-89. The phrases quoted in the preceding sentence are from the latter source.

66 Herbert Marcuse, in One Dimensional Man (London, 1964), takes all three of these positions: (1) "Society is irrational as a whole," p. ix. (2) "The slaves must be free for their liberation before they can become free. . . . The end must be operative in the means to attain it," p. 41. (3) "The vast majority accepts, and is made to accept this [irrational] society," p. xiii.