Posts Tagged ‘Proudhon’

Facism as Left-Wing Movement: Proudhon claimed as Fascist Precursor

May 4, 2014

Proudhon pic

The great anarchist philosopher P.-J. Proudhon: absolute opponent of the state and everything Fascism stands for.

I’ve posted several pieces criticising the Tory and Libertarian assertion that Fascism is ‘Left-wing’ or a variety Socialism. The argument is that because the Fascists took part of their ideology from the Left and pursued a policy of state intervention, then they must, therefore, be left-wing, even when they claimed they were not, and attacked Left-wing, Socialist and working class organisations and parties. Perhaps the most extreme example of this, and its reduction ad absurdum, is the claim by Sir Oswald Mosley in his autobiography, My Life, of the great anarchist P.J. Proudhon, as one of Fascism’s precursors and formative influences. It’s in the chapter on ‘The Ideology of Fascism’.

This is bizarre, as if there’s one thing Proudhon did not stand for, it’s nationalism and a totalitarian, coercive state. It’s exactly what Proudhon campaigned against and spent his career trying to destroy. Yet Mosley claims Proudhon as one of the intellectual influences on Fascism. He is, as far as I know, the only person to do so.

There was a Syndicalist component in Italian Fascism. The Fascists were also strongly influenced by the French revolutionary Syndicalist Georges Sorel, particularly his advocacy of the morally uplifting and purifying power of violence in the service of the revolution, and the use of powerful myths, such as that of the General Strike, to inspire the working class to further direct action. The ex-Syndicalists Bottai, Pannunzio and Rossoni conceived and developed the Fascist corporate state as a ‘National Syndicalism’, in which the workers and employers in each industry were organised in corporations, which were then declared to manage the economy. In fact they didn’t. The workers’ organisations were effectively smashed, and placed under the control of the industrialists. At factory level, the workers’ organisations were kept well away from the workers on the shop floor. The corporations were only allowed to advise the government, and effectively acted only as a rubber stamp, to declare state approval for policies and decisions Mussolini had already made. Attempts to turn the corporations into genuine working class organisation with real power were rejected and denounced as ‘Bolshevism’.

As for the power of myth and violence, the Fascists certainly took those over. The object of the inspiring myth was changed from the general strike or revolution to the nation. As for violence, while Sorel was a strong influence, he was certainly not the only ideologue, who stressed its virtues in the service of revolution, social change or nationalism. Noel O’Sullivan in his book, Fascism, traces the idea of modern political violence all the way back to the French Revolution and its activist form of democratic politics. It’s a Conservative view of Fascism’s origin. Other political scientists and writers instead stress the peculiar historical conditions in Italy and Germany, which they feel better explain the emergence of Mussolini’s Fascism and National Socialism. Even tracing the ancestry of Fascism as far back as the French Revolution and Rousseau, O’Sullivan does not, however, include Proudhon as one of its intellectual ancestors.

The solution to this problem – how Fascism could possibly include Proudhon, who actively opposed nationalism and the state – lies in the existence of the Cercle Proudhon, set up in France in 1911. It was founded by Georges Valois, a former member of Charles Maurras extreme nationalist organisation, Action Francaise. Valois split from the organisation in order to try to recruit the working class to the nationalist cause. It was intended to be a study group which would ‘unite nationalists and left-wing anti-democrats’ against ‘Jewish capitalism’. Valois declared it aimed at the ‘triumph of heroic values over the ignoble bourgeois materialism in which Europe is now stifling … [and] … the awakening of Force and Blood over Gold’. Valois denunciation of materialism and exaltation of ‘force’ and ‘blood’ is classic Fascist rhetoric, preceding the foundation of Fascism itself in 1919. The Cercle, however, collapsed and was unable to recruit more than a few intellectuals and journalists.

It’s not hard to see why. While hostile to parliamentary democracy, Proudhon, like the rest of the Anarchists after him, was motivated by a desire to promote individual freedom and equality, which they believe are denied by the existence of the state. It’s in stark contrast to authoritarian nationalism, which demands the maintenance of order and hierarchy, and the abolition of personal freedom through subordination to the will of the dictator. It also shows the sheer absurdity of trying to claim for extreme nationalism, Left-wing organisations and ideologies that are directly opposed to it. The Cercle Proudhon failed because of this, and only person who was seriously taken in by its attempt to add Proudhon to the list of Fascism’s intellectual founders was Mosley. It’s another example of how absurd the claim the Fascism is itself somehow Left-wing actually is.


The Post Office, Privatisation and Valueless ‘Work-shares’

July 13, 2013

This is a story that I will need to check, but if it’s true, then the Post Office has committed what would once have been a violation of the Truck Acts, and committed something that could reasonably be construed as fraud.

‘Work Shares’, Local Currency Schemes and 19th century Anarchism

The government this week announced it was moving ahead with its plans to privatise the Post Office. This is scheduled for the autumn. There is going to be major restructuring, but it has stated that its workers will be given shares as part of the privatisation deal. I know a number of people, who work for the Mail that are naturally worried about whether they will still have a job in a few month’s time. A friend yesterday told me, while we were discussing this, ‘At least this time they’ll have real shares’. I queried what they meant by this, and my friend further explained that a little while ago the Mail told its workers that it was now going to pay for their overtime in that period in ‘work shares’. My friend said this wasn’t the correct term, which he couldn’t remember at that moment. The name my friend gave to it suggests that it may have been similar to some of the local currency schemes operating in some parts of the UK. These schemes give you a number of coupons or token for hours worked in particular community projects, which can be exchanged for goods and services, which have involved the same amount of hours worked. It’s an idea that ultimately seems to come from 19th century Anarchism, particularly Proudhon’s Mutualism and Anarcho-Individualism. One of the great American Anarchists of the 19th century used to operate what he called a ‘Time Store’. He used to time how long it took to serve a customer. The actual monetary cost of his wares were low, very close to cost price. However, he would also charge his customers payment in kind equivalent to the time he had taken to serve them. It was a commercially successful system.

It also inspired the classic SF short story, And Then There Were None, in which a party of imperialist Earthmen gradually succumb to the superior social and political system of just such an Anarchist Utopia. The planet they attempt to conquer has just such a libertarian economic and political system. Intrusive questions and attempts to bully the self-reliant farmers, businessmen and workers of the world into giving vital information is simply answered with the word ‘NYOB’: None Of Your Business. The local currency schemes, which such libertarian ideas have inspired, have done a lot of stimulate local economies, as people patronise their local businesses using these currencies. Or they did until Gordon Brown started looking for more things he could tax, and declared that these schemes were also subject to VAT. Unfortunately, according to my friend the Mail used an accounting trick to declare that these ‘work shares’ were valueless, took them back off their workers, and destroyed them.

The result of this is that the Post Office workers were effectively not paid for the overtime they worked.

The Truck System

Now as I said, I don’t know if this is true. If it is, then at one time it would have been a violation of the Truck Acts.

Robson Green gave a succinct summary of the ‘Truck System’ in his TV show, Building the North, on ITV on Wednesday, although he did not call it by name. He remarked how 19th century factory masters had nearly absolute control of their workers’ lives. They were frequently paid in tokens, which could only be used in the company shops. Although he didn’t call it by name, this was the notorious Truck System. It was abolished in the 19th century by the Liberal government, which freed their workers from such commercial exploitation from their employers. I’ve got a feeling that free trade commercial ideology may also have played a part. If the workers’ were free to spend their money how they chose, then not only would this allow them greater choice, it would also encourage greater competition and commercial opportunities as other companies and shops would be free to supply them with whatever they wanted or needed.

Truck Acts Repealed in Favour of Electronic Payment

Unfortunately, the Truck Acts were repealed in the 1980s when the direct payment of wages and salaries into employees’ bank accounts was introduced. My point here is not to criticise that system of payment, but simply to show that it appears to have had the unfortunate consequences of opening the system of payments back up to such morally and commercially dubious arrangements as the ‘work shares’. It looks like something close to the Truck System was being operated by the Mail with these spurious shares. It does not augur well for employee confidence in their promises to provide them with shares as part of the privatisation package.

Unpopularity of Post Office Privatisation

I also have to say that I don’t know anyone personally who has been in favour of the privatisation of the Royal Mail. My next door neighbours were working class Conservatives. They objected to the idea, when it was mooted by Blair’s administration. I don’t think ordinary people like them will be impressed whatever the type of government that introduces it. The same friend, who mentioned the ‘work share’ system also told me that the dangers of privatising this service could be seen in the way the Americans had never privatised it. America has always strongly supported capitalism and free enterprise, at least to a greater extent than the European nations. If the Americans found that privatising the Post Office was unworkable, then it showed that it was really unworkable.