Proudhon 1809 - 1865 (56)

Property is theft.


What is property

If I were asked to answer the following question: What is slavery? and I should answer in one word, It is murder, my meaning would be understood at once. No extended argument would be required to show that the power to take from a man his thought, his will, his personality, is a power of life and death; and that to enslave a man is to kill him. Why, then, to this other question: What is property! may I not likewise answer, It is robbery, without the certainty of being misunderstood; the second proposition being no other than a transformation of the first?

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809 - 1865) was a French politician and philosopher, one of the greatest theorists of anarchism. He was born in Besancon outside Paris on January 15, 1809 and was one of the five sons of a brewer. He grew up in poverty and did not go to school. His mother taught him to read and write and as he showed a thirst for learning, his parents persuaded the feudal lord of the area to grant him a scholarship for the local College. The economic destruction of the family forced him to stop studying and work as a printing apprentice since 1827. He taught himself Greek, Latin and Hebrew and in 1829 he became acquainted with Charles Fourier, the father of utopian socialism, who introduced him to the basic principles of socialist thought.

In 1838, Proudhon won the third prize in a test competition and a scholarship for Philosophy Studies in Paris. During his studies he began write and in 1840 he made a sense with the essay "What is property?" To which he replies: "property is theft". He met Karl Marx during Marx's exile in Paris and in the years to come they exchanged many letters influencing one another. Unlike Marx, Proudhon did not consider a means of changing society the violent expropriation of capitalists; he was a supporter of an alternative political economy that would gradually and peacefully transfer wealth from the capitalists to the oppressed. According to Marx, Proudhon was a bourgeois socialist because of his views in favor of the market. The men came into conflict with their writings.

During the Paris revolution of 1848, Proudhon was in favor of a peaceful compromise, and was shocked by the violence that prevailed, even though he understood the social and psychological injustices that led to these events. He expressed reservations about the new government and supported the need to set up a bank that would provide very low-interest loans; he tried to establish a Bank for workers but the bank failed to survive.

In 1849 he came into conflict with the new President of the Republic, Louis Napoleon as he criticized him with numerous articles for which he was sentenced to three years' imprisonment. During his imprisonment he married a young worker, had his first child and published four books, including an autobiography, "Confession of a Rebel". His writings brought him further persecutions and convictions, so he fled to Belgium. He lived in poverty there, without stopping to address the issue of progress towards greater freedom and social equality. In 1862 with his health failed, the French Emperor allowed him to return to France, where he died on January 19, 1865.