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What is really odd is that before the Commune, in the 1860s, Marxists and anarchists were not at logger-heads in the same way as they later became. Reclus and many Proudhonians attended the meetings of the International Working Men’s Association and I recall reading somewhere that Marx asked Reclus if he would be willing to translate Capital from German into French. Reclus did not do so. I do sense, however, that Marx felt that Proudhon was his chief rival for the affections of the French revolutionary working class and in part concentrated his critical fire against him for that reason. But the clash of ideologies within the Paris Commune was between many factions, such as the centralizing and often violent Jacobinism of the Blanquists and variations of the Proudhonian decentralized associationists. The communists, like Varlin, were a minority. The subsequent appropriation of the Commune by Marx, Engels and Lenin as a heroic if fatally flawed uprising on the part of the working classes does not stand up to historical examination any more than does the story that it was the product of a purely urban social movement that had nothing to do with class. I view the Commune as a class event if only because it was a revolt against bourgeois structures of power and domination in both the living spaces as well as in the workplaces of the city (Harvey, 2003). Who “lost” the Commune became, however, a major issue in which the finger-pointing between Marx and Bakunin played a critical role in creating a huge gulf between the anarchist and Marxist traditions (a gulf that Springer seems concerned to deepen if he can).
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But to go from this recognition to suggest that Marx plagiarized everything from Proudhon in particular is indeed totally absurd. The idea of the exploitation of labour by capital, for example, was far more strongly articulated by Blanqui than by Proudhon and was completely accepted by the socialist Ricardians. It was obvious to pretty much everyone and Marx made no claims of originality in pointing to it. What Marx did was to show how that exploitation could be accomplished without violating laws of market exchange that theoretically (and in the utopian universe of classical political economy) rested upon equality, freedom and reciprocity. To promote those laws of exchange as the foundation of equality was to create the conditions for the centralization of capitalist class power. This was what Proudhon missed. When Marx pointed to the importance of the commodification of labor power he may well have been drawing on Blanqui without acknowledgement but even here it was Marx and not Blanqui who recognized its significance for the theory of capital. Marx’s critique in the Grundrisse of the Proudhonian conception of money and of the idea that all that was needed for a peaceful transition to socialism was a reform of the monetary system was accurate (and of course Proudhon’s free credit bank was an instantaneous disaster though it may have been bourgeois sabotage that made it so). Marx’s critique of Proudhon’s theories of eternal justice is also penetrating. It is here precisely that Marx points out how theories of justice are not universal but specific, and in the bourgeois case specific to the rise of liberal capitalism. To pursue the aim of universal justice as a revolutionary strategy ran the danger of simply instanciating bourgeois law within socialism. This is a familiar problem, as everyone working critically with notions of human rights recognizes. When Marx appealed, as he often did, to ideas of association he was almost certainly drawing more on Saint-Simon than Proudhon.