Proudhon is a bit like Hegel (by whom he was indirectly influenced) in that he attempts to synthesise and reconcile a myriad of apparently opposing viewpoints, and so it’s risky to rely on any single formulation taken out of context as a reliable indicator of his views, when it may be only a provisional approximation, or one side of a dialectical opposition. Shawn Wilbur has a useful post today about Proudhon’s use of the term, and concept, property.
A Commerce Without Capitalism
And if commerce and exchange were inseparable from the creation of real spaces of resistance? So many niches of experimentation of a future society – a better one, of course – may be found in the four corners of the world: from the Cartoneros [cardboard recyclers] of Argentina inventing their own economy, to the Diggers of San Francisco trying out freedom-from-payment, passing to the trabendo of the Marseilles quarters that mocks sealed borders [anybody know what this refers to?], without forgetting the utopian anarchists of the 19th century who took the first steps toward workers’ cooperatives. Everywhere there is exchange, there is barter, there is giving and recompensing, there is sharing: in short, there is collective resistance to a capitalist society that seeks to reduce commerce to a mere accumulation of capital with money as the sole intermediary.
The rejection of commerce by the extreme left, generally speaking, is indicative of this confusion between capitalism and commerce. It is true that in a country where six central purchasing centers handle the exchanges among 60 million consumers and 400,000 farmers, it is difficult to think otherwise! And Wal-Mart, the U.S.-based multinational distributor, is now the largest enterprise in the world, ahead of the oil companies.
Yet for all that, one cannot abandon commerce solely to the traffickers in profits. As Michel Besson of the Minga association likes to remind us, “there have always been men and women who desired to exchange with one another in a respectful and peaceful manner, simply because it is much more agreeable for everybody to live without competing with one another, without exploiting one another, without swindling one another. Equity in exchanges forms a part of the culture of many societies around the world.” And it is for this reason that today, over and above the concept-marketing of equitable commerce, there exists around the world a profusion of commercial alternatives, each more amazing than the next, each with its limits since it must come to terms with capitalist society, they offer another way of living together. Sometimes these alternatives escape the supervision of centralist States, which, anxious that nothing should subsist outside their sphere of control, consequently stigmatise such exchanges as “black-market,” “informal,” clandestine – which do not even count in the GDP! Nonetheless, and extremely happily, such experiments remind us that prior to the exchange of merchandise there is also a human exchange, a mode of relation among persons. An exchange that may give birth to emancipation.