Sources: Note on Critics and Collaborators

Our Lost Continent and the Journey Back: II. — Distributaries (1865–1886)

Project Page:
MAPPINGS: Notes for an Introduction
SOURCES: The First Leg of the Journey
    CONFLUENCES: The Final Leg of the Journey

      One of the reasons for taking the time to write out these summary and rationale sections is that, even after we have dismissed the notion that the result will be “representative” in any very complete sense, there are still a lot of elements to incorporate into each volume. And it is important that the material necessary to support investigations in later volumes is—as much as possible—presented in earlier volumes. Given the extent to which the research for each volume is likely to raise new concerns, we can expect to miss some things, necessitating some long instances of backtracking. But those can at least be minimized by careful planning now.

      That means that, during this phase of outlining, source-gathering and preliminary research, it will be necessary at times to return to portions of the summary that are already largely complete and add notes emphasizing elements that need to be more fully incorporated into the project. Expect those notes to be a little less polished, in terms of the use of the guiding metaphors, and sometimes simply to raise issues for further study, for which there is not yet any place in the existing summary and rationale.

      In this first case, the omission to be addressed is perhaps not particularly great. As I’ve started to outline the various partial developments of Proudhon’s project in the “Distributaries” section, I’ve been reminded that many of the key figures will have naturally been introduced in the first volume, in the course of a year-by-year account of Proudhon’s activity. The individuals involved in publishing the Oeuvres Complètes did not simply come out of nowhere, although many of them are hardly mentioned in the anarchist accounts of the early period.

      It seems important, however, to underline the extent to which Proudhon’s literary executors, and others who engaged in the battle over his intellectual and political legacies, were not just followers, but collaborators. While Proudhon’s position in the histories of anarchism is peculiar—indeed, in large part because of the largely symbolic position he occupies in many of those histories—those who worked alongside him or contributed to his published works have generally been ignored. As part of the project of presenting a more accurate picture of Proudhon and his work, we’ll have to spend some time with Darimon, Langlois, Duchêne, Chaudey, Boutteville, etc. And, in the process, we’ll be able to explore why each of them was relatively easy to forget, at least in the context of anarchist history.

      The recent digitization of the periodicals associated with Proudhon will be a significant help in this work, which ought to at least alter our perceptions about organization among the early proponents of more-or-less Proudhonian ideas. And while it is clear that we’re not going to find an “organized movement” to match the International here—or in the examinations of the movement for equitable commerce or the New England reform leagues in this work and What Mutualism Was—we will almost certainly complicate the story of just when and how movements for anarchist goals arose.

      We will also have to make a concerted effort to remember Proudhon’s critics, who have perhaps suffered an even more peculiar fate that his collaborators. If the latter are details in a story that anarchists have often felt no need to understand or tell in any real detail, the former are closely associated with the cautionary details we have so often chosen to emphasize. It has often struck me as ironic that, despite widespread outrage about Proudhon’s anti-feminism, the women who engaged him directly have been almost entirely neglected, while those women—Jenny P. d’Héricourt, Jeanne Deroin, André Léo, Pauline Roland, etc.—are among the most interesting and formidable radical figures of their era.

      One of the difficulties, of course, is that those women did not, for the most part, identify with anarchist ideas, even when their own ideas very closely paralleled those of Proudhon. So an examination of their ideas and the rhetoric they used to present them, will be an important part of the exploration of alternatives in the period before anarchism became established as the standard under which anti-authoritarian struggle would be waged.

      About Shawn P. Wilbur 2700 Articles
      Independent scholar, translator and archivist.