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Archive for September, 2009

James Guillaume on Federation

Now available thanks to Shawn P. Wilbur at Out of the Libertarian Labyrinth:

In the second issue of Solidarité, dated April 1871, James Guillaume contributed this piece on the federative principle, in the context of the Paris Commune. Note the use of Proudhon's concept of "collective force." I'm working on translating a series of texts on nationality and the federative principle, to go with forthcoming issues of LeftLiberty.


The true character of the revolution that was accomplished at Paris commence has been outlined in so marked a fashion that you, even the minds most unfamiliar with political theories, can now perceive it clearly.

The revolution of Paris is federalist.

The Parisian people want to have the liberty to organize themselves as they intend, without the rest of France having to mix in Parisian affairs; and at the same time, they renounce on their side all interference in the affairs of the departments, by urging them each to organize as their please, in the fullness of communal autonomy.

The different organizations which would be in this way freely constituted could then freely federate in order to mutually guarantee their rights and their independence.

It is important not to confuse federalism as it is understood by the Paris Commune with the so-called federalism which exists in Switzerland and in the United States of America.

Switzerland is simply a federative State, and that word alone already expresses all the differences between these two systems. Switzerland is a State, that is, it is a national unity; and, as a result, despite the federative appearance, sovereignty there is attributed to the nation in its ensemble. The cantons, instead of being considered as distinct individualities and absolute sovereigns, are supposed to be only fractions of a whole which is called the Swiss nation. A canton does not have the free disposition of itself: it can indeed, to a certain degree, manage its own affairs; but it does not possess true autonomy, its legislative faculties are limited by the federal constitution; and that federal constitution is not a contract, in the true sense of the word; it has not been accepted individually by each of the parties: it has been imposed on the cantons by the vote of a majority. A canton does not have the right to terminate the federal contract; it is forbidden from leaving the federation; it is even forbidden, as we see at this moment in the affairs of the Tessin, to divide in order to form new cantons. The least political or socialist movement, a strike for example, can bring federal troops into the canton.

Thus, federation, in Switzerland, is only in the words. It is not federation which is the true name of the Swiss system, it is decentralization. Switzerland realizes closely the system that had been established in France by the constitution of 1791, and that the Assembly of Versailles, “inspired by the great principles of 1789,” proposes to restore in order to seem to give in to federalist aspirations.

Federalism, in the sense given to it by the Paris Commune, and that was given to it many years ago by the great socialist Proudhon, who first scientifically outlined the theory,—federalism is above all the negation of the nation and the State.

For federalism, there is no more nation, no more national or territorial unity. There is only an agglomeration of federated communes, an agglomeration which has for its determining principle only the interests of the contracting parties, and which consequently has no regard for the questions of nationalism or of territory.

There is equally no more State, no more central power superior to the groups and imposing it them its authority: there is only the collective force resulting from the federation of the groups, and that collective force, which acts to maintenance and guarantee of the federal contract,—a true synallagmatic contract this time, stipulated individually by each of the parties,—this collective force, we say, can never become something prior and superior to the federated groups, something analogous to what the State is today to society and to the communes. The centralized and national State thus no longer exists, and the Communes enjoying the fullness of their independence, there is truly an-archy, absence of central authority.

But let us not believe that after having suppressed the States and nationalism, federalism leads to absolute individualism, to isolation, to egoism. No, federalism is socialist, and for it solidarity is inseparable from liberty. The communes, while remaining absolutely autonomous, feel themselves, by the force of things, in solidarity; and, without sacrificing any of their liberty, or, to put it better, to better assure their liberty, they unite themselves tightly by federative contracts, where they stipulate all that which touches their common interests: the large public services, the exchange of products, the guarantee of individual rights, and mutual aid in case of any aggression.

Let the French people, awakened finally by their misfortune, open their eyes to the light of truth: let them be in 1871 the initiators of the Federalist and Social Republic, as they were in 1793 the proclaimers of the rights of men; and in Europe, preserved from the gothic restoration with which the German Empire threatens it, will shine in a near future the days of liberty and equality.

Read the whole thing at Out of the Libertarian Labyrinth.


Instead of a Translation – Proudhon on the clubs

Now available thanks to Shawn P. Wilbur at Out of the Libertarian Labyrinth:

Some 19th century "translations" end up being little more than summaries, and some summaries end up being haphazard translations of bits and pieces. A number of the pieces that introduced Americans to Proudhon and Leroux fit one of these two categories. A series of summaries of chapters from Proudhon's Confessions appeared in The Spirit of the Age in 1849-50. This is certainly a work that needs full translation, but the summaries are interesting, both for the information they contain and as an example of how many Americans first encountered Proudhon.





Reaction made another step, from the republicans of the morrow to the doctrinaires; but one more false move of the democrats, and we fell into the hands of the Jesuits. Step by step we advanced towards the completion of the revolution, the annihilation of authority. It was necessary first that government should show itself incapable of existing either with the constitution, with free institutions, with principles or classes; the first was attacked by Odillon Barrot, the second by Leon Faucher, in his bill against the clubs, the others would come afterwards, under the government of Louis Bonaparte, who was destined to lead governmental authority to the final act of its suicidal course; and this was done with a consistency and strictness that belong to no other country; for the French are the most logical people in the world.

The attack upon the clubs was an attack upon all the institutions established and confirmed by the revolution; it was, as M. Cremieux loudly declared on the 21st March, a direct violation of the constitution. Henceforth there were two classes in the country; a majority and a minority, the oppressors and the oppressed; for everywhere the socialists were hunted down, and those who were only suspected of opinions then looked upon as aggravating circumstances, were treated as common malefactors,

The right of insurrection can only exist under an absolute government, where the people have no voice in the constitution; but in the present case, universal suffrage remaining to us, our only legitimate mode of defeating our adversaries was by legal resistance; and the plan proposed by Le Peuple, namely, an organized refusal to pay the taxes all over the country, would have been a most effectual instrument. Since the 13th June, however, this is no longer practicable or necessary; my proposition was received with distrust by the radicals: if the people refuse to pay taxes once, said these slavish advocates of government, they will refuse them altogether, and then government will be impossible: and my reward was a fine of 10,000 francs and ten years' imprisonment.

But to my shame, I must confess, we were all blind to our own real interest, and the event has proved that radicalism was better served by its own incapacity than it could have been by the means I proposed. Since the 13th June, we have done with parties and governments; and that is much better than to have established the mountain in the room of the doctrinaires and Jesuits. The revolution has left us nothing further to do. II mondo va da se! The world moves of itself.

Read the whole thing at Out of the Libertarian Labyrinth.