Here’s an ultra-compressed offering on the distinctions in the triad of Proudhon-Marx-Sorel, inspired by my recent reading of William Clare Robert’s Marx’s Inferno (which offers one of the best—if not only, insofar as I’ve seen—serious treatments of the Proudhon-Marx conflict) and a series of feverish, subterranean conversations:
Proudhon: political economy is value-neutral and akin to the natural sciences. Rigorous adherence to its discoveries will undermine capitalism and deliver socialism in the form of productive decentralization not unlike that of the pre/early capitalist era of craft production. Insofar as large-scale industrialization proves intractable, it will be managed by free associations of workers via a federative structure.
Marx: political economy is bourgeois mystification and the Proudhonists, while making pretenses of following a scientific methodology, consistently fail to exit the past’s metaphysical prison. Communism exists on the far end of a road paved by the dissolution of all past social forms through continually intensifying industrial progress, mechanization, and scientific rationalization. At the historical summit, seemingly endless mechanization collides with irreversible centralization and concentration of capital and productive forces.
Sorel: political economy is utopian and thus to be vigorously critiqued, but the Marxists also make appeals to a scientific methodology that they do not adhere to (particularly in regards to the development of techno-industrial systems). Intensification of class struggle in its syndicalist form—of which both Proudhon and Marx were the great prophets—will throw industrial progress into overdrive. It will not lead to the Marxian vision of centralization and concentration, however, but to the the rapid decentralization of productive forces—the proliferation of ‘prodigiously productive workshops’.