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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Monday, January 16, 2006

World Congress of the Solidarity Economy

A couple of weeks ago I posted links to some excellent articles on building the solidarity economy; I think the idea resonates powerfully with the kind of stuff I talked about in "Building the Structure of the New Society Within the Shell of the Old." Now Dan Swinney reports on the third congress of RIPESS (French acronym for Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of the Solidarity/Social Economy) in Senegal.

The term “social economy” or “solidarity economy” isn’t used frequently in the US. But it is around the world and we should start using it in describing our identity. In several countries in Europe and Africa, there is a Minister of the Social Economy that is at the highest echelons of government and on a par equal to the Ministers of Finance or the Ministers of Industry.

It's hard to work up too much enthusiasism over this; the solidarity economy would probably be better off if it wasn't coopted by European social democracy and African kleptocracy. After all, it's really not very encouraging to see the website of the UK's old Cooperative Party with the revolting visage of Tony Blair heading the page, or a "new mutualism" site full of all kinds of Nulab "Third Way" crap. The corporatist statists appropriating the language of cooperativism for themselves are a little like Lenin and Stalin keeping the hollowed-out soviets as organs of top-down control. Be that as it may, though, I think the term "solidarity economy" is a good one.

It is a term embracing the broad range of economic and social activity including that of community-based groups, cooperatives, small companies, buying groups, credit unions, and others who are engaged in market and economic development activity with the purpose of building sustainable communities and societies not just generating a positive financial return for the owners of the enterprise. There is growing interest by activists, development and business leaders, government, academics, and others in the social economy as people look for an alternative approach to development that can compete and contend with low road globalization.

It's a lot better when the solidarity economy is built from the bottom up, growing in the interstices of the state-corporate economy and pushing it back in the process. Here's an excellent description of the phenomenon in Argentina, by Viviana Alonso:

BUENOS AIRES - A solidarity economy is being built by thousands of workers in Argentina, in rural cooperatives, worker-run factories and small businesses linked by networks.

Now trade unions, universities and social, political and student organisations are calling on the various initiatives in the solidarity or social economy to come together to debate projects that would build on past experiences, as an alternative to the prevailing economic model that they say marginalises large sectors of the population.

In Argentina, there are many examples of organisations involved in economic activities whose chief aim is not maximising profits, and which have horizontal structures and are run in a democratic, participatory manner.

In fact, such examples "have existed in the country for over 100 years," states a report by the Central de Trabajadores Argentinos (CTA) central trade union.

Added to the "traditional cooperatives, mutual societies and other forms of association are microenterprises that operate on the basis of solidarity, joint purchases and many other alternatives that form part of the popular economy," the report adds.

After Argentina's late 2001 financial, economic and political collapse that triggered the worst depression in Argentine history, poverty and unemployment soared and solidarity economy initiatives mushroomed.

These have included regional cooperatives of small farmers, bankrupt factories that were abandoned or closed by their owners and reopened by their employees, self-managed companies, communities that have come together to find solutions to meet basic needs like health care, housing or food, and barter networks whose members trade goods and services....

The CTA and other institutions are attempting to create mechanisms and tools for providing technical assistance, training and support for solidarity economy projects, while providing advice for setting up trade and cooperative networks.

Working alongside the CTA in this effort are the universities of Buenos Aires, La Plata and General Sarmiento, the Instituto Movilizador de Fondos Cooperativos, the Federación Agraria Argentina, the Centro Nueva Tierra, the local committee of the World Social Forum and a large number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs)....

[T]he overall aim of these organisations is to create links between the myriad initiatives, to help them avoid isolation and to bring them together in a unified political and social project.

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