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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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Location: Northwest Arkansas, United States

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Material on the History of Mutualism

If you haven't visited In the Libertarian Labyrinth lately, you should stop by and do some catching up. Shawn Wilbur's been plugging away with his historical research on William Greene and the broader mutualist movement. One bit of good news is that he's got his main site up again, with a different host--and it includes his Greene page, with a lot of the online writings back up.

As he announces in this post, he's put up an online version of William Bailie's Josiah Warren: The First American Anarchist, an excellent primary source on Warren's anarchist career.

He's also been doing some fascinating digging in the history of the word "mutualism." Among other things, he's got a link to this fascinating study by Arthur Bestor, "The Evolution of the Socialist Vocabulary," in Journal of the History of Ideas. Shawn condenses a lot of tantalizing information into a short paragraph:

In 1822, Fourier used the term mutualism in his Traité de l'association domestique-agricole, but only as one of dozens of neologisms he created to explain his complex form of associationism. In 1826-7, five columns appear in the New Harmony Gazette, under the byline "A Mutualist" (also identified as "a member of the community.") These advocate mutual-aid experiments within existing cities, rather than in separate experimental communities.... Around 1833, in France, the Company of "Mutuellistes" are active as a labor organization in Lyons. In What Is Mutualism?, Clarence Lee Swartz gives his own account of the origin of the term, claiming that "[t]he word "mutualism" seems to have been first used by John Gray, an English writer, in 1832." This may be true, although I have yet to confirm it. Certainly, Gray uses terms from the same family, and proposes reforms that resemble those associated with mutualism. The Oxford English Dictionary gives credit for the first use of mutualism to Charles A. Dana, in his 1849 Proudhon and his Bank of the People. Dana talks about "the principle of reciprocity or mutualism, if we may use a new word." The OED dates mutualist to 1848 and an English translation of a French work, where the subject is the weavers company of Lyons.

What fascinates me about all this is that the time period we're talking about, from the 1820s to the 1840s, was simultaneously the period of origin of classical liberalism, socialism, and anarchism. The term "socialism," for example, was first used in the London Co-operative Magazine in 1827. And the boundaries between these movements were quite indistinct for some time. For example Thomas Hodgskin, who is usually classed among the Ricardian socialists, was simultaneously both a market socialist and a leading figure of classical liberalism; he was a formative influence on both Karl Marx and Herbert Spencer, if you can get your mind around that. The roots of free market liberalism and classical socialism are very much intertwined in their early days.

As hard as it may be to believe these days, the classical liberalism of the 1820s and '30s was a revolutionary doctrine at war with the remains of the landed oligarchy and privileged merchant capital. It was only with the political triumph of the Third Estate that, as Marx put it, classical political economy made the switch to "vulgar political economy" and took up the role of hired prizefighters for big capital. But many strands of this earlier, revolutionary free market liberalism have survived into the present: the American individualist anarchists, obviously; the Georgists, and the Georgist-tinged libertarianism of Albert Nock; and the left-wing Rothbardians.

At the same time, it was only in the late Nineteenth Century that socialism came to be conventionally associated with state ownership and central planning, so that Mises could later take these as its defining characteristics. And by the turn of the Twentieth Century, many adherents of the cooperativist and market socialist traditions were conceding the term "socialism" to the state socialists for the sake of avoiding confusion; the Tucker circle, for example, largely ceased to self-identify as socialist after 1900, and for the most part used the term in its statist sense. But not all of us in this tradition have conceded "socialism" to the statists and collectivists, either.


Blogger Shawn P. Wilbur said...

Thanks, folks. The "What Was Mutualism?" posts ought to help provide some context for the texts I've been scanning, which will make it all a little easier to digest. I can't recommend the Bestor essay enough as a useful introduction to the origins of all those political keywords. One of the things that's been of particular interest to me lately is the fact that "anarchism" is used really only sporadically until the 1870s, both by social and individualist anarchist, so that there is this era of mutualist development, when people like Greene and Proudhon are doing most of their work, which falls between the period of extreme ferment in the 1820s and 30s, and the period of developing orthodoxies, which in America is shaped by the changed political situation after the Civil War and the "Yankee" experiences in the First International. Contemporary accounts always treat the mutualism of that middle period as something a bit "less" than "real anarchism." I've been wrestling with Greene the theologian (who is conspicuously absent in the anarchist accounts) and the later Proudhon, trying to determine what their mutualisms had in common with the anarchisms that claimed descent from them, including the later "mutualisms" of Tucker and Swartz. This work is a little slower, because I'm having to grapple with Proudhon in French, but I'll be making some new posts this weekend.

April 07, 2006 11:42 AM  
Blogger Alberto said...

> But not all of us in this tradition have conceded "socialism" to the statists and collectivists, either.

Exactly. :-) Capitalism = new mercantilism. Socialism = True Enlightenment Liberalism.

April 07, 2006 1:19 PM  

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