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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

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Corvus Editions: Taking it to the Next Level

Shawn Wilbur announces that he's taking the plunge and attempting to turn Corvus Editions, an anarchist micropublishing operation I wrote about here, into a full-time source of livelihood.

It's been an up-and-down ride for Corvus Editions, in its first, exploratory year. But a combination of my growing confidence in the general soundness of the project and my growing dissatisfaction with the options have finally pushed me to "quit the day job" at Borders, and give Corvus another year—this time as a full-time business.

In particular, he's experimenting with hand-binding.

In response to my query, Shawn elaborates that the venture is "really a leap of faith":

The basic model (the high end of low-end publishing; broad, deep catalog; POD production; etc.) is unquestionably solid in a dollars-and-cents sort of way -- assuming that a real consumer base emerges at some point in the not-too-distant future. It's not clear, one way or another, at the moment, whether that will occur. Microenterprise still largely lacks a context, even in the lives of nominal mutualists and counter-economic activists. I'm waiting to see if the "fans" of the project will become the sort of consumers of the products and services offered that it needs to be a business. To be honest, my reasons for a full-time commitment are more a matter of my own stubborn personal and political commitments than they are based in evidence that the work will be supported.

Those of us who see this kind of micro-enterprise as the business model of the future, and are enthusiastic for the possibilities low-cost production technology offer for low-overhead production by self-employed producers, should have an interest in the success of this project.

Supporting it doesn't require any notable act of altruism, either. The Corvus Editions catalog and shop have a range of material that most followers of this blog would probably jump at, completely unavailable elsewhere and priced quite reasonably. Check out the listings--you'll be doing yourself a favor more than Shawn.

Corvus is a sister-project of the Libertarian Labyrinth archive, an open repository of anarchist texts which includes all the Corvus material and far more.

The more popular material available through the shop includes a wide range of texts, newly in print for the first time in many decades, by William Greene, J.K. Ingalls, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

It also includes the two issues of LeftLiberty and the first issue of its successor The Mutualist. Of the latter, Shawn writes:

The change in title, from LEFTLIBERTY to THE MUTUALIST, marks, on the one hand, a narrowing of focus, from the nominally “big-tent” approach of the first issues—which never really panned out anyway—to a much more programmatic attempt to elaborate a roughly “neo-Proudhonian” mutualism adapted to contemporary issues. LEFTLIBERTY was named, in part, as a tribute to Benjamin R. Tucker and his magnificent paper, LIBERTY, at a time when I was very deeply involved in market-anarchist coalitions very similar to the theoretical alliances Tucker sought to establish. Tucker remains an important touchstone for me, and the preservation and dissemination of the work published in LIBERTY remains a top priority. Tucker’s broad interests have influenced my own, and his example has been one of my key inspirations as a translator. But, ultimately, having compared Tucker to his influences, he comes up wanting—in my mind, at least. In many ways, the “plumb-line” approach that he advocated was a rejection of the central principles of Proudhon and Greene, and is arguably not the most faithful adaptation of Warren’s thought. Though Tucker sometimes spoke of “mutualism,” and while his various approaches to the question of liberty emphasized reciprocity in one sense or another, he was almost certainly not a “mutualist” in the same sense as any of his predecessors. THE MUTUALIST is not an organ of Tuckerite individualist anarchism, nor of the broad “mutualism” which makes no distinction between Proudhon and Warren and Tucker—and a host of others—nor even of the modern “Carsonian synthesis”—despite the great respect and admiration as I have for Kevin Carson’s work. It is, as I have said, “neo-Proudhonian” in its emphases, and hopes to demonstrate both the sense of Proudhon’s social philosophy and its application to the present.

But—and here is the “on the other hand,” so inevitable for anyone involved with Proudhon’s antinomies—refocusing on the work of Proudhon immediately gives us pressing reasons to engage with all sorts of other figures—influences, followers, colleagues, antagonists, etc.—who impose themselves on us as we try to understand that work and its context. Indeed, almost everyone and everything excluded with the first move rushes back in with the second, but the work is not a matter of mere gestures. What I hope to accomplish in THE MUTUALIST, and related works, is a reexamination of the broad mutualist tradition, including the works of Proudhon himself, but with a sort of “neo-Proudhonian eye.” Indeed, this is what I have already been attempting in works like “The Gift Economy of Property,” where it has been a question of completing Proudhon’s stated projects and exploring alternate routes to his stated ends. There is no question that Proudhon’s work was unfinished and unevenly developed, and then adapted by a variety of followers and intellectual heirs in an equally uneven manner. Those adaptations included significant advances, as well as significant misunderstandings—and they inform large portions of the spectrum of anarchisms and libertarian philosophies, in one way or another.

That’s probably the way Proudhon—or our speculative “neo-Proudhon”—would have wanted it. He understood progress as a matter of “approximation” and adaptation, of conflicts between more-or-less absolutist projects. And he understood liberty as growing out of more and more complex associations—in the realm of thought, as well as in the social realm. One of the goals of THE MUTUALIST will be to “open up” Proudhon’s own writings, to show his influences, to engage with criticisms in a way that he never did, and to attempt to make explicit and useful that history of choices, adaptations and approximations that is marked by the changing nature of “mutualism,” from the pre-anarchist friendly societies to the various modern variants. I’m starting with a fairly well-researched intuition about the mutualist “big picture”—none of which will be particularly new, probably, to readers of my blogs and of LEFTLIBERTY—and we’ll see how the details work themselves out. But expect, in general, that while I have narrowed my focus with regard to what I will call “mutualism,” the result is likely to be a considerably broadening of what I consider related to the discussion of it.

Two-Gun Mutualism?

I’m starting in this issue with what may seem a classic mutualist provocation. The tradition that has given us “property is theft” and “free market anti-capitalism” may perhaps be excused for dressing up the Golden Rule in wild-west drag. But there’s more at stake than just a family tradition or a dubious gag. There’s frankly very little point in going to all this trouble reimagining mutualism if readers persist in thinking of it as a kind of squishy place midway between social anarchism and market anarchism—when, in fact, its original project, the “synthesis of community and property,” was intended to encompass all the ground ultimately covered by those schools, along with all of the complications that come from tackling both individual and social emphases all at once.

That’s a pretty big project, and, let’s face it, even the mutualist tradition itself has not managed to remain focused on it—gravitating instead towards particular approximations, like the mutual bank, in some instances long after those particular institutions offered much in the way of promise.

But, big project or not, it appears to be mutualism’s project, the “solution of the social problem” or, as Claude Pelletier put it, the workers’ freedom. (Talk about your “big f***ing deals”…) The trouble for us seems to be that we are a little jaded about this sort of thing, and, frankly, we’re also pretty seriously out of practice at tackling the sort of complexities involved. Mostly, we live in a much simpler—if not simplist—world, where the established relation between individualism and socialism is pretty close to “never the twain shall meet, and where embracing both looks like a sort of intentional folly.

I hope, in the pages of THE MUTUALIST, to demonstrate a number of reason why the full mutualist project is neither as daunting nor as foolish as it may appear. But I have no intention of suggesting that something like “the solution of the social problem” is going to be easy—and I’m going to have to spend some time, at this stage in the investigation, focusing on the very antagonistic forms in which we have inherited individualism and socialism. Taking up our tools where, and in the condition in which we find them, there will undoubtedly be some initial dangers, even mishaps perhaps. Hence “two-gun” mutualism, picking up a metaphor from Pierre Leroux’s “Individualism and Socialism,” in which the two isms are likened to, among other things, “charged pistols.” After all these years, let’s acknowledge that they are old pistols, and that perhaps we have taken as good care of them as we might have, so that picking them up poses all sorts of potential hazards.

“Two-Gun Mutualism” is intended as a sort of transitional engagement. Ultimately, our goals are of a relatively peaceful sort, the sort where pistols will be of little use to us. But one of the shared assumptions of virtually all of the early anarchists seems to have been that real peace arises only from the “perfection” of conflict. We will have to really take up these two “charged” concepts, and engage with them as they come to us, before we can transform them into tools more suitable to an anarchist future. When it comes right down to it, snake-handling might be safer, and more fun. But here we go…


Blogger Vache Folle said...

Great news. I just placed my first order.

April 13, 2010 8:42 AM  

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