What Mutualism Was: Coming to Terms with our Past

The game-changing project of 2017 turned out to be a chapter on the history of mutualism for the forthcoming Palgrave Handbook of Anarchism. Although I’ve spent 15-20 years wrestling with the details of mutualist history, I had never pursued the project quite far enough to put together a coherent general narrative connecting the various things that have been called mutualism. It turns out that the last few stages in that journey were by far the hardest, but also the most rewarding in terms of more general insights into the anarchist past.

The lessons learned there will enrich a variety of projects, from nearly completed work like Anarchist Beginnings and the new edition of God and the State to works still very much in progress like  A Good Word and the reader on anarchist collectivism. But perhaps the most immediately interesting insights relate to the question of how our undeniable fascination with historical traditions and long-standing political labels shapes political possibilities in the present—and that is perhaps a set of problems best explored in the rather unique context of mutualism itself, a new-old tendency quite visibly tangled up with the multiple, conflicting elements in its “tradition.”

So what I’m hoping to do as part of 2018’s general effort to get a lot of old projects off my desk and get the stage set for some newer, more ambitious ones,—like Anarchism, Plain and Simple,—is to expand my chapter on mutualism into a fairly short, primary-source-rich history of just how modern mutualists managed to inherit such a fascinating mess, with some commentary about how not just mutualists, but anarchists more generally, might come to terms with that past in ways that would enrich our current practices.

As it happens, my very short book chapter required something like a full book’s worth of research and left a lot of writing unused, so there is quite a bit of the necessary work already accomplished. I hesitate to add anything to my existing queue of projects, but I have already been concerned that perhaps some of the projected work required a clearer exposition of at least part of this history anyway, so this seems like a way not to burden texts aimed at a more general audience with a lot of specifically mutualist material, while hopefully presenting the mutualist material in a way that will serve non-mutualists well should they choose to engage with it.

I’ll be updating this project page and the manuscript begins to take shape, but, for now, here is a tentative outline:


WHAT MUTUALISM WAS
(And Why It Might Matter)

INTRO: A history of conflict.—A fettered renaissance.—The possibility of (new) beginnings.

PART ONE: MUTUALISM IN THE AIR
Fourierism and mutual education
The Owenites and the emergence of Equitable Commerce
Mutualism in Lyon
Proudhon
New England mutualism and The Spirit of the Age
The case of Bellegarrigue

PART TWO: MUTUALISM IN DEMAND
Mutualists and collectivists in the IWA
New England reform leagues
Isolated mutualists, atercrats, etc.
Echoes in Colins, Junqua, etc.

PART THREE: MUTUALISM AS ANTI-COMMUNISM
Tucker on mutualism and Proudhon
Kropotkin on mutualism and Proudhon
“The Two Socialism” and “The Two Anarchism’s”

PART FOUR: MUTUALISM AS IDEOLOGY
“Proudhon’s Revenge”
The latter days of the Liberty circle
The Mutualist Associates

PART FIVE: THE FETTERED RENAISSANCE
Free-market anti-capitalism and the Carsonian synthesis
Two-gun mutualism
Geomutualism, etc.
Neo-Proudhonian anarchism

AFTERWORD: THE LARGER LESSONS OF MUTUALIST HISTORY

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