Mapping Mutualism

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As I’ve mentioned, several of my projects have been intersecting recently, and I’ve been feeling better able to start mapping out the various currents and traditions that we would have to account for in any really adequate history of mutualism. Let’s just get some of those elements laid out so we can refer back to them:
  1. Proudhon’s own writings. We are fortunate to have a great deal of Proudhon’s work now available online, including quite a number of the manuscripts. There are a number of articles that remain uncollected and there are some omissions in the Mélanges volumes. There are also omissions and questionable edits in the volumes of correspondence. And there is an enormous amount of translation to be done. But the body of work that is readily available is remarkable.
  2. The contents of the newspapers that Proudhon was affiliated with. The most serious problem with the Mélanges collections is that the articles are lifted from their original context, and we can tell very little about the conversations that Proudhon was involved with. There were allies and adversaries of Proudhon active in the same papers, and some of those figures were very significant voices.
  3. The works of Proudhon’s collaborators and literary executors. Some of Proudhon’s circle produced lengthy works, like Langlois’ L’Homme Et La Révolution and Darimon’s various histories, which continued or contextualized Proudhon’s own work. A number of these figures also figured in subsequent chapters of radical history, often as adversaries in the stories told by Bakunin, Louise Michel, etc.
  4. The workers of The Sixty and the “Proudhonian” workers in the International. The last phase of Proudhon’s career saw him increasingly involved with the French workers’ movement, and the individual workers influenced by works like The Political Capacity of the Working Classes went on to take part in the International, in a variety of cooperative ventures, and in politics. But, again, our understanding of them is complicated by the fact that they were opposed on some key points to what became the dominant currents in the International and the anarchist movement.
  5. The collectivist anarchists. The collectivists made attempts to present themselves as the true inheritors of Proudhon’s legacy, and it has been difficult to evaluate those claims, given the fairly obvious misunderstandings between factions and the fairly rapid eclipse of anarchist collectivism by anarchist communism.
  6. The later, isolated Proudhonians. There seems to have been a steady stream of writers with an interest in developing Proudhon’s thought, but without close ties to other elements in the anarchist movement. Joseph Perrot, P. F. Junqua, Edmond Lagarde, and a number of other explicit disciples of Proudhon published a fairly extensive literature.
  7. The mutualists and individualists in the United States. Proudhon’s ideas made a fairly immediate impact in the U. S., beginning in the 1840s, and aspects of his thought remained influential as the mutualism of figures like William B. Greene gave way to the individualism of Benjamin R. Tucker, James L. Walker, the various mutual bank enthusiasts, etc.
  8. The tradition of Josiah Warren and equitable commerce. Although Warren held Proudhon’s thought in something like horror, the French mutualist tradition and the movement for equitable commerce became thoroughly mixed in the development of individualism in the U. S.
  9. The exiled French workers in the United States.  While the French-speaking workers appear to have had limited contact with the American mutualists and individualists, we do find connections to Greene through the International, and we find fairly major developments of Proudhon’s ideas in the works of figures like Claude Pelletier.
  10. Other influences on Proudhon, Greene, etc. Some thinkers, such as Charles Fourier and Pierre Leroux, inevitably come back into our story because of their importance to later thinkers.

And this list doesn’t even begin to deal with the influence of Proudhon beyond the French and English literatures. There is a fairly substantial Spanish-language literature to track down as well.


About Shawn P. Wilbur 2703 Articles
Independent scholar, translator and archivist.