It’s always been a bit of a struggle striking a balance between elaborating general theory — which in the case of anarchist mutualism has often meant tracking down and/or translating the relevant works before commentary could even begin — and exploring the historical applications — which are more widely known, but often rather historical. As I’ve been working again a bit on the Contr’un collections, I’ve been reliving periods where there was a great deal more interest in the details of the various mutual banking schemes or the various applications of equitable commerce. At the same time, I have found myself drawn into a number of discussions recently where understanding and attempting to adapt those proposals to other conditions has been a focus.
If forced to choose, at least for the foreseeable future, my own focus is likely to be on general theory, in part because our conditions are not now those of the audiences for those 19th-century proposals, nor are they likely to be anytime soon — but also because the adaptation of those proposals to new conditions ultimately seems to throw us back to consideration of those principles, which are still simply not all that well understood. Still they are arguably much better understood than they were, say, a decade ago, when we last spent a lot of time with the 19th-century details — and I have found these recent conversations energizing in a way that they hadn’t been for a while.
As a result, I’m considering a minor fiction project, sketching out perhaps a half-dozen adaptations of more-or-less familiar proposals to new contexts. Two of the obvious scenarios address objections that have been floating around for a long time:
- Josiah Warren’s equitable commerce (cost-price exchange) adapted to less rigorously individualist communities; and
- William Batchelder Greene’s approach to mutual credit adapted to an “after the revolution” scenario involving occupancy-and-use as a criterion for property.
I would also like to explore the anarchist collectivist proposal for something like labor notes, which everyone but the mutualists expect to find in mutualism anyway.
And then there are a couple of unfamiliar possibilities that have lived in my notebooks for quite a few years — a very soft token currency adapted to small, quotidian transactions, as well as a slightly tongue-in-cheek proposal referencing my experience in various collector and “maker” economies.
But I am sure that there are other questions about mutualist credit and currency schemes out there, which aren’t occurring to me at the moment, but which might be addressed in the a brief fictional exploration. So I’ll share this sketch of a proposal around in various social-media forums and perhaps readers can suggest other related issues to address.