Mutualism, as a term, has seen a variety of related uses. Charles Fourier first used the French term "mutualisme" in 1822, although the reference was not to an economic system. The first use of the noun "mutualist" was in the New-Harmony Gazette by an American Owenite in 1826. In the early 1830s, a labor organization in Lyons, France, called themselves the "Mutuellists."
Pierre Joseph Proudhon was involved with the Lyons mutualists and later adopted the name to describe his own teachings. In What Is Mutualism? Clarence Lee Swartz gives his own account of the origin of the term, claiming that "he word "mutualism" seems to have been first used by John Gray, an English writer, in 1832." When John Gray's 1825 Lecture on Human Happiness was first published in the United States in 1826, the publishers appended the Preamble and constitution of the Friendly Association for Mutual Interests, located at Valley Forge. 1826 also saw the publication of the Constitution of the Friendly Association for Mutual Interests at Kendal, Ohio.
By 1846, Pierre Joseph Proudhon was speaking of "mutualité" in his writings, and he used the term "mutuellisme," at least as early as 1848, in his "Programme Révolutionnaire." William B. Greene, in 1850, used the term "mutualism" to describe a mutual credit system similar to that of Proudhon. In 1850, the American newspaper The Spirit of the Age, edited by William Henry Channing, published proposals for a "mutualist township" by Joshua King Ingalls and Albert Brisbane, together with works by Proudhon, William B. Greene, Pierre Leroux, and others.
Mutualism has been associated with two types of currency reform. Labor notes were first discussed in Owenite circles and received their first practical test in 1827 in the Time Store of former New Harmony member and individualist anarchist Josiah Warren. Mutual banking aimed at the monetization of all forms of wealth and the extension of free credit. It is most closely associated with William B. Greene, but Greene drew from the work of Proudhon, Edward Kellogg, and William Beck, as well as from the land bank tradition. Mutualism can in many ways be considered "the original anarchy," since Proudhon was the first to identify himself as an anarchist. Though mutualism is generally associated with anarchism, it is not necessarily anarchist.
Nineteenth century mutualists considered themselves libertarian socialists. While still oriented towards cooperation, mutualists favor free market solutions, believing that most inequalities are the result of preferential conditions created by government intervention. Mutualism is something of a middle way between classical economics and socialism, with some characteristics of both. Modern-day Mutalist Kevin Carson, considers anarchist mutualism to be "free market socialism."
Proudhon supported labor-owned cooperative firms and associations for "we need not hesitate, for we have no choice. . . it is necessary to form an ASSOCIATION among workers . . . because without that, they would remain related as subordinates and superiors, and there would ensue two . . . castes of masters and wage-workers, which is repugnant to a free and democratic society" and so "it becomes necessary for the workers to form themselves into democratic societies, with equal conditions for all members, on pain of a relapse into feudalism." As for capital goods (man-made, non-land, "means of production"), mutualist opinions differs on whether these should be commonly managed public assets or private property.
Read more about this topic: Mutualism (economic Theory)
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