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AQA, Edexcel, IB

Last updated 26 May 2019

Mutualism (sometimes known as ‘contractualism’ or ‘guaranteeism’) is a more moderate sub-strand of collectivist anarchism, based on the ideas of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

Mutualism provides a link between collectivist and individualist anarchism since it endorses forms of collective ownership and private property. Under mutualism, self-governing producers (either groups or individuals) reject profiteering and exploitation, and exchange goods and services equitably and fairly through mutually beneficial economic contracts. Mutualism opposes capitalism and large-scale property ownership (because both lead to exploitation and inequality) but allows small-scale private property based on use or possession. Other mutualists include Gustave Courbet (1819-77) and Charles Longuet (1839-1903).

The main features of mutualism can be summarised as follows:

Mutualism and Human Nature

Like other forms of collectivist anarchism, mutualism offers a positive view of human nature, claiming people are characterised by their productive abilities and creativity as producers. Humans are also seen as cooperative with a firm belief in social solidarity. Under mutualism, people would be able to take responsibility for their own lives and interact through contracts regulating the exchange of goods

Mutualism and Society

People would be bound together in small communities or associations by mutually beneficial contracts regulating economic and social relations. Only the family (which would remain patriarchal and hierarchical) would not be covered by such contracts. These communities would show moral respect for individuality and would be based on possession to ensure producers (1) are entitled to the fruits of their labour (2) have the necessary means (e.g. land or tools) for work. In this way, people could possess private property so long as they were not exploiting or mistreating others. Society would be regarded as a free association between autonomous producers. It would also be just because it upheld the principles of equality and freedom of contract.

Mutualism and the State

Since the state is seen as oppressive, it has no place in mutualist thinking and must be abolished. The state would be removed peacefully through a democratic process as mutualist ideas became more popular. Contracts would replace government and oppose all forms of authority. Mutualist communities would form a federation and send delegates to coordinating councils. This political system would be 'bottom up' in structure, based on voluntary agreements and free from central authority.

Mutualism and the Economy

A cooperative economic system to satisfy genuine need, with small productive independent associations of workers and a system of mutually beneficial exchange based on contracts freely entered into by individuals and associations. Contracts could not be made under duress or conditions of unequal freedom. Workers would receive the 'true value' of what they produced based on the labour time involved. A non-profit National Bank would make credit available to the associations and individuals to start businesses. Products could also be exchanged for credit notes guaranteed by the bank. Mutualist economic reorganisation would make the state redundant.

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