Photograph via snooOG

Mutualism is an anarchist current, originally based in the theories of P.-J. Proudhon, which treats both capitalism and authoritarian government as instances of exploitation, by which the power of the masses is turned back against them by privileged classes. Today, the term may apply to a range of anarchist positions, from updated "proudhonism" to "free-market anti-capitalism," which do not preclude market exchange.

Welcome to r/Mutualism!

Mutualism is an anarchist current, originally based in the theories of P.-J. Proudhon, which treats both capitalism and authoritarian government as instances of exploitation, by which the power of the masses is turned back against them by privileged classes. Today, the term may apply to a range of anarchist positions, from updated "proudhonism" to "free-market anti-capitalism," which do not preclude market exchange.


This is an educational subreddit, established for discussion among mutualists and those interested in learning about the various mutualist anarchist tendencies. It is not a debate sub, although we will at times dig deep into the contested details of our long-standing, broad and diverse tradition or into the specific positions that differentiate mutualism from other tendencies.

Antagonistic posts or comments will simply be deleted, generally without comment, as if they were honest mistakes. Users who make such mistakes repeatedly will be removed with much the same lack of ceremony.

The Mutualist Tradition:

(Here is a collection of historical mutualist texts, courtesy of the Libertarian Labyrinth)

Introductory Mutualist Texts:


11,128 Subscribers


Shawn, did you get your critique of the polity-form from Josiah Warren?

08:57 UTC


Is mutualism essentially anarchist?

What if one believes in mutualism but also thinks an authoritarian state is essential to protect it's people(in any form) at least in a certain period of time, is there a such thing at all ??

17:19 UTC


Small Political Catechism in Proudhon's "Justice"

Question. — Every manifestation covers a reality: what makes up the reality of social power?

Answer. — It is the collective force.

Q. — What do you call collective force?

A. — Every being, by the mere fact that it exists, that it is a reality, not a phantom, possesses in itself, to some degree, the faculty or property, as soon as it finds itself in the presence of other beings, to attract and to be attracted, to repel and to be repelled, to move, to act, to think, to produce, at the very least to resist, by its inertia, influences from without.

This faculty or property is called force.

Thus force is inherent, immanent in the being: it is its essential attribute, which alone testifies to its reality. Take away attraction and we are no longer assured of the existence of bodies.

Now, individuals are not alone endowed with force; collectivities also have their own force.

To speak here only of human collectivities, let us suppose that individuals, in whatever numbers one wishes, organized in any manner and for any purpose whatsoever, combine their forces: the resultant of these agglomerated forces, which must not be confused with their sum, constitutes the force or power of the group.


Q. — Every force presupposes a direction: who directs the social power?

A. — Everyone, which means to no one. Political power resulting from the relationship of several forces, reason first says that these forces must balance each other, so as to form a regular and harmonious whole. Justice intervenes in its turn, to declare, as it did in the general economy, that this balance of forces, conforming to right, demanded by right, is obligatory for all consciousness. It is therefore to Justice that the direction of power belongs; so that order in the collective being, like health, will, etc., in the animal, is not the fruit of any particular initiative: it results from the organization.

Q. — And what guarantees the observance of justice?

A. — The very thing that guarantees us that the merchant will respond to the coin, public faith, the certainty of reciprocity, in a word Justice. — Justice is for intelligent and free beings the supreme cause of their determinations. It only needs to be explained and understood in order to be affirmed by everyone and to act. It exists, or the universe is only a phantom and humanity is a monster.


Q. — Who benefits from the social power, and generally from all collective force?

A. — To all those who contributed to its formation, in proportion to their contribution.

Q. — What is the limit of power?

A. — Power, by nature and purpose, has no other limit than that of the group it represents, the interests and ideas it must serve.

However, by the limit of power, or powers, or more exactly the limit of the action of power, we mean the attributive determination of the groups and sub-groups of which it is the general expression. Each of these groups and sub-groups, in fact, up to the last term of the social series which is the individual, representing vis-à-vis others, in the function assigned to him, the social power, it follows that the limitation of power, or better of its distribution, regularly accomplished under the law of justice, is nothing other than the formula for the increase of liberty itself.


Q. — What distinction do you make between politics and economics?

A. — At base, these are two different ways of conceiving the same thing. One does not imagine that men need, for their liberty and their well-being, anything other than force; for the sincerity of their relations, anything other than Justice. Economics presupposes these two conditions: what more could politics give?

Under current conditions, politics is the art, equivocal and chancy, of creating order in a society where all the laws of the economy are misunderstood, all balance destroyed, all freedom suppressed, all conscience warped, all collective force converted into a monopoly.

From Vol. 2 of Justice in the Revolution and in the Church, PDF available at the New Proudhon Library.

22:58 UTC


What would a mutualist anarchist think of businesses like Padsplit or Airbnb?

I think it's funny that it's considered proper to charge people money for all sorts of housing services that could easily be provided to no cost if the economy were rearranged along anarchist order. These companies are perfect examples of monopoly capitalism putting new wine in the old bottles of the capitalist for-profit system,

06:12 UTC


Does private property entail absentee ownership?

It’s possible to have a fact of possession without a right of possession, and vice versa.

For example, a thief may be in possession of your wallet.

You have the right of possession, but the thief is the one in actual possession.

Therefore, it seems that “absentee ownership” is an emergent phenomenon of the disconnect between the fact and the right of possession.

1 Comment
02:17 UTC


Is there any literature with respect to workplace occupations?

Specifically, has there ever been a sit-down strike or workplace occupation wherein workers kept working and simply took the profit for themselves as a sort of "strike fund"?

1 Comment
20:27 UTC


any recommendations about the history of mutualism?

I search abou the history of the mutualist movement but i can't find something interesting

Can you recommend me some books about the history of mutualism?? Thank you:))!!

01:19 UTC


Who was hugo bilgram?

I've seen hugo bilgram cited in a number if sort of mutualist-y or adjacent works. Like plutophrenia cites him in his video on value. I've seen his name mentioned in works on mutual credit too.

I Googled him and according to goodreads he was an opponent of organized labor and a proponent of Intellectual property rights? That doesn't seem right to me, as why would he be cited or utilized in mutualist thought given that we like organized labor (to the extent it advances anti-hierarchical aims, wildcat strikes are the best kind of strike) and oppose IP.

So is that an accurate description of bilgram? Where can I learn more about him?

08:59 UTC


The loneliness of the long-distance mutualist

Forgive my attempt at being clever with the title. I'm not perfectly sure where I'm going with this, but I have this nagging feeling that we're not making good use of our resources or the space provided here.

I was thinking maybe we can start doing weekly "Ask a mutualist" threads, or perhaps we can take turns posting AMAs. Something to get discussions going again, to test our ideas and to learn from each other.

Maybe we don't talk much because we're generally well-read, self-directed learners — if we have questions we tend to know where to look ourselves. (For the neo-Proudhonian crowd it's often, just ask Shawn.) And we know there's plenty room for diversity in mutualist projects, offering hardly any 'points of collision' for productive disagreements and debates to arise even. Georgists, capitalists, communists don't show up much anymore either.

So idk, vibe check I guess. What are you all up to? How are you feeling about mutualism in 2024? Where do we go from here?

20:56 UTC


On the question of ethical consumption

It is often stated that there is no ethical consumption under capitalism, and that therefore, a focus upon individual choices is irrelevant to radical politics.

Yet how far can we take this line of reasoning?

What about, say, the consumption of child pornography?

Surely, we can draw a distinction between products that are harmful under capitalism, and products that are harmful in themselves, regardless of the economic system.

EDIT: I would like to hear specifically from Shawn.

10:51 UTC


Interpretation of passage from System of Economical Contradictions

How should this passage be interpreted? Is Proudhon endorsing wage labor?

"Now, what is the difference, under relation of right, between the manufacture of an ounce of soap and that of a million kilograms? Does the greater or lesser quantity change anything of the morality of the operation? So property, as well as commerce, as well as labour, is a natural right, of whose exercise nothing in the world can steal from me.

But, by the very fact that I compose a product which is my exclusive property, as well as the materials that constitute it, it follows that a workshop, an exploitation of men is organised by me; that profits accumulate in my hands to the detriment of all who enter into business relations with me; and that if you wish to substitute yourself for me in my enterprise, quite naturally I will stipulate for myself a rent. You will possess my secret, you will manufacture in my place, you will turn my mill, you will reap my field, you will pick my vine, but at a quarter, a third, or half share.

All this is a necessary and indissoluble chain; there is no serpent or devil here; it is the very law of the thing, the dictum of common sense."

1 Comment
20:53 UTC


Proudhon's Work on 1851 Coup

I'm re-reading Marx's The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte

On preface, Marx writes:

Of the writings dealing with the same subject at approximately the same time as mine, only two deserve notice: Victor Hugo’s Napoleon le Petit and Proudhon’s Coup d’Etat. 

Which book does he referring to? Is it available in English? Thank you

22:04 UTC


Proudhon, et al, "The President is Responsible" (1849)

"The President is Responsible" — a collection of journalism by Proudhon and others, from Le Peuple (January 26-31, 1849), much of it censored in the 19th-century Œuvres Complètes, addressing the separation of powers and the responsibility of the executive.

1 Comment
09:34 UTC


Is the free-rider problem a result of legal order?

Under a legal system, in which any behaviour not prohibited is permitted by law, there is a vast amount of behaviour that is basically protected from consequences.

Are free-rider behaviours just another form of licit harm implicitly sanctioned by governmental order?

1 Comment
01:45 UTC


Incomplete Draft Translation of Proudhon's Stock Exchange Speculator's Manual


I translated some parts of Proudhon's Stock Exchange Speculator's Manual, some months ago, but I haven't been able to finish it yet. It's quite laborious, and I've been lacking motivation to complete it.

05:31 UTC


What are the primary differences between Kevin Carson's and Shawn Wilbur's positions?

As far as I can tell, these two have had the biggest impact on modern mutualism (the work of both has def impacted my own thoughts on mutualism and anarchy more broadly).

What intrigues me is, what are the major differences between the two? What are their primary disagreements?

I remember reading somewhere that there was some disagreement over crisis theory? But I'm not sure.

Would love to read more to understand the nuances a bit more.


08:09 UTC


Questions regarding mutualism

So I have learned from past discussions on reddit and elsewhere that mutualism cannot be equated to market socialism, that it isn't really a specific conception of a free society like collectivism or communism. That it is really an open ended approach to anarchy that doesn't preclude market exchange, that it leaves all options open as long as they are consistent with anarchism. When explained this, I am left with the question as to what this approach entails. What does it mean in practice? What do mutualists do?

But that is not the only question I have. If mutualism cannot be reduced to market socialism, what proposals for a free society have mutualists put forth that don't involve markets? If mutualism is just an open ended approach, can it lead to collectivism or communism? If so, how would that happen?

What I don't understand is that if mutualism is more like an open ended approach as opposed to a specific tendency, what makes mutualists mutualists then? Why would one identify as a mutualist?

1 Comment
18:44 UTC


Guidelines and best practices for anarchic conflict resolution

In an anarchist society, nothing we do is permitted or prohibited, and we make decisions on our own responsibility with uncertain consequences.

That said, what are some good principles to follow in order to make well-informed choices, and defuse rather than inflame social tensions or disputes?

1 Comment
16:23 UTC


Currently re-reading Studies in the Mutualist Political Economy, wanted to check my understanding of capital accumulation/crisis

Hello all!

So one book that has been pretty influential on my thinking is Kevin Carson's Studies in the Mutualist Political Economy. However, it's a fairly dense book and on my first read-through I didn't totally understand it all.

Now that I'm better acquainted with some more marxist concepts and the like, I wanted to revisit the book and see if I understood it better. So I did.

Specifically, what I was struggling with last time was Carson's theory of capital accumulation and the subsequent crisis of overaccumulation, which the state tried to remedy, which leads to a crisis of under-accumulation as well as a broader fiscal crisis of the state.

The best way to see if you understand something is to try and explain it to others, so here goes, if you notice an error please lmk as I hope to learn!

Alright, here goes.

Basically Carson is arguing that the state tends to subsidize capital accumulation. The exact mechanisms for this are outside the discussion of the post (but they consist of tucker's monopolies, regulatory capture and cartelization, transportation subsidies, underwriting costs, etc).

The basic point is that the state tends to subsidize capital accumulation and the centralization of capital. As capital becomes more centralized and accumulated, the costs of production (as felt by the producer capitalist) falls. This means that goods become cheaper, but in order to offset high fixed costs, the capitalist must produce a greater volume of goods. Accumulated capital tends to make labor more productive, so the more accumulated capital the less and less labor is needed to produce a given level of output.

This has a number of consequences. First, since capital is highly accumulated and therefore centralized, there are fewer investment outlets in the economy because fewer competitors can enter into the economy to compete with the big boys. Second, as less labor is needed for production of a given level of output, less labor is needed for that level of output. This means that the demand for labor (and therefore the number of consumers of said output) falls.

This presents a problem for the capitalist. In order to remain competitive they MUST accumulate, but at the same time, the more they accumulate the less labor they need.

Only if the growth rate of the economy is greater than the drop in demand for labor can the capitalist system continue to work, because only then is the demand for labor increasing faster than it falls due to accumulation.

But of course, more growth means more accumulation which further exacerbates our problem. In order to keep currently over-accumulated capital stocks profitable, the capitalist needs to accumulate more because if they don't then there is insufficient demand to run their capital at full capacity, thereby increasing unit costs and making produce unsellable.

At the same time, there aren't any other investment outlets for our subsidized capitalist to invest in to recover from lost profits in the accumulated sector, because small time competitors can't compete (due to state interference).

Ultimately this means the system is fundamentally unstable. You can try and fix it via taxation to support consumption, but in so doing you reduce the funds available for investment and thereby make the problem of over-accumulation worse because now you have under-accumulation.

The whole economy is balanced on a pin point and is a fundamentally unstable and impossible to navigate system.

Is this explanation of Carson's ideas on the instability of capitalism and its crisises more or less correct?


00:13 UTC


Trying to understand "Of the Competition Between the Railways and the Waterways" by Proudhon

This is the text in question.

From my understanding, Proudhon is arguing that the existing Lyon canal, if nationalized and even when not, would be cheaper at cost price than the proposed Lyon railway. He argues this by arguing that there were inaccuracies in the figures put forward by the Chamber of Commerce regarding the costs of a railway versus the costs of transportation along the canal. There is a lot of math being done to establish the cost of transportation of the canal versus the railway as well and to be honest my eyes kind of glazed over those parts. He also discusses the result of competition between the railways and canals.

I am confused by some of the terminology used. I am aware that Proudhon used the word "the State" in a different sense but is he doing that in this work as well? There are some suggestions that this is the case but he appears to use the term in dual senses then since there are contexts wherein he talks about the government in conventional terms (i.e. when he talks about the State running the railways or canals) and in his own terms when he talks about the State's interests. Or perhaps this is wrong. I would like some clarification on that part. I also would like to know what he means by "shares" when he talks about "industrial shares" and "capital shares".

This is a very dense text and I am still working through it but I would like to know if anyone else has worked through it in the past and what sorts of notes they had made or perhaps what I should be thinking about as I read through the text.

19:08 UTC


What would we expect property rights around rare art or non-reproducible goods to look like within mutualism?

I recently saw an as for something called Masterworks, which basically sells shares of works of art as an investment device. That got me thinking, what would we expect property rights around these items be?

Because the typical operation of the law of value within anti-capitalist markets wouldn't apply as rare art is not reproducible and therefore price doesn't have to make cost, making it possible to profit.

So clearly some non market arrangement is neccessary for distribution and management of these rare art pieces (like if I could own the piece by hanging it in my house I could effectively sell it at a profit right? Granted this is taking a very strict view of property rights based on usufruct. I can definitely see rare pieces not being recognized on a mutual benefit basis as property and instead belonging to the public domain in a museum or something, I'm curious as to the basis of mutualist theories of property and their application here)

But I'm curious as to what this actual arrangement looks like. Most of the stuff I have read focuses on stuff like reproducible goods or social services, but I'd love to see how this sub issue works or if there's any literature on the topic?

02:14 UTC


What would a consistently anarchist approach be to issues of drug addiction?

Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan serve as the Golden Crescent, a particularly good set of countries and regions for opium production and a long historic of opioid (and now heroin) abuse. As such, there are world-high addiction rates within those regions constituting millions of people.

Absent of the unnecessary obstacles of prohibition to care, capitalist profit motive in continuing the trade, and the incentive of authorities who benefit from addictions to continue the trade, how will anarchists deal with the issue of drug addiction as a societal problem? Especially within the context of a wider governmental, capitalist world order where drug trade continues elsewhere or where the drug trade itself serves as an incentive for participation in the global capitalist economy?

21:13 UTC


[X-Post from anarchy101] Does mutualist Psychological cost theory of value apply to actually existing capitalism or only in anti-capitalist markets? If not, what is the theory of value that describes commodity prices in actually existing capitalism?

So the basic justification for the PCTV (psychological cost theory of value) is that if the price of a commodity is above the psychological cost, then people will enter the market, driving down the price. The reverse is true for cost greater than price.

Carson goes into more detail in the first 3 chapters of Studies in the Mutualist Political Economy.

The trouble with this, and all variants of the LTV is the infamous transformation problem.

Basically, capital will move towards higher profits and away from lower profits right? This tendency will tend to produce a relatively even rate of profit across the economy, since high profits attract capital, which increases competition, driving down profit. Lower profits have the reverse effect and overall this tends to create an even level of profits across the capitalist economy (if we assume that capital is free moving).

The question then becomes, if labor is the sole source of profit, then how can the rate of profit be equalized across industry? Labor-intensive industries will necessarily be more profitable because the have a higher proportion of profit creating substance in them.

Now, this isn't a problem if we don't have profits, and so it can very easily apply to an anti-capitalist market. But within actually existing capitalism, there are profits on invested capital and therefore there has to be some answer to the Transformation Problem.

The easiest answer that I can see is that labor is not the sole source of value within actually existing capitalism and that all inputs to production are marked up.

The question then becomes, what is the value of a commodity?

We can still adopt a cost-based theory of value, as the basic argument can be applied to all cost. However, the full cost must now include the disutility of labor (which is still exploited as labor cannot charge its full value), the "cost" of capital and the "cost" of land.

However, capital and land don't experience disutility in any real sense of the word. So what is the "natural price" of capital or land? You need some mechanism for determining what value represents the embedded rents on capital and land and I'm not sure what that is. What is the "natural price" for capital or land within capitalism?

Or is my solution incorrect?

11:08 UTC


Should I call myself a mutualist?

I started out as anarcho-syndicalist, then became a sort of anarchist without adjectives, because I realised I have doubts about the feasibility of a general strike.

At the moment I am agnostic on economics, I’m open to all options that aren’t hierarchical, and believe that trial-and-error or experimentation is the best way to determine how to organise an anarchic economy, rather than any sort of a priori plan in advance.

I extend my suspicion of a priori planning to education, military strategy, and other aspects of anarchic life.

For example, I might oppose compulsory schooling, but if I’m honest, I don’t really know what will replace it, and I think we should experiment with alternative forms of education, rather than fear the unknowns of dismantling the status quo.

Another issue I’m unsure on is the military. Whether or not standing armies would exist, or whether we adopt a militia model, is something I lack the confidence to take a strong opinion on.

To a conservative, this is scary. Uncertainty is something many people are deeply uncomfortable with, and one of the most common reasons why people dislike anarchy.

But I also think that’s what makes anarchism so fundamentally radical.

It is precisely the rejection of a priori prescriptions that distinguishes us from both conservatives who only want to stick to what they know, and the Utopian social planners of the left.

If this isn’t the essence of mutualist thought, then I don’t know what is.

It’s certainly the mindset I’ve adopted from Shawn’s Neo-Proudhonian thinking, so I would consider that a mutualist perspective.

07:56 UTC


What is the relationship between the government and capitalism according to mutualists?

And has there been literature, specifically from Proudhon, that discusses the relationship between capitalism and the government? Do they collude or are they antagonistic forces?

00:18 UTC

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