Liberty and Solidarity – For Mutualist Federalism

The genuine defense of liberty and embrace of solidarity is a direct revolt against the politics of domination and marginalization. Mutualist federalism seeks revolution in social relations and social organization.

Mutualist organizations provide a framework for building liberty and solidarity. Federalism enables the coordination of mutual organizations and networks, and provides a basis of relations among governmental structures that are not dissolved. At every level of organization, individual autonomy and human rights are to be centered and promoted.

A mutualist organization is an association of autonomous individuals for the mutual benefit of members, not economic or political bosses. They are founded on the principles of individual liberty and social solidarity. Individual liberty rests on the ability of each person to claim the maximum freedom that does not infringe on the equal liberty of another person. Solidarity is not about self-sacrifice but about the recognition of a common interest and the effort to work together in that common interest towards a better world.

Mutualist federalism aims to disperse political, economic, and social power, and to end to the greatest extent possible the domination of one person over another. It does not focus on destroying political structures but on building new structures to support autonomy. Mutualist organizations can exist separately from the constitutionally mandated state, but they can take over and improve upon the valuable services of state administrations and mitigate or prevent the harm caused by other state functions. By creating structures that provide genuine material and political benefit to large numbers of people, they assemble the political power to challenge authoritarian institutions.

Capitalism, an economic system that prioritizes profit and defends the hierarchies created by it, can be undermined by cooperative and mutual aid organizations. The rich have little power to compel obedience from people who have economic autonomy. Labor organizing can give working people security as well as time and space to develop further mutualistic organizations. Seeking a comfortable life with a few treasures is not evil. A system that deprives people of the benefits of technical progress so that some can accumulate ever more economic control and higher competition for status symbols will create evils.

Society is woven through with numerous hierarchies. Some are not harmful, such as a voluntary hierarchy based on respect for a particular expertise. Many are harmful. The struggle for social status by claiming and enforcing prescribed gender roles, the intersection of race, class, and cultural access that would put greater value on some lives than on others, the deadening of criticism by appealing to jargon or cultural symbolism, the subjugation of youth by those who are older and often no wiser, and numerous other big and small hierarchies prevent the full development of individual autonomy. Respecting individual autonomy and embracing social solidarity will destroy harmful hierarchies and unseat tyrants petty and big. The arrogance of self-described revolutionaries who focus more on accumulating social capital is poison to true social progress.

Any movement that looks to the future must consider the ecological problems the world is facing. Humans cannot live apart from the rest of the natural world. It is wrong to regard humanity as something separate from nature, and it is wrong to view the rejection of technical progress as a viable solution for anything besides recreation. Ecological solutions will be found in individual initiative and social action. An economic system that overemphasizes profit and growth will lead to wasteful environmental destruction. An economic system run on party decree will create waste and escalating conflict between people and the surrounding environment. Those who see the environment as nothing more than a resource to exploit tend to exploit the people who inhabit profitable environments. In any economic system, rejecting science and human safety will lead to devastating environmental damage.

Mutualist organizations can put essential values like equality and ecology before the profit motive while rewarding labor for its efforts. They can also establish ways to care for those in need without intrusive bureaucracies with budgets controlled by political expediency. A society that has ample means to secure people the basic needs of water, food, shelter, and medicine, but consistently fails to do so, is a society whose fundamental values should be questioned.

The social space to build mutualist organizations, make political changes, and enjoy individual freedoms must be created, defended, or expanded, as the situation determines. Liberal democratic government has shown obvious failures in safeguarding the lives and liberty of peaceable individuals within its reach. However, the existence of competing powers and legitimating principles within liberal democracy offers a political space that may be favorable to creating the next steps in social organization. It remains to be seen how far liberal democratic government can coexist with a growing mutualist federalist political environment, and constitutional restructuring or abolition of constitutional institutions may be required. Political attacks on the restraints that liberal democracy places on the exercise of government power, however weak those restraints may appear, should be alarming to those who wish to build a more free and just society. People living in places with authoritarian regimes must devise the optimal ways for them to deal with the state, and everyone should consider which foreign and transnational movements they could support. With any government, the failures and attacks of the state create pockets of resistance or non-conformity that may benefit themselves and expand liberty through mutualist social organizing.

It is better that political offices are filled by people with good values, but electioneering is not the only political activity that will make a difference. Building mutualist organizations to disperse and challenge the power of the state and those with political influence is building the infrastructure that will best support individual liberty and social solidarity.

Revolution is rarely achieved without a single incident of violence, whether committed by the revolutionaries or by the authorities. It should be recognized that the status quo is also violent, and that rebels who are fixated on violence are unlikely to create a just and free society. The question to ask is how revolutionary aims can be advanced peaceably, and how revolutionary gains, and people themselves, can best be protected from the violence of reactionaries, radical authoritarian enemies, and people who use their positions within the movement to take advantage of others. Mutualist federalism advances revolution through social change and social organizing, and builds the solidarity that helps individuals and communities defend themselves without relying on authorities.

The world needs people who are willing to consider new ideas and to build on the past without perpetuating its mistakes and evils. Mutualist federalism ultimately rests on the autonomy of the individual. The values of liberty and solidarity are advanced by individuals who embrace them. Friends of mutualist federalism should try to enact the values of liberty and solidarity in all areas of life and consider how to improve social relations they are part of. They should encourage others to improve and also consider to what extent it is worth engaging with hostile people. They should bring personal conscience and understanding of issues to all social organizing.

We refuse to give up the future to the rulers who would steal it from us. We have in mind a better world, and we will make it happen.


More Reading:

Clarence Lee Swartz, What is Mutualism? 1927.

Abdullah Ă–calan, Democratic Confederalism. 2017.

George Orwell, Looking Back on the Spanish War. 1942.

Murray Bookchin, What Is Social Ecology? 1993.

Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience. 1849.

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