Monday, March 26, 2007

Albert Brisbane, The Mutualist Township, II

Albert Brisbane, "The Mutualist Township," The Spirit of the Age, II, 13 (March 30, 1850), 200-202.





The township would have a common Oven, to which the families could send their bread to be baked. This would save 80 ovens and 80 heatings, a vast deal of useless labor and trouble to 80 housekeepers, and in addition, badly baked bread three times out of five.

A convenient and commodious Wash-house should also be established; here the different families could resort to do their washing, avoiding by this means the dreary recurrence of wash-day at home; or the washing could be done by a group of women, paid at a fair rate for their labor. In either case the most perfect machinery for washing, pressing, drying, crimping, and ironing, should be introduced; the drudgery attendant upon this branch of work could be abridged one-half or two-thirds, and toil and sickness— particularly in winter—avoided to the wives and daughters of the members.


It is a matter of utmost importance to secure regular and profitable employment at all times to all the members of the township. A vast deal of time is lost by our farming population under the present system; the sons and daughters of the farmers, so often without proper spheres of activity on the farms, are reduced to idleness, or forced to leave the homestead for other fields of exertion. Let us guard against this, against the thoughtless and idle life, so common in the country, especially in the winter months. Let us organize certain branches of Industry, so as to open a profitable field of employment for all the members of the township, who otherwise might be idle.

What are the branches of labor that can be prosecuted in common?

The care of herds and flocks, the dairy, the raising of poultry, care of bees, besides those already mentioned.

Members wishing to engage in these pursuits would form companies or groups, each of which would take charge of one of these branches.


Let us suppose that forty young women agree to engage in dairying. Au extensive dairy would be constructed, in which nearly all the operations of the township in this line could be concentrated. It would be built, like the granaries, by the members collectively, each furnishing cash, products, or labor according to his choice, to be repaid in installments out of the earnings of the concern

The members of the company or group—and what I say of this group applies to all others—would introduce a systematic division into the work; one or more persons would take charge of a detail, for the proper execution of which they would be responsible. Each member would be paid according to the time she worked, and according to the value of the work, estimated by the skill or difficulty required in its execution. A member who worked one hundred days would receive twice as much as one who worked but fifty, provided their labor belonged to the same category, or was considered of equal difficulty.

The making and exportation of cheese and butter could be prosecuted on an extensive scale in the township, and would be a valuable source of revenue. A Mutualist operation of this kind has long been in successful operation in a part of Switzerland. The peasant of Jura, finding that the milk collected by a single family does not pay the expense of making an esteemed kind of cheese, called Gruyere, unite and bring their milk daily to a common dairy, where notes are kept of the quantity deposited by each family; from these small collections a large cheese is manufactured, which is divided pro rata among those who contributed the milk to it. The farmers of the township would, in a like manner, send their milk to the public dairy, and receive in return the value in butter and cheese, or their share of the profits when sold. Milk, in large quantities, would also be furnished by the herdsmen.


The raising of animals on a large scale would form a very important branch of operations in the township.

Certain portions of the domain, and the outskirts for the most part, would be fenced off and devoted to pasturelands for herds of horses and cattle, for sheep, and other animals if found profitable.

A group of fifteen or twenty young men, with a few experienced persons to advise them, would engage in the raising of horses; another in the raising of horned cattle, and so with the sheep and swine. In a few years extensive herds and flocks might be raised from a small beginning—from stock put in at first by the farmers.

These herds and flocks would furnish teams for all farming operations; butter, cheese, and meat to the members; hides for the tannery; wool for the cloth manufactory, besides a large surplus for external sale.

The pasture lands would be selected and reserved when the domain was first laid out; they would be collective, not individual property,—and would form part of a collective fund, the revenue of which would be devoted to purposes of public utility—schools, libraries, &c.

Farmers wishing to keep cattle, could have them taken care of by the groups of herdsmen, paying therefore a certain per centage in kind.

An extensive Apiary could be organized on the same plan, as also an extensive poultry-yard. The latter could be attended to by young persons and children combined.

The establishment of a certain number of Mutualist branches of Industry would be of so much advantage—material as well as moral—to the township, that it cannot be too strongly recommended, however much it may be out of the track of present habits.

It would be a source of profit, and a means of industrial education to the younger members of the township, who would mostly engage in those branches.

It would secure regular employment to all who wished it.

It would increase greatly the collective prosperity of the township

It would unite the interests of farming and manufactures, and combine their operations.

It would aid agriculture essentially, by furnishing an abundant supply of teams and other materials; and, by relieving the farmers from an immense amount of useless and extraneous drudgery—care of teams and cattle, fencing, &c.—which will forever prevent scientific or high a farming.


There is one more arrangement which I would recommend; it is a system of Reciprocal Services, or Exchange of Labor. The members of the township should organize a general system of mutual aid, based upon strict reciprocity and equivalence, except in cases of misfortune.

There is a great deal of labor, particularly in agriculture, which requires to be done promptly and within a given time. There are labors also, in which combination multiplies the power of each individual by that of the mass. A farmer has, for example, fields to plow; if he works alone he will spend two or three weeks of solitary labor upon them; he wishes it done in as many days. A be system of reciprocal services should be instituted whereby he could obtain the requisite amount of aid at any given time, by giving previous notice. Crops are to be harvested and gathered promptly to avoid storms and exposure; a sufficient amount of labor must be combined and concentrated at the various points where necessary, and as required.

Books would be kept open at the Township Counting-house, where would be inscribed the names:

1st. Of those members who were in want of employment, and were willing to work for others requiring it.

2nd. Of those who were willing to exchange labor with each other—aiding their neighbors to be aided in turn by sent them.

No settling of accounts would take place between members, as it would unavoidably give rise to bickerings and selfish disputes. Accounts would be settled at the Counting-house; this would take place at stated times, say the quarterly. Each individual would be credited for the labor he had performed, or debited for the labor he had received. Offsets would be made which would balance many of the accounts: balances would be paid in cash or products.


This is an important point and one in which innovation, however essential, will be difficult, owing to acquired habits and prejudices. The present tenure of the soil gives rise to great evils, and would in the Mutualist Township, if not counterpoised by proper regulations, lead to a disruption of the system.

The lands might, for example, be monopolized by a few, and population too much diminished for the operation of Mutualism; or, on the other hand, they might be cut up into too small parcels, which would produce other evils. Mortgages, foreclosures, irregular divisions of the land, and consequent incoherent distribution of the domain, would also take place—sowing the seeds of conflict and disunion. How can these abuses, as well as the master evil of land monopoly, and speculation in land, be avoided? I will point out three methods, leaving the choice to those concerned.

1st. Represent the entire landed property of the Township by stock, divided into shares. Each person owning a share would be entitled to a farm. The farms would be laid out according to the best judgment of the founders of the township; the size and boundary lines would be decided upon and made permanent—not to be changed except by the collective consent and authority. The farmer could sell his share and leave, or he could make an exchange of farms with any other member, but he could not change the size, boundaries, or shape of the farm. The shares should be held by those only who cultivate the land; and no person could hold more than one share—that is, own more than one farm. By this means land monopoly would be avoided, and land-rents and the tenant-system rendered impossible. The farms would be originally laid out of various sizes so as to suit all wants. Industrial liberty would not be thwarted in any way by this system of stock-property, applied to the soil. The price of the shares would not vary, but would be maintained at the original cost of the land. The improvements put upon it would be sold by him who made them, at such a price as he chose to ask or could obtain.

2nd. The land might be held by trustees, and each farmer own a perpetuate lease of a farm, paying for the lease once for all, not an annual rent. This would be substantially the same as owning the land, save that certain guarantees against monopoly, necessary to the collective good, would be secured.

3rd. The farms might be held in fee-simple as at present, with this simple restriction or sales; namely, that no member could sell his land except to a landless man. If the domain were laid out originally by the founders of the township, and a maximum size agreed upon for the farms, this simple innovation might prevent land monopoly and the concentration of the soil in the hands of a few.

Let me sum up briefly the leading features of the Mutualist Township.

Each family will own its own house, manage its own domestic affairs, and live separately as at present. No innovation is proposed in the family life.

Each farmer will own his own farm, and each mechanic his own workshop, and will prosecute his branches of labor as he judges proper. Each will own the entire fruits of his industry, and will be responsible for his own failure or success.

Domestic life and the prosecution of labor would be an individual affair, and would be left in their present separate and individualist state.

All other interests, branches of business and labor would, as far as possible, be organized, prosecuted, and regulated, according to the Mutualist principle; that is, jointly and cooperatively.

Combined granaries, barns and stables would be built. Extensive agricultural machinery would be purchased jointly. Combination in purchase and sales would be introduced, and a common store would be owned by the township. A combined edifice for the workshops would be erected. Combination would be applied to baking and washing. Concert of action to fencing, ditching, draining. A system of Mutualism would be introduced into exchanges of Labor and into Credit.

Various branches of combined Industry would be organized—cattle-raising, wool-growing, the dairy, apiary, poultry-yards, &c.—which would give occupation to all those who could not find it on the farms or in the workshops.

Thus Mutualism and Cooperation—System and Organization—will be introduced into the higher and more general branches of Industry. Individual responsibility and separate prosecution will exist in branches of an individual character.

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