Definition & Description1.
From an overview article in Dollars and Sense at http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2006/0706emiller.html
"For some theorists of the movement, it begins with a redefinition of economic space itself. The dominant neoclassical story paints the economy as a singular space in which market actors (firms or individuals) seek to maximize their gain in a context of scarce resources. These actors play out their profit-seeking dramas on a stage wholly defined by the dynamics of the market and the state. Countering this narrow approach, solidarity economics embraces a plural and cultural view of the economy as a complex space of social relationship in which individuals, communities, and organizations generate livelihoods through many different means and with many different motivations and aspirations—not just the maximization of individual gain. The economic activity validated by neoclassical economists represents, in this view, only a tiny fraction of human efforts to meet needs and fulfill desires.
What really sustains us when the factories shut down, when the floodwaters rise, or when the paycheck is not enough? In the face of failures of market and state, we often survive by self-organized relationships of care, cooperation, and community. Despite the ways in which capitalist culture generates and mobilizes a drive toward competition and selfishness, basic practices of human solidarity remain the foundation upon which society and community are built. Capitalism's dominance may, in fact, derive in no small part from its ability to co-opt and colonize these relationships of cooperation and mutual aid.
In expanding what counts as part of "the economy," solidarity economics resonates with other streams of contemporary radical economic thought. Marxist economists such as Stephen Resnick and Richard Wolff, for example, have suggested that multiple "modes of production" co-exist alongside the capitalist wage-labor mode. Feminist economists have demonstrated how neoclassical conceptions have hidden and devalued basic forms of subsistence and caregiving work that are often done by women. Feminist economic geographer J.K. Gibson-Graham, in her books The End of Capitalism (As We Knew It) (1998) and A Postcapitalist Politics (2006), synthesizes these and other streams of thought in what she calls the "diverse economies perspective." Addressing concerns that are central to the solidarity economy approach, she asks, "If we viewed the economic landscape as imperfectly colonized, homogenized, systematized, might we not find openings for projects of noncapitalist invention? Might we not find ways to construct different communities and societies, building upon what already exists?"
Indeed, the first task of solidarity economics is to identify existing economic practices—often invisible or marginal to the dominant lens—that foster cooperation, dignity, equity, self-determination, and democracy. As Carola Reintjes of the Spanish fair trade association Iniciativas de economía alternativa y solidaria (IDEAS) points out, "Solidarity economy is not a sector of the economy, but a transversal approach that includes initiatives in all sectors." This project cuts across traditional lines of formal/informal, market/non-market, and social/economic in search of solidarity-based practices of production, exchange and consumption—ranging from legally-structured worker cooperatives, which engage the capitalist market with cooperative values, to informal affinity-based neighborhood gift networks. (See "A Map of the Solidarity Economy," pp. 20-21.) At a 2000 conference in Dublin on the "Third Sector" (the "voluntary" sector, as opposed to the for-profit sector and the state), Brazilian activist Ana Mercedes Sarria Icaza put it this way: "To speak of a solidarity economy is not to speak of a homogeneous universe with similar characteristics. Indeed, the universe of the solidarity economy reflects a multiplicity of spaces and forms, as much in what we would call the 'formal aspects' (size, structure, governance) as in qualitative aspects (levels of solidarity, democracy, dynamism, and self-management)."
At its core, solidarity economics rejects one-size-fits-all solutions and singular economic blueprints, embracing instead a view that economic and social development should occur from the bottom up, diversely and creatively crafted by those who are most affected. As Marcos Arruda of the Brazilian Solidarity Economy Network stated at the World Social Forum in 2004, "a solidarity economy does not arise from thinkers or ideas; it is the outcome of the concrete historical struggle of the human being to live and to develop him/herself as an individual and a collective." Similarly, contrasting the solidarity economy approach to historical visions of the "cooperative commonwealth," Henri de Roche noted that "the old cooperativism was a utopia in search of its practice and the new cooperativism is a practice in search of its utopia." Unlike many alternative economic projects that have come before, solidarity economics does not seek to build a singular model of how the economy should be structured, but rather pursues a dynamic process of economic organizing in which organizations, communities, and social movements work to identify, strengthen, connect, and create democratic and liberatory means of meeting their needs." (http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2006/0706emiller.html)
"The social and solidarity-based economy refers to socially-oriented economical activities which are run in favour of the setting up of a new way to live and devise the economy through about ten thousands projects in the Northern countries as well as in the Southern countries.
The Lima meeting which took place in 1997 and the Quebec meeting which took place in 2001 both have given social and solidarity-based economy the following definition: … sets the human factor as the bottom line in the economical and social development. Solidarity in economy consists in a project which is not only economical but also political and social and which implies a new conception and functioning of politics and a new way to establish relationships on the basis of the consensus and citizen behaving. (Statement of Lima, 1997)
In this type of economy, job and people come first, before money. It is based on a democratic decision-making system, on a strong social involvement and on quality relationships. The social and solidarity-based economy contributes to the creation of job opportunities and increases the capacities of social businessmen. It helps social development and consolidates the power to act of local authorities, by setting up new positions, offering new services, improving life quality, protecting environment and by creating wealth within ethical conditions. We have to devise economy other than according to the neoliberal logic. Economy must serve the society and not the contrary. The vision of economical pluralism does not reconsider the significance of the private sector, but lauds a parallel development of the public and social economy. It comes to produce socio-economical innovation and social change and so, to develop a third path, which is neither an unconscionable neoliberalism nor a full state-owned economy." (http://www.lux09.lu/index.php?id=21&L=2)
"The idea and practice of "solidarity economics" emerged in Latin America in the mid-1980s and blossomed in the mid to late 90s, as a convergence of at least three social trends.
First, the economic exclusion experienced by growing segments of society, generated by deepening debt and the ensuing structural adjustment programs imposed by the International Monetary Fund, forced many communities to develop and strengthen creative, autonomous and locally-rooted ways of meeting basic needs. These included initiatives such as worker and producer cooperatives, neighborhood and community associations, savings and credit associations, collective kitchens, and unemployed or landless worker mutual-aid organizations.
Second, growing dissatisfaction with the culture of the dominant market economy led groups of more economically privileged people to seek new ways of generating livelihoods and providing services. From largely a middle-class "counter-culture"—similar to that in the Unites States since the 1960's—emerged projects such as consumer cooperatives, cooperative childcare and health care initiatives, housing cooperatives, intentional communities, and ecovillages.
There were often significant class and cultural differences between these two groups. Nevertheless, the initiatives they generated all shared a common set of operative values: cooperation, autonomy from centralized authorities, and participatory self-management by their members.
A third trend worked to link the two grassroots upsurges of economic solidarity to each other and to the larger socioeconomic con-text: emerging local and regional movements were beginning to forge global connections in opposition to the forces of neoliberal and neocolonial globalization. Seeking a democratic alternative to both capitalist globalization and state socialism, these movements identified community-based economic projects as key elements of alternative social organization.
At the First Latin Encuentro of Solidarity Culture and Socioeconomy, held in 1998 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, participants from Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Peru, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Colombia, and Spain created the Red latinoamericana de la economía solidaria (Latin American Solidarity Economy Network). In a statement, the Network declared, "We have observed that our experiences have much in common: a thirst for justice, a logic of participation, creativity, and processes of self-management and autonomy." By linking these shared experiences together in mutual support, they proclaimed, it would be possible to work toward "a socioeconomy of solidarity as a way of life that encompasses the totality of the human being."
Since 1998, this solidarity economy approach has developed into a global movement. The first World Social Forum in 2001 marked the creation of the Global Network of the Solidarity Socioeconomy, fostered in large part by an international working group of the Alliance for a Responsible, Plural, and United World. By the time of the 2004 World Social Forum in Mumbai, India, the Global Network had grown to include 47 national and regional solidarity economy networks from nearly every continent, representing tens of thousands of democratic grassroots economic initiatives worldwide. At the most recent World Social Forum in Venezuela, solidarity economy topics comprised an estimated one-third of the entire event's program." (http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2006/0706emiller.html)
Argentina"Following are the chief forms of social and solidarity economy that they proceeded to create in 2002 and 2003 without money:
The pot-banging protest was turned into a permanent, directed civic movement known as the “self-convened neighborhood assemblies.” They spread over the country with 60 to 80 in the capital -- a lose network often linked through websites. The assemblies debated and organized solutions.
In what was Latin America’s most prosperous republic, 50% of Argentinians fell below the poverty line in 2002, and an estimated 8 of the nation’s 37 million people did not eat every day. So a massive movement of community gardens called huertas, sprang up in public parks, school yards and open spaces. Often linked to public restaurants or comedores by bonds of solidarity, around 45,000 huertas fed over 2.5 million people into 2003.
To circulate the necessities of life without money some 5000 local barter networks were created under the Solidarity Barter Network (RTS) and Ecovale, allowing millions to avoid destitution. Independent of the peso, swap shops, barter, and other forms of social money flourished.
Entrepreneurship having died for want of effective demand and credit, associations offering microcredit came forward, filling the void with micro-savings.
Perhaps most important of all, workers seized scores of factories across the country: 17 in Buenos Aires province and 3 in the capital itself by mid-2002, a movement that reached over 200 “recuperated” enterprises at its peak. IMPA, for 4 years a self-managed co-op making aluminum wrapping, opened its space to a cultural center and barter club."
In sum, Caraggio said: “Activists long committed to the co-op movement as part of a dynamic of modifying society, have suddenly found fertile terrain in which to launch their projects.” (http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/articles/report_argentina.htm)
DiscussionEuclides André Mance:
"Millions of people across the world practise solidarity economy. They work and consume in order to produce for their own and other people’s welfare, rather than for profit. In solidarity economy what matters is creating satisfactory economic conditions for all people. This means assuring individual and collective freedoms, generating work and income, abolishing all forms of exploitation, domination and exclusion, and protecting ecosystems as well as promoting sustainable development.
This network initially came out of successful practices of work and income generation, fair trade, ethical consumption, solidarity finance, and the diffusion of sustainable productive technologies. These efforts were, however, isolated. It was necessary for them to develop into collaborative networks that integrated these diverse actions with strategies that increased the potential of economic flows and the interconnections between them. This meant that solidarity finance could enable the emergence and maintenance of worker-managed productive enterprises that employed low-impact technologies and promoted the highest social benefit. The products of these enterprises started being commercialised in circuits of solidarity trade through shops, fairs, international fair trade systems and even internet sales. This in turn enabled consumers to replace the products and services they bought from capitalist enterprises with products and services produced within the solidarity economy, feeding back into a system of promotion of welfare for workers and consumers, environmental protection and sustainable development. Technologies such as free software and organic agriculture began being employed, developed and shared across these networks. Excess wealth produced in the circuit was reinvested, part of it in the form of solidarity microfinance.
However fast solidarity economy is developing, millions of people who fight for ‘another world’ do not practise or participate in it. First, because they are unaware of it; second, because of the relatively difficult access to the products and services produced within this other economy. Both difficulties can be quickly surmounted. The main obstacle is cultural: to overcome a consumerist culture that prizes quantity, excess, possession and waste over the welfare of people and communities, we need to replace unsustainable forms of production, consumption and ways-of-life with the affirmation of new ways of producing, consuming and living in solidarity.
As they progress in the economic and cultural terrains of this revolution, solidarity networks will also advance in the political sphere – transforming the State, creating and reinforcing mechanisms of popular participation. There is no linearity in this revolution; each reality changes in its own way. But by virtue of their being-in-network, collaborative processes can communicate and learn from each historical experience, successful or not. The information technologies that facilitate their interconnection tend to become increasingly central to the State and the public sphere. This opens up the possibility of new processes and mechanisms of governance and shared management that can result from the combined effects of democratic revolutions in the cultural sphere with collaborative solidarity economic processes as its material base." (http://www.turbulence.org.uk/solidarityeconom.html)
SE as a big tent, 'pluralist' approach"Solidarity economy is not a single type of economy such as market socialism, parecon, 21st Century Socialism, and so forth. It is a big tent which can hold many different approaches. Solidarity economy is committed to pluralism which means that this is not a one-size-fits-all approach. We believe that different economic frameworks are suitable in different places and times - or in the words of the Zapatista, "a world in which many worlds fit."
We desperately need this big tent where proponents of different models and strategies for achieving a just, democratic and sustainable economy can dialogue, debate and learn from each other without having to fight it out to be the ‘chosen one.’ This fight to be top dog is one of the reasons that the left does not have a unified vision of what we are for, as opposed to what we’re against.
The solidarity economy holds core principles of solidarity, equity (in all dimensions – race, class, gender, etc.), sustainability, participatory democracy, and pluralism, rather than hewing to a particular economic ideology or model. We welcome debate, discussion, and critique - all informed by real world experience and practice. We believe that there is a huge foundation upon which to build the solidarity economy if we only open our eyes to its many existing facets and start to pull together toward a common transformative goal.
Pieces of this foundation include the practices that you list as examples: land trusts, cooperatives and fair trade, along with many others such as social finance, complementary currencies, participatory budgeting, the commons movement, and various progressive policies. The solidarity economy is not just another economic alternative, but rather is a way of pulling together the wonderful, but isolated practices and polices so that we can put forth a vision and build social/economic systems that puts people and planet front and center." (http://trustcurrency.blogspot.com/2009/12/currencies-and-solidarity-economics-at.html)
Len Krimerman: the strengths of the SE movement"First, and what for me is most distinctive and exciting, is what might be called SE's "constructivist" or "agency centered" account of economic institutions. To get at this, recall poet Muriel Rukeyser's statement: "The world is not made of atoms, it is made of stories." Applying this to the "economic world", we find that the very common belief that a single homogenized economy called "capitalism" prevails in this or that country or across the globe is, ultimately, just one story among many.
This constructivist perspective is clearly expressed in another of Ethan Miller's papers, in which he encourages us to leave behind "a story that makes us feel small and powerless", and which "has hidden from us our own power". In that new and empowering story, we would view
"capitalism, with its free markets, its "jobs" and "wages"... as only one part of how we actually create and maintain livelihoods in our families and communities. When we peel away the misleading idea of one giant "Economic System," we can begin to see the workings of many different kinds of economies that are alive and well, supporting us below the surface."3
In A Postcapitalist Politics, another fountainhead source of both the theory and practice of SE, Gibson-Graham discuss the problems faced by Argentine factory workers involved in the "Take", the initiative which began in 2001 to take over abandoned factories and recuperate them under worker control. The main obstacle faced by these workers, according to Gibson-Graham
...was not the state or capital...but their own subjectivities. They were workers, not managers or sales reps or entrepreneurs, and as one of them said, "If they had come to us with 50 pesos and told us to show up for work tomorrow, we would have done so.4
In other words, they had swallowed the capitalist story and their place within it. To move beyond this story, a first step in helping construct a solidarity economy, required what these workers came to call "a struggle against themselves"; that is, they found that
...combating capitalism [involves] refusing a long-standing sense of self and mode of being in the world, while simultaneously cultivating new forms of sociability, visions of happiness, and economic capacities.5
For both Ethan Miller and Gibson-Graham, SE starts with the familiar "reluctant subject" - often, ourselves! - whose sense of self and agency is constricted by living inside stories fabricated by others. Its aim in this is to move us from pervasive but disempowering stories to ones which reveal previously hidden options and help us realize more of our own capabilities.6 Beyond this, approaches such as those of the Asset-Based Community Development method are utilized. These enable participants to reframe not only themselves but their neighborhoods and communities - to tell themselves different stories about these - from what is missing or defective to what can be identified as resources and strengths.
The assets-based portrayal invites communities to begin thinking about what they can do to mobilize what they already have. While assistance might be garnered from the outside, it is sought as a second, not a first resort, and only after community members have decided how they can manage additional resources themselves.7
Concretely, this constructivist first step has been an essential first step for most SE initiatives: for example, for a lone Basque priest and a few technical school students, faced with the devastation of a civil war, to reject both capitalist and communist frameworks and see themselves as "social inventors" of what has become the Mondragon enterprise system of inter-connected worker owned and run cooperatives, which now produces more durable goods than any other single Spanish manufacturer and has only lost two enterprises in its six decades.
It was also essential, in 1965, for a handful of Tokyo housewives distressed by the high prices and low quality of supermarket foods to reframe themselves as "organizers who could broker contracts" between households, neighborhoods, and small farmers for affordable and organic dairy products, grains, and produce. Calling themselves "Seikatsu" (roughly, "peoples lives"), their system of consumer and worker cooperatives now serves over 300,000 members in several Japanese cities. (http://www.seikatsuclub.coop/english/)
A second and related asset of SE initiatives is the (comparative) ease with which they can be started, at least within so-called liberal democracies. The growth in CSAs in the USA is just one example; by some estimates, there are now close to two thousand, up from only about sixty in 1990. (http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/features <http://newfarm.rodaleinstitute.org/features/0204/csa2/part2.shtml> ) A 2007 USDA survey indicated that "...12,549 farms in the United States reported marketing products through a community supported agriculture (CSA) arrangement". (http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/csa/csa.shtml <http://www.nal.usda.gov/afsic/pubs/csa/csa.shtml>) These, like the greatest majority of solidarity economy projects, including Mondragon and Seikatsu, began with little or no outside capital; they are built on human labor and other locally available or community-based resources, and their equitable exchange. They required no unusual permission or forms of support from the mainstream political establishment. Furthermore, as already mentioned, joining the SE family does not involve pledging allegiance to any party lines, ideologies, sectarian leaders, religious or ethnic factions, etc.
Of course, under repressive regimes, alternatives of any sort are never easy to introduce; here, civil disobedience and constructive non-violent resistance have often proved necessary. This is evidenced by the case of the MST (Movimento Sem Terra) in Brazil, a SE initiative which has forcefully occupied almost 20 million hectares of otherwise unutilized land and settled well over 1 million formerly landless people, helping them co-create housing, agriculturutal, and educational cooperatives. (For other similar cases, see Vandana Shiva's Earth Democracy, esp. chapter 5.).
A third strength of SE is that several of its most prominent initiatives can be seen as pioneers of new, upscaled, and highly participatory forms of democracy. This includes, among others, the Brazilian participatory budget process, now exported widely across the world (information at www.participatorybudgeting.org <http://www.participatorybudgeting.org/> ); the afore-mentioned MST, as well as the Mondragon, Italian, and Seikatsu cooperative organizations; and La Via Campesina, which describes itself as [an] international movement of peasants, small- and medium-sized producers, landless, rural women, indigenous people, rural youth and agricultural workers. We defend the values and the basic interests of our members. We are an autonomous, pluralist and multicultural movement, independent of any political, economic, or other type of affiliation. Our members are from 148 organisations) in 69 countries. (http://www.viacampesina.org)
All of these, in strikingly different ways, are what workplace democracy and anarchist activist George Benello called "working models" of what democracy looks like when it is "upscaled" to enable meaningful participation (beyond occasional voting) for populations which number in the millions. That is, they have invented opportunities for all participants or stakeholders to shape the priorities and practices of large-sized communities; devolved authority to smaller or more local groups; and reframed the core task of larger units as that of facilitating leadership in and enabling collaboration among what emerges from below.
The range of these pioneering models is also worth noting; from landless peasants to middle class housewives, to university educated and computer-savvy worker owners and cooperative developers; and across national and continental borders. Moreover, they have achieved these goals and have been walking their reinvented democratic talk for multiple decades: they are here today, and for the long haul.
Fourth and finally, SE offers something unique to those joining its ranks: the opportunity to make, or begin making, a living, to share in the development and utilization of economically essential resources - while contributing to the creation of a genuinely new and better world.
Of course, not every SE initiative by itself can guarantee participants a living income, or a mortgage-free home with a computer or laptop in every room. Some come close; the Mondragon or the northern Italian cooperatives have standards of living above the European average. Others, such as local currencies, or housing cooperatives, may provide only a part of one's economic needs; they must be supplemented to yield the missing components of economic security. A worker cooperative may offer a decent income, plus a portion of the enterprise's surplus revenues, to all of its members, but they will still need a CSA and an energy coop....to combat inflated market prices of essential material goods.
Nonetheless, especially in these grim times of more than 10% unemployment, the co-op is still a good start.
These then make up some of what could be called the "SE Advantage": its constructivist and "subject-focused" approach to understanding economic life; the relative ease with which its initiative can get started; its capacity to build and maintain working models of highly participatory democracy across both geographical, educational, and class boundaries; and its ability to sustain us as we attempt to build a new world for all of its inhabitants. In my own view, these are advantages over not only (what Thatcher and the like tell us is) the status quo, but in comparison with many more familiar forms of "social change"; e.g., those aimed at either reforming that status quo through conventional electoral politics or at overthrowing it by means of violent uprisings. Possibly, my suggestions for strengthening SE, which follow, may convince you of this." (http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/22092)
Solidarity Economics as a P2P ApproachA Solidarity Economics approach to development starts with the idea of Peer Equity. The capacities of the individuals are considered paramount to the success of any endeavor, and are the building blocks for what comes next. A solidarity approach helps to identify the unique gifts of peers, and can lead to the identification of solutions that continue to involve the participation of peers throughout the life of whatever new Common Resource is developed.
Key Books to Read
- Solidarity Economy: Building Alternatives for People and Planet. by Carl Davidson. Lulu.com, 2007
- Intro essay: Introduction to the Solidarity Economy
- http://www.socioeco.org/en: Alliance for a Responsible, Plural and United World, a workgroup on the Socioeconomy of Solidarity. Currently the most comprehensive source for material in English on solidarity economy theory and practice.
- http://www.communityeconomies.org: Community Economies Project, an ongoing collaboration between academic and community researchers and activists in Australia, North America, and Southeast Asia, developing theories and practices around the concept of "diverse economies."
- http://www.trueque-marysierras.org.ar/biblioteca2.htm: A website of one of Argentina's many barter clubs; a large, excellent library of Solidarity Economy articles in Spanish.
- http://www.ecosol.org.br: A cooperative website maintained by a number of supporters of solidarity economy; perhaps the best library of Brazilian Solidarity Economy material available online.
- http://delicious.com/uniteddiversity/solidarity+economy - United Diversity's Solidarity Economy links on delicious
- Ethan Miller: Solidarity Economy: Key Concepts and Issues pdf
- Ethan Miller: Other Economies Are Possible html
- Ethan Miller: Solidarity Economics. Strategies for Building New Economies. From the Bottom-Up and the Inside-Out
Data Commons Project
- Kongress Solidarische Ökonomie, 20.-22. Februar 2009
- Solidarische Ökonomie - Projekte für eine andere Welt