By Marcel Vieta
This article maps out a possible genealogy of autogestión – workers’ self-management – through ‘the stream of self-determination’ that historically grounds and flows through it. While its practices among working people long predate the modern capitalist era, theoretical and political considerations of autogestión as the cornerstone of an alternative society began to be mapped out most fully with 19th-century classical social anarchists.
For them, the practices of self-managed workers’ organizations and cooperatives stimulated ideas about the other society free from capitalist and state exploitation. Influencing 20th- and 21st-century theories and practices of alternative economic arrangements, notions of autogestión have continued to prefigure and advance, implicitly and explicitly, the self-determination of people’s own productive lives. The first section of the article posits that freedom for self-determination via autogestión finds its wellspring in classical social anarchist economics. Subsequent sections of the article address the continued relevance of the stream of self-determination for 20th-century theories and practices of autogestión, ultimately leading to a theory of a ‘new cooperativism’ for the 21st century. The stream of self-determination coursing through autogestión – first articulated by classical social anarchists – continues to prefigure a different socio-economic reality for the future in the present.