A characteristic of healthy social movements is that they create the “structures” and the “tools” that are most appropriate to their needs and goals. The economic model of the Cooperativa Integral Catalana (CIC), which aspires to “bring together all the basic elements of an economy such as production, consumption, funding and a local currency” (“What’s CIC?”), is paradigmatic of this empirical axiom.
The kernel of this economic model are the so-called local exchange networks (or exchange groups), which are usually made up of tens or hundreds of members who exchange products and services by using their own digital currencies. In essence, each exchange network constitutes a self-organized marketplace for the local community in which its members can buy and sell locally-available products and services. The payment can take the form of barter exchange or if that is not possible, it can be made by means of the local currency used by each exchange network. Transactions made by using these local currencies are based on the principle of mutual credit, which means that when a transaction between two persons occurs, the account of one person is credited, the other’s debited. To illustrate with an example: if two individuals have no credits in their account and they exchange a loaf of bread at a price of 3 “monetary units”, then one of them will end up with 3 units and the other with 3 units below zero (that is, a “negative balance” of 3 units). From a technical point of view, keeping track of transactions and of members’ credit and debit balances is done through online platforms known as community exchange systems. These platforms constitute the tool with which members of exchange networks manage their accounts, as well as a virtual marketplace for buying and selling locally-available products and services.
A documentary about the local exchange network in Garrotxa
In Catalonia, in specific, there are more than 40 exchange networks known as “eco-networks” (“ecoxarxes” in Catalan) because of the local Catalan currency “eco”, some variant of which they all use. Its “birth” in Catalonia can be traced back to 2009 – about a year before the formation of the CIC in 2010 – when the eco-networks of Tarragona and Montseny introduced their own alternative currency (CIC 2015, Flores 2015).
Although their size differs substantially, some eco-networks have thousands of members: indicatively, the eco-network launched by CIC in 2010 has 2782 members (IntegralCES). From a technical point of view, the operation of about half of the eco-networks is based on the community exchange system (CES), while the rest, including the CIC, have “migrated” to the IntegralCES platform, which was developed upon the initiative of the CIC and several eco-networks as a modified version of CES that is adapted to their local needs.
Despite the fact that eco-networks represent an autonomous local structure, they are not cut off from each other: first of all, the software platforms they rely upon for their operation make it possible for members of different eco-networks to engage in transactions. Secondly, though each eco-network has its own autonomous assembly, they are all connected through the “institutions of meta-governance” evolved by the community of eco-networks, such as the “Space for the coordination of social currencies” (Espai de coordinació de monedes socials) and the so-called Bioregional assemblies of the South and the North of Catalonia, which serve as an informally-organized coordinating organ for eco-networks across the Catalan territory.
These are the outlines of the economic ecosystem in which the CIC is embedded and which it proposes as a tool for the transition to the post-capitalist society it envisions: a horizontally organized network of self-managed exchange networks with their own community currencies.