Thursday, May 06, 2021

Co-ops are no Cure for Capitalism


It is too early yet to pronounce in detail what various forms socialist administration will take. That will become more clear  to decide closer to the time. But its outlines exist now. It will not be a government, ordering affairs from the top, with merely the acquiescence of the people. It must be giving effect to the decisions of the workers themselves where every  public office must be elective, responsible, and revocable. 

On some matters it is possible to give detailed instructions, on others, general orders only, the particular execution of them being left to the discretion of the delegate. We are convinced that when working people are ready to take possession of the means of life they will be ready to begin to control them democratically. But in all matters in the socialist commonwealth, the will of those whose work he is doing, and not his own, should determine his actions. The socialist way out of capitalism is the only way. Consequently the very necessity of socialist propaganda, as a prelude to the overthrow of capitalist society, and the establishment of socialism, is sufficient to guard us against pessimism. But in carrying on the work of socialist education, one qualification is necessary, and that is, we must be patient. The work of enlightening the workers in the knowledge of their slave position and the way out from their slavery, is essential to the establishment of socialism. 

We do not pretend to prophecy as to the details of the future working class organisations, but reasoning from past and present experience, it would seem that the greatest efficiency would be attained by forming one organisation for political work and another for economic work. These two organisations would be affiliated under some form, and where necessary would work together, until socialism was established. One organisation on the industrial field would not be on the basis of its class, unless the members understood their slave position and were deliberately working for their own emancipation, by organising for control of political power, in addition to being organised on the economic field for immediate purposes. Socialism will be established when a majority of the working class use the vote to wrest political power out of the hands of the capitalist class for that object. This will leave a minority either neutral or actively opposing the new order. Without the backing of the political power, with its armed forces, the master class are bereft of any “power”—economic or other. To retain possession of the means of life, they are completely dependent upon the control of political power, which is placed in their hands by the working class who are ignorant of their own interests. The mills, mines, factories, etc., can only be seized after the workers have gained political power with its control of the armed forces. Any other method merely leads the working class to the shambles. The possession of political power by the master class is a result of the lack of class consciousness of the workers, it is clear that only with the growth of class consciousness—knowledge of their class position—will the political power be wrested from the hands of the masters.

Since the early 19th Century, groups of workers have tried to escape from their servile condition by creating either producer or consumer cooperatives as an aim in itself  or a much needed means of self-defence. Sometimes, cooperatives lessons were learned from it as a workplace experiment but at other times they proved to be a negative experience. Often they were expressions of  paternalistic reformism such as the Mondragon cooperative, which today has evolved into a large holding company. There are similar experiences of cooperatives failing across the world where the exploitation of the cooperative workers does not substantially differ from the exploitation of any other worker in conventional businesses. In short it leads to the cooperation of the workers participating in their own exploitation. Once a co-op  enters the capitalist market they are required to play by its the rules of competition and cost cutting to achieve returns. This situation forces them to compromise their workplace “democracy”. Above all, we should not think that the capitalist system can be gradually transformed by the multiplication of cooperatives.

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