Showing posts with label cooperatives. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cooperatives. Show all posts

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Self-Management or Self-Exploitation

A co-operative is simply self-exploitation

People are suffering and hungry for a solution. People are becoming increasingly atomised, alienated, and anxious. With the financialisation of capital and globalisation it seems that power is concentrating in the hands of a few – a class – the elite capitalist class. The situation that we are in is getting worse politically, socially, and economically, and a Left that is so divided we can't get organized to oppose the powers that be. Today the Left faces the same problem that it has faced since the 1800s, which is being comprised of so many factions that there is no popular and radical force to challenge the current power structure.

Gallup in 2013 showed that 70% of workers "emotionally disconnected" and approximately 20% are "actively disengaged" meaning that they are acting out their unhappiness and, effectively, sabotaging their workplaces. Productivity and profitability are higher for cooperatives than for capitalist firms. It makes little difference whether the Mondragon group is compared with the largest 500 companies, or with small- or medium-scale industries; in both comparisons the Mondragon group is more productive and profitable. The major basis for co-operative success, and the survival of capitalistically unprofitable plants, has been superior labor productivity, higher physical volume of output per hour, higher quality of product and also economy of material use. The point is that the survival of firms is determined neither by productivity nor the volume of profit, but by the rate of profit. Firms whose rate of profit is too low are ejected from the market. But those that maintain a high rate of profit compared to their competition survive, even if they are grossly inefficient or if their profits are not exactly impressive. Co-operatives have an abysmally low rate of profit almost by default, because the owners of the co-operative are also its labourers. So they receive remuneration that is much higher than the necessary cost of reproduction of labour-power.

And that is why, while co-operatives are re-discovered as an exciting new thing in bourgeois liberal circles every decade or so (seriously, they're about as new and radical as municipalisation, which I swear I saw some lost soul advocating on RevLeft a couple of weeks ago), and a lot of them are formed, very few survive until the next cycle (and those that do tend to be held together more by political will than market forces).

A key problem of worker cooperatives is that they exist within the context of capitalism, ie the pressures of the market competition, and context of wage labour. Proponents leave unaddressed the classic criticisms of worker cooperatives, which aren’t just theoretical but based on real problems that cooperatives have encountered in practice. For sure, co-ops are a positive creation when workers occupy the workplace after abandonment by the owners that has happened in various situations and different countries in history.

But co-ops can’t “out-compete” capitalism. Corporations will always have larger capital to invest in research, technology, machinery and their willingness to cut costs through lower wages, less environmentally sounds practices, outsourcing, etc, will give them an advantage. Second, is that cooperatives are subject to market pressures to compete just the same as capitalist enterprises and this lends itself to pressures to create the same practices of corporations. For instances, in the Mondragon cooperatives there have been strikes in the past, outsourcing and low wages in production sites opened developing countries, as well as a trend towards unelected management that is more like a typical capitalist corporation. It is self-managed capitalism, because it offers no solution for changing the underlying logic of capitalism, which is production for maximum profit. There would be restrictions on the lengths to which a self-directed enterprise would go as opposed to a traditional capitalist company, but those restrictions would likely not hold up when they threaten the survival of the enterprise.

Co-ops do not eliminate owners. What happens is that ownership changed hands. And whereas previously a company might have had a few influential shareholders, it now has a few hundred (or thousand) But private property has not been abolished. Socialists aim to abolish the social structures that allow for the division between the rich and the poor - private ownership, money, markets etc. Socialists advocate the socialisation of the means of production, not the dilution of ownership of the same. "Capitalist" isn't a needlessly obtuse term of abuse for people we don't like, it denotes people who own capital, the means of production under capitalism. The owners of a co-operative are collective capitalists. The problem is that what exploits us isn't the bosses, but capital. As long as the purpose of productive units is to produce value, workers will be enslaved to the production of value, regardless if there are an enterprise’s owners. Coops aren’t an alternative way to socialism because they still produce value. Both capital and value are social relationships. By making them the owners, workers do not abolish the relation of ownership, nor do they abolish the anarchy of the market etc. etc.

Many cooperatives face the same issues as small business owners face. Often worker cooperatives are in the service, food or other specialty industries with lower profit margins and because they are smaller and do not have the advantages of scale which larger companies do, workers are often are forced to work long hours at lower wages to stay afloat. I’ve heard this called by some “self-managed exploitation.” As well, many cooperatives such as these in part remain afloat because they produce niche products like radical books or vegan/specialty food products that don’t really compete with the major corporations that dominate their industry.

There will be a tendency of worker cooperatives to see their needs and interests as an entity apart from and/or above other workers. After all, as cooperatives exist within a market system, their interests are to compete with other companies and expand their market share. This is a key and important difference between workers cooperatives, where the means of producing goods and services are owned by a specific group of workers competing with other cooperatives and capitalist companies through a market system and the deeper and post-capitalist goal of a socialized economy whereby all the means of producing goods and services are seen as belonging to society as a whole and while directly operated and run by the workers at each entity would be federated and coordinated in a horizontal manner to produce products and services based on need.

Even sympathetic observers such as Noam Chomsky understands the limitations:
“Worker ownership within a state capitalist, semi-market system is better than private ownership but it has inherent problems. Markets have well-known inherent inefficiencies. They’re very destructive. … [what is needed is to] dismantle the system of production for profit rather than production for use. That means dismantling at least large parts of market systems. Take the most advanced case: Mondragon. It’s worker owned, it’s not worker managed, although the management does come from the workforce often, but it’s in a market system and they still exploit workers in South America, and they do things that are harmful to the society as a whole and they have no choice. If you’re in a system where you must make profit in order to survive. You are compelled to ignore negative externalities, effects on others.”

Cooperatives that exist under a market economy inevitably replicate the problems of capitalism although it makes life better for some, but it doesn’t end the system of exploitation. They reproduce capital and prioritises sectional interests of pockets of workers of the class interests over the working class as a whole. Socialists regularly use the term “wage slavery.” What is meant by this is that workers under capitalism are not ‘slaves’ to a particular boss, but through the system of wages they are compelled to work for employers as a class in order to survive. This is why anti-capitalist labour radical such as the the IWW believe that an end to capitalism required a struggle to organise workers eventually leading to workers to taking control of their workplaces and what they called the “abolition of the wage system.” Men and women will never be free from exploitation and oppression until all work is voluntary and access to all goods and services is free. This is a practical proposition now. Tinkering with administrative forms is of no use. Buying and selling must be abolished. The wage packet—the permission to live—must be abolished. It is true that our masters live off the fat of the land in luxury, but even if they adopted the austere puritanical lifestyle of a monk we should still be slaves.

The most crucial error of Richard Woolf and Gar Alperovitz models is that the essential features of capitalism are retained, yet they believe capitalism can be guided by "workers' management" towards humane and liberating ends. The market is to remain, but not, apparently, its laws. It should be obvious that if any enterprise produces to sell, and pays its bills out of its revenue, it will be subject to the same basic market laws as any other enterprise. Of course, at the moment these laws are observed and interpreted by management, which then makes the decisions and' imposes them on the other workers in the interests of the shareholders. But it should have occurred to Woolf and Alperovitz that these same laws might have the same force whoever does the managing and even if the shareholders, so to speak, are the workers. This is a suggestion which proponents of a “new economy” ought at least to consider. "Capitalism without capitalists" could never in fact come about. Should the working-class reach a level of understanding where they could pressurise the owning class out of existence, they would long since have passed the stage where they would have abolished the wages system and established socialism. They argue for some sort of “self-managed capitalism” that could only exist on paper.

Even if we consider "capitalism without capitalists" in our imaginations, we can see it would be no improvement on capitalism with capitalists. Workers collectively administering their own exploitation is not an objective socialists should aim for. Those groups demanding "workers' management," "workers' participation" and "workers' control" (though their various adherents distinguish very loudly between these three) will probably be used by capitalism, as in Yugoslavia, to give workers the impression that the enterprise they work for in some way belongs to them. If all employees can be drawn into the process of management, and can be given the illusion of an identity of interests between workers and employers, this helps to muffle the class struggle and enhance the process of exploitation.

The basic contradiction of capitalism is that between socialised production and class monopoly of the means of production, which manifests itself as working class discontent with its general conditions of life, not just its work experiences under capitalism. If this was better understood it would be realised that socialism is not just concerned with emancipating workers as workers (i.e. wealth-producers) but as human beings (i.e. as men and women). It would also give them a clearer conception of socialist society. Socialism aims not to establish "workers power” or “workers control” but the abolition of all classes including the working class. It is misleading to speak of socialism as workers ownership and control of production. In socialist society there would simply be people, free and equal men and women forming a classless community. So it would be more accurate to define socialism/communism in terms of the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production by and in the interest of the whole people.

Frequently defenders of co-operatives will resort to the argument that they are at least a stepping stone towards socialism. But socialism is the movement against capitalism in all its forms. Co-operatives are just as much a "transitional form" as joint-stock companies are. And I don't think anyone is naive enough to claim, in 2014, that joint-stock companies are "socialist" in any way. Marx didn't say that stock companies are "socialist" in any way. He said they are an association, and cease to be individual property, which is an antithesis to old form. However, they remain trapped in capitalism. There can be no transition from one thing to something else that is in complete opposition to it. The task of socialism is not a change in management, but a social transformation of all institutions and structures of society. If there are cooperatives exchanging their products, there's self-managed capitalism and not socialism. You say you like the idea of not having a CEO or boss, but you will still have a market dictate and can be just as cruel – never mind the inequality. Cooperative labour will of course be a pillar of socialism, but not in the context of competitive markets. It is impossible to have a nice sort of capitalism. Capitalist firms are brutal not because their owners are bad people, whatever that means, but because they need to be brutal to their workers in order to prop up the falling rate of profit. If they can't do that, they are ejected from the market, it's that simple. Socialists are not opposed to "Big Business” per se but business, period. If co-operatives are to supersede capitalism, their production has to be regulated by a general plan determined by society as a whole, which means that they cease being co-operatives because co-operatives are distinguished by their status as autonomous business entities.

Compromising with co-ops and building from the ground up (and all other such nonsense that utopian liberals who want to call themselves socialist preach) has led to nothing but dead ends. It didn't work in France with Louis Blanc, it didn't work in Algeria under Ben Bella or in Tito’s Yugoslavia. It didn't work anywhere, and it won't work, ever. The idea is to change the way people live and work together. Not to replace the system we have now with co-op's then call it a day and quit. Co-operatives are simply another form of private property. They aren't changing the system.

To sum up, the economics Woolf and Alperovitz support is simply the dead-end of self-managed capitalism, which is every bit as reactionary as private or state capitalism. The communist society we are fighting for can only be established by the complete destruction of ALL private property, money, wages and markets - whatever their form. We don't want to own or manage our own misery. Socialists stand for a society based on the abolition of remuneration in the form of wages and democratic control and an economy based on the destruction of the wage system, and a de-linking of the value of labor in production from the distribution of society’s wealth to its members. It is simply not possible anyway to measure an individual’s contribution to production, our production is largely social. The contribution of an individual is very difficult to isolate from the contributions of countless others that make work possible. Any such attribution can only be arbitrary. Having co-workers judge each other’s work would turn gossip and in-fighting at work presently from an annoyance into a system of power over wages. The assets of a co-op do not cease being capital when votes are taken on how they are used within a society of generalised commodity production and wage labour. That is to say there remains an imperative to accumulate with all the drive to minimise the labour time taken to do a task this requires, even in a co-op.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Orbiston –The New Babylon

Commemorating Orbiston in Strathclyde Park, the plaque reads
"The Babylon Community, Orbiston (1825-1828)
The first experiment in communal living in Britain" 
 Since the beginning of civilisation, men have repeatedly attempted to build better societies than the ones they have known. The industrial revolution had changed both the prospects and livelihoods of the majority of workers, and rather than increasing their opportunities, they had led to greater uncertainties. The earliest communitarian movements attempted to transform this by forming religious and secular communities with participatory governments and to produce an equilibrium between the private and common ownership of property and work.

The word ‘socialism’ originates with the followers of Robert Owen who is still popularly regarded as “the father of British socialism”. It is not always remembered, however, that the socialism he advocated was co-operative or community socialism. Owen did not think along the lines of the later socialists. His approach was basically apolitical and he rejected the notion of class struggle as a means of social change. Instead, he believed in communitarianism as a method of social reform. Society, he argued, was to be radically transformed by means of experimental communities, villages of cooperation, and this he regarded as a valid alternative to other methods of effecting change, such as revolution or legislation. The foundation of communities was not a series of more-or-less accidental happenings, but the attempt to put into practice a coherent theory of social change. One such project was a Orbiston, later nicknamed Babylon by the locals, near Motherwell and not too far from the reknown New Lanark site. Owen subscribed £10,000, but ultimately withdrew from the scheme because of differences of opinion with other promoters. Instead Owen himself commenced another at New Harmony, in Indiana, America which is surprisingly better known than the Scottish attempt. A  proposal by the British and Foreign Philanthropic Society for the first Owenite Community begn with the purchase of 600 acres of land, owned by Hamilton of Dalzell for the community. After 3 years of inactivity the Motherwell community never came into existence and the scheme was overtaken and in its place, in 1825, Archibald Hamilton and Abram Combe founded a community near Bellshill  at Orbiston, the estate of Hamilton’s father.

Abram Combe was born in Edinburgh on 15 January 1775. In 1826, Combe's health began to fail; he suffered from a serious lung disease, which killed him on 19 September 1827 (11th or 27th of  August according to other sources). His death spelled the end of the Orbiston co-operative. In 1820, Combe met Robert Owen and visited his co-operative community at New Lanark. Combe, a tanner by trade, was quickly converted to the cause of co-operation and became an advocate of Owen's principles. He wrote ‘Metaphorical Sketches of the Old and New Systems’ (1823), a critique of competition and exposition of co-operation. Combe influenced the Ricardian socialist economist John Gray, who paid tribute to him in an appendix of his book The Social System (1831).  In Edinburgh, Leather Workers Community was a short-lived community experiment set up in Combe's Edinburgh Tanyard - the leather workers lived communally and operated a profit sharing scheme. The Practical Society was a co-operative venture set up in 1821 by Archibald James Hamilton in partnership with Abram Combe. The Society aimed to improve the lives of members and opened a store for the sale of goods to 500 families. A school was established and members were required to sign a pledge to abstain from drink, tobacco and swearing. At first successful, the Practical Society foundered within a year when the storekeeper appropriated Society funds. Hamilton and Combe proceeded with plans for a grander, co-operative experiment at Orbiston. Archibald James Hamilton (1793-1834) was the eldest son of General John Hamilton, 11th of Orbiston and 6th of Dalzell. Archibald was an idealist and social reformer, and was chiefly responsible for the establishment of an experimental socialistic community on Orbiston Estate. Hamilton's prospectus for establishing a socialistic community at Orbiston was based on Robert Owen's "Report to the County of Lanark of a plan to relieve distress etc ", 1820. Owen's report had been rejected by Parliament as too idealistic, but Hamilton was determined to pursue his dream of creating a community in which "the poor and working classes .. provide themselves…with the necessaries and comforts of life." His prospectus invited wealthy individuals to apply for shares in the Orbiston Community. Share-holders would form a company and could expect in return "full interest and the satisfaction of seeing poverty, and ignorance disappear from their neighbourhood." Funds for the project were not initially forthcoming, and it was left to Hamilton and Abram Combe to bring the project to fruition.

Orbiston Community

The Orbiston Community, dreamt of introducing a new social order to the world and was situated on 290 acres of land. Separate from Owen, Combe purchased land in cooperation with John Hamilton with the help of a bond issued by a joint-stock company, The Orbiston Company. The community did not see the immediate success that had taken place at New Lanark, nor did it predicate its existence on that model. In fact, Owen did not learn of its existence until months after the community was founded. Orbiston was built around the ideals of liberty, security, and knowledge. Combe was to instill this in the membership from the beginning. The commune was constructed around a series of community buildings at its center along a running stream, with a school being central to this plan. As with Owen, Combe tied the idea of education to personal and economic advancement. The main building consisted of a large center building with two wings for living quarters, containing some 120 private rooms. The community also included a theater for cultural advancement, a foundry and forge, and a press for printing its newspaper, The Register. Everything was whitewashed with blue slate roofs. The pearl white community was surrounded by scenic hills and had the appearance of utopia, even if it may not have reached that goal. Combe would work himself to sickness to see its success.

Orbiston was built to earlier plans though with modifications. The main building resembled the design advocated earlier in Relief for the Poor and the Report to Lanark. A classically styled central block (somewhat akin to both the Institute and Mill No. 3 at New Lanark) was to be four storeys high and be intended for community use. It would house the kitchens, dining rooms (to accommodate up to 800 persons), drawing rooms, ball room, lecture hall and library. The vast symmetrical L-shaped wings on either side were to provide private living quarters for the communitarians, with Orbiston was therefore built to earlier plans though with modifications. The last consisted mainly of workers who had fallen victim to the on-going slump following the end of the wars, particularly a group of hand-loom weavers, casualties of mechanisation. As in the original scheme the poor and unemployed were being assisted much as Owen intended. Among the educationists were Catherine Whitwell, and, for a time, Joseph Applegarth, another Owenite teacher, who later participated in the New Harmony community. Economic foundations, in common with the majority of the Owenite communities, were shaky, though as the design suggests, considerable thought had been given to the social and educational aspects of life.

290 members of the community nicknamed 'Babylon' worked as weavers, blacksmiths, joiners, cabinet makers, wheelwrights, printers, painters, shoemakers, tailors, seamstresses and harness-makers. They ran a successful iron-foundery on the 291 acre site that included a 5 storey main communal building, school, apartments & communal dining facilities. 75 acres of the land was cultivated with vegetable garden & orchard. The land being manured with waste from the community sewage system.

 Orbiston community never became truly solvent and survived precariously as it constantly ran short of capital due to the little success it had in production and manufacturing in all areas of endeavor. This had to do with some of the inhabitants it initially attracted, more than a few of which were unsuited for the hard work and others who were idlers by nature. Locals came to call the place “Babylon” referring to the collection of rabble that flocked to the community from the surrounding area. The community spent its second year ridding itself of these and consolidating its membership around those that truly wanted to work toward the commune’s success. Orbiston’s internal government was a further trouble as the members were divided over the operation of the community. The division of income also became a matter of contention as well. The community originally was founded on a system of individual reward for labour, with economic equality to follow later. By integrating agriculture and industrial manufacturing it was believed that this would encourage outside capitalists to invest in the venture. When this did not materialize, the community was hard pressed to survive on its own capitalization.

Abram Combe produced a newsletter "The Register", which reported on progress being made within the community as well as on lectures, plays and other events organised for the edification of Society members. The first edition of the Register was issued on 10 November 1825. Abram Combe wrote of his perplexity at the pessimistic views on the commune's viability being expressed by two Orbiston Company members, who opposed moves to transfer proprietorship of the commune to the tenants, believing that the members were not up to the task. Combe was confident that a restructure of the community into departments was showing signs of success and that an audit of accounts for each department would produce a favourable outcome. Combe disapproved of the thoroughly communistic principles which were adopted in September 1826, after the scheme had been at work for a year. 1827 had begun as a period of hope and renewal at the Orbiston Community. The old payment system had been replaced by one of total communism: communal ownership of property, and equal distribution of wealth. The division of the community into 6 departments or companies was showing signs of success. Weavers were manufacturing cotton for shirts, trousers and jackets. Bookbinders and printers were gainfully employed, and the foundry and horticultural departments were planning to provide goods for the Glasgow market.

The community could satisfy certain personal goals, particularly of people who were in some way social misfits. It offered a solution to problems of personal deficiency or social maladjustment, and had an obvious appeal to those who sought security or escape from the world. Communities such as Orbiston collected their share of such types.  Combe’s views of the earliest members of Orbiston were recorded in the Orbiston Register of 19th August 1827:
“A worse selection of individuals, men, women and children, could scarcely have been made — a population made up for the most part of the worst part of Society. The adults were steeped in poverty ; lazy, dirty and thriftless : the smell of tobacco in almost every house, and a dunghill beginning to rise under almost every window. The children and youths were no better ; they were quarrelsome, unmannerly”
It is clear that Combe believed that the poor folk seeking refuge at Orbiston were fleeing the designs and misery of the Old System, “rather than to seek the advantages of the New.”

The death of Combe in 1827, the single point of commonality for the community was lost and signalled the beginning of the end for the socialistic community at Orbiston. With the loss of Combe came a loss of direction. Funding for the community was becoming scarce. Pressure for repayment of a loan forced William Combe to announce the abandonment of the bold social experiment in December 1827. In November 1828, Thomas Lawrie from Edinburgh compiled a report on behalf of General John Hamilton advising on the value of the lands, and on the best method of dividing the estate for a sell-off. The proprietors soon suspended all further proceedings and disposed of the property after two years and the buildings were pulled down. The demise of the community at Orbiston was attributed more to a lack of interest and desire by its residents in its success, than to its economic failure. More to the truth was its problem with under capitalization. Profits could not overcome the community’s early over expenditures. At least one of Orbiston’s investors was placed in “debtors prison” for advances made to the community, and this fact cannot be discounted as a detriment to future undertakings.

The last remnants of the "Orbiston Community" experiment in social reform can be found in Strathclyde Park, North Lanarkshire; close to the park's Visitor Centre on the Bellshill side of the park. Stone pillars or Key Stones mark a spot near where the Orbiston Community was sited. Known locally as "New Babylon" on account of the unorthodox views and behaviour of residents, the lands and buildings of the Orbiston Community were sold on 7 December 1830, bought by Mrs Douglas, a local landowner who ordered all trace of the community to be removed. A housing estate now covers part of the site and the community is remembered in street names such as Babylon Rd., Community Rd., Hamilcombe Rd. and Register Avenue.

The Influence

Pioneer socialist, John Gray, published a criticism of Combe's experiment, entitled: A Word of Advice to the Orbistonians, on the Principles Which Ought to Regulate their Present Proceedings. The co-operative, anti-capitalist nature of Owen's New System created tension between the administrators and the communitarian's themselves. And, although various trade persons and artisans were initially attracted to Orbiston, the community itself could not generate enough wealth to permit complete autarky and it began to borrow in order to remain buoyant. Internal factionalism and animosity began to tear Orbiston apart. His death marked the end of the scheme; the buildings were pulled down in 1828. Still, Orbiston came closer to success than some later communities would. But Robert Owen appeared blind to the eminent failure of Orbiston and in 1828 he wrote:
“It will gratify you to learn that the good cause is progressing substantially in all countries, and that your exertions, although not crowned with immediate success at Orbiston, have contributed essentially to make the principles known, and to prepare the way for their practice in many places.”

Some previously involved in the Orbiston project later become active in the trade union and Chartist movements, but most slipped back into what Owen had termed the Old Order.

Henry Jones, who was to become founder of Canada’s only Owenite community and perhaps the earliest avowed socialist in British North America, came to Scotland that year  making a loan of £5,000 (approximately a third of his assets) towards its funds that was given to Hamilton Jones was already sufficiently involved in the Owenite movement to become a member of the society’s committee and became one of its auditors.  In the summer of 1826, when Combe had to leave Orbiston temporarily because of illness, Jones took charge of it. But by 1827 the difficulties caused by the poor selection of members had made him apprehensive of its future. In a letter of 23 March he broached to Hamilton the matter of a return of his loan to the Motherwell community and accused him of an “Aristocracy of decision” in his “pronunciation respecting the identity of the friends of the New Views, – and the proper understanding of the principles of the System.” Nevertheless, Jones continued, “We may go on, separately, to exert ourselves in what we believe will best advance the object which we profess to have in view, and where we can, conjointly.” His forebodings were justified when the Orbiston community came to an end after Combe’s death in August. In later years the loan was to prove the cause of litigation that would consume much of Jones’s time and energy. Archibald James Hamilton had died in 1834 and for several years Jones was involved in complex litigation to get back from Hamilton’s estate the money he had advanced to the Motherwell community.

In 1827 Jones sailed to New York and travelled, mostly by water, to Lake Huron, where Jones found suitable land for a new cooperative community in Upper Canada near the mouth of Perch Creek, about 10 miles northeast of present-day Sarnia. Jones returned to Britain later that year. In 1828 he gathered together a group of settlers from the Glasgow area… the community, which he called Maxwell, reputedly after Robert Owen’s residence at New Lanark, Scotland. He hoped eventually to settle between 50 and 100 families. The first contingent of 20 people, which arrived early in 1829 accompanied by a surgeon, consisted mostly of former members of the Orbiston community, almost all of whom were Lowland Scots and unemployed hand-loom weavers. A log building was erected that year with Orbiston as a model, for there were individual family apartments and common kitchens and dining-rooms. A contemporary sketch shows the building, not entirely completed, occupying three sides of a rectangular green; there is a central, two-story block and the wings are single-storeyed. Jones also established a store and a school on Owenite principles.

In 1834 on 17 May after Jones had left on a trip to England and Scotland a fire started in the community house and, as Henry John Jones, his son, recorded, “in less than an hour Maxwell had disappeared – the greater part of the books and light furniture was saved.” The few people remaining in the community after the fire lived in the barn and above the stables until a new building was erected. Jones returned to Upper Canada some time after July 1843, he may have partly shed his Owenism and may have largely remained immune from phalansterianism. In 1840, after Owen’s presentation to Queen Victoria had resulted in vigorous criticism of his principles, Henry John Jones had noted that his father seemed “a little ashamed of ‘Socialism.’” He nevertheless appears to have remained a utopian thinker and planner and, in the sense of desiring a social change in the direction of voluntary association apart from the state, a kind of libertarian socialist. Henry John Jones, remarked in 1839, that his father became “further gone in Socialism than ever.” He bombarded his reluctant relatives in Canada with letters suggesting that they should form a kind of “family community” with the few settlers who remained at Maxwell. He talked “of bringing out another ragged regiment to form a community in case his own family shd fail to come to terms.” Jones’s days of activity ended. He found that the few people at Maxwell who remained from the original settlement had established their own households and had no interest in forming a new community. The family home at Maxwell had been burnt down in 1839 but was rebuilt in 1842 and there Jones lived the rest of his life. Nobody in Canada was influenced by his utopian ideas,


A study of Orbitson reveals the following:
The creation of a new community is likely to attract those who seek an immediate escape from the old order and interests are liable to conflict. And of course there can be no islands of socialism in an ocean of capitalism. The rules of finance still rule.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Co-ops Hopes

 Work is set to begin which could transform this former potato farm in Lanarkshire's Douglas Valley, into Britain's first new garden city for nearly a century. Owenstown is named after the visionary philanthropist Robert Owen whose New Lanark model village, now a Unesco World Heritage Site, is close by. Owenstown, could one day be home to 5,000 co-operative pioneers drawn by the promise of living and working in a society that is being described as "a new international benchmark for utopian living".  It is hoped that the £500m project will eventually yield more than 4,000 jobs – helping revitalise an area ravaged by the decline of coal mining and other traditional industries.

One of the objectives of the town is to provide affordable housing, with the community founders hoping to offer high-quality, environmentally friendly homes – many built at a factory on site – at 60 per cent of the market value. Bill Nicol, the project director, said this would be achieved by adopting Owen's principles and the garden-city ethos of minimising the land, labour, capital and entrepreneurial costs and passing the benefits on to the user. Whereas mainstream developers would concentrate on building in honeypot areas around Edinburgh and Glasgow, Owenstown will create quality housing in an area that would otherwise continue to decline, it is claimed."Surplus funds will be reinvested into the community instead of being sucked out by property developers or landowners as profit," Mr Nicol said.

The community's would-be founders, who intend to live in Owenstown, say it will bear little resemblance to unloved Scottish new towns such as Glenrothes and Cumbernauld, which were assembled around the needs of the motor car. Instead, it will be designed on a human scale, under the democratic control of neighbourhood committees, with leisure and work needs given equal priority. The seven quarters, radiating out from a civic core, will be built in the Scottish vernacular style. There will be three schools (two primary and one secondary), sports facilities, generous allotment spaces for residents to grow – and trade – their own food and thousands of acres of open countryside. As well as provision for children and families, there are plans to create living space for the elderly close to the civic core. It is also intended that there will be a hotel, caf├ęs, restaurants and shops, land and buildings for industry, and an electric bus service.

"We have had 1,500 applications with very limited publicity. What we do get is a lot of young families – couples in their twenties with children. Both might have jobs but they still cannot afford to have somewhere to live," said Martyn Greene, co-ordinator of the Hometown Foundation, the charity set up to make the vision a reality.

We are also minded of Red Clydesider’s, John Wheatley, ambition for workers cottages which turned into council housing schemes.

Making capitalism anything more pleasant than merely endurable is a forlorn dream. But certainly the proposed planning outlines what can be achieved to make socialism a nicer place to live.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Co-ops are for coping

One of the main proposals advocated by the New Economic economists and many others is worker-owned and controlled  co-operatives. It has never been argued by the Socialist Party that co-operatives are a means to-wards socialism but rather it is the aim of the people - the Co-operative Commonwealth.

The idea of the workers’ co-operative originated in the early days of the labour movement. It is based on the simple attractive idea: “Get rid of the bosses who make a profit from our work and instead work for ourselves so we can enjoy the full fruits of our work.” Capitalism is not to be overthrown by class war but undermined by the  cooperative movement until it crumbles is the theory  But how does the ownership of the factory by the employees differ from ownership by a capitalist? A cooperative has to buy its raw materials on the market, just the same as every other company. A cooperative has to sell its finished products on the market, just the same as every other company. A cooperative has to invest in new plant and equipment, just the same as every other company. Thus, they have to buy goods at the same price as any other capitalist concerns. They have to sell goods at the same price as any other capitalist firms. They have to compete for extra capital or borrowing as any other capitalist firms. To succeed the worker in a cooperative is obliged to attacked their own living standards by taking less pay, or intensifying his work-rate or laying off some of his colleagues. Workers’ co-operatives face all the problems of capitalist competition and require to resort to all the capitalist cost-cutting strategies. The cooperative  means the workers are landed with the responsibility of making the business a going concern which will involve workers on lower wages and in higher productivity. Those proposing cooperatives are advocating self-imposed sacrifice.

When people endeavour  to ease their life by shopping for their families by purchasing collectively with others at wholesale prices so as to benefit by the difference with retail prices, this is not to be condemned. We understand very well that in our present state of society the workers will try to alleviate  as much of their misery as they can, and to give their families as much comfort and satisfaction as they can. We do not condemn those food co-ops. But as Marxists we must observe that if these means of tackling their poverty and making  their life more bearable were the general rule, instead of being the exception to the present state of affairs, the consequence would be that the cost of living having become cheaper, wages would not increase and would even decrease.

 Employers would simply refuse to increase the wages of their employees with the explanation that they can now live very well, with their cost of living thus reduced so why should we pay more. We witness the proof of that everyday. Pay in London is higher because the costs of living there is more expensive than in the provincial cities and towns. [SEE APPENDIX]

The concept of co-operatives also suffers from the same problem that the market domination of the conglomorates such as Walmart have on local communities. The success of co-operatives would close down the small local corner-shop (the “mom and pop” stores as they are called in the US) as much as the opening of a giant supermarket does and place tens of thousands shop-keepers out of work.

There is still another reason why co-operatives can have no socialist value. The proponents of co-operatives insist that in the co-operatives for consumption, the antagonism between seller and buyer who henceforth are one and the same is done away with,  just as with profit of one at the expense of the other. Yet nearly all of them are obliged by the commercial pressures of the capitalist milieu, to go in for capitalism themselves. Therefore just instead of selling only to their members at the price of cost, they are more and more obliged to sell to outsiders for the sake of profits. The antagonism between seller and buyer, which it is the role of co-operation to abolish, is still in existence. They are more and more compelled by competition to look for means of existence and development outside the distribution of products and are compelled to sell to the public. In attempts to realise and accumulate profits commercially co-ops become only a new sort of department store, constituted by small workingmen share-holders instead of department stores constituted by large capitalist share-holders. Co-operatives cannot help being governed by all the laws which determine and regulate production and exchange in the society of profit of to-day.

 Despite their glowing recommendation co-operatives do not even prepare the elements of the new society. Capitalism itself has already prepared us for a long time, both materially and as organisationally to administer socialist society. It is precisely because of capitalism, that all the work of administration, direction, execution, the most scientific sort of work as well as the most manual, is carried out by members of the working class hired for the task. We can change the present way of running industry into a new one without any shock or disruption or upheaval. Everything is ready for this transformation or revolution, because the role of the capitalists to-day, does not represent any sort of work, even of directing, and they may disappear to-morrow without anything being touched or destroyed in the operating of the different sorts of industries.


 “However, the capitalist character of our worker has still another side. Let us assume that in a given industrial area it has become the rule that each worker owns his own little house. In this case the working class of that area lives rent free; expenses for rent no longer enter into the value of its labor power. Every reduction in the cost of production of labor power, that is to say, every permanent price reduction in the worker’s necessities of life is equivalent “on the basis of the iron laws of political economy” to a reduction in the value of labor power and will therefore finally result in a corresponding fall in wages. Wages would fall on an average corresponding to the average sum saved on rent, that is, the worker would pay rent for his own house, but not, as formerly, in money to the house owner, but in unpaid labor to the factory owner for whom he works. In this way the savings of the worker invested in his little house would certainly become capital to some extent, but not capital for him, but for the capitalist employing him...Incidentally, what has been said above applies to all so-called social reforms which aim at saving or cheapening the means of subsistence of the worker. Either they become general and then they are followed by a corresponding reduction of wages, or they remain quite isolated experiments, and- then their very existence as isolated exceptions proves that their realization on a general scale is incompatible with the existing capitalist mode of production. Let us assume that in a certain area a general introduction of consumers’ co-operatives succeeds in reducing the cost of foodstuffs for the workers by 20 per cent; in the long run wages would fall in that area by approximately 20 per cent, that is to say, in the same proportion as the foodstuffs in question enter into the means of subsistence of the workers. If the worker, for example, spends three-quarters of his weekly wage on these foodstuffs, then wages would finally fall by three-quarters of 20 = 15 per cent. In short, as soon as any such savings reform has become general, the worker receives in the same proportion less wages, as his savings permit him to live cheaper.” Engels in the Housing Question