Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
I am convinced that cooperativism will be the predominant form of human economic and perhaps even political organization in the future.  There may be other organizational innovations that could save civilization, but this is the only one I know of that already exists.

Anyone with more papers on this topic? As I said multiple times here, this seems to be a vastly under-studied area of economics. No wonder why?

It is obvious why mainstream corporations are threatened by cooperatives.  What is less obvious is why social democratic states do not do no more to encourage and promote the most social democratic form of capitalism.*  My impression is that cooperatives are succeeding, growing, multiplying primarily due to their own efforts.

Perhaps Chris Cook is right and the emergence of "open corporate" legal structures, such as the UK LLP, will become an express lane for cooperatives to becoming the most successful and indeed the standard form of enterprises, both those operating "for profit" and those operating "for the community".)

(By the way, thank you for awakening my interest in cooperatives with your diary last year, Capitalism That Works For All.)

*Or do they already?  I was not aware of how big the state's role in promoting solar energy in Germany, Japan, and the U.S. has been, so maybe the state has already played a big role in the promotion of cooperativism in some countries?  Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence and so forth.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Sat Feb 24th, 2007 at 09:47:35 AM EST
What is less obvious is why social democratic states do not do no more to encourage and promote the most social democratic form of capitalism.*

Co-op movements in the UK were largely working class enterprises, which received managerial and financial advice from within the Methodist Christian movement which was traditionally associated with Co-ops.

However, the co-operative ideal was not the sort of over-arching explanation of the world attractive to middle class political "intellectuals". And so when the Labour movement began in the UK, it recieved its "intellectual" drive from dilettante middle class Marxists who preferred to strive for the impossibilism of overthrowing capitalism rather than its better managmement. They therefore distrusted the autonomy of co-ops which they felt were part of the capitalist system they were trying to  sweep away.

Therefore both the Labour and Conservative party have, for different reasons, attempted to prevent the co-op movement from thriving.

Now that marxism has finally, belatedly expired, there is no left wing context for reviewing capitalism, we are left in the grip of mercantile corporatist raiders. All aided and abetted by governments of all hues who see no alternative to the immiseration of millions to enable the enrichment of the few.

Co-ops are probably assured of a good future in the UK, the alternative increasingly resembles a sort of fuedal slavery. But first they needed the dead hand of marxist socialism to be lifted from their backs.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Sat Feb 24th, 2007 at 12:36:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now that marxism has finally, belatedly expired, there is no left wing context for reviewing capitalism, we are left in the grip of mercantile corporatist raiders.

I am optimistic that cooperativism is ripe for coming into its own.  After decades of pushing by committed pioneers, cooperativism will soon reach the point where it takes off like a flywheel spinning faster and faster, propelled by its own weight.

Cooperativism had a false start in the U.S. as well, in the age of Populism, at the end of the 19th century.  Indeed, one of the railroad barons, Leland Stanford, who became U.S. senator and governor of California, before founding Stanford University, "converted" to cooperativism and even tried to get a bill passed to promote cooperativism in the United States.  His bill did not follow the Rochdale principle of one person-one vote, as voting rights would be based on capital contribution, but his commitment was clearly to a vision where workers were their own employers, where people worked together as partners, and not in employer-employee relationships.  In an interview with the New York Tribune Stanford "drove home his vision by imagining what would happen if the industrial system had always been cooperative, and now someone were proposing to reorganize it as a corporate system":

To comprehend it in all its breadth, however, let us assume that in all time all labor had been thus self directing. If instead of the proposition before us to change the industrial system from the employed relation and place it under self direction, the co-operative form of industrial organization had existed from all time, and we were now for the first time proposing to reorganize the employment of labor, and place it under non-concurrent direction, I apprehend the proposer of such a change would be regarded in the light of an enslaver of his race. He would be amenable to the charge that his effort was in the direction of reducing the laboring man to an automaton, and ... would leave but small distinction in the minds of workingmen between the submission of all labor to the uncontrolled direction of an employer, and actual slavery.

Beyond Capitalism: Leland Stanford's Forgotten Vision

Earlier in the interview, he states:

When you see a man without employment, ... the contemplation is necessarily saddening. The fault is with the organization of our industrial systems. ... The hirer of labor uses other men in the employed relation only to the extent that his own wants demand. Those therefore, who having productive capacity, remain in poverty, belong to the class who constitute the surplus over and above the numbers required to satisfy by the product of their labor the wants of the employer class. The numbers belonging to this surplus class would be constantly diminished, and would eventually disappear under the operation of the co-operative principle.

His bill did not pass, but I was surprised to learn that one had even been proposed in the Senate at so early a date, and by a railroad Robber Baron to boot.

Are there any politicians today for whom cooperativism is even on the radar?

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Sat Feb 24th, 2007 at 01:23:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The co-operative movement has been fathered (or mothered) by two different schools of thought: the first one was the socialist Utopians, like Charles Fourier and Louis Blanc. It was the case in France. The second one was the social Christians movement which developed during the XIXth century. For example, the biggest Spanish (Basque) co-operative, Mondragon, was created by a priest. I discovered in Helen's post it was also the case in England. It has also been influenced by the mutual insurance organisations which developed among farmers in the German countryside (and elsewhere) at the same period.

In France the debate has been very strong among the worker's movement at the end of the XIXth century and the beginning of the XXth. The co-operative movement and the reformists, represented by Jean Jaurès, were in favour of developing new models within the capitalist society, including workers' ownership of the means of production, whereas the Marxists, represented by Jules Guesde, were in favour of the revolution, the dictatorship of the proletariat, and giving the control of the means of production to the "enlightened vanguard" (the Communist Party). After the victory of Guesde against Jaurès in 1905, the official line of the Socialist Party was the Marxist one, and the co-operative movement was in the view of the mainstream socialists.  The co-operative movement has continued to exist, often supported by the non-communist unions, but within its own niche, without trying to promote strongly its approach as a model for the economy.  This shyness is still strong in the movement.

The main problem with he left is that, while most of it has now rejected Marxism (except in France where it is not so clear...), it hasn't been able to build a strong alternative economic and social model (i.e. a well regulated and harnessed market economy) Rightly or wrongly, the left has figured that, in order to access to power, it had to accept the dominant economic narrative and limit its ambitions to be "nicer" than the right wing.  They have succumbed to a substantialist approach: we are good people, so when in power, we will have good policies, without taking into account the homeostatic forces of the system and the cognitive corrupting effect of power.

However, I think, as a number of people in the co-operative movement at international level, that the time has come to promote the co-operative model as a model for the future firms, even if it has to evolve. As I said in a seminar bringing together CEOs of big co-operatives of the world: "In my view, even if all of them will not be co-operatives, in the future, companies will have a lot in common with co-operatives, particularly in terms of relationship between capital and labour, ownership, power-sharing and governance."

"Dieu se rit des hommes qui se plaignent des conséquences alors qu'ils en chérissent les causes" Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet

by Melanchthon on Sun Feb 25th, 2007 at 01:26:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Confederation of Finnish Cooperatives: http://www.pellervo.fi/finncoop/

There are proportionately more cooperatives in Finland than in any other country in the world. The father of the Finnish cooperative movement, father Hannes Gebhard, founded Pellervo in 1899.

Today Pellervo integrates over 420 member cooperatives whose membership amounts to well over 1.6 million persons (the population of Finland is 5.2 million persons). The joint turnover of Pellervo's member businesses reached over 14 000 million euros in the year 2000. Most member businesses are market leaders in their respective fields.

Cooperatives have a traditional strong representation in agriculture, forestry and food processing, in banking and insurance, and there are several large retailers that are quasi-coops: as a consumer-member you don't quite own anything, but the relationship goes far beyond Loyalty Cards.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sun Feb 25th, 2007 at 02:06:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]


Occasional Series