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workers' co-operatives and revolution

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convect
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Jul 17 2007 21:10
workers' co-operatives and revolution

Building a network of worker-owned-and-controlled collectives (that produce something more necessary than, say, books) into an economic infrastructure: intellectual pipe dream, petit-bourgeois escapism from genuine revolution, or vital component of any realistic long-term strategy for a libertarian-communist revolution, or other?

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MJ
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Jul 17 2007 21:51

possible... stepping... stone?

are you talking about "cooperatives" or collectives?

convect
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Jul 17 2007 22:01

how do you distinguish the two?

i was specifically referring to any arrangement in which workers collectively own and manage an operation that produces something that is useful for other people. like food, or clothes, or whatever. i've always envisioned the ones that i would like to work in as functioning similarly to the consensus-non-hierarchical-blah-blah collectives I've been in. i'd like to see more of them, and see them networked somehow. and i'd like to see that network be used as an economic base for revolution (not a new concept, not even slightly, i know). that's what i meant.

i honestly don't know much about workers' co-ops or collectives or whatnot. my experience has been in workplace organizing and i have only just now taken up this nice comfortable armchair for a break from useful anarcho-work. so i'd love to know what you mean by your question.

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MJ
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Jul 17 2007 22:20

A "cooperative" is just a certain legal ownership structure that can be grafted onto the market. It doesn't necessarily entail a certain mode of decision making in questions of production.

You could (theoretically) have more worker control with a strong enough union contract than workers have in many "employee-ownership" plans.

What makes the difference in either case is having ideological or political direction.

In the cooperative sector, this includes following the "cooperative principles," which include "cooperation among cooperatives," thus giving an imperative toward building a "cooperative sector" within capitalism.

Dunno if that'd be a workable strategy toward dual power though.

plpd5674
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Jul 19 2007 17:01

I've recently been thinking about the creation of a co-operative sector alongside the public and private sectors. I think this is an important stepping stone, co-operatives should form or participate in existing unions (anarcho-syndicalist style unions imo such as the CNT). I think this is an important part of breaking capitalism, if this was to form now it would be a powerful force within 2 decades and could eventually absorb socialised public sector departments (i.e. NHS) with them remaining payed in taxes but run co-operatively. Such a framework could also seek to absorb more of the Private sector and will eventually serve as such a powerful force within Capitalism that it could economically overthrow it.

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Jul 19 2007 17:47

I don't think cooperatives could overthrow capitalism. we're never going to be able to out-compete the capitalists on the market.

however, that's not a reason against cooperatives as there are positive roles they could play. been having a discussion locally with a political group that does organizing in the Chinese immigrant community about working with them to develop a worker coop as a job creation measure but also to give the workers more say. (This group has a background in Maoism but nowadays advocates self-management.)

worker cooperatives could be used as the vehicle for providing needed services. for example the big supermarket chains in the USA have in many cases abandoned low income communities, especially communities of color. that would be an area where both jobs and a needed service could be provided in a self-managing way. there is currently for example a project to build a worker coop supermarket in West Oakland (called Mandela Foods).

also, certain functions needed by the movement could be organized through collectively run cooperative, such as a large community newspaper, maybe one backed by local unions or worker groups. or a labor education or grassroots organizer training institute.

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Jul 19 2007 19:57

I'm very doubtul of much of a role for co-ops, but this might be of interest - http://www.mncooperate.org/

Antieverything
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Jul 21 2007 18:05
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I don't think cooperatives could overthrow capitalism. we're never going to be able to out-compete the capitalists on the market.

This may very well be the case...but lets not forget that every study ever conducted on the issue has found that worker self-managed firms are, across the board, more efficient (have a higher output per square foot and per worker) than comparable capitalist ones. Also, given the correct support structures and culture of cooperation between cooperatives (particularly one aimed explicitly at the construction of one of them "solidarity economies" I keep hearing about) they have certain benefits over capitalist firms...preferential access to credit through cooperative banks, for instance.

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Jul 21 2007 18:10

I attended the "solidarity economy" caucus at the US Social Forum. the conception of "solidarity economy" they presented there was extremely broad, so broad that it encompassed so-called "good" capitalist forms that embraced green or participatory methods. I think this will end up being a corrupting influence on "solidarity economics". That's because these capitalist firms have more money and the network will not want to alienate them so as not to lose their resources. they also did not make any distinction between more hierarchical cooperatives, with a traditional managerial hierarchy, versus those that are more authentically self-managing.

convect
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Jul 25 2007 23:35

I'm glad to see some interesting conversation around this. A few points I've thought about in relation to the above:

1. For those who are interested in taking up the project of establishing a network of workers' co-ops or collectives as a specifically revolutionary strategy, that would necessarily exclude those greenwashed capitalist firms that are trying to get a piece of the Social Conscience Market.

2. I don't think a network of workers' co-operatives, however complete an economic infrastructure, could possibly be the sole strategy that will win our libertarian-communist/anarchist/ish revolution. Anarcho-syndicalism would remain an absolutely necessary strategy that must be simultaneously pursued. After all, the opportunity to join a co-op will only be available to those who have one near them, or who have access to the resources (material and organizational) to start one; too many workers will remain trapped by capitalist firms. They need to be organized and mobilized as well. And, frankly, both of these strategies are equally distant--anarcho-syndicalism is as weak as any sort of anarcho-cooperativist movement right now.

3. Not to mention that economic revolution is not enough. My partner just returned from an Eastern U.S. conference of workers' co-ops, and can report that many involved have no interest in challenging sexism, racism, heteronormativity and homophobia, or any of the other social barriers to anarchy (though many did). Besides anarcho-cooperativists and anarcho-syndicalists, there will remain need for anti-fascist groups, anti-racist groups, feminist organization, etc.

Just a few things I've thought about. The revolutionary strategy that has made the most sense to me has always been overlapping networks and federations of groups pursuing complementary goals, and mutually assisting one another in their struggles. This we have, at times, put into practice pretty well in Austin. For awhile we even had a sort of Radical Council, with representatives from all sorts of local anarchist-or-otherwise-sympathetic groups (and the International Socialist Organization was even involved for awhile, and behaved themselves and everything!) who met and found ways to assist each other. The Anarchist movement, as a coherent movement, was the strongest at that point than any other time in recent memory in Austin.

Spikymike
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Jul 26 2007 19:52

Sort of agree with syndicalistcat's earlier posting (nice for a change!).

Put bluntly there is no viable revolutionary strategy to be built on the idea that 'co-operatives', with or without the right 'ideology', could in anyway 'out compete' capitalism, or 'build the structure of the new society in the shell of the old' or anything like that.

There is no substitute for organising to confront the state and the bosses and take over the resources of the world, lock stock and barrel, reorganising production for use rather than the market.

Having said that there is clearly nothing wrong with using co-operative legal forms in situations where some activity essential to the revolutionary movement needs to accept and be organised in a capitalist property form to survive, but it is no actual guarantee of survival in any radical or egalitarian sense.

The potential for co-operative forms with a radical content to be used in a non-radical and anti working class way has abundant historical prcedent. Just look at the way the Israeli kibutzim (often practicising eminently sound internal principles) have been used to promote the mini imperialist aims of the Israeli state. Of course prolonged co-existence of co-operative and egalitarian organisations like this do tend to degenerate in the face of a rampant capitalism wherever they are.

Spikymike
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Jul 26 2007 19:52

Sort of agree with syndicalistcat's earlier posting (nice for a change!).

Put bluntly there is no viable revolutionary strategy to be built on the idea that 'co-operatives', with or without the right 'ideology', could in anyway 'out compete' capitalism, or 'build the structure of the new society in the shell of the old' or anything like that.

There is no substitute for organising to confront the state and the bosses and take over the resources of the world, lock stock and barrel, reorganising production for use rather than the market.

Having said that there is clearly nothing wrong with using co-operative legal forms in situations where some activity essential to the revolutionary movement needs to accept and be organised in a capitalist property form to survive, but it is no actual guarantee of survival in any radical or egalitarian sense.

The potential for co-operative forms with a radical content to be used in a non-radical and anti working class way has abundant historical prcedent. Just look at the way the Israeli kibutzim (often practicising eminently sound internal principles) have been used to promote the mini imperialist aims of the Israeli state. Of course prolonged co-existence of co-operative and egalitarian organisations like this do tend to degenerate in the face of a rampant capitalism wherever they are.

alf shawyer col...
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Jul 27 2007 08:29

Going back to one of the first things said there does seem to be some potential with cooperatives to act as 'stepping stones' or spaces of resistance. i was trying to make this point on the debate concerning Charity and Solidarity. For me the structures/legal forms of cooperative and not for profit charities (really problematic term) hold the flexibility for exploring-failing-developing-exploring living anarchic examples. such examples can potentially develop and encourage ongoing struggle. i agree that they are not going to overcome capitalsm but they do offer the potential of openning spaces of creativitity and possibility. In my experience such space help develop thought, strategy..blah,blah To put it another way i think that such structures have the potential to support as much thinking/challenge as this website. the main difference being that the access point is not simply through computers and minds but action and collective need/desire. None of this is perfect.

The danger is that these activites also act as a break, slowing down people in their struggle aganst hierachical systems and power. people get consumed by these activities and lose the wider desire to bring about global change. I think that this too needs to be resisted.

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Jul 31 2007 23:10

I think the co-operative movement is important because it is a living embodiment of one of the most important aspects of anarchism. Its immensely useful when trying to convince someone that workers' self-management is good idea to be able to prove that it can work by referring to the workers' co-ops in existence today.

Plus I don't expect revolution any time soon and if I have a choice I'd rather work in a co-op without a boss on my back. Sorry if thats a bit individualist of me, but you only live once. Anyway, co-ops with a political viewpoint could help workers in struggle by supplying them during strikes and stuff like that. For example, the IWW lets members of workers co-ops join, as long as the co-op is not organised so as to give anyone (other than the workforce as a whole) the power to hire and fire.

alf shawyer col...
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Aug 2 2007 17:01
sam sanchez wrote:
I think the co-operative movement is important because it is a living embodiment of one of the most important aspects of anarchism. Its immensely useful when trying to convince someone that workers' self-management is good idea to be able to prove that it can work by referring to the workers' co-ops in existence today.

Plus I don't expect revolution any time soon and if I have a choice I'd rather work in a co-op without a boss on my back. Sorry if thats a bit individualist of me, but you only live once. Anyway, co-ops with a political viewpoint could help workers in struggle by supplying them during strikes and stuff like that. For example, the IWW lets members of workers co-ops join, as long as the co-op is not organised so as to give anyone (other than the workforce as a whole) the power to hire and fire.

i agree. it taking the line of 'create the new world in the shell of the past'.

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Aug 2 2007 17:53

Workers co-operatives can be extremely useful, but like anything else, they are only as effective in struggle as their membership and their ties.

Workers' co-operatives often become less radical over time, for varying reasons, including factors such as the co-operative insulating them from the class combat experienced in normal workplaces, greater identification with/reliance on managers of other businesses (with whom they tend to negotiate supply deals etc) and desire to defend their business rather than jeopardise it through scary radicalism - particularly if their business has become reasonably successful and accustomed the membership to a certain lifestyle. This is before any influx of people simply looking for a sweet gig sans politics.

This can affect their usefulness in combat situations, I seem to remember reading for example that the co-operative movement was extremely patchy in its support for the 1926 general strike in the UK, dunno if that's an accurate portrayal? Also, over time, they are as much prey to infiltration by businessmen looking to take over as any other money-making enterprise.

This isn't to say they are necessarily a bad thing, they often even pay out, are efficient, and sometimes do retain their radical bent. But it's as well to be wary of them, and they shouldn't ever be relied on as any kind of solution or replacement for the existing capitalist system - they work within it, are part of it, and fundamentally, rely on its continued existence for their survival.

alf shawyer col...
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Aug 2 2007 20:10
Saii wrote:
Workers co-operatives can be extremely useful, but like anything else, they are only as effective in struggle as their membership and their ties.

Workers' co-operatives often become less radical over time, for varying reasons, including factors such as the co-operative insulating them from the class combat experienced in normal workplaces, greater identification with/reliance on managers of other businesses (with whom they tend to negotiate supply deals etc) and desire to defend their business rather than jeopardise it through scary radicalism - particularly if their business has become reasonably successful and accustomed the membership to a certain lifestyle. This is before any influx of people simply looking for a sweet gig sans politics.

This can affect their usefulness in combat situations, I seem to remember reading for example that the co-operative movement was extremely patchy in its support for the 1926 general strike in the UK, dunno if that's an accurate portrayal? Also, over time, they are as much prey to infiltration by businessmen looking to take over as any other money-making enterprise.

This isn't to say they are necessarily a bad thing, they often even pay out, are efficient, and sometimes do retain their radical bent. But it's as well to be wary of them, and they shouldn't ever be relied on as any kind of solution or replacement for the existing capitalist system - they work within it, are part of it, and fundamentally, rely on its continued existence for their survival.

thanks Saii i agree with what you have said. like i said earlier one of the problems seems to me is that stuff like this takes over and become people entire focus, drawing energy away from the wider context.

afraser
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Aug 3 2007 22:21

Well, I've earlier said that workers co-operatives more constitute the revolution than bring it forward .

As does David Schweickart answering "In what may we hope?"

And Robin Hahnel writes in detail on reform campaigns, including co-operatives.

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Aug 3 2007 23:11
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Well, I've earlier said that workers co-operatives more constitute the revolution than bring it forward .

Christ reading that I've just realised how improved revol's debating style really is.

Dundee_United
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Aug 3 2007 23:24
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Well, I've earlier said that workers co-operatives more constitute the revolution than bring it forward .

As does David Schweickart answering "In what may we hope?"

And Robin Hahnel writes in detail on reform campaigns, including co-operatives.

Your views are more palatable than Schweickart's, but his thing and your thing about mutualising joint stock companies is the business (if you'll pardon the pun).

Key thing is HOW?

In rule for radicals Alinsky presents the metholody about how you could actually fucking do it. Proxies are everything! Push proxies and push for more worker directers till your union gets its shit together to do a hostile takeover, so you're organising inside, within the company, in the boardroom and out... Sounds fucking beautiful and totally ties in with community organisation (where you could leverage more proxies among other things).

Key question though what do you do with quangos and state companies?

afraser
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Aug 4 2007 19:32

I wouldn't use the word "mutualising". I don't think Schweickart would either - that term is instead assosiated with his rival market socialist theorist, John Roemer, who has very different ideas.

As to how: well, corporations are legal entities, created by charter issued by the individual state goverments (in the US) or by the British Government (in Britain). Company law lays down how corporations are governed: shareholder elections, AGMs, legal responsibilties of directors to shareholders. Law is a social construct and can be changed by society. Coporate charters can be revoked. Powerful unions would help raise the demands and ease the transition, but it is a legal or societal change that is required. And that is a revolutionary demand.

Dundee_United
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Aug 5 2007 22:56
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revolutionary demand.

Transitional certainly.

Antieverything
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Aug 7 2007 21:02

double post

Antieverything
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Aug 7 2007 21:11

Ah...now we're talking! This topic is right up my alley!

Never thought I'd see Schweikhart in a discussion about anarchist industrial strategy or whatever, but I had always secretly hoped. I read his book After Capitalism back when it was just a rough draft posted on the internet. I really appreciate how he is able to convincingly argue that planning and markets aren't mutually exclusive...all markets use planning and democratic, local investment institutions and democratic firms means largely democratic planning and efficient distribution of resources. Still, I've always been turned off by the highly-educated Socialist CEO w/ a stake in the company thing. If that sort of centralization happens it ought to be done through directly democratic channels and be directly recallable (not because of principle, but because if we want efficiency, we shouldn't mandate a potential-parasite if it is just going to get in the way of the smooth operating of things.

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Aug 10 2007 15:27

Schweickart's "Against Capitalism" is a great book. I don't see why a lot of the aspects of his Economic Democracy model shoudldn't find support with anarchists. His support of workers' self-management, social control of investment, social ownership, and decentralisation are all perfectly consistent with anarchism. Of course, he sees as role for the state, but his model is equally applicable to a directly-democratic federation of communes or something of the like.

I don't like the way he puts control over large scale investment planning in the hands of the national legislature through. In my view, there should be seperate assemblies for economic decisions such as this - maybe like a parralel economic parliament elected for the purposes of overall investment planning, whilst being instantly recallable, and mandatable in nice anarchistic fashion.

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Aug 10 2007 15:35
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Schweickart's "Against Capitalism" is a great book.

Ha ha. "After Capitalism", I think you'll find. Market Socialism. You must be very proud. All the Community Development bods at my local council love it, their manager stole my copy as it happens. I kid you not.

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Aug 10 2007 15:38

Actually, whilst we're being pedantic, Schweickart has written two books on the subject.

"Against Capitalism" is mostly a critique of capitalism, with an outline of the Economic Dempocracy model
"After Capitalism" is a later book which elaborates on the Economic Democracy model.

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Aug 10 2007 15:43

Schweickart is a puritanical whip cracker. He'll have us all wiping the arses of the elderly for our water rations in no time. The question is, why isn't everywhere like Norway? It's difficult to see why our Dave would have much of a problem there.

Catch 22
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Aug 10 2007 18:56
revol68 wrote:
"Capitalism Part II : The self managed years" would seem a more appropriate title.

hehehe That's a good one.

I just finished watching a debate between Dave and Michael Albert. Whilst Parecon has some byzantine intricacies, at the very least it sounds remotely plausible. Market socialism sounded like the deranged ramblings of a social democrat who's had too much absinthe. A small entrepreneurial capitalist sector? Premiums paid for skilled managers? Government as an employer of last resort? It all sounds rather daft to me.

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Aug 10 2007 20:27

Parecon certainly conforms more closely to the need to sooth the egos of mediocrities, that doesn’t make it more plausible though. "Government as an employer of last resort" is totally inexcusable, as you say. I suppose from a U.S. perspective, Scandinavia must look like a liberal paradise.

Catch 22
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Aug 10 2007 21:11

Egos of mediocrities? Parecon could certainly work. It wouldn't work well and would probably give rise to byzantine bureaucracy that would propagate a new ruling class in a 100 -200 years or so, but it would work. Market socialism seems like some sort of odd conflagration of a drunken mutualist and schizoid social democrat. Even if it was implemented, full corporate capitalism would reassert itself in less than 30 years. Unless it wasn't eviscerated by outside invasion or coup. Seeing as the proponents believe in "market socialism in one country."

Scandinavia does look like a liberal paradise. Though if given the chance I'd fucking live there. If it means free healthcare, free education, free childcare centers. Hey a magnanimous social democratic overlord is a fuck lot more comfortable than a neoliberal slave driver. Still degrading and shitty, but fuck loads better.