How can we help establish a cooperative economy?

The history of cooperatives as a form of economic organization is fascinating. I have been reading a book about experiments in my own country that have been done in the last century, and some features came out very strongly:

when there is a collective of workers with shared ownership on a socialist basis there have been fights about the height of salary, problems with investing in growth, keeping up with capitalist competitors, lack of reserve funds for periods of demand collapse, refusal from capitalist companies to deliver raw materials, lack of an appropriate base of customers, etc.

Ideals and expectations often were too high and unrealistic. So, many cooperatives went out of business, especially after the great depression in the 30's and world war II.  

In Third World countries we see today a more successful approach where farmers have organized themselves to from cooperatives to grow and sell coffee, cacao, sugar, bananas, to name a few products. NGOs have played a major role in this, financing the setup and securing distribution, eliminating spurious intermediate trade and securing a customer base through the promotion of Fair Trade products. 

One way we can support this trend is by buying these Fair Trade products. By doing this, one helps a lot of families to raise their standard of living. These families can save some money for education of their children, provide for health care, and so on. This is a moral choice, perhaps even an obligation for spiritual oriented people. The obligation for the cooperatives is to provide for good quality of products, care for the environment and reasonable prices. 

What do you think?

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Comment by Martin Euser on January 24, 2012 at 6:43am

While on the subject of cooperation, autonomy and anarchy, here is an article on panarchy. 
This has been recently posted on the integralworld.net website. The failure of current state governments to deal with the current crises really makes one wonder whether a new system will emerge that is able to deal with these.
Anyway, notions like autonomy,  control hierarchy, distributed power, subsidiarity, and the like are bound to play an important role in thinking about governance. 

In a world with global problems, global solutions are needed.  For that, some form of coordination and collaboration between "authorities" or powers that be is needed. When governments fail to decide wisely and fail to act, chaos will result. Who or what will take over? Gangs? The maffia? Or ordinary citizens?

Comment by Martin Euser on January 22, 2012 at 9:51am

Kropotkin certainly was an interesting figure and merits some study, as he at least thought about things that mattered to the common people! Here is an overview of a speech he never delivered because he was declared persona non grata in France. The authorities always hated any idea of anarchism, they still do! As to his communist ideas: Kropotkin "refers to cooperative undertaking and to sharing and caring for each other. It has nothing to do with the term 'communism' as employed in the former Soviet Union or with the so-called dictatorship of proletariat."

Sounds good to me. If Jesus was to live in our era, he would follow along with that (and might end up in prison in our Western World for just doing that). Not so sure about his ideas about anarchism, though. I would have to study that more closely, since his ideas on autonomy seem founded on an ill-conceived notion of how natural systems work.

Kropotkin seems to think that there is no central control at all in an organism, for example. This is wrong. When we look at mammals, for example, we certainly know that there is central control, besides a certain amount of autonomy for the organs. In his time, not much was known about these things. Science progresses, and so must our insights on polity.

Stafford Beer has written extensively on the issue of control, systems, biology, business and management. He is one of the most knowledgeable writers on these matters. So, anyone interested in these matters would do well to familiarize  himself or herself with the latter writer.


Comment by Capt. Anand Kumar on January 22, 2012 at 5:01am

One of the distinguished thinkers on cooperation itself has been Prince Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin of Russia. Gandhi was believed to be influenced by his ideas. As the Wikipedia article shows, his concepts of "core of evolution" and "limitations of individual anarchism" have proved to be prophetic. But most importantly, as Wikipedia describes:

His observations of cooperative tendencies in indigenous peoples, pre-feudal, feudal and those remaining in modern societies, allowed him to conclude that not all human societies were based on competition such as those of industrialized Europe; and that in many societies, cooperation was the norm between individuals and groups. He also concluded that in most pre-industrial and pre-authoritarian societies (where he claimed that leadership, central government and class did not exist) actively defend against the accumulation of private property, for example, by equally sharing out, amongst the community, a person's possessions when he has died; or not allowing a gift to be sold, bartered or used to create wealth.

Comment by Martin Euser on January 21, 2012 at 7:20am

There are successful cooperatives in the West too. Wikipedia mentions, for example, the social cooperatives in Italy.

There are many forms of cooperatives, depending on the purpose for which they are founded. We can learn a lot from history to learn what works and what doesn't. Circumstances, mentality, support networks, and promotion all play a role in success.

Comment by Capt. Anand Kumar on January 20, 2012 at 8:51am
In India, after independence cooperatives became the main vehicle for development. But by 1970's and 80's they became mired in corruption and other malpractices. Today many of those have been taken over by the government which appoints an administrator to run those with overwhelming powers and members having little say in affairs. The cooperative movement is in a very sorry state.

I hope with UN declaring 2012, as the year of the cooperatives, some new thinking will inspire people to learn from the failures and make a new beginning.

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