Conceptualizing cooperatives as a challenge to capitalist thinking

As capitalism lurches from crisis to crisis, and a world beyond capitalism becomes a possibility contemplated by increasing numbers of people, finding a path forward becomes an ever more urgent task.

That path is likely to contain a multitude of possibilities and experiments, not all of which will prove viable. Psychological barriers will surely be a major inhibition to overcome; possibly the biggest roadblock given the still ubiquitous idea of “there is no alternative” that has survived despite growing despair at the mounting inequality and precarious futures offered by capitalism. In short, a viable alternative to the capitalist structure of enterprises and society is urgently necessary.

cooperatives-confront-capitalismCooperatives represent a “counter-narrative” to the idea, inculcated in us from our youngest ages, that a small group of bosses are naturally entitled to exert leadership and thus are the only people with the capabilities of running an enterprise, argues Peter Ranis in his latest book, Cooperatives Confront Capitalism: Challenging the Neoliberal Economy.* Putting to use his considerable knowledge of Argentine and Cuban cooperatives, and combining that with a challenging argument about the possibilities of worker cooperatives in the center of world capitalism, the United States, Professor Ranis argues that the cooperative form can indeed posit a challenge to capitalist hegemony.

In his opening chapter, in answering his own question “Why worker cooperatives?,” in the context of working people building a Gramscian “counter-hegemony,” he writes:

“This requires a working class movement that moves beyond wages, hours and working conditions and into the realm of owning and maintaining production that leads to controlling local economies that demonstrate working-class capacity for impacting on societal economies and, by extension, politics and the concomitant public policy. Cooperatives would, indeed, be the key ingredient to a proletarian hegemonic outcome. … What worker cooperatives provide is a counter-narrative to the one that assumes that only owners and managers can provide leadership and function effectively in the world of production.” [pages 15-16]

It is indisputably true that counterposing living examples of working people’s successful self-management is a prerequisite to breaking down current capitalist cultural hegemony. But, in contrast to more traditional ideas that state ownership should be the alternative, Professor Ranis argues that it is the cooperative form, because workers there assume all management functions, that can build an alternative. His argument, however, is not pollyannaish by any means — cooperatives face serious challenges at the hands of capitalist governments not to mention the direct hostility of capitalists themselves.

No easy path for Argentine cooperatives

For all the success of Argentina’s cooperatives in providing a better standard of living and vastly superior working conditions to their members, the road has been a hard one — and those cooperatives still constitute a minuscule portion of the Argentine economy. Moreover, not all those in Argentina who formed cooperatives necessarily wished to do so — converting the recovered factories into state-owned enterprises with worker control was often the original goal and in some cases that is still the hoped-for outcome. (Although at the moment, given the harsh neoliberal policies of the new government of Mauricio Macri, that is off the table for now.)

Cooperatives Confront Capitalism does not hold back from discussing the difficulties. These cooperatives formed when the former capitalist owners decided to close down production and/or had not paid the workers for long periods, sometimes months. Forced to take matters into their own hands, workers occupied their workplaces and physically defended themselves, with the help of the surrounding communities. Argentine law was not on their side — bankruptcy codes heavily favor creditors, assets are quickly sold and judges have too much arbitrary power. Nor is there a national law facilitating this process; a patchwork of provincial and municipal laws, with varying terms, prevail. New coops face difficulty obtaining loans and credit, and are often forced to pay for supplies in cash.

The taken-over Zanón ceramics factory, now known as FaSinPat, or Factory Without a Boss (photo by Guglielmo Celata)

The taken-over Zanón ceramics factory, now known as FaSinPat, or Factory Without a Boss (photo by Guglielmo Celata)

The route to survival for coops has been involvement with local communities, making donations, becoming involved in others’ struggles and fostering the idea that cooperatives can’t survive on their own but must be part of a struggle for socialism. Leaders are rotated, positions of day-to-day management have set terms and all major strategic decisions are made collectively in meetings of all members. Coop salaries are higher than salaries in capitalist enterprises and working conditions are far safer. This sense of solidarity is a principal — Professor Ranis quotes a leader at the FaSinPat ceramics plant (the former Zánon factory) in this way:

“When we have to support another struggle, we stop production because it is a social investment, a sowing that we reap in the future.” [page 66]

Thus struggle does not stop at the factory gates. Professor Ranis elaborates:

“The Zánon workers see their factory as being at the service of the community and not the market, and that attitude has been translated into countless acts of solidarity, for which they have been compensated by the community in five attempts by the provincial police to take over the factory. … They argue that an effective state must take responsibility for creating jobs while allowing workers to control production and extend its surplus to the whole community.” [page 68]

An easier path in Cuba?

Cooperatives have become a steadily growing experiment in Cuba. There, cooperatives have a firmer footing because they are being formed with government support. This, however, is mostly a top-down process, with most coops being formed at government insistence by converting state-owned enterprises. Cooperatives Confront Capitalism does not shy away from critiques of this process, noting the top-down decision-making, that although there is considerable input from below it remain consultative, and that bureaucratic barriers impede the formation of coops created from scratch.

The self-employed sector remains larger than the cooperative sector, and most Cuban workers continue to work in the state sector as the coops are concentrated in services. Professor Ranis also points out that inequality is returning to Cuba. Only some have relatives elsewhere who can send home remittances, and the re-sale of goods bought in the U.S. is highly profitable, and thus another source of inequality. The author argues that a movement from below is necessary to re-establish egalitarianism, especially as ration books are likely to be phased out for all but the poorest.

Nonetheless, he argues Cuban coops are a positive step forward and have a much better chance at success than do coops in Argentina or the United States. They are one of the best ways to democratize and de-centralize Cuban society, and also provides a path for fallow agricultural land to be put back into productive use. Neither private capital nor the state sector can meet workers’ needs; a worker-centered approach can defend against capitalist and state socialist forms, he writes.

Professor Ranis, in the middle of the book, makes a case for a great increase in the use of the cooperative form in the United States, where coops remain rare. Although most readers will likely find at least some of his prescriptions controversial, he does make them effectively. Arguing that capital that relocates should pay penalties for a “broken contract” with the local community, he calls for the use of eminent domain to block such moves. In what could be seen as a partial misstep, he argues that the controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision Kelo v. New London provides a legal precedent that can be used for worker and community benefit.

The argument for using eminent domain to take over enterprises that would otherwise be moved by their capitalist owners certainly is intriguing, and merits the exploration that Cooperatives Confront Capitalism provides. But an expansion of the Kelo decision runs the risk of becoming pyrrhic. The Supreme Court found constitutionally legal a plan by the city of New London, Connecticut, to tear down a neighborhood to build a speculative complex intended to attract shoppers and tourists; a move that backfired when the pharmaceutical company Pfizer did not in fact expand there but instead moved from the area.

The author paints the Kelo decision in a more positive light than merited by asserting that the city government had a well thought out plan that would have benefited the displaced community when in fact it was to benefit corporate interests. He also, without being specific, mentions a Brooklyn eminent-domain case as an example of positive development. I do not know what example the author had in mind, but the most prominent example of this activity in Brooklyn is the destruction of a neighborhood to build an unneeded basketball arena (there were already four in the metropolitan area) and luxury housing too expensive for the people of the surrounding area to afford. That is not the sort of “development” any community needs.

The creative use of eminent domain in the U.S.

Thus eminent domain risks being a tool for corporate plunder rather than the hoped-for tool to save jobs. Professor Ranis argues that the Kelo decision provides a legal cover for the taking of property for “the public good,” but doesn’t mention that the judge who wrote the decision, John Paul Stevens, was clearly uncomfortable and took the unusual step of advising state governments in how to circumvent the ruling. On the other hand, that such a decision went against the personal preferences of the ruling judges does admittedly boost the author’s argument that Kelo provides a possible route to expropriating runaway capitalists. In this reading, Kelo provides the legal basis for a government to take over an enterprise that would otherwise be moved and turn it into a cooperative, and should even become the “default option” to combat a closure.

Notwithstanding issues we might have with specific examples, the author does advance his case well:

“We need to use eminent domain for development purposes much as we use the legislative rights to tax and spend, zone for economic purposes, and regulate for consumer and environmental protections. … When workers occupy factories and enterprises they are not really taking something. They are trying to keep something that is already theirs, through their work, through their production of important goods and services, through allowing capital to be invested, and supplying the community with their taxes, their consumption expenditures and their everyday involvement in the civic life of their community.” [page 109]

Regardless of the route to their formation, government support and early subsidies are necessary for the coop sector to flourish. Such support is not currently the case; as an example, New York City provided $3 million in subsidies for 44 cooperatives while the New York state government gave $70 million to one capitalist aluminum factory to keep it from relocating. Without government help and access to low-interest credit, the odds of success are not high, given the capitalist headwinds that are inevitable, although the author notes that, for one example, Canadian coops survive at a higher rate than traditional enterprises.

But those that do make it provide a sterling example, superseding the “simplistic idea” that private property belongs only to the owner — “workers cannot be separated from the capital they produce.” [page 116] The book concludes with a call for “human development”:

“Cooperatives are basic to human development because their success depends on the emancipation of the whole worker rather than what the erstwhile capitalist wanted of them and determined for them.” [page 155]

However we might quibble with this or that specific passage, Professor Ranis has provided a well-reasoned argument for cooperatives as a form that shatters the tired, self-serving shibboleths of capitalism, when advanced in tandem with militant social movements at community and national levels. Demonstrating to ourselves that we can run the enterprises we work in is indispensable, and his book is thus a strong step forward.

* Peter Ranis, Cooperatives Confront Capitalism: Challenging the Neoliberal Economy [Zed Books, London 2016]

18 comments on “Conceptualizing cooperatives as a challenge to capitalist thinking

  1. Reblogged this on Catskill bob's Blogosphere and commented:
    Bob Vankleeck

    Interesting thoughts and concepts..”“We need to use eminent domain for development purposes much as we use the legislative rights to tax and spend, zone for economic purposes, and regulate for consumer and environmental protections. … When workers occupy factories and enterprises they are not really taking something. They are trying to keep something that is already theirs, through their work, through their production of important goods and services, through allowing capital to be invested, and supplying the community with their taxes, their consumption expenditures and their everyday involvement in the civic life of their community.” [page 109]

  2. Geminijen says:

    Interesting article – I’ll have to get the book. Have to make this short so I’ll just address the question of eminent domain. In general, I frankly don’t see the value of this in developing a cooperative network or economy since it is very much a top down strategy from the government and antithetical to the grassroots from the ground up approach of the Internationally accepted principles of cooperatives.

    However, I can see how it might have been used in Argentinian courts since the Genesis of the cooperative movement in that particular country was when foreign capital pulled out of the country, leaving the workers stranded in a failing economy. In this case, the government could view the takeover of the businesses as a strike against foreign imperialism. In socialist or socialist leaning countries, a number of industries have been nationalized and turned into cooperatives in the national interest. I think it is important, when analyzing coops to set them, in their international geopolitical context.

    • The use of eminent domain as conceptualized in the book as deriving from grassroots pressure, and I don’t see how such a usage could happen, much less become “the default option” to counter closures or threatened moves without a significant movement behind it. So perhaps it would not be quite so “top-down,” but your caution is merited.

      A cooperative movement can only be from the bottom up and cooperatives have to be initiated from below, but the viewpoint that, given the disadvantage coops and small business in general face in capitalism, particularly the brutal neoliberal model of the U.S., government assistance is helpful seems reasonable to me.

  3. Alcuin says:

    The “brutal neoliberal model of the U.S.” just got several orders of magnitude more brutal. There certainly are a vast number of ignorant and simple-minded village idiots living in the United States. I guess the end of the imperial empire brings them out of the woodwork where they take the rest of us hostage. Rick Perry as head of the Department of Energy? What planet did I wake up on this morning?

  4. socialjism says:

    I have read your book “Its Not Over” and I consider it quite well written and very illuminating. I don’t consider myself a traditional “big S” socialist, I’m a small s socialist and an evolutionary socialist, and I don’t see any hope or rise in the big S and communist camp ever coming, for better or worse, so I don’t agree with your entire branch of politics or activism, but I thought the book was quite interesting in any case, and was surprised your solutions at the end weren’t just Marxist-Leninist drivel, but actual reforms and approaches. I just wanted to say this because I found the book very interesting, surprising given its from a camp Ive rejected.

    I just discovered you had comment threads, and its off topic but wanted to post it.

    • Greetings, Socialjism. Thank you for the positive feedback on the book; I certainly do hope to reach people in differing political places and I wrote it explicitly to be non-sectarian and to offer fresh ideas.

      I would respectfully disagree that Marxism-Leninism would constitute “drivel,” but rather forms one school of Marxism, which is no more above criticism than anything else. My book, and its conclusions, are very much within the Marxist tradition, albeit much different than schools, such as Leninist-inspired traditions that stress state control of the economy. I would advocate certain key parts of the economy, such as banking, energy and basic utilities, to be in state hands (but with democratic and not bureaucratic control) with most of the economy in cooperatives.

      What I tried to do, in the Marxist tradition of historians such as Isaac Deutscher, is to apply Marxism to societies such as that of the Soviet Union in order to understand its path in a serious, even-handed way (as least to the extent that we fallible humans can do so). There is plenty of demonology and hagiography out there, and neither helps us understand or provides useful analysis.

      Your positive feedback, as someone who may come from a possibly much different political place than I, gives me hope that I at least made a strong effort in doing what I set out to accomplish with the book, which is to help understand the past so we can make sense of the present and find a better path to the future. No school of thought or any individual has all the answers, or a monopoly on what constitutes socialism, so we had better be prepared to learn from, and work with, one another.

      • socialjism says:

        – Perhaps I shouldn’t have said “drivel” but the results of Leninism have all been very negative, and there’s no Leninist governments or systems left outside I think Cuba and North Korea, which are falling apart and no one wants to emulate. Most of which collapsed on their own and its apparent why, hence why I don’t see any actual value in Leninism outside academic debates that have no impact on the real world.

        – As for cooperatives, I’m not against them, and find them interesting, but I don’t see them as some solution to our issues, at least not in the way people like you and Rick Wolff see them. I’m a blue collar slob who skipped university to get an associates and go straight into a vocation, and I’m not interested in running all the operations of my work in a “democratic fashion”, I’m interested in lowering my work week and having more prosperity. I’m all for unions and collective bargaining and even stuff like codetermination and expanding representative democracy in the workplace when one can, but making all workplaces direct democracies where everyone has to participate despite the fact most don’t want to be there is silly. The only people interested in such things typically are academics who haven’t worked an honest day in their lives. I’m more interested in alleviating work which is why I’m a social democrat and not a revolutionary socialist.

        • North Korea isn’t “Leninist” at all. It’s an absolute monarchy as far as I am concerned. It has a superficial similarity to the period of Stalin’s dictatorship in the Soviet Union in that there was a similar over-the-top cult of personality. But there would be many more differences and we should resist making not necessarily fair comparisons. The case of Cuba is far more complex, is now undergoing significant changes with its experiments in cooperatives (as discussed here) but with many social advances, such as in health care, and an exemplary record of international solidarity. We also can’t overlook the massive damage the half-century of the U.S. embargo has imposed. So a mixed record, not so out of the ordinary for any creation of the human mind.

          To your second point, allow me to say that you don’t come off at all as a “slob,” regardless of your collar color. You say you are “interested in lowering my work week and having more prosperity.” I would suggest that a cooperative would be the road to getting that. The reason I make this assertion is that we are paid a fraction, usually a small fraction, of the value we produce.

          We work so many hours to produce profit for owners, high-level executives and financial speculators. The surplus value taken from us is ultimately the source of profit. So if we had to produce to keep our enterprise a going concern and pay ourselves a decent wage, plus a bit of surplus for taxes and community goodwill/donations, we would be able to work fewer hours.

          How would enterprise democracy work? I imagine differently in different enterprises. If we all got together and struggled to decide how many bolts we should buy, that would be ridiculous. And inefficient. And boring. Workplace democracy would not be making day-to-day decisions on basic supply issues, but rather making decisions on policy and large issues. We’d vote on setting our wages and broad issues such as that, and vote in managers who would do the jobs of buying bulk qualities of bolts and such. Accountable managers, who can be recalled.

          This would be a part of our regular schedule, not extra work on top of our already full day. In some Argentine cooperatives, one day a month is set aside in which everybody gathers as a whole body. Decisions are made that day; regular production does not happen. There are a nearly infinite combinations of how this could work time-wise. And maybe we’d find that working six-hour days, instead of eight-hour days, is all that is necessary to make the enterprise work, produce enough to fulfill demand, accumulate enough surplus for future investment, and earn enough revenue so that everybody makes a comfortable living.

          Cooperative workers set their own pace and have no dead-weight bosses breathing down their necks. That alone sounds good to me. The people who do the work are the ones who already know how to make the enterprise run. You don’t need bosses. Cooperatives come in a variety of industries, blue- and white-collar, but most seem to be in manufacturing (other than in Cuba, where it is services and agriculture). So it seems that everyday working people do like cooperatives and are committed to making them a success, since it is they who are organizing and maintaining them.

          Here’s how I conceptualize this: Shouldn’t the people who do the work get the rewards? In cooperatives, they do. In traditional capitalist enterprises, they don’t.

          • socialjism says:

            – I don’t see the difference between North Korea and Cuba, both of which are family dynasties, and claim to be Leninist states.

            – Cuba’s record on health care isn’t really very impressive compared to Europe and Canada, etc. and having a choice between getting treated but can be arrested for saying the wrong thing, well in that case I’d actually choose the US. But I don’t think linking universal health care with Cuba’s dictatorship is a winning strategy. In fact the right-wing strategy is to smear universal health care as some totalitarian Orwellian system of abuse, which Cuba is, so I don’t give a fuck about their health care. Cuba doesn’t have people moving into it for a reason.

            – Cuba’s “international solidarity” is like saying America has great international solidarity. What a joke. When armed by a superpower, Cuba ran around the world killing people and destabilizing societies. Great contributions to humanity. Next I’ll be hearing how America’s involvement in Vietnam was great solidarity. Even hardcore Marxist-Leninists like Slavoj Zizek distance themselves from Cuba. The only people praising it are middle class academics who never have actually lived in Cuba.

            – Cooperatives don’t work fewer hours, they work more hours and get by on low wages and barely survive. Not just here in North America, but even in South America. I don’t know if you’ve ever been there, but much of the poor are forced to work in cooperatives, land or otherwise, and they’re miserable existences. Just look at El Salvador or Mexico for example. The only people praising co-ops are people who don’t actually work in them, or the few examples of major co-ops in the West where they more or less operate like average corporations with massive profit sharing (Spain’s Mondragon is an example).

            – Six hour work days is already done in social democracies and more sane societies, which are not run by co-ops. But that’s kinda my point.

            – Voting in managers is fine, though even then most people (including myself) wouldn’t care about this, most people don’t actually want to work, they only work because they have to, which is getting less and less needed with computerization and automation anyway. I don’t want to vote in managers, I want to not deal with managers whatsoever ultimately. #WrongtoWork

            – I don’t consider “bosses” dead weights. Exploiters perhaps, but not “dead weights”. The only dead weights are massive stock holders who don’t do any work whatsoever.

            – The only places I’m aware of where workers “get the rewards” is places like Germany and Sweden, certainly not Cuba, unless you like being arrested and tortured and abused, which if you’re kinky enough, I guess so.

            Even the socialist group I’ve joined (Democratic Socialists of America) is somewhat enamored with worker co-ops, albeit on a much larger scale you’re talking about, but it’s almost entirely students who don’t have a job and live off student aid and mommy and daddy, so that makes sense.

          • socialjism says:

            The collar comment btw is a reference to the fact that every socialist group I’ve encountered is almost entirely student and activist oriented, and has a few token workers in it. In fact I regularly run into people surprised I don’t have a bacholers degree and mountains of student debt.

            • I would agree that a debate on the nature of Cuba is off topic and not really pertinent to a specific discussion on cooperatives in the U.S. For the record, I would define socialism in this way: “A stage not only based on capitalist relations of production having been transcended but when a full democracy has been instituted with industry and agriculture brought under popular control so that production is oriented toward meeting the needs of everyone instead of for personal profit by an individual owner.”

              Cuba does not meet that definition; no country today does. Having read my book, you know that I had much detailed criticism to make of Soviet-style countries. Much of that would apply to Cuba as well. Nobody is arguing that Cuba is a paradise, merely that there is good and bad, and that the picture of it painted of it in the U.S. is distorted. I met a group of Cuban anarchists this past summer (in the U.S.) who were highly critical of the Cuban government, including the lack of democracy, who nonetheless were vehemently opposed U.S. imperialism and any implementation of capitalism. They seek socialist solutions to Cuba’s problems, and that is common among Cubans even if they might differ on what socialism should be.

              As to international solidarity, the people of Angola who were able to defeat South African invaders intent on imposing apartheid on them would beg to differ with you, as would the Black majority of South Africa who were able to defeat apartheid in part due to said Cuba intervention. Cuba also gave refuge to Sandinistas who would have otherwise been tracked down and killed by Somoza’s goons. And you won’t win any points citing Žižek. OK, enough about Cuba.

              It sounds like cooperatives aren’t for you. I am confident you are not alone in that. The record of coops, overall, is much better than you are saying it is, which doesn’t mean there aren’t individual failures. In Argentina, the record is clear: Higher pay, easier working conditions, no more managerial repression and vastly improved safety. There is nothing unique about those experiences, and those were achieved in the face of state hostility. I can assure you that many Argentines who work in coops do promote them, energetically, and do so in many countries. Again, that is not unique.

              Workers do not get the rewards in any capitalist country; they get relatively less exploitation in countries like Germany and Sweden. But those gains are under attack, and in fact German export prowess is built on the back of German workers, who have absorbed many years of pay cuts (relative to corporate earnings and productivity gains). I discussed this in one of my first posts: “European monetary fables tell a story, but for whom?”

              With ever harsher austerity the only way for capitalists to keep their party going, the downward pressure on wages, benefits and working conditions will only intensify, and this pressure will be augmented by the internationalization of production and supply chains, itself a response to declining rates of profits. It’s only going to get worse unless we can bring a better economic system into being. Bloated pay for financiers and, yes, executives (that is who I mean by “bosses”) is another reason for intensified exploitation. I don’t know what industries you have worked in, but in both newspapers and publishing, executives are useless.

              Finally, as to the student composition of socialist groups you’ve encountered, I would point out that students are soon to be workers. My degree is from a state college, and almost everybody I knew worked while a student. I worked two jobs at some points while taking a full-time course load. My last semester I was already working as a journalist at a daily newspaper, essentially working full time while going to school full time. So the difference between “student” and “worker” is not so clear-cut.

              It’s far tougher to be a student and to be able to find a place to live for new graduates today than it was for me in the early 1980s, and in turn it was tougher for me than my parents’ generation. That’s capitalism in action, so we might look at the structure of society rather than reducing everything to individual decisions. To do the latter is to emulate the type of thinking that capitalist propaganda seeks to inculcate in us. Try to ease up on those students; they are being thrown into a very harsh world and trying to find their way in it, just as we did.

              My own experience is that socialist groups (and I know many) are made up of students and workers, and often many more workers than students. Some are white-collar workers (such as me; I earn a living as a professional editor) but I assure you that white-collar workers’ relationship to the means of production and their exploitation operate exactly as it does for a blue-collar worker.

              • socialjism says:

                I guess I might as well make it public because you said you want others to see all this, and I’ll leave the snark largely out of my response:

                – I don’t understand why you brought it up if it’s so irrelevant? I feel I showed I knew more than the average American on Cuba so you’ve just changed the subject, which I agree is irrelevant in the long run, but still. As for their “internationalism” I find your response loaded honestly, and bizarrely naive for someone who wrote in depth about the USSR. You know, or should know the Angolans would not beg to differ from what I said, and the fight there wasn’t over Apartheid , but between a black right wing warlord (primarily backed by China,sa and the US) and a left wing one party state backed by the USSR and Cubans. The civil war was incredibly violent, as was the MPLA rule, and it lasted until 2002, long after the cold war ended. It ruined the country.

                It’s true Cuban actions in Angola and Namibia weakened the Apartheid regime by helping to crash it’s legitimacy (losing wars tend to have that effect) which even the US ambassador to Angola I believe ended up praising? But the war wasn’t fought on SA soil so it’s easy for South Africans now to cheerlead about it after the fact and when they didn’t have to fight it. Plus it was a war to prop up a not so nice regime anyway.

                And I think you intentionally ignored the elephant in the room, which is Cuban intervention in Ethiopia, which was s bloody affair go back s ruthless regime and to crush an independence movement, and destabilized the region. I think you knew I was primarily referring to that.


                I also don’t know what you meant by your comment on Zizek, I imagine he violated some sacred principle and it’s done sectarian squabble which I could care less about. He’s correct on Cuba, as many others are, but I’ll leave it at that.

                “Look, everything is falling apart, we live in poverty, but we are ready to endure it rather than to betray the Revolution!”


                – As for your cooperative comments, I admittedly was exaggerating my position to goad you into admitting to the weaknesses if coops. I’m a blue collar Berniecrat, I’m very much in favor of workplace Democracy, but coops have severe deficiencies and imo some gradual blockbusting syndicalist strategy isn’t going to work. Argentina is ,on the contrary , an affirmation of what I’m saying. The Argentine co-ops are a small, weak part of the Argentine economy that did not face state hostility, quite the contrary, many of these co-ops wanted the Argentine state or regional governments to back them, but they’ve largely been left alone. They’ve a response out of desperation from when Argentina totally collapsed because it was retarded enough to listen to the US and IMF, and by the way, it’s happening again. We’ll see what happens in the next few years.

                Ironically, I think I’m actually more of an old school socialist in the end then you are, as I believe the path to serious reforms and structural changes is state planning and regulations on favor of people over capital, largely via public control and ownership. I believe the social Democratic path is the best way to do it

                The reality however is that most aren’t terribly interested in Democratizing their workplace, they’re interested in the government and public sectors reigning in big business and giving them more money and free time. This and the basic income are the main left wing critiques of socialization along what you propose. I was hoping your response would have more teeth. Expropriating the expropriators, as Mike Beggs said, is unfortunately not a popular election program.

                And with increasing automation, it’s an open question how much we should focus on labor anyway.

                – As for executives, calling them useless is kinda silly when you already acknowledged they’re needed. I mean you just described your own job as useless.

                -As for students, I was exaggerating a bit but I think for one, what you describe is the result of both society and individual choices. While there’s no excuse for student debt, the reality is people often do puck stupid useless shit like liberal arts degrees with no plan at all. I picked a vocational path so I could pursue a university education and not take a massive hit, and not live off my family. Most students scoff at this these days. I screwed up my first time in college, worked minimum wage service sector jobs and ended up using what I knew to get an associate’s at a local city college and work up, my experience leaves me skeptical of American students is all I’m saying.

                Your student in sweden and Germany doesn’t make much sense. Vtheres no system at all where out receive the total value of what they produce. However northern and western Europe are the only places (except maybe Japan) where workers receive more of it, far more than Cuba for example. The point on German wages is a half truth. It’s true unions there agreed to wsge suppression but in return, they have a far higher standard of living than the rest of the planet, and far larger dusposible incomes.

                Which socialists groups have you been apart of. In my experience they tend to gravitate toward the white collar proletariat, and students, not just DSA but socialist alternative, ISO , etc. It’s why I was so attracted to Sanders campaign, as it heavily involved blue and white collar workers.

  5. socialjism says:

    Also, I didn’t think I needed to add this, but unless you’re an old commie who is a sychophant for Cuba’s government, it’s foreign policy was little different from the US, it was both good and bad. In this case, mostly bad though.

    • You’re indulging in ideological hair-splitting, which I don’t find helpful. Moreover, “commie” a word that is nothing more than a term of abuse. One ordinarily used by right-wingers, so you might want to question your own use of it. As to Žižek, I’ve read two of his books and heard him give a lecture. He is from the school of throwing out a million ideas and seeing what sticks. Some of what he says is brilliant and some of it is inane, unfortunately layered by an over-indulgence in pop-culture references. On balance, I am glad he is around and hope he will continue writing.

      But my comment vis-à-vis him had more to do with your attempt to “prove” a point by quoting an authority. That is an unfortunate habit of orthodox communists, one that I try to avoid. You have the ability to make your case yourself; telling me some authority you admire believes it, too, doesn’t assist (or detract from) your argument. Yes, you do have much more knowledge of Cuba than the average United Statesian, but that doesn’t mean I have to agree with it. We’ll have to agree to disagree on Cuba; there is much to criticize but it is nowhere the pitch-black image you paint. I’ll simply note, which I should have earlier, that Cuba sends doctors all around the world and trains doctors from countries around the world for free, a nice example of international solidarity. We should look at the world in its full complexity rather than make sweeping ideological judgments. Additionally, since it took hundreds of pages to fairly explicate the Soviet Union, I can hardly fairly discuss the totality of Cuba in a comment or blog post.

      I suggested I concentrate on coops in this exchange since that the topic you wished to bring up, and in turn I found your skeptical questioning to be of relevance because others share your concerns. So I’ll confine myself to that topic for the duration of this exchange.

      You have no need to “goad” me into “admitting” the weaknesses of coops as I have written extensively on those weaknesses over the years. For one example, you can read the last article I wrote on Mondragon, which is among the “most read posts” collection; the headline I trust provides the point.

      Cooperatives are not a road to socialism and they are perfectly compatible with capitalism. (Here I differ with many coop advocates.) A socialist economy (defining socialism as I did above, where the economy is democratically controlled) obviously must have planning. How could we orient production to need otherwise? So, you might ask, why do I advocate cooperatives from the perspective of a socialist?

      The reason is that the enduring belief in “there is no alternative” has to be broken if we are to have any hope of advancing beyond capitalism. Alternative ways of organizing enterprises must be shown to work, and to be better. Cooperatives, in our current circumstances, can be that and are the most viable ways, in the short term, of succeeding with such demonstrations. I don’t advocate that the entire economy be in coops; most of it can be and probably should be. Certain key industries, such as banking, energy and basic utilities, should be in state hands (with democratic control).

      Folks like you can go work for a state enterprise and not have to worry about troubling yourself with managerial issues. Other folks, who do want to be involved, can work for coops with all the messy democracy that would likely entail. But here’s a critical issue that I find is almost universally ignored: The entire economy would have to be be run on a cooperative basis, rather than a competitive basis. Otherwise, the coops would compete and ultimately try to run one another out of business. In a capitalist economy, wages are a commodity and it cannot be otherwise. In a capitalism dominated by coop enterprises, the coop workers would still have it better then they do in present circumstances, but ultimately would have to cut their own wages in order to survive competition. They would become their own capitalists!

      And this is where the inherent weaknesses of coops lies. It’s not the coop model in itself; it’s the need to compete in capitalist markets. Those that do well, such as the Mondragon coops, have to successfully weather competition on a capitalist basis. This is why coops are not a road to socialism, and why an entire economy would have to be organized on a different basis if it is to be no longer capitalist. That organization would be have to be on the basis of cooperation, with price negotiations up and down the supply chain and the financial information of all enterprises publicly available.

      So when we say we are a socialist, it means we seek an end to capitalism and all the misery it imposes, and the creation of a different, better world, one based on free association and community control. We haven’t got there yet but that does not mean we should cease trying. What you want are reforms to capitalism. That is what Bernie Sanders wants. I would surely support the reforms Sanders advocates if he could get them implemented. Doing so would also put us on the offensive and help us think through further changes and perhaps induce more people to think about going beyond capitalism. All that would be worthy, indeed.

      But those are still reforms of an unjust and repressive system, one built on massive inequality, theft and systematic violence, and reforms are always subject to being taken back. All those foreign-policy horrors of the United States you have alluded to are in the service of doing what is necessary to maintain capitalism as a world system. The agreement of German trade unions to exchange cuts in pay for job security is a reform. A better deal, overall, than workers in the U.S. have to be sure. But it’s still a reform, and as all reforms under capitalism, nothing more than bargaining over the details of one’s exploitation.

      When German manufacturers hit hard times at some point in the future (massive Chinese buying of producer goods can’t go on forever, as one example), do you think German capitalists are going to continue to uphold their end of the bargain? Not a chance — layoffs will come to Germany and the pay cuts will have been for naught. Keynesianism ended because the brief window when capitalists could tolerate rising wages came to an end because the post-war years of expansion played out. To sustain profitability, they had to cut wages. Moving production to low-wage havens overseas became the way to do it. There is no magic wand that can turn back the clock; the economic malaise we are living through is the result of capitalist development. We can produce reforms that ameliorate conditions for a while, until we become too tired to stay in the streets any more, or we can find a path to a better world.

      Coops, for the reasons I stated above, are a strategic component. Not as a substitution for “expropriating the expropriators” but as a prelude. If we are talking about an economy that is a mix of state enterprises and cooperative enterprises under popular control, then we are talking about a society that has taken the means of production away from capitalists. Without economy democracy, there is no such thing as political democracy. Neither are possible under capitalism.

      • Socialjism says:

        – “Commie” was a joke, comprende? I guess I should have kept this private after all, I didn’t think that would offend you. You said you have a conservative family, do I.imagined you have heard a lot worse. Would pinko or red have stung less?

        – How am I dealing in hair splitting? My detailing all the gruesome details of Cuban foreign policy?

        – I wasn’t citing Zizek as an appeal to authority. For the record, I view him largely as an inane dipshit. I was simply saying someone who’s in your camp and is highly respected even agrees with me, to illustrate how bankrupt the Cuban model is in the current age. Here’s another “appeal to authority”:

        – sending doctors around the world is nice, but it’s hardly unique to Cubas government and doesn’t excuse their other actions.

        – well, you admit you agree with Social Democracy , but think it doesn’t go far enough. We agree there and we have nothing further to argue on this point I imagine, unless I’m getting you wrong.

        – I am in favor of coops and working in one, I was trolling you (goading) hoping to get your full defense of coops and how to promote them. Instead all I get is an odd alternative for apathetic people. Btw, there’s state enterprises that are run like coops in the US even, so it’s a bizarre distinction. I know you’ll find it odd for me to say this, but you need to read some Lenin and Mao on political education and outreach.

        – what you said on Germany and reforms has truth to it, but you seem to have a lack of imagination and faith in Democracy, you seem to think its all or nothing.

        – we have political Democracy now to varying degrees, so I don’t agree with your last statement.

        – I’m with the social Democrats (Berniecrats are the biggest group so far here) because that’s where the action is and where positive steps are being built. I want to see the radical left and your team step up its game and offer something better other than books and blog posts

      • Socialjism says:

        To put it simply, neither your book, which otherwise I find quite elucidating, or here. You just say coops and some vague socialization and planning and leave it at that. I’m trying to poke you into further action. I mean even weaky Sanders promoted government funding and promotion of coops

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