Sunday, March 25, 2007

Van Ornum, Co-operation, III

Twentieth Century, May 31, 1894, 7-8.

CO-OPERATION.—ITS IDEAL.—III.

BY WM. H. VAN ORNUM.

Notwithstanding all the shortcomings of English co-operation; all its failures to realize the lofty ideals which appear so real to lovers of the Co-operative Commonwealth, yet it was conceived in the same spirit in which we now seek to bring in the new social order. The original purpose of its founders was to establish self-supporting communities distinguished by common labor, common property, and common means of intelligence and recreation. It was to be a conspicuous example of industrialism freed from competition. G. J. Holyoke says of it: “In the communal life an ethical character was to be formed in the young, and impressed upon adults, and all assured education, leisure and ultimate competence as results of their industry.” In this they were seeking to reap the harvest at the same time that they sowed the seed. A mistake that we, as well, are apt to make in our impatience to realize our ideals—Commonwealth; that is, a wealth that is common to ail, is the fruit that grows upon the tree of co-operation. But the seed must have time to germinate. The young shoot must root deep into the soul of human experience. It must be tended by the faithful and devoted labors of those who see in visions of the future the fruition of their ideals. They must see to it that the rank weeds of capitalism are not allowed to choke out the tender plant. The Co-operative Commonwealth can only come as a development resulting from a period of cooperative production and distribution, during which the old ideas of property, of classes, of inequalities and of strifes shall gradually give place to new conceptions of life, of human associations, the obliteration of classes and inequalities, and the realization of an universal human brotherhood.

With all its faults, and notwithstanding its tendencies in many directions to capitalism, English co-operation has bought us nearer to the possibilities of a higher and purer form of co-operation. It has developed the weaknesses and limitations of the old, and given us a nearer view, and therefore a better conception of the new. Wherever it has flourished it has stimulated the hope and trained the intellect of those who have enjoyed its benefits. It has inculcated the lesson of honesty; taught frankness and openness as a principle, and educated a superior class of workingmen. These results have been so uniform and conspicuous wherever co-operation, even in its unsatisfactory forms, has been tried, that people expect to and do find co-operators better fed, better dressed, stronger, more robust, more self-reliant, and their children more healthy and plump. And these are the very qualities most requisite in those who will carry co-operation forward to new conquests. A serious mistake will be made if the utmost care is not exercised in the selection of personal material for co-operative enterprises. This applies equally as to skill in the trade or calling in which the workman is expected to be employed; and to his general intelligence and habits as a member of a community. Before real co-operative work is undertaken on any considerable scale, suitable schools of co-operation should be started, where the most thorough instruction can be given in all matters pertaining to the work and association.

But, while it is necessary to give the closest attention to ah the details and present needs in the construction of a system of co-operation, we must never lose sight of the high ideal to which we aspire. The gardener never forgets that all his labor in planting and tending the young tree is finally to enjoy the fruit of it. To that all his care is directed. The quality of the fruit is largely determined by the wisdom and judgment shown in its culture. Just as the different stages of growth of a tree tend finally to bring. in due time, the flower, and afterward the matured fruit, so even our present society, in its deepest trend, is working toward co-operation and the communal state. It is easy to see hints of that state among us even now. In the family relation there are many. In every family where there is competence and plenty, accompanied with culture, the wealth held by that family is a commonwealth—common to its members. No one will deny to another the satisfaction of any want, or any gratification on a plea that such other has not performed his or her part in procuring that wealth. Each seeks the pleasure and comfort of every other. Each is ready and willing to serve the other; and that too without any stipulation as to pay further than is implied in this common sentiment. As to labor, each performs such as he or she can do best, being guided by their own tastes and inclinations. The father or mother never lets slips an opportunity to increase the general stock of wealth for the gratification of all the members. Nor do the sons and daughters, except as they are taught to look forward to a division of the community in the setting up of new communities of their own. In the ideal family there is no governing force implying command on one side and submission on the other. Reason, love and freedom are the determining elements in the association of its members. It is true, there are not many of these ideal families. But they exist; and the fact that they do exist is a pledge and promise of that larger communal society which. some time will develop through co-operation to a brotherhood which will be as broad as humanity itself.
I do not wish to he understood as holding that the family, even at its hest, is the ideal state in the association of the sexes. That is another question; and has no relation to the present subject except as such associations help or hinder the final development of society to the Co-operative Commonwealth. Undoubtedly the family as now constituted, in conjunction with the laws for the succession of property, does hinder the growth of that larger commonwealth by perpetuating from generation to generation those small communities. The whole history and experience of each one of these communities constitutes a course of training whereby the members are taught to regard the other members far differently from what they do those people who are outside of their communities, or members of other communities. This is the same spirit which among different nations is called patriotism, and leads the American to look with disfavor upon the foreigner; the Frenchman to antagonize the German, and the Britisher to assume important airs over all others. all these things, whether manifested between rival nations or rival families, are barriers which have been erected, and are cunningly maintained in order to keep men apart. Why should a Frenchman hate a German; an American distrust a foreigner; or an Englishman assume airs over others? The differences between them ah, and between them and other men the world over, exist only in their own imaginations. And the causes of strife between them exist only in the rivalries and strifes of their rulers in which the people themselves have not the slightest concern. And so, too, why should any of us look upon merely blood relatives, even children of the same parents, as any different from any others having hike desirable qualities? The man or the woman should be esteemed for his or her own qualities of mind and heart rather than for any other consideration. That friend of any of us, who entertains common sentiments and common hopes is always a more valuable and valued friend than any mere blood relative, no matter what outward show ordinary conventionalities require us to assume.

This is not to say that there is no such thing as paternal, maternal or filial love. They are natural manifestations, and have their proper uses for the preservation of the species. But their uses are limited to those periods of life when the necessity exists for them. And without the artificial extension which they receive through the perpetuation of families they could not long survive the period of their use.

These families—small communities—acquire special interests of their own (estates), which they seek to foster, extend and perpetuate. In their desire to perpetuate and extend these estates the great commonwealth, which is to come, is hindered. And I think this is one of the main obstacles which stand in the way of the Co-operative Commonwealth. So long as families, family names and estates are perpetuated from generation to generation there can be no genera blending into the larger—the universal family. Therefore, the family, while it contains a picture in miniature of co-operation and of the Co-operative Commonwealth, as a whole it stands as a bulwark of capitalism.

And yet, society is certainly tending, as a whole, toward the desired change. Capitalism is manifestly breaking down as a method of production and distribution of wealth. The glaring inequalities in its workings, as shown in the results, and the growing antagonism between capitalists and workingmen, everywhere attest this truth. The mass of the people have no estates to preserve and no family names worth perpetuating. Everywhere the producers are in more or less open revolt against the system of capitalism from which they have nothing to hope except an everlasting grind for a mere existence. On top of the increasing number and extent of strikes and labor organizations, those who through the impotence of capitalism to meet present emergencies are out of employment, have begun to hand themselves into industrial armies, and, in one way or another, to demand relief. This marks a new period in the revolt; and one which is likely to bring important results. But whatever course that revolt shall take it must go on. Capitalism is certainly in its death throes. On the other hand, the large measure of success which bas attended even such feeble attempts at co-operation as have been tried in England, and the popular concession everywhere accorded to co-operation marks it as the coming system. I shall endeavor to bring out in subsequent chapters the real character and strength of those concessions.

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