Sunday, April 1, 2007

Van Ornum, Co-operation, XII

Twentieth Century, August 2, 1894, 7-9.



Before proceeding to outline such a plan of co-operation as may be expected to revolutionize our industrial system; to destroy capitalism; abolish the employment of men for wages—really the exploitation of mankind by man—and usher in the Co-operative Commonwealth, it will be well to sum up the lessons which may fairly be learned from the historical research just ended. The value of history lies in the insight it affords to human nature and human institutions, in order that we may be enabled to adapt our institutions to that nature and to the necessities of men. In the course of our historical review we have sought to find out what the true nature of co-operation is; wherein and why it differs from capitalism, what has already been accomplished by co-operation; and, where failures have been made, to trace these failures to their causes so that in future efforts we can avoid the rocks upon which others have been wrecked.

Starting from the groundwork, we found that co-operation is based upon the natural and self-evident truth of social economy, that all wealth is produced by labor and of right belongs to labor; while capitalism is founded upon an artificial political economy depending upon the artificial enactments of each particular country, but which generally teaches the doctrine that the production of wealth results from the joint effort of land, labor and capital; and therefore must be share I by the landlord the capitalist and the laborer. Capitalism is founded in polities, and depends upon human laws enforced by courts, polite, armies and prisons, while co-operation is founded in the social nature of man which leads him through his own self-interest to work together with his fellows for their mutual advantage, and needs no other laws than those simple regulations which are prompted by their mutual interests and which will be observed because they are of mutual interest, without the aid of courts, police, armies or prisons. The admission of the right of the landlord and the capitalist to share in the products of labor is the beginning of that gigantic robbery which finally leaves nothing for the laborers beyond such a bare pittance as will only sustain existence; because the encroachment once begun is steadily increased, in a thousand different ways, until nothing more can be taken. This is the only thing that makes possible an idle class which can live upon the labor of the industries; because if they could not share in the products of labor without labor they must needs labor themselves. In this way the interest of one class is set up against the interests of another class; private fortunes become necessary and laws to protect those private fortunes: in other words, laws for the protection of property enforced by penalties, by courts, police, armies and prisons. Were it not for this initial robbery there could be no use for any of these things; because all would be laborers; and all would have such an abundance that wealth would become common, each producing in a spirit of emulation whatever he could within the limits of a healthful happy life; and each sharing from that common wealth to the utmost of his ability to enjoy In such a society there could be no criminality; for there would be no inducement to crime; and therefore there would be no necessity for laws regulating private conduct; no courts, no police, no armies and no prisons.

Co-operation stands then as the synonym of civilization; for all human association is, in a sense, cooperation - that is, a working together; and just as men have learned to so operate—to work together for common ends, civilization has increased, and men have been elevated in intellectual attainments and social virtues. Capitalism represents government in human society: that force which compels. It appeals only to force: and is anti-social in all its tendencies; while co-operation stands for mutual interest. It appeals to reason and love instead of force; and is purely social in all its tendencies. Capitalism depends upon government, upon politics, and necessarily breeds confusion, disorder and corruption in society; while cooperation depends upon equality and justice and leads to order, peace and purity in society. They are the exact opposites ii everything. So true is this that cooperation can never be promoted by the instruments and methods of capitalism; and I desire here to commend a careful study of these facts to those earnest, but, I think, misguided advocates of the Co-operative Commonwealth who hope to bring in the kingdom of heaven by an extension of the powers and functions of the state. Rulership, whether by the state or by a junta of individuals, will destroy any co operative enterprise that ever was or ever can be started; if it is allowed to grow and produce its legitimate results. This is abundantly attested by the history of every cooperative scheme which has been reviewed in this series, which has been dominated by that principle of rulership.

Another thing which has been demonstrated is, that the work of any practical co-operation must be undertaken and carried out by the people themselves. No matter how wisely a scheme is devised it can never lift the people by any power outside of themselves. No governing plan and no benevolent interest on the part of the wealthy, although backed by unlimited means, can raise the people one step in the scale of being. They must lift themselves.

There are few things necessary in the production and distribution of wealth, the practicability of which has not been demonstrated in one way or another in the historical review just ended. Distributive cooperation has been applied on an extensive scale in England; and, to a lesser degree, in continental Europe and America. The Rochdale and London stores, the European Cattle Purchase Associations and associations for the purchase of raw materials, the American Grange and other stores and purchasing agencies, always successful while following co-operative lines, all bear witness to the benefits which flow from this form of co-operation. Its practicability is no longer a question of doubt.

Productive co-operation, while not having been developed to the same extent, has been placed on nearly as substantial a basis in the factories of the communistic societies in this country, such as that of Amana, Harmony, and many others, the uniform excellence of whose goods are, everywhere recognized; in the Co-operative Corn Mills, and other industries, run in connection with the English co-operative stores; in the Swiss and American Co-operative Dairy Associations, and the Co-operative Bakeries, Tailoring, Shoemaking and other associations in this and other countries, which have started and flourished from time to time. Their history has uniformly been that while they remained true to co-operative principles they were successful; but their success has frequently awakened the cupidity of the crafty who have taken advantage of some capitalistic feature or loophole to obtain control and turn them to private account. These, however, have always been, not by reason of any inherent weakness in co-operation, but by reason of the failure of their founders and promoters to adhere to the principles of co-operation by letting in those of capitalism.
Co-operative farming, too, has been proved successful, not only under ancient communities, before the present system of land tenure became fully developed, but even in the face of the tremendous obstruction of landlordism which now bears like a black pall of death over so large a part of the civilized world. The history of Ralahine is a most significant one, and ought to give encouragement to all who hope for the good time coming.

The Friendly Societies exhibit another phase of cooperative work which has met with abundant success against the most trying circumstances, although it is, in itself, a form of co-operation which under a larger and purer co-operation would be utterly useless. Life insurance and sick and burial benefits would be absolutely not needed under a universal co-operation. At present they mitigate some of the evil effects of capitalism, and therefore act as a prop to capitalism. But this goes to show the beneficent influence of co-operation itself in whatever direction it is applied.

But the most instructive lessons, and withal the most hopeful, are those to be learned from the history of the European Credit Banks. They have demonstrated that the only thing needed for the mass of the people, even the very poorest, to lift themselves out of their deplorable condition is an intelligent plan of cooperation and an opportunity for self-improvement. They have shown how quickly and certainly improved material conditions, or even the hope of them, react upon the people to elevate their moral, intellectual and social well being. They have proved the inherent integrity of the poor; the fidelity to principle; and the absolute safety of applying the principle of unlimited liability to any extent that may be desired. Men can safely and will faithfully stand by and protect one another’s credit; and more, that capable and honest men can be found who may be depended upon to faithfully administer important affairs without the incentive of personal gain. While the Schulze-Delitzsch Credit Banks paid salaries and commissions to their managers, and so encouraged a spirit of greed which often wrought disaster and even failure to the banks themselves, the Raiffeisen banks everywhere entrusted their’ affairs to those who served without pay, and with the result that in a history of forty-three years, extending through more than a thousand banks and over three countries there has never been a loss.

Nor are these the only lessons. Some of those banks have demonstrated the soundness of united credit, even among the very poor, for the purposes of borrowing; while others have successfully issued and maintained their own bills as currency. If this can safely be done in Milan it can just as safely be done in this country. One of the greatest obstacles to successful co-operation is the power possessed by the ordinary banks over the money of the country. Some form of currency is absolutely needed with which to purchase supplies and effect exchanges. Even if the banks would loan to co-operators freely, the charges for interests and discounts would be a serious tax upon their resources. They are that now upon all forms of business carried on under capitalism; and they would be no less so on co-operators if they were obliged to borrow of the banks. But the experience of the Italian Loan Banks is abundant proof that the co-operative associations can issue their own money, practically on the same plan proposed in my book, “Money, Co-operative Banking and Exchange,” and so become independent of the capitalist banks and free from the burdens of interest and discounts. This alone would give co operation a vast advantage over all capitalistic competition and go a long way toward its destruction.

I shall attempt to outline, in the next few numbers, a practical plan of co-operation which, I believe, will undermine the whole capitalistic system and finally destroy it.

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