Sunday, April 1, 2007

Van Ornum, Co-operation, XV

Twentieth Century, August 23, 1894, 7-9.

CO-OPERATION.—DANGERS.—XV.

BY W. H. VAN ORNUM.

After a start has once been made of an adequate system of co-operation, the problem is merely one of keeping right on without being diverted from the true principles of cooperation. Co-operation itself can never fail. In all the long research which I have been compelled to make of the history of co-operation in this and other countries, I have never found a single instance where it has not been a success, except as it has been choked out by the rank weeds of capitalism. It is certainly cheaper to produce wealth under cooperation than it is under capitalism. First of all, the members of a co-operative association can work with a better will when they know that they are to receive the full benefit of their labors. They will be more careful of materials, tools and machinery; because, any waste in any direction will lessen by so much the amount to be divided. Much of the labor of superintendence will be dispensed with. Interest charges will be done away with; and much of the expense of keeping accounts. There will be no bad debts; and one of the most serious drawbacks to business now, will be removed, and that is, the cost of advertising. Capitalism will have to reduce wages more than it has ever done yet in order to compete with facts like these; and every cut will drive their people into the ranks of co-operation. And when it comes to distributing the product, other savings will be effected; in rents, because no such expensive quarters are needed as are now used; and in shop fittings and clerk hire; because there is no need for elaborate display or so much attendance.

Yet, notwithstanding all this, co operators must not expect that they are going to be transported to the new social paradise—the Co-operative Commonwealth, on beds of roses Capitalism will make a desperate struggle to prolong its useless existence. Landlordism, lendlordism and all the forms of investments by which the idle rich are enabled to obtain wealth they never earned, will fight with every weapon they can command. The most ready and effective weapon is the law. It was made to support capitalism; and its machinery will be strained to the utmost to defeat cooperation. Precedents once made will be applied in new and unheard of ways; and if there are no precedents the courts will make them. Laws will be construed in ways that were never dreamed of by their makers; and where necessary, through the rulings of the courts and the bias of officials, they will he entirely changed from their original intent and warped to suit the emergencies. This was conspicuously done in the great railroad strike of the American Railway Union the past summer, when the President of the United States hastened to place the troops of the regular army at the disposal of the wealthy corporations in direct violation of law, and against the protest of the Governor of Illinois and the Mayor of Chicago; and still more flagrantly in the prostitution of the United States Courts, where the special attorney appointed on behalf of the United States was a regular paid attorney of one of those same corporations; where every judge had been notoriously a corporation attorney, and with all their sympathies with the corporations, one of them actually acquiring his position at the direct solicitation of George M. Pullman himself. These were the men who packed the United States Grand Jury with the avowed enemies of organized labor, for the definite purpose of procuring indictments against the leaders of the strike; who issued sweeping injunctions, manifestly in violation of the plainest rights of the people, and purposely so broad and general in their terms as would be certain to involve those leaders in acts which those judges could construe as in contempt of court, and thus enable them to visit summary punishments upon them without the formality of a trial by jury; and who, at the same time, openly ignored the greater and oft repeated violations of the law by those same corporations. If these things are done in a green tree, what shall be done in a dry? When a system of co-operation is put into practical operation which threatens the absolute destruction of capitalism; which means the abolition of the privileges of the rich; which will wipe out every one of the present banks of the United States, and consequently stop the payment of interest; which will destroy our present competitive and wage systems, and which will give to the workers the entire product of their labor, does any one suppose that these watch-dogs of capitalism will be less vigilant? One of the first attacks will be upon our co operative certificates of credit, or scrip. It will come from the United States Secret Service, which will attempt to summarily seize and destroy the plates from which the scrip is printed and to arrest those who are instrumental in its issue. It will require all the fortitude and wisdom at our command to withstand this attack. But we shall be clearly within our rights; and nothing but the most arbitrary and despotic action of the courts can rob us of those rights. The Co-operative Union will issue the scrip to the different associations for their own use and the use of their members, as a means of exchange one with another and not with the general public. The co operators will simply be doing business among themselves, with their own money and means and according to such rules as are satisfactory to them. With this the government has no right to meddle. Whenever it attempts to do so, it is interfering with the undoubted right of the people to do what they will with their own. If now, any member of a co-operative association is in possession of any of this scrip, and he has dealings with another who is not a co-operator, that other may consent to accept the scrip in payment of any account or for the purchase of any commodity. Nor has the government anything to do with that It cannot deny the right of an)’ man to exchange his goods for any consideration which is satisfactory to himself. If the scrip shall circulate in the community outside of co operators themselves, it will be because the community has confidence in its stability and is willing to accept it. But, there’s the rub. Every device which power can command will be used to prevent it from circulating; because, just to the extent that it does circulate, it lessens the hold of the present money power over the people; compels them to use the money of the banks and pay interest on it; and perpetuates the system of capitalism which it is the mission of cooperation to destroy. Co-operators must be prepared to make the most stubborn fight for their rights along this line of any in their whole contest. This scrip is essential to any adequate scheme of cooperation; and the right to issue it must be maintained at all hazards. Those whose duty it will be to issue it must not fear imprisonment. It is quite likely that even this will have to be endured. But when one set of officials who are entrusted with that duty is arrested, let another take its place immediately and the work proceed without interruption. The arrests will only turn the attention of the whole country to the advantages of this system of money, and make clear that the law is made in the interest of the money monopolists in order to compel the people to pay tribute to their monopoly. The more arrests that are made the more strongly this fact will be emphasized; and will hasten the downfall of the monopoly. There is only one way in which cooperators can mitigate the fury of the attack which is sure to be made upon them along this line, and that is by securing the election of a Populist administration. As yet, the Populists stand closer to the interests of the people; and will be more ready to listen to their demands and less to capitalism. It is true that, as a party, it is committed to the principle that all money should be issued by the government; but this is largely through ignorance of a better system. As a party, it is a protest against all the forms of monopoly which are summed up in the term capitalism; and therefore, it can be depended upon to lend a readier ear to reason in the interests of the people.

Failing in the attempt to prevent altogether the issue of our certificates of credit, the next move is likely to be to subject us to the federal tax of ten per cent upon circulation, notwithstanding the banker’s clearing-houses have repeatedly issued precisely the same kind of money to the extent of many millions of dollars, in cases of emergency, without the slightest protest or interference from the officials. But as it is purely a co-operative scrip, intended for use among our own people; and issued, not to the general public, but merely to the associations in the union; and by them used to facilitate the transactions with their own members, it is clearly not within the meaning of the law taxing state bank issues. As I said before, the associations nor the union can be held responsible for what individual members do with it after it gets into their hands. All they have to do is to see that the scrip is properly redeemed when presented; not’ can they make any discrimination between those who shall present it for redemption.

Last of all, the law will deny to co-operators the protection of the laws against counterfeiting. They will practically say to the world that counterfeiters may prey upon us to their hearts content, with perfect impunity; just as the English laws practically said to embezzling officials of the friendly societies, “You may steal the funds as much as you like. Your societies are not recognized by the law, therefore there is no punishment for you.” But the friendly societies survived it; and we can survive any like ruling; especially, as social conditions improve through co-operation, the incentive to counterfeiting, as with all other forms of crime, will be lessened and gradually disappear. In the mean time, much of the trouble can be obviated by wise and business-like checks and precautions.

In addition to all these perils there are others which are more subtile and dangerous because more hidden jealousies and petty rivalries will be stimulated among co-operators themselves, by those who would perpetuate capitalism, by secretly fomenting discord in the ranks of co-operation with a view to breaking up the organizations through internal dissensions. Personal misrepresentations, abuse, flattery and even bribery will be used to accomplish their purpose. Discriminations in trade, in employments, and in rates of freight will be resorted to. Social ostracism and political preferments will be used to the same purpose, all tending to corrupt the members of co-operative societies and break down co-operation as a principle. To all of these sinister influences let co-operators hold steadily to the cardinal principles of co-operation—of perfect equality in all material things, making all preferment purely honorary, and the honor to depend solely upon the degree of good which the individual can bring to all. Avoid joining in disputes of any kind between individuals, and leave such disputes to die out as quickly as possible. If it becomes apparent that individuals are fomenting strife no personal considerations should prevent their expulsion, if that course is persisted in. Full and frequent reports of all business transactions and the condition of the societies must be insisted upon; and those reports must be open to the fullest and freest criticism of every member, and the public in general. If criticism is just it is needed but if it is unjust and unfair it will recoil upon those who make it. Honest and conscientious officials have nothing to fear from unjust criticism. Covert and subtle influences can never injure co-operation if cooperators will only be true to co-operation and meet them with openness and candor, which is the real essence of cooperation.

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