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