Sunday, April 1, 2007

Van Ornum, Co-operation, XVI

Twentieth Century, August 30, 1894, 8-10.



Just what branches of industry in any city or town can first be organized on a co-operative basis will depend upon special circumstances ; but the development to other industries will depend largely upon the zeal and intelligence of the friends of co-operation themselves. Bake shops, meat markets, groceries, laundries, tailoring, dress and cloak making establishments, printing and a thousand other conveniences and necessities should be added just as rapidly as possible, supplies for all of which should be bought at wholesale, of the best quality and the lowest price obtainable. The greatest care must be taken in selecting the agents to make the purchases and sales, and those agents must make prompt and full reports of every transaction and be removable at any time by vote of the association; and, pending such a vote, they should be liable to suspension by the board of managers for any irregularity.

Following rapidly the establishment of a few co-operative enterprises in any city or own, enough to attract public attention and make any substantial reduction in cost of necessities, and increase in the general comfort of the co-operators, a tract of land must be obtained, by lease or purchase, outside of any municipal corporation, where a communistic community can be established. I say, outside of any municipal corporation for two reasons: first, to avoid being subjected to municipal ordinances and regulations not necessary to the community, and taxation. Reduce, just as much as possible, the degree of subjection to politics and political influences. Each community should be just as free as possible from all outside regulations ; and those set up inside should have reference exclusively to business matters. The individual members must be permitted the most perfect freedom in all matters of personal conduct or, in other words, which do not pertain to the common business affairs. And business regulations must be such as all will recognize as necessary to the proper conduct of the business: such as will be commonly observed, because they are commonly recognized as necessary. The second object to be attained is to secure cheap land, although this should not be carried so far as to plant the communities at long distances from markets and sources of supply. Unless extensive tracts of land can be acquired, these communities, in their production for exchange, should confine their efforts to such few lines as will insure good results, having in view the adaptations of soil and climate, and the skill and training of the members of the community. As far as possible fruits, vegetables, dairy and farm product should be produced in each community for its own consumption. All the more common avocations can also be carried on through a subdivision of labor.

Allotments of land can be made for the various sorts of culture, to be worked in common, such as gardening, fruit growing, field culture and grazing; and then more for dwellings, park, places of amusement, public halls, schools etc. All these can be improved and stocked by the common labor of the community, and used in common; nor will there be any need to restrict the members in the amount of personal gratification they may take; as, for instance, in the number of the suits of clothing, etc., which each may have. The powers of human production are so great that there need be little if any need for placing a limitation upon any. Storehouses would be built where supplies can be kept under favorable conditions; and with but a small fraction of the labor and attention that are required for each family, under the present system, to care for their stores of supplies. Surplus products will be exchanged with other communities producing a surplus of other things; or with productive associations in the cities and towns. Every convenience and luxury of a material, intellectual or social nature known to our civilization can be provided for the common benefit and enjoyment of all; and without putting any limitations, restrictions or price upon their use. Water, gas for heating, heat for power, and electricity for lighting, instruction in the arts, in science, indulgence in literary tastes, amusements of all kinds, and facilities and opportunities for recreation can be had without money and without price. Their provision is only a question of the labor of the members of the community, for labor is the thing that produces all wealth. These communities would not differ essentially from the faintly communities of France which have existed for many centuries, and have always been prosperous; one, the Pingons, having had a history for more than 600 years. It has acquired vast wealth, which it keeps in the hands of the family, now grown to great numbers. Our communities, however, seeking a universal brotherhood; will be restricted to no such narrow limit a that of a single family.

Very soon the farmers of this country will see that by uniting several farms (the more the better), and inviting people of different handicrafts in the over- crowded cities to come and unite with them in the building up of such communities they may enjoy all the comforts and luxuries of civilization, instead of living the solitary, isolated and unsocial lives they do. After a very few such communities have been established, enough to demonstrate to the farmers their thorough practicability, I look for a general and voluntary movement on the part of those farmers to turn their holdings into communal societies, and to draw to them every variety of talent possible. The interests of farmers everywhere, just like the interests of every other class and calling, are in increasing the comforts and conveniences of life and the opportunities for social enjoyment, instead of building up exclusive estates which they may call their own and from which they may keep other people away. Social improvement lies in social intercourse instead of isolation. To try to preserve separate estates is like keeping the husk and throwing away the corn.

But the system of isolation: the system of private properties, is fast destroying itself. The farmers are rapidly being crushed beneath their burdens of debt and taxation, and by the enormous rates of transportation ; for goods made abnormally high by tariffs and other monopolies and by the land and money systems which prevail. Nothing can prevent the farmers, as well as all other classes of producers, from voluntarily abandoning the present abominable system but ignorance of the good which is possible.

It is through the extension, multiplication and final blending of these communities, and of the co-operative associations in the cities and towns, that all lines of productive and distributive industries must be brought under co-operation. The very competition which capitalism invites and insists upon will be its own destruction. Capitalism cannot compete in a contest with co-operation. I have already shown that it can not produce goods as cheaply; and even if it could, it must sell those goods at a profit, or it could not live. Co operation, freed from all interest to deceive and therefore from all adulteration, from interest on borrowed money, from profits, from bad debts and litigation, from expenses of display, of advertising and insurance, and from a multitude of other results of monopoly, would render a capitalistic store or workshop an impossibility. It is in this way that the Cooperative Commonwealth must come. The foundation for that Co-operative Commonwealth is laid when men first begin to pay in their membership fees for the establishment of a co-operative association. Those membership fees constitute a corn anon wealth: that is, a wealth that is to be used for common purposes. And as that common wealth grows through the united industry of the association or community the members all draw from the common store to meet their common and individual needs.

The problem before those who believe in that Co-operative Commonwealth, is to make such a practical beginning as will demonstrate to workingmen the possibilities of this system of production. When that demonstration is once clearly made right in the centers of productive industry, where its results can be seen and appreciated by workingmen, and not in some far away corner of the globe, those workingmen will be quite as ready to recognize and utilize those advantages as the advocates of co-operation can desire. I am convinced that one of the greatest obstacles to a larger, an adequate system of co-operation has heretofore been that those who professed to believe in cooperation have generally coupled with it impracticable religions, governmental, or domestic theories, which have served as a dead weight upon their whole schemes, and driven away the very people who were necessary to their success. Human liberty is indispensable to co-operation: a liberty which brooks no interference with the private affairs of the people, and which only permits of regulation of their common business concerns.

There is another fact which it is worth while for those who look to co-operation for social improvement to note and that is, that every considerable advance that has ever been made in co-Operation has grown out of just such times as we have now: times of great business depression and social disturbance. The years preceding the English co-operative movement were years of great distress in England. From 4 to 6 shillings per week was the utmost limit which a weaver could earn by the greatest exertion. The country was filled with tramps. Old and forgotten statutes which had been enacted against vagabondage, were revived and enforced against workingmen out of employment. One especially, of the time of Edward VI., No. 1549, which provided that, “If any person shall bring to two Justices of the Peace any runagate servant or any other which liveth idly or loiteringly by the space of three days, they shall cause that idle and loitering servant or vagabond to be marked with a hot iron on the breast with a mark of V, and adjudge him to be slave to the person that brought him for two years after, who shall take the said slave and give him bread, water and small drink, and refuse him meat, and cause him to work, by beating, chaining or otherwise, in such work as he shall put him unto, be it ever so vile; and if he shall absent himself from his said master, by the space of fourteen days, then he shall be adjudged by two Justices of the Peace to be marked on the forehead, or the ball of the cheek, with a hot iron, with the sign of an S, and further shall be adjudged to be a slave of his said master for ever.”

Under this statute, in 1822, a poor furrier went to London to find work. About the same time a shopman who had long been out of employment arrived from Shropshire in search of work. They were both seized by the police and condemned. Appeal was taken to the Lord Mayor, who sustained the verdict, declaring that it made no difference what was their motive: he should enforce the law in full against all. England was on the very verge of civil war, the people being driven to desperation by their sufferings. And during the next twenty years the capitalistic oppression of labor through the machinery of government was steadily tightened. In 1834 six Dorsetshire laborers were convicted in the English courts, ostensibly for administering illegal oaths, but really for combining against capital,—just as our courts are today, through misapplied statutes and strained constructions, trying to deprive workingmen of their natural rights to combine for their own protection. It will be remembered that the Ralahine experiment in Ireland grew out of the troublous times of the Irish famine; and the European credit banks from the hard times preceding and attendant upon the political disturbances of I84. In fact, it seems to be a law of nature that all good comes through travail and suffering; and if the present evil times shall result in the birth of a new and grander civilization, who shall say that they are evil?

Of course, in this I am attacking our whole system of private property. But I am convinced that until this is attacked and destroyed, that no considerable advance in civilization is possible. Private property is capitalism pure and simple, for the perpetuation of which every government in the world exists; and all laws either directly or indirectly are intended to support it. Not being a natural condition of society it can only be maintained at an infinite cost of human poverty, human suffering and human degradation. Therefore the necessity for force in human society for penal statutes, enforced by courts, by police and finally by bayonets. The best and brightest minds in almost every age have pointed out the fact that the idea of private property is a cultivated one: that it does not exist naturally. Herder says: “Even when agriculture was introduced, it cost some pains to limit men to separate fields and establish the distinction of mine and thine.” James Mill, in his History of British India, says that, “The ideas of property are all arbitrary and not the offspring of nature.” Aristotle also declares that, “There are nations who hold land in common and divide the produce; and others who divide the land and store the produce in common.” In modern times, Prof. Jevons and a multitude of others of undoubted ability and integrity all testify to the same thing.

Against all this, I know there are a few facts which at first seem to militate against this view of the case. But on closer examination their significance is destroyed, or they become confirmatory of the testimony of the others. For instance, the colony of Englishmen ‘who made the first settlement in this country at Jamestown, Va., was compelled by the terms of its charter, to maintain a community of interests for a certain number of years. Until that time expired, the settlement languished and nearly became extinct. As soon as separate allotments of land were made and each was enabled to establish his own home, a greater ‘degree of thrift was manifest. But it must be remembered that these colonists brought with them their old ideas of property which they had never even called in question. The communal state was understood to be only temporary. They constantly looked forward to the time, in the near future, when it would be changed. Naturally no one cared to exert himself greatly to increase a common wealth that on the division might be given to others. There are many other considerations in the same case, which go to deprive it of any particular significance, but these are sufficient.

Another thing which has often been pointed to in support of the naturalness of private property is, the tendency of children to quarrel about their playthings; and to insist upon their private ownership of this and that. But it is also observed that as they grow older they learn the absurdity of these special claims and are more and more inclined to treat their playthings as means of common amusement. In fact, I am inclined to regard the idea of private property as an evidence of the childhood of the race, to be cast aside like a useless plaything when advancing intelligence reveals a better.

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