Broad Left Blogging


Taking a broader perspective…

Mutual attraction….

Derek Wall is former Principal Speaker of the Green Party. He keeps a regular blog from an eco-socialist perspective at Another Green World whilst regularly contributing to the Morning Star.

Lenin’s Tomb has condemened the recent advocacy of mutuals and cooperatives on the left. As a hombre who loves to give his Co-op card a good spanking on the trip to buy a Morning Star, some mushrooms and unfeasible quantities of beer, you might expect me to lay into Lenin’s Richard Seymour with abandon.

However my feelings are a little more complex.

I am sceptical for reasons which are complex but include the problem of enclosure of the commons (whether of cyber space or rainforests), speculation, inevitable exploitation and inequality that markets are ever fully effecient or desirable. I am also critical of traditional ideas of central planning as an alternative. The bankruptcy of market economics is leading to calls for alternatives but there is scepticism about traditional forms of socialist economics as well.

For me the alternative is commons, alternative property rights based on economic democracy, think wikipedia, think the web and think forms of communal land management. These alternatives sound utopian but from Tim Bernes-Lees to the work of the Nobel Prize winner Elinor Ostrom the commons is back in fashion.

Nonetheless, the commons based commonwealth will not be created over night. So alternatives are needed that are may be less radical. If communism is about economic democracy, surely economic alternatives based on common ownership and control like mutuals and cooperative are appropriate.

It is also worth remembering that Marx was an advocate not of state control but an economic democracy accompanied by the ultimate ‘withering away of the state’. In Venezuela there has been an explosion of new cooperatives; 21st century socialism in Latin America is about popular economics with decentralization of the means of production in contrast to the Soviet experience.

I think institutions like the Co-op or Waitrose (part of the John Lewis Partnership), where profit is shared, are good examples that show that even within capitalism, profit sharing rather than share ownership can work.

However, Lenin’s Tomb is correct to identify that coops, mutuals and partnerships have some practical weaknesses. The John Lewis Partnership has virtues but is not workers control (its still way ahead of Tescos though!), the Co-op is not an instrument of Marxist advance, although I like to shop there. I once went into a socialist supermarket in down town Caracas but even this I guess was not the whole of a practical utopian alternative for food retail (although they did have some very neat cartoons explaining the new constitution on the packets of rice).

In a capitalist society, cooperatives while laudable are going to find it tough going. We live in a society where competition distorts what we do, in a market society, we dance to the tune of the market. Co-ops can involve self-exploitation, workers working longer hours and cutting corners to survive in globalised markets.

Co-ops, mutuals and partnerships have their virtues and communism is more about self-management than hierarchichal control. However, Richard is correct to challenge those who would mutualise state controlled institutions that work well such as the Royal Mail. By arguing that postal services need to be mutualised, this seems to be pushing a state owned institution in a more market based direction.

This is a dangerous strategy for fighting neo-liberalism.


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One Response

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Broad Left Blogging and Jane Watkinson. Jane Watkinson said: RT @Broadleftblog: New Blog Post: @Anothergreen explains his Mutual attraction….: […]

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