Wolff, co-ops and socialism

June 2024 Forums General discussion Wolff, co-ops and socialism

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    The Push to Create Co-ops Is Energizing a New Generation of Socialists

    “…Worker co-ops are socialism’s new vision and goal…”

    Once again I find Wolff’s understanding of what the State is to be non-Marxist

    “An economy based on worker co-ops would revolutionize the relationship between the state and the people. In their capacity as a self-employed collectivity, workers would occupy the spot traditionally held by the workplace in state-workplace relations and interactions. The former go-between in the state-workplace relationship — the employers — would be subsumed by the collective of worker-owners. The workers would collectively and democratically hold the purse strings to which the state would have to appeal. The state would thus depend on citizens and workers rather than the other way around. The state would depend on citizens in the usual residence-based public arena of elections and voting (or their equivalents). The state would also depend on workers in the other social arena: state-workplace interactions. In both arenas, real democracy would have taken giant steps forward. The state would no longer pretend to occupy the role of neutral arbiter in struggles between master and slave, lord and serf, employer and employee. The state would have fewer ways and means to impose its own momentum and goals upon citizens or workplaces. To that extent, the state’s “withering away” would become more immediately achievable than in any other variety of socialism known thus far.”

    Perhaps someone more erudite can translate this for me. I thought the State was a class relationship of control and dominance yet despite being “worker co-ops alongside conventional private and state capitalist workplaces.” somehow, the State would be neutral and will serve only the interests of the co-ops “Such a sector would provide the basis for citizens to make informed choices about what mix of alternative workplace organizations work best.”, and the class struggle mysteriously vanishes, forthwith.

    But as I say I’m not astute enough to fully comprehend a professor of such standing as Wolff, being merely a humble worker.

    Maybe someone can buy the book and review it in its entirety because I don’t understand “Understanding Socialism”

    Bijou Drains

    It’s interesting that the proposal put forward that we have

     “worker co-ops alongside conventional private and state capitalist workplaces.”

    is actually quite similar to the economy of the Republic of Ireland.

    The farmers’ co-ops have a large presence in rural areas, and retail co-ops are also quite well represented.

    See the link to show this:


    There are state controlled industries (ERB one of the main electricity suppliers is 95% state and 5% worker owned) Bus Éireann, Dublin Bus and Iarnród Éireann/Irish Rail, are all state owned.

    On top of this there is a welfare system which is probably more generous than the UK and a health care system, which although not as well developed as the UK, is quite substantial and per capita health spending is not a kick in the pants of the UK spending.

    I often use this argument for the reluctant Labourists, who say, well I vote Labour, but only because they gave us the welfare state and the NHS.

    If these things were not part of the ordinary development of capitalism and generally in the interests of capitalism, why have they developed in the ROI, which has never had a Labour and arguably which has never had even a left leaning government?




    I know the Irish Labour Party is a pretty pathetic organisation but hasn’t it been the junior partner in various coalition givernments?


    Nothing that Richard Wolff has written has nothing to do with Marxism or socialism. Coop has existed for many years in the Caribbeans and it did not work. It is just another capitalist project

    Bijou Drains

    I know the Irish Labour Party is a pretty pathetic organisation but hasn’t it been the junior partner in various coalition governments?

    6 times since the war, but always as a very, very junior party, and always with Fine Gael who are possibly the slightly more right wing of two centre right wing main parties, (strange for a “socialist” party to be in coalition with a party that had traditional links with O’Duffy’s Blueshirts.)

    Probably the most radical of parties in coalition would have been Sean McBride’s Clann na Poblachta, which was part of the 1948-51 coalition. That coalition was brought down by church over Clann na Poblachta’s health plan for free health care for mothers and babies, because it was “communistic”. You can always rely on the Catholic Church to look after its flock, they were probably worried someone would find out what the nuns were up to in Tuam!


    Doesn’t Sinn Fein also claim to be “socialist” in some sort of vague way, based on advocating workers cooperatives as “an economy that works for workers”:


    Incidentally, their basic policy implied by their name of We Ourselves on our own has been adopted by the British government and comes into force this evening (even if, ironically, SF were in favour of Britain staying in the EU).

    Bijou Drains

    It’s part of the Sinn Fein claim is to make sure they keep their link to Connolly and the Citizen’s Army’s legacy, using the starry plough as an insignia and all of that. When the Officials and the Provos split, it was the Officials who were more openly left wing, they ended up splitting with some in the Workers Party and some in the INLA political wing the IRSP (sometimes known as the I rob shops and post offices, with the INLA as I never left anything).  Sinn Fein still have some leftist leanings, but not as pronounced as the pre 1970 Sinn Fein/IRA


    Connolly wrote an article admiring of the then newly adopted name Sinn Fein “For Ourselves” as an appropriate one for a working class socialist party.


    “…Sinn Féin. Ourselves. I wonder how long it will be until the Working Class realize the full significance of that principle! How long it will be until the Workers realize that the Socialist movement is a movement of the Working Class, and how long until the Socialists realize that the place of every other class in the movement is and must be a subordinate one.
    How long it will be until the Socialists realize the folly and inconsistency of preaching to the Workers that the emancipation of the Working Class must be the act of the workers themselves, and yet presenting to those workers the sight of every important position in the party occupied by men not of the Working Class. We will get the Workers to have trust in their own power to achieve their own emancipation when we demonstrate our belief that there is no task incidental to that end that a worker can not accomplish; when we train the workers to look inward upon their own class for everything required, to have confidence in the ability of their own class to fill every position in the revolutionary army; when, in short, we of the Socialist Working Class take to heart the full meaning of the term Sinn Féin, Ourselves, and apply it to the work of Industrial Reconstruction.”

    In the 1970s, a US situationist-style group wrote the “the Right to be Greedy” (derived no doubt from Lafargue’s “Right to be Lazy”) called themselves, “For Ourselves”


    “1 Greed in its fullest sense is the only possible basis of communist society.
    2 The present forms of greed lose out, in the end, because they turn out to be not greedy enough.”

    In context of the topic title, I suppose it could be also used for the sectionalism of the cooperative movement, too.


    That quote from Connolly was from the period when he had not yet gone completely reformist,  but he couldn’t half waffle when he wanted to.

    The article was praising the words “sinn fein” not the organisation of that name of which he is critical:

    “Thus the Sinn Féin body of the Argentine Republic, as recorded in the Gaelic American, states that Sinn Féin demands freedom for Ireland on the basis of the Act of Renunciation in 1782. This is absurd. The act by which the English Parliament renounced the right to make laws binding on Ireland left untouched the power of oppression, political and economic.”

    Of course in the end he was executed for his leading role in a failed bid to set up a capitalist republic in Ireland which also “left untouched the power of oppression, political and economic” and for which he is a “national hero”.


    Wolff on his hobby horse again. Workers co-ops will solve climate change.

    Will Climate Change Provoke a Widespread Revival of Socialism?

    Credit where credit is due, he does an effective job in demolishing state ownership. Yet his is still all about the existence of the State.

    “When workers democratize their workplaces, they collectively control the state — in numbers and economic power. That control can secure the social welfare gains they win…A socialist state would serve that objective and be governed by its democratic base in ways capitalism never imagined, let alone allowed.”
    For someone who has such formidable Marxist credentials, it is always surprising that he is blind to the Marxist theory of the State and the inherent flaws in co-operatives. Socialism has never been simply about the nominal ownership of the means of production. We all recall the “non-ownership” model of the Catholic Church’s monastery system.


    The monastery life was closer to communism than Coop


    I read this critique of co-ops and found it of interest (the format requires fixing unfortunately)

    Co-ops or workers’ revolution?

    “If this Proudhonist brand of “market socialism” were to somehow come into existence, it would probably degenerate into a hierarchical, class-stratified set-up. The losers in the market game would be stripped of their means of production by bankruptcy — maybe they made mistakes, didn’t innovate, got too far into debt, etc. Once a class of propertyless people emerge, there would be nothing to keep the remaining co-ops from exploiting them as wage-labor”


    No doubt this article will be seized upon by co-operative advocates.


    “…Ownership at Work has found that employee ownership, whether achieved through direct shareholdings or an employee-owned trust, proves popular wherever the company operates and whatever the industry….

    “Employee ownership is clearly liberating for many workers,” says Stern. “But with that freedom to operate comes responsibility, accountability and a genuine sense of ownership – the benefits which accrue from that, but also the seriousness that goes with it. Taking ownership means thinking harder about how you work and how you make money.”…

    A survey of managers at the same businesses, released this week, showed they need to make an even bigger leap, shedding any bombast and egotistical tendencies on their way to the boardroom…”


    I don’t understand how a person like Richard Wolff who have read and has studied Karl Marx has fallen into the trap of Coops. It is more than obvious that it is just a capitalist reform

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