Are the Cooperators Socialists?
Many workers appear to believe that Cooperative Societies are a form of Socialism, or at least a step towards the establishment of Socialism. Most of the co-operators are supporters of the Labour Party, or of its allies the Co-op. Party, and it is curious to notice how blind they are to the contradiction in their own position. The Labour Party stands for State and Municipal Trading and the extension of this form of enterprise necessarily comes into competition with Co-operative concerns just as much as ordinary capitalist ventures. But this is a minor point.
The Co-ops. buy and sell at a profit. Otherwise they would very soon cease to exist. This profit is derived from the unpaid portion of the labour of some section of the workers. It is immaterial whether these workers are directly employed in production by the Co-ops. themselves or by the outside concerns who produce goods in which the Co-ops. deal. The fact that some of this profit is distributed in the form of “divi” among working-class consumers and members blinds the latter to the real position.
Any reduction in the cost of living brought about by wholesale buying, irrespective of whether it is done by Co-ops, or other multiple shop concerns, simply enables the master-class to reduce wages accordingly. There is thus no advantage to be gained by the workers in the long run along those lines.
When we come to consider the productive side of Co-op. enterprises we find little, if any, difference between them and capitalist concerns which have no pretensions about bringing in the co-operative commonwealth.
Speaking at the recent Co-op. Congress at West Hartlepool, Mr. A. V. Alexander (Sheffield) is reported to have stated that “the Government policy (i.e., safeguarding of industry) was insidious and dangerous, and corrupted co-operators.”
“If a Co-operative factory was producing an article obtaining Protection, the people concerned did not want to oppose Protection, and the larger interests of the whole consumers were lost in the desire of the factory manager for larger profit in his factory.” (“Sheffield Telegraph and Star,” May 30th.)
Note that “Co-operation” simply divides the workers into “producers” and “consumers,” confuses their minds with issues such as Protection (which are only of importance to the master-class) and rests fundamentally on the “desire for profit.”
A recent instance of friction between the C.W.S. and some of its employees illustrates this point further. The Northumberland Miners’ Association, Shilbottle Branch, issued a manifesto calling attention to the low wages paid by the C.W.S. in their Shilbottle Colliery. This was published in the “Manchester Guardian” of April 20th. In their reply the C.W.S. simply take up the pose of “philanthropic” employers, pointing out that they pay their men for holidays, give them coal free and house them in model villages. It reminds one of Leverhulme and Cadbury and other anti-Socialists, but the tit-bit is the following :—
“It is difficult to understand what is meant by the allegation that hard-working men are getting as low as 28s. per week. As a matter of fact the pit has worked full-time during this year, so that piece-workers with 5½ days per week would earn £1 17s. 7d. as the least possible wage.”
After such an example of the reckless munificence in which they indulge, one can hardly wonder at the Society protesting against the miners’ lodge “appealing to the sentiment of the co-operative movement by a series of mis-statements.” Thirty-seven bob for a week in a pit ! What carping critic dare now say that the emancipation of the wage-slaves is not in sight?
Fellow-workers, Socialism means a system of life in which the instrument of labour will be common property.
Consequently the fruits of labour under such conditions will be freely available to all. There will be no need for the workers to buy and sell that which they own as a result of their collective effort. Organised distribution, democratically controlled according to a definite plan based upon social needs will replace all juggling with “divi.” and wages and such-like features of capitalism. Such a system can replace the existing chaos in which you suffer, just as soon as you are ready to establish it by means of your political power. When you realise the need for this you will have no time left to waste on Labour or Co-op. Parties, which tinker with effects while leaving causes untouched. You will get on with the job in the only way possible, i.e., by joining and helping forward the work of the Socialist Party.