50 Years Ago: Are the Co-operators Socialist?

Many workers appear to believe that the Co-operative societies are a form of socialism, or at least a step towards the establishment of socialism.

The Co-ops buy and sell at a profit. Otherwise they would 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-op themselves or by the outside concerns which produce goods in which the Co-op deal. The fact that some of the 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 these lines.

From an article by Eric Boden, Socialist Standard, August 1928.