50 Years Ago: The Truth about the Co-operative Movement
On the economic side they are merely capitalist concerns out for profits. As to purchasers’ dividends, they are not alone in giving something back in order to retain customers. The practice of giving coupons entitling purchasers to free gifts is quite common and the article bought, plus the free gift, is generally the equivalent in value of the price paid. The fact that cooperators spend such a small proportion of their wages in the stores proves they are not deceived on the question of value for money. To the bulk of them the Co-op is just a convenient place to shop.
But so far as Co-op leaders hold out hopes to the workers that their support will help towards a new order of society, or will even provide an escalator to reach it, they are practising deceit. The only way out for the workers is to organise politically for that purpose. A special objective requires a special organisation for its achievement. However, the objective must not be obscured by lesser things of little or no importance.
Dividends and profits can have no place within a socialist system of society. They belong to the present lop-sided arrangement of starving workers and over-fed idlers. Dividends and profits belong to capitalism, and the practice of cooperatives helps to keep them alive in the minds of the workers, to the detriment of a true understanding of their real position.
(From an article “The Truth about the Co-operative Movement” by F. Foan, Socialist Standard, September 1932.)