Cooperatives On the Path to Socialism?

A big question remains as to the role which co-ops, and the larger movement of that they are a part—a growing cluster under the heading of New Economy, Worker-Owned Enterprises, Solidarity Economy—could potentially play in fundamental social transformation, given the limitations discussed above. And the answer must be based in part on a careful examination and interpretation of the role they have thus far played. Here the evidence is not yet really available. There are indeed many case studies of individual examples, such as of the Mondragon cooperative in Spain and its emulators, and some good broader examinations, such as the work of Gar Alperovitz, the New Economics Institute, the Democracy Collaborative, as well as the writings of economists such as Richard Wolff.

What is needed, however, is a sharp focus on difficult-to-get-at aspects of the existing experiences among cooperatives: To what extent have they played a role outside of their own enterprise or organization? Has their experience led their members to broader political or social activity outside their own silo? Have they taken positions on critical public issues, provided solidarity for other efforts going in their general direction, mobilized others to follow their examples? In attempting to aggregate their influence, the definition used of what counts as a cooperative or a worker-owned enterprise—or indeed as part of an alternative solidarity-type formation—is critical. Credit unions, for instance, share some of the attributes of the category in question, but it is doubtful if in practice many credit unions can be found that play a significant external role in trying to modify the economy. There is some evidence that fresh food co-ops do attempt to influence public actions, but in all likelihood this occurs only in the limited sphere of their direct concern. Information on the quandaries faced by the representatives of worker stockholders in corporations with employee stock ownership plans—such as when they sit on the company’s board of directors and must vote on union demands for wage increases—could be very interesting. What more extensive research might show is as yet unclear. Indeed, the fact that the answer is still cloudy may itself be telling.

Read the full article at Monthly Review


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