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Worker Cooperatives and Revolution : History and Possibilities in the United States: History and Possibilities in the United States

By Wright, Chris, Dr.

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Book Id: WPLBN0100302242
Format Type: PDF (eBook)
File Size: 2.15 MB.
Reproduction Date: 10/1/2014

Title: Worker Cooperatives and Revolution : History and Possibilities in the United States: History and Possibilities in the United States  
Author: Wright, Chris, Dr.
Language: English
Subject: Non Fiction, Social Sciences, Sociology
Collections: History, Authors Community
Publication Date:
Publisher: Booklocker
Member Page: ChrisWright


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Wright, D. C. (2014). Worker Cooperatives and Revolution : History and Possibilities in the United States. Retrieved from

Social democracy is dead and can't be revived. The solidarity economy is the hope for the world's future, and Marxism provides the intellectual tools to interpret and predict its growth.

Since the financial crisis of 2008 and the global popular protests of 2011, more people have begun to wonder and speculate: what's next for civilization? The economic, social, and political status quo seems unsustainable, but what can emerge to take its place? In this book, a historian examines the past and present to argue that the seeds of a more humane society are already being planted, on local and international scales. Whether they will bear fruit depends, ultimately, on grassroots initiative. Focusing on the new worker cooperative movement in the West, this study not only contains the first systematic discussion of the solidarity economy in the light of Marxist theory; it also introduces a major revision of Marxism that both updates it for the twenty-first century and illuminates our historical moment. It includes an analysis of the history of cooperatives in the U.S., showing where they went wrong and how we can correct their past mistakes. It has a case-study of the successful new worker-owned business New Era Windows in Chicago, which has been celebrated internationally for its defiance of conventional paradigms. And it shows a way out of the age-old conflict between Marxism and anarchism, arguing that both are more relevant now than they have ever been. Which is to say: a gradualist "revolution" is, for the first time, within the realm of possibility.

The capitalist mode of production does not permit a socially efficient allocation of resources. Resource allocation is determined by the twin structural imperatives of having purchasing power (on the demand side) and of chasing profit (on the supply side). If one has a need but lacks the money to back up that need, as for example the billion children worldwide living in poverty do, one’s need will not be met by the market. Conversely, investors will pursue only those projects that have the potential to make a profit. For example, many areas of rural America were still without electricity in the early 1930s because investors had judged that the meager profits to be made did not justify the costs of supplying electricity to these regions; hence the New Deal’s Rural Electrification Administration and the cooperatives that sprang up to supply electricity. Broadly speaking, the dynamic between capital and wage-labor, as well as that between millions of atomized units of capital each seeking profit at the expense of every other, makes for a very unstable and crisis-prone economy. Capital’s interests lie in paying the worker as little as possible and in preventing him from exercising control over the process of production, while the worker wants to be paid as much as possible and to exercise greater control over production. This simple structural antagonism is the basis for the whole history of the labor movement, the continual confrontations, the unions and union-busting, the private armies deployed to break up strikes, the government suppression of labor parties, the revolutionary social movements, the constant and pervasive stream of business propaganda, and the periodic bursts of cooperative economic activity among the ranks of labor. At the same time, the vicissitudes of the capitalist economy leave many people unemployed at any given time, unable to find work because their skills and needs are not valued or because of insufficient investment in their geographical or professional area, or because of outsourcing to countries where labor is cheaper, or for other reasons. In recent decades, the liberalization and financialization of the international economy has entailed a tendency for corporations to seek profits not through investment in industry and infrastructure-development but through financial speculation. This sort of investment, undertaken on the principle of “Après moi le déluge,” is not only risky but essentially adds no jobs and no real wealth to the economy, which tends to stagnate—or to contract, after it finally becomes evident that all these financial transactions have been grounded in “the baseless fabric of a vision” (to quote Shakespeare). So, millions more people are thrown out of work as capital withdraws itself from further investments, and government initiatives are required to set the economy on track again—for more financial speculation and more stagnation, as opposed to contraction. However, even before the orgies of neoliberalism it was obvious that capitalism is not socially efficient. Market failures are everywhere, from environmental calamities to the necessity of the state’s funding much socially useful science to the existence of public education and public transportation (not supplied through the market) to the outrageous incidence of poverty and famine in countries that have had capitalism foisted on them. All this testifies to a “market failure,” or rather a failure of the capitalist, competitive, profit-driven mode of production, which, far from satisfying social needs, multiplies and aggravates them. This should not be surprising. An economic system premised on two irreconcilable antagonisms— that between worker and supplier-of-capital and that between every supplier-of-capital and every other4—and which is propelled by the structural necessity of exploiting and undermining both one’s employees and one’s competitors in order that ever-greater profits may be squeezed out of the population, is not going to lead to socially harmonious outcomes. Only in the unreal world of standard neoclassical economics, which makes such assumptions as perfect knowledge, perfect capital and labor flexibility, the absence of firms with “market power,” the absence of government, and in general the myth of homo economicus—the person susceptible of no other considerations than those of pure “economic rationality”—is societal harmony going to result. From the very beginning of its history, the manifold social evils of capitalism have given rise to oppositional movements. The one I am concerned with in this book is cooperativism, specifically worker cooperativism. There are many other kinds of cooperatives, including those in the credit, agriculture, housing, insurance, health, and retail sectors of the economy. But worker cooperativism is potentially the most “oppositional” form, the most anti-capitalist, since it organizes production in anti-capitalist ways. Indeed, the relations of production that constitute worker cooperativism also define socialism in its most general sense: workers’ democratic control over production and, in some varieties, ownership of the means of production (whether such ownership is organized individually, by owning shares of equity, or collectively). As one common formulation states, in the worker co-op, labor has power over capital, or “labor hires capital.” In the conventional business, by contrast, capital has power over labor, i.e., “capital hires labor.” None of the other kinds of cooperativism directly rejects these capitalist power-relations, although some may signify an implicit undermining of capitalism insofar as the co-op exists not primarily for the sake of maximizing profit but for satisfying some social need...

Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Introduction Chapter 2: The Sociology and Economics of Worker Cooperatives Chapter 3: Worker Cooperatives in American History Chapter 4: Marxism and the Alternative Economy Chapter 5: New Era Chapter 6: Concluding Thoughts on Revolution


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