A critical appraisal of the cooperative movement…

I wrote a blog the other day addressing the cooperative/mutual movement, and the strength it can provide for the left. In an attempt of critical appraisal, I mean to clarify some of the things I argued in light of recent Murray Bookchin reading and his fantastic critique of cooperatives.

Bookchin is concerned that they will become just another means to an end for the capitalist system, as the capitalists cash in on the profit. This concern can be most expressed in accordance with the Tories’ plans for cooperatives, and was something I touched on in the previous post. However, Bookchin has a very narrow view of what cooperatives are for; cooperative structures can form the basis of many forms of activity such as creative activities, it doesn’t have to be centered around production in a traditional sense.

Bookchin is correct when he emphasises the need for an encompassing movement, not just a movement based on class struggle. His libertarian municipalism is a fantastic vision and provides the workings of things to aim for in order to undermine the existing institutions based on hierarchy and domination. However, for me, he ignores the importance that cooperatives could form within such a system. Cooperatives are about changing the nature of work, something that is central to Bookchin’s assessment, and so to classify them as capitalist rip-offs denies the potential for such a working structure. He should apply his assessment of technology, where it is seen as dangerous within the current context – a capitalist growth production obsessed society – to cooperatives, as he recognises technology’s potential within a new context (decentralised, non-hierarchical and non-domination).

Writings such as Murray Bookchin’s are important when placed in the context of a society that’s structures and cultural facets are resulting in an acceleration of ecological denigration.Consider The Climate Policy Tracker for the European Union (EU) by wildlife charity WWF and innovation company Ecofys’ classification of the UK as a grade E when it comes to cutting carbon emissions. Meaning that the UK is only cutting emissions by a third of what is needed to achieve 80-95% emission cuts by 2050.

This will never happen for as long as we live in a centralised, growth orientated and capital driven society that never learns. Consider Ireland, they will most likely have a bailout with no stings attached – where no consideration is made in regards to their EU tax haven status, their low corporation tax and the fact that UK bankers’ bonuses are £7bn a year (the equivalent to what Ireland will be paid by the UK). But why is that ordinary people have to keep paying for these bailouts? Why is it fair that there is no change in culture, ethos or responsibility amongst those who take no care in gambling people’s money away? This is again where Murray Bookchin’s writings are so relevant; he talks about the importance of civil banks and alternative structures to grow and eventually challenge the prevalent structures.

These are important things to think about on the day that Nick Clegg is re-branding progressive to mean supporting £81bn cuts and ignoring income inequality when statistics show that income distribution rates correlate to wellbeing. It’s a joke. And we can’t let the coalition colonise truly progressive ideas as they attempt to hide their real regressive nature.


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