The Cooperative Imperative


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Tyranny

The median annual global income is currently £2,237, whereas the median annual UK income is £28,677. That may seem like a significant level of inequality, but really it’s not… because according to Oxfam, just 26 people now possess a total wealth equal to the poorest 50% of the Earth’s population.

Let’s put this into perspective. Jeff Bezos amasses wealth at the rate of £60,137,280,000 per annum. The average UK citizen would have to labour for over 2 million years to earn what Jeff makes in just one year. The average person in the world, would have to labour for almost 27 million years to amass that. That’s 134x longer than the 200,000 years or so that humans have walked the earth. This amounts to nothing short of economic tyranny.

Sustainability

But actually, it’s far worse than that. Setting aside the well publicised issue of global warming, there’s only 60 years of soil left, due to degradation caused by industrial farming. Even if we solve that, insect life is presently on a trajectory towards extinction, so will it even be possible to fertilise any crops? Then there’s the shortage of natural resources. Not oil – no there’s plenty of that. Stuff like copper. Most of the copper we now use is reclaimed. Soon demand will outstrip supply. Neoclassical economics assures us that price will regulate demand, but recent experience with fishing indicates that prices do not begin to rise significantly until scarcity becomes acute. So much for the theory that pricing saves the planet by efficiently allocating natural resources!

We have until 2040 before copper becomes scarce, but we’re scheduled to have exhausted our reserves of gold, silver, platinum, iridium, lead, zinc, and numerous other resources long before then. In fact tungsten is already scarce, and antimony is due to become scarce next year. Ultimately, many of the materials critical to the manufacture of the iPhone used to blog this, will no longer be affordable to anyone other than Jeff. And lets not get started on the environmental impact of fitting lithium-ion batteries to every car. Or that building wind farms is creating lakes of toxic waste in China. There’s “renewables”, and then there’s actual green energy.

To top it all, there’s the meat industry, which in hindsight is going to make every other holocaust, short of a nuclear one, seem like a school picnic. Oh… and there’s that too – the constant threat of atomic annihilation

The thing is, and here’s the dirty secret: it really doesn’t have to be this way. We’re strip mining the planet to line the pockets of people like Jeff, with exponentially more money than any human could ever possibly spend. Jeff could feast on nothing but truffles for the rest of his life, whilst heating his skyscraper by literally burning dollar bills… and he’d still die richer than he is now. Because bank interest. Not only is it wrong to be that greedy, it’s fucking futile attempting to spend it. Yet still they hoard.

Post-capitalism

The only way to avoid tragedy, is to abolish hierarchy, because wherever there’s hierarchy sociopaths will rise to the top, enslaving the rest of us. In order to address this, we must first eliminate the rational basis for hierarchy. We must demonstrate that it’s possible to organise and produce efficiently without bosses, then rapidly restructure society accordingly. This is where where coops come in, or rather the non-hierarchal variant.

The ultimate goal of anarcho-syndicalism is to build such a society within the shell of this one.  To undermine capitalism and the state, and supplant them with something better, fairer, and more efficient. Originally the route to this was to unionise, revolt, and seize the workplaces. The establishment has largely succeeding in neutralising that strategy. A new line of attack is to achieve the same outcome subversively, by outcompeting capitalism. Hierarchy is very expensive, and horribly inefficient. It may comprise anything up to half a business’ payroll cost. Hierarchy functions to compel the many to labour for the benefit of the few. To strip mine the planet for Jeff and his ilk.

Survival, post-capitalism, is dependent on two things: conscientiousness, and a template for horizontal organisation. The former is what makes us human. The latter has been sketched out by the likes of Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, and Rocker, and was literally battle tested in 1930s Catalonia. It’s been refined ever since.

Spanish Civil War

Impediments

Hierarchal Rochdale variant coops cannot outcompete capitalism, because they maintain the administrative overhead, yet cannot leverage its exploitive potential to their advantage.  Non-hierarchal coops are an entirely different proposition, since they are inherently more efficient.  Unsurprisingly, there are various structural and social impediments to implementing an anarchist coop. The battlements of capitalism as it were. Anarchism must therefore seek to establish a beachhead.

Legal Structure. It costs £45 to purchase an off-the-shelf private company fit for purpose. The articles of association for a hierarchal coop can downloaded for free, and a solicitor can tailer them for a few hundred bucks. But a worker collective? There’s not even an established legal basis for one of those! Our organisation had to fork over thousands to have articles drafted from scratch, and the lawyers and accountants had zero comprehension of how any of this stuff worked. Thankfully we are now at liberty to provide a complete template for free, which we plan on uploading to the Anarchist Library, along with our handbook. Little wonder there aren’t more anarchist coops…  Yeah, sure you can choose to work this way, but in the presence of the state, and in the absence of a legal framework, it’s wide open to sabotage, both external and internal.

Startup Capital. Unless a coop is entirely service based then it will require start-up capital. Funders will not lend money to non-hierarchal organisations. Subversive strategies for acquiring Capital (such as Turtle Trading), pretty much necessitate avoiding the debt trap, which most people are sucked into by their twenties, so you need an early start!

Social Conditioning. Everyone is born without preconceived notions, but they start brainwashing us in school from the age of five. By the time someone has been working for a few years it’s almost too late to undo all that programming.

Group-think. Democracy can actually work against us, when the attributes and skills necessary to operate a business, are scattered throughout a workforce, rather than encapsulated within a powerful management team. The foolish and apathetic can out vote the wise and ambitious. Therefore any discourse must be tempered by rationality.  A successful decision making process is predicated on playing Devil’s Advocate and challenging expert opinion.

Anarchism

So how does a horizontal structure function? If a hierarchal organisation is analogous to a pyramid, then most people assume that a horizontal one would be equivalent of a flat surface. In reality a non-hierarchal organisation is more akin to something like a railway. Trains don’t just career around the countryside – there are tracks, signals, switches, buffers, sidings, stations, speed limits, crossings, platforms, and timetables. A railway possesses a well regulated structure, and the same should be true of a horizontal business entity. In the railway analogy the workers are represented by the engines, where power is autonomous rather than dependent on position.

Principles

A horizontal organisation is governed by principles, rather than by vested interests. These principles are:

Social Egalitarianism. To hell with the bullshit false dichotomy of equality of opportunity vs equality of outcome. Equal treatment is what really matters, and that’s all that anyone actually wants.

Direct Action. In a coop this entails bypassing capitalism altogether, rather than confronting it with a picket line. Participating in a coop is the single most direct action that anyone can take. No matter how much we protest and demonstrate, the ruling class are not going to change the world in accordance with our will. We have to do it ourselves, so we may as well make a start on this. Now!

Autonomy. Where a decision is low impact, any member of a coop is empowered to take it.  This is much more efficient than operating a chain of command; it encourages initiative, and imparts a far greater degree of ownership, responsibility, and job satisfaction.

Rational Authority. The coop’s operation is divided up into various zones of decision making. These are much more specific and self-contained than the departments encountered in a capitalist business. An expert is democratically appointed to oversee each zone. Ideally this will be whomever possesses the most knowledge and experience of that particular aspect. These subject matter experts call the shots over their zones. In this way the bulk of a coop’s operational decision making, is performed by those perceived most capable. Should they requires assistance, then they can request volunteers. An expert is only empowered to take the decisions over his or her assigned zone(s), and does not have any direct authority over other people. A coop should endeavour to allocate responsibility as evenly as is practical. This concept is absolutely critical to dispensing with hierarchy.

Mutual Aid. From a coop perspective this is taken to mean that self interest is ultimately best served by collective cohesion.  That the whole is greater, and more powerful, than the sum of the parts.  That we can accomplish much more by cooperating together with one another, than any of us could ever hope to achieve alone.

The Common Good. In a coop the common good is predominantly the means of production: the land, the property, the assets, and the equipment. Members must be cognisant that damage to the common good directly impacts on their earnings, and ultimately on the viability of the coop itself.

Collective Responsibility. Following on from the above, where there’s a risk of something being damaged, then each and every member has a responsibility to mitigate that outcome. This provides scope to temporarily override rational authority, where a critical situation is unfolding, and the expert cannot be contacted.

Freedom of Association (FoA). This acts on two levels.  On one hand there’s the freedom to associate (FtA) – the right to unionise, provided such unions are non-hierarchal and do not serve as a means of persecution. Then there’s freedom from association (FfA) – the right to shun problematic individuals or organisations. FoA is sacred, so if someone declares FfA, and either party fails to uphold or respect this, then the outcome will be automatic dismissal of whomever is in breach. Of course… FfA has to be pragmatic, and cannot take precedent over workplace communication.

Solidarity. This concept is terribly misunderstood within society at large. From a coop perspective it means solidarity around the common good, rather than loyalty towards one another. This is a subtle but crucial distinction. Cooperators will not back a up a colleague, who is engaged in harming the common good.

solid fish copy

Democracy. Every aspect of the coop is underpinned by democracy. Officials may be elected to expedite certain administrative functions, but the democratic process can be imposed over any decision they take, and such officers are always subject to instantaneous recall. Any issues that fall out with rational authority, and which have significant impact, are determined by consensus.  This may set precedent that can subsequently be enacted autonomously. Adjudication, either internal or external, can be called upon should a dispute arise.

Equality of Power

All of the above principles combine into a framework predicated on an absolute equality of power.  An anarchist coop is essentially just a microcosm of anarchy.  The existence of such entities progressively challenges the argument that the hierarchy is necessary, and the notion that capitalism is somehow “the best system we have”… simply by outcompeting it.  By imparting a more widespread understanding of anarchist principles, we can subversively undermine the established order, and cosign unsustainable economic tyranny to the dustbin of history.

”Teach people to fish… and most will choose to eat the bait instead”


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Recruiting for a worker collective involves ploughing through hundreds of applications from those who failed to read the advert. The few accompanying cover letters are generic, typically extolling the candidates self-proclaimed predisposition for teamwork, or their aptitude for “thinking on their feet”. Those that demonstrate any degree of awareness, often come from people who seem ominously “keen to make a mark”. Interviews are dominated by candidates making all the right noises, but who fail to comprehend that we’re ultimately seeking to recruit a co-owner rather than a wage slave.

Hence one of the challenges faced by a worker collective is separating those who genuinely desire freedom, equality, and solidarity, from those who “just want a job”. This scenario is analogous to offering free fishing trips, only for people who are starving to sign up because they perceive this as an opportunity to chow down on the bait. You can explain the benefits and principles of fishing until you’re blue in the face, but these misguided souls will slowly nod their heads, and be like “it’s just so much hassle learning all that shit. What’s it to you if we just sit here eating the maggots? Drive the Goddamn damn boat wherever you want. Nom nom nom.”

Capitalist conditioning is so insidious, that many people actually perceive autonomy as “a hassle” rather than empowering. It’s akin to someone opting for a jail sentence over a holiday, because the chalet is self-catering.

Part of the issue appears to be, that cooperating ostensibly consists of doing much the same stuff as employment. This is like saying “well in prison we eat, sleep, and wander around, so I don’t really see any difference between that and being on vacation. Sure on vacation I’d have freedom to wander around more, but what if I can’t be assed?” The logic is clearly lacking, but try communicating that to someone who has been incarcerated from birth. Their take on it will be, “but surely there must be guards? I know you say there aren’t any, but without guards how will people know when it’s time to get out of bed, to eat, shower, or visit the bathroom? Surely everyone will just spend all day lying in their bunks? What you’re describing is a nice thought, but it’s impossible, because people aren’t like that! Without the guards, what’s to stop us all just beating the shit out of one another? Such behaviour is not a symptom of incarceration, it’s just human nature.” And so on…

The underlying problem is that someone institutionalised from birth, would struggle to imagine how any other social structure would operate, and at best they’d see freedom as an alternative way of doing things, rather than a vastly superior experience. Hence a cooperator cannot directly convey the advantages of worker self-management to those institutionalised by wage slavery, any more than it’s possible to convey the reality of a 3D existence to Pacman. The best we can do is to provide some indication of contrast based on analogy, but anyone sold on the concept has to engage with the experience, because yes… it’s entirely possible to treat a holiday chalet as though it were a prison cell. First free your mind.

Direct Action vs Directed Outrage


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Origin of “Snowflake” as a Pejorative

Interesting fact: in the 1860s the pejorative “snowflake” was used by abolitionists in Missouri to refer to those who opposed the abolition of slavery. The term related to the colour of snow, referring to valuing white people over black people.

Anarchists (with their acute appreciation of the history of class struggle) resurrected the phrase in the early 90s, around the time that Internet flame wars first became a ‘thing’, and employed it in reference to the authoritarian right. The implication being that auth-right are A) white, B) convinced in their inherent ‘specialness’, and C) enter total meltdown in reaction to anything that conflicts with their worldview.  This subtlety went entirely over the heads of those the insult was targeted at, who instead perceived “snowflake” as nothing more than an instance of “name calling”, and ironically started using it back in retaliation!

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‘White Power’ snowflake flag.

This is likely how “snowflake” came to feature in Chuck Palahniuk’s 1996 novel Fight Club, which famously included the quote: “you are not special, you are not a beautiful and unique snowflake”. This line was later included in the film adaptation, and thus entered into popular culture. Nowadays “snowflake” is sadly associated as a pejorative used by the alt-right against the liberal left… unless of course you’re a Generation X anarchist.

Conservative Snowflakes
Snowflakes enter meltdown if their worldview is challenged.

Thus anger was originally the prerogative of conservatives and other reactionaries on the right. These ‘snowflakes’ would take offence at anything ‘different’ (typically anything not white or ‘straight’) and become morally outraged about it. Their authoritarian tendency was to ban, prohibit, censor, or segregate stuff they were’t comfortable with.

Political Correctness

The notion of “political correctness” was first applied in reference to that which strictly adhered to a range of ideological orthodoxies. For example, in 1934, The New York Times reported that Nazi Germany was granting reporting permits “only to pure ‘Aryans’ whose opinions are politically correct.” Ffwd post-WWII, and the term was being used sarcastically in reference to Marxist-Leninist doctrine. By the 1970s the left had also begun using the term in a sarcastic manner, albeit in reference to the sort of lip service routinely employed to placate them (the sentiment being in reference to the political perversion of fundamental correctness).

Political correctness can be a form of oppression.

Up until the 1980s mainstream egalitarian thought had predominantly been social, in that it dealt the politics of class, and advocated equality of treatment. Gradually this was supplanted by a populist liberal take on egalitarianism that dealt with the politics of identity, and advocated equality of outcome. These liberal egalitarians unironically adopted political correctness as a strategic method of delivering social justice. They began to express outrage, at the outrage being expressed by those on the right. This heralded the Age of the Pathologically Offended.

Egalitarianism: Social vs Liberal

Black Cat Worker Collective is founded on social, not liberal, egalitarian principles. Correspondingly, as a dive bar, Krakatoa is steeped in a culture of respect and tolerance, as opposed to one of judgement and intolerance. Our view is that outrage cannot be counteracted with outrage, and that the notion of being offended at someone else taking offence is nonsensical. One cannot preach tolerance from a position that is in itself inherently intolerant. Respect cuts both ways. Yelling in an angry person’s face is unlikely to change their mindset. Make love not war.

Social egalitarians advocate equal treatment. 

The problem with liberal egalitarianism is that it’s reactionary and therefore inherently authoritarian in nature. Advocates believe that others will slowly conform to its ideals, through the application of political force. All this does is thought police fundamentally wrong opinions underground, where they bubble away, giving rise to perceptions of oppression. Liberal egalitarianism has in effect birthed the alt-right: a reactionary movement, to the reactionary movement, to the original conservative reactionaries.

Or as George Carlin more succinctly put it:

Intolerance may not be the best response to intolerance.

Sensitivity Overload!

Why the political/history lesson? Well in October 2018 Black Cat put into effect a policy of zero tolerance against any incidents of sexual harassment within Krakatoa.

Such a policy is not in and of itself intolerant, because tolerance is founded upon respect, and sexual harassment is fundamentally wrong no matter how you slice & dice it. However the accompanying signage drew criticism from some on the left, who focused on whether the stick people in the sign were indicative of ‘gender bias’. We have since created an addendum to the policy, highlighting among other things that it would be presumptive to apply gender norms in respect of the stick figures depicted therein.

On Boxing Day 2018 Krakatoa jokingly shared this meme from another source:

Meme doesn’t identify who is accused of being overly sensitive.

This sentiment is perfectly in keeping with dive bar philosophy. It does not identify who has been feeling offended beyond “everyone”. It applies equally to left and right, since both are routinely outraged by one thing or another (and mostly by one another). It should be noted that this was being posted during the politically divisive climax of Brexit, where everyone and their dog is convinced in the rightness of their own opinion.

In retrospect, this could have been better thought out. Nevertheless it quickly gleaned over 100 likes and just 6 outraged comments, one of those questioning Black Cat’s political sincerity, and another one casting up the aforementioned sexual harassment policy.

Where Black Cat Stands

  1. Anarcho-syndicalism is class struggle anarchism, which promotes one identity: that of human being.
  2. Black Cat’s views regarding racism, sexism, gender, patriarchy, etc. are aligned with those of liberal egalitarians, but differ somewhat in terms of execution, by rejecting auth-left notions of ‘social justice’ in favour of equal treatment and direct action.
  3. Krakatoa is a dive bar, and will therefore tolerate anyone who behaves respectfully (and non-judgementally) towards other people. However the bar does not pertain to be a politically correct safe space, and much of what transpires within is all but guaranteed to trigger original (auth-right) variant snowflakes.
AnSynd is predicated on the politics of class.

A More Effective Method

Historically, drumming up outrage in order to precipitate the application of political force, has always been the goto tactic of the right. A more robust change is effected by direct action (as evidenced by the Me Too movement), whilst juxtaposed by a culture of respect, tolerance, and compassion.

Peer Level Discipline


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In a hierarchal workplace, disciplinary power can only be wielded by management, and while often justified, nevertheless serves as an instrument of domination. Most will be familiar with the progression from verbal warning, to written warning, to final written warning, to dismissal. Each of those steps, that can potentially be leapfrogged dependent on the severity of the offence. The worker is therefore cognisant, that their financial security, is contingent on their conduct at work, and that they lack any recourse other than tribunal.

Eliminate hierarchal power and that whole dynamic changes. Everyone has the power to initiate disciplinary action, and conversely everyone is also afforded the power to reverse out of the process by way of enacting restitution. Where someone is undeniably in the wrong then they may choose to address that, if not then surely there is little to fear from the conclusion of a process that is ultimately dependent on consensus?

Disciplinary action thus morphs into a routine means of safeguarding the common good, and mitigating the necessity of collective responsibility, particularly in regard to minor misconduct:

“Did you do [or fail to do] this thing?”

“Yes.”

“Fix it or I’ll initiate disciplinary action.”

The person at fault now has the option of rectifying the situation, or eating the associated warning. That’s entirely their call.

With this in mind, the threat of disciplinary action is no big deal, and even in instances of serious or gross misconduct, there’s usually scope for restitution. In a worker collective, the disciplinary process must therefore be viewed as a tool for addressing lapses of conscientiousness, rather than an instrument of oppression. Members should not be shy about resorting to it, or put out by having it invoked in response to their failings. It’s a useful means of governing behaviour and maintaining collective cohesion, nothing more. It’s deployment should therefore be a matter of routine, and not something to be stigmatised.

Grasping the Common Good Pt II


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Rather than forming a coherent and clearly delineated common good, a hierarchy is instead just an unstable alliance of disparate agendas. Hierarchal structures inherently imbue a large degree of wiggle room with regard to culpability, since participants can claim that they were only following orders, or that someone failed to properly execute whatever orders were issued to them. Thus people have become accustomed to throwing up a defensive smokescreen, as a means of distancing themselves from the consequences of their own self indulgence.

Eliminating hierarchy brings the common good sharply back into focus. In a worker collective, the common good is simply the workplace itself, inert and incapable of independent action. When the common good is breached, the workplace is the only possible victim. There cannot be another side to a story involving a single protagonist. Anyone whose behaviour breaches the common good, is undeniably in the wrong, since in the absence of a hierarchal command structure there is no reasonable scope for reapportioning blame.

Furthermore the test for conflict with the common good is simple and irrefutable: would serious problems arise if every other worker were at liberty to emulate that mode of behaviour? The logic here is irrefutable. The intention and outcome are rendered wholly irrelevant, enabling the individual to be judged solely by the potential consequences of their own actions. There is absolutely no basis for the offender to harbour any feelings of persecution.

Members of a collective are duty bound to protect the common good. Those unaccustomed to this ethos, may wrongly perceive that they are being ‘unfairly’ singled out for embarrassment that they would otherwise escape, and lash out at anyone who dares offend their sensibilities by highlighting the error of their ways.

Ultimately it falls to the probationer to recognise that their own self interest is ultimately best served by collective cohesion, and that in the absence of hierarchy there no easy way to avoid the consequences of one’s own actions.