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.

Conscientiousness & Collective Responsibility


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“Conscience is the voice of the soul” – Polish proverb

Pinocchio.png

The coop principles that probationers most often struggle with (in a practical sense) are conscientiousness, and by extension collective responsibility. This is altogether understandable, given capitalist society intentionally conditions its populous against the former, in order to eliminate the threat posed to it by the latter.

All too often people wonder why it failed to occur to them to act in a manner that seems so obviously just in hindsight? The issue is this: if people were to become more conscientious, then they’d begin to question the world around them (and their place in it). Should that approach become more widespread, then the outcome would be a rapid and positive social change… something that runs contrary to the best interests of those who benefit from the prevailing economic system.

Hence there’s actually a deeper psychological connection between ignoring apparently trivial stuff like dropping litter, and tolerating much deeper social and personal ills. The few issues that people do express a conscience about, are *cough* coincidentally things that those in positions of power have taken it upon themselves to impress upon us. If something gets your hackles up, then it’s worth analysing why. People can become deeply impassioned about certain issues, due to influences that they may not be entirely cognisant of. There’s typically an underlying third party agenda at work in these instances, and becoming more aware of these machinations promotes an increasingly skeptical outlook.

If there were no authorities to impose morality, dictate right from wrong, or tell us what to be angry/alarmed about, then would society inexorably spiral into savagery? Was savagery ever even a ‘thing’ in the first place? Unlike Social Darwinism, the theory of Mutual Aid has been empirically tested on numerous occasions, demonstrating that all creatures, from insects up to people, possess an internal system directed towards social cohesion, and that this has played a critically important role in evolution. It’s also explains why our household pets are apparently capable of expressing both guilt and remorse.

Artificial morality imposed by authority, functions to short circuit conscientiousness, in order to prevent people from asking inconvenient questions. For this reason anarchism doesn’t just oppose the state and capitalism, it also vehemently opposes organised religion too, historically the worst culprit of all when it comes to social control. A more alarming development is the recent perversion of both justice and science to this end, as witnessed by an irrational backlash against those who have the audacity to demand proof. Anyone speaking out against this trend is quickly ridiculed or vilified, regardless of their credentials.

The authoritarian goal, is to supplant the innate conscience with obedience to rule, this being imparted under the guise of ‘education’. This sense of obligation instilled through our schools, promotes the construction of a false conscience, which serves to keep each of us in line. The resulting conflict between the innate conscience and this imposed morality, quickly gives rise to irrational feelings of guilt, moral dilemma, lack of fulfilment, existential crises, and may ultimately manifest as a loss of purpose, and the associated feelings of hopelessness, despair, depression, and desperation.

By way of contrast, the Waldorf system of education encourages students to form a deeper, more independently minded connection to the world around them. This has its philosophical basis in the anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner, who expressed strong anarchist sympathies, and was also a proponent of mysticism, which is the practice of entering into a deeper internal dialogue.

The phenomenon commonly referred to as “the conscience” also goes by several other names:

  • Biologists describe it as mutual aid.
  • Psychologists termed it the superego.
  • Seekers relate to it as their inner voice.
  • Mystics experience it as their higher self.
  • Clerics claim it to be the moral compass.
  • Philosophers, such as Thomas Aquinas, view it as the basis for natural law.

Hopefully it’s now apparent that all this comes full circle, that the conscience is the internal manifestation of Mutual Aid. Anarchists therefore perceive the conscience as the instinct that directs us toward social cohesion.

While this might all seem rather deep, the concept can more intuitively be expressed as “let your conscience be your guide”. This is depicted in the allegorical tale of Pinocchio, where a wooden puppet (!) behaves somewhat sociopathically, with pathological lying constituting its prime modus operandi, until engaging with a conscience and magically being made into a ‘real boy’. The thrust of the Pinocchio story, is that engaging with one’s conscience is the mechanism for determining and fulfilling life’s purpose.

Interestingly, the psychological definition of a sociopath is that of a person lacking all conscience. One of the main symptoms of sociopathy is an absence of purpose, and an absolute disregard (or even scorn) for social cohesion.

The thing about entering into a dialogue with the conscience, is that the inner voice is not just a moral compass, but also a guiding light that exposes the world around us, and even illuminates all those awkward home truths about ourselves (and the state of our lives)… stuff we’d rather avoid facing up to. When the conscience has been bypassed for a number of years/decades, then these things start to really fester, making embarking on this journey ever more arduous.

Capitalism requires a docile and compliant workforce, hence it promotes consumerism, fostering a materialist worldview, dismissing anything beyond that as counter productive “naval gazing”. We are told what to think, instead of being encouraged to think for ourselves, causing the conscience to be bypassed… only to occasionally flicker into life when we accidentally forget to feed to dog. In order to successfully undermine the system, we must first awaken the inner voice, which advocates for social cohesion. Only then do we stand any chance of dismantling capitalism in favour of cooperation.