Roots

Disclaimer

First off, lets be clear that Krakatoa is a tiki dive bar: an establishment that caters to people from all walks of life, affording them equal treatment without passing judgement… whilst serving up flamboyant and predominantly rum based cocktails. As such, Krakatoa expresses no political allegiance beyond the egalitarian principles inherent in a dive bar. Being cooperated by a worker collective does not alter that.

How we came to be in this position, and the conceptual origin of a worker collective, are another matter entirely. These lie in the history of the labour movement and class struggle.

Beginnings

The first worker cooperatives appeared during the 1820s, with the movement arising as a counterweight to the excesses of the industrial revolution. Such entities are community centric organisations, democratically controlled by the workers themselves. They are typically organised as a hierarchal structure, similar to that of a conventional business, with a board of directors and various grades of manager. The key differentiator being that the directors, and often the entire management team, are democratically elected by the workforce.

Advent of Anarchism

The cooperative model was further expounded by anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon in the 1850s. His doctrine of mutualism advocated the free association of individuals, engaging in voluntary exchange, and predicated on occupancy & use rather than the imposition of property norms (this is often referred to as “possession property”). In Proundhon’s vision, cooperatives would be funded by a mutual-credit bank, operating in accordance with the Labour Theory of Value.

Revolutionary Unionism

IWW

By the early 20th century, revolutionary unionists (syndicalists) and organisations such as IWW, had adopted the cooperative concept as the basis for worker managed industry. Cooperatives would in theory supplant corporations after the workers had “seized the means of production“.

The term “syndicate” means “union”, but not in the sense of a modern trade union. Rather, syndicalists perceived unions not only as a means of organising, but also of revolution, and thereafter a mechanism for (re)structuring society. They envisaged that each cooperative would belong to a syndicate (a union of coops), and that a form of gift economy would develop internally within those syndicates.

Anarcho-Syndicalism

An even more radical form of revolutionary unionism developed when the concept of syndicalism was combined with the notion of rational authority espoused by collectivist Mikhail Bakunin, and the theory of mutual aid developed by Peter Kropotkin a biologist and also the father of free communism. “Anarcho-syndicalism” literally means “revolutionary unionism without hierarchy”. It’s leading proponent was Rudolf Rocker, an anarchist without adjectives who authored the seminal work Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice.

Aside from eschewing the “one big union” ideal of IWW, and embracing direct action, the main innovations of anarcho-syndicalism were the worker collective (a non-hierarchal form of worker cooperative), and the notion that the syndicates themselves should be both horizontally structured and loosely federated.

The ultimate goal of anarcho-syndicalism is to subversively build a new society within the shell of the old. Hence anarcho-syndicalism is often perceived as praxis for bringing about anarchy: a classless, stateless (and perhaps even moneyless) society, predicated on equality of power, and governed by the sum conscience of each and every individual, according to principles arising from the imperative of social cohesion. This vision almost came to fruition in 1930s Catalonia.

Decline

By the 1950s, the state, not to mention the forces of fascism, had successfully curtailed the threat of revolutionary unionism. A process greatly assisted by the social optimism that blossomed in the aftermath of WWII, with capitalism gaining mass popularity as an antidote to the rise of Stalinism in Eastern Europe.

Anarcho-syndicalists became ever more subversive with many seeking to participate in the wider cooperative movement, although the goal of undermining both the state and capitalism remained unchanged. Unfortunately that initiative was itself floundering due to various structural impediments, which made acquiring the necessary capital to get a coop off the ground, somewhat prohibitive. It didn’t help that John D Rockefeller had all but single handedly transformed the Western education system into a boot camp for capitalism some 50 years prior. The combined effect of all this was to stifle the mass inception of worker cooperatives.

False Dawn

A new low-key strategy briefly emerged in the 1990s, when the advent of an outsourcing boom created scope to usher in non-hierarchal labour syndicates through the back door. In theory the profit generated through such an endeavour could then be used to provide startup capital with which to spawn satellite worker collectives. However, the widespread adoption of flatter organisational structures within the outsourcing sector, ultimately rendered this approach futile.

Post-Capitalism

Here in the 21st century as capitalism crumbles, more and more private businesses are being rendered non-commercially viable, due to increasingly cut throat competition driven by economies of scale.

The operator who doggedly perseveres with a failing business clearly isn’t driven by a profit motive, yet retains access to the one thing that’s always eluded the nascent coop: capital. By restructuring themselves into non-hierarchal third sector coops, such businesses have the potential to reduce their payroll costs by around half, whilst boosting productivity through a more efficient division of labour. This in conjunction with the formation of loosely federated mutual aid networks (syndicates), would imbue them with a significant competitive advantage over comparable private enterprise.

Hence today we find ourselves engaged in a dive bar, helping to build a new society within the shell of the old, one flaming daiquiri at a time…

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