Throughout the history of capitalism, particularly in times of capitalist crisis, cooperatives have sparked the imagination of workers and economic activists. But the idea of workers’ cooperatives as a way of building an alternative economy has occasionally been met with resistance, for example, by left-wing political parties and the trade-union movement. But workers’ cooperatives and other worker-owned enterprises have in fact flourished, in the United States and around the world (especially, of course, in Spain’s Mondragón).
The question is, what do cooperatives look like—how do they function, what are their conditions of possibility, what obstacles have to be overcome—from the perspective of a Marxian class analysis?
To grapple with that question, Maliha Safri assembled a special symposium on “Worker Cooperatives: A Class Analysis,” which was first rehearsed as a panel at the 2010 Left Forum in New York City and then published in the July 2011 issue of Rethinking Marxism [paywall].
Here is the lineup:
- David F. Ruccio, “Cooperatives, Surplus, and the Social”
- Bruce Roberts, “Exploitation, Appropriation, and Subsumption”
- David Kristjanson-Gural, “Value, Cooperatives, and Class Justice”
- Stephen Healy, “Cooperation, Surplus Appropriation, and the Law’s Enjoyment”
- Ian J. Seda-Irizarry, “Crisis, Class, and Cooperatives: Some Comments on the United Steelworkers–Mondragón Alliance”
As readers can see, the participants in the symposium cover a wide range of topics and examples, entering into a dialogue both with one another and with contemporary ideas and practices of cooperative production—all from the perspective of Marxian class analysis.
Here is the conclusion of Safri’s introduction to the symposium:
All the pieces examine certain critical questions. Are cooperatives communist or communal? What is the relevant moment of appropriation? How do we flesh out both the theoretical underpinnings of a communist social formation and its empirical bases today, and how should our strategies differ and focus for a macro-, meso-, and microlevel of radical class transformation? Despite their differences of opinion, each entry challenges and provokes us to see just what type of class politics and economics we should be striving for. All are questions that belong on the agendas of worker cooperative meetings in the future, and questions that invite thoughtful essays much past this symposium. Our hope for this symposium was to constitute the starting point of a long stream of conversations on these issues.
Finally, here is a link [pdf] to the preprint version of my own contribution.