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Letter from Mondragon

At Cincinnati Union Cooperative Initiative, Armin Isasti writes:

Cooperativism needs new forces, new points of view, new imaginations; in other words, it is necessary to rethink cooperativism so that the cooperative movement can reach other parts of the world, and in this way keep the flame of the “Mondragon Cooperative Experience” alive. In this regard, encouraging initiatives like CUCI and 1Worker1Vote have been set in motion in the United States and have a lot of potential.


Live Long and Prosper?

Peter Frase is a writer, editor at Jacobin magazine, a sociology PhD candidate at CUNY, and a University of Chicago YDS ex-pat. Frase passed through Chicago in November to flog his new book, Four Futures: Life After Capitalism. Part of his tour stop was to be interviewed by Chuck Mertz for the “This Is Hell!” radio show. A transcript of the interview is posted at antidote zine. As Verso Books describes Frase’s book:

Peter Frase argues that increasing automation and a growing scarcity of resources, thanks to climate change, will bring it all tumbling down. In Four Futures, Frase imagines how this post-capitalist world might look, deploying the tools of both social science and speculative fiction to explore what communism, rentism, socialism and exterminism might actually entail.

Could the current rise of real-life robocops usher in a world that resembles Ender’s Game? And sure, communism will bring an end to material scarcities and inequalities of wealth — but there’s no guarantee that social hierarchies, governed by an economy of “likes,” wouldn’t rise to take their place. A whirlwind tour through science fiction, social theory and the new technologies already shaping our lives, Four Futures is a balance sheet of the socialisms we may reach if a resurgent Left is successful, and the barbarisms we may be consigned to if those movements fail.


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Michael Harrington on Socialism

This particular speech by Michael Harrington was given in early 1971 at the Reynolds Club at the University of Chicago. The meeting was sponsored by the University of Chicago chapter of the Young Peoples Socialist League. In many ways, the speech is classic Harrington: a mix of the pragmatic and the utopian, with an awareness of the complexities that ideology often obscures. Some parts of the speech are 1960s quaint, but with the consequences of the Sanders movement still unfolding in this second decade of the twenty-first century, there are also aspects of the speech that are very worthwhile keeping in mind if we want the revolution to continue.

Download to listen later [right click]:

MP3 (49.4 MB) or OGG VORBIS (29.6 MB) (51:30)

The Rise of the Third Way

At Dollars & Sense, Alejandro Reuss begins:

The idea of a united Europe was not unique to neoliberal politicians or financial capitalists, even if their vision was the one that ended up winning out. Rather, this idea cut across the entire political spectrum, from forces clearly associated with giant capitalist corporations and high finance to those associated with the working-class movement. Just as there have been “anti-Europe” or “euroskeptic” forces on the political left and right, there were also diverse forces in favor of European unification, each with its own vision of what a united Europe could be.

Going back to the mid-20th century, leaders of the social democratic, reformist left envisioned a future “Social Europe.” The European Social Charter, adopted by the Council of Europe in 1961, promulgated a broad vision of “social and economic rights,” including objectives like full employment, reduction of work hours, protection of workers’ rights to organize and bargain collectively, rights to social security and medical assistance, protection of the rights of migrants, and so on.

Figures on the revolutionary left, like the Belgian Marxist economist and Trotskyist leader Ernest Mandel, advocated a “United Socialist States of Europe.” This was an expression not only of revolutionary internationalism, but also of Mandel’s view that the working class could no longer confront increasingly internationalized capital through political action confined to the national level. In other words, the question was not just whether Europe would become united, but (if it did) what form such unification would take.


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Is Karl Back?

Using two recent biographies of Karl Marx (Jonathan Sperber’s Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life and Gareth Stedman Jones’ Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion) as a starting point for an essay about Marx, socialism and the 21st Century, The New Yorker’s Louis Menand writes:

Marx was one of the great infighters of all time, and a lot of his writing was topical and ad hominem — no-holds-barred disputes with thinkers now obscure and intricate interpretations of events largely forgotten. Sperber and Stedman Jones both show that if you read Marx in that context, as a man engaged in endless internecine political and philosophical warfare, then the import of some familiar passages in his writings can shrink a little. The stakes seem more parochial. In the end, their Marx isn’t radically different from the received Marx, but he is more Victorian. Interestingly, given the similarity of their approaches, there is not much overlap.

Still, Marx was also what Michel Foucault called the founder of a discourse. An enormous body of thought is named after him. “I am not a Marxist,” Marx is said to have said, and it’s appropriate to distinguish what he intended from the uses other people made of his writings. But a lot of the significance of the work lies in its downstream effects. However he managed it, and despite the fact that, as Sperber and Stedman Jones demonstrate, he can look, on some level, like just one more nineteenth-century system-builder who was convinced he knew how it was all going to turn out, Marx produced works that retained their intellectual firepower over time. Even today, “The Communist Manifesto” is like a bomb about to go off in your hands.


Haymarket Explored

Mark Rogovin and Bleue Benton ran across an 1892 Chicago Tribune article describing a time capsule being buried at the Haymarket Martyrs monument in the Forest Home Cemetery. Enlisting the assistance of local archeologists, the Illinois Labor History Society dug it up. MORE.

National Coop Month

by Bob Roman
We’re a bit late this year, but October is National Coop Month. It rarely gets much press and gets only rather spotty participation from within the movement, but you can find out more about it HERE.

Back in April, 2006, New Ground #105.4 included a brief survey of the cooperative history and the idea. A slightly edited version (updated with revived links) is HERE.

National Coop Month

by Bob Roman
We’re a bit late this year, but October is National Coop Month. It rarely gets much press and gets only rather spotty participation from within the movement, but you can find out more about it HERE.

Back in April, 2006, New Ground #105.4 included a brief survey of the cooperative history and the idea. This is a slightly edited version (updated with revived links).

Some varieties of democratic socialism place a heavy emphasis (and great expectations) on cooperative enterprises. One of the examples frequently used is the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation in the Basque regions of Spain. There’s much to admire about its performance and its history, especially since Mondragon was founded during the dark years of Franco’s rule. A good introduction to the Mondragon Cooperative can be found at Chicago’s Center for Labor and Community Research web site. (The CLCR is now Manufacturing Renaissance, located just down the hall from the Chicago DSA office.)

A more critical appraisal can be found at the Center for Global Justice: “Cooperativization on the Mondragon Model as Alternative to Globalizing Capitalism” by Betsy Bowman and Bob Stone.

Part of the fascination with Mondragon is a result of how it combines appropriately small enterprise with an institution the size of a modest multinational corporation. But some countries have succeeded in establishing local economies dominated by a multitude of small cooperative enterprises. For a look at the Po Valley in Italy back in 2003, see “Model of Economic Democracy” by Bob Williams.

Italy, it should be noted, is not the only European country with a large cooperative sector. The “social economy” varies from country to country, but in some it’s quite large. While the scope of the publication exceeds cooperatives (including also non-profits, mutual societies, popular associations, social entrepreneurs, etc.), an interesting survey is the 2012 report The Social Economy in the European Union.

Of course, members of the Mondragon cooperative might be a bit bemused by all this lefty attention. The ideological parents of the institution are more Basque nationalism and Catholic social justice theology. And indeed, cooperatives in the United States also have varied ideological backgrounds. In the 19th Century, for example, the labor movement was very active in organizing coops from a non-marxist “labor republicanism” perspective. They objected to the very idea of workers being “employees” rather than independent craftsmen that presumably form the Jeffersonian foundations of the American republic. Coops were an attempt to preserve the dignity and freedom of the independent laborer. A bit later, coops occupied the attention of the Populist movement as a way of cutting out the middleman between producers and buyers. And today it’s a favored form of organization for capitalists when some measure of equality is desired among investors.

One of the places to find out about cooperatives in the United States today is the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives. The Center for Cooperatives also hosted the International Cooperative Information Center. Another, somewhat more ideological source is the Community Wealth project of the Democracy Collaborative. Along similar lines, Grassroots Economic Organizing is a must-visit.

And finally, there are coops and then there are coops: producer, consumer, and worker. Consumer and most especially producer coops often behave not too differently than conventional capitalist organizations (for example, see “Immokalee Update” in New Ground 124.2 or “The Not So Sweet Truth” in New Ground 138.1). For information about worker coops, visit the United States Federation of Worker Cooperatives. For an example of a Chicago worker cooperative, go to Talkin’ Socialism: A New Era.

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White Trash, Hillbillies, and Middle-Class Stereotypes

At Working-Class Perspectives, Jack Metzgar begins:

During election years white people who do not have bachelor’s degrees (the increasingly common definition of “the working class”) become both a somewhat exotic who-knew-they-were-here-and-in-such-large-numbers object of discussion and a target for freewheeling social psychologizing. Thus, it is more than a little refreshing to see two books attempt to tackle the more exotic side of Donald Trump’s beloved “the poorly educated.” White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America, by LSU historian Nancy Isenberg, is a progressive-leaning account of the disdain shifting groups of white workers and vagrants have suffered throughout U.S. history. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by Silicon Valley executive J.D. Vance, is a politically conservative account of Vance’s rearing by a drug-and-alcohol-addicted mother, rough but loving grandparents, a wonderful sister, a reliable aunt, and the U.S. Marines. Hillbilly Elegy is by far the better book.


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Beautiful Rising

At Waging Nonviolence, Phil Wilmot writes:

Men wielding helium balloons stepped out of a car in Kampala’s bustling downtown on the morning of August 1, releasing them one by one into the open sky. Onlookers watched and wondered what the colorful display was all about.

 A few hours later, a video emerged online of another activist releasing balloons atop Naguru Hill, the highest point in Uganda’s capital city. In the video, the activist explained that the balloons carry a message announcing the launch of a new activist toolkit, Beautiful Rising, aimed at helping people put an end to injustices like militarism and dictatorship.


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Venezuela After Chavez

At New Left Review, Julia Buxton judges:

It has been a revolutionary period, when people who had always been excluded finally had a voice and the opportunity to access power. Over the last century of Latin American politics, the left has consistently been kept out of government by U.S.-backed military interventions. This was the first time that left-wing movements were able to exercise power throughout the region for so long. The popular classes have become much more conscious of their rights and their potential strength than they had been before. Those rights are no longer seen as something handed down to the masses from above by charismatic leaders, as was the case with an earlier generation of populists like Perón and Vargas. The Bolivarian Revolution in particular has transformed social relations in Venezuela and had a huge impact on the continent as a whole. But the tragedy is that it was never properly institutionalized and thus proved to be unsustainable.