Sunday, March 27, 2011

Cooperation and Community in the Thought of J.S. Woodsworth

By Allen Mills
Fall 1984

The higher conception of "no revenge for wrongs," and of freely giving more than one expects to receive from his neighbours, is proclaimed as being ihe real principle of morality.... In the practice of mutual aid,... we thus find the positive and undoubted origin of our ethical conceptions; and we can affirm that in the ethical progress of man, mutual support — not mutual struggle — has had the leading part. In its wide extension, even at the present time, we also see the best guarantee of a still loftier evolution of our race.'

For no man giveth, but with intention of good to himself; because gift is voluntary; and of all voluntary acts, the object is to every man his own good; of which if men see they shall be frustrated, there will be no beginning of benevolence, or trust; nor consequently of mutual help.

I have no objection whatever to the word "socialism," but I would point out that socialism has a great many meanings today. In the cooperative commonwealth we have chosen a phrase into which we have the right to place whatever meaning we wish.

THE NOTION OF "COOPERATION" was employed by a vast array of radical thinkers in the English-speaking world in the late nineteenth century. Edward Bellamy used it, as did Robert Blatchford and L.T. Hobhouse. Laurence Gron-lund wrote a work of early Marxism entitled The Cooperative Commonwealth. At the same time, theories of cooperation helped launch a multiplicity of left-wing political groups, socialist and labour parties and, most especially, movements imitative of the famous Rochdale pioneers. Canada was part of this rising tide of cooperativism. Cooperative ventures flourished after 1900, particularly in the prairie grain growers' movement, Alphonse Desjardins' caisse populaire in Quebec and George Keen's Cooperative Union in Ontario and the Maritimes.

The idea too was widely discussed. Agrarian leaders as unalike as T.A. Crerar and E.A. Partridge used it, but so did such urban radicals as Salem Bland, William Irvine, and F.J. Dixon. It is not surprising that Canada's first, nationally-organized democratic socialist party should have been named the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, and that the CCF's first national leader, James Shaver Woodsworth, should have made frequent and eloquent use of the theory of cooperation. To make sense of Woodsworth's use of this theory is the central purpose of this essay.

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