Thursday, January 12, 2012

Marx, Marxism and the cooperative movement

By Bruno Jossa
Cambridge Journal of Economics
Vol. 29,No. 1, 2005

2012 has been declared the International Year of Cooperatives by the United Nations. NYC will be posting articles relating to cooperatives and the socialist movement throughout the year. The paper below kicks off this series.


On several occasions Marx declared himself strongly in favour of cooperative firms, maintaining that their generalised introduction would result in a new production mode. At different times in his life, he even seems to have been confident that cooperatives would eventually supplant capitalistic firms altogether. Lenin also endorsed the cooperative movement and, in a 1923 work (entirely devoted to this subject), he went so far as to equate cooperation with socialism at large. More precisely, besides describing cooperation as an important organisational step in the transition to socialism, he explicitly argued that ‘cooperation is socialism’ (Lenin, 1923). All the same, ever since the time of the Paris Commune the cooperative movement has received little attention from Marxists.

One argument we intend to put forward in our analysis is that this scant attention for the cooperative movement is due at least in part to the kind of cooperative—a firm in which workers are ‘their own capitalists’ (Marx, 1894, p. 571)—that has asserted itself in history, because this tends to endorse the view that a system of producer cooperatives is not a genuine form of socialism.

However, modern economic theory has shown that the pure cooperative is Vanek’s LMF (see Vanek, 1971A, 1971B), which does not self-finance itself and whose workers can consequently not be correctly described as ‘their own capitalists’. And this consideration disproves the arguments of thoseMarxists who maintain that cooperatives are, by their very nature, an intermediate form in between capitalism and socialism.

But what are the implications of the above reflections? Once we have made it clear that Marx looked upon cooperation as a new production mode superseding capitalism, Marxists fall into at least two distinct groups: those who maintain that in Marxian terms socialism must be identified with a system of self-managed firms and those who equate socialism with a state-planned command economy.

Read more HERE.

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