A Co-operative Idea for the 21st Century

In his recent book Humanizing the Economy (New Society, 2010), John Restakis notes the discredit into which free-market capitalism is once again falling, and explains how co-operatives could emerge as the primary agents of economic activity.

In principle, the co-operative method of production, unlike the capitalist, satisfies numerous human needs: for meaning, control, and social responsibility as well as quality goods and services. For examples, Restakis emphasizes on the achievements of Japan’s consumer co-operatives, Argentina’s “recovered” factories, and the producer co-operatives of northern Italy.

To make use of this built-in advantage, however, co-operatives have some serious learning to do. They must recognize how co-operatives thrive in federation, not in isolation, and how the networking of co-operatives can achieve greater scale without impairing workplace democracy. They must target the burgeoning sector of relational services (health and social services especially) where co-operative commitments to mutual aid and reciprocity leave capitalism utterly outclassed. Finally, co-operatives must explore the business models with which this Information Age is now toying: networks of small units with flat hierarchies and consumer participation in the productive process. While they often do not take the legal form of a co-operative, these experiments exemplify the spirit and purpose of co-operation.

By these strategies, to quote Stefano Zamagni, “The co-op archipelago will come to resemble a connected landmass, and the capitalist sea a series of ponds, lakes and rivers surrounded by a now dominant co-operative economic system.”

A review of John Restakis’ Humanising the Economy: Co-operatives in the Age of Capital
Robin Murray
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