There is in progress, and steadily expanding, a kind of international commerce which is external to the category of profit business, and which makes for peace. Cooperative societies of forty countries are united into national leagues. Each of these national leagues conducts a cooperative wholesale department, or a separate national cooperative wholesale is created by a business federation of societies in each country. Some of these national cooperative wholesales, which are often the largest and most efficient businesses in the countries in which they operate, are engaged in production; and in several instances their manufactories are the largest of their kind in their respective countries. This is the case, as we have seen, with the flour mills and shoe manufactories of the British Cooperative Wholesale Society and the flour mills of the Swedish Wholesale.
The national cooperative leagues are federated in the International Cooperative Alliance. It holds a congress every three years in a country whose national cooperative league is in membership in the Alliance. These congresses have been held since 1896. Delegates are elected by the member societies, each national organization being entitled to delegates in proportion to its number of members. Business of the congresses is conducted in English, German, and French. About four hundred delegates from about thirty countries constitute each congress. Matters discussed and acted upon pertain to supplying members of cooperative societies with the things they need. As in a local retail society, and as in a national federation of societies, so in an International Alliance congress, business is concerned especially with supplying people's needs. The problems are socio-economic. Is there anything more important?
This is not as simple as it might seem. It involves interpretation of principles and agreement upon rules and methods. Education receives much attention, because experience has taught that people who would make cooperative societies succeed must understand cooperation. Ways are discussed to circumvent hostilities of profit business and of governments which serve it. Among the affairs dealt with at these congresses are measures for bringing peoples closer together across international lines; overcoming obstacles to freedom which are set up by political governments; elimination of tariffs, passports, and visas; promotion of international exchange; and many other things which have to do with free commercial and social intercourse among all peoples.
Congresses of the Alliance are different from those of a political league of nations. There are no secret sessions, no mandates, no spheres of influence, no diplomats, no dodging of issues, no bureaucratic secretariat keeping alive political jobs. These international congresses represent a league of peoples, devoted not to complex political affairs but to the single problem of helping all people of all nations get the best possible access to the things of life. There is no favored class. There is no class discriminated against. Everything is open, friendly, and free. The 1946 Congress at Zurich was attended by delegates from thirty countries. This congress went on record favoring free trade and freedom of access to raw materials by all countries. The cooperative movement must naturally oppose trade barriers which stand in the way of world freedom of trade and are at the expense of the consumers. No movement in the interest of all the people, without regard to class, can favor these discriminatory measures. They are barriers against international brotherhood as well as trade. The Congress of 1948 was held in Prague, Czechoslovakia, where Russian communism controlled the State. Despite communist opposition to democracy, the spirit of cooperation prevailed, and communist influence failed to register.
I have sat in all the congresses of the I. C. A. between the Glasgow Congress of 1913 and the Paris Congress of 1937; and while their transactions contain neither coercion nor edicts, and have behind them no police power, I have always been impressed with the power of organized consumers to disregard class and to act in the interest of all consumers, namely: everybody of all occupations. Potentialities for surmounting obstacles, which are possessed by people with a common purpose for the good of all, and especially when that purpose is in the interest of people organized in the economic field to supply themselves directly with the things they need, are expressed in cooperative actions. These people seem to move slowly but they move with precision and a sense of power. It is not beyond possibility that in these international congresses is evolving the union of peoples of which idealists have dreamed and for which practical internationalists have hoped.
On 4 July 1948, the Alliance issued a statement calling upon the peoples of the world to unite to work for freedom from want and freedom from fear in a world where peace is secured by cooperation. It asserted that the Alliance
Appeals to the people of every country to join the cooperative movement and to apply its basic principles in all walks of life;
Calls upon the cooperators of the world to work with all means in their power to secure, uphold, and defend freedom, justice, and peace;
Urges the cooperative organizations of all lands to give their wholehearted support to all endeavors which may be made nationally or internationally with the object of establishing good will between nations, promoting economic security, and raising the standard of living of the peoples of the world; and Reaffirms the belief that by the application of the principles of cooperation to all forms of production and distribution, the present shortages of goods can be overcome by the rationalization and expansion of production, and the establishment of a just, free, and efficient system of distribution.
The Executive Committee of the Alliance meets about twice a year and its Central Committee less frequently, but it is in constant correspondence with its members in every land. Through the Alliance's offices in London, interests of its constituent societies are coordinated and active functions affecting the world cooperative movement are carried on. Constituent societies of the Alliance were more or less disturbed by World War II. In some countries societies were so disorganized by their loss of democracy at the hands of totalitarian governments that they have not been able to qualify for re-admission to the Alliance. The most accurate statistics date before the war.
The International Alliance is a federation of 85,000,000 members in 120,000 affiliated societies. In terms of families this means over 250,000,000 people supplying some or many of their needs through cooperative societies. Total business turnover of these societies in 1938 was $20,000,000,000. Their total share capital was $1,300,000,000. Their reserve funds were $1,500,000,000. The forty-three cooperative wholesales in this federation had a turnover in 1938 of $9,000,000,000. They imported $250,000,000 worth of goods. The 35,000 cooperative banks and credit societies in the Alliance had $180,000,000 share capital, $600,000,000 savings deposits, and $6,500,000,000 turnover in 1938. The Alliance has in its membership thirty-six insurance societies, having insurance on over 16,000,000 persons in the amount of $3,250,000,000 and annual premium income of $35,000,000. These figures represent a steadily moving upward trend. Membership of the Alliance includes about one-half the cooperative societies of the world.
The Alliance has in membership several international bodies growing out of federation of national organizations. These are International Cooperative Banking Society, International Cooperative Insurance Society, International Cooperative Trading Agency, and International Cooperative Petroleum Association. All these are in process of development. The first two have not gone beyond the first steps of organization. The I. C. Petroleum Association has reached the point of well developed service in several fields. It is a federation of twenty-four cooperative wholesales. Total imports and exports of the international cooperative wholesales in 1938 amounted to $245,000,000. Tariffs and monopolies granted by governments to profit businesses greatly hamper the work of these cooperative organizations.
The national cooperative wholesales in some instances carry on exchange among themselves, each sending to the other commodities which can be produced in excess of domestic needs. Some of these national wholesales are united again, as it were, in sub-wholesales to exchange or develop commodities in which not all wholesales are interested. Thus, for example, the English and Scottish wholesales jointly own and administer some 35,000 acres of tea plantations in India and Ceylon. This is the largest tea business in the world. While most of this tea is consumed by members of the constituent societies of these two wholesales, still when they can produce a surplus, some of the tea is allocated to other cooperative societies in other countries. Over 40,000 tons of this tea last year came to Great Britain. This wholesale has also cocoa plantations and manufactures chocolate.
The national cooperative wholesales of the Scandinavian countries carry on certain services among themselves. Production of electric lamp bulbs is one of these. The factory is owned jointly by the four cooperative wholesales of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Finland. International wholesaling supplies its members also with coffee, flour, cereals, fruit, and rubber goods. Its business in 1919 was $2,000,000; in 1924 it was $5,000,000; in 1938 it was $11,000,000.
The I. C. T. A. has also among its functions coffee plantations in Java. Really effective international cooperative business is that which observes the cooperative principle of production and distribution for use. This is significant. Among these organizations the possibilities are very great. Some of this international shipping is carried on in vessels owned by the cooperatives. Business of the British cooperatives was over L380,000,000 in 1948. Surplus savings ( profits ) were over L27,000,000. Business of the British cooperative wholesales was over L250,000,000 in 1948. They conduct 160 different manufacturing enterprises. These figures indicate the possibilities in these growing businesses.
Ships carrying commodities of this movement are sailing all the oceans. They carry coffee, cotton, textiles, petroleum products, shoes, clothing, and many raw materials. Here is friendly commerce within a great organization. This is a commerce not for profits, not seeking markets to exploit, but a transportation of commodities from the places where they are abundant to the places where they are needed. The vessels bearing these goods of good will may be looked upon as argosies of peace. They represent an international traffic that asks for no tariffs nor other barriers. They carry friendliness and help.
As an example of the spirit of cooperation in international service, the oil business may be cited. The International Cooperative Petroleum Association was formed at the Zurich Congress of the I.C.A. in 1946. This was under the guidance of Mr. Howard A. Cowden, president of Consumers Cooperative Association of Kansas City, Missouri, U. S. A. This regional federation of over 1,000 cooperative retail societies had been shipping petroleum products for several years to national cooperative wholesales in a dozen countries, and was experienced in this field. It had demonstrated the possibilities of true international cooperative commerce in petroleum. In the absence of an international association to carry on this business, the C. C. A. had sold oil to these other societies. But in order that they might fully enjoy the advantage of nonprofit cooperative commerce, the C.C.A. had admitted these foreign societies into its membership. As a result, they received back the savings returns due them from their patronage. The International Cooperative Petroleum Association now in operation will ultimately take over this business. It is shown on page 8 that the cooperative oil business is well developed in the United States with many cooperative consumer societies engaged in oil distribution. We have seen that they own oil wells, many miles of pipe lines, service stations, and up-to-date gasoline refineries. They are the largest independent oil refiners and distributors in the United States.
International cooperative trading is steadily expanding. This commerce should develop indefinitely. It is the great peace agency. Already a modern 13,500 ton oil tanker owned by cooperatives is carrying oil from Texas to Sweden. International cooperative trade has been discussed in Part I, Chapter 1.
From the standpoint of world peace, cooperative international commerce is significant. I am speaking now of true cooperative commerce, such as is practiced in the lamp business of the international wholesale already referred to. In true cooperative commerce, vessels are carrying commodities to cooperative wholesale societies for their service. The object is not to make profits from foreign cooperators, but to serve them.
One of the obstacles to international cooperative trade is difference in value of currencies of different countries. This problem is best solved by a cooperative international monetary system.* However, different rates of exchange affect cooperative trade less than they do profit business trade. Cooperators can conduct trade on a barter basis. Since true cooperation makes no profits in international trade, its problems are simplified. Cooperative societies in membership in an international wholesale are not seeking profits; they have brought to them from foreign countries what they already have paid for and own. Such goods should not be regarded as susceptible to tariff duties, even though the present practice of governments is to so regard them. Where societies in the I. C. A. trading with other cooperatives in the I. C. A. make profit on one another, their transactions should not be regarded as cooperative. Cooperation is not profit business, and the malpractice of some societies can not make it so.
Cooperation must stand for free trade in the interest of consumers. Let those who can supply consumers best and at least cost do so. Consumers are more numerous and more important than any class. It has been shown that well-fed, happy, and contented workers can make the best things, and the best things will always be made by them. Consumers have to give themselves work if they want things produced. If they want to enjoy a high standard of living, they will have to have good wages and that means heightening the cost of what they consume. People would be foolish to make things for themselves at large cost if somebody else wants to do it for them at lower cost. Economic thinking will never be sound thinking unless it revolves around the consumer as the supreme concern of production and distribution. When this sort of thinking predominates in the economic system, labor-saving devices and productive efficiency will leave labor with its occupation almost gone.
In all this consideration of international affairs, raw materials play a basic role. Be it petroleum, coal, iron, copper, manganese, radium, or uranium, business of the world will never be stabilized until all nations have equal access to these essentials. This business can be put on a cooperative basis. Each nation can be allotted raw materials in proportion to its population, industrial capacity, and its needs. No better adjustment could be made than to place this distribution in the hands of the great international cooperative wholesale societies. Here is administration that would be impartial because of its freedom from politics and profit interests. Cooperation favors freedom of access to the good things of life. If the control of the oil of the world, for example, were in the hands of the big oil companies, the next war would be promoted if not guaranteed. Peace resides in neutrality, in equality of opportunity, and in cooperation.
Trade barriers threaten the peace of the world. The cooperative movement is in favor not only of free trade, but it favors elimination of all machinery of governments that hampers free intercourse and commerce among peoples. It asks for no armies or navies to protect any privileges. This international cooperative commerce is not only free from war-breeding motives, but it promotes international friendship. When one member of a family passes bread to another member at the family table, this entails no hostility, but is an expression of friendship. International cooperative commerce is of the same character. If modern wars are economic at root, then the cooperative method of business offers a way to peace. Here is a commerce developing slowly but steadily throughout the world. As is the case locally, so is it internationally; it is steadily encroaching on the field of profit business and taking its place. In some localities, over large areas, and in some whole countries, it is becoming the dominant method of business. Quietly and without ostentation or cataclysm, this slow change is working its way, offering to a contentious world an object lesson in a way of peace.
I once saw in Kansas City, Missouri, a shipment of petroleum products, manufactured by the Consumers Cooperative Association, depart for the Bulgarian Cooperative Wholesale Society, Sofia, Bulgaria. This cargo went to Galveston, Texas; thence by vessel across the Atlantic, through the Mediterranean and Black Sea to its destination. This product from one cooperative wholesale to another was supplied in better quality and at lower cost to Bulgarian consumers than the product of adjacent oil fields of Baku and Rumania. Here was an innocent shipload of goods, 6,000 miles across the world, which represented a potency for peace perhaps greater than plans of diplomats, parleys of statesmen, resolutions of peace societies, or prayers of the pious. The American cooperative made no profit on this shipment but supplied it at cost. It was similarly supplying the cooperative wholesales of eight other countries. If men would stand and uncover, with heads bowed before a power for good, they might well do so in the presence of these grim and silent barrels of oil. Now, political governments, servants of profit business, have set up barriers that make difficult this friendly traffic among the peoples of two countries. Ingenuity of cooperators is taxed to circumvent the wickedness which political governments would impose upon the people. Among these immoralities are preferential tariffs--preferential for big business trusts--and business hostilities in which grow seeds of war.
This cooperative method, whereby people in different countries work to serve one another, when translated into international commerce, becomes the agency of peace. Under cooperative international business, no nation would profit at the expense of another nation. The cooperative way builds among nations the same understanding and sympathy that it creates locally among individuals.
*See the Author's The Cooperative Way, A Method Of World Reconstruction, p. 110, "Money and Taxes."
The content and opinions expressed on this Web page do not necessarily reflect the views of nor are they endorsed by the University of Georgia or the University System of Georgia.