Chapter VI

VOLUNTARY ACTION VERSUS COERCION


Cooperation, in contrast with political government, is an example of voluntary action and free enterprise. One joins a cooperative society or not as he sees fit. If he does not like the society, he resigns. As a member, he may criticize the society as much as he pleases. He may unite with other members and plan dissolution of the society--its "overthrow." But in none of these activities is the member coerced or treated as he would be treated by a political government for doing the same things politically. One is born under a government and he can not escape its control. To act freely toward it, as he may toward his cooperative society, would become sedition or treason.

In time of war cooperative societies act much the same toward government as the individual members act. They are under control of government and are inclined to act patriotically. They are often requested to serve war purposes. They lend the government money, they release to it their man power, and their factories produce for the government. In World War I in Great Britain, after the cooperatives had helped the Government in every way, they suffered an unhappy disillusionment. Before the war was over they began to repent of their patriotism. Drafting boards in British towns, created by the Government, were composed of merchants and other chamber of commerce people, hostile to cooperation, who took advantage of their position to draft an excessive proportion of cooperators. In some towns all the man power among employees of cooperative societies was drafted and sent to the hazardous battle fields of Flanders, so that the societies had to close their doors. These drafting boards never thus depleted their profit business stores. The cooperatives were seriously damaged in this way and by other expedients resorted to by agencies of the Government. In Ireland some cooperative buildings were burned and cooperators killed by British soldiers and police. Profit business made every use possible of its servant, the Government, to damage cooperatives when hysteria was rife. As a result of this experience, in 1918 the cooperators announced their hostility to the Government and organized the Cooperative Party. Not much has come out of this venture into British politics. Cooperators best protect themselves from the coercive state in their own economic field.

Cooperation, being weaker than profit business in most countries, can not prevent wars which profit business promotes. The question as to what the cooperatives can do to prevent war when war threatens, must be answered by saying that cooperation can do little at that time. Prevention of war is a long program, and cooperation can only make its contribution in its slow way in the course of evolving events.

The powers of government make war possible. Political government is a centralized power which has jurisdiction over the bodies and property of its citizens. Cooperation is an organization of people in which the central organization is directly under control of the membership. Cooperation has neither government nor laws, police, armies, jails, nor gibbets. In their place are mutual agreements into which members have entered for their own service. Any individual who does not approve of the acts of the majority need not be subject to acts of the majority if he would not; he may resign from the society. Indeed, he need not be a member of any cooperative society. But if he gives up his political citizenship in one country, another country will get him. He is not free to escape from political government. And his government may make him do things against which his morals revolt. He may be given a gun and compelled to kill people against whom he has no hostility. He is at the mercy of forces which can commit all crimes. War is made possible by this coercive principle residing in political governments.

Every step toward concentration of power in a centralized government is an inducement to that government to use force to solve its problems. The socializing tendencies in the governments of the world, whether in the name of the proletariat, in behalf of fascism, in the name of socialism, or in the hands of the militarists, tend to legitimize force and to make war easier and more possible. Spheres of influence that have been created by force, and that require force for their maintenance, tend to express themselves by force against other spheres of influence.

Statism--the state expanded into control and ownership of property and industry--promoted by socialism, communism, fascism, and other statist movements, makes for control of people as well as of things. Control means loss of liberty. Cooperation makes for reduction of governmental control. The history of liberty is the history of a struggle to limit the powers of government. The cooperative movement is an important part of this struggle. When the state goes into business and becomes the dominant business of the country, the people lose control of that business. Historically this is true in every state in which it has occurred. Socialism, apparently unaware of this, moves toward this end. A large class of indolent people are willing to sacrifice their freedom for the sake of the security which the socialistic state promises them. Some of the distinctly servile class are like the German nazi youth who exclaimed: "Thank God, I am at last free from freedom." A people who are willing to let freedom go for the sake of being supported by the state and dictated to by higher powers represent the dregs of civilization. They are material out of which slaves are made and autocrats are sustained.

The state does good things for its citizens and subjects. In this it strengthens itself. The Russian state prides itself upon the multitude and extent of its benefactions in the interest of the people. Over against these good deeds are a multitude of unspeakable offenses against the people. "Despotism is never so much to be feared as when it claims to be doing good, for then it considers that its good intentions can excuse its most revolting acts; and the evil inflicted as a remedy knows no bounds." This was said over a hundred years ago by the Marquis de Custine in his book La Russie en 1839, and shows how the autocratic state plays true to form even under a change of rulers.

Cooperative business can live along side of and with capitalistic business better than with the socialized state. Cooperation can compete more successfully against profit business than against any system that moves toward government ownership. Cooperation has more resemblance to capitalism than to communism, for cooperation represents private ownership and free enterprise. However, capitalism is declining; statism is expanding. Capitalistic business must make profits or stop. State business can lose money and go blithely on. The socialistic state is the great hazard to cooperation.

Under socialism, where the people through state ownership think of themselves as common owners of the means of production and distribution, these people benefit by the profits of trade of their country with other lands. The Russian State is engaged in foreign trade, as a great business corporation, for the sake of the profits of commerce. The Russian people will support military protection of their trade the same as the stockholders of a capitalistic corporation would. The socialistic state, as a business trading corporation, is a greater menace to peace than a capitalistic trust, because in the first instance the state is a big business which has the guns and the armament. The instruments of war are in the hands of this political business; it does not have to induce a government to protect its trade interests; it attends to such matters itself. If all governments were socialistic governments, all military machinery would be in the hands of these big political business corporations, and international trade would be business with brass knuckles as well as brass hats and brass bands.

One task of government is to make itself believe it is right, then to make the people believe the same thing, and then to promulgate the idea that advantage may be taken of other nations that are wrong. The waging of war on other people is easily justified where the people of a war-making nation think they are to enjoy the profits of the war. No prophets can prophesy war so surely as profits to be won for the people by a military adventure. National Socialism under the nazis convinced the people of Germany that they would get the winnings of war made on the neighboring countries. They did get them and they enjoyed being fed fat on these winnings. It was regarded as good business. Militarism can be used to support great business enterprises conducted by the state. Socialistic states carrying on business with other states, each engaged in the production and sale of goods, and each equipped with an army and navy, place themselves in the position of ancient feudal barons. They have armaments both to precede and to follow the trade and the flag.

The state in business under socialism offers certain hazards to peace not found in profit business. United States exporters, selling shoes and clothing, on occasions sent inferior goods which did not conform to specifications. The result was not war but switching of orders to exporters in other countries instead. Resentment of this foreign business was aimed at United States business men, not at the United States Government. Under socialism, had the government been the exporter selling to another government, the hatred would have been visited by one government upon another government. Animosities between governments make war.

There is no similarity between nationally expanded cooperation and political government. The question is asked: Would not a cooperative democracy, in which most of the business of a country is carried on by cooperatives, be about the same as a national political government? The answer is no.

Cooperation is voluntary, the state is compulsory. People voluntarily join and are elected into membership in a cooperative. They can resign from the cooperative. If they give up their citizenship under one government, another government will get them willy-nilly. There is no escape. Cooperation stands for freedom of the individual. We have seen that he may conspire with other members to discontinue, to destroy, the cooperative; but he will not be tried, imprisoned, or shot. Let him express his desire to destroy the state or the government; the result is fatal, unless he succeeds in destroying it. There are several million Russians now in prison for even thinking the Government is not above criticism. They would be snuffed out promptly had they attempted to destroy it.

The important difference between the two resides in their effect upon the individual and his personal development. Under cooperation, he unites with other individuals, whom he helps as they help him, to gain better access to things they all need. Cooperation is concerned with administration of things, not with control, regulation, or coercion of men. It is a means to make things and services more plentiful and accessible. The cooperative meeting passes resolutions. The society has by-laws to which members agree. They resolve to do certain things for their mutual good. Any member who does not like what the society does needs no longer be a member. Government is concerned with control of men. The state without its police, soldiers, and penalties would fall to pieces and disappear. The difference is diametrical between an institution for administration of things and an institution for control of people.

Finally, the cooperative has its origin among neighbors getting together to pool their resources to be administered for their common good. The state had its origin in the edicts of privileged persons to protect their privileges. These privileges reside largely in possession of property which is needed by others or by the underprivileged. To preserve "law and order" between those who have and those who have not, the state is maintained with its laws and penalties.

An individual in the cooperative is a partner in a free enterprise. It is private business. He is a part owner. He has put in some money. He may withdraw and receive back the money he invested. A fiction prevails that the citizen is a part owner of state property. Let him renounce his citizenship and move to some other country, and he will discover he has no claim on state property. He may have put in money, he may have fought in its war and given his leg, so that his country could get property away from some other country to add to its wealth. But he will find none of it is his. It belongs to a great impersonal machine administered by politicians, none of whom may represent him. He has no personal ownership. The difference between private business and state business, private and state ownership, is fundamental.

Were the people sufficiently intelligent and informed, they might see the possibilities of curtailing control which political government exercises over their lives. This is being slowly accomplished by the cooperative expedient of substituting the service motive for the profit motive in economic affairs. One of the striking events in economic life is encroachment of cooperative business upon the field of profit business. As this encroachment proceeds, the next striking event to be seen is decline of need of governmental functions. Here is an American example. The cooperative consumers' society of Dillonvale, Ohio, has built its own meat-packing plant--a model building with up-to-date facilities for slaughtering, curing, packing, and otherwise preparing meat as food. This is a meat-packing business in which meat is prepared for use by the people who own the plant. While scientific inspection for the sake of information is made use of, governmental inspection to prevent fraud is not necessary. At the stockyards in other cities, inspection is necessary to prevent sale of diseased, spoiled, and fraudulent meat. This inspection must be rigid and clever to circumvent the devices of business to increase profits by using objectionable products. But inspection of this sort in the Dillonvale plant is not necessary. People have no advantage in giving themselves dangerous meat. People do not profit by cheating themselves. The one who cheats is always the one who thinks he can profit by cheating the other person. By use of the cooperative method, need of governmental functions is eliminated.

When we look at Switzerland, where the national cooperative league owns the once monopolistic slaughtering plant and controls the meat business of the country, we see an expansion of this picture. A multitude of governmental services are made unnecessary. This is universally true: as cooperation expands, need of government declines. There are large regions in the world where practically all business is carried on by cooperative societies, and here political government is least in evidence. I have elsewhere showed examples of the fading state--cooperative organizations taking the place of political organizations, the member of the cooperative society taking the place of the citizen of the state, and the cooperative method of organizing people supplanting the political organization. (Cooperative Democracy, 1947; Chap. X, "A Democratic Nongovernmental Substitute for the Political State," p. 165.)

Since war is made by political governments, often acting as agents of profit business, we should, if we are concerned for peace, be interested to see expansion of these great impersonal, political mechanisms curtailed. Their very diplomatic relationships with one another are ominous. Richard Cobden sensed this when he said: "Peace is best promoted by the least possible intercourse betwixt nations and the most possible intercourse betwixt peoples."

The absolutistic, the strong state, is the most dangerous to the cultural well-being of the people. Whatever of freedom survives in Great Britain and the United States, persists because of survival of local determination of the people's interests in their town meetings and in their local control of local affairs. The movement in the United States away from town control, away from States' rights, and toward centralizing of government, and strengthening that government more and more in Washington, is a sign of decay of a nation. I do not say the cause; I say the sign and symptom. If the people of this country would preserve the best they have won from the past, they must keep control of their economic affairs out in the open where they consume, where they work, where they look one another in the face, where they play, where they live and die.

History of nations shows that as people turn to political powers for the solution of their problems, as they look to the state for relief, as they become politically minded the more do they lose of their liberties, of their power to do things for themselves, and of the expansion of their culture. Mechanization takes the place of human values. Politics supplants moral responsibilities. Government usurps the place of human sympathy. This process is slow and insidious and often concealed under certain immediate benefits; the danger comes with its expansion, when it becomes the entering wedge toward totalitarianism. A state may be created by the use of guns, bombs, and lethal gases; but a culture requires freedom from coercive controls. It grows best in an atmosphere of economic independence. Cooperation has no machinery for war, either offensive or defensive. It looks toward victories to be won in the economic field and not on the field of battle.

Few people favor aggressive war, yet most are in favor of defensive war, while the difference between the two is difficult to distinguish. War is an expression of force which cooperation does not develop. Could a cooperative society defend itself against the military aggressions of a state? This has never happened. We have seen military power overcome the people where a large proportion were cooperatively organized as in Norway and Denmark in 1940. In those instances cooperatives came under the sway of the invaders.

It is perhaps fortunate that cooperation can not promote war. It can organize to wage defensive war if it desires. Real victories are to be won by other means. Examples of the effect of war on the cooperatives are to be seen in many lands. The important thing is that they do what is best to preserve the cooperatives. Experience seems to show that if cooperation is good for a people under one political regime, when another regime gets control cooperation remains good for the people. A vanquished people may need it more than a victorious people, as was illustrated in Germany after being defeated in two World Wars.

A purely economic society might go to war or try any other measure it wished. Democracy allows people that privilege. If a cooperative democracy, extending over a whole country, should decide to go to war, war could be attempted by a cooperative democracy. If a people with machinery of production and with man power saw fit to make munitions instead of other things, it could be done. Men could drill and train for war. And, of course, this might all be brought about by democratic processes. Entering upon war, defensive or offensive, might be possible with a cooperative democracy. But any cooperative democracy that does this is in danger of losing its democracy. And if it loses its democracy, it loses its cooperation. This is a discussion of the official acts of cooperative societies. Cooperation in no way interferes with freedom of members of cooperative societies, as independent individuals, being militaristic or pacifistic as they please.

In the changes incidental to war, victors are not necessarily winners. Fascistic statism is promoted by war. Where a fascist country makes war and is resisted by a nonfascist country, the latter may adopt fascistic methods if it survives long enough to make the change. Were the invaded country not to fight, it would have fascism imposed upon it by the conquerors. In the first event the fascism is home-made and generally approved by the people. It is their own indigenous fascism. In the latter event the fascism is forced upon them by a hated enemy, and they hate the foreign fascism under which they are compelled to live. In the one case the local fascism has credibility and therefore greater surviving power. In the other it is in disrepute, and the people resist it and will be rid of it as soon as they can. The United States, after World War II, having won a war against fascism, drifted toward an indigenous fascism of its own. Denmark, Holland, and Norway, having had fascism forced upon them, hate fascism. These differences could be seen operating after World War II. Killing and destruction do not solve fundamental problems. Cooperation may learn the lesson.

True cooperation is neutral. It is not related to political parties nor to political governments. It can survive in the presence of most of them, and those which would destroy it are destined themselves to be short-lived. Where conditions of the people are worst, there cooperation is needed most. It goes its way and lends itself to the people who wish to make use of it, while governments exhibit their frenzies.

Cooperation is economic. War is a political affair. One result of cooperation is to build a substitute for the political state. Governments in war represent the great absurdity. War is caused and promoted mostly by political governments; human beings would have to be stupid indeed not to know better. Intelligent individuals from these very governments might sit down together before they began to fight, and each one concede to every demand of the other, and sacrifices they would have made would have been inconsiderable beside costs that would result from war. Intelligent individuals know this, while political governments are especially capable of such stupidity. No particular brand of government--capitalist, socialist, or fascist--seems exempt. Solution of the problem of war resides in ability of the people to build cooperative democracy more effective than the political state. Human beings, not governments, make for peace.

Individuals, acting for and under governments, may participate in war; but the cooperative movement rises above the frailties of governments. It goes its way in equanimity, and does its constructive building as well as it can, in storm and quiet, and even while bombs burst and structures fall. It represents something eternally peaceful.

The dominance of capitalism is coming to its end, not by revolution, but slowly; it will still last many years. There is much thinking, and more talk, about the reorganization of the world. The curious thing is that statesmen who are applying their minds to this problem are planning a new world pretty much like the old world. Their plan envisages reform on a political foundation. Their idea is to re-establish the political governments. They look to these governments to solve the economic problems. The principal difference between new and old is that the new governments shall be stronger, shall have more functions than formerly, and shall exercise more control over the lives of the people. To meet any objection which might be offered to such socialistic government, it is theoretically assumed that it would be manned by intelligent and socially-minded officials, and give the people a larger degree of liberty than they enjoyed before. There is neither historic nor economic basis for the hope that this can be fulfilled. But there is both historic and economic basis for cooperative organization of the world. Cooperation is solving the problems which caused chaos after World War II. It eliminates just those deficiencies in production and distribution, corrects the causes of human hostility and assuages injustices and inequalities which gave rise to the war. It is not theoretical nor untried. The people have proved that by the cooperative method they can supply themselves with the major needs which have been provided by profit business and which socialists would have supplied by the state.

Instead of planning that these needs shall be met by the political state, a well established cooperative movement stands ready to prove that instead of seeking more political government, the world could move away from it and toward a cooperative democracy with less and less political government.

The time has come to plan for the rehabilitation of the world, not by returning to methods which have gotten it into its troubles, but by using the proved methods of cooperation. These methods are applicable to all people and to all economic needs. Already a large proportion of the population of the world have had experience in the cooperative economy. The people themselves, without intervention of governments, are ready to solve their own problems by economic means. The world is ready to renounce its old ways. The time is ripe for new life which the Cooperative method presents.


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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.