Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

September 29, 2009

Are worker-owned companies an alterative to capitalism?

Filed under: economics,socialism — louisproyect @ 5:44 pm

This is a follow-up to my review of Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: a Love Story” where I neglected to discuss his proposals for an alternative to capitalism, which boil down to worker-owned firms or cooperatives. He interviews the top guy at the Alvarado Street Bakery in California, whose website describes a cooperative as “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise”. He also visits a robotics manufacturer in Wisconsin that operates on the same basis.

In an interview on Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” radio show, Juan Gonzalez asks a pointed question that gets to the heart of the matter: “Michael, you have obviously amassed a lot in terms of the indictment of capitalism as a system, but some would say the film doesn’t offer much in terms of the alternative.” Moore replies:

I do show in the film some very specific examples of workplace democracy, where a number of companies have decided to go down the road of having the company actually owned by the workers. And when I say “owned,” I’m not talking about some ding-dong stock options that make you feel like you’re an owner, when you’re nowhere near that. But I mean these companies really own it. And I’m not talking about, you know, the hippy-dippy food co-op, and I don’t mean that with any disrespect to the food co-ops who are listening or any hippies that are listening. But I go to an engineering firm in Madison, Wisconsin. These guys look like a bunch of Republicans. I mean, I didn’t ask them how they vote, but they didn’t necessarily look like they were from, you know, my side of the political fence. And here they all are equal owners of this company. The company does $15 million worth of business each year.

I go to this bakery. It’s not a bakery really; it’s a bread factory out in northern California, Alvarado Street Bakery. And they’re all paid. They all share the profits the same. They’re all shared equally, including the CEO. And they vote. They elect, you know, who’s going to be running this and how this is going to function. The average factory worker in this bread factory makes $65,000 to $70,000 a year, which, I point out, is about three times the starting pay of a pilot who works for American Eagle or Delta Connection. And that’s another harrowing scene in the movie, where I interview pilots who are on food stamps—pilots who are on food stamps because of how little they’re paid.

As someone who has paid fairly close attention to the airline industry over the years, I could not help but remember how worker ownership did little to stave off the race to the bottom in what was once a well-paying industry with excellent benefits. On July 7th, 1996 Louis Uchitelle informed his NY Times readers that worker ownership was no obstacle to the kind of downsizing that victimized the workers at Republic Window, whose sit-in was documented by Moore. Uchitelle reported:

Or take Kiwi Airlines, founded in 1992 by former Eastern Airlines pilots. It is 57 percent owned today by its 1,200 employees. But to cut costs, 60 owner-workers were laid off in January, many of them clerks whose jobs had been automated. “If we had done these layoffs earlier, there would have been revolution,” said Robert Kulat, a Kiwi spokesman. “We still had this concept of a happy family and of employees being bigger than the company. But big losses changed that. And people realized that to remain alive, to keep their own jobs, they had to change too.”

Interestingly enough, Uchitelle claimed that a strong union allowed United Airlines, another worker-owned firm, to avoid downsizing but only four years later economic reality caught up with the company, as the January 14, 2000 New York Times reported:

Faced with rising labor and fuel costs, the UAL Corporation, the parent company of United Airlines, said yesterday that its 2000 earnings were likely to be as much as 28 percent below expectations.

United Airlines, the world’s largest carrier, is being plagued by troubles that are common to the industry and by others that are singular to its operation. Jet fuel prices increased about 24 percent last year and United predicted further jumps this year.

Adding to the carnage, several of United’s unions were demanding large wage increases, in part to keep up with competitors and to replace money generated from the company’s expiring stock ownership plan.

“UAL gave a very sobering message yesterday,” said Kevin Murphy, an airlines analyst with Morgan Stanley Dean Witter. “No airline outperforms when you’re negotiating with labor. If United gives big wage boosts to its pilots and mechanics, the other carriers may have to catch up.

In 2001 United Airlines went bankrupt as a result of the impact of 9/11 on travel and rising fuel costs and was subsequently reorganized as a regular corporation. This had nothing to do with whether the company was “democratic” or not. Even if it was the most democratic institution in the world, it could not operate as a benign oasis in a toxic wasteland. Capitalism forces firms to be profitable. If they are not profitable, management takes action to make them more profitable, including slashing wages or laying workers off. The only way to eliminate these practices is to eliminate the profit motive, something that Moore is reluctant to advocate.

It is understandable that Naomi Klein would have referred to the notion of worker owned firms this way in an interview with Moore that appears in the latest Nation Magazine: “The thing that I found most exciting in the film is that you make a very convincing pitch for democratically run workplaces as the alternative to this kind of loot-and-leave capitalism.” Klein, like Moore, has extolled the virtues of worker ownership in her own documentary “The Take”. This was my take on her movie:

In the opening moments of Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein’s documentary about occupied factories in Argentina titled “The Take,” we see Klein being hectored by a rightwing TV host. If she is not for the capitalist system, then what is she *for*. This is obviously is a tough question for autonomists like Klein who resist being pinned down, but she and her partner decided to make an attempt in “The Take.” Despite their best intentions, the film poses more questions than it answers. Ultimately, the film succeeds not as a political statement but as a record of ordinary workers trying to maintain their dignity.

For non-Marxist radicals like Klein, coming up with a model means first of all rejecting the USSR or Cuba which are dismissed as verticalist nightmares at the beginning of the film. The attraction of occupied factories in Argentina is that they are exercises in direct democracy, but do not involve the messy business of government, with its distasteful cops, courts and bureaucracy, etc. Of course, if you do not evaluate such institutions through the prism of class, you will never be able to operate politically on the most basic level. In the final analysis, cops will either support factories run by workers or they will evict them. Class power is the ultimate determinant of that outcome.

The film focuses on the efforts of workers to keep three factories running on a cooperative basis: Forja San Martin, Zanon and Brukman. Although Brukman, a garment shop, has only 58 workers, it is by far the best-known of these experiments. For autonomists, it has achieved the kind of mythic proportions that the St. Petersburg Soviet has for some Marxists. (It should be mentioned that the sectarian Marxist left rallied around Brukman as well, not so much because it was a model but because it was seen as an apocalyptic struggle between society’s two main classes.)

There’s a certain cognitive dissonance at work with Moore’s treatment of cooperatives. If it is a virtual panacea for what ails American workers, it amounts to a rightwing conspiracy when it is advocated as a solution to the health care crisis by Obama’s adversaries (of course, Obama is open to the idea himself.) If you go to Moore’s website, you will find an article by Robert Reich that makes a rather effective case against health insurance cooperatives: “Don’t accept Kent Conrad’s ersatz public option masquerading as a ‘healthcare cooperative.’ Cooperatives won’t have the authority, scale, or leverage to negotiate low prices and keep private insurers honest.” The same thing applies to outfits like the Alvarado Street Bakery in California or the robotics plant in Wisconsin. They lack the power to transform the American economy, just as health insurance coops would lack the power to safeguard the health of American workers. They would be nothing but tokens in a vast system operating on the basis of profit.


  1. “Verticalism” is the bastard, no?

    Can’t live with it, can’t avoid it.

    I’m reminded of Michels’ ‘iron law of oligarchy’ and would be interested to see a more in-depth discussion(s) as to what you smarter-pantsed folks have to offer in terms of how best to address, how even to think about this very problem, this question of the destructive effect of hierarchies on, what, everything good.

    It seem to me a kind of super-gigantic overarching problem for the erudition-challenged many (I include myself) nonetheless encouraged by the vision (or in any case the global slogan) that ‘another world is possible’.

    Comment by doorworker — September 29, 2009 @ 8:40 pm

  2. If memory serves, Rosa L. offered a pretty decent breakdown on why cooperatives aren’t a solid blow to the capitalist economy in her discourse with Eddie Bernstein.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux — September 29, 2009 @ 9:18 pm

  3. So there’s really no alternative to capitalism – short of some radical revolutionaary break when we overthrow capital and create the world anew? All this just seems so negative. Mike Moore (who has his limitations of course) has managed to get people talking about capitalism and how it sucks and when asked about alternatives – comes up with some concrete ideas that have an anti-capitalist dynamic and the best response we as Marxists can must is Rosa Luxumberg’s debate with Bernstein. Do you seriously expect him to talk about the Soviet model because if he doesn’t he isn’t “really” opposed to capitalism?

    I enjoyed the first part of this review – and locating Moore in an nostalgia for FDR etc was enlightening. Surely throwing at Moore that he doesn’t have an alternative is the sort of criticism thrown at Marxists (and left liberals) all the time. The point of coops and workers control are that they serve as alternative ways of organising (not as panaceas to capitalism) which I think offer working people an idea of how it could be different (and in a far more effective way than the old soviet model did). Whatever happened to the new world growing out of the old? Isn’t that what dialectics means – rather than some New Jerusalem descending from the clouds.

    Comment by Shane H — September 29, 2009 @ 11:07 pm

  4. I’m with Shane: I’m sorry that co-ops aren’t operating the ideal Cuban/Soviet way you want them. I think worker owned factories and such could work while healthcare can be dealt with by the government.

    Comment by Jenny — September 29, 2009 @ 11:38 pm

  5. There’s nothing wrong with cooperatives. Brooklyn has a very good food cooperative. The issue, however, is whether they are an alternative to capitalism. They are not. The alternative to capitalism is socialism. Moore had a great opportunity to make the case for socialism in light of the furor over Obama’s “socialism”. He did not because he could not.

    Comment by louisproyect — September 29, 2009 @ 11:42 pm

  6. This is a useful analysis of the limitations of autonomous co-ops. But I wonder if as Shane points out that we can use them as concrete embryonic forms of what can be done if there is actually an anti-capitalist movement in place, whether in the form of community-centered economics (such as the right-to-city movement) along with a strategic national/international movement. I mean, I think what Shane H’s saying feels right. There’s a lack of viable political strategies being offered beyond a lot of moralizing in the left which is making it hard for many of us to try and grapple with these issues. What do you think? Can’t we have local grassroots and other forms of experimentation, political strategies, policy goals, and scale-modulated, non-reformist anti-capitalist movements come together?

    Comment by Robin Goodfellow — September 29, 2009 @ 11:44 pm

  7. We are always going to have companies mistreating their employees by not paying them what they deserve because there are always going to be people who are willing, or who need, to work for such meager salaries. We need to fix the root of the problem, poverty and how we deal with it in this country, before we can attack these companies.

    Comment by iheartdrhouse — September 29, 2009 @ 11:50 pm

  8. But isn’t worker owned business a start for a socialist society? Again, I think you’re looking the thing you want rather than the advantages of what Moore’s offering.

    Comment by Jenny — September 30, 2009 @ 1:10 am

  9. Very informing article, thanks Louis.

    I think that Moore’s lurching towards the coop examples was mostly a preemptive way of dodging criticism that he doesn’t really have a well thought out alternative in mind that he’d like to argue for, unlike that Naomi Klein documentary.
    The first thing that must be done at a start of a socialist process is a dismentaling of the bourgeois state apparatus, that encourages the profite drive and nationalize all industries, that would elliminate the competition that cuts deep into the very same society that it supposed to serve.

    As Louis pointed out correctly, it is impossible for non-Capitalism to survive in one corporation, surrounded by much stronger Capitalist corporations. It can survive only in name, while reverting to hierarchic executive order of ownership.
    Workers ownership isn’t what Socialism’s all about, that’s usually reffered to as Autonomism or Workerism.

    Comment by Michael T — September 30, 2009 @ 4:27 am

  10. But I thought it involved workers workers controlling production as well as running government.

    Comment by Jenny — September 30, 2009 @ 5:13 am

  11. The problem with worker co-ops is that they exist in a competitive capitalist environment. They have less funds than companies funded by wealthy capitalists, who have very deep pockets indeed. This means that the latter bigger companies can run at a loss or with a small profit margin for a while (or by erecting barriers to trade otherwise) making it harder for smaller companies to make profits and grow. Once these smaller companies have been put out of business, the larger companies end up monopolizing that particular market and start charging whtever they want.

    Laws have been passed against this in most capitalist countries because this kind of behaviour is rampant – it is the default:

    And really this is because creating monopolies is the “end-game” for most capitalist enterprises. Socialists say instead of have monopolies (or monopolistic markets) run by a few for the profit of a few, why not have them run by the people for the people.

    On the other hand, I agree with Shane in that workers’ co-ops are a good way to get people talking and thinking about capitalism and alternatives to it. One of the dumbest things I found when I worked for a company was how management, who hardly ever dirtied their hands with the day to day tasks of said company, made decisions about such tasks etc either by holding crap meetings and leeching ideas from the workers who actually knew first hand what’s happening at the “coal face”, or simply by ignoring them. And then they get paid double.

    This militaristic command structure in what should be a peaceful setting demeans us all.

    Comment by Christo — September 30, 2009 @ 11:28 am

  12. @Jenny, indeed, socialism demands workers to take leadership of the state and control of the means of production. It doesn’t stop at that that these textile workers owning this textile factory while those other workers own that other textile factory in a bourgeois state, its an experiment that doesn’t prove survival in market economy.

    Comment by Michael T — September 30, 2009 @ 5:11 pm

  13. The title of the post is confusing. Yes, a worker owned company would be better than capitalist one. But, in a capitalist economy, it is not a viable alternative, for the reasons cited in comments above.

    That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be tried, and encouraged, since one successful experiment could lead to others. Admittedly, once these companies became a threat to an existing capitalist company, or sector, they would be snuffed out, but who knows, the example might be contagious.

    Comment by senecal — September 30, 2009 @ 9:06 pm

  14. I think posing the question about co-ops or workers control not being alternatives in and off themselves to capitalism is self-evident but we run the risk on this of then saying no matter what workers do its all capitalism “really” and no alternatives are possible unless there’s a complete break with the system which isn’t really a Marxist way to think about it. The new system grows up within the old so I am with Jenny on that. Do we really want to say for eg that women’s unpaid labour at home (which generally constitutes 50% of the labour time in an capitalist economy is ‘really’ capitalist (because its rebounds to the benefit of captialist class or occurs in capitalist social relations) or would it be a better political idea to say that large sections of capitalism are sustained by non-capitalist relations – and there are some expirements like workers control/coops that show what a socialist society would look like, that should be generalised.

    I take Louis’ point about ‘socialism’ and perhaps its an oppotunity missed – that’s a political judgement. Moore has opened up the discussion I think. If he doesn’t go far enough well yes perhaps but the idea that because he points at workers control/coops as examples of alternatives – well that is what socialism is in part. I should say that I haven’t seen the movie. Its not arrived in Australia as yet so maybe he does say more explicitly that these are alternatives to capitalism but my guess is that when asked the question ALL critics of capitalism are asked (‘whats your alternative?’) he points to concrete examples of how it can be done differently even under capitalism – rather than talking about Cuba or Russia pre-1920. A debate about the meaning of ‘socialism’ would be difficult in Australia (not impossible but difficult) and the political culture here is much more influenced by social democracy in the form of labourism than US culture. Perhaps he could have used Stan Goffs example of the US military and how it provides for its servicemen in a socialist fashion or explained what ‘socialism’ really would mean if Obama really was a socialist but I’m not sure whether the direction of that discussion would be more useful for the millions of audience members (as opposed to people here who have fairly well thought out positions already and probably aren’t scared by words like ‘socialism’) who go to the film.

    Comment by Shane H — September 30, 2009 @ 9:43 pm

  15. Marx and Engels on co-operatives:

    Capital Vol. III

    “The co-operative factories of the labourers themselves represent within the old form the first sprouts of the new, although they naturally reproduce, and must reproduce, everywhere in their actual organisation all the shortcomings of the prevailing system. But the antithesis between capital and labour is overcome within them, if at first only by way of making the associated labourers into their own capitalist, i.e., by enabling them to use the means of production for the employment of their own labour. They show how a new mode of production naturally grows out of an old one, when the development of the material forces of production and of the corresponding forms of social production have reached a particular stage. Without the factory system arising out of the capitalist mode of production there could have been no co-operative factories. Nor could these have developed without the credit system arising out of the same mode of production. The credit system is not only the principal basis for the gradual transformation of capitalist private enterprises. into capitalist stock companies, but equally offers the means for the gradual extension of co-operative enterprises on a more or less national scale. The capitalist stock companies, as much as the co-operative factories, should be considered as transitional forms from the capitalist mode of production to the associated one, with the only distinction that the antagonism is resolved negatively in the one and positively in the other.”

    He goes on,

    “The two characteristics immanent in the credit system are, on the one hand, to develop the incentive of capitalist production, enrichment through exploitation of the labour of others, to the purest and most colossal form of gambling and swindling, and to reduce more and more the number of the few who exploit the social wealth; on the other hand, to constitute the form of transition to a new mode of production. It is this ambiguous nature, which endows the principal spokesmen of credit from Law to Isaac Pereire with the pleasant character mixture of swindler and prophet.”
    (pp. 441-2)

    Address to the First International

    “But there was in store a still greater victory of the political economy of labor over the political economy of property. We speak of the co-operative movement, especially the co-operative factories raised by the unassisted efforts of a few bold “hands”. The value of these great social experiments cannot be overrated. By deed instead of by argument, they have shown that production on a large scale, and in accord with the behests of modern science, may be carried on without the existence of a class of masters employing a class of hands; that to bear fruit, the means of labor need not be monopolized as a means of dominion over, and of extortion against, the laboring man himself; and that, like slave labor, like serf labor, hired labor is but a transitory and inferior form, destined to disappear before associated labor plying its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind, and a joyous heart.”

    Critique of the Gotha Programme

    “That the workers desire to establish the conditions for co-operative production on a social scale, and first of all on a national scale, in their own country, only means that they are working to revolutionize the present conditions of production, and it has nothing in common with the foundation of co-operative societies with state aid. But as far as the present co-operative societies are concerned, they are of value only insofar as they are the independent creations of the workers and not protégés either of the governments or of the bourgeois.”

    See also Engels’ letter to Bebel, January 20th, 1886:

    “The matter has nothing to do with either Sch[ulze]-Delitzsch or with Lassalle. Both propagated small cooperatives, the one with, the other without state help; however, in both cases the cooperatives were not meant to come under the ownership of already existing means of production, but create alongside the existing capitalist production a new cooperative one. My suggestion requires the entry of the cooperatives into the existing production. One should give them land which otherwise would be exploited by capitalist means: as demanded by the Paris Commune, the workers should operate the factories shut down by the factory-owners on a cooperative basis. That is the great difference. And Marx and I never doubted that in the transition to the full communist economy we will have to use the cooperative system as an intermediate stage on a large scale.”

    Comment by White Dwarf Star — October 1, 2009 @ 12:47 am

  16. The world is now suffering the effects of a capital strike. Private issuers of money see no opportunity for profit and so make no advance of capital. Private creators of money, such as the Federal Reserve, create money out of nothing and issue it through debt.

    A democratic government could issue money, created, as always, from nothing but spent into existence, rather than loaned into existence, without the creation of debt. This would break the present capital strike and unleash the productive forces of the presently locked out idled workers.

    Has anyone here considered the implications of monetary reform from a Marxist perspective?

    Comment by Glenn — October 1, 2009 @ 3:25 am

  17. The concept of worker-owner, is naturally a transitional form.

    Overall I agree with Louis. However well intentioned the coops are, the realities of a world capitalist market will prevail.

    Atleast Michael opened a discussion.

    Comment by Renegade Eye — October 1, 2009 @ 7:21 am

  18. At least he opened a discussion – and now Renegade Eye has closed it. Lurking here I think is the Soviet party building model. Socialism has to be delivered by a party not by a process involving coops and workers control. I don’t think under capitalism that workers control is necessarily better – hard decisions still need to be made and there’s a limit to how much work can be shared around when money is tight. However I don’t think its helpful to see capitalism everywhere and denounce alternatives as ‘really’ capitalist (despite differences) or as ‘inevitably’ destined to collapse back into capitalism (they been saying that about Mondragon for a while).

    Nice to see some support for my comments from the Grand Old Man and his mate Engels (that’s Marx not Louis). Its not really necessary but nice to know.

    Comment by Shane H — October 1, 2009 @ 8:26 am

  19. Shane H: “The point of coops and workers control are that they serve as alternative ways of organising (not as panaceas to capitalism) which I think offer working people an idea of how it could be different (and in a far more effective way than the old soviet model did).”

    The fact remains that they are simply not all that effective, just because you avoid taking in the executive considerations of getting involved in running things, building a nation, what makes it better?
    Most of these coops end up reverting to hirarchic ownership and desicion making, and differantiate little from their other openly capitalist competitors, let alone the ability to stand up in opposition to capitalist accumulation ends.
    In the begining of the USSR workers everywhere were armed.

    Comment by Michael T — October 1, 2009 @ 11:10 am

  20. “In the begining of the USSR workers everywhere were armed.”
    I meant to say they had no bosses.

    Comment by Michael T — October 1, 2009 @ 11:12 am

  21. And as you say everything is destined to return to capitalism – even the Soviet Union and China ended up there. So whats the point of thinking about change when capitalism is everywhere and inevitable. You see my point?

    Comment by Shane H — October 1, 2009 @ 12:02 pm

  22. You misunderstood me, we do need experimentalism, yes we do, and we also need to take in the consequences of failed experiments to try and improve on them to be more failsafe rather than to cling unto failed models of the past or present and say that a revolution has occured or is occuring when this is not the case at all.

    Comment by Michael T — October 1, 2009 @ 12:51 pm

  23. Fair enough but this is the form the argument always takes. No one is suggesting that a revolution has occured or is occuring. Just that the seeds of the new society are borne from the old one in forms such as these.

    Comment by Shane H — October 1, 2009 @ 12:54 pm

  24. Btw, the Capitalist restoration in China and or in Russia wasn’t ultimately a consequence of its failed policies over the course of the centuery, nothing would have stopped them from throwing socialism out of the window and what would be left ultimately would have been a post-Capitalist society.
    This wasn’t the case, what happened that they were pressured, squeezed out of their post-Capitalist shell into the world market, which was an always present threat to USSR and China from the moment they’ve abandoned feudalism.

    Comment by Michael T — October 1, 2009 @ 12:57 pm

  25. I referred to Rosa Luxemburg not to shut down the discussion around cooperatives, or even to pose the Soviet form of organization, as Shane here suggests. The reality of cooperatives in competition with a capital already entrenched and backed up by the ruling classes of the world is one of capitalist encirclement at the local level as well as at the global level. Capital will outproduce even the most well meaning independent worker cooperative because the ethical business envisioned by the cooperative effort will absorb expense, and have to pass the cost of producing a quality product on to its customers. So long as capitalist hegemony over economy endures, the shoddiest businesses will continue to reap great profits over the ethical ones. There are hard cold reasons why the ethics of McDonalds and fast food dominate food production and grocery cooperatives can barely get their shoes on.

    The efforts of cooperative or worker driven economics are a good idea. Whether they in time take the shape of classic soviets is beyond anyone’s abilty to know. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. But what we know beyond any doubt they will have to do is create a massive, worker driven political agency that challenges the ruling class for power, because until the working class majority runs the different states or bioregions or what have you in the world, so long as the imperial order remains undefeated or even unchallenged for political power, every cooperative effort is going to go belly up. And if they survive, they will be forced to make greater and greater concessions to exist inside of a dominant capitalist world economy, and take the tyrannical shapes that most people critical of the model offered by Bolshevism claim to abhor.

    Even the most ardent anarchist would not deny- or at least, I hope they wouldn’t deny- that so long as the Spanish Andalusian fighters stayed within the organizational forms directed by the boojwah liberal Spanish Republic, its social democratic and stalinist cohorts, so long as that political agenda carried the day as it did, the anarchists were forced to make one unwanted concession after another. All the intent of the independent cooperatives didn’t amount to squat. In short time, they were forced to endure the same substitutionism compromises and betrayals the Bolshevik party found itself living with. There are no exceptions to the rule. The working class governs the new political process as its goal, or there is no deep democratic revolution. Independent cooperatives, while a worthy effort that should be encouraged, must learn and grow politically, be willing to take on the challenges of assuming and defending governmental power if they are going to succeed. That’s the crux of what Rosa was saying to Bernstein. Maybe the form will be classic soviets, maybe it won’t. but the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat cannot be avoided. Sorry. Keep it or walk away from it, it’s a decisive question. the

    Comment by Michael Hureaux — October 1, 2009 @ 3:54 pm

  26. Help me select a headline for my article about Michael Moore.

    “Michael Moore’s anti-capitalist movie makes $9,000 per screen over the weekend”

    “Michael Moore celebrates anti-capitalist movie in penthouse”

    “Michael Moore returns to $700,000 lakefront Michigan home to relax after screening anti-capitalist movie”

    “Michael Moore vows to cut his calorie consumption from 5,000 to 2,000 per day and give the extra food to a food bank… NOT”

    “Michael Moore vows to split the profits from the movie equally between producers, directors, film crew and assistants… NOT”

    “Michael Moore feeds doe-eyed college kids a load of crap that even he doesn’t believe for the low price of $10 a ticket”

    Comment by Gordon Funke — October 1, 2009 @ 4:07 pm

  27. Gordon Funke: Help me select a headline for my article about Michael Moore.

    Michael T: How about “Asshole upset because Michael Moore made a successful anti-capitalist movie in the good old USA”

    Comment by Michael T — October 1, 2009 @ 4:49 pm

  28. I have yet to meet a person without personal contradictions operating within the capitalist system, which by its nature, universally redirects surplus product into efforts at suppression of the producers interests.

    Gordon Funke celebrates the subversive system of the capitalist revolution which, thus far, co-opts all within its hegemony including those who attempt to escape its domination by calling attention to the need for systemic change.

    I assume Gordon Funke is issuing attacks on Moore’s hypocrisy while he himself is vulnerable to attacks of an identical nature on his own conflicting interests.

    Comment by Glenn — October 1, 2009 @ 4:58 pm

  29. doorworker:

    I share your concern with the ‘Iron Law of Oligarchy’.

    The weak form of democracy in the U.S. only allows for popular selection of the people’s representatives from the oligarchy when the system is functioning as advertised. The democracy is even weaker when it normally operates in ways other than ‘as sold’.

    Comment by Glenn — October 1, 2009 @ 5:24 pm

  30. Micheal H – I agree. Ultimately the question of political power is decisive. The question is how we get the the point of debating that question in a concrete way ie when the question poses *itself* to working people. I just think that framing the question as one of coops vs capitalism is a false one. Its a bit like saying (as some other comments here suggest) “well all Moore has done is make a anti-capitalist movie, that doesn’t mean anything” because he’s rich or doesn’t stand up for my brand of socialism.

    Comment by Shane H — October 2, 2009 @ 11:24 pm

  31. ““well all Moore has done is make a anti-capitalist movie, that doesn’t mean anything” because he’s rich or doesn’t stand up for my brand of socialism.”

    Are there good reasons why Moore wouldn’t make(produce) the film using a cooperative mode of organization in a film offering the cooperative mode of organization as an alternative (for others)? Wouldn’t he learn more about the alternative he was proposing if he actually tried it out? What did prevent Moore from doing this? Moore is not a serious person, and I can’t help thinking he needs to be subjected to the criticism we give anyone who says one thing while doing another.

    Comment by Yusef — October 3, 2009 @ 6:41 am

  32. Marx’s comments on cooperatives from the third volume of Capital, et al, do not confirm the views of those above who suggest cooperatives might be valuable as experiments or intermediate forms.

    Marx wrote those comments about 140 years ago. What could be seen as intermediate and experimental 140 years ago cannot be regarded as such today.

    Cooperatives are intermediate only to a dead end and experimental only if they contribute something new to our knowledge and understanding. On the latter, only if in their institution now new variables are being brought into play. But are new variables being brought into play in the cooperative “experiments” which are examined by Moore or Klein? If so, I would appreciate hearing what they are because I can’t perceive them on my own.

    Comment by Yusef — October 3, 2009 @ 6:57 am

  33. I think coops are socialism on a small, company scale. Future development will be: The company will grow assuming competitors and finnaly get over whole contry. I see this as evolutional(not revolutional) way to socialism.
    Just mine five cents…

    Comment by going_west — October 3, 2009 @ 3:01 pm

  34. I don’t it matters much if cooperatives/worker ownership-control represent an experimental form of new productive relations, or if they enable those involved to envision a different way of organizing society or even if they represent a liberal compromise that enables capital to continue expansion and ideological domination.

    If you can envision a world where labor interests are paramount – clearly getting there is the problem, along with maintaining the primacy of labor because the revolutionary process itself corrupts those that lead the revolt.

    How work is organized once political power is consolidated is almost immaterial (pun intended), except that the principles of the primacy of labor cannot be compromised. There will and should be multiple experiments and conflicting methods of production and exchange – no different than how capital arose from feudalism.

    While useful to envision and even practice what we believe to be less-capitalist organizational structures – I respectfully submit that thinking that this is primary or even necessary for social change is a bit naive. People can and will figure out how to make things work when they must – as long as they can protect themselves from others with opposing interests, positive social relations will develop.

    Comment by pebird — October 3, 2009 @ 3:55 pm

  35. ““well all Moore has done is make a anti-capitalist movie, that doesn’t mean anything” because he’s rich or doesn’t stand up for my brand of socialism.”

    “Are there good reasons why Moore wouldn’t make(produce) the film using a cooperative mode of organization in a film offering the cooperative mode of organization as an alternative (for others)? Wouldn’t he learn more about the alternative he was proposing if he actually tried it out? What did prevent Moore from doing this? Moore is not a serious person, and I can’t help thinking he needs to be subjected to the criticism we give anyone who says one thing while doing another.

    Comment by Yusef — October 3, 2009 @ 6:41 am”

    By this standard all criticism of capitalism should be subject to criticism until they are silenced. I assume you have not produced by socialist means the computer and internet connection which you use to post criticisms of Michael Moore.

    If I am wrong, I stand corrected and designate you as my personal leader from this capitalist wasteland.

    Comment by Glenn — October 3, 2009 @ 5:52 pm

  36. “By this standard all criticism of capitalism should be subject to criticism until they are silenced. I assume you have not produced by socialist means the computer and internet connection which you use to post criticisms of Michael Moore.”

    I’m pretty sure I have good reasons for my use of products and systems which aren’t produced by socialist means. My inquiry was whether Moore does. When he makes a movie advocating cooperatives to others, he might be held accountable for not doing this himself. No one here, including me, said anything about silencing criticisms of capitalism. The questions and discussion center around whether cooperatives provide an alternative to capitalism, are an intermediate to socialism, truly can be called experimental after more than 140 years of testing, etc. Moore is taking an easy way out both in his film and analysis. I will be your personal leader–it appears you badly need one. Report to room 23530 of quadrant 3409870 tomorrow 0900 hours, sharp.

    Comment by Yusef — October 4, 2009 @ 4:18 am

  37. Yusef, you are really reaching with that line of reasoning.

    Since Moore sometimes drives a car, if he advocates mass transit, he should be held accountable for driving a car. Or if he has health insurance and advocates single payer, the validity of his arguments are in question. Or if Dog Eat Dog Films isn’t organized as a cooperative, and he advocates cooperatives, we should doubt his analysis. Please.

    Everyone has inconsistencies in what they advocate and how they personally practice – we need to hold ourselves to higher standards of discussion and avoid this type of argument fallacy.

    Comment by pebird — October 4, 2009 @ 5:41 am

  38. If Moore advocated mass transit, had easy access to mass transit, and yet chose to commute in an 8 mpg Humvee , he would deserve criticism. And so on for your other examples.

    A lot of what Moore points out are inconsistencies–actually, this is important and valuable. And the most common way people deny the importance of this is just the way you do above, by saying “everyone has them.”

    Cooperatives have not, and will not, challenge capitalism or provide an “alternative.” Some cooperatives have become successful businesses, provided certain advantages to their customers, but this little pipe dream of “cooperatives” being progressive has gone on long enough. What vexes me isn’t so much any personal inconsistencies of Moore, but that he would propose as a new possibility something so tried and tested and failed (to do what Moore proposes.) I’m pretty sure if Moore attempted to organize his own work along cooperative lines, he’d discover the limitations of what he’s advocating.

    I’m old enough to have been through several of what seem to be a fashion cycle for ideas. Cooperatives are a favorite. All this change we can believe in is covered with moss.

    Comment by Yusef — October 4, 2009 @ 8:17 am

  39. Yusef, that is exactly the point. Moore doesn’t work for a Hollywood studio, he has his own production studio. While not a cooperative (I assume, I don’t know for a fact), it provides him some degree of independence. If he were accumulating media assets or acting in some clearly contradictory way to worker interests, then your criticism would have some validity. Remember Moore’s objective – to get people to think that there are economic alternatives available. Also, lets keep in mind that things can change historically, what a “cooperative” was 100 years ago or even 30 years ago might be very different today, our experience and knowledge changes how we approach things today.

    I don’t disagree with all of your criticism of cooperatives – but an individual (Moore) would not necessarily discover their limitations by building one. In fact, there is a line of argument that says cooperatives are one of many forms that could emerge in a different economic system. And in the current environment, they have many benefits – getting people organized around economic issues is not a bad thing, even if it isn’t the holy grail.

    You seem to imply that we should practice what we preach – that advocating something new is invalid unless we try it out. But the definition of new is exactly that is has not been tried before.

    Comment by pebird — October 4, 2009 @ 3:16 pm

  40. “You seem to imply that we should practice what we preach – that advocating something new is invalid unless we try it out. But the definition of new is exactly that is has not been tried before.”

    I didn’t know I was implying this, but it is my position…Theory and practice must not be treated separately–but as praxis. Cooperatives appeal because they give people some sense of practice, but there’s not much learning or theory coming out of it, or I am not aware of any.

    “But I go to an engineering firm in Madison, Wisconsin. These guys look like a bunch of Republicans. I mean, I didn’t ask them how they vote, but they didn’t necessarily look like they were from, you know, my side of the political fence. And here they all are equal owners of this company. The company does $15 million worth of business each year.”-M. Moore

    This, I believe, may be either mistaken or naive. I don’t know, but I think Michael Moore has visited a typical medium-sized engineering firm organized as a partnership (maybe nominally a cooperative). He probably can’t distinguish between a cooperative and a small business, a small law firm or even some of the small private hospitals which are cropping up as medical doctors opt out of caring for medicare patients and taking call, as required by community hospitals.

    “Also, lets keep in mind that things can change historically, what a “cooperative” was 100 years ago or even 30 years ago might be very different today, our experience and knowledge changes how we approach things today.”

    If you could point to some of the differences, I’ll concede.

    Comment by Yusef — October 5, 2009 @ 12:17 am

  41. Btw, not everybody who worked at the robotics company hailed by Moore was an “owner”:


    When workers take charge

    Isthmus Engineering in Madison, Wis. is a custom designer and builder of factory machines. The company was formed in 1980 and morphed into a worker-owned shop three years later. Ownership has since expanded to 28 “directors” who share democratic control, and this has helped company ride out the recession, said John Kessler, an engineer and one of four co-founders.

    Isthmus laid off two paid-by-the-hour workers earlier this year, but it still employs 20 non-owner assembly workers, he said. The directors have avoided further layoffs by agreeing to accept a lighter profit, and by juggling schedules between the machining, assembly and engineering departments.

    “As a worker-owned company, we can make the decisions to take work at a lesser margin in order to keep people,” said Kessler. “We have reshuffled duties to keep the work that we do have from going out the door, while also spreading out the pain as much as possible.”

    Comment by louisproyect — October 5, 2009 @ 12:32 am

  42. Yusef:

    I got the same impression from Moore’s description of the engineering firm as you did – he may very well have confused a group of partners with a cooperative.

    Now, if your criticism is that Moore is not engaging in praxis – I heartily agree – he is a populist critic, no more or less. I don’t even think he engages in theory – or I would say that his theory/thinking is left-liberal, but not radical. Given where the United States is, it’s difficult to imagine much more from a popular figure – but maybe I’m too cynical.

    I agree that we have ethical responsibilities to align our theory and practice – with the knowledge that both change over time and these changes are difficult to synchronize. If an ongoing effort is made to acknowledge this and keep the gap from growing too large, I think that’s the best we can hope for.

    With regard to cooperatives – I don’t expect much theory to come out of them – they are pragmatic organizations that have to compete with much larger and better capitalized entities – so they tend to rely on subjective factors to motivate their members – hence limiting their scalability. They don’t have much time to generate theory internally. From theorists, not much either, but the US left (or at least what’s left of it) has ignored the economy for quite a while, choosing to focus on psychological, cultural and international issues. So not much theory of cooperatives (or trade unions, or any economics) coming out of the left theorists (at least the ones in the US).

    But I think I said earlier that alternative forms of economic organization have some value as an expression (however fuzzy) of a potential, but can’t point to how power relations can be fundamentally altered. From that perspective, I agree that there is little to be learned from cooperatives. But if we ever get the opportunity to live through a truly fundamental change in power relations, we will be very thankful to find cooperatives available to support us.

    Comment by pebird — October 5, 2009 @ 2:32 am

  43. Oops, didn’t see Louis’ note on the engineering firm – apparently worker-owned and trying to survive the best they can – even if it means compromising some key principles.

    Comment by pebird — October 5, 2009 @ 2:35 am

  44. “Isthmus laid off two paid-by-the-hour workers earlier this year, but it still employs 20 non-owner assembly workers, he said. The directors have avoided further layoffs by agreeing to accept a lighter profit, and by juggling schedules between the machining, assembly and engineering departments.”-quoted by Mr. Proyect

    “Oops, didn’t see Louis’ note on the engineering firm – apparently worker-owned and trying to survive the best they can – even if it means compromising some key principles.”- Mr. Pebird

    But you see, pebird, this is not a worker-owned company. It’s probably better described as a partnership. It has paid employees which it lays off when times are bad in order to protect its bottom line, just as any other capitalist enterprise. That Michael Moore would call it worker-owned means Michael Moore doesn’t understand much of what he’s attempting to document, and he’s misleading people. He completely botched his answer to Juan Gonzalez’s question, which I see as a key question Moore has to be able to get right. I am left with exactly the same impression Louis Proyect has (if I understand him): Moore knows something is wrong, but from a moral and nostalgic perspective,merely. Many people know something is wrong, but there is great confusion about exactly what–Moore is unable to help their confusion.

    Moore referred to this as a worker-owned company, and I see this as a very serious error…Enough so

    Comment by Yusef — October 5, 2009 @ 7:14 pm

  45. How does Moore’s love of democracy square with his affection for a sexist and hierarchical Catholic Church ?

    Comment by purple — October 5, 2009 @ 8:44 pm

  46. Just because Isthmus Engineering isn’t actually a worker-owned company doesn’t mean that worker-owned companies aren’t worth creating. Read the Marx & Engels quotes I pasted above. It seems obvious to me that M&E supported such cooperatives as a means of waging the class struggle by proving that there was no objective need for an owning or managing class above the workers. Lenin understood this:

    “It is quite clear that there are two main lines of policy here: one—the line of proletarian class struggle, recognition of the value of the co-operative societies as a weapon in this struggle, as one of its subsidiary means, and a definition of the conditions under which the co-operative societies would really play such a part and not remain simple commercial enterprises. The other line is a petty-bourgeois one, obscuring the question of the role of the co-operative societies in the class struggle of the proletariat, attaching to the co-operative societies an importance transcending this struggle (i. e., confusing the proletarian and the proprietors’ view of co-operative societies), defining the aims of the co-operative societies with general phrases that are acceptable even to the bourgeois reformers, those ideologues of the progressive employers, large and small.”

    From: http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1910/sep/25.htm

    Comment by White Dwarf Star — October 5, 2009 @ 8:56 pm

  47. Yusef,

    I think you are saying that in order to be a worker-owned business, all workers employed by the business need to have some kind of ownership interest. Otherwise, its a partnership.

    Now it looks like they have laid off 2 workers in the past year, and they reduced their profit goals to avoid further layoffs so far.

    Apparently this enterprise has 28 “directors” and 20 non-owner assembly workers, so about 60% worker-owned (assuming the directors are actively involved in the business).

    I have difficulty calling this a partnership – if it were 4 to 6 owners with 28 workers, definitely, but for example, a legal firm with 28 partners would probably have close to 150 workers. The general business rule of thumb in partnerships is 5 workers per partner (assuming some size beyond 2 or 3 partners). For an engineering and assembly firm of 50 workers, 40% non-worker isn’t too bad.

    As I said earlier, coops have challenges in that the democratic process is difficult to maintain while trying to compete and scale. Doubly hard during an economic downturn. Some coops have probationary periods for workers to make sure there is a good fit before they commit to ownership – there are legal ramifications that need to be considered.

    In fact, I took a look at their web site under Employment and found this:

    “Having a career at Isthmus is not like working at just another company. After working at Isthmus for a certain period of time, employees have the opportunity to apply for ownership in the cooperative. All employee-owners have a hand in managing the business. Click below to learn more about Isthmus Engineering’s cooperative structure.”

    If you want to keep trying to find something to bash Moore with, I can help you, but it’s not going to be about his mentioning coops as a alternative form of economic organization.

    Comment by pebird — October 5, 2009 @ 10:22 pm

  48. The key issue is that “democratic control of the workplace,” which is what Moore talks about, is a long way from democratic control of the economy. Would the workers of the health insurance companies taking over the companies and making “democratic decisions” make ANY difference at all to the health care situation in this country? No. Would coal miners in Kentucky making “democratic decisions” about the operation of their company voluntary decide to forego all reinvestment of income in their company, in lieu of sending it all to Nevada to build a huge solar plant? Hardly. What is needed is a PLANNED ECONOMY, which can only be accomplished by workers control of the government and making democratic decisions about the economy AS A WHOLE, not on a company by company basis. The latter leads nowhere.

    Comment by Eli Stephens — October 7, 2009 @ 12:29 am

  49. I think Michael Moore contradicts himself in an even more obvious way than most liberals. He explicitly says that capitalism is evil, and that reform is not a good response to evil. Yet, not only does he avoid calling himself a socialist, but he mentions FDR’s “bill of rights.” FDR of course, supported capitalism, I think he called himself its best defender. And the idea of the “bill of rights,” revolves around the notion of the “sanctity of the contract.” People are delusional enough to believe that if capitalists put it down on paper, they will abide by it, and that furthermore, something like that would be put down by an elite that has no intention of granting those rights.

    In other words, at the end of the movie, he returns to the system he has just vilified, and suggests the solution lies within the capitalist system. Which is it, is capitalism evil, or do we just need more regulation? I think capitalism is evil, but then again, I don’t pretend that I want anything other than socialism.

    Of course, I agree with the fact that you cannot have a truly democratic workplace in a capitalist economy. Socialism is the logical extension of the idea that the workers should be in control and not the capitalists. In the end, I think people like Moore don’t even want to be compared to the Soviet Union in their own mind, and are afraid of too much change.

    Comment by Lee Stone — October 20, 2009 @ 2:47 am

  50. I don’tr think it requires a genious to see Moore’s limitations – the question is how best to engage with what he has produced. There are good reasons why he doesn’t call himself a ‘socialist’ especially in the USA where you have even ascended to the dizzying heights of having your own Labor Party. Of course you can’t have a really democratic place in a capitalist economy but the intention is to start people thinking that it COULD be different – that capitalism isn’t natural. Capitalists abide by the law all the time – the question is whether they can get away with it. Of course if capitalists are opposed to a Bill of Rights (or a public health care system) then that’s all the more reason to fight for it.

    Its easy enough to say ‘I’m for socialism’ but even here I suspect we don’t agree about what that is (let alone in the mind of the ‘public’). Why would anyone want to be compared to the Soviet Union – if you think we need to change in that direction then that is change we should be afraid of.

    Comment by Shane H — October 20, 2009 @ 3:51 am

  51. I think people are correct that they don’t want to be compared to the Soviet Union, my apology if I did not make that clear. It’s just that its entirely possible for socialism to be supporting something nearly opposite the Soviet Union, without refusing to be a socialist.

    But my real objection was simply that Michael Moore, because he is in some ways to the left of the average liberal, has taken the most contradictory possible position. Capitalism is bad, capitalism is good. By definition, only one of those statements is correct.

    I do give him credit for revealing some of the things about the capitalist system that people who don’t pay attention but go see his movies might not know about. In that sense, I recommend the movie.

    Comment by Lee Stone — October 20, 2009 @ 3:44 pm

  52. Above all, these cooperatives provide an bottom-up alternative to top-down hierarchy of corporations. In ANY system you are going to have changing demands and thus people that are going to have to move to different work situations (ie layoffs.) The idea that layoffs can be removed from the equation even in anarchist situations is, I believe, unrealistically optimistic.

    But it’s a step in the right direction to remove class from a corporation. Yes, the cooperatives are still fatally flawed in that they exist within a capitalist framework, but they can be seen as a baby step in the right direction in that they increase class consciousness in America.

    Comment by Chris — November 15, 2009 @ 6:08 pm

  53. Thee are over 11,000 worker owned companies, not all of them worker managed. The GREAT success story is not UAL which can be seen as a dismal failure, but Southwest which gives management decision making to employees. It’s one of the foundations for what makes this ‘third way’ work. Centralized decision making, corporate or state, failes due to a loss of direct information between the workers and the processes of production. In the myriad successes of worker management, we are not reduced to bakeries alone, though such enterprises are to be commended. We have large and small firms directly owned and managed by the employees, and they are among the MOST profitable corporations today, and they keep the wealth in the hands of those who produce it. It is not impossible for large firms to operate under this election; it does take will and sources of financial support that believe in the intelligence of this system. No one can run a business better than the people who work there, both white collar and blue, and it offers us as well as those in developing nations a chance to build a sustainable, self-sufficient economic alternative to global capital that, like the Roman Empire, has bit off way more than it can chew.

    Comment by Elizabeth Sholes — May 14, 2010 @ 4:34 am

  54. Mondragon is cooperativizing its subsidiaries right now. In one year around 80% of the workers will be members. Cooperatives are not doomed to become capitalist companies in the long run. You can set up a 51% trust, as they do in England (and have done in Sweden), to guarantee that the company will be workers-owned forever. And Mondragon has solved a lot of other problems, such as the time horizon problem (in Mondragon, they use internal capital accounts to solve this problem).

    Comment by August — August 20, 2010 @ 5:44 pm

  55. An Alternative to Capitalism (which we need here in the USA)

    Several decades ago, Margaret Thatcher claimed: “There is no alternative”. She was referring to capitalism. Today, this negative attitude still persists.

    I would like to offer an alternative to capitalism for the American people to consider. Please click on the following link. It will take you to an essay titled: “Home of the Brave?” which was published by the Athenaeum Library of Philosophy:


    John Steinsvold

    Perhaps in time the so-called dark ages will be thought of as including our own.
    –Georg C. Lichtenberg

    Comment by John Steinsvold — May 7, 2011 @ 1:48 am

  56. The left is so fractured, so many isms out there 🙂 Reform vs revolution? when to compromise and when to fight? I think often we aspire to a similar goal but disagree so much on how to get there.
    I believe there really could be something great in worker cooperatives, not just for the profit redistribution and reconnection of the worker with what they produce, although these are great things. More importantly perhaps is that worker cooperatives require of an individual to engage in democracy at a level that is really meaningful.
    To aspire to a “Socialist” “Marxist” “Communist” ideal future where the profit motive is removed is great but I cannot see this happening without a really high level of economic and political consciousness. I suggest that worker cooperatives operating under a capitalist framework while not a full solution to capitalism’s woes do offer many great things and importantly, a way to build that collective consciousness.

    I’ll throw this out there too. Just a “what if” question to role around inside your head and exercise your brain if you’re keen. What if we could a pass a law tomorrow that states it would become illegal (still within the modern capitalist system) in two years time to buy and sell Labour just as a commodity. ie you could still buy and sell products and services but not just provide labour, businesses would need to become worker cooperatives in order to continue running. Let me know what you think would happen? I’d be interested to hear thoughts on this.

    Comment by reuben — December 3, 2011 @ 11:07 am

  57. the solution to our current imbalance of systems is obviously the right combination of systems….what we need is another meeting of all the socio/political/economic systems…gather the members of each existing ideology…let them work each other over until the come up the the ecogreen transcendent apple pie solution….we need to abandon current earthy mud slinging here we go loopdy loop process…identify the four ideologies that work best in combintion and work at implenting a multi ideology system sustainably….think..green, red, white and blue…for example>> combine green capitalism, ecoblue socialism, libitarian red, and some other “make hay” purple cooperative solution>>>> next you erase all unnecessary regulations and let yankee ingenuity and evironmental nature take its course….

    Comment by herbster — March 6, 2012 @ 10:13 pm

  58. As a serious practical Marxian-influenced socialist, who has worked in the labour and cooperative movements, I agree with Shane, Klein and others here who point out, quite correctly, as legions of socialist economists, including Marx and Engels, that cooperatives, worker-buy-outs, labour-sponsored and community-based democratic developments and ventures, despite their compromised and restricted existence under the dominant capitalistic regimen, ARE THE basis of potentially building on to a fully democratic socialist economy (and ultimately a stateless classless communistic free society).

    It is absolute blindness and outright anti-socialist to dismiss these practical efforts in favour of endless lying, apologizing and excuse-mongering for failed oppressive centrally regulated state capitalist models of China, former Soviet Union, Cuba, eastern Bloc, etc.–(which the leaders themselves admitted and recognized were/are supposedly “transitional” state capitalist models, not socialism or Marxism, so please don’t go on with the BS that they were/are).

    The fact is that without working people learning the practical art of economic democracy and organization (such as unions, co-ops and similar democratic mutual benefit and sustainability-based business models), there can be no basis for any form of practical socialism, as history everywhere has clearly shown).

    Comment by Steppenwolf — September 7, 2012 @ 6:57 am

  59. So a pseudo-libertarian-socialist wanders into an article about worker owned capitalist enterprises being bad, only to find people defending the idea as a transitional tool that can be used in the fight for socialism. Fortunately, the great (or horrible) thing about the Internet is that anyone can post an opinion. So here it is, the opinion of an uneducated average joe regarding how the philosophy of cooperatives is wrong in principle and concept. I’ve even gone a step further, to say that they’re not so much tokens, as they are yet another tool of oppression:

    Three men are put in a large box. There’s only one apple. They’re told that only one of them can eat the apple, otherwise they’ll be left in the box to die. Instead of splitting the apple and working together to free themselves from the flimsy box of social darwinism, the ethos of cruelty, they’ll work within the confines of the box and it’s framings and fight over the apple so that at least one of them may live. Unless you first put them in a different box with different rules that allow them to practice the freedom of cooperation, it’s ultimately doomed to fail. They’re still forced to compete for the things needed to live within a system that sentences them to starvation and subsequently death if even one of them accepts the terms of the box and fights to win the apple. We all know them as capitalists, those with a religious zealotry for the free market, or rather the perversion of it that grew from the original concept and is now embedded in our society like a cancer.

    If you change the analogy to three groups of three men each representing a cooperative “tribe” instead of private ownership, and give them a bag of three apples (representing a larger share of the market) that they can only take as a whole share with one another, and one apple simply not being enough to feed them all if they share with other tribes, you end up with the same forced competition in place that gives them incentives to be dominant among their peers.

    Worker owned cooperatives (or co-ops/coops) as an alternative to capitalism represents the chicken/egg problem. Arguing that we need an egg to usher in a new era of corporate democracy is ignoring the fundamental fact that it needs to be the evolution of a different beast, one that facilitates its very existence. Before cooperatives become a viable alternative to corporations, there first needs to be the transition (or revolution, I guess, since a lot of meaningful progress does eventually devolve into violence, even though I sympathize with cowardly liberals like myself who want to live to see the fruits of their struggle; then again, aren’t all liberal revolutionaries pacifist until provoked?) to a planned economy based on need, cooperation, sharing and, most importantly of all, the sustainability and relative “self sufficiency” of the society as a whole either through production or fair and equal trade. Only when competition is eliminated can “Chicken Coops” operate in confines outside of the global race to the bottom. However, in a society where the economy is planned by a more decentralized, democratic, worker controlled government that spreads the pain around to everyone rather than just everyone within a single tribe, are corporations and cooperatives even needed?

    “Chicken Coops” are more like a capitalist compromise with socialism, based on the naive fairy tale that the problem is that the economy would be better off with MORE profit driven oppressors at the top of every large business. They’re not so much a co-op as a copout that seeks to soften the cruel realities of the problem, so that people would be willing to accept the status quo once again and embrace happiness in wage slavery. It’s essentially a method of pacifying the masses, promoted by pseudo-socialists in order to disguise their overall embrace of the capitalist model as a whole. Or their wide eyed idealism founded in little more than faith, with a healthy ignorance of history, logic and economics. And I find it absolutely abhorrent.

    Personally, I find that Chicken Coops fall under the premise of “he who fights monsters”, as becoming the monsters socialist workers claim to fight would be the only way to protect their own sustainability in order to provide for their families and compensate for a capitalist system that does not and will never. Part of the reason the capitalist right has become so strong is because the left is so divided, as evidenced by the comments. Rather than compromising with one another, we first start by accepting compromise with the authoritarians or the capitalists, leaving our ideology rife with contradictions and falsehoods. We end up being pulled toward the direction of fascism by the state, by private individuals, or by a private-public partnership between the two ruling entities. Only by doing away with our own faith based fantasies, and analyzing the actual realities of economics, can we ever hope to unite in favor of sensible economic policy. If there’s one thing that’s admirable about authoritarians and capitalists (quite possibly the only thing), it’s that, at the very least, they can agree on the basic fundamentals of an economic structure that benefits them greatly. Or rather, that they have enough understanding of economics to know what benefits them and what doesn’t. And Chicken Coops are among those things that benefit them, due to the pacifying effect on the left making it a much desired alternative to revolution and true social/economic awareness.

    That the choir even needs preaching to…does that count as a despair event horizon? Because it’s starting to feel like it.

    Comment by Anonymous — November 11, 2012 @ 1:44 am

  60. Reblogged this on Other News Journal and commented:
    Plenty of people are trying this – it seems to work really well. In Australia when a foreign company was going to buy, and close down, the fresh and tinned fruit industry on which a large rural area depended, the factory workers got together, formed a co-operative and saved everyone’s livelihood. Sounds good to me.

    Comment by Diane — May 3, 2013 @ 12:38 pm

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