Martin Buber, Paths in Utopia (1949).



With the same over-simplification that labelled the early socialists "utopian", people called the two great waves of the Co-operative Movement that agitated the bulk of the working population of England and France in 1830 and 1848, "romantic" -- and with no greater justification in so far as this word implies dreaminess and unreality of outlook. These waves were no less expressions of the deep-seated crises accompanying the mechanization of modern economy than were the political movements proper -- Chartism in England and the two Revolutions in France. But, as distinct from the latter, which wanted to alter the whole hierarchy of power, the Co-operative Movements wanted to begin with the creation of social reality, without which no amount of tinkering with legal relationships can ever lead to socialism. They have been accused of rating man's share in the desired transformation too high and the share of circumstance too low; but there is no way of taking the measure of man's potentialities in a given situation that has to be changed, except by demanding the extraordinary. The "heroic" forms of the Co-operative Movement credited their members with a loyalty and readiness for sacrifice which, in the long run at any jate, they were unable to meet; but that does not prove in the least that loyalty and readiness for sacrifice, present though they may be in exceptional periods of political upheaval, cannot be found to a sufficient degree in the daily round of economic life. It is easy to scoff and say that the initiators of the heroic Co-operative Movements "put the ideal man in the place of the real one"; but the "real" man approximates most closely to the "ideal" just when he is expected to fulfil tasks which he is not up to, or thinks he is not up to -- not of the individual alone is it true that "he grows to his higher purposes". And finally, it depends on the goal, the consciousness of it and will for it. The heroic epoch of the [59] modern Co-operative looked to the transformation of society, the epoch of technics looks essentially to the economic success of each individual co-operative undertaking. The first has come to grief, but that does not condemn the goal and the way towards it; the second has great successes to record, but they do not look at all like stages on the way to the goal. A champion of the bureaucratized co-operative system expresses himself thus on its origin: "Let us give our fullest admiration to those humble and faithful souls who were guided by the burning torch of social conviction. . . . But let us acknowledge that heroism is not in itself a condition of soul fitted to bring about economic results." True enough; but let us also acknowledge that economic results are not in themselves fitted to bring about a restructuring of human society.

As regards the three chief forms of co-operation (apart from the Credit Co-operatives), to wit, Consumer Co-operatives, Producer Co-operatives, and Full Co-operatives1 based on the union of production and consumption -- let us compare a few dates taken from the two epochs of this movement.

The 1830 epoch: 1827 saw the first English Consumer Co-operative in the modern sense founded under the influence of the ideas of Dr. William King; 1832 the first French Producer Co-operative set up according to the plans of Buchez; in between the experimental "settlements" of Owen and his adherents -- the American experiment and the English ones.

The 1848 epoch: first the Consumer Co-operative of the Rochdale weavers, then Louis Blanc's "national workshops" and the like, finally, by way of travesty, the tragi-comic "Icaria" project of Cabet (who was a real Utopian in the negative sense, a social constructionist without the slightest understanding of human fundamentals) on the banks of the Mississippi. Of these no more will be said here -- as attempts to realize "utopian" Socialism -- than is deemed desirable for the purpose of this book.

King and Buchez were both doctors and both, in contrast to Owen -- whose war against religion was one of the main tasks of his life -- practising Christians, one Protestant, one Catholic. This is not without significance. For Owen socialism was the fruit of reason, for King and Buchez it was the realization of the teachings of Christianity in the domain of public [60] life. Both held, as Buchez says, that the moment had come "to mould the teachings of Christianity into social institutions". This basic religious feeling profoundly influenced the whole outlook of the two men; with King, who was in sympathy with the Quakers and worked together with them, it influenced the very tone of his words -- everywhere we feel an unabstract, immediate, upwelling concern for his fellow-men, their life and soul.

King has justly been called in our own day -- once he was rescued from oblivion -- the first and greatest of the English theoreticians of the Co-operative Movement. But over and above this he had the gift of the simple word, which made plain to everybody the essential nature of the things he spoke of. In the whole literature of the Co-operatives I know nothing that gives such an impression of the "popular" and the "classical" alike as do the twenty-eight numbers of the magazine called The Co-operator, which King wrote and brought out between 1828 and 1830 for the instruction of those who were actively spreading his ideas. He had a depth and clarity of social perception like none of his contemporaries, with the exception of the more scientific, but also more abstract, William Thompson. He starts from work as "the root of the tree, to whatever size it may ultimately grow". Work is "in this sense everything". The working classes "have the monopoly of this article". No power on earth can rob them of it, for all power is "nothing more than the power to direct the labour of the working classes". What they lack is capital, that is, disposal of the machines and the possibility of maintaining themselves whilst working them. But "all capital is made out of labour", and it is "nothing in itself". It has to unite with labour in order to be productive. This union is now achieved by capital "buying and selling the labourer like a brute". True union, "the natural alliance", can only be brought about by the working-classes themselves, only they do not know it. Their sole hope of achieving it is to get together, co-operate, make common capital, become independent. King gives passionate expression to the thought already uttered by Thompson before him, of co-operation as the form of production peculiar to labour. "As soon as ever the labourers unite upon a labour principle instead of a capital principle, they will make the dust fly in all directions. . . and it is great odds but this dust will blind some of the masters." If the workers get [61] together they can acquire the tools they need -- the machines -- and themselves become, in their Co-operatives, the subject of production. But they can also acquire the land. King says clearly that he sees only a beginning in the Consumer Co-operatives, that his goal, like Thompson's, is the Full Co-operative. As soon as they can dispose of sufficient capital the "Society", that is, the Co-operative Society, "may purchase land, live upon it, cultivate it themselves and produce any manufactures they please, and so provide for all their wants of food, clothing, and houses. The Society will then be called a Community." King calls upon the trades-unions to purchase land with their savings and settle their unemployed members on it in communities producing above all for their own needs. These communities will embrace not merely the specific interests and functions of their members but their life as well, in so far as they want and are able to live it in common. But the life-community, even if it can only come to full reality in the Full Co-operative, should already exist potentially in the relations of the members of the Consumer Co-operative to one another. King is thinking not of a bare impersonal solidarity but of a personal relationship, generally latent yet ready at any time to become actual, a "sympathy that would act with new energies, and rise occasionally even to enthusiasm". Hence only members capable of such a relation are admitted. The basic law of co-operative means, for King, the establishment of genuine relations between man and man. "When a man enters a Co-operative Society, he enters upon a new relation with his fellow men; and that relation immediately becomes the subject of every sanction, both moral and religious." It is obvious that this ideal, this "heroic" demand could not be upheld in succeeding years, when membership of the Co-operatives increased with their growing mechanization and bureaucratization; but seen from the standpoint of social re-structure, this is the cause of the inadequacy of these "partial" Cooperatives.

When William King suspended publication of The Co-operator in 1830, three hundred Societies had come into being under the influence of his teachings. These for the most part did not live long because of the "spirit of selfishness" reigning in them, as one of the leaders told the Congress of 1832. The crucial stage of the consumer-based Co-operatives did not begin until 1844, when in the grave industrial crisis which had once again [62] descended upon England shortly after the collapse of a strike, a little group of flannel-weavers and representatives of other trades met in the city of Rochdale to ask one another: "What can we do to save ourselves from misery?" There were not a few among them who thought that each man must begin with himself -- and indeed that is always right in all circumstances, for without it nothing can ever succeed; only one must know that it is merely a part of what has to be done, albeit an important part. And because they did not know this they proposed to renounce the pleasures of alcohol, and they naturally failed to convince their comrades. (How important none the less the proposal seemed can be seen from the fact that subsequently, in the Statutes of the "Equitable Pioneers of Rochdale", the erection of a Temperance Hotel was mentioned on the agenda of the Society.) And again there were some, members of the Chartist Movement which aimed at altering the Constitution and seizing power, who proposed that they should ally themselves to political action so as to win for Labour its due share in legislation; but the movement had passed its peak and they had learned that although the political struggle was necessary it was not enough. Some of Owen's adherents who were among those assembled declared that there was no hope for them in England any more and that they must emigrate and build a new life for themselves abroad (thinking perhaps of the possibility of new experimental Settlements in America); but that too was rejected, for the predominant feeling was: "doing" means doing here, means not fleeing before the crisis but enduring it with what strength one has. This strength was little enough, yet a few of the weavers who were fairly familiar with the teachings of William King pointed out that they could put their strengths together and then perhaps a power would be there with which they could do something. So they decided to "co-operate".

The tasks the Society set itself were put very high, without the authors of the statutes being accused of overbold imagination. These tasks were ranged in three stages. The first, the Consumer Co-operative, was regarded as something to be organized at once. The second, the Producer Co-operative, comprising the common building of houses for the members, the common production of wares and the common cultivation of allotments by unemployed comrades, was likewise a prospect for a not far distant future, though not the immediate future. [63] The third stage, the Co-operative Settlement, was removed still further by the proviso "as soon as practicable": "as soon as practicable this Society shall proceed to arrange the powers of production, distribution, education, and government; or, in other words, to establish a self-supporting Home Colony of united interests or assist other Societies in establishing such Colonies." It is amazing how the practical intuition of the flannel-weavers of Rochdale grasped the three essential fields of co-operation. In the first field, the Consumer Co-operative, their simple and effective methods (among which the distribution of profits among members according to the relative volume of purchases proved to be particularly persuasive) blazed a new trail. In the field of production they made a number of advances with increasing success, particularly in corn-milling but also in the field of spinning and weaving; yet it is characteristic of the whole problem (to be discussed later) of co-operative activity in production that, in the steam spinning-mills constructed by the Equitable Pioneers, only about half the workers were members of the Society, and hence stockholders, and that these immediately put through the principle of rewarding work with payment but of distributing the profit exclusively among the stockholders as "entrepreneurs and owners of the business", as the important co-operationist Victor Aime Huber, who repeatedly visited Rochdale in its early days, remarks in his monograph on the Pioneers. They did not, however, get down to the third, the greatest and decisive task, of realizing the Co-operative Colony based on joint production and consumption.

One element in the Rochdale institution deserves our particular attention. That is the co-operation between the Co-operatives, the working together of several co-operative groups and institutes, which was undertaken by the "Pioneers" themselves and, later, in conjunction with them. "The principle of Federalism," says the Rumanian scholar Mladenatz in his History of the Co-operative Theories, obviously basing himself on Proudhon, "derives quite naturally from the idea itself, which is the foundation of the co-operative system. Just as the Co-operative Society unites people for the common satisfaction of certain needs, so the various co-operative cells unite one with another by applying the principle of solidarity for the common exercise of certain functions, particularly those of production and supply." Here we again meet the arch-principle [64] of restructuring, although naturally the consumer associations as such, i.e. Co-operatives which only combine certain interests of people but not the lives of the people themselves, do not appear suited to serve as cells of a new structure.

The modern Consumer Co-operative which has become so great a reality in the economic life of our time derives from the ideas of "utopian" socialism. In William King's plans there is a clearly discernible tendency to reach the great socialist reality through the creation of small socialist realities which keep on expanding and confederating continually. But King recognized at the same time, and with the utmost clarity, the nature of the technological revolution that had started in his day. He recognized the cardinal significance of the machine and approved it; he rejected all assaults on machines as "folly and criminality". But he also recognized that the inventors, who are workers too, destroy themselves and their comrades with their "wonderful inventions", because "by selling these inventions to their masters they work against themselves, instead of keeping them in their own hands and working with them". For this it is necessary, of course, that the workers should constitute themselves co-operatively in their Societies. "The workmen have ingenuity enough to make all the machinery in the world, but they have not yet had ingenuity enough to make it work for them. This ingenuity will not be dormant much longer." Consequently co-operative organization of consumption is, for King, only a step towards the co-operative organization of production, but this in its turn is only a step towards the co-operative building of life as a whole.

In the hundred years since its inception the Consumer Co-operative has conquered a considerable portion of the civilized world, but the hopes that King set on its internal development have not yet been fulfilled. Consumer Societies may in many places, and sometimes to a very great extent, have turned to production for their own needs, and there exists, as Fritz Naphtali rightly stresses, a tendency to penetrate more and more deeply into production and guide it in the direction of "basic" production. But we have hardly come any nearer to an organic alliance of production and consumption in a comprehensive communal form, although we already have notable examples of large Consumer Societies -- or groups of the same for individual branches of production -- organizing themselves into Producer Co-operatives, or assimilating existing [65] ones; but that is only technical organization, not the fulfilment of genuine co-operative thought. And just as little has the confederation of local societies, even where this has occurred on a large scale, preserved a genuine federative character; in these cases the small Societies have mostly, as was reported several decades ago, changed from independent foci of social solidarity into mere organs of membership, and their stores into mere branches of the organization as a whole. The technological advantages of such centralization are obvious; the trouble is that there was no authority at hand to try to salvage as much autonomy in the individual Societies as was compatible with technological requirements, although people did try here and there -- for instance in Switzerland -- to counteract the progressive "de-souling" and de-substantiation of the Societies by planned decentralization. But for the most part the running of large co-operative institutions has become more and more like the running of capitalist ones, and the bureaucratic principle has completely ousted, over a very wide field, the voluntary principle, once prized as the most precious and indispensable possession of the Co-operative Movement. This is especially clear in countries where Consumer Societies have in increasing measure worked together with the State and the municipalities, and Charles Gide was certainly not far wrong when he called to mind the fable of the wolf disguised as a shepherd and voiced the fear that, instead of making the State "co-operative", we should only succeed in making the Cooperative "static". For the spirit of solidarity can in truth only remain alive to the extent that a living relationship obtains between human beings. Tonnies thought that in their transition to communal buying and then to producing for their own needs the Consumer Societies would "lay the foundations of an economic organization that would stand in open opposition to the existing social order", and that in theory "the capitalist world would therefore be lifted off its hinges". But "theory" can never become reality so long as the life-forms of capitalism permeate co-operative activity.

Buchez, who came shortly after King and who planned and inspired the founding of Producer Co-operatives in France, is likewise a "utopian" socialist at bottom. "The Communist reform that is everywhere in the air," he writes in his magazine L'Europeen in 1831, "should be implemented by the association of workers." For Buchez -- who, although a Catholic, graduated [66] in the school of Saint-Simon where he was in sympathy with the radical socialist Bazard -- production is everything and the organization of consumption not even a stage. In his opinion the Producer Go-operative -- by which he, with less understanding of technological developments than King, means manual workers rather than modern industrial workers -- leads directly to the socialist order. "The workers of a particular trade unite, put their savings together, raise a loan, produce as they think best, repay the borrowed capital despite great privations, ensure that each man gets equal pay, and leave the profits in the common funds, with the result that the co-operative workshop becomes a little industrial community." Une petite communaute industnelle -- here Buchez comes close to King's idea that a Society can become a Community, save that he prematurely ascribes this character to the Producer Co-operative as such, whereas King's deeper insight envisaged such a possibility only for the Full Co-operative. Buchez concludes with the simple, all too simple, formula: "Let all the workers do this and the social problem will be solved." He knew well enough that the great problem of ownership of the land was not solved by it in the least, so he devised the makeshift slogan: "The land for the peasants, the workshop for the workers" without appreciating the question of the social reform of agriculture in its true import; the problem of evolving a Full Co-operative, the all-important problem of social re-structure, was hidden from him, though not from King. On the other hand Buchez recognized with astounding acuteness most of the dangers that threaten the socialist character of the Producer Co-operative from within, one above all, the increasing differentiation inside the Co-operative in its initial stages between those comrades who have founded it and the workers who come afterwards -- a differentiation which lends the Co-operative, though it plead socialism never so energetically, the incontestable stamp of an appendage to the capitalist order. To eliminate this danger Buchez built two counter-measures into the modified programme he published after his first practical experiences of 1831: firstly the "social capital" accruing at any time from the putting by of a fifth of the profits was to remain the inalienable, indivisible property of the Society, which was itself to be declared indissoluble and was to replenish itself continually by taking on new members; and secondly, the Society might not employ outside workers [67] as wage-earners for longer than one year, after which time it was bound to accept new comrades according to its requirements (in a sample contract published in 1840 in the journal of the Buchezites, L'Atelier, the term was reduced to a trial period of three months). To the first of these points Buchez says that, but for this capital the Society "would resemble all the other trade societies; it would be useful only to the founders and harmful to all who had taken no part in the beginning, for in the hands of the former it would ultimately become an instrument of exploitation". As has rightly been said, this programme aimed at the creation of a capital which would finally absorb "the industrial capital of the whole country and thus realize the appropriation of all the means of production through Workers' Co-operatives". Here, too, we find that "utopian" element again; but, which is the more practical in the last analysis: to try to create social reality through social reality, with its rights defended and extended by political means, or to try to create by the magic wand of politics alone? Naturally enough the two rules were only followed very irregularly by the Societies founded under Buchez' influence, and after twenty years the principle of indivisible capital was made so questionable that those who remained true to it had to wage a hard and virtually fruitless fight for it, as for the principle whereby the conditions of property would be changed and capital would come under the rule of work -- a principle that had to be upheld if the Go-operative was to benefit the whole of the working-class and not merely "the few fortunate founders who, thanks to it, had become rentiers instead of wage-earners". And just about this time, 1852, we read of similar experiences in England in a report of the Society for the Promotion of Working-men's Associations. But from all of them, from the analogous experiences in the Middle Ages as also from similar experiences in the history of the Consumer Societies, there is no other conclusion to be drawn save that the internal problems of the Co-operatives and the dominance of the capitalist principle that still persists in them can be overcome, albeit gradually, only in and through the Full Co-operative.

It is likely that Louis Blanc was influenced by Buchez' thought; but he differs from him on decisive points. At the same time the important thing is not that he demanded, as Lassalle did later for his Worker-Producer Co-operatives, State help for the "social workshops" he wanted to found, since [68] "what the proletariat lacks in order to free itself is tools, and it is the government's job to deliver them". That was, of course, a deep-seated error, indeed a contradiction in terms, since a government representative of a definite State-order cannot very well be urged to call institutions into being which are destined (such was Blanc's express meaning) to abolish that order. It was only logical, therefore, that the anti-socialist majority in the Provisional Government of 1848 should first replace Blanc's plan by a caricature and then play havoc even with this; but as regards the nature of the social reform he planned this demand of Blanc's was not absolutely essential. Far more significant is the fact that Blanc's social programme was itself centralist in thought: he wanted each large industry to constitute itself as a single association by grouping itself round a central workshop. He gave this basically Saint-Simonistic thought a federalist tinge by demanding that the solidarity of all the workers in one workshop should be continued in the solidarity of all the workshops in one branch of industry and finally completed in the solidarity of all the branches of industry; but what he called solidarity was in actual fact more like solidification into centralist management with monopoly status. Well might Blanc be anxious to attack "the cowardly and brutal principle" of competition, as he once called it in the National Assembly, at the root; that is, to prevent collective competition from emerging in the place of individual competition. And this is indeed the chief danger, apart from internal differentiation, that threatens the Producer Co-operative. A good example of the widespread incidence of this danger is afforded by a letter written by one of the leaders of the Christian-Socialist Co-operative movement in England at that time, in which he says of the Producer Co-operatives founded by this movement that they were "actuated by a thoroughly mercenary competitive spirit" and "aimed merely at a more successful competition than is possible under the present system". This danger was recognized by Buchez and his adherents; but they refused to combat it with monopolies which seemed to them even more dangerous, because monopoly meant for them the paralysis, the end of all organic development. According to their proposals competition between the Co-operatives was rather to be organized and regulated by means of a league of the Co-operatives themselves. Here free federation opposes planned amalgamation. But we have to [69] acknowledge that the federalist idea crops up again and again with Blanc and bursts the centralist strait-jacket, particularly of course after the failure of his State plan. He gives a twist to Buchez' plan for reserve funds by intending it to "realize the principle of mutual help and solidarity between the various social workshops". But as soon as he proceeds from the plan for State initiative to the planning of free Co-operatives he sees no other way of reaching this goal except the way of federation, beginning with the Co-operatives already existing; these are to come to an understanding with one another and name a Central Committee which shall organize throughout the country "the most important of all subscriptions -- the subscription to abolish the proletariat". Such words are midway between the sublime and the ridiculous; but the call to the proletariat for self-abolition through co-operation implies a certain practical seriousness which is not without significance for the time that followed. And towards the end of 1849 we see Blanc expressing his approval of the Union des associations fraternelles, which arose out of the federation of more than a hundred Co-operatives and realized his enemy Proudhon's idea of the mutualite du travail; backing himself up, of course, by saying that on the agenda of the Union there was talk of "centralizing business-matters of general interest". Everywhere in Blanc we come across thoughts which belong to the living tradition and context of "utopian" socialism. He sees the Producer Co-operative emerging into the Full Co-operative in the future, just as King saw the Consumer Co-operative merging into it; in which respect, just as the Union des associations fraternelles praised by him aimed at establishing, as a federation, "agricultural and industrial colonies" on a large scale, so he was aiming at the creation of Communal Home Colonies. His starting-point is the technological necessity for large-scale concerns: "We must inaugurate a system of large-scale concerns for agriculture by linking them up with association and common ownership," and he wants if possible to transplant industry to the country and "wed industrial work to agricultural". Here, too, Kropotkin's idea of a "division of labour in time", of the union of agriculture, industry and handicraft in a modern village-community, is anticipated.

Despite the early suppression of the Co-operative Federations by the Reaction, numerous new Producer Co-operatives came into being in France during the following years; even [70] doctors and chemists united on a co-operative basis (in these cases there could obviously be no question of genuine Producer Co-operatives, since there is no place for communal work here). The enthusiasm for Co-operatives outlasted the Revolution. Even the persecution and dissolution of many of the Co-operatives after the coup d'etat was unable to check the movement. The real danger threatening them here as in England came from within: their capitalization, their gradual transformation into capitalist or semi-capitalist societies. Forty years after the enthusiastic efforts, beginning about 1850, of the English Christian Socialists to create a wide net ofWorkers' Producer Co-operatives which "rejected any notion of competition with each other as inconsistent with the true form of society", Beatrice Webb stated that with the exception of a few Co-operatives which had remained more or less true to the ideal of a "brotherhood of workers" -- most of which, however, had become questionable at one point or another -- all the rest "exhibit an amazing variety of aristocratic, plutocratic and monarchical constitutions". And fifty years after Louis Blanc there was a thoroughly typical (in this respect) Producer Co-operative in France, that of the spectacle-makers, which, apart from a small number of associes and approximately as many adherents, employed ten times as many wage-earners. Despite this, however, we can find perfect examples of the inner battle for socialism everywhere. Sometimes there is something tragic about them, but equally something prophetic. The Producer Co-operative has rightly been called "the child of sorrows and the darling" of all those "who expect the Co-operative Movement to produce something essential for the salvation of mankind"; but it is readily understandable from the facts that a champion of the Consumer Co-operative Societies should call the Producer Co-operatives which work for the open market "thoroughly unsocialistic in spirit and in essence", because "producers, set up by and for themselves, always and in all circumstances have separatist, individualist or cliquish interests". Apart, however, from the exaggeration inherent in such an assertion, Producer Co-operatives above all should never be "set up by and for themselves". Two great principles should together guard against this: the combination of production and consumption in the Full Co-operative, and Federalism.

The development of the Consumer Co-operative follows the [71] straight line of numerical progression; a considerable portion of civilized mankind (characteristically enough, outside America) is organized to-day, from the consumption side, on co-operative lines. On the other hand the development of the Producer Co-operatives (I speak here only of the Producer Co-operative in the strict sense, not of the many partial, in the main agricultural associations which aim merely at making production easier or more intensive), can be represented as a zig-zag line which, on the whole, shows hardly any upward trend. New ones are always coming into being, but again and again most of the more vigorous ones pass over into the sphere of capitalism; there is hardly any continuity. The Full Co-operative, however, is in different case; its development, so far as there is one, looks like a cluster of small circles between which there is generally no real connexion. Consumer and Producer Co-operatives were based on an extensive movement which spread to locality after locality; Colonies in the Full Co-operative sense have always had something sporadic, improvised, lacking in finality about them. In contrast to the others they also lacked what Franz Oppenheimer has termed "the power of remote effect". Not but what some of them got themselves talked about; but their power of attraction was individualistic, they did not call new community-cells into being. In the history of Co-operative Colonies, neither in Europe (with the exception of Soviet Russia, where, however, the essential basis of free will and autonomy does not exist) nor with few exceptions in America is there any indication of a federative tendency. Consumer Co-operatives have continually and increasingly federated; Producer Co-operatives in the true sense have done so discontinuously, now on the increase, now on the decrease; communal Colonies in general not at all. Their fate is at odds with their will: originally they did not want to become isolated, but they did become isolated; they wanted to become working models, but they only became interesting experiments; they wanted to be the dynamic and dynamitic beginnings of a social transformation, but each had its end in itself. The cause of this difference between the Consumer and Producer Co-operative on the one hand and Full Co-operative on the other seems to me ultimately to lie in an essential difference of starting-point. The former grew out of given situations which were roughly the same in a whole chain of places and factories, so that from the start there was a germ [72] of reciprocal influence in the experiments undertaken to get the situation in hand, and hence the germ of their federation. In addition the plans that inspired the founding of these Co-operatives did not derive from one all-embracing thought, but from a question addressed, as it were, to the planners by the situation itself. We can accurately follow this process with King and Buchez, because both were federalists at the outset; Buchez even had a federative association in mind for the trades-unions he had proposed. In both cases the plans were directed towards remedying a given state of distress, and they bore a local character in so far as they sought to solve the problems of this emergency at the point where these problems brought themselves to bear. Such plans may be called topical in the precise sense of being locative, inasmuch as they were of their own nature related to definite localities, the very ones in which the problems arose. The identity of the problems in different places led at once to the possibility of federative union, right up to gigantic formations like some associations of Consumer Co-operatives to-day.

It is a fundamentally different story with the generality of "colonial" Full Co-operatives. Here, time after time, with greater or lesser independence of the situation but always without real reference to given localities and their demands, we see the "idea" dictating its decrees, preparing its plans somewhere up in the clouds and then bringing them down to earth. No matter how speculative these plans are in origin and therefore thoroughly schematic as with Fourier; no matter how much they are based on definite experiences and empirical assumptions as with Owen, they will never answer the questions put by a given situation, but will proceed to create new situations irrelevant to the locality and its local problems. This becomes peculiarly evident where Settlements in foreign countries are concerned: emigration is not organized and regulated along socialistic lines, no such thing; rather the impulse to emigrate is associated with a new impulse, namely, the will to have a share in the realization of a social project; and this will is all too frequently coerced into the dogmatism of some organization felt and believed to be the only right one, the only just and true organization, the binding claims of which sometimes stand in opposition to the free play of relationships between members. (Community of sentiment is hardly ever sufficient to establish community of life; for this a deeper and [73] more vital bond is required.) The Settlement that remains faithful to dogma is threatened with paralysis; one that increasingly rebels against it, with fragmentation; and both lack the corrective, modifying power of insight into conditions. Wherever dogma reigns supreme, isolation of the Settlement is the sole result; the exclusiveness of "the only right form" precludes union even with like-minded establishments, for in every single one of them the "faithful" are completely obsessed with the absolute character of their unique achievement. But equally, wherever dogma retreats, the economic and spiritual seclusion of the Settlement, especially in a strange country, succumbs to the same fate -- isolation, lack of connective power, ineffectuality. None of these things would be so important if some great educative force, sustained by a vigorous upsurge of life and fate, could assure to the communal will a lasting victory over the residue of egoism that inevitably goes with it, or rather raise this egoism to a higher form. But usually it is only the case that collective egoism, i.e. egoism with a clear conscience, emerges in place of individual egoism; and if the latter always threatens to disintegrate the inner cohesion of the community, the former, which is often tainted with dogmatism, prevents the growth of any real communal education as between one community and another, between the community and the world.

Most of the known experimental Settlements came to grief or petered out -- and not, as some think, the communist ones alone. Here we must exempt the individual efforts of various religious sects, efforts whose vitality can only be understood in terms of a particular group's faith and as the partial manifestation of this faith; it is characteristic that the federative form makes its appearance here and here alone, as, for instance, with the Russian sect of the Dukhobors in Canada or the "Hutterite Brothers". It is, therefore, unjust of Kropotkin to trace the collapse of the experimental communist Settlements to the fact that they were "founded on an uprush of religiosity, instead of seeing in the commune simply a mode of consumption and production economically ordered". For it is precisely where a Settlement comes into being as the expression of real religious exaltation, and not merely as a precarious substitute for religion, and where it views its existence as the beginning of God's kingdom -- that it usually proves its powers of endurance. [74]

Among the causes which Kropotkin adduces for the collapse of most of the Settlements two are worthy of particular note, though at bottom they are one and the same: isolation from society and isolation from each other. He is in error when he imputes the cause to the smallness of the Commune, thinking, as he says, that in such a Commune its members would acquire a distaste for one another after a few years of living together so closely: for, among the Settlements that have lasted at all, we find small ones as well as large ones. But he is right to demand federation to make up for the smallness of the groups. The fact that federation enables members to pass from one settlement to another (which is of crucial importance for Kropotkin), is in reality only one among its many favourable results; the vital thing is federation itself, the complementing and helping of each group by the others, the stream of communal life flowing between them and gathering strength from each. No less important, however, is the fact that the Settlements stand in some relation, if a varying one, to society at large -- not merely because they need a market for their surplus production, not merely because youth, as Kropotkin points out, does not tolerate being cut off, but because the Settlements must, in so far as they do not possess that specifically Messianic faith, influence the surrounding world in order to live at all. Whoever bears a message must be able to express it, not necessarily in words, but necessarily in his being.

To a query coming from Settlement circles Kropotkin once answered with an open letter to all Settlement-minded groups stressing the fact that any commonwealth worthy the name must be founded on the principle of association between independent families that join forces. What he meant was that even the individual group must spring from a union of the smallest communal units, federatively. If the federative movement is to extend beyond the group, space is needed: "The experiment," he says in his book Modern Science and Anarchy, "must be made on a definite territory." He adds that this territory must comprise both town and country. Once more economic motifs have to be geared to the great social motif; genuine community-life means the full play of all the functions and interaction between them, not restriction and seclusion. But it is not enough, as Kropotkin seems to assume that it is, for a town "to make itself into a commune"; if it confronts the finely articulated federation of villages as an unco-ordinated [75] and socially amorphous entity, it is bound to exert rather a negative influence in the long run. It has to co-ordinate itself, convert itself as a federation into societies in order to engage in really fruitful intercourse with the villages. Already we can see significant moves in this direction in the "planned economy" theories of our time, the result, mostly, of technical and managerial considerations.

From their long and instructive history we can only give here one characteristic example of the problematical career of the many experimental Settlements to date -- Owen's first establishment in this kind, the only one that was his own work: New Harmony in Indiana. He bought the property from the sect of "Separatists" that had immigrated from Germany; after twenty years of work they had managed to make it produce a few blossoms. Members were accepted unselectively; the important German political economist Friedrich List noted at the time in his American Diary: "The elements don't seem to be of the best." In the beginning the Constitution of the new community was based on complete equality between members, for which reason it was also called "The Community of Equality". Two years later, after a number of separate groups had branched off, an attempt had to be made to transform the community into an association of little societies. But this and similar plans for conversion failed. When Owen, returning from a journey to England, saw the Settlement again after it had lasted three years, he had to confess that "the attempt to unite a number of strangers not previously educated for the purpose, who should live together as a common family, was premature", and that "the habits of the individual system" die hard. By selling one part of the land in lots and leasing another in the same way -- the experiment cost him a fifth of his fortune -- he replaced the Society by a complex of Settlements run on private capitalist lines, only giving them this piece of advice by the way: "To unite their general labour, or to exchange labour for labour on the terms most beneficial for all, or to do both or neither, as their feelings and apparent interests may influence them."

Here we have an example of a Settlement that came to grief not on dogma -- despite his definite plans Owen did not commit himself on this point -- but rather on the lack of any deep, organic bond between its members.

As an example of the opposite we may cite the development [76] of Cabet's "Icaria". Undertaken as an attempt to realize a dilettante but successful Utopian novel, born after terrific disappointments and privations and, like Owen's Settlement, the former property of a sect -- this time that of the Mormons -- the Settlement, during the half-century from its beginnings right up to its final ramifications, underwent schism after schism. First of all there was a schism because Cabet (a temperamental and honestly enthusiastic man, but mediocre) made a bid for dictatorship in the form of dogmatic planning, a bid which kindled a civil war of vituperation and fisticuffs. Of the two groups to which the schism gave rise, the first crumbled into nothing after Cabet's death; in the second a new schism sprang up between the "Young" and the "Old", the "young" championing the dogmatic plan to abolish, for instance, the little gardens that surrounded the houses where the members could pluck not only flowers but fruit as well. Here indeed was a deplorable "remnant of individualism". The affair -- after being judicially decided -- resulted in the division of the Settlement, the part that contained buildings put up by the "Old" with their own hands being allotted to the "Young". The part remaining to the "Old" lasted another twenty years and then died of "senile decay". The economic forces were strong enough to survive, but the power of belief was extinguished. "We were so few and so like the people outside," writes a female member, "that it was not worth the effort to live in the community." The "Young" Settlement was even shorter-lived. After all kinds of difficulties they moved to California, but under the new organization the principle of private ownership took a significant place, so that the Settlement has not unjustly been compared with a joint-stock company; it soon disbanded itself, the appreciation of land-values being a determining factor, perhaps. So the career of Icaria runs in a strange sequence of dogmatism and opportunism. "We had a furious will to succeed," wrote one of the members several years later, "but the garment we wore was too heavy for us and too long, it trailed at times in the mud; by which I mean to say that the Old Adam in us, or the beast, inadequately repressed, made a violent appearance." But it was not the beast at all, it was only the specifically human species of egoism.

Let us look, finally, at the three chief kinds of "Society" from the point of view of social restructure. [77]

By far the most powerful of them historically, the Consumer Co-operative Society, is least suited in itself to act as a cell of social reconstruction^ It brings people together with only a minimal and highly impersonal part of their total being. This part is not, as might be supposed at first glance, consumption. Common consumption as such has a great power to unite people; and, as we know from ancient times, there is no better symbol of communal life than the banquet. But the Consumer Co-operative is concerned not with consumption proper but with purchases for consumption. Common purchasing as such lays no very significant demands on the individuals participating in it, unless it be in exceptional times when it is a question of common care and responsibility for a common task, as in the "heroic" age of the Co-operative Movement or in the crises since then, when private persons came forward in a spirit of sacrifice to alleviate the distress of the many. Similarly, as soon as common purchasing becomes a business, responsibility for which passes to the employees, it ceases to unite people in any significant sense. The bond becomes so loose and impersonal that there can be no question of communal cells and their association in a complex organic structure, even if the co-operative organization of this or that branch of production is linked up with the Co-operative's warehouses. I find this view expressed with great clarity in a book by the Irish poet George William Russell ("A. E."), The National Being; a book written with true patriotism and dealing with the social reconstruction of Ireland. He says: "It is not enough to organize farmers in a district for one purpose only -- in a credit society, a dairy society, a fruit society, a bacon factory, or in a co-operative store. All these may be and must be beginnings; but if they do not develop and absorb all rural business into their organization they will have little effect on character. No true social organism will have been created. If people unite as consumers to buy together they only come into contact on this one point; there is no general identity of interest. If co-operative societies are specialized for this purpose or that -- as in Great Britain or on the Continent -- to a large extent the limitation of objects prevents a true social organism from being formed. The latter has a tremendous effect on human character. The specialized Society only develops economic efficiency. The evolution of humanity beyond its present level depends absolutely on its power to unite and create true social [78] organisms." That precisely is what I understand by an organic re-structuring of society.

The Producer Co-operative is better suited in itself than the Consumer Co-operative to take part in a restructuring of this sort, i.e. to function as the cell of a new structure. Common production of goods implicates people more profoundly than a common acquisition of goods for individual consumption; it embraces much more of their powers and their lifetime. Man as producer is by nature more prepared to get together with his kind in an eminently active way than man as consumer; and is more capable of forming living social units. This is true of the employer, if and in so far as he draws more strength from the association for the discharge of his productive activity than he did and ever could as an individual. But it is particularly true of the employed, because only in and through the association does he draw any strength at all -- the question is whether he will become vitally conscious of this opportunity and believe in its practical prospects. But as we have seen, he succumbs very easily, indeed almost with a kind of fatality, to the desire to get others to work for him. If the Consumer Co-operative adapts itself outwardly, in a technical and managerial sense, to the capitalistic pattern, the Producer Co-operative does so inwardly in a structural and psychological sense. At the same time the latter is itself more amenable to a genuine, not merely technical, federation; but just how little the paramount importance -- from the point of view of re-structure -- of small organic units and their organic-federative growth was recognized (even in those circles most enthusiastic for the regeneration of society by means of Producer Co-operatives), we actually saw two decades ago in the English Guild Socialist Movement. On the one hand the bold step was conceived of converting the State into a dual system: multiform, co-ordinated representation of producers, and uniform, mass-representation of consumers. But on the other hand, there soon manifested itself a Saint-Simonistic tendency aiming at "national" (i.e. embracing a whole branch of industry) guilds for "the regimentation into a single fellowship of all those employed in any given industry", which proved much stronger than the tendency to form "local" guilds, i.e. small organic units and their federation. If the principle of organic re-structuring is to become a determining factor the influence of the Full Co-operative will be needed, since in it production and consumption are united and industry is [79] complemented by agriculture. However long it may take the Full Co-operative to become the cell of the new society, it is vitally important for it to start building itself up now as a far-reaching complex of interlocking, magnetic foci. A genuine and lasting reorganization of society from within can only prosper in the union of producers and consumers, each of the two partners being composed of independent and homogeneous co-operative units; a union whose power and vitality for socialism can only be guaranteed by a wealth of Full Co-operatives all working together and, in their functional synthesis, exercising a mediatory and unifying influence.

For this it is necessary, however, that in place of all the isolated experiments (condemned in the nature of things to isolation) that have made their appearance in the course of more than a hundred years of struggle, there should emerge a network of Settlements, territorially based and federatively constructed, without dogmatic rigidity, allowing the most diverse social forms to exist side by side, but always aiming at the new organic whole.


1 Vollgenossenschaft is evidently a term coined by the author. It is here translated literally since no equivalent term is to be found in the English authorities. Trans.