All Things Co-op: There Is An Alternative To Capitalism

[S6 E01] New

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Welcome to Season 6 of All Things Co-op!

In this first episode of Season 6, Cinar, Larry, and Kevin introduce the theme of Season 6: there is an alternative. Critics on the Left love to talk about what they’re against but rarely offer real alternatives. Playing off the widespread feeling of capitalist realism—that there is no alternative to our current economic order—the ATC guys propose that building a cooperative society is a concrete alternative to capitalism. Throughout this season, they will speculate about what that future society could look like, both in terms of political and economic structures, but also on a wider, socio-cultural scale. Human beings are more than mere workers! Kevin, Larry and Cinar will look at all the aspects that make up our life, from sports to sex and everything in between, to see what living would look like in a cooperative world.

Transcript has been edited for clarity

KG: Well, welcome again back to another episode and another season of All Things Co-op. I'm one of your co-hosts, Kevin, and with me as always is Larry and Cinar. Larry and Cinar, how are you guys doing? Everybody, good to see you. All right, so, Season Six, new season, new general topic. If you're for whatever reason coming to this podcast for this episode we've had obviously five other seasons. There’s been themes to general themes, I’d say, to each of those seasons. There's always been some deviations inside of it because if we’re going to talk to co-op or somebody who's interested in co-ops, we’ll violate the theme as it were.

So we've had, you know, a season on the Rochdale Principles. A season where we talked to a lot of co-op development people. Last season we were talking about what we need to see—a real cooperative kind of sector. This season is in some ways similar but I think in some ways going to be a bit novel and kind of interesting. And so it's the idea of envisioning a cooperative future. And I'll throat clear a little bit—and then I’ll pass it to you guys—just by saying that I’ve probably said it on this podcast and in other venues—one of the biggest complaints about the left (or someone who might call themselves an anti-capitalist or something) is that there's a lot of talking about what you're against and what you don’t like and what doesn't work and that’s understandable. And I think, it actually relatively has widespread appeal. There’s a lot of people who are frustrated with the way things are and want to see change. But, the question you always get asked is—Well what do you want? What is it that you want to see? It’s easy—it’s sort of trivially easy— to just say, well, the situation sucks.

It’s another whole thing to say—this is what we're really for. And I think one of the advantages of this podcast and the fact that we have a specific focus on what we want to do and how it connects with our political and social and cultural and economic ideas is that we have something to point to—the worker co-op—as an example of workers owning and controlling the means of production.

But, I think we have also ideas about and we've discussed it too, in some ways, about what this would look like on a larger scale. You know, we had one whole episode thinking of this— sort of spitballing on this—and I thought that was fun. And, I thought that it would be important to be able to, kind of, express a little bit more clearly and with some more meat on the bones, I guess, as it were, what we mean when we say we want a cooperative society. A society that isn't just a collection of worker co-ops but as a cooperative and maybe in the big C. So, where as some might want to use the other C-word—which isn't what the British use all the time—but Communism. We might be more interested in Cooperativism and what that kind of looks like. And what relationship it might have to the other C-word and things like that. So that's what I see. That's why I think it's going to be an interesting conversation and so, Larry, Cinar, you jump in here and say what you guys think about this idea. What the goal is? What we're trying to do.

CA: Yeah, I think you hit…you covered a lot of the basis of the season and, I think, what we want to achieve. It's going to be kind of a speculative season–Right? I mean we're going to speculate in different areas, how a cooperative society would look and I think that's really interesting, you know, I mean if you look at it, we could, you know…. I like to split it up between you know, there’s the base, basically which is like the workplace and a democratically controlled workplace. And how do workers interact with one another? What does that look like? Pay, different things like that and then there’s, you know, this other aspect of it, on a societal level like the superstructure. About, you know, art, culture, ideology and all these kinds of things—that’s reinforced and recreated by that substructure where workers are working democratically with one another and controlling the means of production. So it's interesting, this idea to explore all of these different areas and how those relations would change. And how they'd be different and what would that look like ultimately? And going back to what you were saying Kevin, I think, on the left, we tend to be very critical. And we do provide a lot of criticisms but, through worker cooperatives, we actually are pointing towards another way of organizing the economic base of our society. And that's going to have definite implications—not only at the workplace level—which we've covered. We've covered that on a number of the Rochdale Principles and other interviews with various cooperatives that have been on this show. But it's going to have definite implications with regards to this superstructure which I'm interested in getting into and exploring a little bit further. So that's my take on this season. I'll hand it off to Larry.

LF: I have a similar take. But, you know I always have to be a little bit contrary. But not philosophically, I'd say. But I think that at the enterprise level you have a lot of people that are doing co-ops now. They may be small. We've talked about scaling up but still at the base level. And a lot of people I think that are interested in co-ops and see the value—the democratic value of them—still kind of envision the lives that they're going to live. They’ll work in co-ops and then they’ll still consume the mass-produced stuff that capitalism gives them. And still hope for a retirement on the terms that capitalism or some combination of some maybe organization that cobbles together some health plans and insurance plans and things like that—still under the basic terms of financial liability and financial fiduciary to the people that have contributed to them—which are going to limit the ability to create a widespread access and right to decent healthcare and the other topics that we're going to talk about.

So, I think that laying bare all the different areas in the superstructure that are still going to be (or are currently) controlled by the ideology of some capitalist ideology—if we don't look at that—we're not going to lay even the ideology bare. But, by laying it bare or opening the door, at least pulling aside the curtain of the little man behind the curtain—don’t look at him—but if we pull it back at least. (I don't want to make our effort too grand or predict its success too far). But, if we can do that, then we hope that it'll show the people that are trying to build the economics from the ground up. We'll see, hey, these other things have to change too.

Maybe we can't do it all, but we need to start involving organizations that are going to start working in that direction. Or joining with organizations that are doing that but not doing the economics. So, I think that opening up each of these areas to criticism and then—it'll be speculation—but, it'll be a start, you know, we're not trying to be Moses on the mountain, you know, laying down the law of culture or anything like that. I just want to get a conversation started but we need to start somewhere and we're going to try to divide it up into these certain areas and I hope, I think we're going to have a good time.

KG: Yeah. I think this relationship of base and superstructure is a lot of what animates this for me too. And I think I like the idea that for those people who are really focused on the the political economy of things there is maybe a tendency to not think about or not really do a lot of focus on the superstructure, the culture, the art, the norms, the school, all that kind of stuff.

And, then at the same time, maybe the kind of antithesis (dare I say) is that you have a bunch of people who are less interested in the political economy of things and very much interested in social, cultural, art critiques. And the kind of growth of critical theory as something that is actually not always critical of the economic and political base but is actually sort of critical of the expressions of that base in the superstructure. And I think it’s really important to have this perspective that those two things are interconnected. To care about one, means that you need to care about the other. And to make propositions at the political economy level about what you want to create as your economic base means that you need to think about what that's going to result in or what that could result in at the superstructure level. And even if you're interested in this—only at the superstructure level—you need to understand how that needs to rest on a foundation at the political economy level. And so the inexorable link between these things makes it incredibly important when you move away from mere criticism and into speculating and propositioning that you know what you're talking about. And that you've done some of the work to think through what this will mean. Because otherwise you’re just sort of playing with fire, you know, you're like I just want to burn it all down. And like—we’ll build something up. And it's been my continuous frustration with the left in general in the sense that—What is it that you want to build? I want to tear it down too but what is it we're building?

Because we've had experiments in the past (and in the not so distant past) that have not always been in the right conditions. That have not always produced a kind of society or culture that I think most of us would want to live in. And I don't want to repeat that stuff. And I think if you fly by the seat of your pants—that is a potential consequence. So, you know, if you're engaging in a political program that says something like “All Power to the Soviets”— what do you mean? What are you envisioning? How is this going to relate to bringing about changes in the wider society that we live in?

And in that sense, coming back to even the kind of human evolution, anthropological perspective, I think it's relatively well established that different social, political, economic and cultural situations in many ways literally produce different human beings, not genetically necessarily, but potentially epigenetically. And also just in terms of the capacity to be able to think about a diverse set of things. And a different way of doing things and all that kind of stuff. And, so, if you're really in the business of criticizing the current system for its failures and saying that you want to do something else—what is it going to mean for actual human beings? And if you're not interested in that conversation, then who's going to take you seriously? And I would like to be taken seriously and so we need to talk about this.

And so that's why, to me, (and plus it's fun to speculate) like, it's fun, to think like, you know….I not so recently read Looking Forward, right, Looking Backward, sorry, and not only is it incredibly well written but it is also fun to put yourself in that world. You know, somebody who reads The Dispossessed or many of these other speculative fiction or science fiction kind of authors who do this kind of thing. And even, you know I mean–I'm a Star Trek nerd–it's always fun to, you know (we used it on the podcast because I'm such a nerd) but like it's a way of thinking about how differently you can structure things. And how that will relate to the actual process of existing in those different cultures and it's useful, it's important and it's just fun. So that's why I’m looking forward to this—it's going to be fun.

LF: Oh, can I jump in again?

KG: Yeah, always, especially if it's contrarian! You don't have to ask for permission. Yeah, just jump in.

LF: Okay, well one is, I think it relates back to that issue of scale that we were talking about. we were talking about scaling economically but by connecting changing the ideology. Coming up with something that's really different—that's based on the real potential realization of a wider economic co-op culture. I mean, economics—that it's going to help scale the economic aspect of it too. It's going to have broader appeal. When people see that a lot of their life is going to change—not just their work life—so, I mean, that's a super important thing because we spend a third of our life working but a lot of the people on the left, probably the right too, think that they're going to change culture. They're going to create, carve out their own little culture maybe it'll be even bigger. But it's just going to be new culture. But, it's not going to have a new economic base and then it becomes reformist. Just like if you carve out a new economy, sort of, but don't connect it with broad culture and really change the relationship with production, like Rosa Luxemburg was saying, that they can become reformists too.

But so it's all where you're going, what’s your goal, and the goal is not just…I mean, the goal is revolution but that's not just…you can't get there without bringing it…not just…not allowing yourself to be confined—either as an economic carve-out or a cultural carve-out. And bring everything up to this big, really big scale and making all those connections. I think I’ve been a little repetitive but it is a scaling issue too. I think in a non-reformist way, potential way, of thinking about it and that's what I at least hope that we can try to bring out all these topics in ways that are going to stray as far as possible from potential reformism.

CA: I think, along those lines, each of the sessions that we'll have on this discussion is basically: Will they bear [on]…how things play out right now under the system we have right now. And, how they would look differently, basically, under a cooperative and democratically controlled economy. And I think that'll be, you know…provide the stark contrast between what we have now and what we could eventually have in more of a cooperative economy. And that's kind of the basis from which we're going to be speculating on a lot of these episodes. But go into it specifically, you know, things around for example—leisure time, what would that look like?…,basically, in a cooperative society? or basicially, friendship or particularly environmental stewardship you know, what would that actually look like?

And going back to what Larry was saying…you know, if you don't have a base, a fundamental economic base that’s changed, what you have in a lot of these areas (and in the culture or these relationships) they tend to be much more reformists in nature. They're not really substantive change but that goes back to a lot of the questions we had before about scale around cooperatives. You could have scale as well however, if you don’t really change (or have that scale somehow reflect itself in politics, in culture, in art) then you could have a situation where you really don't have a change—societally—at the end of the day. You could regress back into something else or you could go into some other different area. So, I think achieving that scale and reinforcing that scale...what’s required are a lot of these changes with culture and ideology that help back—reinforcing that base at the end of the day. Because by itself, it could regress into another form of economic management or something that we have right now…at the end of the day.

I think we've covered that, in a lot of our episodes we've really covered the base and we've talked about and to a number of cooperatives. And I hope we can during this season as well. I'd really like to get a bunch of cooperatives on and interview them and see in their minds what they would envision a cooperative society to look like.

But definitely, I think, thinking of that superstructure, the ideology, the culture, the art, that can then again reinforce basically that base. It is going to be a key aspect of this speculative series that we're going to have.

KG: So yeah, looking down some of the topics we’ve even thought of and some of the ones that I think, you know, you got covered. It’s interesting topics. It’s leisure, it's sports, it’s sex, the perennial topic. It’s a number of different, you know, aspects of our lives that is also much of the way in which we understand ourselves.

You know, there can be a kind of academic economic reductionism that boils human beings down to just mere laborers and I think that it's quite obviously that we're not that. We’re diverse and we interact in all kinds of very interesting and sometimes odd, sometimes well-formulated and sometimes, you know, highly rule-based and sometimes very loose and kind of fast. And these are how, in many ways, we also see ourselves. That work is very important like you were saying, Larry.

But, all of these other things are what it means to be a person in a society and those things will change and have changed and so these are fun topics. These are very different and a bit of a departure from some of the things that we've talked about. There's a similar…it is still All Things Co-op, so there’s this cooperative core. But, we’re venturing into new and interesting territory which will be fun. And I think, interesting and hopefully, in some ways a way for people (who are interested in more social and cultural kinds of topics) to begin to think about how important having the core of cooperative engagement can be to really making the changes that they want to see.

And that, for me, the connection that has necessarily [been] to the project of revolutionary change in our economic base will become part of the understanding. It's like, if I want to see a new form of art that is more human (or I don't know…something). If I’m an art critic that has a perspective, am I able to achieve that in the current paradigm at the political base or not? But, if I want to see something different and I see a discussion about something different and I realize suddenly that it connects to an economic and political project? Maybe I’m getting involved in that level—more than I would be just sitting in an ivory tower or an art studio. And I think that's a fun prospect. That, I think, we can really do with this.

CA: So come speculate with us, yeah. And no bitcoin involved, no dues, yeah, it's free.

KG: Yep, you can always go on Patreon and support All Things Co-op. We are cooperatively minded people and we want to be engaged with the audience too.

So, if there's a topic that you'd like to hear that you want [to hear us], talk about…
Send us an email at: [email protected]. Write in comments on any of our YouTube videos—we check those out. Send a Facebook message or visit us at democracyatwork.info Any way you get hold of us, we're happy to hear [from] you.

Patreon, yeah, be a member, become a member. Become a member—it's not speculative! Yeah, it's concrete, that's real, that’s true. It's real dollars right now. Information we can talk about: whether or not they'll be motivated in the cooperative future. Right? That's an interesting thing but anyway, that’s right—so check it out.

It’s going to be awesome, Season Six: All Things Co-op. First episode will drop two weeks from when this one does. I think it looks like we're going to start with the idea of leisure: What does it mean? How does it exist now? and then we'll move on to all the fun ones. And other ones…

CA: And, this episode or this season will be called, TIAA, oh yeah, that's right…(TIAA) There is an Alternative…There is an Alternative.

KG: There is an alternative. You know, Margaret Thatcher was wrong about almost everything. But, there is an alternative and we are going to push against this notion of Capitalist Realism—that capitalism is all there is..[or] there could be…[or] there is no alternative.

There is an alternative—we’ve got an idea. And so, stick around to hear what it’ll be…TIAA, I totally missed that…awesome, TIAA.—There is an Alternative, okay? Yeah, looking forward to it, all right?

Talking with you guys and hearing from our listeners…yeah, check it out and you know, hit us up moving forward and check out Patreon and it doesn't hurt. See you in a couple weeks.


Transcript by one of Barbara Bartlett
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