Friday, April 15, 2016

Metamorphosis of Capitalism and Socialism: Part 1

Juan Gris, Coffee Grinder, Glass, and Newspaper, 1915

THE largest worker-owned cooperative in the U.S. today is Cooperative Home Care Associates, based in the Bronx, with 2,050 staff.  The company started in 1985 with a few workers and the assistance of the non-profit Industrial Cooperative Association (ICA Group).  ICA, in setting up the home care company, followed the enterprise model of the Mondragon cooperatives based in the Basque region of Spain.

Mondragon, itself started up in 1956 by Catholic priest José María Arizmendiarrieta Madariaga a.k.a. "Arizmendi" (1915-1976), and a few workers, is now perhaps the largest cooperative business group in the world, currently with over 74,000 workers focused in "finance, industry, knowledge, and retail."  Mondragon and Cooperative Home Care Associates are both independent of government.  They are examples of cooperative capitalism, not state socialism.

José María Arizmendiarrieta Madariaga, a.k.a "Arizmendi"

These cooperatives are the topic here today because they are among the most advanced and rapidly expanding examples of economic progress in the direction Steiner pointed toward.  Yet the Catholic priest who founded and organized Mondragon a half century ago, and those who later created the Industrial Cooperative Association, perhaps knew nothing about Rudolf Steiner or his similar, and at least equally original, ideas about how to fruitfully organize cooperative economic life.  This may be analogous to Lavoisier and Priestly independently discovering oxygen, or to other discoveries made by scientists working independently of one another.

Mondragon has proven extremely successful in grounding profitable and growing cooperative economic institutions whose form is based on ideas similar in important ways to those of Steiner on economic enterprise.  One thinks of parts of the third chapter of Steiner's main book on social questions, Toward Social Renewal.

Joaquín Sorolla, Sailing Vessels on a Breezy Day, 1905-1910

There are important differences.  Steiner looks at economic life more explicitly in relation to the other two social realms of political and cultural life.  Also, for example, Steiner's idea of associative enterprises included proposals that consumers, middlemen, and producers negotiate how much of an item should be produced, depending on whether prices for that item were too high for consumers or too low for producers.  Mondragon does not systematically do that, though perhaps something of the sort sometimes happens among the numerous autonomous cooperatives within the Mondragon business group.

The next post will go into more detail on the way Steiner suggested cooperative enterprises could be organized, and what his suggestions have in common with Mondragon corporate structure.  Both Steiner and Mondragon stand for a remarkable transformation of the old dichotomy between capitalism and socialism.   

Part 2 of this series is here.

Take Action

One can help make economic life more cooperative by donating to these non-profit organizations, educating oneself at their websites, or participating in their volunteer projects:

Associative Economics
ICA Group
Rudolf Steiner Social Finance

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