Cooperative organizations reconcile management of shared capital and resources to benefit all involved. These organizations are owned and operated by the people performing the work or receiving service. Perhaps the key distinction between cooperatives and any other organizational form is the necessary anti-centralization, internal accountability, and self-determination.
“Are cooperatives communist, socialist, or capitalist?” The simple answer is no. Not everything involving capital is capitalist and not everything involving social organization or community is socialist or communist. Despite cooperatives involving socially managed communal capital, tools, and resources, these organizational types are no more communist or socialist than they are capitalist. Cooperatives transcend the usual definitions of capitalism, communism, and socialism, the rest of this article will explain why.
The biggest problem with “communism”, “socialism,” and “capitalism” is a shared lack of consistent definition. Each term has multiple meanings as oppositional as their bearers and this confusion empowers moneyed interests by the resultant conflict. This impasse in terms is complicated by the fact supporters and detractors of each are all correct within their own promoted definitions, making the generated confusion more powerful and profitable. The active promotion of the confusion in any of these terms is best subjected to skepticism and a large part of this article is devoted to their exegeses. Cooperatives are, as the name suggests, opposed to conflict specifically and powerful centralized interests generally.
Anti-communists define communism as tyranny by a select few, the best at manipulating a single-party system. True believers in Communism believe in an as-yet unachieved idealized moneyless, propertyless, and stateless society requiring some series of violent socialist or anarchist strategies to implement. What most opponents define as communist systems are actually socialist, theoretically supposed to bring about a Communist order. Leadership of socialist systems conveniently and consistently forget this or pretend the goal was ever “socialist democracy.” True cooperatives cannot work within centralized socialist systems, as they are never granted required self-determination to qualify.
People who are against capitalism define it as the unbridled exploitation of labor by an entitled few, in which so few hold most capital that the rest of the population is necessarily beholden to them by labor. A better term in “Proletarianism” has been suggested for a society where monopolies own most of the capital. Contrarily, Capitalism (big C) is defined by its philosophical supporters, not its “professionals,” as the rights of everyone to property and independence of economic action. This is the environment to which cooperatives are most amenable and in which they most thrive.
Capitalism & Centralized Authority vs Capital & Cooperative Autonomy
The term “capitalism” is particularly troubling since nothing in it delineates who has the “capital” where or to what end, rendering it a useless term politically, without motive or goal. It is a dangerous term implicating itself in that anyone controlling capital is necessarily a “capitalist” (little c), begging the answer in some solution even where a problem might not exist. Essentially, it implies a villain. Further complicating the matter is the fact that philosophical “Capitalists” typically have little capital themselves and fight against any reforms of the orchestrated incorporation laws as “free market” stand-ins or “better than the alternative.” Meanwhile “capitalists,” within Proletarian capitalism, will inevitably work to limit the access of others to property or capital. The phrase “I don’t have to win, I just have to make sure you lose” was created by one of these sorts.
Capitalism is often portrayed by supporters in terms of rights, most especially right of property, and as an economic system that maximizes freedom through market forces. What is meant most often by moneyed “intellectuals” with the term capitalism is a preordained unwinnable political game of blame, a concept originally adopted from Marxist theory, making it an “exonym.” Basically, the term is a giant (pointing) finger mistaken for directions. All political systems necessarily utilize a store of some resources to be held for when and toward what they are needed, that is to say socialism and communism also use capital. Naming “capitalism” after something so essential as capital oddly justifies many of the inherent abuses as inescapable byproducts. The fact that capital is basic to most political ideologies also renders the term “capitalist” useless economically on top of its political uselessness.
Centralization, on the other hand, is a very easy concept to comprehend and serves to political situations exceedingly well. When an organization has only one person, it is perfectly incorruptible, there is no opportunity for anyone to take advantage of someone since there is only one actor in the same one subject. Each individual added to the organization introduces more opportunities for someone to take advantage of anyone, centralization of power into fewer hands ever more. The concept of centralization of power being corrupting also has the advantage of being true in that organizations generally are less corrupt when small and more corrupt when larger because enticement to benefit off the harm of others will increase with distance from those others, often physical distance though also just as often legal, structural, and psychological. With greater distribution of power in an economy comes fewer opportunities for exploitation.
A cooperative is a tool of organization for the purpose of increasing individual control and improving lives. Historically, cooperatives have been crippled in heavily centralized “socialist” nations due to the lack of control granted their members. Cooperatives pose a threat to centralization, whether in capitalist or in socialist nations, when allowed the required degree of member control. Like any form of organization, cooperatives utilize capital. The difference in cooperatives is the due consideration for those whose lives are most impacted, autonomy and some control. Cooperatives involve truth, ethics, justice, capital, community, cohesion, liberty, progress, conservation, equity, independence, and societal advancement opposite deceit, immorality, corruption, theft, avarice, disintegration, debt, slavery, corruption, inequity, dependence, and societal degradation.