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From capitalism to a Co-operative Commonweal — in 7 steps

By John Courtneidge

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives has a useful name: it is a call to define alternatives — for justice, equality, peace, sustainability, and social inclusion.

So, further on in this article, I list the policy alternatives that I can presently discern — based on the five mechanisms (TRIP-UP) analysis that I discussed in the previous parts of this series.

In the spirit of inclusion, for the sake of those who wish to manage capitalism instead of replacing it, I include policy alternatives that are reformist, while, for those who still think capitalism is basically okay (if unlikely to read any further), there are some reactionary alternatives, too.

But note: neither reformism nor reactionary-ism will halt, yet alone remediate, the looming anti-social, anti-ecological, capital-driven catastrophes.

A democratic, co-operative socialist legislative plan — to help create a sustainable Canadian Co-operative Commonweal

In the last article, I offered suggested wording for two federal parliamentary resolutions that seem to be key if we are to make progress to a socially-inclusive, ecologically-sound alternative to either capitalism or authoritarian leftism.

For the new Canadian Co-operative Commonweal (as part of a Global Co-operative Commonweal) to be sustainable and inclusive, we must, first, ensure that those who feel threatened by change have the security of income that a liveable Canadian Citizen's Income will bring (and note that this requires that we, collectively, as part of that process, have a discussion on what "citizenship" means — and, particularly, that we ensure that no one normally resident in Canada is denied the security of the income sufficiency that a Citizen's Income will bring.

Secondly, for us to be able to build-in long-lived wealth that is materially, energetically, and spiritually sustainable, then we must do it with money that does not demand its own return — and hence that second proposed federal resolution calling for interest-free money and not-for-profit banking. (For those attentive to the chemistry and thermodynamics of this: if any capital asset demands a time-related return — be it rent, interest, profit, or higher-than-average paid-work income, then the environment is under a non-human pressure to respond: and such response requires pollution — high-entropy waste — to be produced as the return is made.)

So, along with these two initial necessary steps, we need legislation that will bring about the rest of the transformation that is (ecologically, socially, and spiritually) required. Hence the complete legislative plan that I outline further on in this article.

Isn't this just another form of authoritarianism?

Now, if anyone thinks that I'm slipping back into authoritarian leftism by putting this material forward, I've given that question considerable thought during the 15 or so years that I've been promoting these ideas. The best I can do in that regard follows.

First, the Co-operative Socialist concept is not centrally-planned, nor is it prescriptive of the activities that are proposed. Co-operative purists might — and only perhaps might — point out that the idea of a marketplace of worker co-ops "competing for market share" is inconsistent with co-operation as an "overarching" philosophical scheme. But, as long as the — demonstratedly beneficial — objective of income equality (or near so) is maintained, then such "co­operative competition" might be the wiggle-room that the competitive side of our nature requires (if indeed, we do have an inherently competitive side. (See my essay on Human Needs in the Papers' section at for an initial exploration of that subject.)

Secondly, each generation will have the scope to develop these things as they will — for this Co-operative Socialist alternative builds in both mechanisms and resources for each generation to advance — or regress! — as it discerns, democratically I hope, for itself.

On parties and politics, leaders and spin

My anarchist friends tell me that, "No matter who you vote for, the government always gets in."

The democratic, co-operative socialist view is different. We know that the lives and conditions of people and planet are dramatically influenced by whatever government is elected — whether that be the immorality of the Reagan/ Thatcher barbarisms or the Attlee/Douglas advances of Medicare/ NHS /National Insurance/ decent old-age pensions, or whatever.

At the heart of the socialist and co-operative project(s) lies the notion that "none of us is as clever as all of us together."

And that leads to the question of parties, politics, and leaders.

Until now, our progressive projects have largely been based on organizational forms that, arguably, ape the forms and structures of oppression — i.e., of leaders, loyalty, and hierarchy (that could be a study-group discussion!).

Elsewhere, I've sketched a non-hierarchical form called a "Sunflower Co-operative" model, and a related essay, "How Rigid is Your Paradigm?" The Sunflower Co-operative model aims at being faithful to the values of equality — in particular, equalities of voice and power, both of which might help sustain the ordinate equality of income equality, while the Paradigm essay encourages us, in a Quaker phrase, "to be open to new light, from wherever it comes."

But all that strongly depends on outcomes — not labels, spin, aspiration, or orientation alone.

Spin has a long history. Remember that Henry VIII's first legalization of usury in the English-speaking world (usury being the practice of charging interest — at any level— on lent money/created credit) was his 1545 "Acte Agaynst Usurie" — not "Legalizing Usury for the First Time!"

Put briefly: If the outcome isn't in the process, then the process can't deliver the outcome — and/or "So say, so do." (More topics for your study group, perhaps.)

Lest any readers consider that this transformation is impossible, my practical experience of elected office is that change must be beneficial both for those who think that they are beneficiaries of "what is," and those who know they are suffering under the prevailing system and want a new one.

It is therefore a matter of public education that we need to point out that income equality is good for everybody — a good, in fact, that is the essential starting point for all other goods. (This relates to the social determinants of health — findings that I've referred to in earlier articles, and which I hope to explore more in the final part of this series.) As a foretaste for that: the introduction of public health services in the 19th-century, and of extended health, social security, and education programs in the 20th, need their counterparts in the 21st century. My hope is that the following proposals help in their formulation.

 Capitalism — its mechanisms, and reformist, transformative and reactionary policy responses
Capitalism uses these
Capitalist (reactionary)
Theft of and from the commonweal/creation ('ownership' of the means of human existence) Profit-sharing schemes             MindfulnessWorks councils/consultations Time-limited, co-operativeWorker ownership/control            stewardshipConcept of 'commonweal' Humility        'groundedness')
No-cost education
'Security throughownership'Propaganda in schools, media, advertising.Co-option'Freedom to own'
Rent Rent controls Abolition of rent Legislative repeal 'Allocation of scarce resources''Universities' converted to 'Monoversities', as propaganda vehicles
Interest Usury laws (i.e., setting maximum interest rates) Bank controlsMicro-creditInterest-based credit unions Outlawing of all usury/riba Interest-free money creation and use i.e.: Public-service, not-for-profit banking Risk-reward theories Deferred gratification theories'Job creation''Freedom' to exploit
Profits/ For-profit- Company 'Progressive' taxationdividends                                                                  Welfare-state legislationMixed economy Philanthropy, charity Social contract ICA Statement-compliant co-operativesVoluntary acceptance of responsibility'Care-not-use' cherishment 'Wealth creation' Entrepreneurship 'Training costs' Regression as progress, conservative and liberal capitalist theoriesPolice/military/justice theories Repression of dissent by violence
Unequal Pay for work (Including no pay for work Income tax Welfare 'rights' Equal pay co-opsCitizen's Income Free-at-the-point-of-use servicesNo-boss, no-hierarchy co-ops Abolition of money Competitive sports 'Champions', 'Gifted' individuals'Education', 'Experts Reward for activityPrint and broadcast mediaas propaganda Constant surveillance

The Fair World, Co-operative Commonweal Alternative

A non-violent legislative plan to replace the pollution-growth-driven and inequality-driven catastrophe
called capitalism: To sustainably create a fair, safe, peaceful world

1) Co-operation, not Coercion Convert competitive, market-based businesses into workplace worker co­operatives, and re-model monopoly activities as stakeholder community co­operatives: each one having responsible, time-limited stewardship of land and knowledge resources, and with each co­op demonstrably working according to the Seven Co-operative Principles of The International Co-operative Alliance.

See points 2) and 5), below, for the funding mechanism for this initiative.

Legislative Comment 1

This needs the repeal of the legislation that allows for-profit corporations and businesses (rather than small-scale worker co-ops) to exist:

  1. for them to re-register as appropriate co-ops;
  2. the need for those co-ops to register their land and knowledge holdings/ stewardships; and
  3. for those co-ops to file annual Co­operative Audits.

2) Pre-distribution, not Redistribution Distribute the created wealth from these workplace co-ops through nationally collected, co-operative corporate taxation, into local, democratically-controlled, Co-operative Community Banks, and so make money and credit available for responsible wealth creation and community development.

Legislative Comment 2

Essentially, this follows directly from 1) (i.e., banks are just one form of corporate entity). It will take social decision-making as to how those banks operate: as monopoly co-ops (which would have to be community, multi-stakeholder co-ops) or as solidarity worker co-ops, receiving their operating costs from the community — but certainly not by charging interest (or any of its equivalents).

One particular bank — the central national bank — will need to receive the revenue from corporate co-operative taxation, for further distribution in the form of a Citizen's Guaranteed Income (see below at point 4).

3) Global stewardship for needs, not private resources for profits Maximize public service provision (health care, life-long education, libraries, transport, and so on) on a co-operative, free-at-the-point-of-use basis, thus only retaining money as a mechanism for access to discretionary purchases.

Legislative Comment 3

These monopoly community co-ops (e.g., the public library, transit, etc.) will need their budgets and action plans determined and their activities funded as by 2) pre-distribution.

  • Fair, guaranteed incomes for all Introduce guaranteed fair income for all, within upper and lower limits, and with elements of automatic Guaranteed Annual Income — a Canadian Citizen's Income — and so do away with the need for direct and indirect personal taxation.

Legislative Comment 4

Some form of social determination of what the upper/lower ratio should be is needed for this program. Questions like "What proportion of that ratio is the Guaranteed Citizen's Income?" Do children get a CI?" etc., etc.

The second draft resolution given in Part 3 of this series tries to deal with that procedure. (See the CCPA Monitor December 2009/January 2010 issue.)

Additionally, such a narrow income distribution — pre-distribution rather than redistribution — allows for repeal of all personal taxation legislation —indirect and direct personal/household taxations, such as sales tax, income tax, and so on, since personal and household incomes will already be within a socially-agreed range — so that (co-operative) corporate taxation — as consistent with the Seventh ICA Principle, Concern for Community, will provide circulating funds for appropriate wealth-creation (see point 5 below).

  • Banking as public service

Abolish money-lending and credit-creation for profit: operate banking as a community co-operative public service (see points 2 and 4, above).

Legislative Comment 5

This is so central to human and global well-being that it merits two specific highlighted actions:

  1. repeal of the legislated social permission to charge interest on lent money, and
  2. repeal of the legislated social permission to create electronic money (even if interest-free) as debt (i.e., the repeal of "Fractional Reserve Banking," which creates the annual increase in the money supply as interest-bearing debt).

This is the essence of the first of thetwo draft resolutions outlined in the previous issue of The Monitor.

  • End global exploitation through financial speculation

Re-introduce international exchange controls, a Tobin Tax, etc., as necessary.

Legislative Comment 6

This seems only to require the re-introduction of exchange control legislation, something Chile and Malaysia have already done, and controls of this kind also existed in the U.K., for example, up until the first of the Margaret Thatcher budgets — that of October 1978. [Whether the Tobin Tax would really be needed in the Fair World of a Co- operative Commonweal is questionable, but it might remain necessary — especially for the following final Step 7.]

  • All our sisters are our brothers: and all our brothers are our sisters Make capital grants (not loans) to developing countries.

Legislative Comment 7

Again, this is straightforward, explicit legislation —Keynes's idea of some sort of balancing international currency (his idea was the "Bancor") to even out international income/wealth inequalities is worth researching, along with the Tobin Tax proposal (see above at point 6).

John Courtneidge is a scientist, writer and teacher, with a PhD in chemistry and experience as a researcher, co-educator, small-scale farmer, and community organizer. The fifth and final article in his series on the campaign for co-operative socialism will be published in our March 2010 issue.