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Struggle so that all may live this rich, overflowing life. And be sure that in this struggle you will find a joy greater than anything else can give.
– Peter Kropotkin
Solidarity Economy | Cooperative Economics
“Solidarity economy includes a wide array of economic practices and initiatives that share common values—cooperation and sharing, social responsibility, sustainability, equity and justice. Instead of enforcing a culture of cutthroat competition, it builds cultures and communities of cooperation.” – Kali Akuno, Casting Shadows
The goal of syndicalism is traditionally worker control over production, and its classic model is for the workers to simply take over their workplaces in a revolutionary situation. But short of that, what can radical workers do in the meantime? And are there potentially piecemeal, legal ways that workers can wrest control over their jobs?
Solidarity Economy initiatives are dedicated to seeding worker-owned cooperatives, economic democracy projects, time banking, community land trusts, publicly owned and democratically self-managed socialist enterprises, and a variety of cooperative economic endeavors federated throughout the country & internationally. Dual power organizing includes creating and networking alternative libertarian socialist enterprises that are rooted in principles of economic justice, worker control, and internal direct democracy. Worker-owned cooperatives, committed to increasing democracy within the economy begin in the workplace. Worker ownership and control is a principal objective of dual power.
Cooperatives by themselves however, are not enough. It is necessary to bring a socialist vision to any economic enterprise, and that these enterprises are intrinsically tied directly to our communities in need, ensuring a larger vision of ecological and communal health. Cooperativist movements have sprung up in many of the most neglected communities in the United States often led by working-class people of color seeking to revitalize neighborhoods and cities left completely desolate by deindustrialization, white flight, and systemic disinvestment. In this context, cooperatives are a way not only of putting power in the hands of workers, but of creating a new ecosystem of interdependent enterprises and financial institutions, all of them under democratic control.
“Everywhere, the capitalist structure of society imposes on people an organization of their lives that is external to them. It organizes things in the absence of those most directly concerned and often against their aspirations and interests. This is but another way of saying that capitalism divides society into a narrow stratum of order-givers (whose function is to decide and organize everything) and the vast majority of the population who are reduced to carrying out (executing) the decisions of those in power. As a result of this very fact, most people experience their own lives as something alien to them.” – Cornelius Castoriadis
These cooperative endeavors can get a dead economy moving again, create employment which transcends the wages system through worker-ownership, build sustainable food and energy sovereignty, and lay the groundwork for a just transition into ecological sustainability. The Working World and the Bronx Cooperative Development Initiative are two examples of organizations that support this work on a mass scale. In Cooperation Jackson, a radical movement openly attempting to build dual power in Mississippi, such economic development through creating a solidarity economy is explicitly tied to a revolutionary political program directed by ongoing people’s assemblies.
We also need to establish standards for how cooperatives are run internally. In order for our vision to remain committed to building these as socialist institutions, we must not emulate the traditional capitalist firm, which is highly competitive and extracts wealth to the top while reproducing the social, political, and economic hierarchy of owner and bosses over laborers. We must remain committed to the immediate benefit of our communities within a larger ecosystem of a cooperative commonwealth. The basis of our larger socialist vision must be firmly situated in community- and worker-management of our own social, economic, and political institutions of direct democracy, solidarity, and mutual aid. Therefore, in order to ensure the socialist nature of a solidarity economy network, these cooperative enterprises must be tied to direct-democratic community councils and assemblies and play a redistributive or social role in any given community, laying the foundations for the revolutionary transition toward a bottom-up, libertarian socialist world.
Mutual Aid Not Charity
“Practicing mutual aid is the surest means for giving each other and to all the greatest safety, the best guarantee of existence and progress, bodily, intellectual and moral.” – Peter Kroptkin
Providing for the immediate needs of people in our communities can also act as a support system for our on-the-ground organizing. Mutual aid is an essential aspect to our biological species and promotes the positive flourishing of our collective humanity. Our best instincts are those which serve others, helping each other wherever and however we can, organizing consciously for what is best for our species and our common ecology. Mutual aid institutions, practices and networks raise material goods and services for the entire working class while contributing to other organizing endeavors. Providing material aid for striking workers, clothes and food for those facing houselessness, bail bond funds for marginalized communities who are targeted by the police and the criminal justice system, material aid for teachers and students who are facing austerity measures, and disaster relief for those affected by climate change and natural disasters, are all ways in which we can organize for a better world, today.
Mutual Aid Is Not Charity
Mutual aid is often painted with the same brush as the capitalist idea of charity. This ignores the fact that mutual aid is the work we do to support each other in struggle wherein people take on the responsibility of caring for each other’s needs. As we build skills and share them with each other, we are able to create a more immediately survivable environment, challenging alienation and capitalistic relations through reciprocity and solidarity. This can also be an aid to our struggles. For example, the wildcat teachers’ strikes gained extensive popularity through providing a replacement for free lunches to low-income students unable to attend classes due to the strike.
But it’s not just that mutual aid can ease material conditions or help striking workers so that they have more power against the bosses – it is an assault on the existing power structure. Consider this: if mutual aid can meet the food needs of everyone in a city without them having to pay for the food, what’s the point of paying for food in the first place? Start asking questions like this, and you can quickly start to unravel the capitalist economy itself in that local area. Capitalism is based upon a network of institutions that draw their power from dispossession, control, enclosure and exclusion. Free access is capitalism’s poison. By building up the capacity to universally provide resources on a non-market basis, we plant the seeds for capitalism’s ultimate destruction.
In all this, we must remember that mutual aid runs not from the socialist movement to the grateful workers but is something workers do for each other on an organizationally egalitarian basis. We must work to ensure our mutual aid raises each other up as opposed to charity which hands down from “on high.”
Resources on Solidarity Economy & Mutual Aid
Mutual Aid: A Factor In Evolution by Peter Kropotkin
The Revolutionary Potential of Solidarity Economy by Yavor Tarinski
Cooperation Jackson – Solidarity Economy Projects
US Solidarity Economy Network – Solidarity Economy Network
Mutual Aid Disaster Relief – Mutual Aid Project
People’s Movement Assembly – Community Assemblies
I.W.W. Incarcerated Worker’s Organizing Committee – Prisoner Support
UW Madison Center for Cooperative Development – Cooperative Economics
Chicago Bail Bonds – Prisoner Support