I have to confess that I actually know precious little about the old co-operative movement, though I’m doing a little background reading right now. What I have learnt is that the movement is still alive and well across Britain and in many other countries as well. However, the last time the Cooperative Movement hit the headlines, it was far from being a sun-drenched moment. The Cooperative Bank, it turned out, was mired in bad debts and bad management. Hardly a ringing endorsement for the next generation to aspire to. My only other contact with things ‘cooperative’ is the Cooperative supermarket, which to be honest, seems little different to any other supermarket. Just another piece of the usual suburban high street. But I do know that the Co-operative Movement had radical origins and a philosophy that at least challenged the prevailing dog-eat-dog ethos of modern capitalism. So, with millions of people, both young and old, looking to break with the neo-liberal global agenda, now might just be the time to revisit our cooperative past.

Soon enough, the energies unleashed by the Corbyn leadership race, and the sterling efforts of Momentum, will start to ebb away and the daily routines of life will start to re-impose themselves.  Protesting against austerity and its Blairite advocates can only take us so far. With the best will in the world, the Corbynista revolution will inevitably start to lose some momentum. There are only so many uplifting speeches and rallies the average person can take. Then protest fatigue sets in. So what’s the answer? Perhaps the answer lies in becoming a movement of doers as well as a movement of protesters.

But the question then arises: what exactly should we do? And the equally obvious answer is, ‘the ordinary stuff’. The cutting of the grass, the cutting of the hair, the servicing of the car and the bike, the painting of the house and fixing of the leak. The weekly groceries and the weekly chores. The ordinary, everyday stuff. Doesn’t sound very revolutionary but it could be. And everybody, Corbynista or not, can be involved.

What I’m imagining is the development of a horizontal economy that starts to cut out the capitalist transaction. What I’m proposing is some sort of ongoing trade between individuals that could be freely transacted through word of mouth, through community groups or even dare I suggest, a local Momentum group. But what is radically new about this is the possibility of harnessing information technology to the cooperative movement; a ‘Co-operative’ website seeking to coordinate cooperatives across the length and breadth of the land. I’ll teach your kid piano if you repair my leaking roof. I’ll cut your hair if you cut my lawn. I’ll teach you maths if you teach me Italian. A billion ordinary transactions that singularly amount to very little, but taken on mass, could take on a whole new significance.  

All of this, in embryonic form, is probably out there already. Local farmer’s markets, locally organised food banks, car shares and websites like Gum Tree. Even perhaps the early days of E-bay might be considered a form of cooperative. There have always been local collectives and communes of various forms. The cooperative instinct has never gone away. But if it were codified and amplified as part of the Corbynista political revolution, then it might just take on a defiantly revolutionary direction. Everyone could do it and they could do it every day. No problems with revolutionary fatigue setting in because it’s just everyday stuff. Who would have thought that getting your hair cut or getting your lawn mown could be an act of revolutionary defiance! Instead of the divisive capitalist formulation: ‘the workers versus the shirkers’, our slogan would be: ‘the co-ops versus the exploiters’. An army of barterers taking back control of their local economy, bypassing Amazon, Walmart, Tesco and the high street banks.

And from the minutia of life, the revamped co-operative movement could then move on to the more substantial areas of society; housing, education, health and finance. The co-operative movement has travelled this road before of course, but this time around it will need a far more politically conscious movement with a far more politically conscious leadership. Just imagine the political impact if every progressive thinking person took their little pot of savings out of Lloyds and Barclays and placed it in a government backed Co-operative bank. Billions would be instantly created for infrastructure, education and skills investment. A relatively simple political decision by individuals but collectively a defiantly revolutionary act.             

I admit it all has a rather utopian, anarchic sound about it, but it might just have the potential to sow the seeds of a new communalism which, in itself, would be a total anathema to the prevailing capitalist creed. The dialectic suggests that the ravages of global capitalism will need to be attacked from below and from within as well as regulated from above via international governance. And given the persistently sinister attempts by the corporates to bypass any form of national or regional regulation, as typified by the secretive TTIP corporate agreements, grassroots defiance becomes that much more critical. A global cooperative movement may well sound utopian but I can’t help thinking it has a subliminally subversive feel about it.

End JPK Copyright 25/9/16

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