Worker cooperatives -- necessary, but are they sufficient for a systemic overthrow of capitalism?

Of course, I have no problem arguing that there are many openings -- in the Gramscian sense -- where Capitalism is weak, vulnerable and can/should be exploited. Under a capitalist system, workplace democracies are far from widespread and prevalent, and thus instituting them is a direct attack / challenge to capitalism's hierarchical, top-down approach to running enterprises. Ultimately, I see these steps of changing the nature of capitalist management / ownership as a form of 'reformism' similar to and along the same lines of other attempts at making capitalism friendlier, more compassionate, etc. (e.g. 'conscious capital' movements, eco-friendly firms, B-corps and other triple-bottom line accounting initiatives). As the following article points out, cooperatives are a nice maneuver for those who get to take part, but can/will they really lead to transcending the capitalist demands for accumulation, growth and out-competing all comers?

Official response from submitted

This question arises from time to time. First, transitions from capitalistically organized enterprises to workers self-directed enterprises (WSDE's) is, buy itself, no guarantee of anything. Changing one aspect of society does not guarantee how the society as a whole will change. To argue otherwise is a kind of essentialism: imagining that one has found the essential aspect of society whose change will somehow necessarily change all else in determinate ways. Our advocacy for worker coops has always been an advocacy based on correcting an omission in classical socialism. That omission followed from classical socialism's essentialist focus on socializing property ownership and planning instead of markets as mechanisms of distributing resources and products. We want to add the democratic transformation of the workplace to projects of property and distributional transformations to achieve the social changes we have long wanted but so far have largely eluded us. Might worker coops be somehow blocked, stopped, constrained so that they become mere reforms of a persisting capitalism? I think not but the possibility cannot be dismissed and needs to be in our minds as we push for workplace democratization. Any project that focuses on one or a few aspects of a society in the quest for broad social transformation faces the same problem (and always as). But that does not mean the problem cannot be solved; it means that we need always to see what other social changes might be needed (and thus be put on our agendas) to be more successful. Indeed, that is how and why the democratic transition of workplace organization got added to the classic socialist agenda items.

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  • Richard Wolff
    responded with submitted 2017-06-01 12:36:09 -0400
  • Brett T Goldstein
    published this page in Ask Prof. Wolff 2017-06-01 12:10:14 -0400