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be a mistake to consider them as synonymous. Socialism
and trade unionism constitute together the body of the
modern labor movement, and the separation of the two
merely signifies a division of functions. But that division
is essential for the success of the movement as a whole.
The activity of the socialist parties lies primarily in the
political field : they translate the economic struggles of the
working class into political action, formulate its general
demands, coordinate its special needs, and always em-
phasize its ultimate aim, while supporting the immediate
economic battles of the unions.

The functions of the trade unions, on the other hand,
are primarily directed to the sphere of industrial struggle.
They protect the individual worker in the factory against
the excessive exploitation of the employer, and they ad-
vance the general political interests of their members
through the medium of the sociaHst parties. Beyond
these separate provinces there is, moreover, a large field of
action in which the labor movement can achieve success
only by the spontaneous cooperation of both of its

The most striking instance of such joint action is the
political mass strike which has of late been resorted to by


the workingmen of Europe on a few extraordinary occa-
sions to good purpose.

From this sketch of the objects and methods of opera-
tion of the two movements, it will be readily seen that their
relations to each other must be of the closest and most
cordial character. In Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and
Norway, the membership of the socialist parties and the
trade unions is practically identical, and the two organiza-
tions may be considered as separate committees of the
same body created for the performance of different func-
tions. In Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy and Russia,
the two movements are very closely allied in all their
struggles. In England the Independent Labor Party, one
of the leading socialist organizations of the country, forms
a constituent part of the political Labor Party in the same
way as do the trade unions. In France the party and
the trade unions sometimes quarrel, but it is always the
passing quarrel of lovers. In the United States alone the
great body of organized workingmen, the American Feder-
ation of Labor, has so far kept aloof from the socialist

Cooperative Societies of Workingmen

Another movement that has of late years developed
great strength, and is coming to be regarded as a factor of
growing importance in the struggles between capital and
labor, is the movement represented by the cooperative
societies of workingmen.

The origin of cooperative enterprises for joint produc-
tion, purchase, distribution and consumption of commod-
ities, may be traced back to the eighteenth century, but


the modern cooperative societies have as little in common
with their earlier prototypes as the trade unions have with
the old institutions of the masters' or helpers' guilds.

The cooperative movement of our day is a part of the
general labor movement, one of the manifestations, con-
scious or unconscious, of the general effort on the part of
the workingmen to lessen the exploitation of their class
by capitalism. The movement has developed within the
last fifty years, and it has attained general extension only
within the last two decades.

In this, as in many other practical labor reform
movements, England led the procession. The famous
society of the Rochdale Pioneers, the oldest of its kind,
was founded in November, 1843, when twelve poor weav-
ers met in the back room of a miserable inn, and agreed
to pay 20 pence a week into a common fund until they
should accumulate enough to start in business for their
joint benefit. In a year their number had increased to 28
and their capital had grown to ;^28. They rented a store
and stocked it with ;^i5 worth of flour, and from these
modest beginnings the enterprise rapidly grew to one of
the most prosperous and powerful business institutions of
the country. In 1876 the Rochdale Society of Equitable
Pioneers numbered 8892 members, and had an invested
capital of ;;^254,ooo; the year's business amounted to
;^305,ooo, and the society's net profits were ;^5o,5oo.

Membership in the society is acquired by the purchase
of a share of stock of the denomination of £^, but that
amount may be paid in small weekly installments. Each
individual member may hold as many as 20 shares, but
no member has more than one vote in the meetings of the
society. Out of the net profits a dividend of 5 per cent


per annum is paid on the stock, 2^ per cent is set apart for
an education fund, and the balance is distributed among
the members in proportion to the amount of their purchases.

In 1863 the great Cooperative Wholesale Society,
Limited, was founded as a sort of central agency for a
number of cooperative enterprises. In 1872 the year's
sales of that society already reached the enormous sum
of ;^i>i53»i32- The society originally confined itself to
purchasing commodities at wholesale and selling them to its
members (individual associations) at retail, but gradually
it embarked in the field of independent manufacture,
and with its ready market and large capital its efforts in
that direction have been signally successful. To-day the
society operates extensive biscuit, soap, boot and clothing
factories, woolen and corn mills, cocoa works and jam
canneries ; it runs a large printing establishment, conducts
building operations, and has a fleet of its own in connection
with its shipping department. It has branches in several
of the principal cities of England and maintains purchas-
ing agencies in several other countries. It is on the whole
one of the largest establishments of the world. In 1905
its capital exceeded ;^3 ,300,000; its sales amounted to
;;^2o,785,469, and its net profits were ;^368,309.

The Scottish Cooperative Wholesale Society is an
enterprise of almost similar magnitude, and a large num-
ber of other independent cooperative societies exist in
England, Scotland and Ireland. In 1907 the Central
Board of the Cooperative Union of the United Kingdom
received reports from 1566 societies having a total mem-
bership of 2,434,085. The aggregate sales of these socie-
ties exceeded £105,000,000, and their net profits were
over £12,000,000.


But notwithstanding its enormous business success, the
cooperative movement is less of a factor in the labor
struggles of Great Britain than in most other countries of
Europe. The British cooperatives are honeycombed
with middle class elements and middle-class notions.
They are conspicuously devoid of large class ideals, and
are held together principally by the paltry material bene-
fits of the movements.

In all these features the cooperative societies of Great
Britain stand in marked contrast to those of Belgium,
which are closely allied with the socialist and trade union

The oldest of the modern cooperative societies in Bel-
gium is the famous Vooruit (Forward) of Ghent. It was
organized in 1880 at the initiative of the socialist leader,
Edouard Anseele, and its first enterprise was a bakery in
a cellar equipped and operated with a capital of 84 francs
and 95 centimes. The undertaking was an immediate
success, and was enlarged and extended from year to year.
At this writing the amount of its annual business exceeds
3,000,000 francs, and its yearly profits are over 400,000
francs. The bakery produces over 100,000 kilos of bread
per week. In 1903 the Vooruit conducted four drug
stores, seven groceries, a bookbinding shop, a cigar fac-
tory, a foundry and one of the largest dry goods stores in
the city.

Its Feestlokaal, or assembly hall, is located in Rue des
Baguettes, in the most aristocratic quarters of Ghent. '' It
was once the property of the most select bourgeois club of
the town," relate Destree and Vandervelde. "When the
members of the club found that it was too expensive for
them, the workingmen of Ghent purchased it through the


intermediary of a dummy, and rents in Rue de Baguettes
at once dropped 50 per cent. In the gardens in which the
ladies of high bourgeois society had formerly promenaded,
hundreds of factory girls are now dancing on Sundays.
In the concerts the Marseillaise has replaced the Bra-
hangonne; the red flag supplanted the tricolor, and
on the holidays of labor the peaceful bourgeois, looking
from behind their curtains, see the black columns of work-
ingmen marching through the quiet street like the torch-
bearers of the revolution." ^

The next cooperative society of import^vnce to be or-
ganized in Belgium was the Maison du Peuple (House of
the People) of Brussels, founded in 1882.

Of the history of this society Louis Bertrand relates the
following: "A group of workingmen of all trades decided
to create a cooperative bakery. Each member promised
to contribute 10 francs in weekly payments of 25 to 50
centimes. In a few months the society had 80 members
on its list and 700 francs in its treasury. These 80 mem-
bers needed about 120 loaves of bread of one kilogram
each per day. They hired a cellar containing a bake oven
at a rental of 35 francs per month. . . . Only one baker
was employed. In the morning he would bake his bread
and in the afternoon he would carry it to the houses of the
members. This was not an easy matter, for the mem-
bers lived in all parts of the city and in the suburbs. . . .
Gradually the number of members rose from 80 to 250.
At the end of four years it had 400 members. It was
necessary to rent a larger place and to install modern bake
ovens and a mechanical kneading trough.

* "Le Socialisme en Belgique," par Jules Destree et 6mile Vander-
velde, 2d Edition, Paris, 1903, p. 47.


"In 1886 the cooperative hired a large hall for 5000
francs per year, and placed it at the disposal of the labor
organizations and socialists of Brussels. In less than ten
years the hall had become too small, and the cooperative
decided to build a new one." ^

To-day the society counts about 21,000 members, which
on the basis of 5 persons to the family, makes about
105,000 consumers.

The Maison du Peuple operates the largest baking
establishment in Belgium, and sells over ten million kilos
of bread per year. The society besides conducts various
other enterprises, and its building, the new Maison du
Peuple, is a veritable palace of labor, costing 1,200,000

The cooperative society Progres, founded in 1886, is in
some respects even more influential than either of the two
described. Its region extends over the entire industrial
district between Charleroi and Mons, and its four mag-
nificent buildings erected in different parts of the district
are the principal gathering points of the socialists and
organized workingmen of the neighborhood.

All told, the number of cooperative societies in
Belgium in 1907 was 2582. Of these 630 were so-
cieties for distribution, 209 were productive societies,
21 were societies for cooperative dwellings, 52 were in-
dustrial and 1302 were agricultural credit associations.
The membership of the distributive societies consisted of
119,581 famiHes, their aggregate sales for the year 1906
amounted to 31,174,552 francs, and their net profits for
that year were 3,035,940 francs.

The workingmen's cooperatives of Belgium are all

^ "Historie de la Cooperative en Belgique," Brussels, 1902.


affiliated with the Federation of Belgian Socialist Coop-
eratives, founded in 1900 principally for the purpose of
wholesale purchases. The rules of all societies thus
affiliated with the Federation are practically uniform, and
the constitutions of the societies expressly declare "that
the society is above all a political socialist group, and that
the members by subscribing to the constitution signify
their adherence to the program of the Labor Party."
The members of the cooperatives and their families form
the basis of the Belgian Labor Party, and in times of elec-
toral campaigns they constitute themselves into political
committees. Around the cooperatives and in their spa-
cious halls are grouped the trade unions, the sociaHst or-
ganizations, the social and educational clubs of working-
men, and the editorial rooms of the socialist papers. The
cooperatives expend a considerable portion of their profits
on socialist propaganda in all forms and in the support of
the struggles of trade unions. In a word, the cooperatives
in Belgium are the center of the socialist and labor move-
ment. In the electoral campaign of 1900 they printed
and distributed at their own expense two million socialist

The development of the cooperative movement in Ger-
many has followed a somewhat peculiar course owing to
special historical and political conditions. In the period
of the beginnings of the socialist and labor movement in
Germany, the problem of cooperative enterprises played
a very important role. Schulze-Delitsch, one of the heads
of the Liberal Party and an ardent apostle of the doctrine
of "self-help," headed a large movement for the organiza-
tion of voluntary cooperative societies chiefly for produc-
tion, as a complete solution of the labor question. It was


a middle-class movement, its theoretical foundation was
unsound and reactionary, and the design of its promoters
seemed to be to deter the working class from independent
labor politics. To this movement Ferdinand Lassalle
opposed his famous plan of cooperative productive asso-
ciations with state credit, a plan which involved the con-
quest of universal suffrage by the workingmen and the
democratization of the state, i.e., working-class political
action. The struggle between Lassalle and Schulze on
the issue of state credit as against self-help, assumed the
form of a struggle between socialism and liberalism. The
socialists concentrated their forces on politics, while the
liberals gained control of the voluntary cooperative move-
ment. Under the leadership of Schulze-Delitsch and his
successors the latter grew up, large in size, but weak and
inefficient in spirit. It laid the greatest stress on pro-
ductive associations, and encouraged associations for
credit, but regarded societies for distribution and con-
sumption with a certain degree of suspicion.

The socialists had but little esteem for the cooperative
movement under those circumstances.

But in the meanwhile the expiration of the anti-socialist
laws in 1890 set free a large quantity of stored-up energy in
the radical workingmen of Germany. They inaugurated
a vigorous activity in all domains of the labor movement,
and among others they entered the ranks of cooperative
societies for consumption in large numbers. This influx
of socialists so perturbed the leaders of the conservative
cooperative movement that in 1902 they expelled by a
coup d'etat 99 societies for consumption on the ground of
their social democratic tendencies. In May of the next
year these called a convention at Dresden which was at-


tended by representatives of 621 associations for con-
sumption, largely composed of workingmen with socialist
tendencies. At that convention was organized the Cen-
tral Union of German Societies for Consumption, which
is now the leading organization in that field. Towards
the end of 1907 there were in Germany 21 10 societies for
consumption, with a total membership of about 1,131,453.
Of these the Central Union represented 959 societies, with
a total of 879,221 members. The societies affiliated with
it thus represented 77 per cent of the entire membership
of the German consumptive organizations. They em-
ployed 12,783 persons and conducted about 2500 stores,
with a total invested capital of 25,000,000 marks. Their
business for the year was 303,794,452 marks, and their
profits were more than 20,000,000 marks.

With the separation of the radical societies for con-
sumption from the liberal cooperative movement, the re-
lations between the former and the socialists grew closer
and more cordial, and to-day both work in complete har-

The cooperative movements in the other countries have
developed various degrees of strength and usefulness, and
their period of greatest growth lies almost invariably
within the last two decades.

In Italy a special feature of the movement is presented
by the cooperatives of the day laborers, who hire out their
joint work under contract, and subdivide it among them-
selves in separate gangs, supplying the necessary tools
out of the common fund and sharing the contract price.
The effect of such cooperation is to eliminate the profit of
the padrone. In 1906 Italy had 2792 cooperative socie-
ties, doing a total business of over 600,000,000 francs.


Eight hundred and fifty-one of these societies were purely
consumptive, 454 were productive societies, 350 were
cooperative societies for credit, while the remainder con-
sisted of labor, agricultural and mixed societies.

In Sweden the object of cooperative societies is almost
exclusively joint farming and building. Out of the 2524
cooperative societies reporting in 1906, all but 382 be-
longed to that class. The character of the cooperative
organizations in Finland and Holland is very similar to
the organization of Sweden.

France had in 1904 about 5500 cooperative societies, of
which more than 3000 are agricultural associations. Aus-
tria, Switzerland, Holland and Denmark have also de-
veloped noteworthy cooperative movements. The United
States is the most backward country in this field.

Victor Serwy, at that time Secretary of the International
Socialist Bureau, computed that in 1901 there were 56,623
known cooperative societies in the world.

Cooperative societies may be divided into a large num-
ber of distinct groups according to the objects pursued
and methods employed by them, but we are concerned
with those of them only that may be fairly said to form a
part of the labor movement. These may be divided into
enterprises for cooperative production and enterprises for
cooperative consumption or distribution.

The productive societies are of special value for trade
unions in conjunction with their struggles against their
employers, and they often do good service in offering
a refuge to blacklisted strike leaders or other active
union members. But as a rule they attain a measure of
business success only when conducted in conjunction with
societies for consumption. As independent enterprises


they generally fail. A manufacturing establishment in
modern times cannot succeed unless it is provided with the
capital which its large competitors command, and employs
the same methods as they. And the workingmen-found-
ers of productive associations as a rule do not possess the
required capital nor can they employ the countless cus-
tomary methods of labor exploitation.

The cooperative societies for consumption, on the other
hand, have proved themselves almost uniformly successful
from the point of view of business.

The socialists do not foster the illusion that voluntary
cooperative societies of labor, either for production or for
consumption, could gradually and by the strength of their
own development, supersede the prevalent capitalist
methods of production and distribution. They do not
even attach great importance to the cooperatives as factors
in the general improvement and elevation of the material
conditions of the workers. But they regard them as use-
ful auxiliaries in the struggles of the working class as sources
of ammunition in those struggles, and as effective schools
for the training of the workingmen in the administration
of industries and in the sense of the solidarity of their

The general attitude of socialism towards the cooperative
movement of the workingmen was defined by the social
democrats of Germany in a resolution adopted at the
convention of their party at Hanover in 1899, in the fol-
lowing language : —

"The attitude of the party towards the cooperative in-
dustrial associations is one of neutrality. It considers the
organization of such associations, when the necessary con-
ditions of their success are present, as calculated to intro-


duce improvements in the economic situation of their
members, and it also sees in such associations, as in every
organization of the workingmen for the protection and
promotion of their interests, a proper medium for the
education of the working class in the independent direc-
tion of its affairs. The party does not attribute to such
associations a determining importance for the liberation
of the working class from the chains of wage slavery."


workingmen's insurance

One of the greatest evils of the modern system of wage
labor is the uncertainty of the worker's existence under it.
So long as the wage earner is in normal good health and
his employment is tolerably steady, he manages to eke out
a precarious living for himself and those dependent on him.
In times of prosperity the laborer, and especially the
skilled mechanic, may even save up a modest sum for a
rainy day.

But suddenly his work is interrupted and his earnings
cease. A dull season may throw him out of employment
for weeks, or a general industrial depression may close the
doors of the factory against him for months. His scanty
savings, if he has any, dvv^indlc and disappear with frightful
rapidity, and in a short time the worker finds himself con-
fronted with the menace of actual starvation. Or he sud-
denly falls sick in the midst of great industrial activity, and
is rendered physically incapable for a protracted period of
time. To the workingman health means not only well-
being and happiness, it means his bread and the bread of
his family; sickness for him is not only physical discom-
fort, it is often helpless, bottomless destitution.

But the sick workingman in the midst of his distress is
at least comforted with the hope of recovery, with the hope
of eventual resumption of his work and life. How much



more desperate is the lot of the man crippled in his em-
ployment. The workingman whose principal, if not sole
claim, to life lies in the deftness of his fingers, in the
strength of his arm or in the muscles of his leg, is in con-
stant danger of being robbed of his limbs and strength by
his perfidious and bloodthirsty shopmate, the iron monster
Tiachine, ever on the alert for a sign of weariness or re-
laxation on his part, ever ready to assail him unawares.
And when the hapless worker has been maimed and in-
validated in the service of his fellow-men, our Christian
society does not reward him for his sacrifice, does not in-
demnify him for his loss, does not even extend a pitying
hand to comfort him in his misfortune, but casts him aside
mercilessly and unfeelingly, and quietly lets him perish,
passing on to the next victim.

And if this cruel fate may accidentally overtake any
workingman in the prime of his life and strength, a similar
lot is almost certain to befall all workingmen at a more
advanced age.

"Not less tragic than the position of the unemployed
workman," observes Mr. George Turner, "is that of the
aged craftsman. The man who does not give the fullest
measure of work for his weekly wage is promptly dis-
carded by an economic system depending upon alert
competition for its existence. Fortunate it is that sixty
per cent do not live to be replaced by active, able-bodied,
hopeful young workmen, and to be left destitute. But a
large minority meets this fate. Wages of men from forty-
five years upwards show a gradual and persistent decline.
The roughest forms of labor are the first to suffer ; but in
skilled trades where deftness of handiwork is the first
condition of efficiency and of continued employment, the


attainment of fifty-five years of age is usually accompanied
by a reduction of earnings." *

This uncertainty of existence, the constant menace of
unemployment, of sickness, accidents and old age, which
hangs over the head of every modern wage earner like the
sword of Damocles, is intimately linked with the system of
private competitive industries and "free" wage labor, and
as the system unfolds itself, it tends to aggravate the pre-

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Online LibraryMorris HillquitSocialism in theory and practice → online text (page 18 of 26)