Monday, December 13, 2010

For All The People – Cooperatives in America

John Curl's book is an exhaustive study of cooperatives, mutual aid and intentional communities from the First Nations to the present. Scores of obscure and forgotten groups can be discovered here. What Curl shows is the record of struggle by ordinary people to construct a humane and democratic way of life in the face of opposition and adversity.

You find that there is no division between class struggle or organization at the point of production and the formation of coops. Nor is there a real split between political movements and alternative building. For the Knights of Labor and the Populist Party alternative building went hand in hand with union organizing or political action. Socialism, from its very inception as a tendency, right up to, and including the foundation of the Socialist Party, meant cooperative production, or as it was expressed as the “cooperative commonwealth.”

While parties and unions built alternatives, the people involved with them sometimes did so at different periods. When a union was broken or a workplace struggle defeated, the members would turn to community building or forming a coop. If these failed, they would then return to union organizing or party-building.

It turns out that all left wing organizations built cooperatives and mutual aid societies, including the Communist Party. Even the left wing New Dealers got in the act, encouraging the formation of consumer and farmers coops, as well as surprisingly, cooperative communities. While Curl's study is limited to the USA, one must also remember that in the early-mid 20th Century, the European Social Democrats built an entire counter-culture of cooperatives, mutual aid societies, schools, and associations. While this development was most prevalent in Austria and Germany, Northern Italy and the Scandinavian counties were not far behind.

This unanimity around cooperation leads me to question the accuracy of the notion of “state socialism.” While some people such as anarchists, cooperative socialists and syndicalists were “pure cooperators”, the rest of the left preferred a mixed economy of coops, municipal and nationalized industries. State socialism must then be a matter of degree and the term ought only be applied where the economy would be fully dominated by the state sector. Since everyone likes coops, anarchists and cooperative socialists ought to be able to approach “state socialists” in a positive, rather than negative manner. The following questions ought to be asked; “You support coops in this area, why not elsewhere? Don't you think cooperative principles could be applied to the industries you seek to nationalize? Couldn't there be a form of national ownership that is not statist?”

Many cooperatives failed, and most intentional communities collapsed in short time. Curl gives the reasons for these failures. One was external problems. The capitalists did everything in their power, from economic warfare to terrorism, to crush alternatives. Governments, in the pay of their corporate masters, were hostile and used the Sherman Anti-Trust Act to prevent the formation of the cooperative federations which could have been of assistance to fledgling coops. Later governments enacted doubled-edged coop legislation which was used to control, de-radicalize and steer the cooperative movement in a more capitalistic direction. There were also funding problems. Banks refused to lend money and the government wouldn't help either. New coops were saddled with heavy debt-loads or were grossly underfunded.

Then there were the internal problems. Ideological differences fractured groups. There were organizational problems, especially a lack of experienced personnel for the “nuts and bolts” daily coop activities. Naive idealism ruined many an intentional community, unworkable ideas like large-scale communal living and a lack of practical members. (Lots of philosophers, fewer carpenters and farmers.) Coops often over-extended themselves in good times, which lead to collapse and bankruptcy in bad times.


Thursday, December 02, 2010

Three Stories, Three Children: On the Requiem Road

The elderly native man stares at the white woman across the table of the greasy spoon in Kamloops, British Columbia, where they both wait for a bus. It is November 25, 2010.

His name is George.

I lived my whole life on our reserve, just south of Calgary. As a young boy, I got taken to the Catholic residential school north of us. That’s where I got all these.”

The man lifts his shirt and reveals deep scars on his chest and arms. Another deep furrow runs across his head.

But that wasn’t the worst. It happened one night in winter. Cold as hell, and blowing hard. These three little girls from our reserve had all been raped by the head priest. The oldest girl was only seven. The others must have been five or six. The eldest one said to the others they had to run away. They was just in little cotton nightgowns, no shoes or nothing. But they escaped and ran off into that blizzard.”

The man looks down and shakes his head.

They didn’t get more’n a mile. I was on the search team that found ’em. All three of ‘em were still holding each other’s little hands, lying face down in the snow. When we reached ‘em, the priest, the guy who’d raped them, got all mad and started cursing, like he was mad at them.

That’s when I saw the oldest girl start moving. She weren’t dead. But when the priest saw her move she told me to just leave her there. He turned away from her and left her there, dying in the snow.”

The man is about to continue when his bus arrives.

I couldn’t leave her there …” he begins. He turns to his wife, who has sat next to him the entire time, nodding sadly.

We gotta go” he says to the white woman.

2. Far to the west, a day later, William Combes shuffles into the Ovaltine café on Vancouver’s hastings street skid row with his few belongings stuffed in a backpack. He nods and smiles at me, for we haven’t seen each other in weeks.

I been drinking again, really bad” he begins apologetically, for he knows how much I rely on him, and how he relies on that reliance.

The memories again?” I ask.

Yeah, but it’s like now, I ain’t got nowhere to talk about it. Not now, with your radio show gone. That was the way I got by, talking on the show …”.

I nod, remembering with more than anger how his lifeline was severed so brutally. I say quickly,

I’ve got a new show, a blog radio program. You have to come on it.”

He looks at me wearily, then reaches into his bag and extracts a nearly-empty bottle and swigs from it. We let the minutes tick by, hoping for something.

Finally William says,

Remember when the Queen came to our school? How she took away those ten kids?”

Yeah, I checked on that. She was definitely in B.C. in the fall of ’64.”

I remembered their names. Some of ‘em. The boys.”

I pull out my notepad.

There was Harvey and Ralph Parker – Metis boys from Lytton. They were in the group taken away by the Queen and Philip, after the picnic at dead Man’s Creek. Five other boys went, and three girls. They were all in the smart group in school.”

The ten children were never seen again.

Are you remembering anything else William?” I asked.

He nods sadly.

George Adolph and Ralph Arnuse, they were with me that day, they saw the kids taken away. And how she made ‘em all kiss her foot.”


The Queen had on these white gloves, and she put out her foot and told all those ten kids they had to kiss it. They all did.”

William shuddered and started coughing.

I started talking about it the next day in school, said it wasn’t right. Then the nun told me if I said anything against the Queen I’d get killed for it.”

I stopped jotting notes and looked at him carefully.

There’s more, isn’t there?”

The man nodded.

I seen Brother Murphy throw that epileptic boy off the fire escape, three stories up. Murphy did that to a bunch of kids.”

How many?”

William screws up his eyes and stutters,

Happened all the time. I’d say fifteen. Twenty.”

He killed that many kids?”

Sure. Nobody survives that kinda fall. Murphy burned a few of them in the school furnace. I saw him do it once.”

William wouldn’t eat anything that day. I managed to get some oatmeal into him but he quickly threw it up into a urinal.

3. That night, waiting for a bus on Hastings street and sheltering from the rain, I encountered Josephine, an aboriginal prostitute I’ve known for years. Somehow, she’s still alive, although tonight she was bleeding from a new wound to her forehead.

Eduardo did it. I still owe him.”

She sat next to me in the bus cubicle, watching warily for the Guatemalan pimp and drug dealer who rules a two block stretch of Hastings as his personal fief. The cops don’t go near him. Rumor has it that he used to be a political activist in his homeland. Now he murders people.

Killed Francine by jumping on her head, over at the Patricia” recounted Jo to me once, years ago.

She owed him fifty bucks. Made the mistake of telling him off.”

Jo was cold that night, and I offered her my coat. She smiled shyly and declined.

Are you safe?” I asked.

She just tilted her head at the stupidity of the question, but being native, said nothing.

The elderly native man stares at the white woman across the table of the greasy spoon in Kamloops, British Columbia, where they both wait for a bus. It is November 25, 2010.

By Kevin D. Annett -

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