Co-operative labour attacks the groundwork of capital

Below is a section from Marx, written around the same time that Capital Volume 1 was published (1866/7). It is a useful reminder of Marx’s own activism at a time when he was also writing the most remarkable theoretical work, too.

It is awkwardly titled: ‘The Different Questions‘, written for the International Workingmen’s Association, as ‘Instructions for the Delegates of the Provisional General Council’. It’s a short document that touches on a number of things: The importance of gathering reports and statistics about the international struggle between labour and capital; limiting (reducing) working hours; ensuring that child labour (aged 9yrs onwards) is combined with education; the role of Trade Unions, which should be to act “against the system of wage slavery itself” rather than get caught up in local issues; taxation (“No modification of the form of taxation can produce any important change in the relations of labour and capital.”); the army; and co-operative labour:

“Co-operative labour

It is the business of the International Working Men’s Association to combine and generalise the spontaneous movements of the working classes, but not to dictate or impose any doctrinary system whatever. The Congress should, therefore, proclaim no special system of co-operation, but limit itself to the enunciation of a few general principles.

(a) We acknowledge the co-operative movement as one of the transforming forces of the present society based upon class antagonism. Its great merit is to practically show, that the present pauperising, and despotic system of the subordination of labour to capital can be superseded by the republican and beneficent system of the association of free and equal producers.

(b) Restricted, however, to the dwarfish forms into which individual wages slaves can elaborate it by their private efforts, the co-operative system will never transform capitalist society. to convert social production into one large and harmonious system of free and co-operative labour, general social changes are wanted, changes of the general conditions of society, never to be realised save by the transfer of the organised forces of society, viz., the state power, from capitalists and landlords to the producers themselves.

(c) We recommend to the working men to embark in co-operative production rather than in co-operative stores. The latter touch but the surface of the present economical system, the former attacks its groundwork.

(d) We recommend to all co-operative societies to convert one part of their joint income into a fund for propagating their principles by example as well as by precept, in other words, by promoting the establishment by teaching and preaching.

(e) In order to prevent co-operative societies from degenerating into ordinary middle-class joint stock companies (societes par actions), all workmen employed, whether shareholders or not, ought to share alike. As a mere temporary expedient, we are willing to allow shareholders a low rate of interest.”

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