Source: Published in Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922 (https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/897-to-the-masses), pp. 821-824.
Translation: Translations by John Riddell
HTML Markup: David Walters & Andy Blunden for the Marxists Internet Archive, 2018
Copyright: John Riddell, 2017. Republished here with permission.
Published: in Toward the United Front: Proceedings of the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, 1922 (https://www.haymarketbooks.org/books/472-toward-the-united-front), pp. 821-824.
In the final years before the World War and even more during the war, the cooperative movement experienced very rapid development in almost every country. Broad masses of workers and peasants flowed into its ranks. The capitalist offensive now under way everywhere leads workers – and especially women – to place an even higher value on the assistance that consumer cooperatives can provide them with.
Long ago, the old-time social reformists well understood the importance of cooperatives for the realisation of their goals. They implanted themselves in the cooperatives, which they used to poison tirelessly and energetically the consciousness of working people. Indeed, they even succeeded in arousing among workers favourably disposed to revolution a gulf between consciousness and action. In addition, in some countries where the Social Democratic parties held the leadership of the cooperative movement, they eagerly scooped into the funds of the cooperatives to find money to support their parties. Under the banner of political neutrality, they in reality carried on support for the bourgeoisie and its imperialist policies.
The old cooperative leadership, holding the movement’s reins in its hands, cannot or will not grasp the changed social conditions and the cooperatives’ new tasks and work out corresponding new methods of work. By stubbornly refusing to dispense with their sacred cooperative principles, they undermine the purely economic work and existence of the cooperatives, and thus the cooperative movement as a whole.
Finally, they also do nothing to prepare the cooperatives to carry out the colossal and vital tasks that will fall to them when the proletariat takes power.
All these factors lead Communists everywhere to turn their earnest attention to wresting the cooperatives out of the hands of the social reformists and transforming them from a tool of the bourgeoisie’s lackeys to one of the revolutionary proletariat.
The Third Congress of the Communist International reviewed and approved theses on the work of Communists in the cooperatives. The experience of one and a half years has now shown that the formulation of these theses was fully correct. The Fourth Congress of the Communist International approves these theses again and urgently instructs all Communist parties, groups, and organisations to energetically set about work in the cooperatives. It also instructs party publications to allocate adequate space in their pages to issues in the cooperative movement.
In particular, and as an extension of these theses, the Fourth Congress points out the following:
1. It is absolutely necessary that all Communist parties carry out the decision that party members also be members of consumers’ cooperatives and carry out Communist work in these organisations. Communist members of cooperatives must form cells – whether openly or secretly – in each cooperative. All these cells must be linked in a district organisation, and the district bodies in a national organisation headed by a special cooperative section of the Communist Party central committee in that country. All the work by Communists in the cooperatives must be carried out in a strictly disciplined manner under the leadership of the Communist Party central committee. The task of these cells is to establish a link with the broad masses of worker members of the cooperative. They must subject to criticism not only the principles but also, especially, the practice of the old cooperative movement. They must draw around them all the discontented masses and influence them in order to form a united front in the cooperatives against capitalism and the capitalist state. All national associations of Communists in the cooperatives must be closely linked to the Communist International through its cooperative section.
While doing this, the Communists in the cooperatives must not seek to break revolutionary or oppositional cooperative members away from the cooperative association, or to split this association. That would only weaken the cooperative movement and break off the contact of revolutionary cooperative members with the broad worker masses. For the same reasons we should not seek to break the national cooperative federations away from the international league of cooperatives. On the contrary, the Communists must demand that all national federations in which they hold a majority that are not yet members of the international league should join it and be accepted into its ranks.
2. Both the Communist Party central committees and all Communist cooperative members must energetically struggle against illusions in cooperatives, such as that they are capable of bringing about a socialist order on their own by growing into it over an extended period without a seizure of power by the proletariat, or that they are capable, using their old methods, of significantly improving the conditions of the working class.
A similarly energetic struggle must be waged against the principle of supposed political neutrality of the cooperative movement, behind which lurks open or hidden support for the politics of the bourgeoisie and its servants. This struggle must find expression not only in theoretical propaganda but also in drawing the cooperatives into the economic and political struggle that is now being conducted by the political parties and the Red trade unions in defence of the interests of working people.
This encompasses the struggle against increases in taxes, especially indirect taxes, that affect consumers; against special or oppressive taxes of cooperatives or of their sales; and against inflation. It includes the demand that the entire distribution of the essentials of life be transferred to the workers’ consumer cooperatives. It includes the struggle against militarism which leads to an increase in state expenditures and thus in taxation; against the lunatic financial policy of the imperialist states, which causes monetary collapse; against fascism, which is raising its head everywhere and which mercilessly destroys the cooperatives; against the threat of a new war; against intervention and for trade agreements with Soviet Russia, and so on.
The Communists in the cooperatives must make efforts to draw their organisations into a shoulder to shoulder alliance in this struggle with the Communist parties and the Red trade unions and thus create a proletarian united front. The Communists in the cooperatives must demand that their organisations provide assistance to victims of capitalist terror, to workers on strike or locked out, and so on. Communists in the cooperatives must insist energetically that the cooperatives carry on revolutionary educational work on a broad scale and must actively carry out this work.
3. Parallel to this energetic participation in the political and economic struggle of the revolutionary proletariat, Communist members of cooperatives must carry out purely cooperative work in these organisations, in order to give them a character corresponding to the proletariat’s new tasks. They should strive for unification of small consumer cooperatives into large ones; rejection of the old principle of distributing profits, which weakens the cooperatives; and for utilisation of the surpluses to strengthen the cooperative movement and to set up a special fund to support strikers. They should strive for defence of the interests of cooperative employees; and against bank credits, which can pose a danger to cooperatives; and so on. If it is necessary to raise membership dues, the Communists must demand that the workers who are unable to pay the dues not be expelled from the cooperatives and that dues be reduced for workers without means.
The Communist cells in the cooperatives must link their work as closely as possible with that of the proletarian women’s organisations and the Communist youth leagues, in order to carry out propaganda imbued with Communist principles for cooperatives among women workers and youth. It is also necessary to take up vigorously the struggle against the cooperatives’ bureaucracy, which uses the slogan of democracy as a cover but degrades this principle to empty words. In reality it functions arbitrarily and unchecked in the cooperatives, failing to call membership assemblies and taking no note of the will of the working-class masses that belong to the cooperative organisations. Finally, it is necessary for the Communist cells in the cooperatives to bring the Communist members of cooperatives, the women not excepted, into the executives and supervisory bodies of the cooperatives and to take other measures so that Communists will gain the knowledge and habits necessary to lead the cooperatives.
1. The vast majority of cooperatives were affiliated to the International Co-operative Alliance, founded in 1895. Most ICA affiliates were then consumer cooperatives with a predominantly working-class membership.