Karl Bittel

Communism and the Co-Operative Societies

Source: The Communist Review, April 1923, Vol. 3, No. 12.
Translator: P. Lavin
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

THE Second International uses the co-operative societies for its own party purposes. As it sees its task in agitation for reformism and in incitements against Communism, and engages practically in social treachery, it carries on this practice in the co-operatives as a matter of course. It may be said that reformist Socialists have not such a strong point of support in any other working-class organisation as in the co-operative stores, either in an agitational or material respect. The more their commanding position in the trade unions is shaken the more readily they move into the co-operative fortresses and the more firmly they build their positions there. It must be added that the reformists, through the co-operatives, and especially through the cunningly-planned “political neutrality” that is observed there, exercise a great influence upon the masses who are indifferent to politics and to trade unionism, and more particularly upon working women. They influence the masses, too, by a powerful, press which, in Germany for example, carries on a malicious anti-Bolshevik campaign, and they create a rosy ideology which fosters the illusion that the position of the working class can be improved and that we can gradually evolve into Socialism without the capture of power by the proletariat.

These facts were sufficient to cause the Third International to pay the closest attention to the co-operative movement. To this was added the rich experience gained during the dictatorship of the proletariat in Soviet Russia when the counter-revolutionary co-operative bureaucracy played a very dangerous rôle. Then there was the theoretical knowledge of the vital part played by the co-operatives on the conquest of power, and finally, the practical experience that in the work of Socialist construction, control of the co-operatives and acquaintance with the complicated functions of trade are altogether decisive. At Moscow, therefore, on July 10th, 1921, the third world congress adopted “Theses on the Work of Communists in the Co-operatives,” which cleared up the co-operative problem from the Marxian standpoint. These at last removed the opportunist confusion which had done its pernicious work in the Second International according to the well-known co-operative resolution of Copenhagen in 1910. The Third International said distinctly that Communists had to work by means of fractions in the co-operative societies.

The whole problem of Communism and co-operation was thoroughly discussed with regard to both principle and tactics at the (first international conference of Communist co-operators, which took place in Moscow in November, 1922. It was definitely laid down as the result of experience in the several countries for over a year that for us Communists, activity in the co-operatives is part of the party work, in which all comrades of both sexes are bound to participate, and that this co-operative work must be put completely under party discipline.

At the fourth world congress the question again appeared on the agenda, and Comrade Neshteriskoff delivered a report on the subject on November 25th, 1922. A resolution on the co-operative question was adopted which declared in the first place that the capitalist offensive was compelling a higher estimate of the co-operative movement. The old theses were therefore confirmed, and upon all Communist organs, particularly press organs, the urgent necessity was enjoined of occupying themselves much more with the co-operative question than they had previously done. The theses conclude with the following words:—

“In the carrying out of these theses the fourth congress draws attention to the following point: All Communist parties must unconditionally enforce the decision that all party members must also be members of consumers’ co-operatives and must do Communist work in these organisations.”

Unfortunately it is not without reason that this demand of compulsory membership is repeated, for the decisions of the previous year have been repudiated by many comrades.

“The whole work of Communists in the co-operatives is to be conducted on the basis of the strictest discipline and under the direction of the central committees of of the Communist parties.”

This is important in order to get round the antagonisms which may arise between the co-operative experts and the party direction. Without going further into the resolution already mentioned, those points may be cited which determine how far the co-operatives have to participate practically in the economic and political struggles. They treat of direct co-operation in the struggles.

Against increases of taxes, especially indirect taxes, which burden the consumers.

Against a special or particularly oppressive taxation of the cooperatives or of their turnover.

Against rises in prices.

For the demand of the transfer of the complete distribution of articles of prime necessity into the hands of the workers’ consumers’ co-operatives.

Against militarism, which involves increase of State expenditure, and consequently also of taxes.

Against the insane, financial policy of the Imperialist States, which causes the collapse of the currency.

Against the Versailles Peace.

Against Fascism, which is raising its head everywhere, and which is inflicting grave injury on the co-operatives.

Against a threatening new war, against intervention, etc. Through active co-operation in all these questions the proletarian united front will be formed, to which is to be added the support of victims of the capitalist terror, and of striking and locked-out workers.

It is very important that the resolution of the fourth world congress enjoins upon Communists’ active participation in purely co-operative work in order “to give to the latter the character which the new conditions and the new tasks of the proletariat demand—the combination of the smaller co-operatives in large associations; the rejection of the principle of dividends, which leads only to the weakening of the co-operatives, and the utilisation of the profits for the strengthening of the co-operative system; the establishment of a special fund from the profits for the support of strikes; protection of the interests of co-operative employers, etc.” It is self-evident that, in addition to this, the struggle against the reformist co-operative tribunals must be carried on with the greatest energy.

It is to be regretted that the discussion at the world congress did not strongly emphasise the importance of co-operative work. It dealt, with inessential matters, instead of illustrating by concrete exampls the colossal work that has already been accomplished in Russia and Bulgaria, and the success that has already attended the nuclear tactics in Esthonia, Norway and Czecho-Slovakia. Better had it been reported from Germany, France, Italy and the northern countries that encouraging tendencies were to be observed, while in the remaining countries, especially in England, Communist co-operative work was still in a very bad way.

There is no doubt that the co-operative conference, as well as the world congress in Moscow, introduces a new epoch which it is to, be hoped will lead to greater results in Western Europe than have hitherto been recorded. But that depends chiefly upon whether, in our own party circles, passive, resistance in relation to co-operative work is changed into active participation.