Chapter 4 - Democracy (1986)

    This document has been made available in electronic format
         by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA 
                         May, 1986

          (Source:  Co-operative Principles, Today & 
               Tomorrow by W.P. Watkins, pp.54-72)

                          Chapter Four


The differences between Co-operation and other economic systems,
revealed in the course of discussing its Principles of
Association and Economy, become more clearly discernible as we
consider its Principle of Democracy. These differences have led
more than a few Co-operators to regard Democracy as the most
vital of all the Principles. Reasons for not accepting this view
and for taking Association as the true fundamental were suggested
in the chapter dealing with that Principle. Nevertheless, it may
be conceded that Democracy is the logical `differentia' or the
major feature which distinguishes Co-operation as a system of
economic organisation. Despite the fact that Robert Owen's
community experiments were conducted on paternalistic rather than
democratic lines, it is hardly possible to conceive of Co-
operative societies existing or working under any other than a
democratic system of government. The British working men who
launched the first Co-operative Movement under the inspiration
of Robert Owen and Dr. William King were therefore right to
follow their instincts and endow their societies with democratic

After all, a Co-operative exists to promote the interests of the
whole body of its membership. It must be managed with the consent
and approval of the members, otherwise it will collapse. There
must therefore be agreed methods of ascertaining the members'
wishes, as well as safeguards against the society being managed
or manipulated in the interests of a minority of them or of a
single dominating individual or, yet again, of some external
power, authority or institution. The simplest solution to these
problems is to give all members equal voting power and to make
the management responsible exclusively to them. The ICA Committee
of 50 years ago adopted the formula `Democratic control - one
member, one vote'. In practice, however, and especially in the
large and complex Co-operative organisations of today, much more
is needed than the rule of `one member, one vote' to ensure the
reality of democratic administration. Indeed rules, although
indispensable, are not by themselves sufficient to maintain the
democratic character of a Co-operative society, as it is hoped
to make clear in the subsequent discussion.

Abraham Lincoln's description of democracy as government of the
people by the people for the people expresses the essence of
political democracy, but is too simple for direct application to
associations whose objects and functions are primarily economic.
It is not the members of a Co-operative society who have to be
governed but their common affairs which have to be administered.
The society's power to promote their economic interests has to
be used wisely and effectively for their advantage as they
conceive it. This necessarily involves technical processes which
cannot be operated by any and every member. The simplest of
village credit societies needs a secretary-treasurer. An ordinary
members' meeting can hardly be conducted without a chairman. In
short, there are inevitably operations which must be entrusted
to committees or individual officers, to whom is delegated the
authority which resides in the membership as a whole. The present
discussion of Democracy in Co-operative organisations therefore
requires an examination of the powers reserved and exercised by
the members as a body, the power exercised by elected or
appointed officers, the institutions through which these powers
are channelled and their mutual relations and reactions. Because
the Co-operative Movement is in continual evolution, this
examination must be concerned not simply with the statics or
stability of Co-operative organisations but with their dynamics

The basis of a democratic system in a Co-operative or other
association is constituted by the means or machinery for
ascertaining and expressing the general will of the members. By
general will is meant, of course, not the sum of all their
individual wills which, by cancelling one another out, may easily
amount to nothing, but their will when they are seeking their
common good as members of their society and considering its
affairs from that standpoint. Corresponding to Abraham Lincoln's
idea of government by the people, the role of the members in a
Co-operative must be active rather than passive. There is certain
guidance they aloe can give, certain decisions they alone can
take. If these are not forthcoming, or if they are unenlightened
or in other ways falsified, the democratic process fails to work.
In order that the members shall discharge their role effectively,
two rights have to be assured under the rules of their society;
the right to be informed and the right to be consulted. In the
rules and practices of the Rochdale Pioneers Society, these
rights were secured by the convocation of regular and frequent
meetings for the consideration of the Society's business and by
the presentation of periodic reports and duly audited balance
sheets for questions, discussion and eventual adoption.

Normally, the organ through which the general will is expressed
is the general meeting which all members have the right to attend
and in which each has one vote and no one more than one. The
special cases of federations and of large societies governed by
a representative assembly will be considered later. In primary
societies with simple constitutions - and these are the great
majority all over the world - the members duly convened in
general meeting are sovereign in the society. For that reason the
convocation of general meetings is usually subject to precise
rules and their procedure often governed by standing orders. At
the very beginning of a society's existence the members have to
adopt its rules before they can be applied or enforced and to
elect representatives to serve as a management committee and
probably other officers. With the passage of time they are
inevitably called upon to renew the mandates of these officers
or replace them by others, to adopt amendments of a rule which
may have become necessary or desirable and to review the business
operations of the society, with the right to express their
satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the management. If decisions
are required, a majority vote decides, failing unanimity. If
majorities do not always truly or fully express the general will,
it is possible that minorities will express it even less
accurately. In any case minorities which believe they are right
to have opportunities of converting the majority to their view
which, if they are successful, then becomes the general will. As
an additional safeguard against decisions out of harmony with the
general will, it is usually provided in the rules of societies
that on certain vital matters, e.g. the amendment of the rules,
dissolution or merger, resolutions can be adopted only if they
are carried by a majority of not less than two-thirds of the
members present and voting in general meetings specially convened
for the purpose.

The effectiveness of the general meeting as a democratic organ
depends not so much on its functions, as defined by the rules,
as on the proportion of the membership it attracts and the
standard of knowledge, common sense and community sense reached
in its discussions. These in turn very often depend  upon and may
be adversely affected by accidental factors like the availability
or location of meeting places, especially if a society has no
hall of its own. Halls, as an investment of capital which entails
expense and seldom brings a net revenue, are apt to be regarded
with jealousy by the heads of trading departments with use for
the space. On the other hand, the Waltham Land purchase and
Housing Society, near Kingston in Jamaica, which made a meeting
place for its members by laying a concrete floor under a shed
outside its office, displayed admirable democratic wisdom. The
greatest threats to the effectiveness of the general meeting in
the long run, however, usually result from a society's very
growth and prosperity: the increase in numbers of its membership,
the extension of the territory served, the growing magnitude and
complexity of its business operations, coupled with the natural
inclination, if all this is going well, to leave things in the
hands of the management.

These factors are constantly tending, not only to reduce the
attendance at general meetings relative to the total membership,
but also to take many members beyond their depth in discussion.
Opinions are less well grounded, judgement impaired, criticism
blunted. While remaining democratic in form, a society becomes
steadily less so in fact and in spirit and may end by accepting
minority rules a normal or inevitable. This decline is sometimes
accelerated by short-sighted management boards, which submit
over-optimistic or self-justificatory reports in order to avoid
awkward questions or acute controversy, and by officials, under-
educated in Co-operative Principles, who regard democratic
procedures as a kind of functionless excrescence such as the
attractions of commercialised entertainment, and television,
which inclines people to stay at home, also militate against the
effectiveness of the general meeting by offering powerful

The application of the Principle of Democracy in primary co-
operative societies therefore demands, besides constant vigilance
and determination to correct weakness and weed out abuses, the
continued adaptation and evolution of their democratic organs in
harmony with their members' changing circumstances, outlook and
wants, as well as their own development. The effort to maximise
the conscious participation of the members in the life of the
society can never therefore be safely relaxed. They must be
continually capped upon for contributions of vital significance,
not simply to register formal approval of what is done in their
name. Co-operative practice in more than one country provides
plenty of evidence that, compared with the Movement's business
expansion, its democracy is backward, receiving reluctant and
inadequate attention, mainly because its application to large-
scale enterprises is beset with difficulties. These difficulties
are often enhanced by false assumptions as, for example, that the
agenda of a Co-operative general meeting must run on the same
lines as a shareholders' meeting in a joint stock company. Of
course, the members are shareholders, but their main interest in
their society is not in their shareholding or what small return
that yields them, but its efficiency in promoting their economic
interests as producers or consumers. Marcel Brot1 bearing in mind
his experience as president of the Union of Co-operators of
Lorraine, the largest of France's great regional consumer co-
operatives, insisted for years that the proper approach to the
members is not as shareholders but as users of goods ad services.
The publicity of his society never allows its members, its
employees or the general public to forget that it is the largest
association of association of consumers in France.

What Albert Thomas called the `sensory apparatus' of the coo-
operative movement has democratic as well as economic functions,
if it is used to ascertain and express the general will of the
membership, in particular with regard to the kinds of economic
services the members desire their society to render. In a
secondary degree it can be used to ascertain whether the society
is achieving its objects by serving the members to their entire
satisfaction. If this had been properly understood and acted upon
a generation ago, consumer co-operatives in particular would have
been able to develop and even anticipate the results of what is
today fashionably called consumer research. Conversely, it is
thoroughly anti-democratic to rule out, as often happens, the
discussion of the society's performance and services from the
agenda of the general meeting, because this prevents the members
from making the best and most active contribution they are
competent to make. The most notable examples of successful
general meetings under contemporary conditions are those in which
there is a friendly confrontation of members and management, with
uninhibited discussion of the society's operations, policies and

A co-operative society's expansion beyond a certain point brings
about a transformation of the general meeting or, if it does not,
should do so. Membership seldom grows so large that, if any large
proportion desired to exercise its right to attend the general
meeting, even the local sport stadium would not hold the crowd.
when a co-operative evolves from local to regional dimensions,
distance from the centre may tend to disenfranchise some, perhaps
the majority, of the members. For a time, it may be practicable
to hold a series of area meetings with identical agenda and
procedures and to obtain decisions by aggregating the votes cast
for and against particular proposals. In the long run, however,
this solution is rarely satisfactory and the simple general
meeting open to all has to be replaced by a representative
assembly which exercises the same constitutional functions. But
who shall choose the representatives? Obviously, the members
themselves. This requires a structure of local groupings usually
based in consumers' societies on the network of branch stores,
and not too large for members and candidates to be personally
known to one another. The pioneers of German Consumers' Co-
operation recognised the necessity of such a structure and built
it into the great urban societies they founded in the early years
of this century. At a later stage in 1928, an amendment of the
fundamental Co-operative Law made representative assemblies
obligatory in all societies whose membership exceeded 3,000
persons. The German example powerfully influenced the
constitutional development of consumers' societies in Northern
and central European countries. Quite independently, the great
regional consumers' societies of France worked out similar
structures. Normally societies consists, at the base, of local
`cells' or `sections' whose organs are a general meeting; a small
committee maintaining contact between members and the general
administration but not interfering with the management of the
store; and representatives in the general society. It is
significant that in Western Germany this pattern survived the
suppression of the consumers' societies by the Hitler Government
in 1941. Preserved in the recollection and experience of the Co-
operators who were called upon to rebuild their societies after 
1945, it made an enormous contribution tot he rapid revival of
societies' sense of corporate unity in the 1950s.

A more recent and remarkable example is presented by the
consumers' co-operative movement in Austria because it
demonstrates what is possible. The original consumers' co-
operatives were dissolved, like the German, when the country came
under Nazi rule, but after freedom was restored, the Movement's
revival took the form of regional development in which the system
of local members' councils was included. Consolidation ultimately
resulted in the promotion of a national co-operative society,
Coop Austria, into which the regional societies with their local
councils were absorbed. Simultaneously, constant efforts were
made to increase individual membership, while maintaining
members' interest by publishing a lively monthly magazine, Wir
von Konsum. The total membership of Coop Austria now exceeds
800,000. The aggregate attendance at the 1983 local meetings of
members was 110,000. The educational and social organisation by
which the degree of member participation is secured and
maintained will be described later.

Obviously, inscribing `one member, one vote' in the rule book
does not ensure that a Co-operative will be democratically
administered. Every society, whether it has a score of members
or a million, needs democracy in the form of a continuous,
cyclical process consisting of information, discussion (or
consultation), decision, execution (or action) and accounting (or
reporting). Members must be adequately informed of the matters
under consideration. Discussion should be relevant and be allowed
sufficient time. Decision may be by voting, which should be
unquestionably fair. Execution, or other action consequent on
decision, should be entrusted to the appropriate personnel, such
as the society's officers. Their report accounting for their
actions (or inaction) completes the cycle and they form part of
the information which starts another going.

Another series of constitutional problems involving democracy
arises from the fact that, as a co-operative societies grow, the
functions of their governing organs become increasingly
professionalised. By this is meant that some functions can no
longer be completely discharged in their spare time by elected
persons with a modicum of common sense, honesty and devotion to
duty, but must be entrusted to full-time officials with the
appropriate talents, special training and experience. The story
of the primary society in its pioneer stage, whose committee
members individually and collectively perform all necessary
tasks, including service behind the counter, is familiar in
almost every country. It was re-enacted when the newly founded
consumers' society Syn-ka began business in Athens in 1963. In
the debutante society, it is the management of the store, in the
more developed the management of the society's business as a
whole, which is extruded from the functions of directly elected
bodies. They may still retain the titles of management committee
or boards of directors, but the function of management slips
farther and farther out of their hands as the society grows.
After serving five years as the virtually full-time president of
a large consumers' society, the author's father once remarked
that it was inconceivable that a co-operative retail enterprise
with a turnover of millions of pounds sterling per annum could
be in any real sense managed by a group of people, however able,
in their spare time. It may be added that the efforts of
excessively but mistakenly conscientious committees to retain or
recover management functions may be a hindrance to progress and,
in certain circumstances, disastrous.

There is a fundamental distinction between the functions of
management and those of representing the general will of the
members and safeguarding their interests. This was very clearly
recognised, for example, in the Co-operative Law of Germany. Even
the smallest of German Co-operatives has two organs: The Vorstand
or management board and the Aufsichtsrat or supervisory council.
The latter is directly nominated and elected by the members. The
former is chosen as a whole by the supervisory council and
submitted to the approval of the general meeting which may reject
the board proposed but not nominate alternative members, either
individually or collectively. The same distinction between
policy-making and management was emphasised by the Report of the
British Co-operative Independent Commission. The more highly
technical management becomes, the less it is possible to invoke
democracy in order to defend amateur or lay interference. The
members, whose satisfaction is the purpose of the Co-operative's
existence, or their representatives are surely entitled to pass
an opinion on the results, but hardly qualified to pronounce on
the methods by which they are achieved, unless these are at
variance with Co-operative Principles or the society's objects.

In the long run it would appear that the functions of the
primitive management committee must all be transferred to
professionals, save that of representing the members' interests.
Yet the larger the primary society grows, and especially when it
has burst local bounds and become regional, the more important
and exacting the retained functions become. Unless the committee
maintains touch with the members so that it can keep aware of
their changing moods and circumstances, faithfully interpreting
their wishes and anticipating their needs, it cannot effectively
guide the management in its business policies and its general
approaches to the members. Member and public relations eventually
become the committee's (or council's) principal field of
responsibility and work.

Moreover, the elected council of members (whether called
supervisory or not), especially if it is the body which nominates
or appoints the management, has essential rights: to be informed,
to advise and to warn. It may even represent the society as
employer in relation to its chief officials. The management
board, where the council is alert and active, wields no absolute
power even in management. In many important situations it cannot
do without the positive support of the council. Vital issues of
business policy, embarkation on far-reaching schemes of
development, important investments or property isis require the
information of and consultation with the council beforehand. The
society's rules may also specify matters which require the
consent or agreement of both bodes or decision in a joint
meeting. To sum up, the welfare and success of the large co-
operatives necessitated by present and future competitive
conditions require the careful and precise articulation of their
organs of representation and management, so as to maintain
equilibrium, ensure mutual respect for authority, avoid friction
and maximise the effectiveness of the structure as a whole.
Conversely, where any of the organs are weak, disabled or in any
way unable to discharge their functions, dislocation is the
immediate and atrophy may be the ultimate consequence, as any one
knows who has a broken limb. Efficiency, in the sense in which
Co-operation demands it, is not the concern of the business
management alone. As Marcel Brot has again and again emphasised,
management cannot reach its highest pitch of efficiency unless
democracy is also efficient.

Although co-operative administration may, nay must, be
democratic, is there no place for democracy in management? In the
final analysis yes, but the practical difficulties which beset
its realisation are often enormous and are not to be surmounted
by co-operators insufficiently schooled in democratic discipline.
One type of Co-operative organisation, the workers' productive
or labour society, since it is essentially an attempt by workers
to become collectively their own employers, is a deliberate
effort to implant democracy in management. Success is by no means
easily, still less invariably, achieved. Many productive
societies, in order to preserve their existence as enterprises,
have been obliged to sacrifice their democratic, i.e. their co-
operative character. Those which have been so fortunate as to
achieve both co-operative and business success, owe it very
largely to wise, far-sighted and unselfish leadership and
possibly also to the fact that co-operation in the broader sense
is indispensable to efficiency in modern industry. The more
elaborate division of labour becomes in industrial organisation
the more must success depend on team work, the essence of which
is a united will for a common objective. It is generally accepted
that good personnel management consists in the evocation and
maintenance of a powerful team-spirit within the enterprise. In
order to do this, it is necessary to cease thinking of the
enterprise as - in the words of Karl Marx - a machine which
consists of human beings, but rather to regard it as a society
capable of possessing a general will, as that has been defined
earlier in this chapter. There is thus no necessary or inevitable
antithesis between management and democracy, but rather the
possibility of reconciliation on a deeper level than most
industrial organisation has yet reached. The workers' productive
societies are not pursuing a chimera.

But what of the consumers' and agricultural co-operatives as well
as the other types which are employers of various kinds of
workers, some of them in large numbers? Do not the employees of
any such co-operative constitute in fact a society, a community
of interests, within the co-operative? If so, do they not possess
democratic rights of consultation, representation and decision?
How are these rights to be reconciled with the democracy and good
management of the co-operative? For the co-operators of the
pioneer era, these questions scarcely existed or could be
postponed, as employees were not numerous. For the most part co-
operative employment accepted the ordinary wage contract of
private enterprise under which the wage earner and many a salary
earner had no voice in management. In many a consumers' co-
operative, employees, although admitted to membership to the
extent of purchasing in the store and receiving dividend on their
purchases, might not even vote in elections for management
committees. In agricultural co-operatives employees, if not
themselves farmers, were usually not eligible for membership at
all. As the employees had no rights recognised within the
constitutions of the societies, they had no alternative to
asserting them and negotiating on their employment conditions
extra-constitutionally through trade unions. On the whole, the
co-operative movement was content to wait for the change in
public opinion in favour of workers' representation in
management, and even for legislation enacting it, before
seriously seeking to solve problems inherent in its own Principle
of Democracy - problems growing in importance with the increasing
numbers of its commercial and industrial personnel.

There would soon be two distinct series of problems concerned
respectively with self-determination and with participation in
management and control. The claim to self-determination is
founded on the fact that the workers as a body have common
concerns affecting their work and welfare in which employers are
not interested in the same way or degree and in which consumers
may not be interested at all. Particular groups of workers also
have special interests different from those other groups, a fact
that underlies the traditional trade union `chapel' organisation
of the printing trade. A democratic structure for an enterprise
or an industry must therefore recognise the existence of
functional groups of workers and allow each powers of self-
determination, corresponding and limited to the special interests
and responsibilities of its members, relating to the
organisation, classification, recruitment and training of labour;
remuneration and promotion; the hygiene of the work place and
other conditions affecting workers' welfare. Such a structure
would of course be ineffective if the workers' groups did not
posses to a considerable degree a sense of collective
responsibility, not simply for the defence of their interests but
also for the efficient performance of their work and
collaboration with other groups. In so far as the groups prove
themselves capable of wise and effective determination,t he
function of management in a democratic system would tend to
become more and more the co-ordination of group activity
according to agreed plans and programmes. This may seem a distant
ideal, human nature being what it its, but here and there, in
both the past and the present, it has been partly realised in
practice. Dr. Georges Fauquet in his time called attention to the
collective contract system adopted in the French national
printing establishment, under which groups of workers contracted
collectively with the management for the performance of a given
piece of work at an agreed price and determined each worker's
remuneration according to their own rules and standards. It is
regrettable that the absorption in 1964 of the joint enterprise
of producers and consumers, the Laiteries Reunies, by the
Consumers' Co-operative of Geneva involved the dissolution of the
roundsmen's Communaute which for many years had carried out
collective contracts with the Laiteries Reunies for the house-to-
house delivery of milk and fixed the individual pay and working
conditions of its members.

Participation involves almost invariably, but not exclusively,
representation on managing or supervisory authorities, i.e.
policy-making bodies. The employees are not usually content for
long with merely consultative rights and powers exercised through
works councils or similar organs, unless these are also
represented in the supreme administrative authority in the

A sign of the times was the legal recognition of the workers'
right to join in policy-making (Mitbestimmungsrecht) in the
Federal German Republic. The system is probably not entirely
satisfactory from either the management's or the workers' point
of view, but it is capable of adjustment and improvement, if
there is general willingness to learn from experience. In any
case, the admission in principle of participation marks an
important step in the direction of democracy. Further progress
depends upon the just and skilful delimitation of functions and
authority, so that the various communities of interest are
articulated in a manner conducive to collaboration and therefore
to efficiency. The greatest danger is always the assumption by
any organ of the absolute or final authority (which should reside
in the whole membership of a society) or of the competence or
functions of any other organ. Equilibrium, which need not be
either static or rigid, must be the constant aim.

Failure to keep this necessity clearly in mind is the key to the
disappointing performance in recent years of some large scale
consumers' co-operatives in which neglect of democratic
constitutional development has more or less directly retarded
economic progress. A common source of disequilibrium appears to
be a decline in the authority and effectiveness of the general
meeting. It is not simply that the general meeting does not
evolve into a representative assembly with supporting local
groupings, as described earlier, but that its decline has been
hastened by the dullness and empty formality of its proceedings.
The first general meeting attended by the writer as a new member
of a consumers' society in Manchester in the 1920s completed its
agenda - having approved the report of the management committee,
the accounts and balance sheet, elected new members to the
management and education committees and passed two or three
routine resolutions - in 12 minutes.

Of course, where group and party differences give rise to
controversy, a certain liveliness can be imparted to the
proceedings, but this kind of interest soon palls and dwindling
attendances can well set off a deplorable chain-reaction. The
shrinking field of selection for elective offices leads sooner
or later to a deterioration in the quality of the officers,
particularly int he membership of the management committee or
board of directors. Where these prove incapable of giving wise
and courageous leadership, authority and power often pass to the
chief permanent officials. The committee, instead of being the
mouthpiece of the membership, tends to become the management's
chief apologist. Lacking the spur of intelligent and constructive
criticism, the management in turn is inclined to be
unenterprising and routine-minded.

This functional dislocation is aggravated where the general
meeting is largely monopolised by mainly self-interested groups
contending for sectional advantage. Their faction-fighting
dissipates energy, distracts attention from vital, long-term
issues and reduces democratic procedures to empty farce. This
situation. This situation is not remedied by well-meant but only
half-enlightened efforts to correct the inferior position of
employees dating, as already mentioned, from the early dates of
the movement. As it seemed harsh and illogical to deprive the
employees of their rights as consumers because they happened to
be employed by a consumers' co-operative society, they were given
the same rights as other members to vote for and be elected to
the committee of management. It thus became possible for the
employees, as an organised group, not merely to dominate the
general meeting but to secure a majority on the management
committee. Theoretically this stands the fundamental idea of
consumers' co-operation on its head. Practically it often leads,
as might well be expected, to a lack of consistency and
determination in protecting consumers' interests; a lack of
ruthlessness in weeding out efficiency and introducing reforms
required for efficiency if these might lead to dismissals; and
failure of the committee fully to support the officials in
disciplinary matters and in other ways when prompt and drastic
action may be necessary or salutary. None of these deficiencies
need arise if there is at all times in the society a nucleus of
consumer members actively and intelligently interested, large
enough to overpower the minorities or in certain circumstances
a coalition of minorities. Neglect to maintain and encourage such
a nucleus amounts to a betrayal, for it is the indispensable
condition of democracy's existence and continuance in co-
operative affairs.

The application of Democracy in the constitution and working of
federations of co-operatives must necessarily differ from its
application in primary societies, but most of the special
problems it creates have been solved long ago by the common sense
and experience of co-operators. Differences in size between
society-members make the rule of one member, one vote
inappropriate. To give a vast metropolitan consumers' society
with hundreds of thousands of members and a village society with
a hundred members or less each a single vote would be unfair to
the point of absurdity. The one notable case in co-operative
history where failure to admit this split a Co-operative Movement
in two has already been mentioned in Chapter One. Of course, in
this example, the issue at stake was more than mere voting
rights; it was the distribution of power in the Movement's
national organisation and it was aggravated by cleavages of
social and political outlook between the contending groups.
Differential voting power has long been recognised as the only
practical solution,  and the proof of its widespread acceptance
is seen in its adoption in the rules of the International Co-
operative Alliance and a host of other federations. The usual
method is to allot each member-organisation one basic vote and
additional votes according to a sliding scale, based more or less
directly on membership: behind the organisations stand larger or
smaller groups or persons.

Obviously where differences in size are very great, a ceiling
must be fixed for the number of votes allotted to the largest
member-organisations, otherwise a few of them could too easily
dominate a federation or pay too little regard to the rights or
views of the smaller members. In the ICA not only is such a
ceiling imposed by rule, but the constitution also provides that
no single national member may exercise more than one seventh of
the voting power in the International Co-operative Congress which
is the general assembly of the Alliance. This recognises the
need, not only to provide effectively channels for Democracy to
manifest itself positively, but also to adopt adequate safeguards
against undemocratic decisions or actions.

The constitutions of Co-operative federations also illustrate in
other ways the concern to attract and encourage the intelligent
interest of individual co-operators in whose name, in the last
analysis, all their operations are carried on. Most federations
of national dimensions, even if they did not originate in
collaboration between pre-existing regional federations, develop
a regional substructure intended to bridge the gap between their
central administration and their members. In large countries like
India or the Soviet Union with federal constitutions, this
structure may include an additional tier corresponding to the
federal states. In European national federations, it is normal
for the congresses or general assemblies to be preceded by a
series of general meetings of their regional sub-federations,
when representatives of national body present reports on its
activity and sound out opinion on various questions which are
expected to come up for their final decision at the national
assembly or congress. This system enables more local delegates
to participate than could attend the national congress. At the
same time it enables the attendance at the congress to be kept
down to the number appropriate to an effective deliberative
assembly. Nevertheless, it also tends to reduce certain functions
of the national assembly to the formal registration of decisions
already made elsewhere, because by the close of the series of
regional meetings, the trend of opinion on most of the questions
posed will have already been clearly indicated and become
generally known (unlike the British Congress where decisions on
important issues sometimes cannot be forecast with certainty and
the assembly seethes with tension and excitement until the result
of the voting is declared. The congress or national assembly is
not therefore redundant. On the contrary, it provides
opportunities for the wider surveys, the airing of new ideas and
suggestions, the exposition of plans and programmes for the
future that contemporary competitive conditions make more than
ever necessary. Congresses, if they may have lost some of the
excitements of debate, have enlarged their educational functions.
They could well increase their value and importance still further
if the need is borne in mind for creating and animating among co-
operators a national consciousness, without which a national
federation has nothing which corresponds to a `general will'.

In this connection the more or less successful efforts of this
certain American co-operative organisations, especially in the
field of insurance, to diffuse a sense of participation among
widely scattered groups of co-operators, are worthy of note.
Mutual Service Co-operative, St. Paul, Minnesota, is an
organisation created by co-operatives of various types and by a
large number of local mutual insurance associations, which are
joint owners of two mutual institutions, one for life and the
other for casualty insurance. Mutual service co-operative
exercises on their behalf the powers of control inherent in the
policy-holders and their participating co-operative and mutual
organisations, by electing the directors and determining the
business aims and policies of the two institutions. It is itself
governed by its member-bodies, regional and local, each of which
possesses one vote. Its constitution provides for an allocation
of functions between central, regional and local bodies and
enumerates their mutual obligations. The powers and duties of the
local participating co-operative, for example, include the
contribution of Dollar 10 to the capital of Mutual Service Co-
operative in order to acquire the right to vote; the endorsement
of the Mutual Service Insurance institutions and their
recommendation to its own members; representation by one delegate
at annual and other meetings where controlling powers are
exercised; practical assistance to the two institutions in
bringing their services to the attention of its members; and
participation in programmes and projects at a local level.

The Nationwide group of insurance institutions in the USA is
sponsored by nine farmers' and co-operative organisations which
nominate candidates for election to the board of directors. The
large number of policy-holders who are members of the sponsoring
organisations may bring influence to bear on both the elections
and the policies favoured by the board. But in addition, and
particularly with the object of bringing in other policy-holders,
Nationwide has constituted an advisory committee in which some
20,000 policy-holders take part. Nationwide agents set up local
groups of policy-holders to discuss the services and problems of
the organisation. The groups appoint representatives to district
meetings whose recommendations are forwarded to headquarters.
Representatives of district and regional groups are assembled
periodically at Columbus, Ohio, for a three-day conference, with
all the officers of Nationwide in attendance. In a final plenary
session recommendations may be adopted for direct submission to
the management. Each of these systems of participation has its
merits and limitations, but they illustrate the possibilities of
infusing with a democratic spirit institutions which, constituted
by bodies which are frequently federations themselves, are often
remote from the direct influence of rank and file co-operators
dependent on their services.

Evidently, the structure of the Co-operative Movement today,
expanding in accordance with the principles of Unity and
Democracy, imposes a continually increasing burden of
responsibility upon the individual men and women who become
members and possibly officers of co-operative societies. Sooner
or later, directly or remotely, all that is attempted or
accomplished by co-operative organisations - local, national and
international - is reported to them for their judgement or
approval. To understand what he is told, the typical Co-operator
of this century must be conscious on all three of these levels,
and consciousness include not merely being aware but also forming
opinions and expressing wishes which may harden into decisions.
If he is not equal to making needful decisions, others will
decide for him and, as the Movement's functions become more and
more professionalised with its growing extent and complexity, it
will be its bureaucrats or technocrats, rather than Democracy,
who will save it from confusion and ultimate decline.

There is no single constitutional prescription for Democracy, any
more than there is for health. But just as the conditions for
healthy living are known, so also are the conditions in which
Democracy can live and flourish. Most of these conditions depend
on the observance of co-operative principles, some already, some
to be, discussed. If we limit our discussion to the mere
mechanism of democratic government, the reality may still elude
us. For in Dr. Fauquet's words, Democracy does not exist save as
a moral climate in which decisions are made.