Chapter 6 - Liberty (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.92-108)
                          Chapter Six


Liberty, as a Principle of Co-operation, is here considered in
two main aspects. The first is the Liberty of the individual
men and women who become members of Co-operatives; not only
their freedom to join or leave them at will, but also their
freedom of thought and action while they are members. The
second is the Liberty of co-operative institutions within the
structure of the society as a whole and also within the
framework of the national and international co-operative
movements of which they form part. The connection between the
two aspects is implicit in the blunt affirmation made and
endorsed by successive authorities of the International Co-
operative Alliance between 1949 and 1951, as follows: "In
countries where the right of free association is denied and
where any divergent opinions are suppressed, free and
independent co-operative organisations cannot exist".
Obviously it is not civil liberty in the broad sense which is
the subject of this chapter nor yet the freedom of Association
which is the external precondition of a genuine co-operative
movement, but the freedom, individual and collective, required
by co-operative organisations as an essential condition of
their functioning effectively.

This means that our discussion of Liberty must be related to
what we have already observed of the operation of the other
Co-operative Principles. Freedom is always relative to some
kind of order of which it is, in a sense, a product. In the
absence of any effective principle of order there can only be
social chaos, characterised by licence for a few and
oppression for the rest. Different social orders vary, of
course, in the scope they allow for liberty. In Co-operative
forms of social organisation, the Principle of order, for
reasons already stated, is necessarily Democracy. Since only
those who are individually free are capable of taking
collective decisions. Co-operative Democracy, in order that it
may be vital and dynamic, demands freedom as its condition and
complement. The claim of freedom to recognition as a Principle
of Co-operation is therefore established.

If we accept this, we are in consequence bound to reject any
suggestion that Liberty became recognised as a Co-operative
principle merely through the historical coincidence that the
Co-operative Movement originated in Europe in a period when
freedom of enterprise was the reigning economic orthodoxy.
Undoubtedly, freedom of enterprise in the 19th century left
the working population in industry and agriculture at liberty
to listen to the message of a Schulze-Delitzsch, Raiffeisen or
Charles Gide and to act upon it. In this way groups of people
all over Europe had recourse to self-help in the form of free
associations and, without expecting from the State anything
more than the legal protection it was ready to grant to any
honest form of enterprise, acquired economic power which
enabled them to add to their widening political liberties a
measure of economic freedom and independence hitherto beyond
their grasp.

Notwithstanding, the numbers of government-promoted and
directed co-operative organisations which ave spread over the
world in the last half-century, few if any of them have given
evidence of the same vigour, stability and self-reliance which
were displayed after 20 or 30 years' growth by organisations
founded entirely on self-help when the State's attitude might
be at best one of tolerance, but was often one of indifference
or even suspicion. It is probably true that men and women who
are accustomed to Liberty in society at large are the best
able to accept and apply it when building and working co-
operative institutions. Nevertheless, it is not in the
circumstances of any particular continent or period of
history, but rather in the nature of co-operation itself, that
the justification for numbering Liberty among the Co-operative
Principles to be found.

Dr. William King declared, as self-evident truth, that `Co-
operation is a voluntary act and all the power in the world
cannot make it compulsory'. This statement may perhaps be
described, not unfairly, as a rhetorical over-simplification.
Not a single act, but consistent voluntary action implying
countless acts and decisions directed over an unlimited period
to consciously-accepted common ends, is what successful co-
operation demands of its participants. The personal
involvement implicit by the term membership - expressed in the
unswerving loyalty of many co-operators to their societies -
can only result from the engagement of their will. In 1947,
when the newly re-constituted consumers' co-operative in
Hanover in Germany had only one small shop, members walked
miles across the war-blasted city to make their purchases from

It is because co-operatives, especially in their initial
stages of development, depend on this resolute will on the
part of their members that they normally do not ask that any
one should be under the least compulsion to join them or stay
with them longer than he or she desires. In either of these
cases, the will which the co-operative needs is lacking. The
passive, indifferent or reluctant member is a drag and an
eventual source of disunity and economic weakness. This
applies also to cases where a kind of indirect compulsion is
exercised by the action of government when it channels 
essential supplies through co-operatives in preference to less
reliable types of enterprise. There may be cogent reasons of
public policy for doing so under emergency conditions, but the
result is almost invariably to weaken the co-operatives
through the adhesion of members or customers who use them to
obtain articles unobtainable elsewhere and who cease to
purchase or who desert them as soon as the shortage comes to
an end. Of the hundreds of consumer co-operatives started in
India and other countries in the latter years of the Second
World War, the majority were moribund, if not already in
dissolution, five years after the fighting ceased. A similar
kind of indirect compulsion accounts for the high figures of
co-operative membership reported by East European countries
where co-operatives form a permanent feature of centrally-
planned and directed economies. The main difference is that
the co-operatives are not allowed to collapse through their
inherent inefficiency, but are kept alive by a kind of
artificial respiration provided by the propaganda of the
ruling totalitarian party, as well as supported, directly, by
their privileged position in the distribution of a wide range
of commodities, and indirectly by the restrictions and
disabilities imposed on other forms of trade.

Rather different is the compulsion sometimes advocated and
occasionally enforced in the field of agricultural marketing.
Where efforts to secure the orderly marketing of a product
through voluntary co-operatives have proved unsuccessful,
largely owing to the individualism of the farmers, reinforced
by the competition of private enterprises which offer better
prices in order to check the expansion of the co-operative,
legislation has been invoked to require all producers to
market their output through the co-operative. Shortly after
the First World War this method was adopted in some of the
States of Australia. Similar attempts a little later in Canada
to establish the compulsory pooling of wheat were
unsuccessful. Whatever may be urged in its favour on grounds
of public policy or on grounds of economy and equity,
compulsory use of a co-operative, although it may fall short
of compulsory membership, is an infringement of Liberty. Like
the trade unionists' `closed shop', it achieves by the use of
power what should be the end of a process of education. This
amalgam of the functions of a co-operative with those of a
marketing board is different from the case of the `binding
rule' or contract system in agricultural marketing co-
operatives which is considered later in this chapter.

Constraint becomes practically unavoidable, however, in many
newly-developed countries because of the time required by
educational processes, especially among illiterate people.
Under schemes of land reform, when great estates are broken
down among hitherto landless cultivators or tribal lands are
divided among individuals, provision must be made for co-
operative credit, supply, processing and marketing, if the new
owners are to develop their properties, make a decent living
and repay mortgage loans. Co-operative membership and use of
Co-operative services may thus become conditions imposed on
those intending to benefit by the scheme. In a Malaysian
project for jungle-clearance and rice cultivation visited by
the author in 1958, the government had promised to support the
cultivators until they made their holdings fully productive,
but they on their side were obliged to deliver their rice for
hulling and marketing to the local co-operative. Such breaches
of normal co-operative liberty can perhaps be defended or
tolerated if constraint does not become permanent but is
acknowledged to be imposed for a limited period within which
the member had a fair chance, not only to achieve economic
independence, but also to gain experience and education in co-

It remains to be noted that the application of the rule of
voluntary membership is normally modified in practice by other
rules, based on common sense or sound business methods,
intended to protect the interests of a co-operative society as
a whole. Thus, entry to a co-operative may be practically
automatic on the completion and signature of an application
form. Such an application is rarely, if ever, challenged. Yet
the society's rules usually provide for the approval of
applications by the board of management, as well as for the
right of the general meeting to reject an application which is
successfully challenged by any member. The right of a society
to protect itself against bad characters is no real
restriction of the liberty of the great majority of decent
members. Of greater practical importance are provisions in the
rules against sudden resignations from membership, especially
where the withdrawal of considerable sums of share capital may
be financially embarrassing to a society. The rules usually
entitle the management to insist on a period of notice before
capital is withdrawn or they may provide for a period within
which a member who has resigned may still be liable for a
share of the society's debts. In the large consumers'
societies of Europe, however, it is remarkable how easily and
speedily members are permitted to withdraw their savings,
whether share capital or deposits, in the event of a death or
other family emergency.

The concern of the co-operative movement for Liberty is
further illustrated by the care taken to ensure that the
liberties of individuals and of organisations are not
restricted unnecessarily, but only so far as the needs of the
common enterprise require. This is the explanation and
justification of the so-called neutrality of co-operative
institutions in politics and religion. The aim of any co-
operative being to promote its members' economy, all that it
requires of them when they join it is that they shall agree to
be bound by its rules. This is the only provision which can
possibly be regarded as a restriction of their personal
freedom and even here all members have equal rights in
amending or deleting rules which they find irksome,
ineffective or old-fashioned. Members are not obliged to
subscribe to any particular doctrine, whether religious,
political or social, nor to accept any principles which are
not inherent in the practice of co-operation itself. No one's
freedom of thought or opinion is compromised by membership of
a co-operative - indeed rather the reverse, for if a society
is successful in reinforcing its members' economic power and
independence, if often encourages them to greater boldness and
freedom of expression in general.

The empirical grounds for adopting a policy of neutrality or
independence of political and religious entanglements are
easily understood. Political and religious doctrines are the
matters on which people are most likely to disagree. To
identify co-operation with any particular doctrine is not
merely to compromise the liberty of members by committing them
to something with which they do not agree, but also to
infringe the Principle of Unity by risking division among the
membership and, at that, on a matter not essential to the
achievement of their society's economic objectives. Obviously
the term neutrality is ambiguous and for that reason has been
in a great measure replaced by `independence' among later
generations of co-operators. Neutrality does not mean and
never has meant passivity or non-resistance where the
interests of the co-operative movement or any of its branches
are threatened or even involved. At the most, it can mean
neutrality in relation to political parties but, even here,
much depends on the attitude to co-operation of the parties
themselves. The more the state departs from laisser faire and
assumes general responsibility for economic progress and
social welfare, the more will it become involved with the co-
operative movement and the movement with it.

The movement therefore cannot avoid the necessity of taking up
attitudes, of expressing opinions and of initiating action on
questions which are essentially - some times largely -
political, affecting its members' economic interests. All
depends upon its approach to them. If its attitudes and the
policies it favours are truly grounded in co-operative
principles and rightly designed to further the effective
performance of its economic and social functions, they will be
likely in the long run to strengthen rather than weaker its
unity and, with that, its influences in the wider economic and
social world. This can be achieved without giving any
considerable body of members cause to complain of an
infringement of their freedom of opinion or its opponents
pretexts for denouncing alleged perversions of its true nature
and objects.

The history of some of the European Co-operative Movements has
important lessons to teach on the difficulties and
disabilities which too close an attachment to political and
religious doctrines imposes on co-operative movements in the
discharge of their economic functions. Division along
political and religious lines still results in a dispersion of
co-operative energies and resources - for example in Italy and
in regard to consumers' co-operation especially, in Belgium.
The effect of division is not merely to split the movement
into relatively small sections but also to diminish its
aggregate size. In Holland the consumers' co-operative
movement to a large extent reconciled its differences and
united in a single overall federation, but the process of
unification required more than a generation and the Movement
served a smaller part of the retail market and exercised less
powerful influence than it might have done if it had reached
unity sooner. The leadership of the consumers' co-operative
movement in West Germany was wise to recognise, when the
Movement came to be reconstituted after the collapse of the
Nazi regime, that the consumer is not a political category and
that to perpetuate the former division of the co-operative
movement into two wings with differing political and religious
attachments would be foolish.

So far, this discussion has proceeded without touching upon
the deeper connection between co-operation and liberty because
this is to be sought more in the minds and behaviour of co-
operators themselves than in societies' rule books. If,
however, we are to discuss fruitfully the freedom of co-
operative organisations in relation to the movement as a
whole, we are bound to consider it, first of all, in relation
to the individual member. Agreement to accept the rules of a
society and conform to them does not measure the full extent
of a member's obligation to his or her society. That can only
be discharged if the member exerts what we have called a
resolute will to support it. If members choose co-operation
for the sake of the advantages it promises, they will never
reap those advantages unless they fulfil the conditions under
which alone they can be realised. They must be willing to make
the efforts and sacrifices, to pay the price, demanded for
what they wish to enjoy. The freedom from exploitation which
co-operation promises can never be freedom in the familiar
English phrase - to have one's cake and eat it. The members of
a co-operative cannot in the long run practise both co-
operation and individualism, either simultaneously or
alternatively, as many unenlightened co-operators seem to
think. If they try to do so, their co-operative will fail to
yield its expected benefits, because its unity will be
weakened and its bargaining power, as either buyer or seller,
diminished. The shoppers who are lured away by the countless
catch-penny inducements offered by competitive private trade
from regular purchasing at a co-operative store, or the
farmers who succumb to the temptation to sell their produce to
a dealer offering temporarily higher prices than their
marketing co-operative (often with the object of putting the
co-operative out of business), may in fact obtain short run
advantages, but these are unlikely to exceed the long-term
advantages they would derive from a co-operative capable at
all times of exerting its maximum power.

Of course individuals are often not so free as they fondly
believe. The housewife may be free to enter as she pleases a
co-operative store, company supermarket or private shop, but
what does that freedom signify if she is a brand-addicted
victim of the `hidden-persuaders'; if her choice of
commodities is determined, not by the independent knowledge
and judgement of their merits, but by the cumulative effect of
newspaper, poster and television advertising and the example
of neighbours as herd-minded as herself? Many consumers today
are docile subjects of some millionaire's economic empire,
transferable along with the assets and liabilities to some
other concern according to the highest takeover bid. In the
underdeveloped regions of the world, millions of agricultural
producers live in debt-servitude to the village trader-cum-
moneylender because, unless and until they practise co-
operation effectively, they are unable to do without him.
Multitudes can never achieve, as individuals, economic
independence and freedom from exploitation, but they can
attain collectively an increasing measure of such freedom and
independence through co-operation - provided that they are
willing to give up the largely illusory freedom of acting by
themselves for the limited and conditional, but real, freedom
they share on equal terms with their fellows.

It is important for the purposes of the present discussion
that freedom shall be defined in positive no less than in
negative terms (freedom to as well as freedom from), because
that implies more than the mere absence of external restraint
or constraint. Freedom is a product of the power which co-
operation generates. Because it confers power on those who
practise it, Co-operation enlarges their freedom. It does not
simply liberate consumers or producers from debt, it also
enables them to spend or save or invest their money to the
best advantage as they conceive it. Co-operation may also
enable them to emancipate themselves from dependence on local
markets or sources of supply and to sell their products or
make their purchases in whatever market offers the most
favourable prices and conditions. The more co-operatives are
able to dominate their economic environment, the more widely
they extend their members' freedom to command all kinds of
economic operations instead of remaining subservient to them.
Moreover the growth of the co-operative movement through
successive applications of the Principle of Association, as
described in Chapter Two, holds out the promise of indefinite
enlargement of this freedom, provided that co-operators
themselves are able and willing to accept and fulfil the
conditions. The progress of co-operation, in short, demands at
every important stage the surrender of lesser for larger

If there be any force in this reasoning, it should be possible
to treat as more apparent than real any restriction resulting
from the binding rule which obliges members of many
agricultural marketing and processing co-operatives to deliver
the whole of their output of specified products (save the
small quantities required for their own use at home or on the
farm) to their society for disposal. This requirement,
introduced in the early days of Danish Co-operative dairying
and widely adopted in Scandinavia, is intended to give the
society command of the largest and most regular volume of
supplies possible, in order that it may run its processing
plant economically and secure the best terms from the market.
The rule is therefore a buttress of the economic power of the
co-operative and consequently of the wider freedom it confers
on its members.

Is the binding rule, however, in a serious sense a restriction
of Liberty? Hardly, because it can be adopted at the formation
of any society, or later, only with the consent of the members
as a body; and new members joining of their own accord, when
the rule is already in force, should be aware of it as one of
the conditions of their membership. It has also been
pertinently observed that with the passage of time, the rule
has declined on the one hand because with improved education
and understanding among the members of their obligations, it
becomes less and less necessary as a support for efficient
marketing; and, on the other hand, because the courts of law
have been very reluctant, when co-operatives have sought to
enforce the rule in extreme cases on disloyal members, to
concede their case, for one reason because of the indefinite
duration of the obligation. If agricultural societies in a
fiercely competitive situation resort to a `contract' system
to ensure regularity of supplies in their members' own
interests, hardly any one would contend that their members, by
entering into a contract with their society, suffer any real
loss of liberty, especially when the only other practical
alternative is a contract, probably less to their advantage
with a private firm.

The most difficult and complex problems encountered today in
the application of the Principle of Liberty in the national
co-operative movements arise within unions or federations of
co-operatives from the need to adjust the movement's whole
structure to the contemporary evolution of the general
economic system. The federation of co-operatives, as an
application of the Principle of Association, has already been
discussed in Chapter Two. Allusion was there made to the fact
that federations are normally formed by primary co-operatives
in order to provide services which meet their common needs.
Where a so-called co-operative movement is being promoted from
the top downwards, a `Co-operative Union' may be created on
paper by decree before any primary co-operatives exist to be
united, as in 1945 in the Soviet Occupation Zone of Germany.
To such and similar cases, of course, the following remarks do
not apply.

It is highly exceptional for the primary co-operatives, which
are all separate, self-determining legal entities, to
surrender in principle any of their rights or liberties to the
federations, except when they have clearly mismanaged their
affairs and stand in need of rescue and rehabilitation. In
time, the unions or federations usually come to exercise
considerable influence over the primaries (the use of this
term implies a kind of paternal relation) and the more the
primaries depend upon them, the more this influence may verge
upon domination, more especially in the trading federations
than in the non-trading unions. The authority which even the
oldest of the great national co-operative unions exercise over
their affiliates still remains today much more moral than
constitutional or legal. The sanction of expulsion for
societies persistently failing to support or actively opposing
their co-operative union on a vital point of policy is invoked
only very rarely after all efforts at reconciliation or
compromise have failed. A paradoxical situation can sometimes
does result when resolutions of the national congress, the co-
operative union's supreme authority, may remain largely
inoperative because their implementation depends on action by
the primary societies. The resolutions are binding upon the
union's elected officers and salaried staffs, but not upon the
societies whose delegates have voted and whose officers are
responsible to their own general meetings.

One historical example was the fate of the recommendation made
by the Independent Commission of Inquiry set up by the British
Co-operative Union that the number of separate primary
consumers' societies should be reduced by amalgamation to the
extent of a few hundred. This recommendation (unlike some
others) was adopted by the congress, and the Secretariat of
the Co-operative Union was charged with the task of preparing
a plan on a national scale. A plan for reorganising the retail
distributive structure of the Movement on the basis of 300
district societies was in due course drawn up, submitted and
approved by Congress. It then became the duty of the Co-
operative Union's Sectional (i.e. regional) Boards, assisted
by the Secretariat, to implement the plan. The scheme was
never fully realised but was overtaken by the course of
events. It was followed by Regional Plans 1 and 2, but on the
whole the amalgamation of British consumer co-operatives
continues according to no truly consistent plan.

A rather exceptional development resulted from the requirement
of the co-operative legislation of some countries, notably
Germany and Austria, that primary co-operatives shall be
affiliated to unions invested with authority to audit their
accounts. This is really compulsory federation, for it is
indispensable to a society's legal existence, registration
being refused by the district courts if the society cannot
state the name of the audit union willing to grant it
affiliation. This system would be defended by the majority of
German co-operators who would argue that, without such a legal
obligation, the accounts of many primary societies,
particularly the many village societies of various kinds,
would never be efficiently or punctually audited. This is an
argument from expediency and it reflects upon the low standard
of co-operative education of the members and officers of these
primaries. The enforcement by the external authority of
government of functions which the business sense of co-
operators themselves should tell them are indispensable to
good management, is contrary to the spirit of voluntary
movement and an infringement of its democracy.

The strict doctrine, if a hard one, would appear to be that,
although authority to audit may be conferred by the state, the
responsibility for ensuring that there is an audit and that it
is duly carried out must rest upon the members who, if they
are negligent, rightly suffer any resultant losses. This is,
of course, not a criticism of the audit unions, for they have
proved their value over and over again as a means of ensuring
the financial stability and improving the management of the
primary societies. Their scrutiny of the accounts goes much
deeper than the verification of their correctness. The
auditors' report on societies' financial policies and the
instruction given to societies' boards of directors and
officials have tended towards reasonable uniformity in their
business policies and have built up a body of practice not
inaptly called `union discipline', which is an important
factor reinforcing the unity of the national co-operative
movement. Here and there the knowledge of the situation of
primary societies revealed by the auditors' reports, combined
with the knowledge of the abilities of co-operative officials,
gained through co-operative training schools and the
officials' subsequent records, have enabled national unions
(e.g. KK in Finland) to exercise a healthy influence on the
appointment of managers in the primary societies and in time
establish their right to be consulted before such appointments
are finally decided. As the importance of first-class
management becomes more widely recognised and societies grow
increasingly dependent on the technical guidance of the
unions, the more they are likely to admit union intervention
of this kind.

Rules of the Swiss Consumers' Co-operative Union, VSK, adopted
at a special general assembly at Berne in November 1964, are
of interest as an illustration of the limitations on their
freedom of action which the Union's affiliated societies were
willing to accept under present-day conditions. The first
clause of article 8 declares clearly that the autonomy of the
societies in regard to their internal organisation and
administration is not affected by their affiliation to the
Union. The second clause, however, makes reference to certain
exceptions which include, besides decisions taken by the
Union's general assembly which have obligatory force, the
conditions laid down for admission to affiliation (including
open membership, democratic administration, cash payments,
political and religious neutrality, dividend on purchases but
not division of accumulated reserves, no competition between
affiliated societies, etc). There are other obligations too,
such as purchase from the Union of goods offered on the same
terms as competitors; audit by the Union's fiduciary service;
subscription to the Union's journals on behalf of their
members and officers; admission of as Union delegation to
meetings of governing bodies for consultative purposes;
consultation with the Union on the appointment (or dismissal)
of managers; and information to the Union on projected
investments. Article 52 also empowers the Union to intervene
when a society is obviously unable to conduct its business
competently or it obstinately disregards the Union's advice.

Union discipline, as the events of the last decade have shown
in several national co-operative movements, has not always
been strong enough of itself to bring about the rapid
regrouping and structural changes urgently necessary in order
to make head against increasingly formidable competition. The
need to reconstruct the retail store network on the basis of
regional rather than local co-operatives was foreseen more or
less simultaneously in Britain, France and Germany. The
explanation of the societies' sluggish response to the
warnings and appeals of national leaders may be seldom simple
and clear, but it would seem that it is not so often external
obstacles as internal inhibitions which prevent co-operative
movements from rethinking their strategy and redeploying their
forces in the manner which changed circumstances demands. The
speed with which the private shopkeepers, with the support of
wholesalers, combined in voluntary chains in the 1950's
against the same threat of the great multiple and supermarket
firms stands out in marked contrast.

The example of the Austrian Consumers' Co-operative Movement
and its consolidation in Coop Austria, a central organisation
involved in all branches of the movement's activity, is worthy
of study in greater detail than the present work permits. The
consumers' co-operatives which were reconstituted after the
country's liberation from Nazi rule were partly reorganised on
a district instead of a local basis. In the succeeding 1950's
and 60's, a policy of amalgamation, transferring them step by
step to regional societies, was by general agreement
deliberately pursued. When regionalisation, more or less
complete, seemed inadequate to counter actual or threatening
competition, the final step was taken and Coop Austria was
constituted. Statistically, the Austrian Consumer Co-operative
Movement is one of the smaller European Movements with an
aggregate membership now exceeding 800,000. The quality of its
achievement, however, is remarkable. The constitution of Coop
Austria very largely took over the system of local democracy
and member relations maintained  for many years past in the
regional societies, with the result that the aggregate
attendance at the series of local, regional and national
members' meetings for 1985 amounted to 108,000 or
approximately one member in eight.

When the co-operative movement's procedures for reaching and
executing decisions are compared, to its disadvantage, with
the dispatch and ruthlessness of the unified administrations
of big profit-making concerns, its democracy is often blamed
and the remedy proposed is frequently administrative
centralisation, equivalent to a managerial revolution, rather
than efforts to make democracy effective. On the other hand,
some who resist the amalgamation of independent primary co-
operatives into larger units claim to be defending democracy.
On closer examination it would seem that what both parties are
miscalling `democracy' is nothing of the kind, but once-
democratic institutions decayed and abused by oligarchy and
minority rule. The real ground of objection to structural
change and far-reaching concentration is not the Democratic
Principle but loss of position in and power over snug little
empires built up be elected officers and permanent officials
who are as jealous of their independence as any national State
of its sovereignty. The inhibitions have causes which lie
deeper than the faults of Democracy in the failure of Co-
operative leaders to comprehend and apply other Principles.
Democracy is bound to be defective if the importance of Unity
as a dynamic factor is not appreciated. Education of all kinds
is narrow or neglected and the meaning of Liberty in a co-
operative context almost completely misunderstood.

Much of people's thinking about Liberty is still distorted by
the individualistic fallacy which has ruled most Western
thought on the subject for the last three centuries. It leads
us into conceiving man's liberty as freedom `from' rather than
freedom `with' his fellows. Disregarding the role of
fellowship and society in any truly human mode of living, it
brings us scarcely nearer to the concept of a free society
than the chaos resulting from un-coordinated and un-correlated
specialisation. As the inevitable content between
individualism and inter-dependence sways first to this side
and then to that, modern society is inherently unstable.
Social stability, together with economic efficiency, equity in
distribution and Liberty itself, can only be established if a
concept of social order comes to prevail capable of convincing
the consciences of individual men and women and therefore of
determining their conduct. Co-operation, if it is to display
its richest potentialities, demands a freely-accepted
discipline for the achievement of common ends, themselves
freely chosen. In co-operation true freedom has its analogue
in what we commonly call the free execution of a musician or
other artist. The artist's freedom is achieved by training
brain, nerves and muscles to respond to his intentions. he
becomes free to realise his conceptions when he is no longer
hindered by the inability of his organs to respond to his
impulses, either separately or in co-ordination - separately
because the willed movement of one member must not be impeded
by the unwanted movements of others; in co-ordination because
the movements of some members require the movement or proper
positioning of others. To play a single musical note on the
piano or violin is impossible without co-ordinated movements
of the fingers, hand, forearm, upper arm and even the trunk.
But if co-ordination is to be free and unfettered there must
also be independence. The pianist has to train himself, not
only to use each hand in entire independence, but also to use
every finger independently of its neighbour - and what is
more, leave the momentarily unused member completely passive
and relaxed. Tension induces rigour which impedes freedom.

The analogy here implied between artistic and co-operative
procedures is valid if we can accept Co-operation as being
fundamentally an art of social organisation. The fact that
this art is practised by groups and even multitudes, rather
than by individuals, makes no real difference. In all its
various manifestations, from the local primary society through
national federation to the International Co-operative
Alliance, Co-operation demands Liberty in Unity. The Unity
springs from an overriding common purpose which should animate
the wills of its adherents and towards which all its
diversified activities tend. To achieve its ends, the co-
operative movement must devise and practise a division of
group and individual functions and ensure that its various
units and sections are properly articulated, making their
several contributions with the minimum of mutual interference
and friction and maximum economy of effort to the grand
overall result. No division of functions can be fixed for all
time; it must be flexible and remoulded whenever it is found
to hinder rather than help the movement's progress - a process
marked by the combination of lesser in greater integers and
the corresponding merger of lesser in greater Liberties.