Introduction (1986)


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

         (Source:  Co-operative Principles, Today & Tomorrow
                    by W.P. Watkins, pp.xi-xiii)
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                         Introduction
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"The International Co-operative Movement represents a great
and inspiring idea of significance to the whole of
mankind.....Thus, Co-operation as a constructive expression of
man's age-old instinct for mutual aid holds out hope. It
offers men and women a clear unbroken line of thought and
action, leading from association with their nearest neighbours
and fellow workers stage by stage to mutual helpful relations
with other men and women in the farthest corners of the
world."

That extract, quoted by J.H. Ollman, the former Editor of the
Review of International Co-operation, is from The
International Co-operative Movement by W.P. Watkins. That work
gives an account of the world Movement, its size, its
membership, its success - and its problems. Appropriately
enough, it was published first in German, translated into
Swedish and has subsequently appeared in English, Spanish and
Japanese editions.

However, in this book, the remarkable Will Watkins turns away
from the descriptive to the world of theory and thought and
unfolds with remarkable clarity of expression for such complex
matters the inner workings of that same remarkable Movement -
`workings,' for as he makes abundantly clear, the Principles
are the power-house of the Movement.

The author is himself, of course, remarkable. He was born in
1893. With a clear mind, a strong memory and a never-varying
capacity for words he can recall, albeit not here,
conversations with Co-operators and educationists such as W.R.
Rae, Wilson Clayton and Albert Mansbridge, the founder of the
Workers' Educational Association, and with Fred Hall, with
whom he later collaborated to produce in 1935 - over 50 years
ago - the much acclaimed, simply titled, `Co-operation.' Their
acquaintance went back to before the First World War.

In 1909, he was one of a party which went to France to visit
workers' and consumers' co-operatives. The party was led by
H.J. May who, 20 years later, when Secretary of the
International Co-operative Alliance, invited the then young
Will Watkins to join the Secretariat of that organisation. Yet
later, in 1950, after work in Germany, he was destined to
become Director of the ICA and so stand in apostolic
succession to May.

In addition to knowledge, intelligence, intellectual
curiosity, enthusiasm and capacity for hard work, Will Watkins
brought to the ICA an exceptional gift of tongues. Laurie
Pavitt, the British Co-operative Labour Member of Parliament,
tells the story of how, having sent Will Watkins copies of the
`Catalan Co-operative News', he felt it incumbent on himself
to inquire whether the recipient could read Catalan. `Enough',
he replied in his precise yet succinct manner. It then
transpired that he had French and Spanish and thus, with his
retained feeling for and knowledge of Latin, was able to
follow the debates on the amendments of Co-operative Law in
Barcelona. He has Germany, well-nigh perfected by his four
years in Germany, and through German he is into the various
Scandinavian languages.

In this work Will Watkins takes us to the heart of the matter
- the Principles which make the Co-operative Movement tick,
not merely here in Great Britain but throughout the
international Co-operative Movement which he served so well.
He makes it clear that the Principles did not emerge by way of
spontaneous combustion or were not born exclusively from
cerebral, intellectual debate. on the contrary, they were born
out of reality, out of the experience of living. More, they
were destined to be endorsed by others in diverse lands and
diverse economies.

And yet, there is a dilemma here which he does not shirk, for,
if Co-operative Principles are born out of experience as well
as philosophy, does that no imply, or oblige us to infer, that
changing conditions inevitably give rise to changing, or at
least modified, Principles?

This is important for, whereas he suggests an almost divine
correlation between, on the one hand, adherence to these
clearly enunciated Principles and commercial success and, on
the other, the same connection between abandonment of these
Principles leading to commercial failure, he does not shy from
inviting attention to the situation when the choice lies
between pristine adherence to these Principles or their
development in order to prevail in the market place.

So, too, although the book is primarily about Principles, the
author is much too realistic to overlook the significance of
trade. It is trading, he reminds us, which gives the
Principles, the theories, the underlying philosophy their
reality. Moreover, in a delightfully gentle, en passant way he
invites our attention, and particularly that of the British,
to the strength of the commercially successful retail Co-
operative in Dortmund int he Federal Republic of Germany.

Writing for the Society of Co-operative Studies, John Morley,
the Chairman of the Plunkett Foundation, asked the question:
"What has made his (Watkins') views command attention?" He
went on to proffer the answer: "They are respected for several
reasons, but principally because they represent the knowledge
and experience of a oman generally regarded as the best
informed about the Co-operative situation in this country and
overseas of all the men and women of his generation". Not
quite! Will Watkins is the best informed man on Co-operative
matters in the world today: not only of his generation but the
two which follow. Moreover, this book proves it!

T.F. Carbery
University of Strathclyde
February, 1986