This document has been made available in electronic format by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA ---------------------------------------------------------- July, 1996 (Source: Review of International Co-operation, Vol.89, No.2/1996, p.47-52) --------------- The Role of Ideology and Organisation in the ICA's Survival between 1910-1950 by Rita Rhodes* ************************************************** Introduction ------------- This paper derives from a Ph.D. thesis, The International Co-operative Alliance During War and Peace 1910 - 1950, of which the ICA published a book version in 1995. Both thesis and book looked at questions of how and why the ICA survived the two World Wars and the Cold War when similar international working class movements split under pressures of total war and divisions of doctrine. Being more limited in scope this paper will concentrate on analysing the two main reasons advanced for the Alliance's survival, namely its ideology and organisation. At the outset we should note that the period 1910 to 1950 was one in which consumer co-operatives predominated, helping to shape the Alliance's culture, and ethos and providing its leaders. In turn these factors influenced its organisation and ideology. ICA Organisation 1910 - 1950 ----------------------------- Organisation is defined as the ICA's Constitution and authorities. During the period the Alliance's Constitution changed little. Only minor amendments were made with its main features remaining intact. One reason for the Constitution's durability was that it enjoyed widespread acceptance and the confidence of ICA member organisations. It also legitimised ICA decision making, and the longer it survived the more skilled ICA Member organisations became in using it. This was seen particularly clearly during the Cold War when east-west tensions were contained within the framework of the Constitution and not allowed to split the ICA. Between 1910 and 1950 the ICA Constitution exhibited four main characteristics. Ideological Consistency ------------------------ The first was ideological consistency, illustrated by the similarity between the ICA's original Constitution and that which was amended in 1948. The former stated Alliance Objects as being the fostering of relations between the co-operators of different countries, the elucidation of co-operative principles and the establishment of commercial relations between co-operators in different countries. In 1948 these objectives largely remained but were spelt out at greater length: a. To be the universal representative of Co-operative Organisations of all types which, in practice, observe the Principles of Rochdale b. To propagate Co-operative Principles and methods throughout the world c. To Promote Co-operation in all countries d. To safeguard the interests of the Co-operative Movement in all its forms e. To maintain good relations between its affiliated Organisations f. To promote friendly and economic relations between the Co-operative Organisations of all types, nationally and internationally g. To work for the establishment of lasting peace and security.1 Article 1 of the Constitution as amended in 1948 also reflected the Alliance's concern to advance co-operation as a distinct form of social ownership. "The International Co-operative Alliance, in continuation of the work of the Rochdale Pioneers and in accordance with their principles, seeks complete independence and by its own methods to substitute for the profit-making regime a co-operative system organised in the interests of the whole community and based upon mutual self-help."2 The period between these two statements of objects spanned more than half a century, but their similarity suggests that the values underlying them had been successfully transmitted through several generations. In other words there had been an active ideology which had shown a fair degree of consistency. ICA Membership --------------- The second characteristic of ICA organisation during the period was a homogeneity which derived from the way in which member organisations were recruited and the type of co-operative that these represented. As far as the former was concerned the Alliance's first Constitution had laid down that ICA Membership was to "comprise co-operative groups, federations and associations and . . . individuals who were members of co-operative associations." Within a few years there were moves to exclude individual members and to base ICA membership instead on national co-operative organisations. The phasing out of the membership of individual persons was completed by 1921. Thereafter ICA membership was either "individual", meaning that of individual co-operative societies or "collective", in that it was based on co-operative societies' apex organisations. The latter soon became the main form of ICA membership and had the effect of streamlining and strengthening its organisation. As far as the type of co-operative was concerned, consumer co-operatives soon comprised the largest single group. This occurred despite the fact that, under its Constitution, the Alliance was open to all kinds of co-operatives. The figures speak for themselves. In 1927 the ICA had an affiliated membership of nearly 43 million of which just over 31 million were members of consumer societies.3 By 1946 those figures had risen to almost 99 million and 56 million respectively.4 The predominance of consumer co-operatives encouraged an ideological cohesiveness, strengthened by the fact that they were the type of co-operative most closely associated with Rochdale. Thus in the ICA between 1910 and 1950, Co-operative Principles were synonymous with Rochdale Principles and consumer co-operation with co-operation generally. We should recall that it was the period in which the consumer theory of co-operation had recently triumphed over that of producer co-operation. Consumer co-operatives were considered the main vehicle for co-operative expansion and their influence on the ICA was seen in many ways, not least in its methods of accountability and control. Accountability and Control -------------------------- These developed in a stable framework: during the period the Alliance's "authorities" remained unchanged. Except for the post of General Secretary, which was provided for in the Rules revisions of 1910, the Central Committee and the Executive Committee it elected, and the Congress, had been laid down in the first Constitution. However, between 1895 and 1910 the Central Committee, although nominally responsible for business between Congresses, was not able to meet regularly because of the cost and difficulties of travelling. By the First World War, however, it was becoming easier for it to convene at times other than immediately before or after a Congress. Before then the Executive "Bureau", renamed Executive Committee by 1914, conducted day-to-day business on behalf of the Central Committee. Its officers, who worked on a voluntary basis, acted as an embryonic Secretariat. As we noted, Rules revisions at the Hamburg Congress, 1910, provided for the position of a General Secretary, although that post was not filled until 1913. Thereafter the Secretariat grew. Alliance authorities operated within a democratic framework in that the General Secretary was responsible to the Executive and Central Committee, while the Executive was answerable to the Central Committee. In turn that reported its conduct of the Alliance's affairs to the Congress which had ultimate authority. Durability and Flexibility -------------------------- Durability and flexibility were features of the Alliance's Constitution. One reason for the former was the Constitution's fairness. For example, voting rights and subscriptions as laid down by Congress, were weighted according to the membership of affiliated organisations. Only the two largest movements, the British and the Soviet, were asked to accept restrictions on their voting rights without any commensurate reduction in their membership fees. The Stockholm Congress, 1927, decided that no country, or union of countries, should command more than one-fifth of Congress votes or hold more than a given number of seats in the Central Committee. The Constitution's flexibility was assisted by the evolution of a number of conventions. One appeared in the late 1920s after the Soviet Central organisation, Centrosoyus, requested an automatic seat on the ICA Executive. It was decided that the election to the Executive should remain on an international, rather than on a national basis,5 but the convention developed that Soviet members were elected to the Committee, often at Vice-Presidential level. Other examples of flexibility occurred during the two World Wars when improvised arrangements were made by British, French and American member organisations to keep limited ICA activities going. These war-time initiatives were all reported to, and approved by, subsequent Congresses. To conclude this section we should reiterate the point made earlier that ICA organisation was very much shaped by the Alliance's ideology. Ideology -------- Let us now turn to that ideology in which four distinct features could be discerned. Co-operative Principles ----------------------- While the ICA espoused some pre-Rochdale co-operative ideas including opposition to the effects of capitalism, and support for self-help and mutual benefit schemes, it's ideology was most heavily influenced by Rochdale. Even so it did not become the "guardian" of Co-operative Principles until 1930 when the Vienna Congress decided that the ICA should undertake a review of Rochdale Principles on the grounds that they were almost a hundred years old yet lacked a definitive statement.. Fears were expressed that some ICA member movements were failing to observe them fully, while others were applying them in different ways. Reports of the subsequent review were made to the London and Paris Congresses of 1934 and 1937 which largely reaffirmed Rochdale practices, but with some degree of prioritisation. For example, the basic Principles were held to be those of Open Membership, Democratic Control, Dividend on Purchases and Limited Interest on Capital. A second league comprised Political and Religious Neutrality, Cash Trading and the Promotion of Education.6 Other features of the Rochdale system were also endorsed, but not given the status of Principles. These included trading exclusively with members,7 voluntary membership8 and sale at current market prices.9 Disagreement arose, however, on the question of "inalienable assets", because of different practices in different ICA member organisations. Finally it was agreed to recommend that co-operatives should make regular allocations to inalienable reserves and seek legislative provision for indivisible collective assets. Thus the 1930s review of Rochdale Principles endorsed a major part of ICA ideology but there were also other elements. Consumer Co-operation and Socialism ------------------------------------ A distinction between consumer co-operation and socialism was articulated when, at its Copenhagen Congress, 1910, the Socialist International tried to bring trades unions and co-operatives into closer association. The move failed and the ICA Congress in Hamburg a few days later was able to report that the Socialist International had agreed that co-operatives' political neutrality necessitated their remaining independent. However, there had been agreement that workers' parties, trades unions and co-operatives should work together on matters of mutual interest. Prof. Charles Gide, the French co-operative leader and a prominent figure in the ICA, went on to draw an important distinction between socialism and consumer co-operation. Pointing to the growing significance of consumers in national economies, he argued that consumer co-operatives enhanced consumers' power through their wholesales which allowed consumer involvement in primary production and a better marrying of demand and supply. Through such vertical integration consumer co-operation was creating a new economic system capable of transforming large parts of private enterprise into co-operative social ownership. Gide denied that this was the kind of expropriation that many socialists sought. Rather it was the triumph of a superior system through the play of market forces. Moreover, unlike some socialists, cooperators did not believe that class conflict was inevitable because "the consumer does not represent any class . . . everybody is a consumer . . everybody, Socialist or otherwise, has the right of admission to the association." 10 Despite the pointing up of such differences the Alliance found it difficult to retain part of its ideology that had been enshrined in its Constitution since 1895, namely political neutrality. Co-operation and Political Neutrality ------------------------------------- Dr. William King (1786-1865) had first argued that co-operation functioned best when free from the state or government. The Rochdale Pioneers later adopted political neutrality as a defensive mechanism. It served much the same purpose in the ICA because it helped to separate the Alliance from the political actions of its members. Even so, some ICA member movements such as the Scandinavians, feared that the ICA was taking political positions when it declared on issues such as the League of Nations, world peace and the protection of co-operative movements from fascist regimes. Increasingly during the inter-war years, the ICA found it difficult to maintain political neutrality, thus creating tensions between it and other parts of ICA ideology. As war approached, many in the Alliance recognised that peace might have to be sacrificed in order to save democracy. Peace -------- This dilemma was difficult for an organisation that had passed its first Peace Resolution at its Manchester Congress in 1902, where it had also decided to join the International Peace Bureau. Subsequent ICA Congress also passed peace resolutions, the most famous being that of the Glasgow Congress, 1913. Between 1932-1934 the Alliance had observer status at the International Conference on Disarmament held in Geneva. Thus it can be seen that the ICA had held a sustained peace policy over many years which pre-dated the period 1910 - 1950 and continues to the present day. To conclude this section we should note that throughout the period the ICA had an active ideology. Not all the parts of this necessarily sat easily with each other but, overall, they had a cohesive effect on Alliance membership, even during war. Conclusions ------------ Evidence suggests that its ideology and organisation were two over-arching reasons why the Alliance survived the two World Wars and the Cold War when similar international working class organisations split. There were, of course, other factors but these were less significant or occurred in a haphazard or contingent fashion. Such conclusions raise questions about the Alliance since 1950. The earlier close relationship between ideology, organisation and homogeneity of membership has long since passed: ICA membership has widened, become more diverse and with a wider geographical spread. No single type of co-operative now has the hegemony that consumer co-operatives exercised between 1910 - 1950. It therefore seems pertinent to consider how this might have affected ICA ideology and whether, for example, it has weakened the earlier close relationship between the ICA's ideology and organisation. Footnotes --------- 1. Report of ICA Congress, Prague, 1948, p113 2. ibid 3. Review of International Co-operation, No.3. March 1929, p89 4. Report of ICA Congress, Prague, 1948, Appendix vi 5. Minutes of Meeting of ICA Executive, Bremen, 28-29 March 1928, p7 6. Report of ICA Congress, London, 1934, p155 7. ibid pp150-151 8. ibid p152 9. ibid p153 10. GIDE, Charles, The International Co-operative Alliance, Presumed date of publication 1920 --------------------- * A past student of the British Co-operative College and the Co-operative Research Unit of the} Open University, UK, Dr. Rhodes became a Lecturer in Further and Higher Education and also held educational posts in the Co-operative Union, National Co-operative Development Agency and the International Co-operative Alliance. She has also undertaken co-operative assignments in Egypt, Malaysia, Mongolia and Sri Lanka.