Is Co-operation Proletarian

Is Co-operation Proletarian?

by Professor Charles Gide

There are in the Alliance, and moreover in the Co-operative Movement as a
whole, two tendencies which are difficult to reconcile: one which wishes to
make Co-operation a `proletarian' Organisation, ranging itself with
trade-unionism and the Socialist Party against the middle classes; and the
other which is wrongly styled neutral and which it would suffice to call
simply `open', which means that it seeks to defend the interests of all
consumers, whether proletarian or middle class. It is not only a difference
of procedure, nor even of mentality, which separates these two programmes:
it is a difference of doctrine. Proletarian Co-operation only sees the
exploitation of the worker and is obsessed by the theories of Karl Marx,
who sees in all value only one element - labour; and who only sees in
profits a portion of labour for which the worker has not been paid.
So-called neutral Co-operation, in accordance with the theory of the new
economy, sees in value a creation of needs, and of demand, and in profits
that part of value which is levied without reason on the consumer and which
it wishes to restore to him.

But it is certain that the Marxist theory is not only more attractive to
the people but also much easier to understand: the theory of `final
utility' is not only distasteful but unintelligible to the worker.

We refuse to admit the theory set forth by the Russians that Co-operation
`is only for the poor and not for the rich'. No doubt it is more useful to
the former than the latter, but we consider that it is for everyone and
that if the rich are fleeced as consumers - and they certainly are! - they
also have the right to a place in Consumers' Co-operative Societies. To
make Co-operation a monopoly of the proletariat is not only a limitation
but a contradiction since Co-operation aims precisely at the suppression of
the proletariat. By claiming economic supremacy for the consumer it not
only fights against the dictatorship of capital but equally against that of

It is absolutely inexact to claim, as the Russians do, that Co-operation
has only succeeded where it has combined its action with that of the
working class. Sweden, Switzerland, and many other countries have very
flourishing Co-operative Organisations, although they are entirely outside
the class struggle. Co-operative Societies are gaining an increasing number
of members from amongst the middle classes.
Extract from Revue d'Economie Politique

Professor Gide on Advertising

Although it may be good tactics in warfare to borrow the weapons or to
adopt the methods of the enemy, we must not lose sight of the aim of
Co-operation, which is not so much to destroy private traders as to
transform commercial methods and manners. Co-operators must save the
milliards expended on advertising, the cost of which is, naturally, paid by
the consumer. Above all, they must avoid making use of advertising in the
way private traders do, that is to say, to press the consumer into needless
spending and to suggest to his mind expensive ideas of his needs all for
the sake of bringing profit to the trader. Let Co-operative Societies
advertise if they wish, but let it be simply with the object of making
known to the consumer his real needs and the source and quality of the best
means of satisfying them. For example, with regard to foodstuffs,
co-operative advertising should show through the pages of its journals, or
even by posters in shops, those goods which contain the maximum amount of
nourishment for the minimum cost. In a word, advertising by Co-operative
Societies should become a channel of instruction in domestic economy,
hygiene and commercial morality.