Praktyka Teoretyczna – 1(27)/2018
Cooperation as the Institution of the Common
Issue editors: Bartłomiej Błesznowski, Mikołaj Ratajczak
POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY OF POLISH COOPERATIVISM
“Stateless socialism” is the fourth chapter of Edward Abramowski’s book Socialism and State. A Contribution to the Critique of Contemporary Socialism. Abramowski, a Polish political philosopher and social theorist, was also one of the founders of the cooperative movement in Poland. Written at the turn of 1903 and 1904 and published in 1904 (Polish Society of Publishers, Lviv) under the alias “M. A. Czajkowski”, Socialism and State is one of Abramowski’s most important works, and is devoted to the philosophical justifications of socialist politics, the subversive character of social facts, and the doctrine of stateless socialism, the realisation of which was, according to Abramowski, the cooperative movement. In opposition to both classical Marxism and the social-democratic trend, which found in the state a tool by which the workers’ movement would free itself from the chains of capitalism, by taking over, democratizing, and at the same time expanding state institutions, Abramowski proposes a vision of a grassroots revolution of specialised associations. Their ideology does not constitute a political doctrine, but is political practice itself, the domain of the common that allows the masses to create an autonomous subjective experience. Thus, the philosopher presents his concept of class struggle, grasped as a creative element of differentiation of forms of socialisation. This understanding also allows him to define class not as a substantial feature of a political subject, but as a kind of condition or action. He perceives the revolution as a transformation of the subject position in relation to the socio-economic conditions that define it, an ethical change that opens new possibilities for community life in the heart of the ancien regime.
Keywords: stateless socialism, cooperativism, economic democracy, revolutionary politics
The paper by Jan Wolski — a Polish theoretician and cooperative activist — constitutes the third section of the book Spółdzielczy samorząd pracy [Cooperative Labour Self-Management], which he wrote over the years of 1943-1956, but which was never published as a whole. The manuscript, from the author’s family archives, includes the information that this piece was “written in 1943 for the Inter-union Cooperative Committee (functioning underground in Warsaw during II World War) and the Socialist Planning Commission”. Entitled Cooperative Labour Self-Management, this section of the planned book was published in the monthly magazine Więź [Bond], issue no. 2 of 1972, and in 2011 on the website Lewicowo.pl. It contains Wolski’s deliberations regarding the functioning of cooperative labour self-management under the conditions of a social and economic transformation heading towards a classless society. Wolski believed a universal labour-based political system to be one of the essential conditions of socialism, supplanting the old organisational forms originating from the capitalist period. As such, universal labour self-management together with other forms of popular self-government, and particularly user self-government, constitutes a transmission belt between the populace’s grassroots activity and top-down political organisation. Mindful of Edward Abramowski’s teachings, Wolski considered that only having the state based on self-governing cooperative institutions consisted the true realisation of universal will, and thereby the realisation of socialist ideals.
Keywords: labour self-management, cooperativism, stateless socialism, economic democracy
The aim of the article is twofold. First, it is to interpret the main philosophical ideas of the Polish cooperative movement from the first part of the twentieth century and how they were applied in practice, by using the conceptual vocabulary of post-structuralist and post-Operaist political philosophy; and, second, to further develop the notion of “institutions of the common” that Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri introduced — during debates about alternatives to both capitalism and the state-form — with their formulation of “principles of the common”, which is to say, general principles for creating democratic and popular institutions around the ideas of inclusion and solidarity, an ethos of mutual help and democratic governance over production and exchange of material wealth.
Keywords: cooperativism, the common, altermodernity, Abramowski, Społem
THE PAST AND FUTURE OF COOPERATIVISM
This paper discusses Polish consumer cooperatives in terms of the embedded economy as understood by Karl Polanyi. The author compares today’s “new” cooperatives, or informal groups of consumers that have been emerging in Poland since 2010, with the “old” consumer cooperative movement that existed between 1906 and 1939, as represented mainly by the “Społem” consumer cooperative union. Following Polanyi’s understanding of the relationship between human economy and social institutions, I analyse reciprocity and redistribution as forms of economic integration in past and present cooperatives. Although the “new” cooperatives refer to the prewar cooperative traditions, their structure and economic operation differ vastly from the original model. I argue that the present structure of consumer cooperatives does not provide a base for symmetry and centricity – “supporting structures” for reciprocity and redistribution – although some of the new cooperatives do offer solutions for those deficits. This paper also discusses the nature of class barriers in the contemporary and historical consumer-cooperative movement, and relates this issue to Polanyian notions of countermovement and class interest.
Keywords: consumer cooperatives, embedded economy, forms of economic integration, reciprocity, countermovement, Karl Polanyi.
With the widespread adoption of ICT technologies, platforms, social media and sharing economy businesses have emerged as models of economic organization. This paper examines their functioning on a micro level to provide a thorough critique. The theory of cognitive capitalism and opposing arguments are explored in order to bring a holistic understanding and observe how value is captured and accumulated with the use of technological apparatuses. Cognitive capitalism is not uniform, however, and recognition of the special properties displayed by networks makes it possible to identify the challenge posed by the rising array of netarchist platforms. Platform cooperativism is the proposed egalitarian and long-term sustainable counter, as it aims to design new tools in line with the commons paradigm. Finally, the paper provides key insights into the specifications, difficulties, and next steps required to lead to better platform co-ops and a better future.
Keywords: platform cooperativism, cognitive capitalism, sharing economy, value, digital commons.
In this paper I trace the contradictions embedded in global artistic circulation, which is dialectically analysed as a nexus of exploitation and a site where the commons can be instituted. To enable this argument, I synthesise the methodologies of dialectical materialism, the sociology of art and action research, supplementing a theoretical overview of systemic pressures with a keen observation of the social practices that emerge in critical response to it. Basing my analysis on empirical evidence, I examine social conflicts, triggered by the extracting value from the distributed labour of artistic networks, as political opportunities to be seized by progressive art workers. Thus, I propose a new perspective on current processes of incorporating contemporary art into the late-capitalist cycles of accumulation and modes of establishing and reproducing social distinctions. Instead of mourning for – presumably lost but still positively valorised – artistic autonomy, I argue for a revamping of the apparatuses regulating artistic circulation for the sake of the labouring multitudes.
Keywords: artistic circulation, social conflict, the common, self-entrepreneurship, structural opportunism, art workers.
MONEY AS THE INSTITUTION OF THE COMMON
The diffusion of alternative financial and credit circuits, in which the money favours the self-management of social wealth, may curb the expropriation caused by processes of abnormal indebtedness that increasingly characterise economic systems. The article proposes an examination of four experiences with complementary currencies that have sprung up in Europe after the recent crisis, distinguishing between local currencies (Sardex, SoNantes and Sol Violette) and crypto coins (Bitcoin). The possibility of taking advantage of the monetary know-how that animates various experiences (like crypto coins and local clearing houses) would contribute to the re-thinking money as a social institution. Three main topics are discussed: 1. the “political technologies” in which the alternative monetary circuits consist; 2. democratic participation in the decision-making processes that characterise them; and 3. the meaning of the sovereignties that they potentially define.
Keywords: complementary currencies, Bitcoin, Sardex, Sol Violette, SoNantes, the common.
This article discusses the most recent publishing projects devoted to the history and intellectual accomplishments of the Polish cooperative movement before 1939. It illustrates the political dimension of the concept of cooperation, the need to deepen the research on the symbolic universe of the movement and the effect which defining the peripheral status of the Polish economy had on the development of the economic analyses of the Polish cooperators. The political philosophy of Polish cooperativism, created primarily by Edward Abramowski, in many respects exceeds the limitations characteristic for the classical modern ideologies of the political left-wing, thanks to which it inscribes in the process of “inventing tradition” by the modern emancipation movements in Poland.
Keywords: cooperativism, Edward Abramowski, democracy, Polish cooperative movement, radicalism.
The essay is a review of Michael Hardt’s and Antonio Negri’s Assembly and it aims at a critical evaluation of its empirical relevance and political usefulness. It focuses on two issues. The first one is general and as such relates to the global context of struggles against capital: the notion of social factory and its implications for political action. The essay argues that the concept of social factory grasped an important development within twentieth century capitalism. It is, however, becoming more and more irrelevant as living labour is being systematically replaced by automation. Unlike the social media or other similar forms of “digital capitalism” analysed in Assembly, a very large part of automation does not depend on any kind of continuous, multitudinous human input. It rather aims at uploading the general intellect into the system of autonomous machines, making them independent from the human element. The second issue this essay examines is the recent populist-conservative turn and the situation of peripheral countries that had no part in the recent progressive cycle of struggles (Arab Spring, Occupy, Indignados). The essay points to a bias in the post-Operaist project – its focus on particular geographical and socio-cultural areas – that ignores the different social and political situations of some peripheral countries, especially those of Central-Eastern Europe.
Keywords: social factory, algorithmization, post-Operaism, populism, peripheries.
A review of Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval’s book Commun: essai sur la révolution au XXIe siècle. Following a manuscript published by the author at Pós Ciências Sociais (a peer-reviewed journal on the social sciences of Federal University of Maranhão – Brazil), in this text the author discusses Dardot and Laval’s approach to the problem of the common in light of both their theoretical path and the contemporary political impasses of neoliberal capitalism. In this sense, three main axes are articulated in this text: the institution of the common, neoliberal rationality and the problem of governmentality.
Keywords: common, capitalism, neoliberalism, crisis, governmentality.
This is a review of Jamie Woodcock’s study of the call centre as a workplace, Working the Phones. The text discusses the methodology of co-research and the results of Woodcock’s engagement with forms of control and resistance in call centres.
Keywords: co-research, call centre, control, resistance, operaismo.