Cooperatives and socialism: Prof Wolff on All Things Co-op

Professor Wolff recently joined the hosts of All Things Co-op in a special event to talk about cooperatives, Marxist theory, critiques of capitalism, and more. 

In this conversation Prof Wolff shared many personal stories, including how his French father’s determination created a Latin class for him to take in his Ohio high school, his experiences in Ivy League schools, and how he became interested in cooperatives

Wolff: “I spent 10 years of my life in these Ivy League places and they were constantly telling me economics is price theory and I kept saying that’s not why I came here. I’m interested in how it’s all arranged, what it does to human beings in society, and how we can change it… I didn’t know anything about worker co-ops but the more I studied the more I understood that Marx’s idea meant to pose the question, well what then, if not that? I had heard about Yugoslavia, or about Kibbutzim in Israel, or about those hokey little agricultural co-ops that made cheese in Wisconsin or wine in France. Suddenly it all came together. It’s an attempt to organize the production process without master/slave, lord/serf or employer/employee. Literally dozens of bits of Marxism that I had known but didn’t see how they’d fit together, then fit.”

He also shared a story of talking to entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley, who had left the large tech companies such as Google and Oracle in order to create their own startups. They shared with Prof Wolff how they were much happier and more creative working with each other, making decisions together. 

Wolff: “I said, you know what you’re doing? You are acting out Karl Marx’s notion of communism. It was hysterical. I wish I had a camera. I would explain to them, no one ever taught you Marxism. That’s why you don’t know what you’re doing. And I’m here to make you uncomfortable. You walked away from capitalism and you created communism because it makes you happier and makes you more productive… Some of them still write to me.”

Prof Wolff explained how he feels it’s critical that cooperatives have political representation, how the US could follow some examples of political movements in the UK that can foster cooperative growth, and how co-ops are a very promising idea when coupled with the argument that we should move on from monarchy-like organizational structures.

Wolff: “When the United States made a revolution, it didn’t get rid of King George III and erect King George Washington. We didn’t do that because we didn’t want that anymore. But why do we allow it to live on [in the workplace]? And the co-op is the answer. The co-op is the alternative. Self-determination of the working man and woman.”

These are just some snapshots of a long conversation that is filled with many other stories and insights. It is our latest piece of work that aims to provide simple and relatable content for a wide audience, and explain how and why we should move beyond capitalism.

Wolff: “It’s a fantastic irony, when I talk to socialists and explain why co-ops are relevant they’re uncomfortable. When I talk to co-op people and tell them how it’s relevant to socialism they’re uncomfortable. Because neither of them figured out yet that these things can and should go together. And that, in a sense, is my project.”

In solidarity,
The d@w Team
Democracy at Work

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