Many would agree it is now abundantly clear that a just and sustainable world cannot be achieved unless consumer-capitalist society is basically scrapped. It involves levels of resource use and environmental impact that are already grossly unsustainable, yet growth is its supreme goal. The basic form the alternative must take is mostly small, highly self-sufficient and self-governing communities in which we can live frugally but well, putting local resources directly into producing to meet local needs … without allowing market forces or the profit motive or the global economy to determine what happens.
Unfortunately even many green and left people do not grasp the magnitude of the De-growth that is required. We will probably have to go down to around 10% of the present rich world per capita levels of resource use. This can only be done in the kind of settlements and systems we refer to as The Simpler Way. Most of the alarming global problems now threatening our survival, especially ecological damage, resource depletion, conflict over resources and markets, and deteriorating social cohesion, cannot be solved unless we achieve a global transition to a general settlement pattern of this kind.
For some time the Eco-village and Transition Towns movements have been developing elements of the alternative we need to build, and there are impressive radically alternative development initiatives in the Third World, notably the Zapatistas and the Kurdish PKK. But the Catalan Integral Cooperative provides us with what I think is the most surprising and inspiring demonstration of what can be done and what we need to do.
Although only begun in 2010 the cooperative now involves many hundreds of people and many productive ventures, 400 of them involving growing or making things. Although there are far more things going on than those within the CIC its annual budget is now $480,000.
It is not just about enabling people to collectively provide many things for themselves underneath and despite the market system — it is explicitly, deliberately, about the long term goal of replacing both capitalism and control by the state. These people have not waited for the government to save them, they are taking control over their own fate, setting up their own productive arrangements, food supply systems, warehouses and shops, basic income schemes, information and education functions, legal and tax advice, technical R and D, and even an investment bank. Best of all is the collectivist world view and spirit, the determination to prevent the market and profit from driving the economy and to establish cooperative arrangements that benefit all people, not just co-op members.
The CIC is not a central agency running everything; it is an umbrella organisation facilitating, supporting and advising re the activities of many and varied cooperatives. It is unlike typical cooperatives in establishing projects which benefit all people in the region whether or not they are members of the CIC or associated cooperatives.
The huge significance of all this could be easily overlooked. In a world where capital, profit and market forces dump large numbers into “exclusion” and poverty, and governments will not deal properly with the resulting problems, these people have decided to do the job themselves. They are literally building an alternative society, not just organising the provision of basic goods and services, but moving into providing free public services like health and transport.
Thus the CIC is creating an economic system which contradicts and rejects the mainstream economy. It is an economy that is not driven by profit, self interest or what will maximise the wealth of those with capital to invest. There is social control over their economy, that is, there are collective decisions and planning in order to set up systems to meet community needs. People work to build and run good systems, not to get rich.
The CIC regulates the estimation of fair prices, and informs producers of consumers’ needs. Non-monetary forms of exchange are encouraged, including free goods and services, barter, direct connections between producers and consumers, and mutual giving. There is a LETS-type currency, the ECO, which cannot be converted into euros, and cannot be invested or yield interest. About 2,500 participate in it.
The CIC’s financial operations do not involve any interest payments. Loans are made for the establishment of ventures that will enable people to begin producing, but no interest has to be paid on these. In this radically subversive economy finance is about enabling the creation of socially-necessary production, not providing lucrative profits to the rich few who have capital to lend.
Frugality is an explicit goal of the CIC. The creation of commons is of central importance. They refuse to regard things like food as commodities, that is, goods to be produced and sold to make a profit.
Many items are distributed through the “Catalan Supply Centre”, a network for the transportation and delivery of the products of many small producers across the entire Catalonia region to twenty one self-managed pantries all over Catalonia. Twenty one thousand products are listed and 4,500 pounds of goods flow through them each month from the cooperative’s farmers and producers.”
About ten committees oversee other crucial areas. There is a technology committee responsible for the development of tools and machines adapted to the needs of member producers. One Committee facilitates ‘self-employment’ and the exchange of knowledge and skills and helps job seekers to match their skills to jobs, using an online directory of self-managed and cooperative projects in Catalonia. That is, they have set up their own employment agency, independent of the state.
Their form of government is a direct deliberative, participatory democracy involving decentralization, self-management, voluntary committees, “town assemblies” … and no bureaucracy and no top-down ruling or domination. In all meetings the goal is consensus decision making;
No aspect is more remarkable than the concern to set up public services. The intention is “… to displace the centrally-managed state apparatus of public services with a truly cooperative model for organizing the provision of social goods such as health, food, education, energy, housing and transport.”
When the realities of limits and scarcity are grasped it is clear that a sustainable society must be extremely localised, not centralised, that it cannot be established or run by the state, and that it can only work satisfactorily if it is run by communities via participatory means. Although there will always be a role for some central agencies it will be a relatively minor one as most of the decisions and administration will (have to) be handled down at the small community level. The CIC emphatically rejects the state as a means for achieving or running the new society.
The Simpler Way vision of a workable and attractive alternative society is sometimes criticised as unachievable because it is unrealistically utopian. The existence of the CIC demolishes that criticism. Its significance cannot be exaggerated; it and related movements are showing that the path that has to be taken if we are to get to a sustainable and just world can easily be taken.——-
Dafermos, G., (2017), The Catalan Integral Cooperative: an organizational study of a post-capitalist cooperative”, Commons Transition, 19th Oct. https://cooperativa.cat/en/george-dafermos-publishes-his-report-about-catalan-integral-cooperative/
Ted Trainer is a retired lecturer from the School of Social Work, University of New South Wales. He has written numerous books and articles on sustainability and is developing Pigface Point, an alternative lifestyle educational site near Sydney.