Upton Sinclair's Co-op, 1936


1. "It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old." 1905 preamble at the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World

2. "This spell of 'hard times' was caused, not by scarcity of anything, but by abundance of everything; there was plenty of food, clothing, and shelter, and the means of producing more; the trouble was that the workers didn't own the product, nor the means of producing, and had no money to buy or to exchange. It was a question of creating a new method by direct barter; also a new form of credit, the confidence of the community in a group of men and women who were willing and able to work, and would keep their promises and agreements." 38, 39

3. "They would form an organization in which all would be partners, on a basis of equal sharing in its benefits; they would build something more powerful than any one of them could alone, and which would protect them all. How far they could get with it would depend upon the amount of solidarity they could develop, and the collective intelligence they displayed in meeting their daily problems. They might get some help from outside, but they must learn to depend upon their own efforts; they would build a society of workers, not of beggars, and they should make the rule at the outset to give a return for everything they got. This might make things harder at the start, but it was the only way to build credit, the main asset they sought to create." 39

4."'We go to the farmer who has food,' said Day. 'We don't ask him to feed us free; we ask him to think of some kind of work which he needs, and which we can do for him. If we do that work well, that farmer is ready to trade with us in future; if he doesn't need any more work at once, he will take a credit, and have the right to call on us. Our problem is to make hundreds of contacts like that, and in every case make a friend, and so increase our power.'" 39

5. "'What is more important for you to think about, and to get right at the outset is the principles on which your society is founded; your form of organization, your technique of management. If you get those things right, you can grow and prosper; if you don't get them right, all your labor and enthusiasm may be wasted in friction of one sort or another.'" 42

6. "'It is important to get food and clothing and shelter, but it's even more important to get ideals, and to realize that your are working for something greater than yourself. A true co-operative has to be based on human brotherhood; we ought to state at the outset that we are open to all men without distinction of race or color or creed or party. We should ask no questions except, first, are you able to work, and second, are you willing to work. In the next place, we must all stand on an equal basis; every man and woman must be rewarded in proportion to the time they give to the co-op. I know that some kinds of service are more important than others; but such distinctions cannot be made until everybody has the basic necessities--and that you will find is a long time off.'" 43

7. "'Also, you must have an exact accounting system. It will be better not to start until you get that. You must know what everything costs to produce, otherwise you will not know what to charge for it. The only sound basis for a co-operative economy is to have every credit you issue represent wealth which you have actually produced, and are in position to deliver.'" 43

8. "'We must have complete democracy in the control of our organization; but also we must have efficiency, if we are really to get a living out of it. We must choose our leaders; then we must follow them, until such time as the majority may vote to replace them. At the outset we shall have a lot of cranks and nuts with us, people with hobbies to ride, and people who want to get something for nothing. But little by little we shall find those who can work, ad those who are able to carry responsibility. Those are the ones we must put in charge.'" 43

9. Everybody was under the spell of the illusion spread by the capitalist press, that the depression was a temporary thing, and prosperity was coming back and give everybody jobs." 48

10. ". . . I am committed to co-operatives, which are an actual beginning at the collective ownership of the tools of production. If we are going to try such an experiments, we have to get clear in our minds what we are doing, and in what spirit." 51

11. "'If we get a little cash, it will have to go for tools to work with; we can't use any of it to support our members, or to feed them. If we did, we'd just be one more soup kitchen; people would support it for a while, and then get tired of it, as they do--and we'd have no co-op. If we can raise some cash, it must go for a plow, or some water pipe for our garden, or a saw, or whatever we need for the work.'" 55

12. "'If this tool belonged to a private owner, and he hired the men, the wood would belong to him, and he would take it to a shed and store it, until he had a chance to sell it for more than he paid for it. The supply would pile up, and presently we'd have overproduction and hard times, and the men would be on charity. But after we get this saw paid for, the wood we produce will be ours, and it won't have to be sold for profit. It will go into the commissary, and be gone before night." 126

13. "'But it is easy to imagine that this gang and this saw might produce more wood than all your members need.'

'Of course; but that would be a blunder of headquarters. It would be their job to distribute the labor, and produce less wood and more potatoes.'"126

14. "If it's all right to invent machinery, why isn't it all right to invent new social forms?'" 127

15. "Usually they didn't have to take a vote on propositions; they discussed them until everybody had had his say, and the sentiment had become unanimous. It was a collective mind coming into being and learning to function." 131

16. ". . . It was a store without cash. Instead, you presented a little white card, which was your credit for ten hours labor, one thousand 'points.' The card had rows of numbers on it, fives and tens and twenty-fives and hundreds; when you made a purchase, some of these numbers were punched off." 138

17. "'Men,' said Charlie, 'we agreed in the beginning we'd have no bosses. We used to call them supervisors, but that didn't make it clear, so we changed it to co-ordinators. He is supposed to co-ordinate what you are doing. You know you can't work at random; you can't lay that pipe just any old way; somebody has to see that the joints are tight and that ditch is level.'"168

18. ". . . If they didn't like their co-ordinator, they could call a meeting of the section, and vote to replace him; they had the power to do that. Apparently they didn't understand just what a co-operative was, and that they themselves owned the tools they worked with, and the product." 169

19."'We just have to make up our minds that we can't live out of the commissary at this stage . . . We can't be independent until we can get big tools, a mass production system in at least one line. It doesn't matter what it is--lumber or oil or fishing, it's got to be some extractive industry, where we take the wealth from nature, and we own the product. Until that time we are dependent upon the relief people, and we've got to make the best terms we can with them, and try to get them to understand self-help and production for use.'" 176

20. "Nobody had explained to them that modern business is conducted on credit, and that in many cases a man's success was measured by his ability to contract debts." 180

21. "As for what was owed to outsiders, Sig tried to show that this was the measure of their success. They had set out to get the people of the community to trust them, and had succeeded to the amount of a couple of million points. That was their working capital, invested in means of production and transportation; it was their trucks and their tractors, their saws and harrows, they ropes and chains and stoves and kettles and whatnot. The more of such things they could get, the faster they could produce; so, strange as it might seem, the more they got into debt the faster they could get out again.

"They were, in truth, a new kind of bank, which stored up labor instead of cash and securities; people invested goods in that bank, with the right to draw out labor in return; and the more they trusted the bank, the less they were in a hurry to close their account." 181

22. "'We have formed a co-op for the purpose of industrial action: getting ourselves the means of labor and production. What is the sense of taking it from that purpose and trying to use it for politics, to which it is not adapted?'" 181

23. "'Its influence is because we have kept it out of politics . . . We have went to the businessmen and assured them we were an industrial and not a political organization." 182

24. "Every year there are young people whose eyes come open to the realities of the bourgeois world. It has been glorified to them in fine phrases, such as 'rugged individualism,' but they discover that it is the nightmare of capitalism and war, and they grope about blindly for a way of escape, for something they can believe in, some way to exist without lying and cheating and destroying their fellow men and women." 215

25. "Besides the program of putting the unemployed at producing labor with land and capital to be furnished by the state, the EPICS demanded old-age and mothers' pensions to be paid for by taxes upon various forms of unearned wealth." 223

26. "Their co-operatives, having begged in vain from the authorities of city, county, state, and nation to have tools of production allotted them, were now going the way which many of the old-time labor unions had traveled in the decade after the war--they were turning to mass racketeering." 255

27. "'Selfishness does not work in a co-operative. It defeats its own ends. We in this co-operative have come to realize that each can promote his own interest only by promoting the interest of all. It is only by working for one another that we have been able to accomplish what we have. By promoting each other's interest we have developed our organizational structure and our operating sections. Selfish grabbing by individuals would never have accumulated our equipment and machinery. When we know this, we really understand co-operation, and build our system upon solid foundations.'" 396

28. "When one taught an ordinary school or college, one had pupils who came because they were sent, and whose idea of education was a means of improving their social status and income. Those who came from a genuine love of knowledge were as rare as white blackbirds. But to a workers' college nobody came unless he or she wanted to learn." 327

29. "Production would be controlled, no longer by the masters' need for profit, but by the demand of the consumer, who would be also the producer, and the only one who profited by production. In this world there would no such thing as a want or insecurity. Men would no longer waste their efforts competing with one another, but would devote their efforts to harnessing the forces of nature. Machines would do all the hard and rough work, and production would be nearly automatic, so there would be plenty of leisure for everybody. Every child born into this world would have a full opportunity to develop its talents and science and art would be open books to the whole human race." 376

30. "Above all, could you exist with a perpetual bribe held out to your members--with the government saying: 'Stick by the co-op and starve; or leave the co-op and have what you need.' It was the method by which Herbert Hoover and his agents had broken the revolution in Hungary; saying: 'Stick by the proletarian dictatorship and starve; or submit to a reactionary dictatorship and have American food and supplies.'" 384

31. "That was the method of consumer co-operatives. The working people--and not merely the unemployed ones--must organize and use their purchasing power to build their new world. That purchasing power was the one real thing they had, and if they would direct it intelligently they could starve the capitalist system out of existence." 385

32. "In Sweden the co-operatives had broken one monopoly after another--even American monopolies such as General Electric and National Cash Register. They had forced the nationalization of railroads, telegraphs and telephones, electric power and radio, lumber, mining, liquor and tobacco. Americans hadn't taken to co-operation, because every individual had felt so certain of becoming a millionaire on his own; but now the movement was spreading fast--there were six or seven thousand co-operatives in the country, and their two million members spent a million dollars a day for their own benefit instead of for that of big business." 386

33. "What was wanted was a program of orderly change, proceeding under the constitution; thus giving no provocation to violence, to keeping the moral forces of the country on the side of the workers. EPIC offered such a program in the political field, and had proved it by winning the votes, not merely of the unemployed and the wageworkers, but of the middle classes, the small business and professional men. The program of consumer-plus-producer co-operatives would do the same thing in the economic field." 388

34. "Their capable workers were being drained away; there would be left only the unemployables, and a few idealists who were so fortunate as to have a bit of income. Impossible to build a real producing organization out of this material." 390

35. "And when you got below a certain point in the business of bartering labor, you were lost; unless you had a large group, you hadn't enough variety of service to offer, and deals became harder to arrange." 394