Monopoly Bookstore Chains and Left Wing Magazines.

Tom Waters twaters at
Sun Oct 25 09:09:23 PST 1998

On Sat, 24 Oct 1998, Carrol Cox wrote:

> Tom, I suspect that both in the 19th century and the 20th century (and
> certainly in the early 70s) the founding of various sorts of coops was the
> main travelled road from incipient marxist to Clinton supporter.

I am certain coops have often served as such a road, but they are not very unique in that respect. The "*main* travelled road" seems unconvincing. More "main" than trade unions, legal services corporations, magazines, film and broadcasting projects, or universities?

Anyhow, the question is why coops would do this. In some ways, coops combine the most dangerous features of universities and trade unions: like universities, they are an environment where it's often not felt to be necessary to confront capitalism directly every day; like trade unions, they build up a reformist place in society that comes to seem worth defending with compromises. Not to mention the fact that they put people in the position of employers. But all of these institutions can be roads to accomodation, and when they don't serve this function it is generally because of specific interventions of radicals.

> As long as they are seen as just one choice among many to be made
> on grounds of simple individual preference, they are harmless; as soon as they
> are seen as political, they are deadly.

That depends on what you mean by political, I guess. Coops are obviously not well suited to make interventions in public decision-making. (Although they are good centers to disseminate information about food politics -- genetic engineering for example.) But if some people decide to form a bookstore coop in order to make radical books available, isn't that a little bit political?

Anyhow, my point wasn't that co-ops could or should be substituted for politics or worker organizing or anything else, but only that buying through coops is less individualistic than buying at for-profit stores because coop buyers are buying co-operatively and making decisions collectively. How much this shows up in practise depends on the coop. Some co-ops promote a passive and individualistic relationship with the members, some don't. I think that one of the main reasons co-ops slide toward individualism is that radical people would rather do some other kind of activism than defend the cooperative character of a coop -- because coops aren't political enough.


Thomas Waters twaters at 1021 East Oak Hill Avenue, Knoxville TN 37917 But this wall is not real. How can it be real? It's only made of concrete and barbed wire.

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