The Search for Community: From Utopia to a Co-operative Society
P.F. McKenna was librarian at the Police Academy, Brampton, Ontario.
George Melnyk has produced a very thorough text that examines the various manifestations of the co-operative tradition. He has divided his work into a two-part examination of the historical tradition and the forms of social co-operation. The beginning of co-operative societies is identified with the consumer co-operative store established at Rochdale, England, in 1844. Indeed, the founders of this venture are referred to as the “Rochdale Pioneers.” Melnyk notes that these pioneers determined six basic principles of any co-operative society. He then proceeds to discuss the four distinct branches of co-operatives: liberal democratic, Marxist, socialist, and communalist. These divisions cover a global range of political economics. The first of these branches is prevalent in Western Europe and North America and parallels the development of the trade union movement. In Canada, as Melnyk points out, 43 per cent of all adults belong to at least one co-operative. Co-ops are also extremely strong within the Canadian Prairies. The chapter dealing with the Marxist tradition presents three examples: the Russian kolkhoz, the Chinese commune, and the Yugoslavian system of workers’ self-management. The kolkhoz was theoretically a voluntary plan of collective farming; however, under Josef Stalin the project was brutally imposed on the peasants. Anywhere from three to thirteen million persons are said to have died during the process of collectivization.
Melnyk next turns his attention to the socialist tradition of co-ops. These are characteristically non-revolutionary movements that are able to develop and grow within a capitalist framework. The kibbutz is an example of a co-op within the socialist tradition. The third tradition is the communalist, also referred to as “utopian,” “intentional,” or “communitarian” co-operative. Melnyk observes that this last variety is distinguished from the others in that it is isolationist. Another feature endemic to this variety is its origin under the guidance of charismatic leadership. Melnyk observes that this variety may be bissected into religious and political strains.
The second part of Melnyk’s study deals with the general theory, the ideology, and the practice of co-operative communities. Within this part Melnyk attempts to establish the fundamental principles of co-operative enterprises. Using aspects from a number of the different traditions, he derives 15 essential principles of social co-operatives.
George Melnyk has taken an abiding interest in the co-operative movement and prepared a very thorough and well-researched document dealing with the history, variety, and purpose of co-operative societies. The work, which should be accessible to a wide range of readers, makes for extremely informative reading.