Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Socialism and Co-Operation

We are told that we live in a highly competitive world. We are forced to compete at school, at university and at work. Businesses have to compete in order to survive by introducing new technology, cutting prices and destroying competitors. If companies cannot sell their commodities in the market place and make a profit they go bankrupt and workers lose their jobs. “Compete of die”, so the economists and politicians tell us.

Competition appears to be like the air we breathe. We compete during leisure by joining the Pub Quiz, playing a game of chess, doing the prize crossword puzzle and by playing football on a Sunday morning. We are all encouraged to compete. At school children are encouraged to set up “businesses” and compete with other school children. If someone does not want to compete they are considered, strange, an oddity, and an outsider. Economic text books praise competition. We are told by economists that competative markets and the “economic efficiency” they bring with it is the life-blood of capitalism. Completion is seen by most people as natural and unquestionable.

Is competition natural? Does it define the human condition? Why do we have to compete? And is competition all that it is cut out to be?

Capitalism is not natural but social and defines human actions within a peculiar and historical social system of generalised commodity production and exchange for profit where the worker’s ability to work has become a commodity. Workers are forced to compete without workers through the labour market because a minority capitalist class owns and control the means of production to the exclusion to the rest of society. We compete because we are forced to, not because we want to. And under a different social system such as socialism there is no need to compete in its economic sense.

And look what competition and the subsequent stress and mental illness does to school children. A Stanford University Professor, Denis Clark Pope, author of DOING SCHOOL: HOW WE ARE CREATING A GENERATION OF STRESSED OUT, MATERIALISTIC AND MUISEDUCATED STUDENTS, has recently said:

Pressure by parents and schools to achieve top scores has created stress levels among students—beginning as early as elementary school—that are so high that some educators regard it as a health epidemic… The number one cause of visits to Vaden Health Center used to be relationships, but now is stress and anxiety

While the TUC recently reported on stress in the workplace:

Over 400,000 people suffer from stress related illnesses caused by their work every year. The Stressed Out survey by the Samaritans, the UK emotional support charity, found: "People's jobs are the single biggest cause of stress... with over a third (36 per cent) of Briton's citing it as one of their biggest stressors."

Our hearts and minds can face intolerable pressures from work. Overwork, bullying, low job control and satisfaction, job insecurity, new ways of working, poor work organisation and pace of work can all cause work stress.

The mental symptoms of stress range from sleeplessness and listlessness through to clinical depression and suicide. The physical effects range from appetite loss and nausea through to heart damage and stroke.

www.tuc.org.uk/workplace-issues/health-and-safety/stress

However, despite competition being imposed on people under capitalism, competition plays a small role in our general lives. Most of the time, we do not compete with other people at all but instead co-operate. We work together at work to produce things even though we do not control what we produce and for whom. We co-operate in our family lives and urge our children to co-operate with each other. Competition within the home is usually counter-productive and a cause of strife and negative behaviour.

In fact, when we are in the work-place we have to co-operate with each other. We do not compete with people to get things done. Instead of competition being a constant feature of human history and evolution, it is co-operation which is the strongest force that has led to security and survival. Without co-operation we would have died out as a species a long time ago.

And although a lot of past-times may be competative, it is the voluntary co-operation of people that allows them to take place. Voluntary co-operation in the running of a chess club or football league, in the maintenance of a life-boat, or working in trade unions and other voluntary organisations: this is a large feature of social life.

Competition might be found in economic textbooks to describe the firm and the labour market but co-operation within production and distribution is mysteriously absent. Not so for Marx. In the first volume of CAPITAL he devoted an entire chapter to co-operation within capitalist production. He gave a handy definition of co-operation:

When numerous workers work together side by side in accordance with a plan, whether in the same process, or in a different but connected processes, this form of labour is called co-operation” (chapter 13, p.433, Penguin ed).

The plan Marx refers to in this chapter is the plan of the capitalist to direct co-operative labour in the production of commodities. However, Marx saw co-operative social labour as a feature of all societies. However, co-operative social labour cannot fully express itself and its potential locked within the capitalist form and the private ownership of the means of production and distribution. Marx spoke here of the contradiction between the forces of production and the social relations of production. To resolve the contradiction meant co-operative labour breaking out of the capitalist skin to flourish is a truly co-operative society of free men and women.

And when Ruskin and Morris romantically looked back to the Feudal Guild system and the construction of cathedrals it was the social and co-operative nature of the work they had in mind compared to the monotony and drudgery of 19th century factory production fully articulated by Marx in his chapter on co-operation within the capitalist factory.

In his essay “A FACTORY AS IT MIGHT BE”, Morris wrote:

So managed, therefore, the factory by co-operation with other industrial groups will both provide an education for its own workers and contribute its share to the education of citizens outside; but further, it will, as a matter of course, find it easy to provide for more restful amusements, as it will have ample buildings for library, school-room, dining hall. and the like; social gatherings, musical or dramatic entertainments will obviously be easy to manage under such conditions”.
http://infed.org/archives/e-texts/william_morris_a_factory_as_it_might_be_1884.htm

Co-operation, the fulfilment of creative need and social labour to meet the planned and democratic requirements of a socialist society will result in a social system free from the stress, competition ugliness and boredom currently found in capitalist employment.

What about children wanting to take part in an egg-and- spoon-race, says the anti-socialist cynic? Fine, if children want to organise an egg-and-spoon race in socialism why stop them? However, in a socialist society, there will not be competition between companies, nation states and by workers competing for jobs: and for a very good reason. In socialism there will be no businesses, no nation states and no labour market to compete in. There will be common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society. There will be voluntary and co-operative social labour and an administration of things not people. In any meaningful sense of the word there will be no competition in socialism. Instead co-operation will be valued and prevail.

Although capitalists pay lip-service to competition, they would like to have a monopoly or a cartel. Capitalists would like no competition and corner a whole market just for their commodities. Rupert Murdoch, although claiming he is a supporter of free markets and free trade would like nothing more than News Corp, Sky or Fox News to dominate their sector of the economy and their competitors go to the wall.

Workers do not like competition either. It is unpleasant to have to compete for a job as those who have to undergo constant restructuring in the workplace know this only too well. The stress of having to compete for your own job is real and painful, sometimes meaning taking on someone else’s work for less pay. And many workers who lose out in the competition for jobs find themselves unemployed or working in jobs they are over-qualified for.

In a rational world where production and distribution takes place just to meet human needs which should anyone bother to compete for work to live a decent and worthwhile life? Surely competition is for losers. In socialism there will be an association of people, “in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all” (THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, Marx and Engels. 1848).

Socialism implies a world of co-operation and sociability. The most important need capitalism denies us is artistic expression and fulfilment in work. However, to establish socialism requires the political co-operation of the world’s working class to take conscious and political action to abolish capitalism and the anti-social imposition of competition.

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