Co-Sovereignty

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= concept from the guild socialists and G.D.H. Cole before WWII

Discussion

Pat Conaty:

"Ostergaard shows that until 1926 the Economic Democracy arguments were winning the policy case and even among Fabian state socialists. These ideas spread to other countries across Europe and were taken up. Co-operative garden city ideas and practices were implemented in the 1920s in Germany, Belgium and were influential in Austria.

The partner state ideas we are talking about today was where the debate was shifted from 1920 when the ideas of GDH Cole for Co-soveregnty in his book Guild Socialism Restated captured the backing of Bertrand Russell, RH Tawney and leading policy thinkers in the UK. This shift even got the Fabian state socialists to modify their managerialist bureaucratic arguments to consider joint control by workers and the state. Cole though pushed Horizontally far further and argued for wider multi-stakeholder sovereignty by citizens locally. Hence he was onto then what we would today refer to as a commons model.

But after the General Strike in 1926 the development of Fordism, Taylorism, scientific management and Weberian bureaucracy led to the triumph of hierarchical structures. From 1890s to 1929 was the period of the separation of corporate ownership from corporate control. Berle made this clear in his books on the modern corporation in the early 1930s. The technological shift then was away from the regional and municipal to the national and the emergence of national corporations, but from the 1920s public national corporations were being planned. This was the what was in contention both theoretically and politically. Mussolini introduced corporatism first from the early 1920s. Today the disruptive shift is from national level forms of control to global platforms and corporation Unicorns. UpWork is positioning to become the Ebay for gig economy jobs and they already have a freelancer global workforce of 10 million. Can anyone think of who is the second largest gig economy hotelier after AirBnb?

What Cole and the Guild socialists were seeking to prevent was the triumph of the Public Corporation model of nationally determined public policy driven by the Webbs and Herbert Morrison. They were struggling to impede this by participatory democracy structures that were devolved, decentralised and distributed to common citizens, workers and also to co-ops and pluralist forms of commonwealth building. The Fabians as you show so well Stephen in your forthcoming book on the three socialisms (Statist, Collectivist and Associationist) did not want any involvement of citizens and workers in the planning and in the policy formation, development and control of these processes. As you also show well Stephen, Lenin was reading and celebrating the Statist and collectivist (managerial socialism) way forward of the Webbs in 1906. He was translating their work into Russian a decade before 1917. Thus authoritarian Marxists and Fabians agreed on how to run things in so many ways and Associative democracy and Associative socialism was throttled by both. Co-ops as the Webbs argued were okay so long as they did not meddle in the governance and control of production. They needed to stick to shop keeping and consumer needs. Thus Co-op Economics was not to be encouraged as a theory and certainly not a set of practices.

The Cole theory of Co-sovereignty and the ways Cole sought to set this in his democratic decentralising Restatement of Gulld Socialism out are given some insights by the Blewitt essay - but much more is in Ostergaard. The key mission was a rich strategy to implement economic democracy including workplace democracy, neighbourhood democracy and widespread practices of democratic local planning which included common ownership of land like the garden city model for capturing economic rent and ending speculation. But also included was the accountability of managers and civil servants to citizens and the provisioning plans. As you show so well in your forthcoming book Stephen, Robin Murray was pursuing this concept when he was chief economic advisor at the Greater London Council during the 1980s and before the Tories closed down the GLC and the community and popular planning unit and the technology networks that Robin had set up alongside Mike Cooley and Hilary Wainwright. All of this is set out in Cole's Co-sovereignty plan 60 years earlier. The Webbs argued that for public services, the state would become one Big Co-op and citizens would be its consumers.

Today there are so many working examples of how Cole's Co-sovereignty can be implemented from social co-ops to new forms of worker co-ops, to the growth and extension of community land trust models for housing, workspace, farming and natural habitat. But what is lacking is a cohesive and coherent theory. Co-sovereignty developed this for what we are calling the partner state and a century ago.

Sadly the guild socialists did not support the monetary reform arguments and saw these as a step to far. Thus radical monetary reform ideas for 100% money (free of debt) like those in the early 1920s of Gesell, Soddy and Clifford Douglas or what Geoffrey Ingham today of Cambridge University highlights as 'socialist money' was not really understood and thus not supported. Those radical ideas showed in fact how Universal Basic Income could be planned and created as democratic money to tackle rooted causes of maldistribution without raising taxes. The same problems we are facing today but all the solutions were being debated then vociferously and within the trade unions until 1932 when the Fabian socialists won the arguments within the TUC as Ostergaard shows. But today the sharp focus on economic democracy in the crystal clear ways the guild socialist did is a gap as the fragments have not been brought together yet as firmly as they need to be conveyed." (email, November 2017)