Cooperativa Integral Catalana

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Here is a case study from a M.A. Thesis:


Janosch Sbeih:

"The most comprehensive and practically articulate manifestation of a new economic culture which I came across during my research in Spain and Greece is embodied in the Cooperativa Integral Catalana (CIC: Catalonia’s Integrated Cooperative) (CIC, 2014a). The network came into existence after a controversial action by the anti-capitalist activist Enric Duran (Duran, 2014a). A few years prior to the financial crisis in 2008, Duran started to study in depth the way the economy in its current form functions and came to the conclusion that at the root of many of the contemporary social, economic and ecological crises lies the creation of money by private banks through interestbearing debt. Then in 2005, he started to plan an action to expropriate banks with the motive to use the money to create a social alternative to the current economy based on cooperation and selfmanagement (Duran, Bauwens, Gorenflo, & Restakis, 2014). The timing for his plan was just right – a few months before the crisis where loans were given out freely – and so he managed to take out 68 commercial and personal loans from 39 banks in Spain (Kassam, 2014). In total, he managed to take out loans in the magnitude of €492,000, the bulk of which he withdrew while being on a promotional degrowth pilgrimage through Catalonia (, 2014). Mainly, it was not his cunning way of misusing the financial system without being in an ‘insider’ position, but the way the money was spent that earned him international media fame. Rather than putting the money away in a private off-shore account, he used it to promote social alternatives to the current economic system by sponsoring the mentioned degrowth pilgrimage, purchasing collectively held media equipment, printing several editions of a free magazine that denounces the flaws and injustices of the current system and points out viable alternatives, and building up the structures of the CIC (ibid.). After spending two months in jail, he was released on bail and is now in hiding since he did not show up to his trial in February 2013 where he was convicted to eight years in jail (RT, 2014). From his undisclosed location, he continues to work on several projects surrounding the CIC and has pledged to face trial under the condition that his case be treated under a restorative justice process tied to the wider financial crisis (Chalmers, 2014). This would entail having banks alongside him on trial to be judged for the damages done to their victims.

The founding story of the CIC sheds light on its radical working methods. The objective of the network is to promote economic and political disobedience, and to embody a constructive proposal for self-management to rebuild society in a bottom-up manner (CIC, 2014b). Activities are thus aimed at enabling members to detach themselves as much as possible from the state and capitalist formal economy through the building up of structures in which people can provide for each other the diverse necessities for life in a self-organised manner. Duran describes the CIC as “a model for transition more than a model for society” (Duran et al., 2014), as the idea is to progressively construct practices and take decisions that move its members away from their starting point in the current system and towards the world they envision. It is an open cooperative that does not require formal membership and anyone who is interested can participate in its meetings and decisionmaking process (Duran, 2014b). The political organisation and decision-making process is assemblybased to fully incorporate the ideals of self-management, self-organisation and direct democracy (CIC, 2014b).

The network formally began its development in May 2010 with the first constituting assembly and defines itself as follows (CIC, 2014c):

- “Cooperativa, as a project that practices economic and political self-management with the equal participation of all of its members. Also, because it takes the same legal form.

- Integral, to join all of the basic elements of an economy, such as production, consumption, financing and its own currency and at the same time because it seeks to integrate all of the areas of activity necessary to live: food, housing, health, education, energy, transportation …

- Catalana, because it organises itself and functions principally within Catalan territory.” (ibid.)

It should be clear by now that CIC differs from most traditional cooperatives in a variety of ways: it is not membership-based, is largely not integrated in the formal national or global economy, does not follow a competitive mentality and, most crucially, is statutorily oriented towards the common good and the creation of material and immaterial commons (Bauwens, 2014). The CIC explicitly identifies itself as an example of the new kind of open cooperativism that Michel Bauwens calls for (Duran, 2014b) and has recently entered into a strategic partnership with the “Peer to Peer Foundation” (CIC, 2014d). The way the CIC dedicates itself to the creation of commons is by constructing an integrated cooperative public system that produces in a collective and cooperative manner goods and services for the collective good, outside of the realm of the state or private property (CIC, 2014c). The identified needs to be addressed by the network are listed as “food, education, health, housing, transportation and energy” (ibid.). This is being done through a combination of collectivisation and decentralisation. On the one hand, the CIC is a decentralised territorial network constituted through autonomous projects that form nuclei of self-management (Duran et al., 2014).

On the other hand, these self-governing projects are linked through the CIC to promote between each other the collectivisation of goods, land and buildings, and contribute to common goods like education and public health (CIC, 2014c). While for example the collectivisation of land and buildings is done through cooperative purchase or donation from its owners, common goods like education and healthcare are maintained through mutual, pooled systems to cover project expenses (Duran et al., 2014). This means that every participant contributes according to their economic means in form of spontaneous donations or on the base of a table which displays the amount of income and number of dependents (ibid.). Regarding access to food, the CIC built a structure of supply centres in which food is collectively pooled and then distributed to the “pantries” of the individual projects and communities (CIC, 2014e). Each of the supply centres interacts with farmers and food producers from the local area and within the network to guarantee equitable food distribution for the entire network (Duran et al., 2014). The different distribution mechanisms and individual exchanges are facilitated through a network wide currency called “eco” which is connected to some 20 community currencies in the bioregion. Duran estimates there to be some 300-400 productive projects, 30 local nodes for integral self-management, about 15 communal living projects and about 4000-5000 active participants in the network (ibid.). When I asked a member how much of their material needs families can cover within the network, he told me the example of a family of four who lives materially comfortable with 17€ per week; the rest of the family’s needs are covered within the network. He continued to tell me that some people join the network because they are desperate and need to find a way to get by, and others feed their houses and other capital stocks into the network because they support it ideologically.

What animates all this activity is the conviction that the current political and economic system is deeply flawed, inherently violent and currently drives itself into the ground. The motivation is thus to detach themselves from a self-destructive system and build resilience in selfmanaged networks of mutual provision. The members do not believe in the fixing of a corrupt system of representative democracy or the return of the welfare state and aspire to move beyond it to a system of networks of mutual aid (CIC, 2014c). As, for the time being, the legal entity of a cooperative involves interaction with the bureaucratic structures of the state, the CIC minimises this interaction for its members by collectivising them under one legal organisational structure (CIC, 2014b) which is furthermore made accessible as an open-source structure to anyone who would like to replicate this model (Duran, 2014b). Indeed, the worldwide proliferation of their model of integrated cooperatives is something the CIC actively promotes through outreach work like the “call for integral revolution” (Integra Revolucio, 2014) and the construction of an independent digital communications and networking platform called “” (, 2014b). In a personal interview, one member told me that the CIC has been invited to Germany and Greece to help with the construction of similar networks there. Besides its constructive work through the various projects within the network, the CIC promotes economic disobedience through the legal support of squatting activities and a call for “self-taxation” to local projects dedicated to the common good instead of the state (Duran, 2013). It furthermore works together with so-called “economic disobedience offices” (five physical offices listed in different cities of Spain) and has helped to publish two editions of a “Manual of Economic Disobedience” to assist people in withdrawing resources and legitimacy from the state and channelling them into local projects instead (ibid.; CIC, 2014f). "