Pathways to a cooperative Market Economy


This project, as part of the Real Utopias Project, focuses on one of the oldest examples within capitalist economies of a non-capitalist alternative: worker-owned cooperatives.  While worker cooperatives generally produce for the market, they are organized around values very different from capitalist firms: solidarity, equality, democratic governance, dignity of work, community development. At times in the 19th century, there were significant currents within anti-capitalist movements that saw cooperatives as potentially replacing capitalism altogether. This was at the heart of the famous debate between Proudhon and Marx.  At a minimum, cooperativists hoped that even if worker cooperatives did not displace capitalist firms entirely, they could nevertheless eventually constitute a significant sector within market economies, offering workers an alternative to capitalist employment.  But even this, with very rare exceptions, has not happened.

The relative marginality of worker-owned firms in developed capitalist economies poses a serious puzzle: If worker cooperatives in fact offer a desirable alternative to capitalist employment, why are they largely confined to niches on the margins of contemporary economies? This project will approach this question by exploring the diverse processes through which worker-owned cooperatives have been incubated, developed and sustained. These can be referred to as alternative pathways to building a more cooperative market economy.

The project is being built around a series of preliminary research workshops exploring empirical examples of a variety of pathways. The first of these was held in Barcelona, Spain, in March, 2015, and the second in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in October, 2015. A third workshop will be held in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the end of July, 2016, and a fourth in Italy sometime in 2017. Following these workshops, we will prepare an agenda-setting manuscript laying out the problem of alternative pathways and their bottlenecks. This manuscript will then anchor a larger conference in which people will be invited to engage this agenda in various ways: presenting case studies linked to this agenda; criticizing the agenda itself; proposing alternative ways of thinking about the problem of alternatives to capitalism. On the basis of this conference a collaborative book manuscript will be prepared for publication in the Real Utopias project series with Verso.

Barcelona meeting, March 2015

Erik Olin Wright, "Meandering Reflections on the pathways to a market economy workshop"

Rodolfo Elbert, "Seminar, Workshop on Pathways"

Laura Hanson Schlachter, "Reflections on Barcelona Pathways to a Cooperative Market economy Workshop"

Buenos Aires meeting, October 2015

Erik Olin Wright, "Some themes from the Buenos Aires workshop of empresas recuperadas"

Daniel Rodriguez, "Workshop Reflections" "Reflexiones post Taller"

Laura Hanson-Schlachter "Reflections on Pathways to a Cooperative Market Economy Workshop"

Julian Rebon, Taller de investigacion el anticapitalismo en el siglo XXI: el ejemplo de las empresas recuperadas

Denise Kasparian, Research Workshop on Empresas Recuperadas, Buenos Aires, October 27-29, 2015

Cynthia Srnec, Report on Workshop "Empresas Recuperadas [pr sus trabajadores"

Johannesburg meeting, July 2016

Erik Olin Wright, Meeting Plans