Against War: A Co-op Primer

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From #105, March-April 2003

Against War: A Co-op Primer

B Y   D A V E   G U T K N E C H T
Against War illustration

Cooperative values against war

The statement of "Cooperative Values and Principles" lists these values: self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity. That none of these is well served by war seems evident. Yet listing them is a reminder of what is negated by war and state terror. (For most people, the solidarity achieved through war is impossible today.)

A cooperative should be expected to promote the principles and values articulated by cooperatives from around the world. Its vision should address cooperative principles, and its practice should address cooperative values.

The values are from a statement of international values and principles. In their activities co-ops can model local as well as international practices that manifest solidarity and other cooperative values. Cooperatives embody the path of peaceful relations and sustainability by building successful services and democratic enterprises–but not only by that.

Cooperatives against war

Some cooperatives hesitate to take a stand on a public issue. Sometimes the issue does not seem to be covered by the co-op’s purpose, or the co-op’s membership is not of one mind on the issue. These objections are genuine and in some circumstances are strong concerns.

Less reasonable, however, is reluctance to take a stand based on a misreading of cooperative principles and the notion of "political neutrality." The latter has not been a recognized cooperative principle for decades. It is true that cooperatives shouldn’t discriminate, when offering member services, based on political position. But cooperatives around the world do politically defend their members’ interests: they organize political petitions and public actions, sponsor debate and educate the public, support candidates for office through cooperative parties, join in solidarity with other organizations, and otherwise work for change.

(From a summary of the 1996 discussion at the International Cooperative Alliance: "It is the term ‘Neutrality’ itself which is increasingly called in question by Co-operators more or less everywhere. It was never a good term, because it carried overtones of passivity and indifference which did not harmonise with the facts or the practice of Co-operative Organisations which were not, and had no intention of being, indifferent or inactive where the interests of the Movement were involved.")

The remarks about cooperative values and principles are intended to encourage cooperatives to explicitly refer to those statements when articulating their local co-op’s purpose. Besides clarifying the shared, international definition of cooperatives, stating those values may make it easier to explain why a cooperative is against war. Stating those values may make it easier to explain why a co-op is supporting the defense of civil liberties–protections that make it possible to organize a co-op, practice cooperative values, and build community. Stating those values may make it easier to explain why a co-op is offering support to refugees–often the victims of our own government.

Can a co-op promote organics or sustainable development or economic democracy without eventually running up against the powerful and publicly funded machinery of poison and war? You cannot–and you can help co-op members understand that. Developing sustainable services and maintaining an open, democratic organization are common and worthy goals for food cooperatives. But they are not enough. These cooperative pursuits exist in the world at large, not just within a co-op’s walls.

Cooperators against war

The reasons offered for speaking out against state terror come down to taking responsibility–taking seriously the values you profess. If getting your co-op to take a stand is difficult or uncertain, what is hindering you personally from adding to public voices?

Lack of time, lack of certainty, lack of courage: these are real hurdles, as well as merely excuses. Eventually, everyone of decency has to ask, "Isn’t this enough to move me to speak out?" And, "Having spoken out already, is this now so outrageous that I must do more?"

If you have a leadership position in a cooperative, that is more reason to speak out. You don’t have to act in the name of the organization in order to make a contribution. Statements signed by familiar names encourage others to join. Again, responsibility exists within the world at large, not just within the co-op’s walls.

Internationalism against war

In my view, cooperative values clearly lead to internationalism and run counter to the unilateralism and arrogant power that now guide the world’s leading rogue nation.

Again and again, every day, the mainstream media persuade us to consent to U.S. power and to overlook the U.S. as a source of war and terror. To help counter this bombardment of lies, I sent the following to my local newspaper:

To the editor:

Remember that when you point your finger in accusation, there are three fingers pointing back.

Here is a pop quiz concerning facts, not merely accusations, that may help readers understand frequently confusing news reports about the larger political scene:

As a result of the deadly anthrax incidents of September 2001, what nation was revealed to be violating international agreements by developing that toxic substance as an active weapon?

What nation has most consistently refused to allow inspection of its chemical-biological research facilities?

What nation is the world’s biggest supplier of toxic chemicals as well as of armaments?

What nation continues to build the largest supply of nuclear weapons, threatens to use these weapons, and has actually used them against civilians?

What nation has exercised more vetoes in the United Nations Security Council than all other member nations combined?

What nation refuses to sign international agreements that prohibit use of child soldiers? Prohibit discrimination against women? Ban land mines? Support prosecution of war criminals? Pledge reduction of carbon emissions that produce global warming?

The answer to each of these: United States. If you answered incorrectly, try following the news more carefully in the future. And ask government officials about these points.

What to do?

There is plenty to do! Start by muting the mainstream media, substituting more education and conversation. Have courage. Have friends.

War and police states depend upon widespread consent. Although our problems will not be resolved easily or soon, either we step up or things will get worse.

Said Martin Luther King in the last year of his life, when he reached conclusions and spoke out in ways that some people want us to forget: "We must make this society ungovernable for the warmakers."


Dave Gutknecht is editor of Cooperative Grocer: [email protected].

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