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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 62


page 33


The following article from the Echo of August 20th is so strikingly corroborative of my point that I am tempted to quote it. Commenting on the recent Co-operative Congress at the Crystal Palace, this candid friend of the Co-operators thus writes:—

"While the Brussels Congress is demonstrating the increased strength, as well as the growing moderation, of the Socialist Party throughout Europe, the Co-operators at the Crystal Palace have been giving a practical illustration of the formidable difficulties which have to be confronted. There is a great deal of human nature even among working men. Such is the depravity of the human heart that even Co-operators are led astray from the pure faith as constantly preached by Mr. Thomas Hughes and Mr. Holyoake. To use the striking figures of St. Paul, the Co-operator delights in the principle of mutuality after the inward man, but he finds another law in his members warring against the law of his mind, and bringing him into captivity. And that other law is selfishness. Men start a Co-operative store with noble ambitions, but they honestly mean to find the road to social salvation across the shop counter. They go on and prosper. They endeavour to make the best of both worlds, and it seems a pleasant thing to be accumulating capital and uplifting humanity at one and the same time. But the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches in course of time choke the word of mutuality, and it becometh unfruitful. The Co-operator, in that decadence which often comes of prosperity, ceases to care about anything but a good dividend.

"For years the veteran champions of Co-operation have strenuously combated this tendency, and so hard has been their task that once or twice they have almost been ready to abandon it in despair. They are still hoping and still fighting, but it is painful to find that there should be any necessity for serious discussions on the means of bringing the Co-operative consumer and the Co-operative producer together. With vast wholesale warehouses in London, Manchester, Newcastle, Glasgow, and other centres, with more than fifteen hundred retail stores, and with over a million of members, there ought to be no great difficulty, especially as the number of Co-operative producers, all told, at the present moment is only ten thousand, exclusive, of course, of those employed by the Wholesale Society itself. Mr. Ben Tillett, we fear, was right when he said that co-operators looked too much after the dividend, and forgot altogether the moral side of the question. The men who manage the distributive business plead in excuse that the producing societies are sometimes too slow in executing orders, and do not always turn out good work, though this latter complaint is seldom heard. They allege, too, that private producers often sell at a lower price than Co-operative producers. This is a strange complaint indeed, for it involves the distributing Co-operators in deliberate complicity with the capitalist who sweats his workpeople and pays less than the current rate of wages. As to the difficulty of executing orders promptly, we apprehend it chiefly arises from insufficient capital; but that ought not to page 34 stand in the way, seeing that Co-operation boasts of the millions at its command. It is highly significant that while a certain school of thinkers is loudly declaiming against profit altogether, the chief champions of Co-operation find it difficult to compel their disciples to think of anything else than profit."