Shit ‘Anarchyball’ Says brought up a really good point here – cooperatives and horizontal organization in general are not things we typically learn about in school or through wider culture. The first time I learned about them was in my freshman year at college, in a specific sociology class taught by a specific sociology professor, and we lightly covered Mondragon in Spain; because of my prior education, and because of my Randian political views at the time, I dismissed the idea as cute hippie idealism, not recognizing it as the seismic game-changer that it actually is.
Indeed, the biggest hurdle for worker cooperatives is that the great majority don’t know what the hell they are, and this majority in turn associate the hierarchy of the capitalist workplace as the natural way of things, as unchanging as the air we breathe. This isn’t their fault, though – much of the education system is focused on preparing kids for obedience and repetitive tasks in their future workplaces. If relationships to production overwhelmingly determine how most of our cultural and interpersonal institutions function, then we can draw two conclusions:
1) The current education system’s animating purpose is to prepare students psychologically and ideologically for eventual careers that reproduce the material relationships of capitalism, whether that means enforcing its property relationships, parroting its ideological spectacle, facilitating the accumulation of capital, being an owner of collectively-operated economic utilities, or actually turning the gears of production as a member of the working class. For most students, it’s not about the pursuit of knowledge or the growth of their identities or the creative exploration of passions – it’s about making the marks and advancing so that one day they might have enough wealth and access for the self-actualization that was denied to them in the education system and in much of the surrounding culture. Individual teachers and students who go against the grain can make an impact in their own sphere of influence, but the dominant factor is the larger role the institution plays in lubricating the economic machine; the actual liberating transformation of the system from all fronts is the true key to change, not the isolated positive actions of a few individuals (which would be analogous to “ethical consumerism” and “green capitalism” as well – if deviations from the norm are to be expected, then they must be slight and channeled into a liberal individualist mindset).
2) A socialist economic base, where workers democratically manage the means of production and economic goals for need and interest rather than for the profit of an isolated owner class, would likely generate a Waldorf-esque education system as the norm. Here, the individual is seen as a free, creative, rational being whose input is considered a paramount inalienable right by virtue of their participation in the process. This sort of thinking can only be universal if the right of access is also universal – the social utilities must effectively be owned by All and managed by All. In the personal, autonomy; in the social, democracy. Material cooperatism lays the groundwork for ideological self-actualization.
This Marxian base-superstructure analysis of both the education system and the exposure to new ideas is central to this capitalist vs cooperatist debate that seem to plague leftists and their naysayers. Always remember: there was once a time when people couldn’t fathom societies not run by the iron will of a monarch. Social structures and human relationships change throughout the generations, and the change is hugely dependent on how the given society reproduces daily life in the economic sphere and who has authority over the mechanisms of reproduction.