One of the greatest distinctions between the coopyouth movement and much of the broader Cooperative Movement is its explicit and actionable commitment to social transformation. While much of the language employed throughout the global movement speaks to “building a better world” and eliminating poverty, the framing is typically reformist. It focuses almost entirely on creating cooperative enterprises to address ills without taking action to resist, destroy, or abolish existing institutions or systems. Coopyouth during the twenty-first century have returned to cooperative discourse an analysis of what has caused societal ills in the first place, after a noticeable absence of such inclusion in official documentation for years following the Cold War, as outlined in the “Dirty Words'' section of “Words Mean Things.” In tandem with the naming of foes such as capitalism and its ilk, they assert the movement’s according responsibility to actively work to abolish the source of societal ills as new cooperative forms of enterprise are created. The 2014 coopyouth statement, which resulted from an autonomous and participatory process during the International Summit of Cooperatives, is entirely framed by its call to “transform society from capitalistic to cooperativisitic.” In the 1980 report to the International Cooperative Alliance congress, just as the Cold War was coming to a close and capitalism was “winning” ideologically around the world, A F Laidlaw shared similar sentiments to those found in the coopyouth statements. The “gap between rich and poor nations is not closing but becoming wider” and that “only earth-shaking changes can correct the imbalance of the have and the have-nots.” “In some countries, a whole new economic and social infrastructure will have to be reconstructed.” “The poor tend to remain poor until the whole structure or society is transformed. Simple reform is not usually effective, and besides it is painfully slow” (Laidlaw, 1980, 26-27).
The needed new economic order addressed by both Laidlaw and coopyouth requires a complete transformation of society and the Cooperative Movement beyond the fog of capitalist realism and its business ontology, as outlined in the “Dirty Words” section of “Words Mean Things.” Within a transformation framework, cooperatives are far more than businesses; rather they are social systems networked with one another to meet the diverse needs and aspirations of all those involved. There is an immense difference in philosophy and practice between the social transformation interpretation of the Cooperative Identity versus the ideology that cooperation is purely “better business.” These ideological divisions within the movement often logically track along identities of those who have power within capitalism and those who do not. Specifically, coopyouth, workers, and the poor tend to be those committed to cooperativism as an aspirational movement with a responsibility to pursue justice and transformation for all peoples. Some of the more powerful and wealthy tend to position cooperativism as just an alternative business model compatible with capitalism and state intervention. And, there are still others that practice cooperativism in a reformist manner that do so unknowingly in a “system of presumed virtue,” due to the ubiquitousness of contradictory value systems within society that can create understandable confusion. The “system of presumed virtue” is explained in more detail in the “Dirty Words” section of “Words Mean Things.”
Similar ideological and practical divisions are experienced by coopyouth outside the Cooperative Movement. Gencisi (Worker, Turkey) was in the practice Gencisi (Worker, Turkey) was in the practice of voicing their progressive and cooperative values publicly. Their values and explicit philosophy have not always been welcome or clearly understood by governmental or non-governmental entities. The cooperative therefore invested a great deal of resources to articulate, document and justify their values and philosophy. In cases of coercion from outside, the cooperative has assumed a cooperative attitude and kept its internal and external corporate processes fully transparent to third-parties. Issues such as government repression, among others, have a real impact on how openly or completely the Cooperative Movement discusses social transformation, making it all the more important that those who are safely able to speak on these issues do so for those who cannot. Youth within the Cooperative Movement and beyond often have “less to lose” simply because they have less, in general, so - as outlined in the definition of “youth” in “Words Mean Things” - youth often take on the responsibility to voice dissent and demand transformation quite naturally; which is part of why so many of the successful social movements during this century’s “spring” have been led by youth. “Ser joven y no ser revolucionario es una contradicción hasta biológica” (Salvador Allende).
A cooperative philosophy that openly embraces social transformation adopts a movement orientation in two ways that are typically beyond the scope of conventional cooperative practice:
- it compels solidarity with all those working for justice and social transformation whether doing so using cooperative structures or not, as more deeply discussed in the key issue section on “Relationships of Solidarity,” and
- it acknowledges and names that there are systems, ideologies, and practices - both within the Cooperative Movement and beyond it - that must be abolished if a cooperative society is to ever be achieved; that things must both begin and end, they must move.
In other words, cooperativism as a philosophy is bigger than just cooperatives - “we have agreed on the cooperative, considering it to be ideally suited for solving urgent problems of social development and progress and for making effective contributions to the campaign for another social and economic order, with all that implies” (Arizmendiarrieta, 1999, 93). In practice, this looks like imbuing cooperative work with the aims and values of other transformative movements (e.g. racial justice, climate justice, gender justice, sexuality justice), as well as supporting those active in other movements that seek to abolish the same systems and ideologies in opposition to cooperativism. Secondly, the movement towards a cooperative world involves abolishing - not just creating - things; transformation requires both ends and beginnings. Externally, the needed endings are often best articulated as the transformation of capitalism into cooperativism, and, internally, the ends called for are to some accepted forms of cooperative practice that are either no longer effective or known to be congruent with cooperative philosophy. As such, cooperativism is a constantly evolving philosophy and practice that “is the affirmation of faith in people, in work, in integrity, in human harmony, turned towards constant and progressive enhancement” (Arizmendiarrieta, 1999, 100). This constant striving humbles cooperativism as a means to an end, and orients cooperative practice in service to the creation of a better world that we may not yet be able to imagine, rather than just to the creation of cooperative enterprise units.
Often, the calls by coopyouth for nominal cooperatives/cooperators to adopt a more authentic and transformative understanding of cooperativism are defensively dismissed as idealistic and unrealistic. The defensiveness is presumably rooted in the reality that such calls for accountability do contain a degree of criticism, as very few people enjoy being told they are “doing it wrong.” However, the transformative orientation to cooperative practice firmly views current cooperative systems, in whatever form, as a step on the path towards a better world - it is not framed as “doing it wrong” in this context, rather we can be “doing it better.” Coopyouth are calling on all cooperators to strive for more than just greater comfort in the current moment, to strive for a world beyond and without capitalism and other coercive systems - whether or not that seems feasible in an individual’s lifetime. “Great ideals do not need to be within reach to be useful” (Arizmendiarrieta, 1999, 18). This is also a humble perspective, as it does not frame cooperation dogmatically or as the “ultimate” form of human organization, rather “cooperativism, which was born from action and experience, rather than theory, is something that we must conceive of and desire in the constant search for better forms of expression” (Arizmendiarrieta, 1999, 55). Coopyouth and other cooperators that embrace social transformation may not know every step towards achieving that goal, nor may they be able to describe in great detail this “better world” of which they speak, but they understand cooperative practice to be the best first-next thing to undertake on the path towards those goals. In service to this orientation, the kinds of skills required of cooperators, such as emotional regulation and conflict transformation, are among some of the most basic things humanity needs to make successful preparations for a better world. “Cooperative efforts at transformation don’t know their own worth or value themselves exclusively on the basis of their economic results, and only rarely for what they mean for human and social training and maturity” (Arizmendiarrieta, 1999, 37). In fact, these “soft” skills are often the most undervalued by capitalist cooperators, thereby revealing their core priorities. “It is unfortunate that there is no way to recognize on a balance sheet how much the people associated with a given cooperative have grown within a year […it is one of the] most important tests of cooperative effectiveness” (MacPherson, 1998, 239).
The Sixth and Seventh Principles work in tandem and in service to cooperativism’s role in broad-scale social transformation. Both Principles seek to ensure the survival of the earth and all its inhabitants through solidarity and care. The Sixth Principle, “Cooperation Among Cooperatives,” directs cooperators to act in solidarity with their cooperative peers - to create societal systems that are wholly cooperative and thereby able to both replace existing and resist potential future coercive systems; to create a new and sustainable social and economic order. The Seventh Principle, “Concern for Community,” illustrates that cooperators exist within broader communities and ecosystems of impact that must also operate cooperatively to sustain themselves, regardless of whether or not each member or element of a given ecosystem has an explicit connection with the Cooperative Identity. Caring for all those in a cooperator’s community, regardless of their cooperative orientation or membership status, presents a pluralistic notion of “membership” within the Cooperative Movement that extends beyond just those that “pay dues” that deserves greater consideration in cooperative discourse. Overall, the Cooperative Identity supports individuals in meeting their individual needs and aspirations through collective work, and also provides direction for how individual cooperators and cooperatives, alike, are to interact with all those in their ecosystem of impact to ensure the survival of the greater community. While discussing the “survival of humanity” may seem extreme at times, it is a very real and increasing concern as the world and its inhabitants manage higher rates of extreme weather, more widespread public health crises, growing wealth disparity, and increasing armed conflict. Transformative cooperativism takes these realities into account and holds cooperators responsible not just for creating comfortable cooperatives, but for necessarily transforming society to build a sustainable world.