Review by David Thompson
John’s “Old Testament” writings about the philosophical underpinnings of cooperatives explore the vibrant economic thinkers of the 17th-20th Centuries. He weaves the macro-economic perspectives of the era into the practical everyday efforts of the Rochdale Pioneers. He shows how the Pioneers created the vibrant beginnings of what we now call the “social economy.” John points out a critical fact when measuring economic models - worldwide cooperatives employ more people than all the multi national companies.
John shows us the strength of cooperatives as a thriving alternative economy rather than an ancient aberrant exercise. His research in this area is the most comprehensive since Professor Lambert’s “Studies in the Social Philosophy of Co-operation” published in 1959. Regretfully, the cooperative community has had to wait 50 years for this new classic by John Restakis. Yet, the wait was worth it.
John has a lucid writing style which reflects his own need in his decades of everyday organizing in Canada to link regular members to the philosophy of a movement. For those who believe in cooperatives but have wondered why do we do them, this book will link your questions to the answers. One of the strengths of John’s research is his focus on what he calls the “socialization of capital.” This is a great eye opener about the importance and role of capital in cooperatives.
After showing us where we came from John then persuasively shows us where some are going. In his “New Testament” portion of the book John starts with the outstanding achievements of the cooperative sector in Emilia Romagna. John is co-founder and Coordinator of the Bologna Summer Program for Cooperative Studies at the University of Bologna. John’s numerous annual visits to Emilia Romagna place him in the position of being the most knowledgeable English speaking resource about the successful cooperative infrastructure of the region. The immense on the ground knowledge John has learned is shared with us in valuable examples. The impactful role of “reciprocity” among cooperatives comes to life through John’s pen. Want a more human economy that works for all then learn from the chapters on Emilia Romagna?
John’s journey in the book looks also at the leading role of cooperatives in; the “Takeover Movement” in Argentina; The Empire of Tea and Fair Trade in Sri Lanka; the social economy of Japan; and the bettering the life of prostitutes in Calcutta, India. Every story is inspiring proof of the practicality of cooperatives. Some might wonder why Mondragon gets only a small mention in the book. I called John to ask that very question. John believes that there is an excellent body of literature already on Mondragon. He felt that his book would elevate discussion of the Emilia Romagna model and other models as additional centers of cooperative success. Having studied the Emilia Romagna model since the 1970’s I am glad that John’s book has shone light on the cooperative sector of the region.
If you wonder about how you can help build a world of cooperatives then John Restakis has written an excellent guide book with interactive maps to many cooperative successes. In preparation for 2012 the UN Year of Cooperatives every cooperator should get a copy!
David Thompson, December 21st 2010