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Industrial Co-operation:

THE STORY OF A PEACEFUL REVOLUTION.

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PREFACE.

THIS volume, as Miss Catherine Webb states in the Editor’s Note, is intended to discharge the valuable but responsible functions which belong to an authoritative text book. It has been expressly designed for the use of the “students engaged in the study of the History, Theory, and Practice of Co-operation” under the auspices of the Co-operative Union. During some years I have had the privilege of being an examiner in this subject, and it was with no small satisfaction that I heard that such a work had been planned and was in active preparation. I gladly complied with the suggestion that I should write a few words of introduction when it was ready to be published.

An examiner may be said to possess one qualification for undertaking the hazardous role of a critic of a text book dealing with the subject in which he has examined. He may hope that he has gained from actual experience some little knowledge of the common failings of the average student. Without unreasonable presumption he may think that he has thus been placed in a position where, with some prospect of success, he may attempt to decide for himself, if not for others, how far those prevailing shortcomings may be justifiably ascribed to the want of authoritative guidance in preliminary study. The exact distribution indeed between teacher and text book of the responsibility for these untoward results is a further problem of greater delicacy from which he will probably refrain if he is prudent. But I may at any rate confess that, rightly or wrongly, I have for some time entertained the belief that both instructors and pupils might derive material help in preparing for the examinations in the history and principles of Co-operation held under the direction of the Educational Committee of the Co-operative Union, were they furnished with a new text book specially written for this particular purpose. Such a book has been undertaken and is now brought to completion.

Again, without extravagant egotism I may perhaps urge in excuse for the hardihood with which I have ventured on the onerous, though welcome, responsibility of writing a preface to this new volume, that an examiner, without claiming any unusual powers of insight or prophecy, may hope to frame a conception, which will not be wholly erroneous, of the pattern to which such a text book should conform, if it is to aid the teacher and to assist the student. He may be pardoned for thinking that he has a tolerably shrewd idea of the parts of the subject which require more detailed treatment than that which they have previously received, and of those which can on the contrary be discussed more concisely without disadvantage. He may believe that he could indicate difficulties which needed elucidation, emphasis which demanded redistribution, omissions which should be supplied. In the case of the present volume I may, therefore, be allowed to state at the outset that the favourable anticipations which I had formed when I was told that the work was in contemplation, and learnt that it had made considerable progress towards completion, have been confirmed by the perusal of the following pages. This new text book seems to me to be admirably adapted to the particular purpose for which it is intended. So far as I can judge, the needs both of teachers and of students are satisfactorily met and, should it be my fortune to examine in the future fresh candidates in the History, Theory, and Practice of Cooperation, I look forward with no little confidence to noting in the excellence of their papers the beneficial consequences which are likely to attend the use of this text book.

To prevent any misunderstanding, I would repeat here what I have said more than once before as opportunity was presented. In my opinion the results hitherto attained in these examinations furnish convincing reasons for great encouragement. The small proportion of failures occurring and the high average of marks generally secured have been noticeable characteristics of each successive year in which I have examined, and the evident interest taken by the students in the subject which they have been studying has been a welcome feature rarely found elsewhere in such marked and unmistakable prominence by the present writer in a tolerably wide acquaintance with examinations of various kinds. But to pronounce that improvement in the quantity and the quality of the work submitted is impossible would be as untrue as it would in reality be discouraging; and it seems to me to be probable, if it is not certain, that such improvement will follow the general employment of this new text book.

The qualities, which a satisfactory text book should possess, are more easily indicated than they are attained. The writing of a text book is perhaps the most arduous task which an author or, as in this ease, a body of authors, can undertake. It makes no inconsiderable demand upon the practised skill of a literary expert. It requires a combination of capacities which are rarely met together. What to include and what to omit is a knotty problem to resolve. No less delicate and onerous a business it is to determine what can be stated briefly without risk of serious misunderstanding, and what can be expounded in considerable detail without occupying an excessive portion of a space necessarily limited. For a text book must be neither unduly short nor unduly long. It must be full without pretending to be exhaustive. It must be concise without becoming superficial. It cannot avoid laying emphasis upon some matters and according less prominence to others; but its emphasis should be properly distributed or it will mislead. This catalogue of requirements, to which others might he added, suggests the conclusion that a text book is more likely to meet the necessities of the situation, if it is compiled specially for the particular description of students for whose use it is intended. This is the case with the present volume, and to that circumstance perhaps its success is chiefly due.

Nor is it any disrespect or injustice to the earlier “Manual for Co-operators,” or to Messrs. Acland and Jones’ “Working-men Co-operators” to say that this later text book seems likely to occupy a position which is in some respects distinct from that taken by either of those two previous volumes. Miss Webb indeed remarks, in the Editor’s Note, that “it will succeed, but not necessarily supersede, the text books of these former exponents of Co-operation.” From this statement few, if any, adherents of Co-operation would wish to dissent. Both those books are fully entitled to the gratitude and honour which they have received. But it is not only the time at which it is published, but also the motive dictating its composition, and the circumstances attending its preparation, which establish an important distinction between this later text book and the two earlier volumes. Not only must the co-operative movement itself be pronounced unprogressive if fresh developments in different directions, which have made their appearance during the intervening period of time, did not require to be now included in an authoritative “history” of Co-operation. Not only have more recent incidents in some important spheres of co-operative “practice” suggested, and indeed compelled, the careful re-examination of some of the positions taken and the conclusions drawn in older co-operative “theory.” But it is also hardly to be doubted that the new efforts lately made and the fresh experience specially gained in connection with the work of the Educational Committee of the Co-operative Union have rendered it possible to appreciate more fully and exactly than before the particular needs of teachers and of students preparing for examination in the History, Practice, and Theory of Co-operation. That such a text book as this volume has been demanded by exigencies of the present time, which were hardly felt at all, or at least were not experienced in the same intensity before, may, without exaggeration, be described as an obvious and notorious fact. That this requirement is now likely to be met more satisfactorily, when knowledge has grown and experience has extended, than it could have been a little while ago, would not be difficult to demonstrate. That the text book, which has been produced under these circumstances in response to this demand, will be found adequate will, I think, be gratefully acknowledged by those who have occasion to consult its pages.

The general arrangement of the subject is simple and effective. The information given in the successive chapters is full, authoritative, and fresh. The discussion of disputed or debateable questions is suggestive without failing to be impartial. Where more or less elaborate reasoning is introduced, as on what may perhaps be called the economics of Co-operation, the argument is not difficult to follow. Where plain straightforward narrative is used, the history is easy to remember. A convenient division of the whole period from 1824 to 1904; into four successive scores of years is adopted. Lastly, where statistics are employed, the figures cited are presented in a form in which their significance can be readily grasped and permanently retained. In short, the volume exhibits in a marked degree those appropriate qualities of a satisfactory text book to which allusion was previously made. It is full without becoming wearisome or confusing. It is terse and compact, and yet does not fail to be lucid and comprehensive. It should, I think, enlighten the student without neglecting to stimulate him or her to fresh inquiry. It should assist the teacher without rendering his or her aid superfluous. Adapted as it is to a particular purpose, it is of course subject to certain limitations. A small amount of repetition is not merely to be expected, but it is also to be desired, in a text book intended for systematic instruction. An inability to push research to its furthest length is imposed by the very conditions of the task essayed. A reluctance to return a positive final verdict on controverted questions is as welcome as it is discreet. Such limitations as these are acknowledged in the Editor’s Note. They are suggested by the aims and prescribed by the size of the volume. They are inherent in the conception of a text book.

And yet I would venture to add to these observations that, successful as this little treatise appears to me to be in meeting the special requirements which it is expressly designed to satisfy, it has a wider interest and is destined to occupy a more permanent and important place than might perhaps be gathered from what has hitherto been said. A few remarks on this larger aspect may, I hope, be subjoined without exposing this Preface to the charge of exorbitant prolixity; for, as I think, this new text book, issued with the sanction and endorsed with the imprimatur of the Co-operative Union, and intended for the instruction of co-operative students and the assistance of co-operative teachers, may also not improbably serve to elicit and direct the interest of the general public, and to attract and guide the observations and inquiries of the trained economist. Neither class in this country has failed to concern itself with the performance and the promise of the co-operative movement. Almost from the outset co-operators have attracted the favouring notice of economists, and they have enjoyed a large measure of approbation at the hands of the general body of English citizens. Prominent statesmen have presided at Co-operative Congresses, as the list given in this volume shows. The newspaper press, which reflects, if it does not inspire, popular opinion, has usually been friendly to co-operators rather than adverse. But it is only natural that some of this interest should have been in some degree at least uninformed. The solid obvious merits of Co-operation have attracted the commendation which they fully deserved; but, from lack of personal acquaintance with the daily details of co-operative business, and of intimate knowledge of the various and sometimes conflicting currents of opinion among practical co-operators, the eulogy, like the criticism, where that has been bestowed, cannot fail on some occasions to have been indiscriminate or misdirected. In this text book the means are furnished for supplying the deficiencies and avoiding the misunderstandings to which the uninstructed outsider must perforce be liable, and I cannot but believe that a perusal of this volume would lead to an estimate of the achievements and the prospects of Co-operation, which would be more just and sure, because it would rest on a more solid basis of informed opinion and of established fact.

Industrial Co-operation has for some time past won for itself a conspicuous place among the most considerable social movements of our times. It is not inappropriately described in the title of this volume as a “peaceful revolution.” The authors do not, however, shut their eyes to some unfavourable symptoms which have unhappily made their appearance in unwelcome force in unsuspected quarters. Nor do they record the work already done, or anticipate the further progress to be expected in the future, without qualifying their congratulations and their hopes alike. They note, for either side may be partly right and partly wrong — right in what it affirms and wrong in what it denies. It has certainly been shown that both of two contrasted forms of industrial organisation may comprise a great number of subordinate varieties, and that the differences severing some of these varieties from those belonging to the other class may be less considerable than the protagonists of the opposing parties are inclined to acknowledge openly or to recognise in tacit admissions made to themselves alone. A noticeable feature of the present volume is the careful classification of the different descriptions of co-operative associations of producers and of the several varieties of co-operation as applied to the production of commodities. No less welcome and remarkable a feature is the interesting and detailed account given of the chief directions in which the practice of Co-operation has recently been developed in Ireland. As Sir Horace Plunkett has urged in a book quoted in this volume, the habit of combination is congenial to the temperament and traditions of the Irish people, and the gratifying results achieved in the sister kingdom in a sphere in which Co-operation has as yet attained little enduring success in England, that of agricultural industry, may yet be traced in their original inception to the useful counsel and the active encouragement of English co-operative experts and officials. These fresh developments constitute an important addition to co-operative practice, which obviously could not have been considered or appreciated by the writers of earlier manuals.

But the chief lesson which this volume impresses on the mind of the economic investigator is the familiar but neglected truth that it is as dangerous to prophecy in economics as it is in politics. The co-operative movement in this country has in some respects at least advanced on different lines and in different directions from those which were laid down or even imagined by many, if not most, of its founders. In a sense it is true that the idea of the Rochdale Pioneers of selling at the ordinary retail price, and dividing the surplus returns which result, among purchasers in proportion to their purchases, was a happy discovery due in some degree to lucky accident. The remote consequences of this principle they hardly realised in their fondest dreams. The complete development of the practice could not have been fully anticipated by their most ambitious aspirations. The story of the tentative commencement of their modest enterprise reads, as we are told once again in this new volume, like an imaginative romance. But the large growth which has sprung from this tiny seedling is an accomplished fact. Similarly, it may be observed that, if the Christian Socialists, to whose valuable services full justice is done by the authors  of this text book, were too sanguine in believing that the “Self-governing workshop” was the sure signal of the inauguration of an economic paradise, some incidental advantages, which “Co-operation among consumers”, has brought in its train, such as the promotion of involuntary thrift, the diffusion of business aptitude among working men, and the active encouragement of the qualifications of effective citizenship, have been the cause of unexpected benefit to the members of an industrial order unlike that which Owenites or Socialists had contemplated and more akin to that which they regarded as dying if not already dead. The future may not improbably have similar surprises in store for us who are living in the opening years of a new century, to which we are not yet audacious enough to apply a distinguishing label.

For there are few of us perhaps who can look back some distance into the century which has just departed who have not in the hot period of our youth seen visions and dreamed dreams. And then the cold blasts of keen criticism and unkind fortune have in the years of our maturer manhood swept away, as it seemed, many of these unsubstantial fancies into empty disillusionment. And yet, when we have waited a while longer, our imaginative ideals have returned in the less magnificent but more enduring guise of sober possibilities transformed into accomplished facts. Some similar transition may perhaps be connected with the co-operative movement. Its later performance has not resembled its early promise in every detail, but it is none the less a marvellous achievement “peaceful revolution” has been wrought, and its possibilities are not exhausted. With the opportune assistance of this new text book, and its authoritative record of fact and opinion, we are enabled to place the aspirations and achievements of the past in a more correct perspective. We can now note development where others have seen stagnation or retrogression. Warned by their example, we may retain a firm faith in the future without indulging extravagant hopes which must be disappointed. A reasonable optimism of this type seems to characterise the authors of this book.

L. L. PRICE.
ORIEL COLLEGE, OXFORD,
September 17th, 1904.

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