In earlier Picket Line entries, I’ve attempted to translate sections from the latest edition of the Spanish Handbook of Economic Disobedience (see , , , , , and ).
Today I’ll continue:
The free collectives in the face of current law
We define “free collectives” as that association of people constituted with an aim of transforming society through its social, economic, and political activity. These collectives encompass all types of organizations so long as their purpose is transformative; but in this article we will focus on those free collectives dedicated to the production of goods and services. The name matters less than the fundamentals of the collective. And keep in mind that these days the name cooperative often obscures a capitalist enterprise, while hiding behind a corporation can be an authentic cooperative.
The State regularly encourages cooperatives with subsidies and tax preferences. And the secret of this permissiveness is in the laws that regulate the functioning of cooperatives, in which the self-management fundamentals have been largely replaced by capitalist intentions.
The law concerning cooperatives permits private ownership of the means of production, and not only collective ownership. And that law accepts the subsequent division of a sort between the owning members of the cooperative and the non-proprietary salaried workers. The counterrevolutionary action of the false cooperatives, that is of the capitalist enterprises incorporated under the Cooperatives Law, has come to discredit the revolutionary work of the authentic cooperatives in many associationist circles, dissuading many producers from the sincere practice of this transformative path.
On the part of these free collectives, deceit has historically been resorted to defensively, a necessary camouflage strictly necessary for survival. Since the beginning of the struggles for social emancipation, the free collectives have seen the need to operate in the shadows and to change their identity in order to evade the State’s persecution. The first syndicates were posing as relief societies; the anarchist collectives, as cooperative societies.
Whether revolutionary or ordinary, as collectives we must put our ideals into practice. It does not matter that those who join to work together are few, because what matters above all is to test the effectiveness of the idea in practice.
Twenty industrial workers, or fifteen farmers, for example, want to come together and work in common. Who can prevent this? If the capitalist regime prohibits collectivism, we can build a production cooperative. What does the name matter‽ The interesting thing is to work collectively.
What is it if not a Limited Liability Corporation? We know of collective businesses that, with the name of production cooperatives, have functioned miraculously.
They have overcome the capitalist system and have conquered it even in the field of commerce. What if there is no revolution? It doesn’t matter. The collective must be created, whatever the number of collectivists and the social environment in which it will reveal itself.
In historical periods like the present, in which the correlation of forces between the collectives and the State is so unbalanced on the side of the latter, it is the most important time to be familiar with the law so as to find the points of weakness that permit us to conquer it at the lowest cost. This section has been written with the aim of offering practical information to protect self-managed collectives from the predatory action of the State.
From here, the Handbook takes a close look at the law as it currently exists in Spain… something that probably has limited interest to the English-speaking audience (and also something that requires a more legalistically-tuned translation apparatus), so I’ll skip over it.
Part of what it covers are the advantages and disadvantages of legally incorporating, compared to those of being an unofficial, unregistered association. It discusses the varieties of forms of legal corporations, and how they compare.
It also warns readers not to choose their legal form of corporation based on its name. In many cases the official forms for, say, a cooperative or a labor union have been designed to neuter those types of organizations rather than to facilitate or empower them, so such groups might be better off choosing another form of organization. And the “non-profit” designation may sound appealing, but can be more restrictive and less useful even to groups that have no interest in turning a profit.
“Legal persons” and limited liability corporations are good ways to shield conspiracies of individuals from the repercussions of their collective criminal acts, say the authors, and they think that capitalists shouldn’t be the only ones who get to play that game.
The handbook covers a few varieties of legal corporate structures in depth and talks about their possible advantages for providing cover for cooperative economic disobedience, and gives some pointers as to what to look out for whichever path you choose.