History of Co-operation (8)
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CHAPTER XXIII.

THE WHOLESALE SOCIETY


"In the moral world there is nothing impossible, if we bring a thorough will to it.  Man can do everything with himself, but he must not attempt to do too much with others."—W. HUMBOLDT.


EVERYBODY understands the natural history of discovery.  Some one proposes to do something which it is thought will be useful.  It is at once declared to be absurd; then it is found out that if it was done it would be dangerous; next it is proved impossible, and that it was never done before, and it would have been done if it had been possible.  Nevertheless the proposers of the new thing persist that it can be done.  They come then to be designated by the disagreeable names of "fanatics," impracticables, spoliators, incendiaries, visionaries, doctrinaires, dreamers, and, generally, troublesome and pestiferous persons.  It is surmised that they are probably of very bad morals, unsound in theology, and certainly ignorant of the first principles of political economy.  At length they succeed.  Their plan is then found to be eminently useful, very desirable, and the source of profits and advantages to all concerned.  Then it is suddenly discovered that there never was anything new in it—that it had always been known—that it is all as old as the hills, and the valleys too—that it was recorded from the day history began, and, doubtless, before.  Those who reviled it, and distrusted it, now find out that they always believed in it; and those who oppressed and denied it now become aware that it was they who suggested it—that they were the originators of it, and they who bore all the obloquy and opposition of carrying it through, had really nothing to do with it.  Something like this is the history of the Co-operative Buying Society of Manchester, which is a federation of stores for the wholesale purchase and distribution of commodities for store sale.

    When co-operative societies first began to multiply on the Sussex coast, the idea of organising arrangements for buying first took form.  Dr. King was chief promoter of a plan for this purpose.  Lady Noel Byron contributed £300 to enable it to be carried into effect.  My townsman, Mr. William Pare, of Birmingham, was an advocate of a plan of this nature for twenty years before it occupied the attention of Promoters of Working Men's Associations in London, who were the first to practically advance it.

    The first official mention of a Co-operative Wholesale Society dates as far back as 1832.  The idea was started at the first Manchester Conference, when it was thought that £500 would be sufficient to set it going, and one was established at Liverpool which bore the name of the North-West of England United Co-operative Company, its object being to enable the societies to purchase their goods under more advantageous terms.  Mr. Craig relates that at a bazaar held in the Royal Exchange, Liverpool, the rent of which was contributed by Lady Noel Byron, delegates attended who brought goods which had been manufactured by co-operators, and a large exchange was effected.  There were linens from Barnsley, prints from Birkacre, stuffs from Halifax, shoes from Kendal, cutlery from Sheffield, and lace from Leicestershire.  One society had £400 worth of woollen goods, another had £200 of cutlery.  Some of the delegates were nearly entirely clad in clothes made by co-operators.  The Wigan Society had the possession of a farm, for which they paid £600 a year.

    But it was in Rochdale that the idea was destined to take root and grow and be transplanted to Manchester.  A mile and half or more from Oldham, in a low-lying uncheerful spot, there existed, twenty years ago, a ramshackle building know as Jumbo Farm.  A shrewd co-operator who held it, Mr. Boothman, had observed in the Shudehill Market, Manchester, that it was great stupidity for five or six buyers of co-operative stores to meet there and buy against each other and put up prices, and he invited a number of them and others to meet at Jumbo Farm on Sundays and discuss the Wholesale idea; and on Saturday nights at the Oldham store at King Street, a curious visitor might have observed a solid and ponderous load of succulent joints well accompanied, a stout cheese being conspicuous, for Sunday consumption, during the Wholesale discussion; for the hearty co-operators at jumbo had appetites as well as ideas.  Unaware what efforts had preceded theirs, they came to imagine that they also devised the Wholesale.  It was another mind earlier occupied than theirs in attention to it, which had matured a working conception of it.

    Jumbo Farm is nearly effaced or built over now.  It had a dreary, commonplace look when I last saw it.  Though I do not believe, as certain old frequenters of that jaggling spot do, that the gravitation, the circulation of the blood, and Queen Cassiopia's chair were first discovered there, I respect it because useful discussions were held there under Mr. Boothman's occupancy; and I was glad to hear from Mr. Marcroft authentic particulars how the joints got there on the good days of debate, when co-operators were "feeling their way"—and, what showed their good sense, eating their way too; for lean reformers seldom hit upon fat discoveries.  There were and still are two great stores in Oldham—Greenacres and King Street.  Greenacres has never carried out Sunday gatherings on any occasion.  King Street Cooperative Society has done so for over twenty-five years, and many of their best and most successful projects have first been talked of at these Sunday meetings.  That society has probably the largest number of members who are ever trying to get new light to better understand what is possible and immediately practicable.  The members have no dogmatic opinions as to religion or politics, but are prepared to hear all men, and change action when duty and interest lead, reverencing the old and accepting the new.  For all this, as well as for its interest in the commissariat of Jumbo, King Street shall be held in honour among stores!  The Christian Socialist periodical, of 1852, published an account of a conference held in Manchester, when Mr. Smithies, of Rochdale, was appointed one of a committee, of which Mr. L. Jones was also a member, to take steps for establishing a general depôt in Manchester for supplying the store with and provisions.  At that time Mr. L. Jones groceries plan, [181] which contained the elementary ideas of an organised depôt so far as experience then indicated them.  Thus the idea had from the beginning been in the air.  Costly attempts were made to localise it in London in 1850.  A few years later Rochdale conducted a wholesale department in connection with its store for the supply of Lancashire and Yorkshire.  But it became apparent that the increasing stores of the country could never be supplied adequately by a department of any store, and that Rochdale having co-operated with the Wholesale Society in London, devised and carried forward a working plan suited to the needs and means of the stores in Lancashire and Yorkshire.  They trimmed the lamp afresh, and for some ten years they kept it burning: its light enabling other pioneer co-operators to see their way to founding a new, separate, and more comprehensive society, which came to bear the name of the North of England Wholesale.  Mr. Crabtree was on the committee of the Wholesale in 1865, the same year in which Mr. Nuttall first joined it.  Mr. Crabtree recalls a series of public facts which prove that by all contemporaries best acquainted with the subject, Mr. Abraham Greenwood, of Rochdale, was the chief founder of the Wholesale. [182]  Mr. Crabtree sets forth that "in the Co-operator for March, 1863 (vol. 3), Mr. Greenwood propounded his plan for a Wholesale Agency, which, with some modifications, formed the basis of their organisation."  Mr. Nuttall's paper, read at the London Congress, in 1869, makes reference to the efforts of 1856, and shows that its promoters failed to agree as to the best means of raising the capital.  Particulars of this are given on page 39 in the Congress Report, and on page 40 Mr. Nuttall gives credit to Mr. Greenwood for having proposed a plan which was ultimately adopted.  Instead of charging a commission upon goods bought, they charged for their goods a price which covered the commission, and was intended only to be sufficient to cover expenses incurred.

    The Wholesale scheme in its inception and careful steps for carrying it out in 1864, is a good example of the constructive co-operators' methods.  Thrice the attempt had been made, thrice it had discouragingly failed.  More than thirty years had intervened since the project was first launched.  It had been lost like a ship at sea, but had not foundered, and was heard of again.  Again and it went out of sight and record, and again reappeared.  Greenwood examined the vessel, found its sailing powers were all right, but it was sent out to coasts where no business could be done, and consequently could not keep up a working crew, and the ship could never get back to port without assistance.

    The reader knows from public report what the expenses usually are of promoting and establishing an insurance or other company.  Many might think that the magical "twopence," out of which Rochdale finance arose, would be insufficient here, but the actual levy fell very much below, as the following circular, sent to each society by Mr. William Cooper when the Wholesale was resolved on, will show:—


    "At a conference of delegates from industrial and provident co-operative societies, held at the King Street Stores meeting-room, Oldham, on December 25, 1862, it was resolved:—'That all co-operative societies be requested to contribute one farthing per member, to meet the expenses that may arise.'  The purposes for which the money is required are—to meet the expenses of the committee in carrying out the resolutions of the Conference, viz.:—To remedy a few defects of the Act of 1862 in the present session of Parliament; to prepare plans for a central agency and wholesale depôt; consider plans for insurance, assurance, and guarantee, in connection with the co-operative societies.  Therefore your society is respectfully solicited for the above contribution of one farthing per member." [183]


    This Wholesale tax, when it was gathered in, would have been of small avail had not strong and clear proofs of advantage been drawn up and presented to the confederators.  The benefits calculated by Mr. Greenwood as likely to arise (and which have been realised) he foretold as follows:—


"1st. Stores are enabled, through the agency, to purchase more economically than heretofore, by reaching the best markets.

"2nd. Small stores and new stores are at once put in a good position, by being placed directly (through the agency) in the best markets, thus enabling them to sell as cheap as any first-class shopkeeper.

"3rd. As all stores have the benefit of the best markets, by means of the agency, it follows that dividends paid by stores must be more equal than heretofore; and, by the same means, dividends considerably augmented.

"4th. Stores, especially large ones, are able to carry on their businesses with less capital. Large stores will not, as now, be necessitated, in order to reach the minimum prices of the markets, to purchase goods they do not require for the immediate supply of their members.

"5th. Stores are able to command the services of a good buyer, and will thus save a large amount of labour and expense, by one purchaser buying for some 150 stores; while the whole amount of blundering in purchasing at the commencement of a co-operative store is obviated."


    Never was a great movement created by clearer arguments or a smaller subscription.  The Wholesale began at a bad time, when the cotton famine prevailed, and the first half-year it lost money, but the second half-year its directors contrived to clear off the loss, and pay a dividend of 12s. 6d. per cent.  With an average capital of £2,000, and working expenses amounting to £267, the company transacted business to the amount of £46,000.  The economy of capital and labour thus achieved was unprecedented, and a proof of the power and advantage of the ready-money rule.  Such were the results accomplished by the Farthing Federation in 1864.

    Within twelve months, Lord Brougham (than whom none knew better how to appreciate the significance of such a step) spoke of it as one "which, in its consequence, would promote Co-operation to a degree almost incalculable."  When Mr. Horace Greeley was last in England, he inquired of me as was his wont with Cobbett-like keenness, as to the progress of Co-operation.  From information he received from others also he wrote an account of the Wholesale in the New York Tribune, in which he confirmed Lord Brougham's estimation of its importance.

    Scotland has a Wholesale Society of its own, which is situated in Glasgow.  The Manchester Wholesale was solicited to establish a branch there, but ultimately the Scottish co-operators established one themselves.  In 1873 the new warehouse of the Scottish Wholesale Society, a large commanding building, was opened in the Paisley Road, Glasgow.  Mr. Alexander James Meldrum was the President, and James Borrowman, Manager.  The first year of the Scottish Wholesale Society they did business to the amount of £81,000. In the fifth year £380,000.  Their capital the first year was £5,000, in the fifth £37,000.  Their total divisible profit, exclusive of interest, exceeded £8,000 in the first five years,

    In 1863, Ellen Mason, writing from Whitfield Rectory, remarked that "a Wholesale Depot at Newcastle would be an immense boon to us."  Many years later the appeal was listened to, as was also an application made in London, where a branch was established at 118, Minories, [184] with great advantage to the Southern stores.  In 1865 an application was made from New South Wales to the Wholesale, to consider whether the Co-operative Society of Sydney could not purchase through it.

    Its method of business is: With the first order a remittance must be enclosed sufficient to cover the value of the goods.  Future accounts must be paid on receipt of invoice, or within seven days from the date; but if not paid within fourteen days no more goods will be supplied until such overdue accounts are paid.

    The shares, which were £5 each, were issued on condition that a society took out one for each ten members belonging to it, increasing the number annually as its members increase. [185]
 
    The progress of the Wholesale during fourteen years from 1864 to 1867 the following table tells.  The figures are taken from the Rochdale Pioneers' Almanac of 1878:—
 

Year.

No. of Members in Societies which are Shareholders.

£5 shares taken up.

Capital, Share, and Loan. (£)

Value of Goods Sold. (£)

Net profit. (£)

1864

18,337

 

2,456

51,858

267

1865

24,005

 

7,182

120,755

1,859

1866

31,030

 

10,936

175,420

2,310

1867

57,443

 

24,208

255,779

3,452

1868

74,494

 

28,148

381,464

4,925

1869

77,686

 

37,785

469,171

3,584

1870

87,854

 

43,950

653,608

6,818

1871

114,184

5,821

49,262

727,737

8,038

1872

131,191

6,651

133,493

1,049,394

10,468

1873

163,661

12,894

196,578

1,531,950

14,044

1874

192,457

16,641

228,817

1,925,548

19,963

1875

241,829

21,473

360,527

2,103,226

23,816

1876

274,874

24,658

399,255

2,644,322

34,808

1877

273,351

24,850

414,462

2,791,477

33,274


    In 1877 there were 588 societies buying from the Wholesale.  In the table above the reader will see the number of members in these Societies that exceeded 273,000.  The Reserved Capital of the Wholesale is £27,898.  This Society had (1878) 32 buyers and salesmen, including those stationed at Cork, Limerick, Kilmarnock, Tipperary, Waterford, Tralee, Armagh, and New York.  The large Reserve Fund is yearly increased so as to render every department of the Society secure.  One department, that of banking, has grown to such dimensions that its separation from the Wholesale is advised by the most prudent friends of the Society, and that it be conducted on recognised banking principles.

    The fifty-first quarterly balance-sheet of this society was described by a writer in the Newcastle Chronicle ( 1877) as a huge folio pamphlet of twenty-four pages, filled with all sorts of accounts and statistics rendered with painstaking minuteness.  The Wholesale serves 22 counties, besides parts of Scotland, Ireland, and the Isle of Man.

    The total cash received from the whole area during one quarter was £815,411, yielding a dividend to the customer societies of £6,211.  The expense of management for the quarter was £6,223.  The smallest return is from Cornwall, amounting to £3 10s. 4d.  The Wholesale holds land and buildings and the ship Plover of the estimated value £72,130. [186]  Its productive establishments were then a boot factory at Leicester, a biscuit factory at Crumpsall, and soap factory at Durham.  Besides these direct and exclusive investments the Wholesale held shares in seventeen manufacturing, printing, coal, and insurance companies. [187]

    Members of this society, being stores, the division of profits is made after the manner of stores.  In the productive work-shops owned by the Wholesale there is no division of profits with labour.  In some businesses custom is great and labour small, and in others labour is large; but labour in every productive society should have representation on the directorate.  It is not possible to prescribe an inflexible law of division; but what should be inflexible is the partnership of labour.  There should be set apart in workshops, as in stores, funds for educational purposes.  It does not pay to have fools for members, and it is shabby to depend for information upon papers written and speeches given by charity.

    Every producing society should be co-operative, self-acting, and self-sustaining.  Like the products of Nature, every seed of organised industry, wherever it took root, would yield perfect fruit in every place; then federation will be the federation of equals gaining like an army by combination, perfect in individual discipline, and able, each like the English at Inkermann, to make a stand on its own account.  Under a true co-operative system factories and industrial works will rear workmen who will have the old ambition of skilled craftsmen.  The means of social education should be available in every mill and mine, factory and farm.

    If the directors of the Wholesale add to their other great achievements the revival of participation in the profits of labour in their productive works, they may increase their profits, command the goodwill of the whole labouring community, and win a more splendid repute than was accomplished by Robert Owen at New Lanark, which subsisted for three years.

    How difficult it was in the early days of Co-operation to get persons qualified to buy!  Buyers, like poets, seem to be born, not made.  They must possess the tact of the market.  It is of small use that a man has money to buy with, unless he knows where to find the right dealers in the right thing.  A mechanic, while confined to workshops, does not often know where to go to buy.  There are certain tea fields in the world known to produce certain qualities of tea, and certain houses get possession of them.  Some men who do know where to look for the article they want, probably do not know it when they see it.  A man who is a great tea buyer has tea in his blood: just as famous mechanics who have steel in their blood, know metals by instinct, as some men do colours or textures, or as artists do forms and tints.  I know one coffee roaster in Manchester who has coffee in his blood, and I never knew but one man in London who had.  Sugars are also a special field for the exercise of natural taste.  The Wholesale Society engage, or create, or nurture a class of great buyers, to ensure to the humblest store advantages they could not command for themselves.  The officers of the Wholesale submit any doubtful food to the operation of the public analyst.  Sometimes a store will report through its local buyer that it can purchase much cheaper than the society can buy through the Wholesale.  Specimens of what has been so bought are asked for, when, on sending it to the analyst, it has transpired that the cheapness was owing to the commodity being fraudulently adulterated.  Local buyers are subjected to so many temptations, by commissions clandestinely or openly offered by agents seeking orders, that many who are men of honesty when they take office cease to be so in a short time.  Unless the store finds a buyer of unusual integrity who resists doing what he sees others do [188], a store must pay a higher salary to place him above temptation.  The Wholesale Society has been a great source of fiduciary morality and economy by affording the stores a buying agency.

    A considerable sum of money has been spent with a view of instituting a Mississippi Valley Trading Company.  A deputation was sent to New Orleans to promote that object, and a scheme promoted of International Co-operation between England and America, officially brought under the notice of the Grangers of the United States at their Annual Conferences.

    At a quarterly meeting of the Wholesale several hundred delegates assemble, and a more striking spectacle of the capacity of the working class for business, when their minds are set upon it by self-training and intelligent interest, is not to be witnessed in England or elsewhere.  Between the House of Commons of to-day and the Wholesale Conference there is an instructive comparison.  The delegates of the Wholesale present an appearance of more alertness, brightness, and resolute attention to business than is to be seen in the House of Commons.  In that House of 670 members there are not more than 70 who attend earnestly to business.  There are about 100 who attend pretty well to their own business, and the remainder attend to anything else when it occurs to them.  At the Wholesale Conference all the members attend to the business. The Chairman knows what the business is and accelerates it if it loiters on the way.  Each delegate has in his hands a huge-sized folio covered with a wilderness of figures; and when one page is exhausted the rustle of leaves turning over simultaneously in every part of the hall is not unlike the rising of a storm at sea, or a descent of asteroids in November, or the vibration of silk when the rush of ladies takes place at her Majesty's Drawing-Room.  The directors of the Wholesale, like Ministers in Parliament, are all on the platform, ready to answer questions put, and sometimes have replies on hand to questions which are not put.  In ever every part of the large hall in Balloon Street, or Leman Street, the voices of questioners and critics break out in quick succession.  No body of the industrious classes in England excel a Conference of the Wholesale; nowhere else are the delegates more numerous; nowhere else is every one better able to make a speech; every one having some business knowledge and experience of the branch he represents.


 
CHAPTER XXIV.

LONDON CO-OPERATION—THE REVOLT OF THE GROCERS

"Folly is a contagious disease, but there is difficulty in catching wisdom."—G. J. H.


CO-OPERATION has produced two distinct and protracted revolts—one of the grocers, another of their customers.  The first revolt is very little known, and none are now alive who were observant of it, or actors in it.  Co-operation cannot be said to be a disturbing influence since it seeks amity, and has always been pacific; but private traders have been perturbed concerning it for a century.  The first revolt of the grocers against it took place before the days of the first Reform Bill.  We know tradesmen conspire against it; when Mr. Baliol Brett (since Mr. Justice Brett) went down to oppose Mr. Cobden at Rochdale, his chief charge against the great free trader was that he was friendly to Co-operation.  At the general election of 1872 candidates well disposed towards it were reticent concerning it, and others not reticent, who had held seats in the previous Parliament, lost them.  The knowledge that they had stood up for fair play for co-operators proved fatal to them.  Co-operation we know has been the perplexity of two Governments, Chancellors of the Exchequer have a terror of deputations praying to have Co-operation put down.  The Government of Mr. Gladstone carefully abstained from saying anything in its favour, and that of Lord Beaconsfield abstained from doing anything against it.  Co-operation was said to be impossible; and if not impossible impractical; nevertheless efforts are constantly made to prevent the impracticable from being put into practice.

    Adversaries among shopkeepers have shown skill in preserving themselves from the infection of wisdom.  Though confident in their superiority as trained competitors, they show distress at the appearance of amateurs in the field, as the Church clergy did, when the untutored Wesleyans took to preaching on the village green.  It was beneath the clerical dignity to fear competition.  They strengthened it by showing terror at it, as tradesmen do at Co-operation.

    The Co-operation of our time, imagined to be a recent invention, is built upon the ruins of extinct movements buried out of sight and knowledge of the commercial classes of to-day, under forests of forgotten publications as completely as Pompei under the ashes of Vesuvius.  Strange is it to see grocers and tradesmen descending into the streets, to arrest the progress of Co-operation, holding indignation meetings in the anterooms of the Government in Downing Street, and to read that their forefathers in business were equally excited a century ago.

    When the Union Mill was first commenced in Devonport, adjoining Plymouth, in 1815, the members had no mill, bake-house, or shop of their own, in which to make up or sell their flour.  They rented a small store, in which to sell their bread, and were dependent on a baker for making it.  The bakers soon combined against them, and wrote to the Admiralty to put them down.  The Government never appear to have been very anxious to take the part of one set of tradesmen against another.  A venerable survivor, who was 84 years old in 1863, mortgaged a house as he had to raise £600 to enable a new society to be established in the town. [189]

    The British Association (for the Promotion of Co-operation) of 1830 brought under the notice of its members "with extreme regret that an ignorant yet powerful band of petty shopkeepers at Hampstead, has been successful by bribes and cunning in frustrating the attempt of some co-operators in that place to hold a public meeting, and that the parochial authorities of Tunbridge Wells and of Thurmaston, in Leicestershire, have withdrawn the trifling pittance given by the parish to some poor people who were making attempts to relieve themselves from so degrading a dependence for bread.  Others threatened with like privations have been obliged to withdrawn from membership of the co-operative societies, and remain a burden to their parishes." [190]  The probability is that the shopkeepers who happened to be guardians were willing to throw upon their neighbours this liability in order to protect their own interests at the counter.  In other places local influence was brought to bear upon officers of the Government, and representations were made to them on behalf of grocers.  At Godalming, in Surrey, the trustees of a Co-operative Association in 1830 were refused a licence for the sale of tea by the Excise officers, to prevent them beginning the grocery trade, which would interfere with that of retail dealers close by.  Whereupon Mr. G. R. Skene wrote to the Board of Excise, who behaved very well in the matter.  The persons refusing the licence received a severe reprimand, and a licence was instantly granted with apologies, and an illegal fee returned.  At Poole a threatened extortion of the parish rates was made upon the co-operators with a view to deter them, but it was successfully resisted.  Mr. Skene was the Secretary of the British Association for Promoting Co-operative Knowledge, which met in London.

    The grocers being personally affected by co-operative shop-keeping have been oftener before the public in opposition to it, but they have not been more unpleasant in their action than manufacturers, or farmers, or other classes, whose trade interests have been affected by any rival movement.  The clergy have been quite as disagreeable to Dissenting ministers, and have appealed to Parliament to suppress them oftener than shop-keepers have appealed for public aid.  There seems to be no difference in the practices of gentlemen and poor men where trade interests are threatened.  Employers, capitalists, and even bishops and noblemen, were all as spiteful and as offensive as workmen, to whom lower wages meant disease and home misery.  From 1826 to 1836 numerous instances occur of the "superior" classes being engaged in strikes and rattening and picketing as against the lower classes.  The discreditable practices are solely imputed to working men and trade unionists.  Grocers have been the most noisy, but co-operators have been attacked by more dangerous adversaries.

    Mr. William Carson, a delegate to the Third Co-operative Congress, held in London in April, 1832, related that "he held a situation with a highly respectable architect employed by the Commissioners for building churches, amongst whom were several bishops and others of the aristocracy.  His discharge was sent him although he had a wife and large family to maintain, because he had rendered himself obnoxious to the Commissioners by the active exertions he had made in aid of Co-operation."  Upon the architect appealing to Commissioners on Mr. Carson's behalf, telling them of the situation in which he would be placed if they were determined upon his discharge, the reply was "he must be discharged and they would bear the responsibility."  Whatever injustice these inspired gentlemen practised, they were pretty safe, and they knew it.

    Mr. E Taylor, delegate from Birkacre, Lancashire, who represented a society of more than three hundred persons, whose premises for printing silks and cottons stood at a rental of £600, stated that they suffered greatly from the jealousies of capitalists and masters who had tampered with their landlord to get them turned out of their premises. [191]  These cases were oft reported.  The jealous adversary generally succeeded.

    In the days of the Cotton Famine in Lancashire and Yorkshire the shopkeepers on relief committees oft behaved with incredible shabbiness to the co-operators.  In many towns they caused the co-operators to be refused any participation in the funds publicly subscribed for the relief of the distressed.

    Liberals have always been more or less prompt in befriending Co-operation; but tradesmen, in their hostility to it, have always assumed that the Conservatives could be depended upon to put it down.  It is therefore justice to record the honourable letter which the late Earl Derby wrote at the opening of the new store at Prestwich, dated Knowsley, January 6, 1864.  His Lordship said to Mr. Pitman, "If any persons have been led to believe that I look coldly on the co-operative movement, they are greatly mistaken.  It has always appeared to me to be well calculated to encourage in the operative classes habits of frugality, temperance, and self-dependence; and if the managers of these societies conduct them prudently, not entering into wild speculations, and retaining in hand a sufficient amount of reserved capital to meet casual emergencies, they cannot fail to exercise a beneficial influence upon the habits of the population, both morally and physically."  Lord Derby was a man of honour, he might sincerely sacrifice his country was to his principles, but he never sacrificed his convictions to his party.

    Passages have been published from time to time by men of eminence or influence, favourable to Co-operation.  Among these were John Stuart Mill, the present Lord Derby (1877), Mr. Gladstone, Professor Francis William Newman, Professor Frederick Denison Maurice, Canon Kingsley, the Rev. William Nassau Molesworth, Lord Brougham, Mr. Bright, Mr. Cobden, and William Chambers.  Mr. Mill's opinion, written at the opening of the Liverpool Provident Association, is remarkable, like most statements of his, for its completeness and comprehensiveness.  He said, "Of all the agencies which are at work to elevate those who labour with their hands, in physical condition, in social dignity, and in those moral and intellectual qualities on which both the others are ultimately dependent, there is none so promising as the present co-operative movement.  Though I foresaw, when it was only a project, its great advantages, its success has thus far exceeded my most sanguine expectations, and every year adds strength to my conviction of the salutary influence it is likely to exercise over the destinies of this and other countries."

    It was the perilous but honourable practice of Mr. Robert Lowe when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, to give what information he could which might serve a deputation waiting upon him.  Had he talked a few platitudes to them and left them to believe he would do what he could when he knew he could do nothing, he had been more popular but less deserving of honour.  He told the deputation from the National Chamber of Trade, introduced by Mr. W. H. Smith, M.P., later, Lord of the Admiralty, that "The only way to defeat these societies was by competing with them in the market, and if they were in a condition to do that, let them do so, and combine together, and offer to the public as good terms as these societies did."

    Mr. Gladstone, in his correspondence with Messrs. Evison and Barter in 1868, told them with like wisdom and honesty "Long credits mean large loans by men in business out of their trading capital.  This system aggravates the risk of had debts, which form an additional charge to a good debtor: and it is connected with a general irregularity and uncertainty which must also be paid for.  I cannot help thinking that traders are in fault also, and that much might be done by a vigorous effort, and by combination among traders in favour of ready-money dealings."

    Some of the deputation to the Liberal ministry were incited, for political reasons, to elicit expressions of opinion that might be used to influence shopkeepers' votes at the election.  For tradesmen to ask the Government for aid against competitors was to confess their incompetence to conduct their own business on trade principles.  Most of them knew that the Tories could no more interfere on their behalf than the Liberals, and Mr. Gladstone was more their friend than they deserved to find him in the advice he gave them.  He saw that if the chief grocers would combine together and open a large ready-money store, guaranteeing the best provisions, they might rival the stores, and in some cases supersede them; making sufficient profit to share it with purchasers.

    Professor Thorold Rogers states—in the address delivered by him at the London Congress in 1875—that, "from careful inquiries made by him of large manufacturers in many branches of productive industry, as to the cost at which these articles were charged in their books when they left the workshop, compared with the prices charged to the purchaser by the retail trader, he found that the additions made, as the charge of distribution, very commonly doubled the price of the article."  Not that the retail trade gained the enormous addition, but that the cost of distribution is increased from excess of middlemen.  Co-operators are often under the illusion that their savings represent the profit of the shopkeeper, whereas they also represent the cost which the shopkeeper incurs.  The co-operator gains what the shopkeeper loses, and they do not.  Herein the shopkeepers by combination can gain equally.

    The Civil Service Co-operative Society have a place of business in the Haymarket, yet every day, nearly from top to the bottom of the street, as great a crowd of carriages of the nobility are to be seen as are to be found in Piccadilly, at Fortnum and Mason's the day before the Derby day.  As many footmen surround the doors of this Civil Service Store as are to be found round Swan and Edgar's, or Waterloo House, in Cockspur Street.  Yet at this Haymarket store there are more forms to be gone through, and more trouble to be encountered in buying a pound of butter than in obtaining a dividend from the Bank of England.  This is not all the wonder.  The Haymarket is not a place of sweetest repute.  True, there are honest houses and residents of good fame in it; yet it remains suspicious to hear a young marchioness accosted in Rotten Row by a young nobleman, who assures her he has not had the pleasure to see her since he met her in the Haymarket.  It could hardly be any light or unimportant thing which induces ladies of "high degree" to subject themselves to be addressed in terms which are considered to require explanation.  What is it that attracts these illustrious customers; and induces them to incur all this conspicuousness, suspicion, discomfort, and fatigue, but the satisfaction of providing their houses with articles of consumption which they think they can depend upon for purity, and obtain at moderate charges?  There is no instance in the whole of London of any shop so unattractively situated commanding customers so numerous and so distinguished.  This shows the grocers what they have to do.

    Advantage comes to a great store saving the rents of a hundred shops, a hundred servants, the support of a hundred proprietors, in addition to saving the taxes and advertisements of as many places.  The cost of small shops is very great to the public, but the gain to the shopkeeper is little.  The greater part of what he receives in price is lost on the way by his many expenses in making his little sales, that there scarcely remains in his hands enough to keep him in his useful but often needless calling.  It is only this little profit of the shop keeper that the co-operator intercepts.  He gathers up what never comes into the shopkeeper's hands.  The unseeing saying that "what the co-operator gains comes out of the shopkeeper's pocket" causes the shopkeeper to think himself five times more harmed than is true, and it conceals from the co-operator that four out of five portions of his gain are not won in a victory over the tradesmen, but by his joining in business with his fellows, by faithfulness to his own store and by equity in trade.  If every shopkeeper was abolished to-morrow by Act of Parliament, co-operators would gain little.  Co-operative prosperity does not come by prayer, but by prudence; not by caprice, but by concert.  It is seeing this clearly, seeing it constantly, seeing it always, which constitutes the education of the co-operator.

    Pictures have been drawn by shopkeepers of every tradesman being bankrupt and the town in the hands of the co-operators.  Of course this never happened, but it was thought all the more likely by the excited, because it never could happen.  An enterprising friend of mine, [192] wishing me to name some town where he might open a new shop, I at once said, "Rochdale, and nestle near the store, that is the best place for a new shopkeeper."  "Well," he answered, "any one who looks about towns to see what is the matter with them, and what openings they offer, sees what people living in them do not see, because they are so obvious, and the obvious is the last thing people do see—but you must be wrong about Rochdale."  My answer was, "Near a store is the place for a new shop to pay.  First, a number of outsiders will buy off you, to spite the store.  Next, half the co-operators will buy off you themselves, for half the co-operators always think the goods in the shops are cheaper and better than those in their own stores."  Every director of a store knows this.  He has heard it at quarterly meetings a hundred times.  Half the stores do not buy themselves off their own Wholesale Society, because they believe they "can do better elsewhere."  Half the members of any store are dividend hunters—not a bad sort of hunting in its way—and I am glad that co-operative stores are good hunting-grounds for the working classes; but an ignorant hunter is like an untrained setter, he has not an educated nose.  He does not know where to find the bird; or he starts it foolishly, whereby it gets away.  I went the other day into one of the three greatest stores in the country.  My first question, after a long absence, was, as is my wont, "Have you the Co-operative News  about (theJournal of the societies)?  How many purchasers enter this shop in a week?"  "Four thousand," was the reply."  "How many Co-operative News do you sell?"  "Oh, FOUR DOZEN!"  "Yes," I answered, "that statement wants a great big 'O' to preface it.  That means that out of every 4,000 members of the store 3,952 believe they can be co-operators and hunt dividends better without co-operative knowledge than with it."  In the pork and butter shop, where they had 1,000 customers a week, they sold one dozen Co-operative News only.  There was the same discreditable proportion of non-intelligent members found all over the store.  The dividend hunters, their name is legion, the intelligence hunters—are twelve in the thousand.  Since that time that cultivated store has lost a great pot of gold at one swoop—enough to have bought a copy of the Co-operative News every week for every member for the last ten years, and given each a penny with it to read it.  Had they done this they would have now £30,000 in hand out of vanished funds.  "Therefore, my teetotal, energetic manufacturing friend, if thou wantest to make money, open thy shop under the shadow of a great store, and if only half the unreading members buy of thee, thou wilt make a fortune long before they take in their own paper.  Besides, put into thy account the mass of people who do not understand co-operation.  In towns like Liverpool and Birmingham the memory of it has almost died out.  A mighty and historic store may have 10,000 members in a population of 100,000 inhabitants.  That leaves nine-tenths of all purchasing people to the tradesmen.  Does not that give you an abounding chance?  Then remember that the majority of persons use their brains so little, that the avenues of their minds are blocked up.  When they were born there was no School Board to keep the entrance of their intelligence clear, and put something through it.  Never fear, shop-keeping will last your time."  My friend followed my advice, and prospered exceedingly.  A shopkeeper who knows his business can hold his business.  It is the other sort who turn into querulous complainants.

    There is a saying, "Mad as a hatter."  There is nobody so mad as a grocer, when he imagines a co-operator is after him.  Yet the better sort of shopkeepers are among the best friends co-operators have found.  They have generously taught workmen the art of keeping shops.  In many an emercency they have given counsel and aid.  I know it, because I have asked it for the aid of young stores.  In Scotland and England and I know many shopkeepers—men of genius in their way, masters of their business.  Their service of the public is a fine art, and buyers of taste will always go to them.  The co-operators are not born who will harm them.  Shopkeepers have no more reason to be afraid of Co-operation, than inn-keepers have to be afraid of the Permissive Bill.  Of course there will be mad publicans as well as demented grocers.

    The grocers set Sir Thomas Chambers to make an inquiry in Parliament whether the Government could not put down Civil Service Co-operative Supply Associations.  Any clear-headed co-operator, for a moderate fee, would put them up to a thing or two which would endanger the best Civil Service Co-operative Society in the metropolis.  All Sir Thomas Chambers could do, if he got his way, would be to spite the Civil Service gentlemen.  Once they were removed other men of business would be put in their places.

    The Right Hon. C. B. Adderley, M.P. (Conservative), attended a meeting of the Ladywood Co-operative Society in Birmingham, 1869, and made a speech strongly in its favour, and said that "God intended the whole world to be one great association of co-operation."  Mr. Sampson Lloyd, M.P. for Plymouth (also a Conservative, elected in lieu of Mr. Morrison, the former Liberal member, who was charged with sympathy with Co-operation), also sent a letter to the Ladywood meeting in approval of its object.  Mr. William Howitt afterwards made it an occasion to thank God that Mr. Adderley had discovered, like many other statesmen and landholders, that Co-operation is a great "school of natural instruction." [193]  The Liberals, being more in favour of self-action and self-help among the people, have been more friendly to co-operators.  Certainly the only members of Parliament who have been active on their behalf, and who have made sacrifices for their success, have been Liberals.

    Civil Service Stores, Army and Navy Supply Associations, have done grocers harm in London, and not the Working Class Stores which Mr. Morrison and Mr. Hughes supported.  Yet they were sacrificed by the undiscerning shop-keeping elector who gave his vote to the real enemy.  Mr. Hughes was certainly kept out of Parliament at Marylebone through the reputed resentment of the shopkeepers.

    Mr. Walter Morrison, M.P., wrote a remarkable letter to the Daily News in 1873, in reply to some editorial comments, critical but not unfriendly.  Mr. Morrison said: "You seem to think that the societies there represented conduct their trade after the fashion of the Civil Service societies in London.  I venture to assert that the very large majority of those who have at heart the continued prosperity of co-operative societies deprecate that manner of doing their trade as earnestly as any retail shopkeeper.  We hold that it is unfair to the honest tradesman, who sells genuine and unadulterated goods at a fair living profit, that it degrades Co-operation into a mere mercantile machine for cheapening the price of goods.  From the Land's End to John o' Groat's there is not a workman's retail co-operative store which attempts to undersell the tradesmen of the locality; when tradesmen have combined to ratten the store out of the district by underselling it, the stores have not retaliated in kind."

    Though Conservative candidates have profited by opposing, or conniving at opposition to co-operators, it ought to be said to the honour of the Conservative press that it has never concealed its approval of the principle, even as respects Productive Co-operation as applied to manufactures, which fewer persons can be found to speak approvingly of.  The Standard said, before a general election:—


"Co-operation, on the other hand, though possibly too weak a remedy to be relied upon altogether, is the best device for putting labour, more or less, on a level with capital, which has ever been attempted.  As far as it goes it is thoroughly healthy in its action.  The co-operative factory . . . competes with the private capitalist, and tends to keep up, at their highest possible level, the terms offered to the workmen in return for his labour." [194]


    This was plainly said, the reader can see.  The tradesman, therefore, has no ground for treating Co-operation as a political question.


 
CHAPTER XXV.

LONDON CO-OPERATION,—THE REVOLT OF THE CUSTOMER


"The friends of order became insurgents when a real grievance came home to them.  Partizans and apologists of trading confiscation, who regarded it as the reward assigned by Nature to successful competition, so long as they shared the spoil, discovered it to be a shameful exaction when they were subjects of it."—Eccentricities of Opinion (unpublished). G. J. H.


THE second revolt produced by Co-operation proved to be a revolt of customers.  This long-foreseen but late-arriving insurgency, led to what, for convenience of description, may be designated "London Co-operation."  This Metropolitan invention sprang up, extended, and attracted a pretty good share of attention.  Early, original co-operation, as it is now regarded, is that which was organised and pursued in Rochdale.  This model on which the great stores of the provinces have been founded has become known as "Rochdale Cooperation."  It may be taken that there are two kinds of Co-operation—Rochdale Co-operation and London Co-operation.  The public generally are not familiar with the distinction, but it contributes to clearness of view to apprehend the nature of the two forms and not mistake one for the other.

    The Civil Service Supply Association began, the Saturday Review said, with some members of the Civil Service "who were pinched by low salaries and high prices"; they combined together for the purpose of obtaining articles of common domestic use at wholesale prices.  They were soon encouraged by finding that they not only saved a good deal of money, but stood a better chance of obtaining goods of high quality than when they bought at retail shops; but also by learning what great profits the Rochdale, Halifax, and Leeds Stores had made in the same way.  Thus gentlemen of London were inspired by the artisans and weavers of Lancashire to establish themselves as shopkeepers.  Their humble predecessors had proved advantages of trading by concert.  Thus it dawned upon the Metropolitan understanding that competition, held up as the the nursing mother of all social blessings, had not proved itself to be that self-regulating and provident agency it was supposed to be.  Certain members of the Civil Service therefore proposed a general revolt of customers in their body, against London shopkeepers, and devised an association consisting of two classes of members—members who were shareholders, and members who merely held tickets entitling them to make purchases at the stores.  Some of the promoters of one association were considered to have acted with regard to their personal interest, in certain private contracts, concerning which the members were not consulted. [195]  The general principle professed by all was co-operative, as far as it went, which was to supply the members with goods, at wholesale prices, with such addition as left a sufficient margin for managing expenses.  The value of a share at death or withdrawal was fixed at 10s.

    Shareholders of the C.S.S.A. [196] had prescribed to them the same advantage as members—namely, that of obtaining good articles at moderate prices without deriving profit from the transactions carried on in their name.  This association soon came to have two places of business, one in the City, the other in Long Acre; each being a vast warehouse embracing almost every description of retail trade.  During several years the association intercepted half a million of money on its way to the ordinary shopkeepers' tills.  Of course care was taken that the addition made to the wholesale prices was prudently arranged to leave sufficient to prevent risk of loss.  An excess of profit over working expenses thus accrued, which left every year an accumulating sum in the hands of the association.  In a few years this amounted to more than £80,000, when stormy meetings were held to determine who should have this money.  On the whole this association seems to have been governed by a committee of very honourable gentlemen, desirous of preventing it descending into a mere trading company, in which the shareholders make special profits at the expense of others.  The committee were honourably in favour of applying the great balance in their hands to the reduction in the prices of the articles, by which every member would obtain advantages in proportion to his purchases.  It was ultimately decided to distribute it among the shareholders, as was done among the same class in the old co-operative societies of the Pre-Constructive period.

    The Haymarket store was a modest business-looking shop, tame in appearance, with the Royal Arms over the door, and a small brass plate on the entrance, bearing the words "Civil Service Co-operative Society."  This is the principal provision store belonging to an association of gentlemen from every branch of the British Civil Service.

    This Haymarket store is recorded [197] to have grown out of one commenced by certain clerks at the General Post Office in 1864.  Lowness of salary, and serious charges on the part of grocers, were alleged as reasons for forming a combination against them.  A strange circular was issued, calling upon members of the Civil Service generally to form a Co-operative Society.  At the Post Office there were high officials—Sir Rowland Hill and Mr. W. H. Ashurst, the solicitor, who were both acquainted with the history of Co-operation.  They were probably not consulted when it was first thought of, as the project was carried out in a far less complete way than persons so well informed might have advised.  Members of the Civil Service generally did not then know Co-operation from Communism, nor were quite sure which was which, and the proposal was viewed with considerable disfavour by the majority of them.  Periodicals and pamphlets, published in London, had oft told the marvellous story of co-operative profits in the North of England.  Mr. Mill, in his "People's Edition of Political Economy," had borne powerful testimony to its significance.  Competition was held to be the parent of all the advantages of the market, but the excesses of tradesmen's bills were felt to be a great price to pay for them, and eminent members of the Civil Service at length agreed to join in the revolt against them.  Ultimately a board of directors was formed from each of the principal departments of the Crown.  It was agreed to commence with a capital of £5,000 in £5 shares, bearing 5 per cent. interest, and no more.  This was the Rochdale amount of shares and limit of interest; a good rule, though adopted originally from distrust of capitalists.  The first store was opened near the General Post office, and limited to members and their families.  Purchasing members were required to pay a fee of 5s. annually for tickets not transferable, giving the power of buying at the store.  The success of the Post Office Store extended the spirit of insurgency all over the Service, and a new society was opened in the Haymarket, by officials of the higher State Departments, who were joined in their rebellion by members in every branch of the Service—Home, Colonial, and Foreign; by peers, members of Parliament, bishops, judges, colonial governors, foreign consuls, and other high Government officials, who had never before regarded Co-operation otherwise than as the ignorant dream of dangerous visionaries.

    The store tea was imported direct from tea-lands.  With the purchasing ticket of the member was handed to the subscriber a book giving a detailed list of everything sold at the store itself, with price of each article annexed, a list of every merchant or tradesman with whom the association had dealings, and a catalogue of special articles sold by special tradesmen, advertisements of merchants on the society's list, and other information of considerable importance to members of the Civil Service abroad.  The society had physicians, surgeons, accoucheurs, apothecaries, consulting counsel, solicitors, stockbrokers—all of whom are well known in London as good standing in their several professions—who engaged to supply the wants of members of the society at a considerable reduction of their usual charges.  The Provident Clerks' Life Insurance Association had an understanding also with the society by which members were insured at lower than ordinary rates.  These operations arose in another London invention, to which, in courtesy, we may give the name of Floating Co-operation, which consists in inducing tradesmen to advertise in some store list of prices, or store journal, and in return customers at the store are invited to give their orders to him.  The tradesman further undertakes to make a reduction in his prices to these customers.  In some cases he also gives a commission to the store upon the orders he thus receives.  If a tradesman gets a great accession of orders by this means, he can afford to sell as he would to a wholesale purchaser.  The customer, in this case, has no security as to the quality or fairness of his bargain, which a co-operative store affords him.  It is an unpleasant device at the best.  If the customers are few, the tradesman gives them a poor welcome; and if he has two prices for his goods, he sometimes tries to discover if the customer has a co-operative ticket upon him before he names the lower price.  The customer has probably heard that the reduction is often put on before it is taken off, and sometimes conceals what sort of purchaser he is until he has made his bargain.  It seems a prostitution of the honest name of Cooperation to apply it to these furtive Pauline contrivances for economising expenditure by overcoming the tradesman "with guile."  The attributes of Co-operation are equity, openness, and frank consent!  None of these qualities are much present in this system of cheapening by connivance.  Imitative Co-operation is hardly worth more notice than any other expedient by which trade is diversified without increasing public morality or amity among purchasers.

    These details will give the reader a practical idea of the many sides on which shopkeepers and professional men were attacked at once.  Carriers by land and sea, insurance companies, and all orders of men, were made to "stand and deliver" up some portion of the profits, which, from time immemorial, had been theirs.  The English excel in insurrection when they once give their minds to it.  Peers, bishops, members of Parliament, and gentlemen, when they commence it, put the poor and limited insurgency of working men to shame.  Neither Communism nor Co-operation, in the hands of the people, has ever displayed this comprehensive rapacity.  No working people ever broke so many ties with their neighbours.  No friend of Co-operation wishes to see it advanced this hasty and embittering way.

    The poor are driven by necessity, and oft display an ignorant impatience of wrong which cannot be rectified at once.  They precipitate themselves into change, and hope to find it improvement.  But from the classes better off, who have larger means of deliberate action and more intelligence, there is to be expected some taste in advancement and that considerateness in progress which shall make it alluring—raising it from a brutal impetuosity to the level of high commerce.

    Many a gentleman forsook the shopkeeper between whose family and his own friendly offices had been interchanged for generations.  Peradventure father and grandfather before him had been honoured customers at the shop which he now clandestinely deserted.  Had these gentlemen offered cash payments and given their orders themselves, or sent their wives in their carriages to do it, as they do at the Haymarket shop, they would have been served in many cases quite as cheaply, and with more courtesy than at the store of Imitative Cooperation.  Co-operation is the necessity of the poor, it is not the necessity of gentlemen.  When a shopkeeper cannot supply good articles, or will not make reasonable charges, or has no special knowledge of commodities, and pursues shop-keeping as a mere business and not as an art, customers of taste have no choice but to make a change.  Some gentlemen, who have taken the part of leaders in this revolt of customers, have been actuated by the conviction that the middleman as an agent of distribution is mostly a costly instrument of obsolete commerce.  They admit that where the retail dealer is also the manufacturer of his commodities, as in the case of many trades where the shopkeeper sells the productions of his own handicraft, he will always hold his place.  He can guarantee the goodness of his materials, and his skill and ingenuity ought to speak for themselves.  Where this is the case, he will attract and keep customers despite all the Co-operation in the world.  He needs no costly shop, customers will go in search of him anywhere.  Work or product of any kind, which has the character of the artificer in it, will always be sought after so long as taste exists or honesty is valued.  The mere middleman who has special knowledge of the nature of the articles or commodities in which he deals, and who has a character for honestly describing them, and of charging reasonably for goods to which his discernment and attestation value, will always hold his place and command respect.  Put the class of mere mechanical middlemen and shopkeepers who do not know, and do not care, what they offer you, provided they can induce you to buy it, or who conspire to keep up prices by preventing the customer from finding any better article in the market, are mere parasites of trade, whom Co-operation serves society by sweeping away.

    London Co-operation, as represented by Civil Service or Army and Navy Stores, has only the merit of saving somewhat the pockets of their customers, without affording them the facility and inducement to acquire the habit of saving, which is needed as much by the middle class as by the poor.  These societies, organised chiefly to supply goods at a cheap rate, and make a large profit for the shareholders, are not co-operative in the complete sense of that term, since the managers have an interest distinct from the shareholders, and the shareholders an interest distinct from the purchasers.  The managers are not known to care for Co-operation as a system of equity and honesty, and are not under the supervision of directors elected by the purchasers, and charged with the duty of carrying out the principle of Co-operation.  Civil Service Stores, or Military Service Stores, and similar associations, are virtually private commercial societies bent upon realising the economy of combination without caring much about the morality of it.  They do not intend to disregard morality any more than other commercial firms, but leave it to take care of itself and, peradventure, hope it will come all right.  The managers generally have in view the highest remuneration they can obtain for themselves compatible with keeping the shareholders in a contented state of mind with regard to their dividend.  The shareholders in their turn are chiefly solicitous to see that purchasers have goods of such quality and at such prices as shall secure their custom.  But whether the quality as pure as it should be, or the prices as low as they might be, is not considerations which they have any interest in entertaining.  These associations do not proceed so much upon the principle of equity as upon doing business.  The common principle of managers, shareholders, and purchasers is that of all competitive commerce—each for himself and the devil take the hindmost; and such is the activity of the devil in business, that he commonly does it.  Co-operation, on the other hand, is a concerted arrangement for keeping the devil out of the affair.  A scheme of equity has no foremost and no hindmost for the devil to take.  Everybody in the society stands in a circle, and the total profits made are distributed equitably all round the circumference.

    "London Co-operation" begins in distrust of the shopkeeper, and ends with obtaining, at considerable personal trouble, a reduction of a shilling in the pound at the store counter; and if the purchaser can obtain the same reduction at the grocer's shop, and the goods are equally satisfactory, there is no reason why he should not return to the shop and abandon the store.  "London Co-operation" which most stirs the terrors of shopkeepers has small hold upon the interest or respect of its customers, beyond that which accrues from saving them a shilling in the pound.  Under this cold and covetous plan the mighty phalanx of great stores throughout the country would never have existed.  All the public would ever have seen would be a solitary big grocer's shop here and there, mentioned, perhaps, by some commercial traveller in the commercial-room at night, but neither Parliament nor history would have heard of Co-operation.  The great movement has grown in strength and in public interest by capitalising the savings of the customers.  By Co-operation stores create a new system of distribution; by productive societies, where profit is shared with labour, it aims at changing the character of industry by substituting self-employment for hired labour.

    Imitative Co-operation, so far as it may assist the incomes of some struggling middle-class persons, poorly-paid civil servants, law, and mercantile clerks, is an advantage.  In so far as these shadowy stores call the attention of the more influential classes to Co-operation, and interest them in it, and induce them to countenance the co-operative principle, they do good and are part of the general propagandism of the idea of economy by concert.  Such praise as belongs to this order of service I ungrudgingly give, but there is no use in making more of anything than there is in it; and if a scheme is good as far as it goes but falls short of what it should be, and fails to do the good it ought, that should be made clear in the interest of progress.

    Thus there are two kinds of stores, the market-price charging and saving stores, and the Civil Service under-selling and unsaving stores.  The market-price and saving store belongs to real Co-operation, which is a device for the improvement of the condition of the poor.  In the provinces the sort of supply association which the Civil Service stores have brought into imitative existence are often mere schemes of gentlemen at large, for intercepting the profits of tradesmen, for the benefit of shareholders and persons of position, who turn amateur huxters for a pecuniary consideration.  Among the "patrons" or "directors" whose names are published there is scarcely one familiar to the co-operative ears.  They know nothing of Co-operation—possibly care nothing for it.  They cannot explain its principles nor advocate them, nor vindicate them.  In its struggles they have taken no part, nor rendered any aid.  In its difficulties they have given it no encouragement, nor made any sacrifices to support it.  In the days when adversaries abounded, they stood aloof.  When Co-operation has been regarded with odium they disowned it.  In all its literature, their speeches or writings in its defence are nowhere to be found.  When Acts of Parliament had to be obtained, at the infinite labour and cost of years of agitation, they took no part, and gave no thought, or time, or trouble to conquer the reluctance of the House of Commons for facilitating the formation of societies, or concede them legal protection.

    There is no reason, of course, why those who did not do what they ought, or what they might, should not be applauded for doing what they did in the right direction.  A co-operative society proper divides whatever savings it makes among all its customers who buy from it, and employees, who can do so much for its interest; an Imitative Co-operation merely gives partial reduction in price to the purchaser, and awards the remainder as personal profit to managers or directors, to promoters or patrons.

    An original co-operative store permanently increases the means of the poor, by saving their profits for them and teaching them the art of thrift.  An imitative store does nothing more than cultivate the love of cheapness without providing security that the cheapness is real.

    An original store, by augmenting the means of humble purchasers, prevents them becoming a burden upon the poor rates and a tax upon shopkeepers.  An imitative store renders little service to the indigent, and by abstracting the custom of the tradesman, reduces his means of paying the poor-rates which fall upon him.

    At the same time since the better class of London stores have stopped credit purchases, and enabled the public to obtain articles at a lower rate than otherwise they could obtain them, they have raised the expectation that the articles they supply can be depended upon to be good of their kind, and to raise this expectation is useful, as it imposes a certain obligation of meeting it, and so far as the London stores accomplish these things, they may claim credit for usefulness, and are to be regarded for the merit they have.  As copyists of Co-operation they are entitled to "honourable mention" according to their skill.

    It would be no more fair in commerce than in literature to judge any one by some other standard than that which he has set before himself.  A critic ofttimes condemns an author because his book does not come up to some ideal in the critic's mind of what such a book ought to be.  This is not criticism, it is dogmatism.  A writer, or a social contriver, is not to be condemned for falling below a model which he never proposed to imitate.  If the model he has chosen is a poor one or an unworthy one, it is plainly useful to say so, that nobler attempts may be incited in him or others.  A trader in ideas or commodities is to be estimated mainly by the good sells, and good services to be found in the work he actually does.  The leading aim of Co-operation is not merely to increase present comfort (albeit not a disagreeable thing to do), it seeks also to ensure competence.  Those who do not provide for the future of themselves and families, as far as they call—or far as they ought [198] are not merely dependent, they are mean, since they leave to chance, or the charity of others, to provide for them when the evil day comes.  The middle and upper classes are not much better than the working classes in these respects.  Noblemen quarter their families on the State, and a Conservative Government (unless it is much misjudged) is always ready to find them facilities to that end, in the ecclesiastical, military, and maritime departments, and by keeping in their hands the school endowments of the poor.  Noblemen have no general reputation for paying their debts when due.  Industry is considered a plebeian pursuit, and the middle class ape a gentility of indebtedness which their creditors are far from approving.

    In a society on the Rochdale plan the profit due to the purchaser is, by arrangement, saved for him.  The society becomes to him a Savings Bank.  He finds himself surrounded by members and neighbours who have £20, £50, £100, and some £200 in the society, intending to invest it in buying a house, or investing it in some co-operative quarry, or mine, or manufactory.

    In what is called "London Co-operation," as represented by Civil Service and similar societies, no facility of saving in the way we have described is afforded, though in thousands of families of the middle class, and indeed in many of those of the wealthier classes, the facility would be as valuable as in the households of working people.  In co-operative families, when the father or mother begins to save in this way, the example spreads through the house.  The young people learn to save.  They see the advantage of possessing money of their own, at their own control, and acquire a spirit of wholesome independence because they owe everything to themselves.  This saving costs them no privation; they lose no comfort to effect their accumulations.  They have simply to make all their small purchases at a store, and the small profits they would distribute among the shopkeepers about them come at the end of the quarter into their own pockets.  Sometimes these young persuade their friends, who do not belong themselves to any any store, to let them make their purchases for themselves.  These purchases, entrusted to these minor co-operators, cost nothing to those who give them, and the youthful commissioners learn thrift and gain by the opportunity, and become little millionaires in their own estimation.

    In co-operative families the sons and daughters commonly become members on their own account.  The young men learn other economies, avoiding needless and wasteful pleasures which they would never otherwise avoid, and are the better in their habits and health in consequence; and when the time for setting up households of their own arrives, they often have a house of their own to go into.  It is found that young women are often as clever as their brothers in saving, when their minds are well put in the way of it.  Many a girl has found herself sought for in marriage by a better class of suitor than would ever have fallen in her way, had it not been discovered that she had a fund of her own in the co-operative store.  The certainty that a prudent girl will make a prudent wife, and be the mistress of a prudent household, is a popular belief which acts as an unsolicited letter of recommendation to her.  If it can be shown that persons can save without laying anything by, accumulate money without paying anything out of their pocket, and save without living any way poorer, or meaner than they did, this were surely to make saving easy, alluring, and inevitable.  This is the moral, social, and salutary discovery which co-operative societies have made.  Future advantage seems to most persons a poor thing compared with present satisfaction.  Many only half believe in the need of a future day, which comes as surely as death; and often they both come together.  A co-operative store dispenses with this scant, difficult, and precarious heroism of daily life, without requiring the strength of mind which looks the future in the face, and provides for it.  A co-operative store offers means of saving without effort.  No homily, no precept, no wise saw, or modern instance, no exhortation, or prayer, or entreaty, inspire strength of will or wise and lasting purpose in the average mind of any class, like facility alone brought to their doors, put into their hands, saving made part of the very convenience of their daily life, which Co-operation furnishes, effects the change from thoughtlessness to thrift, as no other human device has ever been found to do. [199]

    The press is at times as confusing as the pulpit. [200]  Surely it is idle to say (as other political economists as eminent as Professor Hodgson have said) that if a man saves 2s. in the pound in a purchase it makes no difference to him whether he receives the money weekly or at the end of the quarter; he has the money in his pocket, and if he wants to save it he can do so.  This is a mad theory of human conduct, as it implies that all men are perfect, that all minds are prudent, and bent upon prudence always; that the advantages and fine spirit of self-providence is present to the mind of every one, and present unintermittingly.  It implies that opportunity of some gratification, which betrays nine out of every ten, every wakeful hour of their lives, can be set aside and disregarded at will.  It implies that omnipresent strength of purpose which the philosopher extols as the perfection of character, which he never expects to see prevalent; which no Utopian ever dreams will be universal—is to be found in every one, and found always.  If men could be trusted to save because they have the means of doing so, insurance societies would be impertinencies, since every man could more or less provide for himself if he took care of his means when he has them.  All the laws and all the devices of social life, to protect the thoughtless from themselves, and to prevent temptation from destroying the foolish or the weak, would be unnecessary.  Thus the compulsory thrift of Co-operation is one of the most necessary and beneficent features of that wise self-helping scheme.

    Cobden held the theory that nothing would be so popular as a newspaper distinguished for furnishing facts.  No paper ever lived long enough to succeed in this adventurous department.  The cost of getting at facts is enormous.  They are as scarce as gold.  The most valuable facts commonly lie very low down, and are as uncertain to find, and costly to get at, as boring for coal in an unexplored field.  So difficult are they to find that men are celebrated as discoverers who first produce facts in art, or politics; in science, or social life; and when found it requires a man of genius to identify them and interpret them.  Ordinary people do not know what to do with them.  In a West End district in London, where needy or thoughtless people are not expected to abound, there is a pawnbroker's shop where 2,000 pledges are redeemed every Saturday night and 400 new pledges are brought in.  Pawnbrokers' shops are the humble banks of the poor, who, when sudden sickness or distress overtakes them, or a journey has to be made to a dying child or parent, indigent women can there obtain a little money when they have no friend to lend them any, and only possess some wearing apparel, or wedding ring, which they can give up in exchange for money.  These cases, however, represent a very small portion of that great crowd whose folly, or vice, or improvidence make up the 2,400 applicants who, in one night, throng the pawnbroker's shop we have indicated.  What an ignominious crowd to contemplate!  Two or three co-operative stores in that neighbourhood would do more to thin the deplorable throng than all the moralists, philosophers, professors of political economy, and preachers London could furnish.  These stores ought to be promulgated by missionary zeal, and men might give themselves to the work, as to a great religious duty.

    If gentlemen had taken to co-operative trading with a view to elevate it, and improve shop-keeping by improving the taste of purchasers, by the gradual introduction of becoming colours and qualities, and articles of honest manufacture, no words of honour would be too strong to apply to such amateur shopkeepers.  Some years ago I made an appeal [201] to the piety of London to do something practical in the name of faith.  A few congregations in every district of the far-extending metropolis might unite in setting up a good co-operative store.  If deacons, elders, lady visitors, and local missionaries were to visit the poor of the neighbourhood with half as much interest in the welfare of their bodies as that they display for the health their souls, they would soon have thousands of poor members at their co-operative store.  If they saved the profits of the poor for them, and encouraged them to permit the slow accumulation, they would teach them in time the holy art of thrift and independence.  If the wealthy members chose to deal at the stores and save their profits, not for the baser reason of adding already sufficient gains, but for the purpose of devoting them works of art, or to that charity which helps the unfortunate and does not make mendicants, they might do good with dignity, and do it without cost.


 
CHAPTER XXVI.

METROPOLITAN PROPAGANDISM


"I regard social schemes as one of the most valuable elements of human improvement."—JOHN STUART MILL, Political Economy.


LONDON has started more co-operative societies and projects than any city ten times told.  If it has not succeeded with them, it has enabled others to do so.  It may be held that it has had real co-operative enthusiasm and enterprise.  Somebody must go forward with an ideal, which the "practical" people carry out, but rarely have the capacity to discover for themselves; and when they succeed, they are apt to disparage the thinkers who inspired them.

    The vicissitudes of Co-operation in the metropolis would be an instructive narrative in itself.  In several parts of England societies formed in the Pioneer period, and before it, continue to exist.  In London no society formed in those days has continued.  There was an intermittent platform advocacy of it at the old Hall of Science, City Road (rented mainly by Mr. Mordan, of gold-pen repute, for Mr. Rowland Detroiser to lecture in), when physical science really was taught there; and industrial advocacy was continuous and incessant on the platform at the John Street Institution, Tottenham Court Road, and at the Cleveland Hall, hard by, for a time.  Indeed, in every hall—in Theobald's Road, Gray's Inn Road, in Goswell Road, Islington Whitechapel, Hackney, Blackfriars Road, in the Rotunda in the days of Carlile, Queen Street, Charlotte Street, at Castle Street, Oxford Street, and subsequently at the new Hall of Science, in Old Street, St. Luke's, and in every Free Thought or Secular Hall which has been occupied in the metropolis—co-operative advocacy has more or less been heard.

    It was in London that the "British Association for the Diffusion of Co-operative Knowledge" was formed.  It is the tendency of the metropolis to think more of disseminating true ideas than to profit by them.  The tone of the metropolitan mind is imperial.  Thinkers strive to act from London upon the empire.  The best ideas do not often originate in London but they receive a welcome there.  Through the kindness of Dr. Yeats there has come to my hands "The Report of the Committee appointed by a Meeting of Journeymen, chiefly Printers," to consider the first systematic plan of Co-operation known to have been proposed.  The plan was that of Mr. George Mudie.  The second edition of the Report is dated January 23, 1821.  The Report first appeared in 1820, and it speaks of having been long under consideration, so that as early as 1818 or 1819 Co-operation, as a "plan of arrangement" for working people, was formally put forth.  Mr. Mudie is spoken of as having delivered discourses thereupon in the metropolis.  Mr. Mudie's scheme was that of a community of goods; but the Committee proposed to adapt its co-operative features to friendly societies and working-men's clubs, which was done in 1821, and was the beginning of co-operative societies in London.  The Report was signed by Robert Hunt, James Shallard, John Jones, George Hinde, Robert Dean, and Henry Hetherington.  The Report is the ablest, least sentimental, the most clearly written and exhaustive—touching community schemes and co-operative application—I have met with in the early literature of the movement.

    One passage, which expresses the first conception formed of that practical Co-operation which we now know, will enable the reader to judge this remarkable Report "It appears to us that the principle of Co-operation is susceptible of many modifications.  In some cases its benefits could only be partially obtained.  Wherever Friendly Societies or Benefit Clubs exist, the members would do well to form themselves into associations for reaping the advantages of this plan.  In some cases it might be merely practicable to unite a portion of their earnings, for the purchase in the best markets, of certain articles of provision or clothing; while in other cases where the parties inhabit contiguous dwellings, some of the advantages resulting from the subdivision of domestic labour might also be secured, and erections adapted for the purposes of cooking and washing be made at the back of one or more of the dwellings at a small expense. [202]  If men can be brought seriously and earnestly to consider how they can unite their talents, experiences, and pecuniary resources to attain advantages in which each should equitably participate, they will assuredly succeed in improving their condition; and if by any economical arrangements the earnings of individuals in question can be made to produce a greater quantity of articles of consumption than is to be obtained on the plan of each individual catering for his own family, the effect will be the same as would follow an increase of wages or a decrease of taxes."

    The Home Colonisation Society, of which Mr. William Galpin was the chief promoter, and to which Mr. Frederick Bate was the chief subscriber, was formed in London twenty years later, 1840-1.  The first Central Board of the Society had offices in the metropolis for some years in Bloomsbury Square, and the New Moral World was printed by Ostell, round the corner in Hart Street.

    The Christian Socialists of London took the field on behalf of Co-operation, 1848-9.  The higher aims they put before and kept before co-operators [203] have made their influence the most fortunate which has befallen the movement.  It was in Charlotte Street, which Mr. Owen had previously made famous, that the barristers' and clergymen's co-operative movement commenced, the said Christian Socialist Organisation of a Central Co-operative Agency and Working Men's Associations.  Having fortune, learning, and influence, they attracted important attention to the subject, and issued publications explanatory of their intentions.  With generosity and zeal and at great cost, the work was conducted.

    From 1850 to 1855 attempts were made in London to establish a Wholesale Supply Association, under the name of the Universal Purveyor, for the manufacture, preparation, and sale of food, drinks, and drugs, guaranteed against adulteration and fraud, and just in purity, quality, weight, measure, and price.  The commencing capital was £10,000 in 1,000 shares of £10.  The project lasted in force but a few years.  M. Jules le Chevalier St. Andre, formerly a St. Simonian enthusiast, but not at all an enthusiast in London, but a very obese and accomplished projector, was concerned in both these schemes.  The chief supporter of the Purveyor was the Rev. C. Marriott, who at that time was Dean of Oriel, Oxford.  He was certainly a clergyman of great disinterestedness, who ran great pecuniary risks, and incurred several losses to serve others.  M. St. Andre had a masterly way of putting a case which would interest a clergyman like Charles Marriott.  It was not until after much money had been lost in Charlotte Street, Fitzroy Square, and the business there was ended, that M. St. Andre commenced his "Universal Purveyor" at 23, King William Street.  In one of his last circulars he said, "The most obstructive difficulty was inherent to the state of the English law, whereby it was not possible to take part in any enterprise, admitting of some risk, without being entrapped, as it were, into unlimited responsibility.  The unalterable faith in God, which has supported me through all the apparent hopelessness of a righteous cause, strengthens in me every day more and more the belief that by coming forward personally as trustee, and financially with every means he could place at my disposal, the Rev. C. Marriott has laid the foundation of an institution pregnant of important results.  The Rev. C. Marriott was perfectly aware that as a trustee he would have been made responsible with us.  But there was no other means of doing what he thought his duty, and he did it.  Thank God, he has come out safe, after enabling us to reach the time when the principle of limited liability has been introduced in the English law."

    All that relates to Mr. Marriott was true and most honourable to him.  What it cost him to "come out safe" is not stated.  Gentlemen more experienced in the world, and more in it than Mr. Marriott, had found that "an unalterable trust in God," while very well in its place, may be very costly in business, unless accompanied by secular qualifications.  St. Andre well knew this, and also understood what a Wholesale Agency should be, and his description of it is worth preserving.  Its conditions were these:—


1. An extent of operations embracing the supply of all articles for domestic consumption.  2. Making the guarantee of purity, quality, quantity, and fair price the special duty and responsibility of the establishment.  3. Selling on commission only, and not making any speculative profits.  4. Extensive warehouses for examining and testing the goods before packing and delivery.  5. The most perfect machinery for weighing, packing, and labelling large quantities of parcels of every description.  6. Organisation of a Commission of Referees, composed of professional men of the highest standing.  7. Appointed buyers, morally responsible to the public.  8. A strong body of respectable servants as clerks, travellers, packers, warehousemen, pledged to certain modes of dealing, thoroughly impressed with the fact that they are on public duty. [204]


    Years after the disappearance of the Working Men's Associations founded by the Christian Socialists, I and Mr. E. R. Edger held meetings at "The Raglan" (Mr. Jagger's coffeehouse), 71, Theobald's Road.  The object of these meetings was to suggest a plan of combined action for all the London stores, and to invite their co-operation in circulating an address to the people with the object of increasing the members and custom of every store.  There were then some twenty or thirty stores in London, scattered and isolated.  Mr. Ebenezer Edger, Mr. E. O. Greening, and I published the Social Economist, 1868, for the purpose of promoting organisation among these stores; Mr. Edger wrote a wise series of tracts for circulation among the members.  By the generous aid of a munificent friend of Co-operation—always nameless, but incessant in service—Mr. Greening and I continued, in London, the Social Economist, which for a considerable period sought to inform co-operators of the nature of Continental thought, as respects the organisation of social life and labour.  It was subsequently discontinued on behalf of the Co-operative News, that there might be unity and greater interest in the new journal then projected.  A "London Association for the Promotion of Co-operation" was in operation in 1863.  Mr. J. S. Mill, Professsor F. W. Newman, and Mr. E. Vansittart Neale permitted their names to be announced as honorary members.  The committee was composed of officers of these existing co-operative societies.  It was stated by this body that there were at that time "forty societies in London and its vicinity."

    The establishment of the Agricultural and Horticultural Co-operative Association in London devised by Mr. Edward Owen Greening, Mr. Walter Morrison, M.P., Thorns Hughes, M.P., and the Hon. Mr. Cowper-Temple, M.P., other gentlemen being directors, gave practical Co-operation position in the metropolis.  The progress of this association is as remarkable as that of any society extant, considering that it occupied an entirely new field, and sought members among the farmers of England, who do not take readily to new ideas.  Mr. E. O. Greening, the manager, being possessed of real co-operative knowledge, skilled in devising new applications of it, and of zeal and capacity in advocacy, exercised considerable propagandist influence in London.  This Agricultural Association has maintained a standard of co-operative principle which has been effective upon the Civil Service societies in some instances.  Mr. Greening and others caused the formation of a Co-operative Institute in Castle Street, in a large building formerly the Concert Room of the Princess's Theatre, Oxford Street.  The names of Thomas Brassey, M.P., the Earl of Rosebery, and Arthur Trevelyan appear among the promoters, in addition to other well-known friends of industrial endeavour, as Walter Morrison, Charles Morrison, and the Right Hon. Cowper-Temple, M.P.  The Daily News gave a comprehensive account of it, saying: "This Co-operative Institute is not, as might be inferred from the name, a trading company, but a society formed to organise the means of pure and elevating enjoyment, members' subscriptions being applied to educational or recreative purposes. . . .  It provides the advantages or lectures, concerts, the use of Mudie's books, a reading-room, and, as far as possible, the usual adjuncts of a club.  There are occasionally social evenings for dancing, but no intoxicants are permitted, and admission is limited to members."  The Central Co-operative Board and some societies made subscriptions to it.

    A Central Co-operative Agency Society, Limited, was established in London for the sale of co-operative manufactures and provisions, wholesale and retail.  An excellent thing is at times set going, but few devote themselves to seeing it go and taking care that it does go.

    The Agricultural Association built a council-room in Millbrook Street; the Central Board of the Southern Section sat there and devised a Metropolitan Co-operative Society, one object being to open stores in suitable districts.  These stores were to be supplied with provisions from the Manchester Wholesale.  So comprehensive a scheme was impossible before the Branch of the Manchester Wholesale was opened at 118, Minories, now 99, Leman Street, London.  Mr. William Openshaw is now the manager.

    Since 1875 the proceedings of the Annual Congress have been regulated by the laws of a Co-operative Union adopted at the London Congress in that year.  This Union prescribes the conditions under which societies may become members of it, and send delegates to it.  It appoints a Central Board which officially governs the proceedings of the united co-operative body.  Sectional Boards meet in various districts.  Delegates from each of these Boards meet periodically in Manchester to transact the general business of the Union under the name of the United Board.


    "This Union is formed to promote the practice of truthfulness, justice, and economy in production and exchange

"(1) By the abolition of all false dealing, either—

"a. Direct, by representing any article produced or sold to be other than what it is known to the producer or vendor to be; or
"b. Indirect, by concealing from the purchaser any fact known to the vendor material to be known by the purchaser, to enable him to judge of the value of the article purchased.

"(2) By conciliating the conflicting interests of the capitalist, the worker, and the purchaser, through an equitable division among them of the fund commonly known as Profit.

"(3) By preventing the waste of labour, now caused by unregulated competition.

"[The Union does not affect to determine precisely what division of this fund shall be considered equitable, believing that this is a question admitting of different solutions, under different circumstances, and not to be concluded by any hard-and-fast line.  But it insists on the recognition of the principle.]"


    Mr. Hodgson Pratt, a ceaseless worker for social improvement, not merely doing with zeal what routine work may come before him in the movements he assists, but assiduously devising new methods of advancing the objects in in view, projected a Co-operative Guild for the purpose of creating organised propagandism of principles of Industrial Association.  At the Glasgow Congress of 1876 it was first agreed to form a Guild on the plan of the ancient societies of that name.  It was proposed by myself to give effect to a striking paper on Propagandism read by Mr. Joseph Smith, secretary to the Manchester Board.  The draft of the Guild was signed by G. J. Holyoake, A. Greenwood, W. Nuttall, J, Smith, E. V. Neale, J. Crabtree, J. M. Percival, H. J. Wiley.

    This "Guild of Co-operative Pioneers" was intended to comprise a Master of the Guild, and (1) Associates examined in Co-operative Principle; (2) Companions examined in Methods of Co-operative Procedure; (3) Administrators examined in the Government of Societies; (4) Members examined in policy and debate in Societies and Congress.  The object of this Guild was to train a body of persons in every town who should possess usefulness and authority, by reason of their known devotion and ascertained qualifications.

    Mr. Hodgson Pratt's scheme was originated quite independently.  It commenced in March, 1878, after a series of four lectures in Exeter Hall; the first being delivered by Thomas Hughes, Q.C., on the History of Co-operation, Mr. Hodgson Pratt presiding.

    Spurious Co-operation became a fashion in London with pretended "Co-operative Shops."  A single adventure, multiplied himself into a Firm, and announced himself as a "Co-operative Company."  Fictitious "Co-operative Banks" made their appearance.  Mr. Richard Banner Oakley failed in many attempts to get the Congress to recognise him, or the Central Board, or the Co-operative News to countenance his operations.  No store ever had dealings with him.  The outside public, from treating Co-operation with ignorant distrust, at last believed in it with an ignorant credulity.  When he invented his Co-operative Credit Bank, papers spoke of it as an instance of "Co-operative credulity," whereas the co-operators were the only persons who had no faith in it.

    There was a Co-operative Coal Society in Chancery Lane, London, managed by Mr. Julius Forster.  Deficiency of fuel means increased contagion, premature death to the old, and privation in many ways.  To help to avert this, in the days of the coal famine, the Co-operative Coal Supply Association held a Conference in Millbank Street Hall, to promote co-operative coal-mining.  In the North of England the working miners had then taken some coal royalties, and, with secured orders from London, they could work them with profit.

    The Manchester Co-operative Fire Insurance Society (which has shown a growing prosperity for years), of which Mr. James Odgers is secretary, has its head office in Long Millgate, Manchester.  This Society, commenced in 1872, also issues Guarantees of Fidelity of Servants of Co-operative Societies.  It has also a Life Department.

    It is one of the pleas for the inability of London to co-operate that the population is transitory.  Still householders remain pretty constant.  Population, which seems fluctuating under facilities of transit and emigration, resembles the deposits at a bank.  Though withdrawable on demand a profitable proportion of money always remains on hand.  It is the same with workmen.  Great numbers expect to live in the place in which they were born or have settled; as witness the statements made at the meeting of "The British Association" [205] at Bradford in 1873, that the following building societies, [206] composed mainly of working people, had these members and income in 1872;
 

Title of Society

Members

Funds (£)

Bradford Second Equitable

6,277

265,000

Bradford Third Equitable

7,200

537,000

Leeds Permanent

12,020

365,000

Leeds Provincial

5,250

200,000

Halifax Permanent

6,167

174,000


    These masses of membership do not look like population.  If as much interest was taken in co-operative as in religious propagandism, and a hundred members of any congregation were to guarantee to buy not less than £1 worth of goods weekly from its store, the storekeepers might undertake to contribute £1,000 every four years to the income of the Church.


 
CHAPTER XXVII.

SOCIAL POLICY OF CO-OPERATIVE SOCIETIES


    "He neither power nor places sought,
     For others not himself he fought.
 He might have been a king,
     But that he understood
 How much it was a meaner thing
     To be unjustly great--than honourably good."

 The Duke of Buckingham's Epitaph on Lord Fairfax


THE noblest scheme of liberty or set of rules in the world will be dead letters unless men with a passion for the right carry them out.  The right men are known by the policy they pursue.  Some men profess not to know what policy is.  Yet they know that if a man wishes to appear superior to his neighbours without trouble, his policy is not to work.  If his intention is not to work, his policy is to live by borrowing as less dangerous but not less dishonest than stealing.  But if a man intends to live by industry and to get on by good sense, he adopts certain rules of probity and usefulness, and integrity and service constitute his policy.

    Co-operation implies a training in the unknown art of association.  The earlier advocates of industrial equity had everything to learn, and to fight their way step by step in the shop, in the market, on the platform, and in the press.  The instructed seldom befriended them, and adversaries never gave them quarter.  In this solitary contention they discovered some facts of the policy of success.

    1. Never to conceal what ought, in business, honestly to be made known, nor communicate to assailants outside business, what is no business of theirs.

    Catlin tells us that the astute American Indian always keeps his mouth shut, until he has some purpose in opening it; and the Indian mother watches her boy while he sleeps, carefully closing his lips, if apart, that he may acquire the habit of keeping them shut night and day, as audible breathing may one day betray him in his lair.  There are men in movement who always have their mouths open.  It may be owing to mere labial deficiency, or to their having had parents who knew nothing of the importance of educated habit; but to the spectator it seems a sign of vacuity or foolishness.  Some of the early Socialists had this peculiarity, not from physical but intellectual deficiency in the power of reticence.  Speech escaped from them without calculation of its relevancy or use.  Co-operation still suffers from a suicidal publicity.  If some rival firm refuses to sell to them provisions or materials they go to the expense of printing a circular about it, or put it in a paper and circulate the fact that they are disabled from carrying on their business.  They thus cause adversaries to combine against them, and then squeal out when the pressure is put upon them, although they inform their own connection that they are disabled; thus they minister to the personal triumph as well as business success of their clever and reticent adversaries, who know better how to close their mouths and work in the shade.  Co-operators know that competition is a battle in which there are few scruples and no quarter, and yet many of them chatter as though it was a tea-party.  It is the same in Radicalism, where publicity is a disease instead of a purpose.  It is the malady of inexperience.  Conservative working men are as bad when they are allowed to speak.  What matters it to co-operators if the enemy close the markets where they must purchase provisions to distribute, or materials with which to conduct productive manufactures?  This can be overcome in commerce and trade by establishing wholesale societies, and entering the markets with means of making large purchases.  Theological alarm is far more implacable than that of business.  Defamation is conveyed down a thousand devious lines of prejudice, where stately and friendless truth is too proud, too scornful, or too poor to follow it; and there it lives till Time starves it, or the contempt of a second and better-instructed generation kills it.

    2. The co-operator makes no proclamation as to his religious opinions, and treats any demand of the kind as a social outrage.  Religion, in the sense of reverence for truth, is confined to a few persons in every generation.  With this religion of the understanding Co-operation is wholly coincident.  The most human parts of the Bible are those which express sympathy for the poor.  Co-operation respects this sympathy, but objects to being poor, and holds that there is neither need, nor use, nor good in being poor.  When a man discovers that the established measurement of truth is wrong, and announces one more accurate, men put him down as being no better than he should be, which merely means that he is nearer to the reality of things than his neighbours.

    3. Self-helping in all things, the co-operator chooses his own principles, and answers for them himself.  The poorer sort of persons with new ideas are eager to have them discussed.  It is their only chance of getting attention.  To accomplish this they must uphold the principle of free discussion.  Yet discussion once sanctioned in any party, all sorts of questions are raised, and the responsibility of the opinions advanced is, in a manner, diffused over the whole party who uphold the principle.  Hence Co-operation, in its early days, was charged with complicity with every utopianism of the hour, discussed in its halls, or advocated by its supporters.  Of course this mistake would not be made about it, if the public discriminated; but the public is a creature which never does discriminate.  Not only do co-operators suffer from misconception, but philosophers suffer from it.  John Stuart Mill was a memorable instance of this; because he wrote letters on behalf, or on some occasions gave support to, persons whose views the public did not like, it was assumed that Mr. Mill did like them.  This did not by any means follow.  Mr. Mill believed that progress needed to be promoted, and that it was retarded by persons not saying what they thought right, and by not acting upon it when they had said it.  He therefore encouraged this being done, without at all agreeing with the particular views of each individual, or his mode of carrying them out.

    The men who inspired the co-operative movement, who believed in it when no one else did, whose intrepidity and persistence have been the cause of its success, were men who held no second-hand opinions, but debated out for themselves what they sought to know, and had to depend upon.  So vigilant were they that they never suffered any speaker to address an audience in their name, unless he submitted what he said to criticism and opportunity of refutation.  They regarded as a deceiver or a traitor any who sought to impose pose upon them opinions he did not invite them to verify and enable them to do it.

    4. To regard every member as actuated by veracity and right intentions, and in case of difference of opinion to reason with them as being in error--not as being base.  So solicitous were the early co-operators for neutrality in imputation that they prohibited all praise or blame, in order that the mind being kept passionless, might move in the equable plane of simple truth.  Certainly no signs of approval or disapproval kept a speaker quiet, but it made him dull.  He never knew whether he was a fool or a wit.  He might as well have addressed so many bales of cotton, as a neutral audience of social improvers of this way of thinking.  Other and wiser exactions were made.  Whoever spoke among them was forbidden to be imputative.  He was told to pity the vituperative assailant (to whom neither Nature nor culture had given sense or taste) not to imitate him.  Thirty years before Mr. Matthew Arnold pointed out that Paul, when he called his adversaries "dogs" and "vain babblers," had no chance of convincing them, nor had Christ any chance of gaining the Scribes and Pharisees by the invectives he launched at them when he abandoned his mild, uncontentious, winning mode of working.  "He shall not strive or cry" was his true characteristic, in which all his charm and power lay.  Thirty years ere this was said co-operators were taught consideration in speech, and it was known among them that denunciation of persons was the cheapest, easiest, most popular, and most unwholesome use to which the human tongue could be put, and that the wanton imputation of evil motives to others was an abuse of free speech.  Defamation of motives assume an infallibility of discernment which no man is endowed with, and denotes utter ignorance of the duty of exposition and of the art of persuading the minds of men.  Those who seek the truth, and care for the truth, are traitors to it when they employ unfairness of terms.  He who is imputative and unjust of speech, turns men from him for ever, and is not long credited himself with purity of motive.  So sharply should consequence be connected with conduct, that a brutal sincerity should be held as much a betrayal of the truth as the denial of it; for he who denies it merely hides it, while he who makes it offensive makes it to be hated.  The moment an unjust imputation is made ill-feeling begins, and the wisdom or error of any step is at once lost sight of.  The moment personalities are permitted, the tongue of every fool is loosened, and floods of resentment and rancour drown all argument and arrest all concert.

    Mr. John Holmes, who has published some wise conditions of co-operative success, errs in one where he prescribes, "Forbearance towards each other's disinterested opinions."  Now co-operators have nothing to do with the question whether the opinions of their colleagues are interested or "disinterested," but simply with the truth and value of their opinions.  Any question as to the motives or "disinterestedness" of the opinions is the beginning of disunion and of imputation, which kills concord.

    A hearty geniality is of great value in co-operative societies.  A business watchfulness which never sleeps, and a pleasantry of manner which never fails, are qualities above all value in a co-operator in office.  His smile is a public gift, the tone of his voice is an act of friendship.  A hard man, with a sharp tongue and a short temper, is a local misfortune, diffusing discomfort wherever he treads.  I know entire towns which never had a genial man in them--where every speech is an attack, every suggestion a suspicion, and every meeting a conflict.  Co-operation in these places is always rheumatic and unhappy--labouring under a sort of suppressed social gout.  Not that I object to grumblers; if they have any sense they are an uncomfortable kind of benefactors.  No English society would do without them.  They act as a sort of Spanish muleteer--they prick slow animals with long ears over rough places.  It must be confessed they are rather apt to overdo it, and make the patient, steady-working, good-natured animal bolt, and then they ruin everything.

    5. To constantly remember that there is no one, not a fool who would not be wiser and better than he is, had he the choice; and that the disagreeable, the wrong-headed, and the base are to be regarded as unfortunate rather than hateful.  Leigh Hunt well expressed this when he said, "Let us agree to consider the errors of mankind as proceeding more from defect of knowledge than defect of goodness."  Those who learned this, and those alone, have given permanence to the co-operative movement.  Those who never knew it, or who, knowing it, have forgotten it, flounder for ever between hatred and hope.

    Long before the Welsh reformer, Robert Owen, was born, Goldsmith had said, without censure, that "had Cæsar or Cromwell exchanged countries, the one might have been a sergeant and the other an exciseman."  Owen did but suggest the undeniable conclusion that in such case Cromwell would have been a Pagan and Cæsar a Puritan; and therefore co-operators should meet in stores or communities men of every sect, without hostility or dislike--since particular faiths are to be honoured as far as they make men into brethren, and are to be accepted by all who deem them true; while their special varieties are to be equally regarded as arising in geographical or chronological accidents, and not to be ascribed to sin.  Co-operation would be impossible if its disciples stooped to sectarian antipathies and spoke of each other with the bitterness with which Sir John Bowring found the Chief Priest of the Samaritans of Sychar speaks of the Jews.  It was the knowledge given to co-operators of the human burden of inherited incapacity that imparted to them that great strength of patience and charity of judgment which enabled their societies to endure, while the retaliating and fiercer political and religious parties around them fought themselves out.  Those who look may see that the same nature is master of us all; that individual man and diversified races, every sect and every opinion, every passion and every act, are the product of a tireless destiny, which went before, and of circumstances which follow after, besetting us at every step--now inspiring the lofty, anon inflaming the base, making men objects of gladness or pity; saving the high, who know it, from pride; protecting the low from scorn and despair; striking or serving us, just as we are wise, to study the ways and observe the methods of Nature.  Those who learn this know no more haste or apathy, foolish hatred or foolish despair.

    Co-operators will never remain leal and true to their society unless a foundation which never gives way is laid in the understanding.  You cannot command unity, no exhortation will produce it.  By mere business sense a member will put up with some failure or loss, or with inferior commodities at times, for the advantage which can be had in the main by holding together.  By mere business sense he will not expect too much; he will know that success comes little by little, and generally arrives late and takes disagreeable caprices on the way.  By mere business sense a man may be found in his place on dividend day.  But more than this will be wanted to make him a pleasant, ardent, and continuous associate.  If he is made aware that wrong-headed people mostly had that twist before they were born--that the querulous man has vinegar nerves, which he would be glad to exchange for the olive-oil sort--that a conceited associate has gas on the brain which inflates all his faculties and makes him think they are solid because they feel big--he will be tolerant and steadfast when others turn aside offended. Half the irritation we feel at the errors and angular ways of others arises from forgetting that we ourselves are not infallible, and have stupid and ungracious intervals like others.

    6. A fool cannot be a co-operator, and since those who know everything do not remember it always, every one should be instructed and kept instructed in what he is expected to act upon.  Co-operators have made money by their method of business, they have won honours by being the first of the working class who cared for self-education as a higher form of property.  Aristipus having counselled a father to seek a good tutor for his son, was asked what would that amount to?  He answered, "A hundred crowns."  The father, thinking the sum large, replied that "such a sum might buy him a slave."  "Well," said Aristipus, "bestow your money so and you shall have two slaves, the one your ill-bred son and the other he whom you buy for your money." [207]

    The Church for a long time disliked education as tending to make the lower orders unmanageable, and the Dissenters feared it as making them carnal-minded--not seeing that the intellectual must always be more spiritual than the ignorant; but the Co-operators had no dislike of it, no misgiving about it.  It was to them a means of self-defence.  In 1835 Mr. Owen announced that he had received £500 for the purpose of "commencing a school on the most scientific principles for the children of co-operators and £2,000 more were to be had to extend a knowledge of sciences among the people."  The co-operators made schools for mechanics popular.  Sixty years ago co-operators were in advance of the nation now, in proposing the best instruction for the humblest.

    Knowledge is the same thing to the understanding as the eye is to the body.  Knowledge is the sight of the mind.  All knowledge which throws light on what a man has to do is of the nature of outside help to him.  A mind of few ideas is as a short lever: it can move only little things; while a mind of many ideas has a longer leverage, and can move larger obstacles out of its way.  Thus knowledge of the right kind is plainly a good investment.

    Every human society in which life and property were in daily peril has found law and order worth paying for.  Those who believe that things will last their time still have misgivings for their children.

    It was one of Mr. Owen's practical merits that he foresaw that considerations for the security of society in the future, paid in the present.  He had not, like Fairfax, the opportunity of being a king, but he might have been known as the richest of manufacturers had he not preferred something higher.

    Co-operators knew that it was the want of intelligence that kept up ugliness in life.  Beauty in art, order in cities, grace of action, good manners, all pay; only few persons know them as things of value.  One reason is that the majority of persons never have the means of buying perfect things.  They are obliged to do without them, and naturally do not regard them as otherwise they would.  Persons who have anything to spend and only spend it in buying mere sensual pleasure, have the minds of animals, not the minds of men.  Scientific knowledge and literary knowledge is now provided more or less.  Board Schools, Art Schools, Science Classes, Technical and other colleges are now open to working men.  But education in probity, in self-possession, in courtesy, in pride of workmanship, in public spirit, in public duty, in citizenship, where are they taught?  Co-operators can only acquire such knowledge by keeping Libraries, News Rooms, Lecture Halls at their own command, and for their own use.  A recent writer has shown that in Civil Service Examinations none are examined in manliness, good sense, or the elements of personal character.[208]  Mr. Brudenell Carter has proved that there is no over-work within the limits of daily strength.  Within those limits work is a condition of health.  The idle die of idleness.  Many more than are imagined die of acquired stupidity.  Of course there are a good many people who do not need to acquire stupidity, they always have a stock on hand.  He is base who, having principles he knows to be useful to others, does not endeavour to diffuse them; and since Co-operation becomes more profitable as more persons engage in it, it is want of sense not to extend it.

    Co-operation is liable, in one place or other, to be overrun by those who see with selfish eyes an escape from misery with money in it, and see nothing else in it.  Co-operation, like the corn-laden caravans of merchants in the desert, is seized upon by marauding bands, who carry off treasures intended for honest sale.  No sooner is it discerned that Co-operation creates wealth than swarms of mercenaries swoop down upon it, to avail themselves of it as a means of gain, caring nothing for the social education and equality it was intended to promote.

    If no educational fund was devised in the infancy of a society, often no will is strong enough, no reason can prevail, to retrace the deplorable step.  Ignorance grows upon a society as age upon an individual.  It stiffens its limbs, it bows its head, it dims its sight, it enfeebles its mind, until it retains nothing but the courage of cupidity; and to gratify that it walks in ignoble ruts all its days.  Such a society may grow, but it has no soundness; its largeness is puffiness, and a shock of adversity may bring it at once under the hands of the fiscal coroner who sits in the Bankruptcy Court.  As it commanded no respect in its day, no one mourned its demise.  Since you cannot make co-operators out of simpletons, it is prudent to take care that they do not overrun the society.  Cæsar, we are told, lamented that he could proceed no faster on his victorious march than the asses who carried his baggage could travel.  The progress of most societies is often retarded by the same kind of animals.  The best directors are always hampered by want of more intelligence among the members.  The ignorant do not understand their own interest, nor how to support those who do.  Stores whose members are unvaccinated with business intelligence are sure to break out with the smallpox of ignorance sooner or later; some have it in a very bad form, and some die of it.  Lectures and literature must be supplied for information.  The brain, like the body, is starved if not fed with ideas.  The thought is thin, the language is lean, the logic is limp, the illustrations rheumatic, and can hardly stand upright.

    The co-operator cannot, like the theologian, increase the income of the working class by prayer.  He works by human arrangements, economy, and sagacity, and it is only those who have confidence in these means that have enthusiasm in extending Co-operation.  It was the first murderer, Cain, who asked, "Am I my brother's keeper?"  The co-operator cannot keep his brother, but he has a strong interest in enabling his brother to keep himself, and he knows the way, and knowing it, if he does not exert himself to make it known to others, who may be lost through not seeing it, he is a murderer by his neglect.



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