Last Thursday, Sam, Mary Clare, Nour and I attended the “Taller de discusión sobre el cooperativismo y la economía solidaria”, (“Discussion workshop on cooperativism and the solidarity economy”) at the Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas (Institute of Economic Research) of the UNAM.
The panel was held by:
- Luis Lopezllera, President of Promoción del Desarrollo Popular A.C. (PDP). His organization articulates and supports initiatives for sustainable development in communities, like indigenous, rural and urban worker communities. It also organizes monthly “multitrueque”, or bartering fairs where consumers and producers meet and local, fair-trade and ecological products are exchanged. It has also created an alternative community currency system called Tlaloc in operation since 1995 which is used at these fairs, as well as to exchange services. Luis was accompanied by Claudia, another coordinator of the Red Tlaloc.
- Mario Monroy, Director of the Intercultural Nöñho Institute, and 3 of its students. The university is a space for intercultural dialogue and education for the Nöñho community of San Ildefonso, a town located 3 hours north of Mexico City. It was founded in 2009 under the impulse of Jesuit figures of the liberation theology movement and the town’s Union of Cooperatives – San Ildefonso apparently counts very many cooperatives and other solidarity economy initiatives. It offers a Master’s Degree in Entrepreneurship in Solidarity Economies.
- Marin Rubio López of the Cooperativa Unidad, Desarrollo y Compromiso, S.C de R.L. (Sociedad Civil de Responsabilidad Limitada de Capital Variable, Article 58 of General de Sociedades Mercantiles – “Artículo 58: Sociedad de Responsabilidad Limitada es la que se constituye entre socios que solamente están obligados al pago de sus aportaciones, sin que las partes sociales puedan estar representadas por títulos negociables, a la orden o al portador, pues sólo serán cedibles en los casos y con los requisitos que establece la presente Ley.”), based in Anenecuilco, Morelos, with several branches in the state, including one in Cuernavaca. It serves as a microcredit and a consumer coop, and offers alternative health services and products like homeopathy and acupuncture (“naturismo”, a well-known term and important movement that gathers steam in Mexico). Nour and I are going to visit this organization soon. We are invited to come on wednesdays, when it receives students from the Universidad Autónoma Chapingo of Morelos for studies on rural development (where Marin studied and which is known to form radical students, involved in Zapatista and indigenous movements).
We also met the socioanthropologist Bruno Baronnet at the conference; he is specialized in the Zapatista and indigenous movements and wrote two books on the matter. He lives in our little town of Ocotepec, and who is also mapping the solidarity economy in Mexico for the Colegio de la Frontera Sur, ECOSUR. We met with him the following day in Cuernavaca.
He told us that he found that the division between “radicals” and “moderates” in the Mexican left is homologous to that in the economic solidarity movement.
It has been evident to us that there are divisions within the Mexican solidarity movement, but as yet we had not clearly identified and articulated them. In light of what Bruno explained, there are on the one hand individuals, organizations and initiatives that are “reformists”, and linked with, and more or less dependent on political structures, like parties and governments. Bruno says that there are many leaders of the solidarity economy that support and may be affiliated with the PRD. He names ALCONA (Allianza Cooperativista Nacional) – which organised last month’s conference we attended in the Universidad Obrera – as pertaining to this category given its links to governmental bodies.
There are other individuals, organizations and initiatives that are more radical ideologically, and anti-institutional, anti-capitalist, nonpartisan, perhaps anarchist and armed. These include the EZLN and its villages, and the Congreso Nacional Indigena (CNI).
In light of what Bruno said, it is clear that Marin Rubio Lopez and his cooperative are of the latter category. Marin described himself as a zapatista and supporter of the indigenous autonomy movement. His interesting comments on the solidarity economy sheds some light on the particularity of the radical wing of the solidarity economy.
Marin said that the solidarity economy is based on utopian socialism that wants no private property and only common, social property; but to these ends uses different, utterly pacifist means. He then named a number of communities settled in communally owned land, like the Tzotzil of Chiapas as examples. He put emphasis on a distinction within the solidarity economy between attitudes of distance from political authorities and funds, for self-sufficiency and autonomy, and tendencies to systematically “bajar fondos”, literally “bring money down” from political institutions to fund initiatives. He was alluding to many organizations and projects of the solidarity economy; some no doubt were represented in the room.
He also spoke of a recent Workshop for the Identity of cooperatives (Taller de Identidad Cooperativa), where it was defended that cooperatives are not a social model of business (“empresa social”) but rather a not-for-profit form of human organization. This is another conceptual distinction that mirrors the one between radicals and reformists.
Cooperativism-alternative currency division
It is interesting to remember Luis Lopezllera’s intervention with Bruno’s analysis in mind. It seems that his commitment to the concept of alternative currencies places him más bien on the radical end of the spectrum, like Marin. However, we observe what is perhaps another division between cooperativism and alternative currency.
Luis suggested that using community currencies is tackling the neoliberal crisis at its root by challenging the authorities of the global monetary system upfront and truly empowering the people: “Quien tiene el poder de inventar el dinero?” (“Who has the power to invent money?”), he asks. He suggests that popular power is essentially the power to create, appropriate and use its own currency. He is radically distinguishing his discourse from that of cooperativism, which suggests that systems of communal production, consumption and ownership in themselves essentially constitute popular power. Luis contended that the “focalismo de Che Guevara” had failed. Creating local “focos”, where community needs are interpreted and dynamized to set the subjective conditions for local upheaval to be reproduced throughout Latin America), is an idea which Marin gave a “pacifist interpretation” and characterized as founding cooperativism, in his intervention half an hour earlier or so, which Luis probably interprets as drawing an unmediated local-global vector, between local necessities and global endeavors and ideology. Without giving further explanation, Luis contended that the alternative currency network bases itself in the “tejido de la sociedad”, in full acknowledgment of the demographic complexity of society without a global referent nor an endeavor to expand (on this point, Claudia of the Red Tlaloc gave further emphasis).
There seems to be a lack of cooperation between these different forces within the movement. Even within the cooperative movement there is disagreement, and many lament that there is a lack of unity and communication, as we discovered at the first conference we attended. Thus even similar initiatives within the ecosol movement find difficulty in building relationships of solidarity. Divisions, albeit porous, exist on political and ideological lines, and there appears to be competing, rather than collaborative, visions of economic solidarity.
Mary Clare’s question “what is the relationship and divisions between cooperatives and alternative currency?” was left unanswered. In the Taller, there seemed to be an effort not to articulate those divisions, and Nour and I became mostly aware of them in retrospect and by “reading between the lines” and by looking at the speakers’ history. Luis was involved in the syndicalist struggle of the Ferrocarriles and of the electricity workers – Sindicato Mexicano de Electricistas (SME) – and was part of the network that fought against NAFTA: he has been engaged in a long and passionate anti-institutional and anti-capitalist struggle. Marin was involved in the Zapatista and indigenous movement. He also studied at Chapingo, a university in Morelos with a very radical Zapatista student body. His cooperative is based in Anenecuilco where Zapata was born. We will visit it on Thursday hopefully and be able to develop this argument. However, when we spoke to Marin after the conference, he said in reference to MC’s question that “he does not bother about differences in terminology and methodology”. It would be interesting to see if he acknowledges those divisions, and, as he said he does not bother about them, how he is able to bridge them if he does.
What do you think?
About the Cooperativa de Unidad, Desarollo y Compromiso of Marin Rubio: www.uom.edu.mx/rev_trabajadores/pdf/61/61_Enrique_Martinez.pdf