WELCOME TO THE WEEKLY AGITATOR: WHO AND WHAT YOU SHOULD BE ANGRY AT, WHO’S ORGANIZING ABOUT IT, AND HOW YOU CAN FIND OUT MORE
Local non-profit addresses the “extractive economy”, racialized capitalism, and structural inequality
Montgomery County’s business community is exploding over recent news and studies purporting to show the County is fueling stagnant business growth and over-regulation. They are shaking their fists and pointing fingers at everyone except their own Capitalist ideology.
But it would be a mistake to think Montgomery County isn’t trying to find a solution to these problems in a way that puts the community first, not shareholder profits or revenue intake.
Local non-profit IMPACT Silver Spring’s main focus is to address economic equity and the growing wealth divide of local municipalities. In recent years this has taken the form of helping to establish worker-owned cooperatives as a way to build asset and capital ownership in communities of color. They’ve also been crucial advocates for local policies to assist cooperative business growth and minority-owned/operated cooperatives. Their IMPACT Now! event is their annual opportunity to invite the community to witness their advances in this crucial work.
At this year’s IMPACT Now! over 100 community members gathered at the Silver Spring Civic Building. Marjorie Kelly, Executive Vice President of the Democracy Collaberative delivered the keynote speech. Her topic was the distinctions between “extractive economies” — industries or businesses which take money and resources away from a community, maximizing profits for the few — and democratic economies where decision-making and resources remain in community control.
A democratic economy would not have a racial wealth gap, it wouldn’t prey on people of color in favor of white wealth, and assets owned by communities can stay in those communities. The way to get to the democratic economy, according to Kelly and the Democracy Collaberative, is through democratic ownership of workplaces as a tool to build capital and assets in minority and oppressed communities.
After Kelly was a panel discussion featuring representatives from local cooperatives ONE DC, Red Emma’s, and the Montgomery Community Investment Cooperative, a project by IMPACT Silver Spring members.
Each panelist took questions from the audience and moderator that ranged from how to handle business finances and market shifts to how they got started working and owning their business.
Panelists had different answers to what makes worker cooperatives different than traditional businesses, but a few words were constantly brought up: “trust”, “learning,” “empowerment”, and “hard-work.” The representative from ONE DC contextualized the panel’s feelings the best by proclaiming the hard work is necessary as, “…we have to do this if we want to be free.”
IMPACT and their partners like the Democracy Collaborative and Democracy @ Work are pushing cooperatives back to the forefront at a time when changes to the organization of production are desperately needed. The economy is a weak flank the left is attacked on in Montgomery County politics. A cooperative movement in Montgomery County would be a way to erode confidence in traditional capitalist forms of production and build trust in local efforts to insert democracy into the local economy.
Of course, we’re not in favor of cooperatives being the sole solution to capitalism. Kelly and other advocates like Richard D. Wolff describe how traditional businesses could be bought out by their workers or handed over to workers by retiring owners. But the opposite could be just as true. Capital is self-expanding and will naturally prey on smaller businesses like worker cooperatives. The invisible hand of the market in capitalist society does not favor small community cooperatives.
Further, cooperative businesses, credit union banking, and other “real utopian” solutions tend to still exist on capitalist terms. Credit unions still rely on the stock market, worker cooperatives have to contend with market forces. Sam Gindin makes a good case against the notion that cooperatives alone will be enough to overthrow capitalism.
So IMPACT should be commended for one of the best local (implicitly) anti-capitalist events in Montgomery County. But we can’t let their progress in the arena of cooperative businesses be attacked by business forces. Instead socialists should actively seek to ally with them and their partners to push a further radical position and greater agitation for democratic socialism.
We’ll need that form of combination between a militant workers’ movement, socialist politics, and new forms of production like worker-ownership to combat capitalism in the workplace, in politics, and in the community.