Democracy means equality of opportunity and equality of obligation in social relationships. It results in control by all the people in a system of organization in which voting power is guaranteed to all. While political democracy, if there is such a thing, can not guarantee peace, industrial democracy can at least remove the common cause of war by eliminating the profit motive from preparation for war and from promotion of war. History shows that those countries which come closest to democracy tend to be least inclined to war. Autocracies are the dangerous nations.
War is usually not for the common good but is for the sake of protecting and promoting privilege. Democracy, which is for the common good and which tends to prevent privilege, is naturally not a war-provoking force.
In the cooperative society, one vote and no more is granted each member. This is irrespective of the amount of investment each may have at stake. Each person having one vote is in contrast with the policy that prevails in profit business, in which each share of stock has one vote. In cooperative business, democracy prevails. Proxy voting is not allowed. No individual or minority group can secure control if the general membership does not want them to have control. Autocracy is thus prevented. Cooperative business is a non-political industrial system based upon democracy. A peculiar feature of consumer cooperation is that democracy is not set up as an ideal, observed in the breach, but democracy is a working method. It has to be observed in fact. If democracy is not practiced, the society loses its cooperative character, fails, or becomes converted into an autocratic or capitalistic profit business. The cooperative society that flouts democracy is headed for the rocks.
Democracy does not exist in profit business under the prevalent system. Control is not democratic but autocratic. One set of people own, administer, and control the business. Another set, the consumer customers, have no voice. If permitted to be part owners, they are represented by proxy and thus lose democratic control even when in a majority. Still another group, the workers, are in the same minor position as the customers. They gain a voice by long struggle, but minor it remains. When the workers get control and even have ownership of a business, they may practice democracy among themselves; but it is not shared with the consumer customers. Democracy in business is a peculiar consumer cooperative method. In the cooperative system people are learning how to conduct their affairs democratically. They are schooling themselves in democracy. They are learning how to make democracy work by applying it to the affairs of business and of society.
In the cooperative movement, which has continued to expand for a century, we see democracy in operation and effectively functioning. Cooperative societies must be practical, because they must compete with the most efficient forms of profit business. They are succeeding in this competition. They universally make use of decentralized control in the interest of democracy, and of centralized administration in the interest of efficiency. These methods prove effective in competition with businesses which employ centralized control as well as centralized administration in the interest of autocracy.
Democracy is taken seriously in the cooperative movement and given every opportunity to expand. That the people do not make full use of it is natural in the presence of human indifference and indolence. But it is an instrument that is ever present and available; and it dominates wherever the people want it and make use of it. The cooperative movement supplies an outstanding example of democracy in operation in economic affairs on a large and constantly expanding scale. And democracy is essential to peace.
Communism and fascism, the great modern hazards to peace, are the antithesis of democracy. When they come into power one of their first steps is to attempt the emasculation or destruction of the cooperatives. This is necessary because autocracy can not tolerate the presence of democratic institutions. The attempted destruction of the cooperatives by the Russian communist government is an evidence of the autocracy of that government. Where the businesses of cooperatives are permitted to survive in communist and fascist countries, their real cooperative character as expressed in their democracy is destroyed. They are called cooperatives, but cooperatives they are not.
After World War I, the dominant capitalism of the day was the factor making for totalitarian stateism. Capitalism was running into difficulties. It was failing to get results by competition, by monopoly, or by political action. Collapses came periodically and with disastrous results. Unemployment and poverty prevailed and assumed ugly aspects. As a result, the state was growing and becoming more and more of a threat to profit business as the masses occasionally expressed themselves through its agency. Organization of workers was becoming more powerful. One last resort remained to the vested interests of property--the use of force before it was too late. Capitalism the world over approved and financed Mussolini and Hitler, both of whom promised to crush out trade-unionism and cooperatism and make the world safe for big business.
The unsoundness of fascistic ideology is evidenced by the fact that it turned upon its creators and betrayed them. The capitalists hoped against hope and in the end found themselves subject to the very state they had planned to make their servant. The European fascistic structure went down in ignominy and contempt in World War II.
The forces of democracy, now arising to bring some sort of order out of the resultant chaos created by fascism, may well examine the causes of this chaos. After these causes have been evaluated, it may be hoped they will not be honored for what they have done. It may be hoped that democracy will at least avoid credence to the forces that produced war and chaos.
There is a rugged quality about democracy, as expressed in the cooperative society, that makes its destruction difficult. This difficulty has been encountered in many countries where autocracy in some form of communism, fascism, or other expression of totalitarianism prevails. As a matter of expediency these political forces have often found it wise to permit the people some expression of democracy in their cooperative institutions. Cooperation often survives the assaults made upon it by the governments of such countries. And it may be expected that, when these autocratic regimes have faded away, the cooperative movement in these countries will bloom again. Cooperation possesses a greater zest for survival than does political autocracy. It comes back and expands even where fascism is still fading from power.
In 1949 a conflict raged between two political ideologies, democracy as represented by the United States and communism as represented by the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics. While the democracy practiced in the United States was an attenuated sort of democracy, it presented positive democratic values when compared with absence of democracy in the Russian Socialist regime. The peoples of the world took sides with one or the other. The conflict represented and still represents a real crisis. The democratic idea still exalts the individual and the right to "life liberty and the pursuit of happiness." This is thought of as a right inherent in the human being. Communism, on the other hand, insists by its practices that rights of individual men do not really exist in the presence of the greater rights of a political autocracy to dictate to them. This Russian communist form of social organization is based on force and intrigue, began with force and intrigue, uses force and intrigue to maintain it in existence, and employs force and intrigue to promote itself in other countries. The Russian form of communism does not develop in any country directly from the needs of the people. It is engrafted by force and intrigue from without by agents of the Russian communist party. It is not indigenous; it is foreign.
Democracy is inherent in the nature of men of all countries. People of all countries have a desire for a voice and influence in the conditions under which they live. No people in any country naturally desire to be dictated to by some autocratic individual with control over their lives and property. From the most stupid to the most intelligent there is no desire to be utterly subjected to somebody else, excepting where people have always been slaves or subjects and know of no other condition. But even here, there is always among human beings worthy of the name an innate desire to be individuals with some voice and choice in the conduct of their lives. Democracy is natural; autocracy is unnatural. Democracy springs from the people; autocracy is imposed upon the people. Democracy gives everybody an opportunity; autocracy gives autocrats opportunity. Democracy has a capacity for survival; autocracy always collapses or is overthrown. Democracy is better for the people than its alternative which is autocracy. It is true that democratically organized people can be stupid, but they can not be as stupid as autocratic rulers can be vicious.
The deficiency of democracy has been its inability to make quick decisions. When all the people want a voice, it takes time to get their expression. Democracy also makes use of parliamentarism which does not always decide wisely. The majority have a way of being wrong when the minority is right. But quick decisions can be made when democracy selects a representative to act for it and to make decisions. This is what cooperative societies do. They appoint a manager or superintendent with authority to act for them. They do not interfere with his decisions, unless extreme; but they remove him and replace him with another if his results are not to their satisfaction. This is the cooperative way of making democracy practicable.
Rule by the majority is a peculiar practice of western nations. Sydney Smith said that he had given much thought to this subject and had come to the conclusion that where a vote is taken the minority opinion should prevail because, in his observation, majorities were usually wrong. While this was said in a spirit of waggery, it has merit. The majority does not mean that the best judgment or the best informed are for a proposition; it only means that the most are for it. And the most are not necessarily the best. Quantity and quality are two different things. A body of people voting on a subject, in which none of them is expert, is not the best way to good results. Cooperative bodies will do wisely to use the scientific method of the laboratory. When a question is to be decided, let an individual or a committee of experts get all the available information on the subject, analyze it, and present their conclusions with recommendations to the democratic body to approve or disapprove. Having the facts, they may then decide whether they want it or they do not want it. They simply vote "yes" or "no". The language of democracy is in these two words.
The cooperative method, by the use of every device that promotes democracy, stands for peace; for peace is based on democracy. In every country the masses of people want peace. What the masses of people want is most apt to come to pass where democratic methods prevail. Any method of business that excludes democracy, such as the prevalent capitalist profit method, cultivates seeds of war. Any method of business based on democracy, integrated among owners of business and consumers of its product, makes for peace. Indeed, permanent peace can be expected in a world where such a method of business is the predominant way of production and distribution.