During the war periods of 1914-18 and 1939-45 how did cooperatives show their peaceful proclivities? In the first place, there was nothing in the conduct of these societies that indicated a desire for profits of war. There was every evidence of a sincere purpose to serve the people. This is in strong contrast with profit business which uses the wars as an excuse for excessive profits and exploitation of consumer needs. Cooperation finds no advantage in war, but only disadvantage.
A congress of the International Cooperative Alliance passed the following resolution on peace which expresses the cooperative attitude: The Congress further desires to impress upon the public of all nations the fact that the reason for the continuance of armaments and the possibility of international conflicts will disappear as the social and economic life of every nation becomes organized according to cooperative principles, and that, therefore, the progress of cooperation forms one of the most valuable guarantees for the preservation of the world's peace. The Congress, therefore, exhorts the people of every country to join our movement and strengthen their power. The International Congress of the Alliance declares itself in amity with all the cooperators of the world, and welcomes any action they may take in this direction or in which they may participate.
At the beginning of World War I, British cooperatives provided care for German cooperators who were interned by the British Government. They sent financial help to Austrian societies. The Review of International Cooperation, the organ of the International Alliance which is published in English, German, and French since its beginning in 1896, continued to appear in all three languages throughout the war, carrying articles by cooperators from the chief belligerent countries, all breathing the spirit of cooperation. During the war, the only international organization in the world which did not break down and cease to function was the International Cooperative Alliance. The international peace movement disappeared and failed to function. The same is true of the international church movement, labor movement, and socialist movement. The I. C. A. continued its functions, and its first congress after the war was the first international gathering that brought together in friendly intercourse delegates of the principal warring countries.
When time came for the 1916 Congress of the Alliance, the warring nations would not permit delegates from enemy countries to cross their borders. Accordingly, the Congress was held in two parts--one in Berlin and one in Paris. At the Paris Congress, seats for the delegates of the German countries were provided. The chairman addressing the Congress feelingly expressed regret at their absence and the hope that the absent cooperators would be present at the next Congress.
Cooperative spirit is illustrated by many events during World War I. On the French front, it is said, were instances of cooperative buildings spared by German gunners. The first bombardment of Chateau-Thierry offers such an example, according to Albert Sonnichsen (Consumers Cooperation, 1919, page 125). Sonnichsen got this information largely from U. S. Consular Reports. During the bombardment French troops withdrew, and much of the civil population with them. The manager of the cooperative store and some of the clerks remained. When German soldiers entered the town they came to the store, bought goods and paid for them, often shaking hands with clerks and showing other signs of friendliness. The puzzled manager was able to understand what this meant when he saw chalked on the front of the store over the French word "Cooperative," the German equivalent of the word. They had also added in German: "These are cooperators; do them no harm."
Charles Gide, professor of political economy in the University of Paris, in the preface of his book, Les Societies Cooperative De Consummation, (1917) said: "In the invaded and devastated regions the cooperative stores were generally spared by the enemy and served the population as places of refuge, somewhat as did the churches in the wars of the Middle Ages." In Belgium, which has been spoken of as the "devastated country," cooperatives were not damaged by the invasion or occupation. Where their premises were occupied in Ghent, the Germans paid rent. The Belgian societies emerged from World War I with a stronger spirit and a larger membership than before.
Examples of cooperative societies keeping down prices and refusing to play the game of profiteering, which characterized capitalistic business, were seen in many countries. This is true of Germany as well as of England, and even of the United States. For example, the Purity Cooperative Association of Paterson, New Jersey, protested to the Government that the price of bread fixed by the food controller was unnecessarily high, while profit bakers were complaining that they could not afford to sell bread at so low a price. The Purity bakery made a large surplus saving at the price fixed by the Government and gave the money back as social benefits to the member patrons, while the profit bakers of Paterson complained that the Purity was doing a seditious thing and violating the government injunction. The British Cooperative Wholesale Society repeatedly protested to the Government against high prices they were compelled to charge by the price fixing boards. In the case of margarine, profit amounted to from 50 to 60 percent. Profit business concerns were making 100 percent profit on this commodity. A strong movement was put on foot to take price fixing out of the hands of commissions dominated by profit traders and put it in the hands of the British Cooperative Wholesale Society. The C. W. S. showed that prices of hundreds of commodities were far above reasonable requirements for even good profits. In Norway, Sweden, Colombia, and several other countries the governments have asked cooperatives to fix prices on some commodities for the whole country. A French deputy visiting the battle front of France and observing the beneficent effects of cooperation, not only among civil population but also among cooperatives set up by soldiers, exclaimed: "One stands in awe before such remarkable accomplishments. The cooperators demonstrate the finest principles of intelligence and ingenuity of our race. With the critical spirit which characterizes us, it often happens that we decry the most beautiful things, which should gain and hold our admiration."
In World War II cooperatives were no longer able to express themselves as agencies of peace. They definitely took sides with their governments--among the United Nations voluntarily, and among Axis Nations by compulsion. They gave their governments the benefit of their productive and distributive facilities. In the United Nations cooperation expanded. It served the people as a way of supply, and grew in public esteem as it was observed in contrast with profit business during the war years. Cooperatives in general refused to practice black market methods.
In Axis countries, the cooperative method was quite subjugated as the autocratic governments destroyed its democracy and left only the material shell of its institutions to serve their desperate ends. Cooperatives continued to function as government agents. Members were forbidden to hold meetings, boards of directors were abolished, and managers were appointed by the government. Many stores were closed. In Germany some were turned over to private individual owners. The German Government planned to give cooperative stores to returning war heroes at the close of the war, but no heroes returned to take the stores. Cooperative officials who had not been sympathetic to the government were disposed of, but the form of the movement remained and a sound cooperative structure was rebuilt after the war. It must be said that in the countries with disturbed political conditions governmental persecutions were stimulated by the individual cooperators' connections with organizations that were hostile to political parties in power. Under these conditions, profit business has united with the government in destroying cooperatives. In many lands, the dominant political regime, be it fascist, communist, or whatnot, destroys cooperatives if cooperators officially are found in politics opposed to the dominant political party.
At the close of War II, cooperatives of the United Nations and neutral nations raised funds of money and goods which were given to damaged cooperatives of invaded countries. The Freedom Fund was collected by cooperatives of Great Britain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ireland, and America, and transmitted to the damaged cooperative societies. In 1947 The Cooperative League of the U. S. A. sent a shipment of kerosene and motor oil to the Cooperative League of China. The Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe (CARE), up to 1948, had sent over $70,000,000 worth of goods in $10 packages to needy families. Much of this was given to cooperators in Germany. In many countries the packages were distributed by consumer cooperative societies. The President of CARE is President of The Cooperative League of the U. S. A. Much of the relief provided by the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration was distributed through consumer cooperatives. Cooperatives of Sweden gave direct assistance to those of Norway, Finland, and Holland. All this bears testimony to the international unity of the cooperative movement.
In times of national emergency, when profit business is taking all it can from the people and reaping all possible benefits from its war, government machinery fails to protect the people but often lends itself to the service of profiteering. It is then that cooperative principles in action stand out in contrast with the agencies that profit by war. Here cooperation is revealed as a kind of commerce which has power to exclude from economic life causes of human hostilities. It is a nonpolitical method which automatically takes the profits out of war and makes war just so much less profitable. And that means just so much less possible