Albatros

Tech Cooperative Initiative

We are in the mids of a pandemic. We have suspended physical contacts. Production has stopped in several sectors in many countries, although to a lesser extent in Turkey. Like frightened children, we are waiting under the blanket for the darkness to end. Although we try to light the little flashlights we find gropingly in this dark, the light of the lantern can’t  lighten up most people. Some of us work ‘outside’, where the virus patrols, and those of us feel like we have been sacrificed by the society. Some of us are consoled that we draw the ‘non-suspendable jobs’ card in the division of labor of social life. Some of us are now shuttling between the living room, kitchen and bed just as we were travelling back and forth between the workplace and home before. The working hours extended so long that the ‘8 hours of work, 8 hours of rest and 8 hours of sleep’ formula, which was legislated as a result of the big struggles by the working class, is calling out to humanity from the land of utopias. All the meals are slurred over now, heads are about to fall down while looking at the screens. The ones working at jobs considered ‘non-compulsory‘ ask why they’re designing a chair or making an ad animation, in such an historic moment, when the destiny of humanity is being reshaped.

We think about all these things because we have been caught by the pandemic during the capitalist mode of production. That is to say, we have a profit-oriented production system functioning at the cost of nature and human life, rather than a production system focused on free development of humanity and life. What happens in this system is that a product is produced to be sold on the market, money returns with the sale of the product, some of it is allocated for reproduction and the rest of it becomes private property. The thing in exchange – money on the one hand, and product on the other hand – is fundamentally human labor. Commodities, raw materials, human labor stored in machines are all organized to be priced on the market. Thus, ‘man’, who boasts of being extremely rational, believes that all of his material production is formed by a force outside of his own rationality. The means of production should be owned by a small group of people, for the system we call economy to be in this form. Producer cooperatives, on the other hand, basically collectivize the property of the means of production. Property relations are still permanent, yet the property is now owned by the cooperative, that is, directly by the producers. Cooperatives do not change the mode of production, but may provide some partial opportunities of a democratic economic activity in the current mode of production. These partial opportunities may bring critical advantages for common people in case of disasters like pandemics.

Even these partial changes causing great impacts, is made possible due to people being cut off from the means of production. ‘And the history of this, their expropriation, is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire.’ [1] Their expropriation means that production possibilities are now accumulated at the hands of a few people. Marx discusses the birth of capitalism at length in Capital, Volume I. He uses the concept of ‘primitive accumulation’ to explain this painful historical process. Primitive accumulation is a concept used to explain the historical period when land, the sole mean of production in the pre-capitalist era, was accumulated at the hands of a small group of people. This transference was pushed by force depending on specific conditions of countries, and in some places it seemed as a consequence of the economic processes. At the end of this process, the vast majority of people ended up earning their subsistence only by selling their wage labor. The ones dismissed from the means of production were now dependent on the owners of the means of production to produce their own material lives.

Many people experienced the catastrophic effects of this dependency at first hand in the time of pandemic. With the pressure that pandemic put on employees, it has become possible to make fewer people complete more work. Some lost their jobs and the ones who kept them lost their resistance capacities. Thus, the negative effects of the pandemic have become a tool to worsen people’s lives. However, people organized in cooperative form could experience this economic deterioration less dramatically, with solidarity. Because the initiative of how to manage the means of production belonged to these people, the form of their dependencies would not be as it is now.

The political circumstances have had a significant effect on our despair as well. With the withdrawal of social state, the destruction created by neo-liberal economy is beyond compensation by individual efforts. Yet, it may be possible to recover these losses partially with the solidarity networks that people have built. This is one of the things we feel lacking the most, nowadays. The opportunity to prevent the weakness we feel when we are fired from our paid jobs or letting work take over our whole life while calling it ’the pandemic conditions’ can be possible with the production-solidarity networks we will build and the structures we know in the form of cooperatives from our historical experiences. There are past examples in our region that showed us how important it was to have the will on the production process during a historical pandemic, even the circumstances were quite different from now.

Cemal Kafadar pointed out one of these examples recently. During his interview with Ruşen Çakır at Medyascope, he mentioned the Black Death. With the pandemic, the European countries was depopulated, labor power got more expensive and ancestral heritages were divided for lesser amounts. This situation increased the demand for luxury consumption. This demand included the desire for wool of Angora goats. Meanwhile, the Ahi community, who already had an organized structure, used their productive forces and even reached a position to challenge the Ottoman Empire that had gained strength recently. They could use the welfare brought by the wool they produced for themselves. As the story of their expropriation drove them dependent, the collective initiative on the production process can make us even stronger. [2]

The thing we are lacking most during these pandemic days is probably the sense of trust. The trust in time that keeps passing by… To be able to trust time again, production should be done on a more reliable ground as we are ultimately human, and in the words of Marx ‘bound to toil to earn our own living’. The main reason why future seems so uncertain is that we are not decision-makers in any aspect of the production process. There will be unavoidable uncertainties as the whole economy functions in compliance with the capitalist mode of production. Yet, becoming a cooperative may improve this anxiety-causing situation to some extent. After all, relieving the anxiety of humanity even to some extent is invaluable nowadays.

[1]  In this sentence, Marx discusses the expropriation process that is seen as the birth of capitalism in England. The ownership of the land, which was commonly used by small peasants and common people, was passed to a small group of people.

[2]The productive forces of the Ahi community gave them an unpredictable power in the time of pandemic that affected the whole world. Although the Ahi community was a phenomenon in the history of tradesmen, the source of their power during the Black Death era was their organized structure that ensured them to use the means of productions in their own interests.