The following is part three of a series that explores various current economic aspects in a way that illustrates the possibility for new alternatives rather than mapping out detailed new plans.
The cooperative is the epitome of economic democracy, as well as the direct alternative to the corporation. The corporate model has existed for so long, since the creation of the British East India Company in 1600, that it has firmly entrenched itself into the unconscious of humans living within capitalism. Corporations have subsumed attempts to fight it throughout history and has incorporated a false language of freedom without any structural background behind it. The cooperative, in contrast, may at first appear utopian or idealistic. But the cooperative, as the expression of economic democracy, is a working assemblage of a principle that empowers humans much more than being mediated by undemocratic corporations and a commodified culture. To understand the importance of a particular cooperative in a community, it is vital to understand the relationship of economic democracy to the idea of democracy in general.
Democracy can take on the form of political democracy and economic democracy. Within each form of democracy, there is a relationship between freedom and equality. Overall, there is a circular movement between political democracy and economic democracy by way of freedom and equality. The movement goes from economic freedom to economic equality, from economic equality to political equality, from political equality to political freedom, and then from political freedom to economic freedom. The motion from economic freedom to economic equality is through the process of economic democracy. The economic equality of opportunity is equal to the political equality under the law, and there is a clear transition from one to the other. The motion from political equality to political freedom is through the process of political democracy. The political freedom of choice is equal to the economic freedom of self interest, and once again there is a clear transition. Political democracy and economic democracy both serve as structures that create a balance between freedom and equality. This balance can be defined as justice. Without a democratic process in both the political and the economic, it would be very difficult to translate either freedom or equality between the political and the economic. There would be conflict over what was considered freedom in the political and what was considered equality in the economic, for example.
Since freedom is practiced by individuals and equality by collectives, this interaction of freedom and equality requires the assumption that individuals and collectives exist as simultaneous to each other. The identity of the individual and the collective is also the emergence of drive and desire. Drive is an external discontinuity from the social field, and an internal continuity of controlling structures of power, meaning, and production. Since drive is based on an artificial lack felt by individuals, it can isolate these individuals from others in a society. These individuals are even isolated from the entire social field. Humans can become trapped within structures that can control them if they feel that they have to fulfill this artificial lack. On the other hand, desire is an inherent trait within humans that can be expressed through freedom. Desire is an external discontinuity from these constricting structures of power, meaning, and production. Since desire is an internal continuity of the social, it makes use of the social body to express freedom. Through desire, the individual and the collective are in conjunction and work together. Freedom and equality are in balance, and humans are able to make use of collective organizations to fulfill individual freedom. The cooperative and economic democracy is one way that individual freedom and collective equality interact productively to express desire.
When one discusses economic democracy as a type of democratic process, there must be a distinction made between the democracy of the structure and the democracy of the event. The democracy of the structure occurs within structures, and are limited by that structure that contains it. Political legitimacy is based on an equality of conformity where unique individuals are forced to be the same. The hierarchy and stratification that may occur is obscured by a transcendent appearance of equality. What one sees with the democracy of the structure is a standardization and normalization of power. There is also the formation of a national identity of the people, which is a strict and confining universal term made up of uniform particulars. Ideology, which is the structure of meaning that perpetuates the democracy of the structure, is internal to the democracy of the structure. Reality itself is external to the democracy of the structure. Overall, the democracy of the structure is the democratic process used for the purpose of control and domination.
In contrast, the democracy of the event is the democratic process put to work for the expression of authentic freedom and equality. Political legitimacy in this case is based on equality of choice as the equal opportunity to make all choices that would affect an individual without preconditions. Hierarchy and stratification is disrupted by the immanent relationships of equilibrium, which is the goal of democracy as a solution to problems caused by inequalities. The democracy of the event is the development and distribution of free agency. Instead of the national identity, there is the formation of the social identity of the multitude that is defined as a multiplicity of unique singularities. The democracy of the event acts as a disruption of the democracy of the structure. It can be concluded that the democracy of the event is the inverting of the relationship between ideology and reality. In other words, the democracy of the event reintroduces reality into the trap of ideology in order to break ideology apart.
A universal appearance obscures the difference between the democracy of the structure and the democracy of the event. There is a transition from a universal decision to limited voting and the imposition of the law, from universal participation to the alienation of representation, and from a universal interest to a division between majority and minority opinion. The democracy of the structure, in its universal appearance, mediates and transforms the democratic process to something more confining and regulated than as a tool for free agency. On the other hand, the democracy of the event allows for people to decide on all conditions that shape the society and that in turn requires universal participation and universal interest. Economic democracy, as an example of the democracy of the event, provides for individuals in ways a formal representative and majoritarian democracy fails to accomplish. The democracy of the structure creates limits with the democratic process, while the democracy of the event expands empowerment with the democratic process. The democracy of the event allows for active participation rather than the passive reaction of the democracy of the structure.
Economic democracy, expressed in the cooperative business model, illuminates the relationship between the social and the political. In the democracy of the structure, there is a determination of the social by the political. The political acts as a classification and uniformity of the social through such structures as the nation-state. In the democracy of the event, there is a determination of the political by the social. The political in this sense acts as a solution to problems of inequality within the social through the structure of a community. The development of cooperatives within a social setting serves workers and the communities that they live in for the short-term. But cooperatives cultivate a true democracy of the event through the medium of economic democracy in the long-term. Economic democracy can be the most practical application of the democracy of the event. Economic democracy, as a principle that is put into practice by the cooperative, can also create the opportunity for an overall reformation of democracy from a closed system to an open system.