In Darkest England and the Way Out

Author: William Booth

Section 6.—Co-Operation in General.

If anyone asked me to state in one word what seemed likely to be the key of the solution of the Social Problem I should answer unhesitatingly Co-operation. It being always understood that it is Co-operation conducted on righteous principles, and for wise and benevolent ends; otherwise Association cannot be expected to bear any more profitable fruit than Individualism. Co-operation is applied association—association for the purpose of production and distribution. Co-operation implies the voluntary combination of individuals to the attaining an object by mutual help, mutual counsel, and mutual effort. There is a great deal of idle talk in the world just now about capital, as if capital were the enemy of labour. It is quite true that there are capitalists not a few who may be regarded as the enemies, not only of labour, but of the human race; but capital itself, so far from being a natural enemy of labour, is the great object which the labourer has constantly in view. However much an agitator may denounce capital, his one great grievance is that he has not enough of it for himself. Capital, therefore, is not an evil in itself; on the contrary, it is good—so good that one of the great aims of the social reformer ought to be to facilitate its widest possible distribution among his fellow-men. It is the congestion of capital that is evil, and the labour question will never be finally solved until every labourer is his own capitalist.

All this is trite enough, and has been said a thousand times already, but, unfortunately, with the saying of it the matter ends. Co-operation has been brought into practice in relation to distribution with considerable success, but co-operation, as a means of production, has not achieved anything like the success that was anticipated. Again and again enterprises have been begun on co-operative principles which bid fair, in the opinion of the promoters, to succeed; but after one, two, three, or ten years, the enterprise which was started with such high hopes has dwindled away into either total or partial failure. At present, many co-operative undertakings are nothing more or less than huge Joint Stock Limited Liability concerns, shares of which are held largely by working people, but not necessarily, and sometimes not at all by those who are actually employed in the so-called co-operative business. Now, why is this? Why do co-operative firms, co-operative factories, and co-operative Utopias so very often come to grief? I believe the cause is an open secret, and can be discerned by anyone who will look at the subject with an open eye.

The success of industrial concerns is largely a question of management. Management signifies government, and government implies authority, and authority is the last thing which co-operators of the Utopian order are willing to recognise as an element essential to the success of their Schemes. The co-operative institution which is governed on Parliamentary principles, with unlimited right of debate and right of obstruction, will never be able to compete successfully with institutions which are directed by a single brain wielding the united resources of a disciplined and obedient army of workers. Hence, to make co-operation a success you must superadd to the principle of consent the principle of authority; you must invest in those to whom you entrust the management of your co-operative establishment the same liberty of action that is possessed by the owner of works on the other side of the repudiation of the rotten and effete regime of the Bourbons, the French peasants and workmen imagined that they were inaugurating the millennium when they scrawled Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity across all the churches in every city of France. They carried their principles of freedom and license to the logical ultimate, and attempted to manage their army on Parliamentary principles. It did not work; their undisciplined levies were driven back; disorder reigned in the Republican camp; and the French Revolution would have been stifled in its cradle had not the instinct of the nation discerned in time the weak point in its armour. Menaced by foreign wars and intestine revolt, the Republic established an iron discipline in its army, and enforced obedience by the summary process of military execution. The liberty and the enthusiasm developed by the outburst of the long pent-up revolutionary forces supplied the motive power, but it was the discipline of the revolutionary armies, the stern, unbending obedience which was enforced in all ranks from the highest to the lowest, which created for Napoleon the admirable military instrument by which he shattered every throne in Europe and swept in triumph from Paris to Moscow.

In industrial affairs we are very much like the French Republic before it tempered its doctrine of the rights of man by the duty of obedience on the part of the soldier. We have got to introduce discipline into the industrial army, we have to superadd the principle of authority to the principle of co-operation, and so to enable the worker to profit to the full by the increased productiveness of the willing labour of men who are employed in their own workshops and on their own property. There is no need to clamour for great schemes of State Socialism. The whole thing can be done simply, economically, and speedily if only the workers will practice as much self-denial for the sake of establishing themselves as capitalists, as the Soldiers of the Salvation Army practice every year in Self Denial Week. What is the sense of never making a levy except during a strike? Instead of calling for a shilling, or two shillings, a week in order to maintain men who are starving in idleness because of a dispute with their masters, why should there not be a levy kept up for weeks or months, by the workers, for the purpose of setting themselves up in business as masters? There would then be no longer a capitalist owner face to face with the masses of the proletariat, but all the means of production, the plant, and all the accumulated resources of capital would really be at the disposal of labour. This will never be done, however, as long as co-operative experiments are carried on in the present archaic fashion.

Believing in co-operation as the ultimate solution, if to co-operation you can add subordination, I am disposed to attempt something in this direction in my new Social Scheme. I shall endeavour to start a Co-operative Farm on the principles of Ralahine, and base the whole of my Farm Colony on a Co-operative foundation.

In starting this little Co-operative Commonwealth, I am reminded by those who are always at a man’s elbow to fill him with forebodings of ill, to look at the failures, which I have just referred to, which make up the history of the attempt to realise ideal commonwealths in this practical workaday world. Now, I have read the history of the many attempts at co-operation that have been made to form communistic settlements in the United States, and am perfectly familiar with the sorrowful fate with which nearly all have been overtaken; but the story of their failures does not deter me in the least, for I regard them as nothing more than warnings to avoid certain mistakes, beacons to illustrate the need of proceeding on a different tack. Broadly speaking, your experimental communities fail because your Utopias all start upon the system of equality and government by vote of the majority, and, as a necessary and unavoidable consequence, your Utopians get to loggerheads, and Utopia goes to smash, I shall avoid that rock. The Farm Colony, like all the other departments of the Scheme, will be governed, not on the principle of counting noses, but on the exactly opposite principle of admitting no noses into the concern that are not willing to be guided by the directing brain. It will be managed on principles which assert that the fittest ought to rule, and it will provide for the fittest being selected, and having got them at the top, will insist on universal and unquestioning obedience from those at the bottom. If anyone does not like to work for his rations and submit to the orders of his superior Officers he can leave. There is no compulsion on him to stay. The world is wide, and outside the confines of our Colony and the operations of our Corps my authority does not extend. But judging from our brief experience it is not from revolt against authority that the Scheme is destined to fail.

There cannot be a greater mistake in this world than to imagine that men object to be governed. They like to be governed, provided that the governor has his "head screwed on right" and that he is prompt to hear and ready to see and recognise all that is vital to the interests of the commonwealth. So far from there being an innate objection on the part of mankind to being governed, the instinct to obey is so universal that even when governments have gone blind, and deaf, and paralytic, rotten with corruption, and hopelessly behind the times, they still contrive to live on. Against a capable Government no people ever rebel, only when stupidity and incapacity have taken possession of the seat of power do insurrections break out.


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Chicago: William Booth, "Section 6.— Co-Operation in General.," In Darkest England and the Way Out, trans. Macaulay, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Baron, 1800-1859 in In Darkest England and the Way Out (London: Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1831), Original Sources, accessed July 14, 2024,

MLA: Booth, William. "Section 6.— Co-Operation in General." In Darkest England and the Way Out, translted by Macaulay, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Baron, 1800-1859, in In Darkest England and the Way Out, London, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, 1831, Original Sources. 14 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Booth, W, 'Section 6.— Co-Operation in General.' in In Darkest England and the Way Out, trans. . cited in 1831, In Darkest England and the Way Out, Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, London. Original Sources, retrieved 14 July 2024, from