The functions of the co-operative

By Yusuf Gürsucu. This article originally appeared in Turkish on Özgür Gündem on 1 December 2015

Within our current predicament it is possible to resist and fight back against monopolies with the cooperatives. In their absence, it is not possible for producers to maintain their existence, or cope with their ongoing problems. We should evaluate the producers’ cooperatives as the sole, tested method to defend small landowners and landless peasants against the monopolies. The cooperatives provide the only democratic solution to prevent the parcellization of the soil without removing the villagers’ right to land ownership. It is only possible for the farmers to include their lands in the cooperatives when they believe in a better future.

How are cooperatives founded?

We will not take up the legal or technical aspects of this issue because the foundation of the cooperative with respect to its social functions is more important. For instance, the Kolkhoz-type cooperatives socialise production while allowing farmers a degree of freedom to produce for personal ends. Cooperative production can also be initiated by the appropriation or lease of large tracts of land under the aegis of the state or wealthy peasants, instead of a redistribution of the land to the small and landless farmers with land reform. As these steps are taken small and middle-sized landowners will be integrated to the production process.

MST, the landless peasant movement in Brazil, carries out production in fields ‘owned’ by large landowners and the state, by way of occupation and communes. Naturally, the commune organizes all aspects of life. The product is evaluated through the cooperative. In our geography, certain factors renders such an occupation infeasible. For this reason, a process of production can be weaved together by the amassment of land around producers’ cooperatives and regulation through village communes. The singular institutions that can ensure humane living and working conditions to seasonal agricultural labourers are the producers’ cooperatives. By becoming members of the cooperatives in the lands obtained through lease or occupation, the intensive exploitation of the seasonal labourers would be eliminated, and as the level of welfare increases they will not longer be under pressure to migrate.

The distribution of wealth in the cooperatives

The producers should be ensured that they have a right to leave the cooperative without hindrance to the integrity of their land. Based on past experiences, the distribution of wealth in the cooperatives under capitalist conditions and the obligation to maintain competitiveness has generally taken place as follows: Following the subtraction of the input costs, 40 percent as the payment for the member landowners or rent; 45 percent to compensate the landless peasants who are members through their labour and those that are not members but have participated; and the remaining 15 percent for administrative costs. These numbers reflect the successful operation of the cooperatives, yet they may change based on the circumstances.


Sales cooperatives and associations

Nearly all of the associations in Turkey serve to turn the producers into dependent servants of capital. The reason for this is the lack of producer activity inside the associations, along with the lack of solidarity in the locales of production where the producers can unite. These associations continue to function as instruments of capital and its governments. There are no developments in favor of the producers. Without the associations, the producers’ cooperatives cannot maintain themselves. Although, the associations in question operate with the individual membership of producers. Our main aim should be to invert this question, thus to organize the associations as associations of the cooperatives, or transform the existing associations to become as such.

EU subsidies

Nazmi Ilıcalı, the president of the Agricultural Producers and Stockbreeders’ Association of East Anatolia (Doğu Anadolu Tarımsal Üreticiler ve Besiciler Birliği), which gives an impression that it is an exception to the associations discussed above yet we believe this is in name only, explained their association’s perspective in 2010:

“As per the requirements of the EU agricultural policy, the marginalization of the small producers from the production process will be completed. It will be attractive to adopt procedures of organic stockbreeding to qualify for subsidies. The standards of the EU will be matched as a result of the efforts to create a system of organic stockbreeding. This is not a fantasy.”

The idea of small farmers and stock breeders being marginalized is supported by the EU. The subsidies seek to stimulate the growth of companies while production is narrowed down. We do not know whether this association continues to exist because we cannot find any signs of its activity. In previous articles we had expressed that with the Mansholt Plan agricultural production had almost completely been transferred to the companies. Currently, the greatest amount of agricultural subsidies are directed towards dairy products and stockbreeding. All of these subsidies are given to companies. To expect the EU to carry out a support plan that does not include the companies would at least be imaginary.

Organic or natural products?

This title can raise objections that the two are one and the same. However, processes of organic production are bound to certification. That is to say, is you are planning to produce you are compelled to have an agreement with one of the 30 certified companies in Turkey. All of these companies are in turn connected to the agricultural monopolies in one way or the other. They operate according to the policies of the monopolies or with development agencies that also further monopolization. This being the case, ‘organic’ agriculture with the condition of certification cannot describe what we hope to achieve. Of course, what we advocate is natural production and organic production in unpolluted areas would be facilitated by cooperatives. Analysis of the soil may as well be conducted with the cooperation of local municipalities and associations of engineers. In case of difficulties such as with exportation we can build our own ‘certification’ system.

Which associations?

Regional unification of associations that are founded by the integration of cooperatives can lead to the formation of large associations. Activities ranging from the processing of the products to cold storage, transportation and sales are executed by these unified and stronger institutions. There are also measures we can take with the existing associations in our regions. We can facilitate the transfer of the administration of regional and product-based large associations to the hands of the real producers through urban associations that are assembled in tandem with producers’ cooperatives. There are barriers to the producers’ ability to gain access to administration and if these cannot be removed they should form new associations for themselves.

Almost all associations in Turkey are composed of partnerships between sales cooperatives. The producers feel obligated to become members because this allows them access to credit which is necessary to obtain seeds. This creates a relationship of dependence where the producer is enslaved by the cooperative. The solitary and unorganized farmer does not have any other chance. The only alternatives to the sales cooperatives are the merchants. They are not different from the sales cooperatives. Generally, they purchase land from the peasants on a fixed term and do not pay dues regularly, or many of these are seasonal arrangements; the peasant is short changed and the merchant disappears after seizing the yields. Therefore the only difficult choice for the producer is the sales cooperative association, which has become a granary company that has become the monopoly and operates solely according to government policies. These associations have turned into large holdings by processing agricultural products. This is why it is impossible to envision a future with these associations. Administration should be taken over by the producers, or they should be discarded in favor of new associations.