Co-operative Bodhisattvas

I like to think of a communizing program based on Cooperativism as analogous to the process by which a Bodhisattva becomes a Buddha. I’ll elaborate on each before I draw the connection. After I draw the connection, I’ll make the point that beyond the analogy, the two can be concretely realized as component parts of a greater process. 

A Bodhisattva is a being who is in transition, moving away from the ignorant sentience of a mere ordinary being caught up in endless cycles of suffering, and moving towards the awakened omniscience of a perfectly enlightened being who permanently abides in the ultimate nature of reality.

What distinguishes the Bodhisattva from an ordinary being is that she has overcome the emotional, afflictive obscurations that conceal deep bliss, so that she no longer suffers as an ordinary being does. This enables her to utilize her full capacity to labor for the needs of others to the extent that her abilities allow. What distinguishes the Bodhisattva from a Buddha is that in spite of having overcome the afflictive obscurations concealing deep bliss, she is yet to overcome the cognitive obscurations concealing supreme gnosis; unlike a Buddha, she has yet to directly realize and permanently abide in the ultimate nature of reality as it is free from all dualistic conceptual constructs. In spite of this however, the force of a Bodhisattva’s momentum, driven by the dynamic oscillation between her sublime perspective and meritorious conduct, is such that she is bound to eventually realize Buddhahood in her lifetime.

How does this relate to Cooperativism? First let us define Cooperativism as a program of socio-politico-economic transformation that is centered around the freedom of workers to democratically govern their productive lives in association with one another, unmediated by and independent of a capitalist class of owners. In short, it is a program that aims for the qualitative intensification and quantitative proliferation of worker-owned cooperatives.

A cooperative has the great benefit of introducing genuine democracy in the workplace by eliminating the discrete functions or roles distinguishing workers from owners by instantiating them instead as continuous functions that can be fulfilled by each and every worker-owner. This allows the worker-owner to enjoy something she is prevented from enjoying in a conventional capitalist enterprise: an intimate, not-alienated relation to her product, her work, her fellow workers, and ultimately herself. A conventional capitalist enterprise, on the contrary, produces, reproduces and intensifies this four-fold alienation and arguably this alienation is one of the very conditions of possibility for the process of capitalist accumulation. This is because, by locking her into a contractual obligation to partially surrender her autonomy to the capitalist and thus coercing the worker to become alienated from the real conditions that make up her life by being managed by someone else, the capitalist is able to pay her for less than the value she produces in the workplace at an extraordinary rate. The dialectical process of accumulation by which abstract value is continuously valorized on the one hand, and concrete labor continuously dispossessed of its creative capacity on the other hand, is the defining characteristic of the capitalist mode of production in general.

By putting power back in the hands of workers by allowing them to become worker-owners, cooperatives take a step out of the capitalist mode of production and on a path towards a mode of production whose defining characteristic is the communal expression of concrete labor’s creative power. This does not in and of itself mean, however, that the mere existence of cooperatives spell the elimination of the hegemony of the capitalist mode of production. Just as the capitalist mode was and is able to exist simultaneously alongside historically “preceding” modes (such as feudalism and slavery) while subordinating them to its own ruling logic, so too will the socializing mode of Cooperativism have to exist simultaneously alongside capitalism and work towards subordinating it to its socialist logic. Cooperatives may overcome the barriers to intimate, non-alienated relationships between self and others, but it is yet to fully overcome reliance upon State legislation and market transactions. Thus, it must make skillful, provisional use of these factors with the ultimate aim to go beyond dependence upon them, such that eventually the maximum intensification and proliferation of cooperative life may render both state and market functionally obsolete.

Just as the Bodhisattva on the path of omniscient Buddhahood distinguishes itself from ordinary sentient beings on the basis of such a path, a Cooperativism on the path to a non-monetary commons-based society of freely associating producers distinguishes itself from the alienating and exploitative nature of capitalist production. And just as the Bodhisattva is yet to overcome the cognitive obscurations concealing omniscience but will inevitably overcome them, Cooperativism is yet to overcome dependence upon the State and market but will eventually render them useless by taking on their functions itself in the process. Once Bodhisattvas successfully bring all other sentient beings to Buddhahood, they too will stop being Bodhisattvas to finally become fully realized Buddhas. Once the Cooperative program transforms all existing capitalist enterprises into cooperatives by folding them into an integrated nexus of cooperatives governed by the same program, producers will be able to meet all of each others’ needs directly without the intervention of a State and without the mediation of markets and money, rendering cooperativism itself functionally obsolete, bringing an end its own identity.

This analogical similarity between the Bodhisattva’s process of buddhization and Cooperativism’s process of communization also points to a possible point of convergence: Bodhisattvas on the path to Buddhahood, having overcome the afflictive obscurations that make it difficult to selflessly meet others’ needs according to the height of one’s abilities, are best suited to accelerate the process of communization, and a Cooperativism on the path of communization, having eliminated the barriers to intimate non-alienated productive relations between self and other, is the best vehicle to bring all sentient beings to Buddhahood. In this way, Bodhisattvas are both the true vanguards of revolution, and the real subject-object of history. But since anyone can learn to embody the Bodhisattva ideal, everyone can be a vanguard in their own way, and since Bodhisattvas empty their own essence upon the consummation of their Buddhahood, their reality is empty of inherent existence, and must necessarily be so in order to clear away any and all obstructions to the maximal flourishing of their ultimate nature. 

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