Consumers Cooperative

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Consumers’ Cooperative


a kind of cooperative uniting consumers for joint purchases and for the production of consumer goods and subsequent sales of these goods to its members and the population.

Consumers’ cooperatives originated under capitalism as one of the first forms of economic struggle undertaken by the urban proletariat and the petty urban and rural producers when they began to lose their economic independence. The first consumers’ cooperatives of workers and peasants appeared in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Great Britain and later spread through France, Germany, Italy, and other European countries. Today, consumers’ cooperatives extend throughout the capitalist countries of Europe and are found in Australia, Asia (including Japan, India, Burma, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh), the Americas (including USA, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Mexico), and Africa (including the Arab Republic of Egypt, Syria, Tanzania, Uganda, Mali, Senegal, and Mauritius). In some of these countries the functions of the consumers’ cooperatives are performed by marketing-supplying and credit cooperatives. In the economies of the developed capitalist countries (except the USA and Canada), consumers’ cooperatives are very important: for example, in 1972 consumers’ cooperatives accounted for 8–11 percent of total retail sales in Great Britain, Denmark, Norway, and Switzerland, 14 percent in Sweden, 30 percent in Iceland, and 36 percent in Finland.

In Russia, the consumers’ cooperative arose in the 1860’s; in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it became widespread in urban and rural areas, especially after the bourgeois democratic revolution of 1905–07. In 1914, Russia had 10,900 consumers’ cooperatives, accounting for 7 percent of total commodity circulation; by 1916–17, Russia already had more consumers’ associations than all of Western Europe, and they were responsible for 35 percent of the total commodity circulation.

After the victory of the Great October Socialist Revolution the consumers’ cooperative played an important part in forcing private capital out of commodity circulation, creating the Soviet trade apparatus, and realizing the cooperative plan of V. I. Lenin. Along with other kinds of cooperatives (cooperatives for joint cultivation of land and credit, marketing, supply, and producers’cooperatives), the consumers’cooperative became a school of collective management and a preparatory stage in the transformation of the small-scale commodity production of the individual peasant farms into large-scale socialist production. In 1919 there were 53,000 consumers’cooperatives. With the transition to the New Economic Policy, the main goal of the consumers’cooperative was to fulfill the state target figures for the exchange of industrial production for peasant agricultural surpluses. At the end of 1927 the rural consumers’ associations had 9.8 million members, representing 39 percent of all peasant farms. This share rose in 1928 to 54.2 percent and in 1929 to 58.3 percent.

Today in the USSR, the consumers’ cooperatives engage in trade, and they also procure agricultural raw material and products, purchase surpluses from kolkhozes and the population, process agricultural products, bake bread, and produce a number of commodities for popular consumption. As a public organization, the consumers’ cooperative is included in the system of the mass public organizations that constitute the basis of socialist democracy. The cooperatives perform an important mass educational function and involve their members in the direct management and control of the activities of the cooperatives and of their associations and economic enterprises.

In 1972 the system of consumers’ cooperatives in the USSR included 11,584 associations of consumers with over 61.5 million members; these cooperatives performed commercial services for almost half the population of the country. In 1972 the retail sales of the consumers’ cooperatives amounted to over 50 billion rubles (approximately 30 percent of the commodity circulation of the entire country), the procurement turnover amounted to 6.6 billion rubles, and the volume of products produced and sold by the cooperatives themselves amounted to 3.95 billion rubles. The consumers’ cooperatives had over 370,500 retail trade enterprises, 76,000 public catering establishments, 17,500 procurement organizations, 24,000 industrial enterprises, and an independent network of educational establishments including five institutes, 120 technicums, and 139 vocational schools. The annual number of students in these schools exceeded 250,000. From 1966 to 1970 the cooperatives’ commodity circulation per capita increased by 49.4 percent, whereas total commodity circulation in the country grew by 40.7 percent. By Jan. 1, 1973, over 700 trade centers, 117,000 self-service stores, and 15,000 stands without salesmen were in operation; a postal mail order service has been arranged. Over 800 million rubles annually are invested in capital construction. The Twenty-fourth Congress of the CPSU (1971) noted the necessity “to develop trade, procurement, and production activity of the consumers’ cooperatives, in order to promote the expansion of the economic ties between the city and the countryside” (Materialy XXIV s”ezda KPSS, 1971, p. 275).

The system of consumers’ cooperatives in the USSR includes consumers’ associations united into raion unions (raipotrebsoiuzy), which are members of the oblast (krai) unions or of the republic unions; the oblast (krai and autonomous republic) unions are included in republic (Union republic) consumers’ unions, which in turn are consolidated in the Central Cooperative Alliance (Tsentrosoiuz). The interrelation of these links of the consumers’ cooperative system is based on the principle of democratic centralism. Consumers’ cooperatives operate mainly in rural areas, where they work to improve the living standards and the conditions of labor and everyday life of the kolkhoz and sovkhoz workers and the rural intelligentsia, to liquidate funda-mental differences between the city and the countryside, and to bring together the levels of life of the urban and rural population. By a ukase of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR of June 24, 1958, the consumers’ cooperatives were awarded the Order of Lenin, in connection with the 60 years of activity of Tsentrosoiuz. Since 1903 Tsentrosoiuz has been a member of the International Cooperative Alliance. It maintains extensive friendly and business relations with the cooperative organizations of 85 countries and carries out direct trade with the cooperatives and firms of 32 countries (1972).

In other socialist countries the consumers’ cooperatives have also become an important factor in the building of socialism and the development of socialist commodity circulation. In the early 1970’s the membership of the consumers’ cooperatives in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Rumania, grew from 25 percent to 45 percent of the entire gainfully employed population. The cooperatives accounted for approximately 40 percent of retail sales in Bulgaria, 25.4 percent in Czechoslovakia, 34.4 in the German Democratic Republic, 30.8 percent in Hungary, 50 percent in Poland, and 30 percent in Rumania.

The majority of the developing countries have consumers’ cooperatives, along with other kinds of cooperatives; they have the support of the state and are used for the regulated distribution of commodities.


Lenin, V. I. “Vopros o kooperativakh na Mezhdunarodnom sotsialisticheskom kongresse v Kopengagene.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 19.
Lenin, V. I. “Pervonachal’nyi variant stat’i ’Ocherednye zadachi Sovetskoi vlasti.’” Ibid., vol. 36.
Lenin, V. I. “Rech’ na sobranii upolnomochennykh Moskovskogo tsentral’nogo rabochego kooperativa 26 noiabria 1918 g.” Ibid., vol. 37.
Lenin, V. I. “Rech’ na III s”ezde rabochei kooperatsii 9 dekabria 1918 g.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “O kooperatsii.” Ibid., vol. 45.
Kuibyshev, V. V. Lenin i kooperatsiia. Moscow, 1925.
Programma KPSS. Moscow, 1972.
Materially XXIII s”ezda KPSS. Moscow, 1966.
Materialy XXIV s”ezda KPSS. Moscow, 1971.
Blank, G. la. Osnovy teorii i istoriia potrebitel’skoi kooperatsii SSSR. Moscow, 1963.
Blank G., V. Kondratov, and la. Kramarovskii. Mezhdunarodnoe kooperativnoe dvizhenie. Moscow, 1965.
Sovetskaia kooperatsiia na leninskom puti: Sb. st. Moscow, 1970.
Merkulova, A. S. Istoriia potrebitel’skoi kooperatsii. Moscow, 1970.


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