Labor Cooperation

Cooperation, Labor


(1) The unity or coordination of the actions of individual working people, collectives of working people, or even national economies in reproducing socially necessary goods.

(2) The form taken by this association of labor.

The development of labor cooperation is associated with progress in the forces of production and with changes in socioeconomic relationships. Each mode of production endows labor cooperation with concrete historical characteristics. At the same time, however, certain characteristics of labor cooperation are common to all socioeconomic systems. There are two principal types of labor cooperation: simple cooperation—the cooperative organization of homogeneous (identical) labor—and complex cooperation, which is based on the division of labor.

Simple labor cooperation is possible when a job can be divided into qualitatively similar steps (weeding, weighing and packing, and loading), the performance of which is assigned to different workers. It may also be instituted when the performance of a job requires a combination of identical forces—that is, as K. Marx wrote: “When many hands take part simultaneously in one and the same undivided operation, such as raising a heavy weight, turning a winch, or removing an obstacle from the road” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, p. 337). Simple labor cooperation has never been the prevailing form of unifying labor under any of the modes of production. However, the less developed the division of labor and, at the same time, the greater the concentration (scale) of production, the more pronounced is the role of simple cooperation.

Complex labor cooperation emerges when there is a division of labor. The essence of labor cooperation is more fully and more clearly revealed in this type than in simple cooperation. As long as there is no division of labor, each of the cooperating workers possesses the full set of capabilities required for the work and is, in that sense, a universal working force. Among such workers cooperation remains, to a certain degree, formal and unstable. If simple cooperation breaks down, each worker is capable of doing his job by himself, although the effect of his work is diminished. By contrast, the division of labor isolates incomplete functions and assigns them to individual workers. Unless he cooperates with other specialized workers, each of these workers is incapable of turning out a finished product. Complex cooperation, or the cooperation of specialized labor, is a stable form of production. Precisely for this reason, workshops and capitalist factories were typical forms of capitalist labor cooperation in the early manufacturing period and in the stage of large-scale mechanized production. Capitalist labor cooperation depends on the exploitation of wage labor.

Labor cooperation may take shape in conformity with a plan, or it may develop spontaneously. In the early stages of economic development planned labor cooperation usually occurred only within a single enterprise—that is, within the sphere of influence of each private owner. Marx offered a definition of this type of planned labor cooperation: “When numerous laborers work together side by side, whether in one and the same process, or in different but connected processes, they are said to cooperate or to work in cooperation” (ibid.). In addition to labor cooperation on the scale of the enterprise, however, there has always been cooperation on a societal scale. Under premonopoly capitalism, labor cooperation on a societal scale developed spontaneously. Its basic law was the law of value.

The growing socialization of labor is accompanied by the rise of objective possibilities and of a need for planned labor cooperation in whole sectors of the national economy and even in the world capitalist economy. However, private ownership obstructs the development of these possibilities. Under socialism, planned management becomes the universal form of social labor cooperation based on socialist property. It encompasses all elements of the economy. The law of value continues to operate, but only as one of the laws of planned production.

For a number of reasons, labor cooperation increases the efficiency of labor. In addition to shaping particular forces, labor cooperation involves a transition from quantity to quality, owing to the “establishment of a new productive force which is in its very essence a mass force” (ibid.). Labor cooperative organization is accompanied by a relative saving in the means of production. It opens opportunities for a more rational use of labor resources through progress in labor organization and the reduction of losses of working time, as well as through the development of competition. By ensuring labor unity, labor cooperation makes it possible to deepen the division of labor and, therefore, to adapt more flexibly to conditions external to the economy.

Labor (economic) discipline and competition are essential to the many ways of ensuring labor cooperation. Discipline is a form of direct, planned establishment of the unity of the processes that are being organized cooperatively. It means a definite order in the functioning (rules of activity) of particular parts of a cooperative organization. Competition is one of the factors that leads to progress in labor cooperation, introducing variety into it.

Historically, socialist labor cooperation is the highest form of cooperation. Its advantages are rooted, above all, in the public character of ownership and in the organization of administration on the principles of democratic centralism, which fundamentally changes the quality of both discipline and competition. Increasingly, labor discipline becomes conscious and voluntary. Labor activism and initiative on the part of the workers and labor collectives increase significantly, leading to the appearance and extensive development of socialist competition.

With the deepening of the division of labor, the need for labor cooperation grows, and its forms are enriched and developed. The scientific and technological revolution gives a powerful impetus to these processes, intensifying the need for planned labor cooperation. In the world economy the developing division of labor is leading to the appearance of new forms of labor cooperation, one of the highest contemporary forms of which is socialist economic integration. Labor cooperation with all its general economic attributes will also be encountered in the communist society.


Marx, K. Kapital, vol. 1. K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, pp. 333–81.


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