Alain Ambrosi (Canada) is a designer and producer of intercultural projects, independent researcher, author, videographer and producer of the Remix The Commons Project.
Cooperativa Integral Catalana (CIC): On the Way to a Society of the Communal
By Ariadna Serra and Ale Fernandez
Catalonia has been the cradle of various movements – the cooperative movement, the movement for independence as well as anarchism and nudism,1 each of which has had important effects on society in the area. Not surprisingly, these movements were influential in the founding of the Cooperativa Integral Catalana (CIC) even though it is not dedicated to any particular school of thought. The CIC is dedicated to discussing its own principles, coming to a consensus about them and acting accordingly.
An integral cooperative is a tool to create a grassroots counterpower based on self-management, self-organization and direct democracy, so that it might help overcome the generic state of human dependence on systemic structures. Its aim is to move toward a scenario of freedom and full awareness in which everyone can flourish under equal conditions and opportunities. It is a constructive proposal for disobedience and widespread self-management to rebuild our society from the bottom-up – holistically, across all areas and fields of work and thought – and to recover the affective human relationships based on proximity and trust. The name reflects these values:
- Cooperative, because it is a project practicing economic and political self-management with equal participation of all its members. Also, because it uses the official legal structure of a co-op.
- Integral, because it seeks to unite all the basic elements of an economy such as production, consumption, funding and trade. And at the same time, it seeks to integrate all the activities and sectors needed for the basics of life: food, housing, health, education, energy, transport.
- Catalan, because it is organized and works mainly in the territorial scope of Catalonia.
The establishment of the CIC was influenced by many events such as the Degrowth tour in spring 2009, a bicycle tour through all of the Catalan counties whose purpose was to spread information about the principles of economic activity without growth. The CIC’s founding was also influenced by several pamphlets – Crisis,2 Podemos3 and Queremos 4 – which have had a strong impact on the public discussion about self-government and self-empowerment. Finally, the CIC was influenced by the creation of numerous barter networks (ecoredes)5 that organize bartering using “social currencies”6 that were created spontaneously and at the same time in various places across the Catalan territory.
The CIC was founded on this fertile soil in May 2010, when it adopted some fundamental principles, including consensual decisionmaking during its first “Assembly Day” (Jornada Asamblearia). The assembly days are open and nomadic, which means that they always take place in different towns in Catalonia on a weekend at the end of the month. In this way, the co-operative can get to know associated projects and decentralize itself. The assemblies are the place where we discuss fundamental issues and examine them from a communal point of view. They provide a space to share, to be together, to think, to plan, and also to find playful avenues to approaching things. They often end with an improvised concert.
The topics discussed at assemblies vary widely. In the forty-seven Jornadas Asamblearias held in our first four years, CIC members have discussed health, living in community and the principles of the Integral Revolution.7 The assemblies are also a place for us to establish networks with other cooperatives or interested individuals who support the CIC and are already working on a certain set of problems.
The CIC started as an initiative of just a handful of activists, but in recent years, more and more people have joined. It is a varied bunch of people of all age groups, nationalities and genders. Whether they are men, women, the so-called disabled, girls or boys, CIC members all try to create a space for team spirit and community. This diversity enriches our debates even if the process can sometimes be difficult. For example, there are (unconscious) power and gender expectations that sometime encourage women to fall back into culturally determined, submissive roles while men seek power and recognition as men. The men usually discuss technical questions while the women focus on social issues: a complex of problems for the Jornada Asamblearia.
Many things developed very rapidly in these early years, 2010-2011 – the numbers of people and communities with close relationships to us, the number of members, the annual budget, the real estate we use. In August 2014, the CIC had 2,600 members – although that figure is not particularly significant because membership is not a prerequisite for participation. In the four years since our founding, our budget grew from zero to 458,000 euros.
Calafou is the most important of the properties we have collectivized. We are transforming this old industrial settlement that we jointly bought in 2011, and have been renovating it into a post-capitalist eco-industrial neighborhood.8 Today, thirty people live in Calafou. Several projects are already emerging there – Circe, an experimental lab for producing soaps, essences, and natural remedies; and a hackerspace/FabLab for people to work on free software,9 network administration, dissemination of open source principles, and security and encryption on the Internet.
The organizational structure that CIC uses to secure the provision of basic essentials, outside of state and market structures, is the Sistema Público Cooperativista (SPC). The SPC is not a legal structure, but rather consists of working groups that organize around various topics such as therapy, education and food production. Each of these areas has what we call an “office” – not always a physical space but rather an intentional work group, with an assembly that is used as a space to meet and talk. These projects are autonomous and, like the Jornadas Asamblearias, open to anyone.
One such project, “Living Education Albada,”10 is a space in which families with children can work together to pass on techniques and skills to aid in their personal growth and to follow whatever path they please, in a respectful and loving environment.11 Another example is the health group, which explores the idea of health as a living process, supported by a communal financing model based on mutuality. The transport office attempts to reduce the need to transport people and materials while reducing our own use of fuel through renewable alternatives such as recycled vegetable oil.
A project devoted to food has brought producers and consumers together to create their own system for certifying that foods are produced organically, going beyond the requirements of government labels. Another office is concerned with helping people create common living spaces through, for example, contracts of assignment,12 subsidized housing or donations. There is even a science and technology working group that helps develop tools that we need for production. Apart from these open workshops, the CIC has a number of internally organized work commissions that are concerned with finances, for example, and support networks for the cooperative. These commissions are open to anyone as well. Although any commission depends on the other commissions and they often reach common agreements, each is autonomous in their decisionmaking.
This entire organizational structure is subject to constant transformation; in each case the structure and process depends on what the people involved need and what motivates them. Besides its internal systems, CIC is connected with many groups in the bioregion that are self-governed or that work on similar topics. We use or contribute to those tools that we produce as commons. One example is IntegralCES, an open source Community Exchange System that is used for the accounting of all CIC goods and services that are distributed internally and bought and sold externally. The system also oversees accounting for numerous barter exchanges that belong to the system as well as the virtual market, an online sales platform for CIC members. One of its special features is that people can pay with social currencies as well as with euros or cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin or Faircoin.
Taken together, these self-organized systems have a fractal structure. That means that one group can represent the whole in one context, but at the same time only part of the whole in another context. That is not possible in hierarchical structures. The groups make all decisions by consensus, which neither gives an advantage to majorities nor discriminates against minorities. The point of the fractal structure is to allow decisionmaking that is optimal for a particular group at a particular time, based on the principles of direct democracy, ecological integrity, equality in diversity, human development, team spirit, integral revolution and voluntary simplicity.
Voluntary simplicity in this context means that the more a person is integrated into the CIC and benefits from it, the less money that person receives, for the logical reason that he/she needs less. After all, the way in which the CIC uses its common resources differs from the wage system in which people are paid money and their pay correlates with people’s time, efforts and specific achievements. At the CIC, people are invited to join working groups where they can follow their expectations and interests, switch groups when they wish, and even participate in several ones at the same time.
The CIC work environment is about building trust, which is essential to enable everyone involved to become aware of their own vital needs (food, housing, transportation, etc.). These needs are met by the common project, independently of the number of hours that an individual may contribute to the cooperative and the responsibility he or she bears. The main assembly makes decisions about the distribution of common income to individual members. These decisions are publicly accessible and transparent – just like all the other decisions made by the main assembly and also the social currency balance sheets. Successful social relationships are based on transparency, but also on each person participating to the best of his or her ability, refraining from making value judgments, and showing responsibility for his or her own decisions.13
Everyone belonging to the CIC can receive tax-free products and services within the cooperative, from bread to English language courses to plumbing work. The transactions outside the cooperative are subject to taxation. CIC has taken strong stands against the legitimacy of the state following the Spanish government’s behavior in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. The government bailed out banks with billions of euros of taxpayer money and, in CIC’s words, it committed a “financial coup” in 2011 by changing the Spanish constitution to benefit financial institutions. Meanwhile, banks also foreclosed on millions of people’s homes and the government cut budgets for healthcare, social services and unemployment aid. CIC believes that the state has in effect abandoned any legitimate social contract with citizens, and so it openly calls for citizen insubordination to the state and “disobedience to all laws and all policies that we consider unjust.” It urges Spanish citizens to deposit their taxes in a “tax treasury” escrow account that withholds funds from the government until it meets CIC demands for institutional transparency. It is redirecting taxes towards self-management in the local assemblies that arose from the M-15 movement.
Our financing ranges from supporting production to microfinancing platforms. Coopfunding is a free website that enables joint financing of self-organized projects, and uses other currencies in addition to the euro.14 We have been able to raise 80,000 euros through the finance cooperative CASX.15 In 2014, we succeeded for the first time in working entirely independently of the banking system, which is regulated by the state. That was unthinkable when we founded the CIC.
We have achieved a lot, but the greatest challenges still lie ahead, not as the Catalan Integral Cooperative, but as people. We speak of what we call Integral Revolution: joining together in networks and supporting and recognizing one another. We are committed to taking this path that leads to a society of the communal.
Ariadna Serra (Spain) works at l’art du soleil (https://www.lartdusoleil.net), a travelling eco-show in a converted truck, which proposes itself as an alternative approach to the current socioeconomic situation. She co-wrote this essay in Spanish with input from many people at the Cooperativa Integral Catalana interested in sharing our work.
Ale Fernandez (Spain) works in the CIC’s housing commission (https://habitatgesocial.cat) and with Guerrilla Translation (https://guerrillatranslation.com). He helped with the English language translation of this essay and with various edits and corrections.
- Editors’ note: In the early twentieth century, libertarian nudism was seen as a way to criticize the ideas about industrial development as immoral, socially alienating and harmful to the Earth. The central element of nudism is the belief in a natural order and the necessity of living in harmony with nature. Important practical elements include vegetarianism and going nude.
- Crisis was published once on September 17, 2008, with a print run of 200,000. It featured the “Catalan Robin Hood” Enric Duran, who took out loans totaling 492,000 euros from thirty-nine Spanish banks without intending to repay them. Instead, he used the money to pay the printing costs for Crisis and to invest in various social projects. https://enricduran.cat/en/statements172013. A lengthy profile of Duran can be found here: Nathan Schneider, “On the Lam with Bank Robber Enric Duran,” Vice, April 7, 2015, at https://www.vice.com/read/be-the-bank-you-want-to-see-in-the-world-0000626-v22n4.
- Podemos means: “We can.” The paper was subtitled, “Living without capitalism,” and was published on March 17, 2009, with a print run of 350,000. The term “integral cooperatives” was used here for the first time.
- Queremos means: “We want.” It was published on September 17, 2009, and presented various projects.
- Editors’ note: Social currencies do not aim to replace state currencies. They circulate in an area of their own and are managed communally. Brazilian-Argentinian Professor Heloisa Primavera coined the term to highlight that official currencies have “antisocial” effects and that the people using them cannot control them. The concept is used today by various actors and with diverse meanings. (Correspondence with H. Primavera on August 20, 2014).
- See essay on the General Public License and essay on Libre Office.
- A means for assigning another person the right to use your property, usually in return for care or maintenance of the space.
- Editors’ note: See the interview with Cecosesola members.
- https://www.casx.cat/es. Translator’s note: CASX (Cooperativa de Autofinanciación Social en Red) means Cooperative for Social Self-Financing in a Network.