Dr Race Mathews’ talk on “Lessons from Mondragon” (News Weekly, June 5) is, of course, a small summary of part of his book, Jobs of Our Own: Building a Stakeholder Society, but it does convey much of the emphasis and detail of the quite formidable work from which it is drawn.
That emphasis is on co-operative sharing, with a living and thriving example of what it offers in the enterprise of helping to encourage and shape a “distributist” society. But, as I pointed out in my comprehensive review of the book in The Chesterton Review (February-May 1999), it has several flaws amidst its sanguine claims for Mondragon as a superb distributist breakthrough in the modem world.
Of course, co-operative sharing has always been one of the keynotes of fruitful change offered by the more democratic “socialists” such as the Guild Socialists who drew a vision and inspiration from the guilds of the Middle Ages; and it has always been one of the highlights of the distributist thinking in the works of Belloc and Chesterton. But the main emphasis of the mainstream distributist cause has been a decentralist one, with widely distributed property, especially in land.
In an essay, Why I am Not a Socialist, Chesterton pointed out that “individual proprietorship” is more a matter of giving than of collectivist sharing, and he always recognised the more creative and free nature of small farming. There is not much about farming and decentralist ownership in Mathews’ stakeholder society. The system embodied in Mondragon seems too centralist and enmeshed with the industrial-capitalist world. It hardly shares the virtues of Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful with its “intermediate technology”.
Despite praiseworthy attention to co-operation and better status of workers who enjoy the benefits of better pay and involvement in crucial decision-making, Mondragon and the society Mathews would have us see as the “solution” to the profound woes of big capitalism, are not sufficiently different in approaches to industrial reform from the very giant corporations Chesterton and Belloc detested.
The truly distributist society is decentralist and humane, not one that emulates big business. Land reform is its chief goal.
Dr Peter Hunt,