Social transformation from below through self-management, self-organization and networking, a study of the Cooperativa Integral Catalana (CIC)

The Cooperativa Integral Catalana (CIC) is one of the most interesting cooperative projects which have sprung up during the age of crisis in Europe. First of all, it is notable on account of its revolutionary character: the main objective of the CIC is nothing less than to build an alternative economy in Catalonia capable of satisfying the needs of the local community more effectively than the existing system, thereby creating the conditions for the transition to a post-capitalist mode of organization of social and economic life.

To fulfil the purpose it has set itself, the CIC is engaged in an impressive spectrum of activities: although it was formed just seven years ago, it has already been actively involved in developing infrastructures as diverse as barter markets, a network of common stores, an alternative currency called ‘eco’, a ‘Cooperative Social Fund’ for financing community projects and a ‘basic income programme’ for remunerating its members for their work. By setting up such structures, the CIC aspires to be an organizational platform for the development of a self-sufficient economy that is autonomous from the State and the capitalist market.

The CIC moto: ‘social transformation from below through self-management, self-organization and networking

In view of its radical character, it is not surprising that the CIC has attracted the attention of the popular and radical press, which praise it as a promising prototype of the counter-structures that the so-called milieu of the social and solidarity economy is building in contravention of the dominant economic system.[2] Unfortunately, these reports, though interesting, have a serious limitation: they do not go into much depth in their description of the CIC and therefore do not provide a thorough overview of its activities and mode of organization. In consideration, however, of the possibility that CIC’s cooperative model holds lessons that extend well beyond the Catalan context, my colleagues from the P2P Foundation/Commons Transition and I could not help feeling that the case of the CIC merits further study to elucidate the way it is organized. With that in mind, we decided to contact the CIC with the purpose of organizing a ‘field-trip’ in Catalonia in order to study the cooperative close up. In this way, a few months later in March 2016 we came to Catalonia to carry out a field-study, whose findings are documented in the pages of this report.  This report is based on a field-research of an ethnographic character, using the method of participant observation from March until May 2016.

The CIC is without doubt an unconventional cooperative. It was created in the age of crisis by Catalan activists as an antisystemic strategy for the development of counter-structures from the bottom up. One would have to look very hard to find another cooperative, whose primary goal is not the provision of some service to its members, but the ‘creative destruction’ of the capitalist system.

The organizational core of the CIC is made up of ten committees, which cover a wide spectrum of activities. About half of them deal with the internal management and operation of the cooperative, while the rest focus on the provision of services and ‘tools’ as diverse as (a) legal assistance, (b) organizing the logistics in a Catalan-wide network of pantries run by local consumer groups, (c) providing funding (through CASX) to projects animated by the same ideological principles and (d) making tools and machines adapted to the needs of the productive projects in CIC’s network (like the agricultural tools for small farmers that have been developed by the XCTIT).

An interesting element in the organizational canvas of the CIC are the autonomous projects it collaborates with. Although they are characterized by varying degrees of managerial autonomy, what is particularly important about them is the fact that they form a local network of productive projects animated by the same principles and values as the CIC, with which they collaborate in the context of the empowerment of the local cooperative economy.

Alongside these autonomous projects, the economic and territorial network of the CIC encompasses a vibrant ecosystem of local exchange groups which are active in Catalonia. Based on direct exchange and the use of alternative community currencies, the way in which this ecosystem operates represents the model of the autonomous public market envisioned by the CIC as a means of satisfying the needs of the local community. That is, in short, the model proposed by the CIC for the transition to a post-capitalist economy: a local cooperative economy made up of a network of autonomous productive projects with common principles, which, in collaboration with local consumer groups and exchange networks, is able to provide the members of the community with the goods they need.