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The Cooperative Man, translator’s introduction

I’ve decided to start publishing The Cooperative Man: Arizmendiarrieta’s Thought, by Joxe Azurmendi. There’s been enough encouragement to keep me working on it, but little hope of publishing it through conventional channels, so I’ll be doing it myself. In practice, that will take the form of putting out 10,000 words a month, give or take a few words. On letter-sized paper, that’s 20+ pages. That length of text does not lend itself to an email or even a webpage, so I will use PDF, plus ODT, .epub, and the original markdown.

The translation will be licensed as CC-BY-SA (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike). That means readers may modify and re-release it as they wish, provided they attribute the original text to Joxe Azurmendi and the translation to In Situ.

The schedule will be a new section of text the first Monday of each month, or the second Monday if the first is a holiday.

With all that taken care of, here’s an introduction to the book itself.

The worker cooperatives in Mondragon, Spain, have been an inspiration to generations of cooperators across the globe. The cooperatives, for their part, were inspired by a priest named José María Arizmendiarrieta (commonly shortened to Arizmendi).

People active in the worker co-op world tend to know the name Arizmendi. For example, a network of bakeries in southern California is named for him. There are also various websites with brief summaries of his life.

However, people know nothing beyond these brief summaries. No in-depth look at how he developed and applied his understanding of cooperativism is available in English. There are at least a half-dozen such books in Spanish, but until now, none had been translated. This is the void I hope to fill. This book contains more information about (and quotes from) Arizmendi than all other texts in English combined.

The Cooperative Man: Arizmendiarrieta’s Thought is just what it says it is, which is to say that it is not a biography. It is a systematization of his thoughts and ideas. Arizmendi wrote voluminous papers, articles, lectures, and sermons, but he never wrote a book.

After Arizmendi’s death in 1976, the Caja Laboral (Mondragon’s cooperative bank) collected all his papers, even grocery lists and train tickets. Doctoral student Joxe Azurmendi (yes, it’s easy to confuse their last names) spent many months studying and sorting them, and eventually wrote his thesis on them. That thesis became the first edition of this book. The translation is of the second edition, published just as the Cold War was ending.

After receiving his doctorate, Azurmendi went on to become a professor, and wrote many more books about Basque culture and society. He is an academic, and he writes for an academic audience. That is to say, this book is comprehensive, detailed, and full of lengthy quotes and footnotes. Readers are encouraged not to miss the forest for the trees.

While not an biography of Arizmendi, it obviously contains a considerable amount of biographical information, including unexpected elements: he was blind in one eye, Spanish was his second language, and during the Spanish Civil War, he was captured and nearly executed.

More to the point, his ideas need to be understood in context: as a young war veteran and newly ordained priest, he was sent to a small, blue-collar town in the hills of the Basque Country. He spent the rest of his life there as a parish priest, suffering alongside his flock from the economic backwardness and political repression of Franco’s regime.

From the beginning, he preached a theology that was heavily influenced by the French Personalists, especially Jacques Maritain and Emmanuel Mounier, and early British cooperators like Robert Owen and the Rochdale Pioneers. Arizmendi’s early efforts focused on vocational education for the young men in town, but when that failed to expand their work opportunities, he turned to building cooperatives. He is credited with the key innovations that have made Mondragon’s co-ops the envy of the cooperative world—the Caja Laboral, which finances co-op development, and an integrated education system that serves all ages and all fields.

I hope this book will make an important contribution to the cooperative movement. Nothing close exists in English, which is rather surprising, given the influence of the Mondragon cooperatives, but this indicates the need for a text that gives deeper insight into the philosophical foundations of those cooperatives.

Steve Herrick, lead translator

9 thoughts on “The Cooperative Man, translator’s introduction”

  1. Barbara Mergen Alvarado

    Steve, this is wonderful news. Thank you for taking the time and effort to publish such valuable and inspiring information about the cooperative world!!! We all need this~

  2. This is great news! sorry I did not know about the project sooner, however if you are looking to print the book my worker collective Community Printers in Santa Cruz California will be very interested in participating.

    1. Yeah, this has waited too long already, so I’m going ahead with it. Meanwhile, I’m really liking the audio version of “Cooperative Enterprise and Market Economy.”

  3. Thanks Steve for taking this on. His aphorisms are evocative of his radical approach to living collectively, but they are like a skeletal structure of this thinking and this book will add substance to that structure. One minor error appears. The Arizmendi Bakeries, all spin offs of Berkeley’s Cheese Board, are not in Southern California, they are all in the SF Bay area – Oakland, two in San Francisco, Emeryville, and San Raphael.

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