Consumers, co-operators and Socialists? L’Union de Lille (1892-1914)

Politicising the economy: A fresh look at cooperatives
By Collectif Samson, Sylvain Celle, Thomas Chevallier, Vianney Schlegel

This article deals with politicisation through economic practices within the socialist consumer cooperative L’Union de Lille, at the turn of the 20th century. In addition to improving the way of living of Lille’s working class, the cooperative’s managers explicitly viewed consumption practices and democratic organisation within the cooperative as a way of strengthening a socialist project, and more specifically, strengthening Guesdism, then a very influential socialist current in Northern France. The practices and rules of the cooperative appeared to be an ideal way of teaching and shaping “socialist consumers”, to unite the working class, as well as to finance the socialist party’s activities. However, this politicised translation of the cooperative project was ambiguous, as it led the co-operators to take on practices and attitudes such as savings, planning for the future, voting and delegation. The study of socialist cooperatives such as “l’Union de Lille” highlights the complex rationales of acculturation of the working class to the dominant forms of doing politics during the Third Republic.

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