From Marx’s Capital to Student Housing at Berkeley

The summer after I graduated college, a group of friends and I moved out west and lived together in Berkeley, California. There were about ten of us in Rochdale Village, a complex of student cooperative housing on Haste Street, just off Telegraph Avenue, not far from the Berkley campus.

I hadn’t thought about those apartments, or their name, till this afternoon, when I was reading Marx’s chapter on cooperation (chapter 11) in the first volume of Capital. I’m reading Capital in a new and amazing translation by Paul Reitter; it’s edited by Paul North. Wendy Brown has a foreword, and Will Roberts has an afterward. It’s due out this September. I’ll be reviewing it.

In the middle of chapter 11, Marx has a long footnote on workers’ cooperatives. He mentions one, in Manchester, that was so successful on so many terms, it provoked the Spectator to sniff that while it had “immensely improved the condition of the men” working there, it “did not leave a clear place for masters.” Leading Marx to comment, “Quelle horreur!

This particular set of cooperatives was located in the borough of Rochdale within the wider metropolitan area of Manchester. Begun as a consumers’ cooperative, North explains in a useful editorial note, The Society of Equitable Pioneers eventually became a workers’ cooperative, “providing a model for the application of socialist ideas that workers emulated elsewhere in Great Britain.”

So potent was the example that it eventually made its way across the Atlantic, providing an inspiration for affordable housing in New York City, under the Mitchell-Lama program, for cooperating farming in Wisconsin, and student housing in Berkeley.

One Comment

  1. Nik Barry-Shaw June 22, 2024 at 1:47 am | #

    Also, hippie coop housing in Toronto: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rochdale_College

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