Cooperation in Rural Russia: Past, Present and Future
The authors consider cooperation as a specific, alternative form of economic organization to the standard business firm within a market economy, and focus on agricultural cooperation in Russia. First, the article engages with the key milestones of the history of cooperation in Russia: (1) the first attempts to establish cooperative organizations before the Russian Revolution (agricultural societies, agricultural partnerships and credit cooperatives) which gave the poor rural population a chance to improve living standards and ensured promising prospects for the long-term development of cooperation in all forms; (2) the dependent forms of consumer and production cooperation under the Soviet regime that deprived all collective forms of their true cooperative nature. In the second part of the article, the authors describe the current state of the cooperative movement in the Russian countryside and identify its basic features, such as opposition to family farming and the state capitalist tendencies of the concentration and vertical integration in the form of agroholdings; state rural cooperation policies which aim to promote and financially support small farming including the development of rural cooperatives; the number and types of cooperatives in the countryside; the reasons for debates on cooperation legislation; the viability of the main types of agricultural cooperatives (production, consumer, credit cooperation). Finally, the authors emphasize that cooperation in contemporary Russia does not fit the classic Western scheme of cooperative development and still has to overcome a number of substantial challenges (the soviet legacy, lack of bottom-up initiatives, the ideological and economic dominance of large-scale farming, poor academic expertise in the field of cooperation studies).