Co-operative Pioneers

David Smith gives us some thoughts on Co-operative Pioneers

ALBERT THOMAS (1878-1932)
I admire him not not for becoming the first director of the International Labour Organisation and creating its Cooperative Department but for remaining an active cooperator prominent in the ICA and serving also on its Central and Executive Committees. He spoke in important ICA congress debates from which you gather he was outspoken and a character. He was the French Minister of Munitions during WW1 and urged the relevant French consumer cooperatives to serve army personnel bogged down in trenches with mobile cooperative vans. I wonder if any photographs exists? After the war he strongly questioned in ICA debate whether the new Soviet cooperatives were true coops and whether they could still have representation in the ICA. In the post war period he prompted initiatives to foster closer relations between agricultural and consumer cooperative with the aim of achieving equitable returns for each. He was A COOPERATIVE GIANT.

VAINO TANNER (1881-1966)
Viano was Prime Minister of Finland when first elected ICA President in 1927. He later served as Minister in a number of departments in Finnish government. I admired him because he was quite, modest and resolute. When attending ICA meetings in Britain he asked to stay in the homes of cooperators rather than in hotels. He wanted to get to know how they lived and to practice his English. In ICA debates he invariably aimed for agreement sometimes causing prolonged debates to the annoyance of Henry May, the General Secretary. In many ways he had difficulties arising from his close German cooperative apprenticeship which led to his helping found and then to leading the strongly working class SOK Cooperative Union. Another factor causing Tanner problems was his opposition to communism which created problems for him in the Russo/Finnish war and WW2. In 1946 the USSR successfully indicted and imprisoned him for five years for alleged pro German sympathies. Above all Tanner was pro Finnish and following release and in his final years he became a much respected Finnish and cooperative leader.

He was the longest serving ICA President from 1927-46 although he was unable to preside after 1939 when R A Palmer, a Vice President became Acting ICA president. Tanner’s grave is the only one I have been able to visit. It was suitably promontory for such a national and cooperative leader although Tanner’s modesty would possibly have made him happy with something less grand.

Totomianz was an early Russian cooperative leader I met in ICA archives but sadly no longer have copies of these sources. Why do I respect him? First because he published I think in 1904 a Cooperative Dictionary which must have been one of the earliest; it had around 4,000 entries. These reflected the widespread international nature of early cooperation and its close links enabling Tomomian to produce such a work. They also point to his being a man of means as many early contemporary leader were. These also set him apart from Soviet cooperatives following the Revolution. Their central organisation Centrosoyus had first joined the ICA in 1903 but post revolution Centrsoyus demanded the ICA accept a new delegation. It did so after heated debate in its 1921 Congress following an ICA delegation to Moscow (Prof. Charles Gide, France enquired whether he should pack his smoking jacket). TOTOMIANZ’s links with the ICA were broken and he disappears into cooperative history. But he remains formidable because his early Cooperative Dictionary