Beech River Books

We Build the Road as We Travel
Mondragon, a cooperative social system

by Roy Morrison
We Build the Road as We Travel: Mondragon, A Cooperative Social System

The Mondragon Cooperatives in the Basque region of Spain, at more than fifty years of age, remain the world's outstanding example of building a cooperative social system within the context of a now global market economy. This effort is foremost an adventure. It's an expression of individual and collective energies and dreams, as well as the requisite careful business practice of tens of thousands of cooperators engaged as social entrepreneurs.

What's most exciting, for me, about the Mondragon cooperatives is their daily wrestling with the dynamic tension between freedom and community—between the needs, rights and imperatives of the individual and the similar, and often conflicting, imperatives of the group. Mondragon's greatest social innovation and contribution has been the understanding, developed through hard work, sometime troubling experience, and innovative practice, that freedom and community are fundamentally interdependent and indivisible.

You cannot have true freedom without community; you cannot have true community without freedom. This means that at all times a balance must be found and struck between these essential, sometimes at odds, but ultimately complementary imperatives. Open discussion and democratic practice is the means to find this balance between the individual and the group, between one cooperative and the cooperative system, between the cooperative system and the Basque region , and so on. The cooperators have called this democratic process, this wrestling with the hard questions the pursuit of equilibrio—the search for dynamic balance and the heart of the matter. It is this process of struggle and discovery that is the engine for social change, the root of new prospects and possibilities, not just for the Mondragon cooperators, but for all of us.

This is the importance of the Mondragon experiment. It reflects one group of people's creative struggle with the dynamic of freedom and community, what Gandhi called, in his own terms, an experiment with truth. Mondragon, as an experiment, and as a human creation is certainly not without faults. It's not just to be copied. Beyond the specific lessons and fine-grained context of the experience of the Mondragon cooperators, we can learn the crucial importance and power of engaging the fundamental questions of freedom and community that can open the door toward building a democratic and liberatory future.

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$19.95 / paperback / 290 pages /
Beech River Books / 1997 /
ISBN 10: 0-9658903-0-9
ISBN 13: 978-0-9658903-0-4

Roy Morrison is an energy consultant, writer and cooperative organizer. He is involved in pioneering work in developing wind hedges and was a former leader of the Clamshell Alliance that used non-violent action to oppose the construction of the Seabrook nuclear power plant. His web page is

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