W.E.B. Du Bois


February 1, 1920

Several coöperative efforts are starting among colored people. Probably today, there are fifty or more local efforts. Most of them are sporadic, and will fail. Some few are the efforts of individuals who use the magic word coöperation for stores in which there is not a trace of the coöperation principle.

There are a dozen or more which are largely coöperative, but not entirely—for instance, they have shares, and the number which one man may own is limited. The shareholders are obliged to buy a certain minimum amount of goods before they can share in the profits.

This is only partially coöperative. Full coöperation requires: cheap shares, of which anyone can own any number; but there is no temptation to own large numbers of shares, because profits are divided according to the amount the person buys.

Why, now, do beginners hesitate to make this last provision? Because having stirred up the people by the argument of race loyalty and opened the store, they say: “Why should I surrender the coming profits to a mass of people whom the driblets will not greatly benefit? Why not keep them and grow rich!”

Hesitate, brother, hesitate, right there! Remember that with the present chain grocery store and trust system, your individual grocery has a small chance to succeed, because the Trust can and will undersell you.

But with the true coöperative principle, your clientele is nailed down. Your shareholders are pledged by their own interests to trade with you, and to trade often and much. The more they spend the more they make. Your business is no guesswork. You know just how much to buy. If the chain store cuts prices below cost, your people will buy of you at the higher price, because they know that the low price is a temporary trick for which they themselves will eventually pay. Whatever happens, you cannot fail as long as your shareholders are true, and they will be true as long as they share in the profits according to their purchases.

Don’t be afraid. Try the whole coöperative program. Write us.


For attribution, please cite this work as:
Du Bois, W.E.B. 1920. “Coöperation.” The Crisis 19 (4): 171–72.