The banding together of groups of people for mutual assistance in trade, manufacture, the supply of credit, housing, or other services. The original principles of the cooperative movement were laid down 1844 by the Rochdale Pioneers, under the influence of Robert Owen, and by Charles Fourier in France.
Producers' cooperative societies, formed on a basis of co-partnership among the employees, exist on a large scale in France, Italy, Spain, and the ex-Soviet republics. (In 1988, Soviet economic cooperatives were given legal and financial independence and the right to appear in foreign markets and to set up joint ventures with foreign companies.) Agricultural cooperative societies have been formed in many countries for the collective purchase of seeds, fertilizers, and other commodities, while societies for cooperative marketing of agricultural produce are prominent in the US, Ireland, Denmark, E Europe, and the ex-Soviet republics. Agricultural credit societies are strong in rural economies of Europe and Asia, including parts of India. The US also has a cooperative farm credit system.
In the US, the period from 1915 to 1930 saw the greatest growth in the number of cooperative associations because they were recognized under statute laws rather than simply under common law. By the 1960s, agricultural cooperatives had declined dramatically because of mergers and more technically advanced marketing procedures.
The future for cooperative associations is seen in the areas of consumers' associations, workers' groups, and the housing market.