Le Socialisme sans Doctrines – Charles Harper and the Foundation of Co-operative Agriculture in Western Australia


Agricultural co-operation was one of the most important movements in the development of the economy of Western Australia. The establishment of some of the State’s most significant commercial concerns, including Westfarmers Ltd and CBH Ltd, came out of this movement in the early decades of the 20th century. In promoting the interests of such organisations during a period in which laissez faire principles were on the wane, those in control sought to link their commercial concerns with the more socially acceptable philosophical principles of Co-operative Socialism as they were described by Robert Owen and practiced by groups such as the Rochdale Pioneers. Drawing upon such principles to pursue commercial concerns allowed these promoters to emphasise the opportunity for social advancement and economic opportunity inherent in the co-operative model and to de-emphasise the underlying commercial nature of the organisation together with the material advantages sought by the members of the organisation, the leaders in the State Government who saw these creations as a means by which to promote growth, and the prominent Perth men of capital and finance who were actively involved in the creation of these enterprises. This analysis is undertaken by considering the life of Charles Harper, the founding father of agricultural co-operation in Western Australia. I will demonstrate that the co-operative form of agricultural organisation was introduced into Western Australia as a pragmatic response to economic issues that were singular to the Australian environment rather than simply as a result of considered social or economic philosophising imported from abroad.


Published in Full


The conference was sponsored by The University of Notre Dame, Australia, the Mannkal Economic Education Foundation and the WA Branch of the Economic Society of Australia, and further information may be accessed here