Thursday, January 12, 2012

Book Review - Cumet by Roy Bergengren

Written on the ship purser's portable type-writer while returning home from his own European tour in 1933, Cumet: A Fantasy Having to do With Credit Union Mass European Tours (CUMET being an acronym for Credit Union Mass European Tours) is a thirty-four page pamphlet very much inspired by Roy Bergengren's anxieties over the potential for renewed world war. Written in a light, conversational style and hitting on many of the themes treated in greater depth in his 1932 book We the People, Cumet is, in essence, a proposed strategy by which the credit union movement might contribute to heading off such a conflict.

At the core of his proposal is the idea that "all the peoples of the earth would, if they could, live at peace. I believe that they need only to know each other--for they have common hopes and joys and sorrows and a common urge to find happiness." (34) In a world that is rich in relationships that cross international boundaries, Bergengren argues that war would difficult to justify, since people would viscerally understand it as an attack upon people they care about rather than faceless foreigners.
With this idea of "peace through tourism" firmly in mind, he proposes that credit unions are the ideal vehicles for undertaking such a program for a number of reasons. First, the movement's diverse international pedigree (having been started by Germans inspired by the British cooperatives, further developed in Italy, introduced to North America by French-Canadian Catholics, and championed by an American Jew) offers a ready-made network for connecting to a wide variety of people. Though of different nationalities, Bergengren seems to imply that the identity of "credit union member" would be a common denominator that might serve as the foundation for relationship building between disparate peoples.

The biggest road-block to the development of such perspective-broadening international travel, however, was the price-tag; such trips were simply beyond the reach of people of modest means. To overcome this obstacle, Bergengren asserts that credit unions are excellently situated to increase access to such experiences (and thereby bolster the level of international good-will) in two key ways. First, by chartering transportation and reserving accommodations in bulk, the cost per person of such trips would be dramatically reduced. Second, to help people pay for their trips, Bergengren proposes the establishment of specially-designated travel savings accounts by which members might slowly and methodically accumulate the necessary funds. This is exactly how his travel companion, Tom Doig, paid for his trip: he "started two and a half years ago saving semi-monthly in the Industrial Credit Union of Boston $8.33. With the proceeds he has paid all his expenses on a trip which has involved travel in five countries." (25)

Written in the depths of the Great Depression when Bergengren was fresh from his first-hand experience of recently empowered fascism (one of the many European spectacles garnering mention is marching "Hitler boys"), he describes the purpose of the text as "a humble effort to visualize for [credit union members] a pilgrimage of peace in which they may participate." (8) Indeed, this idea of international engagement as an important goal for the credit union movement has persisted through the decades since Bergengren pounded out Cumet on a borrowed type-writer. For example, the New England Credit Union School was partially supported by the money raised from organizing a trip to Bermuda in the 1960s, and many Leagues and individual credit unions have developed "sister" relationships with institutions across the globe. Though the mass credit union travel system proposed by Cumet failed to materialize and dispel the gathering storm-clouds of the Second World War as Bergengren hoped, the book's core idea of cultivating a broad, international perspective has profoundly informed the values and priorities of the contemporary credit union movement. As such, Cumet is definitely worth a gander from anyone interested in Roy Bergengren, the early credit union movement, and/or the development of its international perspective and programs (such as the World Council of Credit Unions).

1 comment:

  1. Very nice Matt. This piece by Bergengren reminds me of the Rudolf Rocker book Anarcho-Syndicalism; they both argue for an empowered world population capable of stopping wars before they begin. E.H. Carr, in a review of Rocker's work, claimed it to be exaggerated, but what stands out is how different the men were; one a part of the English Foreign Office, and Universities, always directed toward institutional policy, and the other an exile working among poor working people. Thanks for your reviews.