The name of Charles Gide, the uncle of André Gide, is more or less synonymous with the defence of cooperativism and the cooperative movement. For him cooperation represented the best form of free association in economics, just like the Protestant ‘congregation’ is the form free association assumes in matters of religion.
A professor of political economy, Gide was both theoretician and thinker and a man of action. He was co-founder to a modest cooperative at Uzès, before going on to theorize this experience which culminated—not without some humour—in the “School of Nîmes.” He numbered among the leading representatives of the cooperative movement both in France and worldwide, and was eventually appointed professor at the Collège de France.
Gide was very active in the establishment of the movement for a solidarity economy, preferring the institutionalization of solidarity (where not only the risks, but also the benefits of interdependence are shared!) over a—Communist—program of expropriation and collectivization. To his mind, cooperation, especially in consumption, is an institutional structure for learning sharing and its rules, which can be transposed to the Republic itself. He was also convinced that while rules (which he considered fluid) are indispensable, for a cooperative to last strong moral convictions are necessary as well if one wants it to flourish unscathed by the thirst for power or other, competing views.
‘Solidarity’ may have been one of Gide’s major points of reference, but ‘emancipation’ was another, as witnessed by the many articles he wrote on a wide variety of topics for the journal Émancipation.
As a Protestant, Gide never abandoned the fight within the French Reformed camp to prevent quietism from passing for pietism. For this reason, he joined the pastor Timothy Fallot in founding the “Association protestante pour l’étude pratique des questions sociales,” which later became “Christianisme social.”