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John Curl has been a member of Heartwood Cooperative Woodshop in Berkeley for over thirty years, and has belonged to numerous other cooperatives and collectives. His historical writings includes History of Work Cooperation in America (1980). Memories of Drop City (2007) is his memoir of the 1960s commune movement. He is a translator and biographer of Inca, Maya and Aztec poets in Ancient American Poets (2006). His seven books of poetry include Scorched Birth, Columbus in the Bay of Pigs, and Decade: the 1990s. He is a longtime boardmember of PEN, chair of West Berkeley Artisans and Industrial Companies, a social activist, and has served as a city planning commissioner. He is a professional woodworker, and resides in Berkeley, CA.

Purchasing Links

For All the People: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements, and Communalism in America, 2nd ed.

Author: John Curl

Introduction by: Ishmael Reed

Publisher: PM Press

ISBN: 978-1-60486-582-0

Published July 2012

Format: Paperback

Page Count: 608 Pages

Size: 9 by 6

Subjects: History, Political Science


It is the cooperation of working people that has brought the best of the United States to life. Cooperatives have played a vital role throughout the American saga, starting in its formative years. A staggering 120 million Americans belong to cooperatives today--yet the existence of such a movement, and its dramatic and stirring story, remain all but ignored by most historians.

For All the People seeks to reclaim this history.

The very survival of indigenous communities and the first European settlers alike depended on a deeply cooperative style of living and working, based around common lands, shared food and labor. Cooperative movements proved integral to the grassroots organizations and struggles challenging the domination of unbridled capitalism in America’s formative years. Holding aloft the vision for an alternative economic system based on cooperative industry, they have played a vital, and dynamic role in the struggle to create a better world.

In this groundbreaking, scholarly, yet eminently readable study, Curl surveys the vast range of cooperatives that have shaped America's past and continue to inform, and transform, our present. With an expansive sweep, and breathtaking detail, For All the People examines each of the definitive cooperative movements for social change—farmer, union, consumer, and communalist—that have been all but erased from our collective memory.

John Curl, with over forty years of experience as both an active member and scholar of cooperatives, masterfully melds theory, practice, knowledge and analysis, to present the definitive history from below of cooperative America.

The Buzz

"It is indeed inspiring, in the face of all the misguided praise of 'the market', to be reminded by John Curl's new book of the noble history of cooperative work in the United States."
--Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States.

“This new edition is greatly welcome, because we need a cooperative movement and spirit more than ever before. Curl surveys all, and explains much. New generations of readers will find this a fascinating account, and aging co-opers like myself will understand better what we did, what we tried to do, where we succeeded and where we failed. Get this book and read it, Curl will do you good.”
--Paul Buhle, coeditor of the Encyclopedia of the American Left, founding editor of Radical America (SDS).

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For a calendar of speaking events, please click here


Blog Posts

  • New Interview on TruthOut
    There is a new interview with me by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers in the web magazine TRUTHOUT. The article is entitles, "Cooperatives and Community Work are Part of American DNA." Check it out!   
  • Another New Radio Interview
    Last week I did a live interview with Kevin Reese on his radio show Clearing the Fog. Here is a link to it online, is currently the top story on their web page, have a near final draft of an article based on my book For All The People and this interview, which will be published in Truthout next week. Kevin Resse and Clearing the Fog are part of It’s Our Economy, which  seeks to educate, organize and mobilize Americans to shift the power from concentrated capital to the people.
  • New Interview with John Curl
    You can read a deep interview with me by Michael Johnson of Grassroots Economic Organizing (GEO), called "Lessons for Building a Co-Operative Movement"  
  • Interview with KALW radio City Visions
    On April 30, 2012, I did an hour-long interview on the City Visions radio show on station, KALW 91.7 FM San Francisco, titled, "Cooperatives: Workers in Progress," along with representatives from three cooperative organizations: the U.S. Federation of Worker Co-ops, the Network of Bay Area Cooperatives, and WAGES (Women's Action to Gain Economic Security)You can listen to the podcast of the interview from their web site:

What other people are saying...

John Curl on the weekly program, Making Contact from the National Radio Project. Please click here to download the podcast.

John Curl interviewed for Cooperative Vermont

Interviews and Articles


Interview with John Curl
by Michael Johnson
Grassroots Economic Organizing
Fall 2012

Looking at the big picture, the option of working in a co-operative could improve the lives of the vast majority. Life passes too quickly to squander it in an oppressive work situation. In contrast, a life spent in cooperation and mutual aid in daily activities is a life well spent. Besides, it makes you feel good.


Interview with John Curl
By Gabriel Kuhn

Internationally, US society is often associated with rampant individualism. Your book portrays an impressive number of cooperative and communal projects throughout the country's history. Can you sum up the most important chapters of this legacy?

The collectivity of North American Indians remains our deepest legacy, followed by the cooperative settlements and structures of the early colonists, and of every wave of immigrants to America from around the world. Communalism played an important role in the movement for social equity that arose in response to the industrial revolution, and also in the Abolitionist movement that ended slavery. Worker cooperatives were a key element in early labor unions, and grew into a national movement in the later 19th century...

For All the People: A Review
By Steve Dubb
Science and Society
Pg 138-140

Curl’s history helps us consider how our economy, and indeed socialism itself, might have developed differently had worker cooperatives become the U. S. norm. and, because some unions, notably the Steelworkers, are beginning to entertain the worker co-op model anew, this question is not merely of historical interest...
Curl has created an invaluable resource and historical timeline regarding worker cooperatives and communes. This book will surely be of interest to students and activists in these fields for years to come.

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Cooperatives and Community Work Are Part of American DNA
by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers
January 22nd, 2013

Curl's area of expertise is very important for those of us seeking transformational change to a new, more equitable economy and participatory democracy. His book methodically and authoritatively traces the hidden history of cooperatives, cooperation and communalism in US history. He shows how these models of economic democracy were intertwined with many of the transformational changes the country has made, including breaking from English empire, ending slavery, and gaining women's suffrage, worker rights and union rights, as well as civil rights. He also shows how economic democracy has been in constant battle with concentrated-wealth-based capitalism, which is threatened by a more equal distribution of wealth. This history is critical for advocates to understand; therefore, For All the People is essential reading.

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Book Review: Uncovering the Hidden History of Cooperation, Cooperative Movements, and Communalism in America 
By Kevin Carson
P2P Foundation

Curl’s history of cooperative and communal movements in America is set against the backdrop of one overpowering trend:  the transition from an almost completely self-employed work force at the time of Independence, to a present-day labor market in which self-employed workers are almost as much of an anomaly as free blacks ca. 1850.  Two hundred years ago, wage labor was viewed as a form of bondage, something submitted to only when absolutely unavoidable.  The majority of wage laborers were apprentices and journeymen, who viewed their status as a temporary stage on the way to the normal status of self-employment.

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Passion for Community Revealed in Curl's History of Co-ops
By Richard Brenneman
The Berkeley Daily Planet

Thursday August 27, 2009

Though his hair has turned white, John Curl’s passion burns undiminished by the passage of nearly seven decades.

“We can’t create a utopia,” he says. “But we can restructure the world so that competition and repression aren’t the bases on which we build our society.”
While he’s well-known as a master woodworker, Curl’s also a wordsmith, and in his latest book, For All the People, he offers his vision of the tools for building a better world.

Author Portfolio


Curl, John. Memories of Drop City. iUniverse Inc, 2007.

Curl, John. History of Work Cooperation in America, Homeward Press, 1980.

Poetry Translations

Curl, John. Ancient American Poetry. Tempe: Bilingual Review Press, 2005. 


Curl, John. Columbus in the Bay of Pigs. Homeward Press, 1991.

Curl, John. Decade: The 1990's. Muchos Somos 12, 1987.

Curl, John. Scorched Birth. Berkeley: Beatitude Press, 2006.

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