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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

Arundhati Roy doesn’t get it

December 3, 2011
Body paragraph
Arundhati Roy doesn't get it
The need to move beyond protest is both urgent and long-term

I struggle with Arundhati Roy. The beauty of her novel The God of Small Things is so tender and heartbreaking that I almost can't stand it. And I really can't stand most of her political writing--so passionate, so well articulated, but so negative. By negative I mean being passionate about a problem without making one's best effort to find a solution.

Roy was recently interviewed about the Occupy movement. posted the interview from the Guardian, and other pro-Occupy web sites also passed it along. Unfortuantely, it doesn't seem that the Occupy movement, or at least my take on it, has impacted her negativity much. However, in spite of herself, she underlined the need for coherent strategies for developing alternative economic projects and enterprises, such as Solidarity Economics. Midway in the interview she is asked to talk about the need for "a different imagination than that of capitalism." Unfortunately, she was not able to offer any kind of vision or concrete suggestions regarding what to do and where to go. She accurately identified the problem ("amassing of unfettered wealth of individuals and corporations") in many of its aspects and gave many examples of it. However, all she said about them is that they had to "stop." Repeating for each one, this has to "stop."

Nothing more than "stop." That's not terribly imaginative, nor helpful. Rather, it's this kind of unimaginative negativity from the Left that has to stop. It is debilitating and de-powering. We need to invest all the passion and power we can muster into developing economic and political alternatives that work. This is precisely how OWS has electrified so many across the globe.

The interviewer then asked her what would a different imagination look like? Again, she failed to be proactive in any significant way. She identified and briefly described many examples of where people in India are creating sites of "battle." That's all she referred to: battling the forces of exploitation. Not one suggestion of creating new ways of livelihoods, ways of creating sites where people and the planet are prior to profits, and making them work so that we have something with which to replace economic exploitation.

(See below for these two excerpts.)

This is precisely why Ethan Miller's Occupy! Connect! Create! is such a vital piece of work. Why the efforts to spin off actions like "move your money," developing several worker and food co-operatives, etc. from OWS are so important. This critical work is precisely what the media favorable to Occupy is failing to give much focus to.


‘Reigniting a new political imagination'
Novelist Arundhati Roy on the impact of Occupy Wall Street
by Arun Gupta

AG: You've written about the need for a different imagination than that of capitalism. Can you talk about that?
AR: We often confuse or loosely use the ideas of crony capitalism or neoliberalism to actually avoid using the word "capitalism," but once you've actually seen, let's say, what's happening in India and the United States - that this model of U.S. economics packaged in a carton that says "democracy" is being forced on countries all over the world, militarily if necessary, has in the United States itself resulted in 400 of the richest people owning wealth equivalent [to that] of half of the population. Thousands are losing their jobs and homes, while corporations are being bailed out with billions of dollars.
In India, 100 of the richest people own assets worth 25% of the gross domestic product. There's something terribly wrong. No individual and no corporation should be allowed to amass that kind of unlimited wealth, including bestselling writers like myself, who are showered with royalties. Money need not be our only reward. Corporations that are turning over these huge profits can own everything: the media, the universities, the mines, the weapons industry, insurance hospitals, drug companies, non-governmental organisations. They can buy judges, journalists, politicians, publishing houses, television stations, bookshops and even activists. This kind of monopoly, this cross-ownership of businesses, has to stop.
The whole privatization of health and education, of natural resources and essential infrastructure - all of this is so twisted and so antithetical to anything that would place the interests of human beings or the environment at the center of what ought to be a government concern - should stop. The amassing of unfettered wealth of individuals and corporations should stop. The inheritance of rich people's wealth by their children should stop. The expropriators should have their wealth expropriated and redistributed.

AG: What would the different imagination look like?
AR: The home minister of India has said that he wants 70% of the Indian population in the cities, which means moving something like 500 million people off their land. That cannot be done without India turning into a military state. But in the forests of central India and in many, many rural areas, a huge battle is being waged. Millions of people are being driven off their lands by mining companies, by dams, by infrastructure companies, and a huge battle is being waged. These are not people who have been co-opted into consumer culture, into the western notions of civilisation and progress. They are fighting for their lands and their livelihoods, refusing to be looted so that someone somewhere far away may "progress" at their cost.
India has millions of internally displaced people. And now, they are putting their bodies on the line and fighting back. They are being killed and imprisoned in their thousands. Theirs is a battle of the imagination, a battle for the redefinition of the meaning of civilisation, of the meaning of happiness, of the meaning of fulfillment. And this battle demands that the world see that, at some stage, as the water tables are dropping and the minerals that remain in the mountains are being taken out, we are going to confront a crisis from which we cannot return. The people who created the crisis in the first place will not be the ones that come up with a solution.
That is why we must pay close attention to those with another imagination: an imagination outside of capitalism, as well as communism. We will soon have to admit that those people, like the millions of indigenous people fighting to prevent the takeover of their lands and the destruction of their environment - the people who still know the secrets of sustainable living - are not relics of the past, but the guides to our future.

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