The following is an extract from Owning It, an essay by Derek Wall that was originally published in DOPE Magazine, a quarterly newspaper published by Dog Section Press. Dubbed by some as the ‘Anarchist Big Issue’, Dope Magazine is distributed for free to prisoners and homeless people. via distribution points from Brighton to Dundee.
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by Derek Wall
A number of disparate groups and individuals have decided that the path to liberation will come from building the solidarity economy. The solidarity economy involves the creation of a network of cooperatives, social centres, community gardens and grassroots trade unions. This is an economy that works to move the production and consumption of vital goods and services beyond both profit obsessed capitalism and a bureaucratic state. It is owned by us, the community, not by a minority of wealthy shareholders. It has at least three functions: 1) Practical solidarity which is closely linked to the concept of base building 2) The creation of ecological forms of production 3) The construction of a new society based on innovative values and practices. This isn’t abstract theory: it is being built now and you can help with the construction.
Practical solidarity means supporting those in need and those in struggle. Warm words and political pamphlets don’t feed the hungry, help prisoners or build capacity for change. One element of the solidarity economy is providing social centres that can be used, in part, to promote activism. They can act as a meeting place, provide offices for campaign groups and host food banks. As well as providing solidarity networks, practical action can help convince people that a new society is possible. The US film maker and musician Boots Riley has argued that movements have been too reliant on what he calls ‘spectacle’; by this he means an event that gets media attention, such as direct action. He argues that we also need to build long term capacity for change. This is the essential characteristic of base building: helping to create, deepen and sustain a culture of resistance. It reflects the practice of the Black Panther Party and other African-American revolutionaries, who in the 1960s and 1970s put on free breakfast programmes for children, and other solidarity projects. Social movements and campaigns, like Occupy, Black Lives Matter and Extinction Rebellion, are vital; efforts to build a network of social centres and community projects can help to maintain them over the long term.
The ecological element comes from producing in an environmentally friendly way: promoting permaculture, renewable energy generation, tool libraries, cycle repair and low energy transport. Cooperation Jackson, whose members recently undertook a speaking tour in the UK, are an excellent example. Kali Akuno from Cooperation Jackson has bluntly stated “We are at the midnight hour, and it’s eco-socialism or death.” Jackson is the largest city in Mississippi, and is known for its militant African-American population; it has been an important site of civil rights struggles and is now in the forefront to resistance to Donald Trump. Today it is the site of a major experiment in solidarity economics that aims to go carbon neutral as swiftly as possible.
The solidarity economy is militant and plural. It is militant in that it is directly building dual power, creating new institutions that challenge the state. Plural because it draws in anarchists, Marxists, eco-socialists and other groups and tendencies besides. It is based not on a narrow prescriptive ideological understanding but on practical action. You might argue that it is inventing the future.
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