Ashish Kothari talks to Joel Morist I Botines about cooperatives, commons and the need to shrink the ecological footprint of the contemporary society.
Ashish – Joel, can you tell us about the work being done by Cooperativa Integral Catalana?
Joel – Cooperativa Integral Catalana is creating tools towards the re-articulation of society through local nodes and bringing them together as a confederation, ultimately working towards the creation of a post-capitalist alternative in economics, politics, agro-ecology etc. We want to achieve this, first, at the local level and then scale it up to a national and global level.
Ashish – What are the different kinds of projects that you are running currently?
Joel – We basically focus on knowledge production and teaching – so computers, farming, agro-ecological distribution, social currency networks, platforms to visualize and organize markets to share, sell and exchange products that we create with those who are still using euros. And within our own network we exchange in social currency and through the gift economy as well as other alternatives like barter. And this barter could be, both, countable and non-countable.
Ashish – How many people do you think these projects reach?
Joel – So, on an average we have four to eight hundred projects in operation at any given time – there are project areas and also political communities areas, which work in parallel to each other. These projects could be run by an individual or up to fifty people. So, typically, we reach from tens of thousands to even hundreds of thousands indirectly, those who would have used our services or products without knowing that they were doing so.
Ashish – What is the kind of socio-economic and political change that you want to usher in through the work of your cooperative?
Joel – We are promoting autonomy and sovereignty in economic production and political action, as well as the creation of knowledge through open source. As we reduce our dependence on the existing system we make it increasingly obsolete. The alternatives that we are creating are becoming better, faster and more efficient and they will become even more so in the future. Consequently, we’re reaching more people, and in the process we’re becoming a more attractive option for a larger number of people. Similar efforts are on in other parts of the world, too. In fact, a new term, Glocal, is being used to describe these initiatives, combining the emphasis on the local with its collective impact on the global.
Ashish – How do you make your work relevant to the global south and how do you connect to the struggles there?
Joel – Almost a third of the world, about two billion people live in societies, which are commonwealth societies – i.e. sustained by their commons. A majority of these societies are in the south – in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Australia. We’re trying to learn from them and within our own societies we are trying to create a model of collective existence, which is not based on the destruction of other people or that of the planet. We’re learning from the Zapatistas, from indigenous communities in India – we’re learning to shrink our ecological footprint and live in harmony with the planet. Ultimately, what we’re trying to do is to challenge the power that contemporary finance capital has on life on the planet.
Ashish – Can you explain that point?
Joel – Well, centralized anonymous money brought together economic and political power in the same entity, whether in a kingdom, a country or a state. In contemporary societies this control is now with the banks and what they do is introduce these units in various scarce measures into the society. This provokes a lot of competition amongst people, leading to over exploitation of resources of the planet just to produce something, which would entice and cheat someone to buy it. The market depends entirely on this kind of psychological oppression. In non-oppressive societies these markets never existed. They were built upon gift economies as has been borne out by the research done by anthropologists over the years. The banks have the ultimate control over the supply of money and they can manipulate the flow, creating crisis. In such situations those who have compromised themselves in moments of prosperity through taking debts and loans ultimately lose their assets and properties to the banks who reinvigorate this system of oppression through these periodic cycles of economic blood letting. This way the power of the banks and their control over the world economy keeps growing.
Ashish – Given the intensity of the issues that you are raising, how do you feel personally about your work?
Joel – Honestly speaking my work gives me a lot of joy. I come from an artistic and an artisanal background and one of my early learning experiences was with basket weaving. When you cut the cane for making a basket it doesn’t die. Instead it continues to grow. I wanted to be a part of a social initiative, which had similar attributes of rejuvenation and through Cooperativa Integral I was able to act on that desire. Here we are able to visualize and activate projects, which are self- sustaining and the work also takes place very cooperatively, in the true sense of the word. There are no hierarchies – we’re all workers and we are all bosses. We collectively decide what we want to do and achieve, and everybody’s opinion matters. That is a wonderful feeling to have and it makes me happy.
Joel Morist I Botines is a co-founder of Cooperativa Integral Catalana.
Ashish Kothari is a co-founder of Kalpavriksh.
The interviews published in the RED Conversation series are not based on an exact transcription of the recorded interviews. They are an approximation based on an interpretation as well as a summation of the original interview. To view the recorded interviews, click on the links below:
On CIC’s work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QIxvksRzbDo
On macro relevance of CIC kind of work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWLOOCqnTSM
On North-South links: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C1Ug-jmrbC4
On his personal journey: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aj1uk4JS73g
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