Arundhati Roy: Our Task is to Disable the Engine

The coronavirus pandemic has brought the machine of capitalism to a grinding halt.

Progressive International, May 11 2020

While the human race is momentarily incarcerated, and even as a record-size hole opens in the ozone layer above the Arctic, the earth has given us an indication of her ability to heal. Even in our moments of sickness and loss we cannot help but hold our collective breath in wonder at the show she has put on. But plans are afoot to put an end to all of that. In India, for example, just in these last few days, a large portion of a tiger reserve is about to be turned over to a religious gathering—the Kumbh Mela—which attracts tens of millions of Hindu pilgrims. An elephant reserve in Assam is being marked off for coal mining, and thousands of acres of pristine Himalayan forest in Arunachal Pradesh marked off for submergence by the reservoir of a new hydroelectric dam. Meanwhile, not to be outdone, President Trump has signed an executive order allowing mining on the moon.

In very much the same way as the coronavirus has entered human bodies and amplified existing illnesses, it has entered countries and societies and amplified their structural infirmities and illnesses. It has amplified injustice, sectarianism, racism, casteism and above all class inequality.

The same formations of state power that have been indifferent to the suffering of poor people and have indeed worked towards enhancing that suffering are now having to address the fact that sickness among the poor is a veritable threat to the wealthy. As of now there is no firewall. But a firewall will appear soon. Perhaps in the shape of a vaccine. The powerful will elbow their way to the head of the spigot, and the old game will start up all over again—the survival of the richest. Already the world is witnessing job losses on a scale that is unimaginable. I write this on International Labor Day, one hundred and thirty-one years after the Haymarket massacre in Chicago and the workers’ struggle for the eight-hour working day. Today Indian Industry is pressurizing the Government to dismantle what little is left of labor rights and allow for a twelve-hour working day.

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