For an Ecosocialist Degrowth

 

M I C H A E L  L Ö W Y, B E N G I  A K B U L U T , S A B R I N A
F E R N A N D E S , a n d G I O R G O S K A L L I S

This article first appeared in Monthly Review https://monthlyreview.org/2022/04/01/for-an-ecosocialist-degrowth/

Degrowth and ecosocialism are two of the most important movements—and proposals—on the radical side of the ecological spectrum.Sure, not everyone in the degrowth community identifies as a socialist,and not everyone who is an ecosocialist is convinced by the desirability of degrowth. But one can see an increasing tendency of mutual respect and convergence. Let us try to map the large areas of agreement between us, and list some of the main arguments for an ecosocialist degrowth:

(1) Capitalism cannot exist without growth. It needs a permanent expansion of production and consumption, accumulation of capital, andmaximization of profit. This process of unlimited growth, based on the exploitation of fossil fuels since the eighteenth century, is leading to ecological catastrophe, climate change, and threatens the extinction of life on the planet.

The twenty-six UN Climate Change Conferences of the last thirty years manifest the total unwillingness of the ruling elites to stop the course toward the abyss.

(2) Any true alternative to this perverse and destructive dynamic needs to be radical—that is, must deal with the roots of the problem: the capitalist system, its exploitative and extractivist dynamic, and its blind and obsessive pursuit of growth. Ecosocialist degrowth is one such alternative, in direct confrontation with capitalism and growth. Ecosocialist degrowth requires the social appropriation of the main means of (re)production and a democratic, participatory, ecological planning. The main decisions on the priorities of production and consumption will be decided by people them-
selves, in order to satisfy real social needs while respecting the ecological limits of the planet. This means that people, at various scales, exercise direct power in democratically determining what is to be produced, how, and how much; how to remunerate different kinds of productive and re -productive activities that sustain us and the planet. Ensuring equitable well-being for all does not require economic growth but rather radically changing how we organize the economy and distribute social wealth.

(3) A significant degrowth in production and consumption is ecologically indispensable. The first and urgent measure is phasing out fossil fuels, as well as the ostentatious and wasteful consumption of the 1 percent rich elite.From an ecosocialist perspective, degrowth has to be understood in dialectical terms: many forms of production (such as coal-fired facilities) and services (such as advertisement) should not only be reduced but suppressed; some, such as private cars or cattle raising, should be substantially reduced; but others would need development, such as agro-ecological farming, renewable energy, health and educational services, and so on. For sectors like health and education, this development should be, first and foremost, qualitative. Even the most useful activities have to respect the limits of the planet; there can be no such thing as an “unlimited” production of any good.

(4) Productivist “socialism,” as practiced by the USSR, is a dead end. The same applies to “green” capitalism as advocated by corporations or mainstream “Green parties.” Ecosocialist degrowth is an attempt to overcome the limitations of past socialist and “green” experiments.

(5) It is well known that the Global North is historically responsible for most of the carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. The rich countries must therefore take the larger part in the process of degrowth. At the same time, we do not believe that the Global South should try to copy the productivist and destructive model of “development” of the North, but look instead for a different approach, emphasizing the real needs of the populations in terms of food, housing, and basic services, instead of extracting more and more raw materials (and fossil fuels) for the capitalist world mar-
ket, or producing more and more cars for the privileged minorities.

(6) Ecosocialist degrowth also involves transformation, through a process of democratic deliberation, of existing consumption models—for instance, an end to planned obsolescence and nonrepairable goods; of transport patterns, for instance, by greatly reducing the hauling of goods by ships and trucks (thanks to the relocalization of production), as well as air plane traffic. In short, it is much more than a change of property forms, it is a civilizational transformation, a new “way of life” based on values of solidarity, democracy, equaliberty, and respect for Earth. Ecosocialist degrowth signals a new civilization that breaks with productivism andconsumerism, in favor of shorter working time, thus more free time devoted to social, political, recreational, artistic, ludic, and erotic activities.

(7) Ecosocialist degrowth can only win through a confrontation with the fossil oligarchy and the ruling classes who control political and economic power. Who is the subject of this struggle? We cannot overcome the system without the active participation of the urban and rural working class, who make up the majority of the population and are already bearing the brunt of capitalism’s social and ecological ills. But we also have to expand the definition of the working class to include those who undertake social and ecological reproduction, the forces who are now at the forefront of social-ecological mobilizations: youth, women, Indigenous peoples, and peasants. A new social and ecological consciousness will
emerge through the process of self-organization and active resistance of the exploited and oppressed.

Michael Löwy is emeritus research director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research in Paris and author of Ecosocialism (Haymarket, 2015).

Bengi Akbulut is a professor at Concordia University, Montréal.

Sabrina Fernandes is an ecosocialist organizer, postdoctoral fellow at the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung, and producer of Tese Onze.

Giorgos Kallis is a professor at the Catalan Institution for Research and AdvancedStudies and author of The Case for Degrowth (Polity, 2020).

DisclaimerOpinions expressed in articles are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of other members of the Global Ecosocialist Network

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Michael Löwy
About Michael Löwy 9 Articles
Born Brazil in 1938, lives Paris since 1969. Emeritus Research Director at the CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research).

1 Comment

  1. COMMENT BY DAVID SCHWARTZMAN

    This is a very welcome contribution to the debate about degrowth, and I find broad agreement with their perspective. My views could be summed up with a different title: “For Ecosocialist Growth and Degrowth”. I have argued that economic growth in some critical sectors is imperative, especially in the context of confronting the huge challenge of dangerous climate change. These sectors include the creation of a global renewable energy infrastructure with the capacity of addressing energy poverty afflicting most of humanity, as well as climate mitigation and adaptation especially in the global South with extreme heat stress projected even while not exceeding the IPCC warming target of 1.5 deg C. I assume that growth in other sectors are implicitly supported in this article, without calling them “economic growth” (?), namely green affordable housing, agroecologies, health and education capacity etc. And we can certainly agree on what should be prioritized for degrowth, indeed terminated, the Military Industrial Fossil Fuel Complex, industrial agriculture and wasteful consumption. “ Ensuring equitable well-being for all does not require economic growth but rather radically changing how we organize the economy and distribute social wealth” implies that redistribution is sufficient. But I submit that redistribution is necessary but not sufficient. For example, in regards to present global primary energy consumption, the consumption level consistent with the highest achievable life expectancy is close to 3 kilowatt/person (e.g., Italy, ranking 6th in life expectancy globally). For the present global population of 7.9 billion x 3 kilowatt/person = 23.7 trillion watts (in power units). This is 1.25 times the present global consumption level of 19 trillion watts, so simply reducing wasteful energy consumption especially in the global North is necessary but not sufficient to eliminate energy poverty, bringing all on this planet to the minimum necessary to achieve the world’s highest life expectancy possible. The future will very likely require significantly more energy capacity, recognizing that increased efficiency in technologies will reduce energy to do essential work, while there will be the need for an incremental energy supply to address climate mitigation, adaptation and other challenges in this century (see https://climateandcapitalism.com/2022/01/05/a-critique-of-degrowth/, as well as the interview featured on this website)..

    To conclude, “The history of discussing growth from a socio-ecological point of view goes back at least 30 years. Walter Hollitscher, an Austrian materialist philosopher maintained, in discussions occurring in the late 1970s, that the only thing which should definitely grow is the satisfaction of needs. Basically, from a socio-ecological point of view the question of growth or de-growth is simple: there cannot be a yes or no answer. Some flows, stock, and activities should grow; others should not grow but decrease, for example, the production of weapons. It does not seem useful to use “de-growth” without indicating what should decrease, because the general use of the notion “de-growth” easily can easily also be understood as an undifferentiated attack on the standard of living and livelihood of many groups of people, especially broad low-income sectors of society. “ (p.33-34, Josef Baum (2011) In Search for a (New) Compass –How to Measure Social Progress, Wealth and Sustainability? In: The Left Between Growth and De-Growth Discussion Papers, Edited and introduced by Teppo Eskelinen, pp. 33-45, transform! european journal for alternative thinking and political dialogue, Hamburg)

    Thanks for promoting this debate!

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