Degrowth Revisited

Degrowth Revisited

Recuperation redux

I recently discovered John The Duncan's videos on Youtube, and I think it's really good, sincere stuff. I watched his one about degrowth, and I need to read the background material. I'd also recommend the one about Left Wing White Supremacy which I think a lot of people would benefit from watching. I'm going to call him JD for the rest of this article because it's what he puts on his videos.

When I shared the white supremacy one I got push back from a comrade because he'd done the degrowth one too and god forbid we might learn something from someone we might disagree with over other issues. The word degrowth seems to wind people up a bit, and I was against the concept too originally. Greta Thunberg has used it, amongst other Green luminaries, and it's caused a lot of frothing at the mouth from reactionary sources because it challenges the prevailing capitalism's desperate need for growth at any cost.

JD explains that degrowth as posited by the people who came up with the idea requires the destruction of capitalist relations. The straw man that assumes it’s tried under existing conditions is of course silly and unworkable. I got the response In order to achieve socialism we must create abundance.


I think I've said here many times - we already have abundance, we already have amazing distribution systems for that abundance, it's just that they are run for profit by parasites like Amazon and Walmart. This is discussed in the interesting book The People's Republic of Walmart at some length. There's also another thing we need to think about. In the global north even the poorest of us live off the backs of the workers of the global south, the cheap food and clothing we need to survive come from there at the expense of the lives and wellbeing of those workers. Are you really so naive you think they will still slave for us (sometimes literally as slaves) when they seize the means of production? There will be some serious adjustment required. Things cannot, and indeed should not, continue as they are.

We've been sold a complete lie, that there's a scarcity of resources, that there isn't enough to go around. A very quick example is we make enough food for between 11 and 12 billion people, and there's just under 8 billion people on the planet. We're told people have to starve. We're told there isn't enough to go around. It’s a self-serving lie. The problem is one of will, and organisation. See also the mountains of clothing being thrown away by the fast fashion industry. There's already more than enough of everything and we've been conned into living in fear that there is not. There's no need to draw lines on maps and keep people from crossing them. It just keeps us poor and afraid. They are us, and we need to remember that and keep it in our minds.

I discuss scarcity a bit more in the Negation of Negation article.


We have this negativity about degrowth because the idea has been recuperated in the political sense:

3 a process whereby a radical social or political movement or idea is assimilated into mainstream culture, thus diminishing its subversive force: recuperation of social movements and rebellion will always happenOxford Dictionary of English

Our owners take the idea, or just the word, and use it to paint a scenario where we have a Green elite forcing the rest of us (us being the people in the global north to be clear) to wear cardboard and eat plankton gruel in houses we aren't allowed to heat properly after all the polluting jobs are shut down. Plutocrat Jacob Rees-Mogg paints scenarios where green initiatives will make everybody poor and cold because there will be fewer crumbs to fall from his table. Of course, he doesn't quite put it like that, and manages to do some mental gymnastics to back up his dislike of the ECHR into the bargain. God loves a tryer, Jacob, but those of us who have looked into you know you have a ton of cash invested in fossil fuels. Yes, he really is that transparent, despite the bluster. Personally I use him as an inverse weathercock - whatever he's for, I'm probably against.

There are folks on the left wedded to the forms of industry and culture of the post-war boom who say similar things because they can't see that we need to completely transform how we do everything, and holding on to the mentality that treats the rest of the environment as something that will take care of itself was always stupid. Capitalists treat everything but the way they make money as an externality they need not concern themselves with. So what if the river is polluted, so what if the air is hard to breathe, so what if your child was born blind, we can make money and that's all that matters, with the vast majority worker class mattering least of all as long as they do what they're told. We have to be careful not to unthinkingly carry this attitude into our socialist thinking. An abundance built on environmental destruction is no abundance.


So, instead, what would we actually want?

Let's think about what a socialist green transformation would look like for a minute. The worker class in the global south will still be making stuff people need, particularly for themselves. At present most of the factories have been moved there and we'd have to start there whatever we do. That stuff would be sustainable, repairable, high quality, long lasting and we'd need to consume a lot less of it a lot more slowly to keep a decent standard of living. The people in the global north might have to do without a few things, or adjust their consuming habits to live on and with what's available. Maybe cars would become something you borrow when you need one, for example. We would need to rebuild the power infrastructure, to rid ourselves of the dependence on fossil fuels, the same with public transport and working out ways to serve people who live in rural areas or live with disability.

The list is endless, and nowhere does it say we won't have the necessary abundance. It needs to be structured in a non-destructive way that meets people's needs and gives them the resources to live fulfilled lives. If we are just going to suck on plankton in the cold while the rain soaks through the cardboard then why bother?

As an aside, despite the parochial view of deindustrialised devastation from the global north, there are now more people working in factories than there ever were. Billions of them. It's just we don't see them from the low hill of our petty nationalist preconceptions. They need our solidarity and support, and we need to be aware of their existence.

I have yet to read the books and just have JD's video to go on, but as far as I can make out that necessary transformation is what the people who advocate Degrowth are arguing for. Our owners have kidded us yet again to work against our own interests, it would appear.

Within the more theoretical ecosocialist movement I recently discovered there are people who also espouse the idea of eco-modernism which has a different take on how to get to the desired outcome. They disagree over things like nuclear power and heavy industry, for example. That will also require more study (help!) so I can work out my own position. If you want to hear deeply interesting theoretical discussions about this by proper Marxists who are much better read than me, try the Prolekult folks. JD is also a proper Marxist in my opinion.