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(en) Britain, Anarchist Federation Organise #67 - Growth and degrowth - Revolutionary approaches to saving the planet and making a happier future

Date Sun, 03 Dec 2006 11:12:52 +0200


decroissance -- "It is a disquieting reality that even though there has been increased economic growth for many years now in the Western world, a
serious proportion of the population is worse off, few are actually benefiting while a tiny number are seriously better off." This statement was made in 1997 by Green economist Richard Douthwaite and led off his article Good Growth and Bad Growth, which distills points he made in a book The Growth Illusion. But does anything exist that can be described as good growth? This article investigates the idea of growth and in particular looks at the spread of interest amongst both reformists and revolutionaries in France (including the French Anarchist Federation) in the idea of Décroissance that can be translated alternately as `degrowth', `ungrowth', or `retreat'.
Economic growth is central to the ideology
of modern capitalism. In capitalist econo-
mies, growth is usually related to a mea-
surement known as Gross Domestic
Product, GDP, defined as the value of all
goods and services purchased in a country
over a specified period. Growth is said to
occur if this value increases, and most
nation states are obsessed that this happens,
year by year. But this says nothing about
whether spending was necessary, or who
did the spending. Consumption of any
goods or services, whether needed or not,
contributes to growth.
It has never been clearer that growth is at
the expense of the well-being of most
people on earth and the planet itself. Most
of us do not have a say in what is produced
from the Earth's resources, because the land
and means of production are owned by a
minority of individuals. Shareholders of
companies do not usually care and are
certainly not encouraged to think about the
consequences of `getting a good return' on
their investments. The idea of the consumer
in developed countries also depends on
spending being good, whatever it is on,
without a care about waste of energy or raw
materials, or the working conditions of the
people who provide the items or service.
Consumer goods pushed by marketing and
advertising campaigns all contribute to
GDP whether or not they are really needed.
Money spent on destroying the environment
(like cutting down trees for profit), and
even money spent cleaning up oil-spills, all
contribute to this insane measure of
monetary value since it all makes profit for
someone. For the technologically `ad-
vanced' nation states, making war abroad is
especially good for growth because it
involves spending huge amounts money on
weapons that quickly become obsolete if
they are not used, and especially if they
ensure their corporations get the contracts
for rebuilding the damage (as is the case for
UK and US companies in Iraq). Perceived
insecurity at home from the `war on terror'
is also a boon for the economy, as this helps
companies sell surveillance technologies,
fingerprinting machines, ID databases and
the like.
The great lie of the free market is that
everyone benefits from growth due to the
so-called `trickle-down' effect. In fact there
is a growing rate of consumption by the
rich and middle classes in the developed
countries, whilst the rest of us, whether we
are the workers (or unemployed) in those
countries or part of the poor majority in the
`developing' world actually have access to
very little of the world's wealth. Ecologists
are fond of telling us that for everyone to
consume at the same rate as the US, we'd
need several Earths just to grow enough
food, never mind the energy required and
the effect of energy use on global warming.
Put another way, the `ecological footprint'
of most developed countries, and especially
the cities within them, is much much bigger
that the size of the land mass of those
countries. It is only by poorer countries
producing food and through irreversible
damage to the environment that average
consumption per person in richer countries
can be so great. If the rich and middle
classes of the rest of the world start to
consume at this rate, the damage would
only increase (this is the often quoted fear
of Chinese and Indian industrial develop-
ment).
The idea that if countries get richer by
increasing GDP everyone will benefit to
some degree has been challenged by some
economists over the last few decades and
some have come up with alternative
measures to GDP. Measures such as the
Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare
(ISEW) attempt to capture the effects of
disregard for people and the environment in
the endless search for increased profits that
contribute to growth. They attempt to
include the effects of unemployment caused
by companies automating production, for
example. What these newer measures show
is that whilst globalisation has helped
increase growth in the rich economies as
indicated by higher and higher GDPs, other
measures like the ISEW have gone down
very sharply since the 1970s (even in
Australia, Germany and the UK) and gaps
in average wealth between rich and poor
people, and between rich and poor coun-
tries, are getting greater.
In France, Décroissance (degrowth) is an
idea that has raised considerable interest in
the French Anarchist Federation recently. It
has its origins in a 1979 book by Nicholas
Georgescu-Roegen "La Décroissance"
which is related to his `bioeconomic'
theory. On the more popularist side, there is
a bi-monthly paper Décroissance published
by Casseurs de Pub which has an anti-
consumerist `more is not better' theme that
rails against packaging of vegetables, 5-
blade Gillette razors, advertising brands in
schools and cars (including Formula 1
racing), similar to the Adbusters approach.
The central idea of Décroissance, similar to
the one that gives rise to the need for
sustainability indices, is that perpetual
increase in economic indicators like GDP
are not sustainable by the ecosystem of the
Earth. It has four principles:
1. The current economic system depends on
limited resources; but raw material and
energy are fundamentally constrained by
scientific principles (second law of thermo-
dynamics)
2. Economic growth and ecological impacts
are tightly coupled.
3. The goods and services produced by
economies are not the only wealth; quality
of life (joie de vivre), social relations,
equality and justice are other kinds of
wealth.
4. Companies do not take into account the
poverty of consumer products related to
quality of life.
Décroissance then is about moving from
unsustainable economic growth to a
reduction of growth in money terms, whilst
increasing quality of life and other kinds of
`wealth'. It is about simple living and
localisation of production and consumption,
in opposition to a globalised economy. It
also fits well with the anti-development
views of many greens like Edward Golding,
founder of the Ecologist magazine, who
argues that economic development of the
third world countries actually creates
poverty for most of the people who live in
them. Capitalists see poverty reduction
coming from increased spending power, but
this says nothing about who in developing
countries gets to do the spending of money
made by the brokers of deals with multina-
tionals, IMF loans, or bilateral trade
agreements with rich nations like the US,
which always come with heavy strings
attached. Even the notion of `sustainable
development' is debunked by ecologists,
especially as this has become so twisted by
governments and multinational companies,
who want us to believe they can solve the
world's environmental problems by
developing `greener' technologies like
hybrid cars, or by increasing use of nuclear
power instead of fossil fuels, without
affecting economic growth.
Anti-growth views are challenging to
social-democrats and marxists who argue
that growth is only bad in the wrong hands,
that people are only starving and disease-
ridden because of unfair distribution. All it
needs is a restructuring of society and the
problem is solved! On the other hand, the
idea of Décroissance seems to side with a
much more negative and even catastrophist
outlook about the world, supported by other
contemporary theories like `Peak Oil'
which predicts that a slow down in the rate
of global oil production is inevitable in the
next couple of decades which will have a
huge effect on the world economy. James
Lovelock, the somewhat crazed British
scientist of `Gaia' fame, also sees the need
for `sustainable retreat' but warns that its
already gone so bad that `civilisation' will
have to plan to defend itself against the
disasters and scarcity created by global
meltdown, which he thinks will result in
`tribal' warfare. The logic of this is we'd
better get ready to deny entry to flooded-out
Bangladeshi refugees unless they have
something useful to offer `our' European
democracies, because that will be the only
hope of maintaining stability in the face of
environmental collapse.
It all seems a bit gloomy. So why are social
anarchists in France interested in this kind
of theory now? In Britain, ecological ideas
and environmental activism have been
around for long time on the radical agenda
and crossed over significantly into anarchist
circles in the 1990s before predictions of
global catastrophe really hit the mainstream
(at least, wildlife TV presenter David
Attenborough admitted he was only
recently convinced that global warming was
a real phenomenon). It is probably true to
say that environmentalism has influenced
anarchism less quickly in France, and it has
emerged at a time when global warming
and fuel crises are becoming discussed
more widely. More generally, anti-
globalisation sentiment in France is in part
a response to threats to the domestic
economy such as pressure by the World
Trade Organisation to remove farming
subsidies that support local production of
food (WTO talks failed to reach agreement
because neither US nor France want to
remove there own). It is therefore no
surprise that José Bové, the farmer who
became a media icon over his anti-
McDonalds and WTO activism, is also a
supporter of Décroissance.
On the other hand, much of the British
environmental movement has not yet
realised the need for non-statist solutions
and can be quite individualist and moralis-
tic. One important aspect of French
anarchist views on Décroissance is that
living `lightly' does not have to equate to
austerity and overpowering morality and
libertarians "do not want to see totalitarian
management of décroissance driven by new
Green Khmers", a reference to overbearing
communist control in Cambodia. From the
"habit of a nun we could make a hell of a
lot of g-strings", they say! They also make
the point that although individuals taking
the initiative to live a greener lifestyle is
laudable e.g. buying goods that don't have
to travel so far (French wine springs to
mind!), this is not a solution to over-
consumption and energy waste because so
much of this comes directly as a result of
government policies on military spending,
transportation and agriculture which are all
materials and energy intensive. Govern-
ments who create public campaigns to get
us to save electricity and water are com-
plete hypocrites, and the middle class desire
for a more eco-friendly and ethical, but still
market-led, economic system is a dead-end.
The French anarchists are also fiercely anti-
work - work being not only the driver for
much of the wasteful consumption in our
society, but also part and parcel of our
class-divided society. Anarchist commu-
nists, although we are not anti-technology,
are in favour of creating simpler devices
and tools that do not leave power in the
hands of experts. We also want to show
how cities and transportation have arisen to
support capitalist economies based on
industry and trade, and how a future
anarchist society could be so much better.
These are good reasons to be against
complex technological so-called solutions
to global warming. It is also clear that a
move away from intensive animal rearing is
the only way that food can be produced
sustainably, since meat-eating requires huge
amounts of land, plus food and water for
the animals. And we have no desire for
workers to self-manage mobile phone
factories if we don't need mobile phones.
Taking all these ideas together, the logic of
revolutionary Décroissance, if such exists,
is not about a slow retreat, but about
destruction of both work and economies as
we know them, including industrial
factories and agri-business. In this sense
there really isn't anything that could be
described as `good' growth. Class struggle
must be central to revolutionary
Décroissance because without it, we might
forget to see that we have common interests
with workers and peasants in developing
countries like India and China, and instead
be taken in by bogus arguments about over-
population or perhaps feel threatened or
even morally outraged by the effects of
their rapid industrialisation. Instead we
need to concentrate on forcing degrowth at
home, by refusal of work and attacking the
basis of capitalism ­ ownership of land and
resources, and the powers that result from
this ­ and create solidarity with workers
who are struggling for better lives abroad.
--------------------------------------------
Read the AF's pamphlet on ecology and
class struggle: Where there's Brass, there's
Muck, available from our usual address.

-------------------------------
Organise!
Organise is the magazine of the
Anarchist Federation (AF). It is
published in order to develop
anarchist communist ideas. It
aims is provide a clear anarchist
viewpoint on contemporary
issues and to initiate debate on
ideas not normally covered in
agitational papers.
We aim to produce Organise!
twice a year. To meet this target,
we positively solicit contribu-
tions from our readers. We aim
to print any article that furthers
the objectives of anarchist
communism. If you'd like to
write something for us, but are
unsure whether to do so, why
not get in touch first? Even
articles that are 100% in
agreement with our aims and
principles can leave much open
to debate.
As always, the articles in this
issue do not necessarily repre-
sent the collective viewpoint of
the AF. We hope that their
publication will produce
responces from readers and spur
the debate on.
The deadline for the next issue
of Organise! will be 15th
March 2007. Please send all
contributions to the address on
the left. It would help if all
articles could be either typed or
on disk (PC or MAC format).
Alternatively, articles can be
emailed to the editors directly at
organise@afed.org.uk.

What goes in Organise!Organise!
Organise is the magazine of the
Anarchist Federation (AF). It is
published in order to develop
anarchist communist ideas. It
aims is provide a clear anarchist
viewpoint on contemporary
issues and to initiate debate on
ideas not normally covered in
agitational papers.
We aim to produce Organise!
twice a year. To meet this target,
we positively solicit contribu-
tions from our readers. We aim
to print any article that furthers
the objectives of anarchist
communism. If you'd like to
write something for us, but are
unsure whether to do so, why
not get in touch first? Even
articles that are 100% inOrganise!
Organise is the magazine of the
Anarchist Federation (AF). It is
published in order to develop
anarchist communist ideas. It
aims is provide a clear anarchist
viewpoint on contemporary
issues and to initiate debate on
ideas not normally covered in
agitational papers.
We aim to produce Organise!
twice a year. To meet this target,
we positively solicit contribu-
tions from our readers. We aim
to print any article that furthers
the objectives of anarchist
communism. If you'd like to
write something for us, but are
unsure whether to do so, whyOrganise!
Organise is the magazine of the
Anarchist Federation (AF). It is
published in order to develop
anarchist communist ideas. It
aims is provide a clear anarchist
viewpoint on contemporary
issues and to initiate debate on
ideas not normally covered in
agitational papers.
We aim to produce Organise!
twice a year. To meet this target,
we positively solicit contribu-
tions from our readers. We aim
to print any article that furthers
the objectives of anarchist
communism. If you'd like to
write something for us, but are
unsure whether to do so, why
not get in touch first? Even
articles that are 100% in
agreement with our aims and
principles can leave much open
to debate.
As always, the articles in this
issue do not necessarily repre-
sent the collective viewpoint of
the AF. We hope that their
publication will produce
responces from readers and spur
the debate on.
The deadline for the next issue
of Organise! will be 15th
March 2007. Please send all
contributions to the address on
the left. It would help if all
articles could be either typed or
on disk (PC or MAC format).
Alternatively, articles can be
emailed to the editors directly at
organise@afed.org.uk.
What goes in
Organise!
Organise! hopes to open upOrganise!
Organise is the magazine of the
Anarchist Federation (AF). It is
published in order to develop
anarchist communist ideas. It
aims is provide a clear anarchist
viewpoint on contemporary
issues and to initiate debate on
ideas not normally covered in
agitational papers.
We aim to produce Organise!
twice a year. To meet this target,
we positively solicit contribu-
tions from our readers. We aim
to print any article that furthers
the objectives of anarchist
communism. If you'd like to
write something for us, but are
unsure whether to do so, why
not get in touch first? Even
articles that are 100% inOrganise!
Organise is the magazine of the
Anarchist Federation (AF). It is
published in order to develop
anarchist communist ideas. It
aims is provide a clear anarchist
viewpoint on contemporary
issues and to initiate debate on
ideas not normally covered in
agitational papers.
We aim to produce Organise!
twice a year. To meet this target,
we positively solicit contribu-
tions from our readers. We aim
to print any article that furthers
the objectives of anarchist
communism. If you'd like to
write something for us, but are
unsure whether to do so, why
not get in touch first? Even
articles that are 100% in
agreement with our aims and
principles can leave much open
to debate.
As always, the articles in this
issue do not necessarily repre-
sent the collective viewpoint of
the AF. We hope that their
publication will produce
responces from readers and spur
the debate on.
The deadline for the next issue
of Organise! will be 15th
March 2007. Please send all
contributions to the address on
the left. It would help if all
articles could be either typed or
on disk (PC or MAC format).
Alternatively, articles can be
emailed to the editors directly at
organise@afed.org.uk.
What goes inOrganise!
Organise is the magazine of the
Anarchist Federation (AF). It is
published in order to develop
anarchist communist ideas. It
aims is provide a clear anarchist
viewpoint on contemporary
issues and to initiate debate on
ideas not normally covered in
agitational papers.
We aim to produce Organise!
twice a year. To meet this target,
we positively solicit contribu-
tions from our readers. We aim
to print any article that furthers
the objectives of anarchist
communism. If you'd like to
write something for us, but are
unsure whether to do so, why
not get in touch first? Even
articles that are 100% in
agreement with our aims and
principles can leave much open
to debate.
As always, the articles in this
issue do not necessarily repre-
sent the collective viewpoint of
the AF. We hope that their
publication will produce
responces from readers and spur
the debate on.
The deadline for the next issue
of Organise! will be 15th
March 2007. Please send all
contributions to the address on
the left. It would help if all
articles could be either typed or
on disk (PC or MAC format).
Alternatively, articles can be
emailed to the editors directly at
organise@afed.org.uk.
What goes in
Organise!
Organise! hopes to open up
debate in many areas of life. As
we have stated before, unless
signed by the Anarchist Federa-
tion as a whole or by a local AF
group, articles in Organise!
reflect the views of the person
who has written the articles and
nobody else.
If the contents of one of the
articles in this issue provokes
thought, makes you angry,
compels a response then let us
know. Revolutionary ideas
develop from debate, they do
not merely drop out of the air!

Organise!
Organise! hopes to open up
debate in many areas of life. As
we have stated before, unless
signed by the Anarchist Federa-
tion as a whole or by a local AF
group, articles in Organise!
reflect the views of the person
who has written the articles and
nobody else.
If the contents of one of the
articles in this issue provokes
thought, makes you angry,
compels a response then let us
know. Revolutionary ideas
develop from debate, they do
not merely drop out of the air!

agreement with our aims and
principles can leave much open
to debate.
As always, the articles in this
issue do not necessarily repre-
sent the collective viewpoint of
the AF. We hope that their
publication will produce
responces from readers and spur
the debate on.
The deadline for the next issue
of Organise! will be 15th
March 2007. Please send all
contributions to the address on
the left. It would help if all
articles could be either typed or
on disk (PC or MAC format).
Alternatively, articles can be
emailed to the editors directly at
organise@afed.org.uk.

What goes in Organise!
Organise! hopes to open up
debate in many areas of life. As
we have stated before, unless
signed by the Anarchist Federa-
tion as a whole or by a local AF
group, articles in Organise!
reflect the views of the person
who has written the articles and
nobody else.
If the contents of one of the
articles in this issue provokes
thought, makes you angry,
compels a response then let us
know. Revolutionary ideas
develop from debate, they do
not merely drop out of the air!

debate in many areas of life. As
we have stated before, unless
signed by the Anarchist Federa-
tion as a whole or by a local AF
group, articles in Organise!
reflect the views of the person
who has written the articles and
nobody else.
If the contents of one of the
articles in this issue provokes
thought, makes you angry,
compels a response then let us
know. Revolutionary ideas
develop from debate, they do
not merely drop out of the air!

not get in touch first? Even
articles that are 100% in
agreement with our aims and
principles can leave much open
to debate.
As always, the articles in this
issue do not necessarily repre-
sent the collective viewpoint of
the AF. We hope that their
publication will produce
responces from readers and spur
the debate on.
The deadline for the next issue
of Organise! will be 15th
March 2007. Please send all
contributions to the address on
the left. It would help if all
articles could be either typed or
on disk (PC or MAC format).
Alternatively, articles can be
emailed to the editors directly at
organise@afed.org.uk.
What goes in
Organise!
Organise! hopes to open up
debate in many areas of life. As
we have stated before, unless
signed by the Anarchist Federa-
tion as a whole or by a local AF
group, articles in Organise!
reflect the views of the person
who has written the articles and
nobody else.
If the contents of one of the
articles in this issue provokes
thought, makes you angry,
compels a response then let us
know. Revolutionary ideas
develop from debate, they do
not merely drop out of the air!

agreement with our aims and
principles can leave much open
to debate.
As always, the articles in this
issue do not necessarily repre-
sent the collective viewpoint of
the AF. We hope that their
publication will produce
responces from readers and spur
the debate on.
The deadline for the next issue
of Organise! will be 15th
March 2007. Please send all
contributions to the address on
the left. It would help if all
articles could be either typed or
on disk (PC or MAC format).
Alternatively, articles can be
emailed to the editors directly at
organise@afed.org.uk.
What goes in
Organise!
Organise! hopes to open up
debate in many areas of life. As
we have stated before, unless
signed by the Anarchist Federa-
tion as a whole or by a local AF
group, articles in Organise!
reflect the views of the person
who has written the articles and
nobody else.
If the contents of one of the
articles in this issue provokes
thought, makes you angry,
compels a response then let us
know. Revolutionary ideas
develop from debate, they do
not merely drop out of the air!

Organise! hopes to open up
debate in many areas of life. As
we have stated before, unless
signed by the Anarchist Federa-
tion as a whole or by a local AF
group, articles in Organise!
reflect the views of the person
who has written the articles and
nobody else.
If the contents of one of the
articles in this issue provokes
thought, makes you angry,
compels a response then let us
know. Revolutionary ideas
develop from debate, they do
not merely drop out of the air!

========================================
The anniversary issue
Features on the Anarchist Federation, in its 20th year,
the Hungarian revolution and the British general strike
Plus... interview with a Belarusian anarchist, decroissance, anarchist lives and more
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