This interview was made by the French magazine S!lence. Three questions were asked to the members of the Collective « Un projet de Décroissance » (« A Degrowth Project » ) about the differencies, the complementarities, and the convergences between the Degrowth and Transition movements.
S!lence magazine: Paul Chatterton’ and Alice Cutler’s book: The Rocky Road to a Real Transition starts with an observation made by Great Britain activists who have noticed a disconnection between the movement and the great ecological battles. In your practice within a transition group (or as an observer), do you think this critic applies to the French movement?
A Degrowth Project: Transition Towns movement2 is a practical approach by design. It is based on two unavoidable future threats: climate change and peak oil and it proposes to anticipate them. It argues that political parties and movements have lost any credibility in addressing these major issues. Transition Towns movement’s aim is to function outside sterile and political ideologies, favouring action at the local level thus creating a dynamic of resilience in anticipation of the oncoming catastrophes. In France this raison-d’être is at the heart of its concrete alternatives. We do not think that the French movement’ spirit is disconnected from the great ecological battles.
Furthermore, the “apolitical” strategy succeeds in involving de-politicised people, anti-political even. With its methodology, the Transition Towns movement is a popular education and re-politicisation tool for society. It sensitizes people to the ecological issues, it favours localised barter and participatory dynamics and self-organisation. Paradoxically, this movement reinvents a political practice. It breaks away from some illusionary grand vision, by implementing collective experiments that could become new desirable and sustainable societal models. In reality the rejection of politics is only true in words, since in our opinion, this type of action is highly politicised.
This approach resonates more within Anglo-Saxon societies, since politics play a different role than in Latin societies. In France, political parties and political movements, despite experiencing some disaffection, continue to monopolize and ideologise collective actions and struggles. Concrete alternatives or citizens’ initiatives, in which the transition movement participates, constitutes a fantastic ideological lever. They expose new people to politics outside the traditional activists’ circles. They contribute to questioning some practices and power relations of the entities that shape the French political scene.
As growth objectors, we support transition initiatives by taking part in them and by inviting people to participate whilst acknowledging their limits.
S!lence magazine: The book also raises the issue of relationships with the elected representatives and it claims that the situation cannot be solely cooperative and that confrontations are bound to happen. Rob Hopkins writes: “The elected representatives’ role is to support not to guide”. In practice, how do you work with local authorities? Can you feel some limits to these relationships? Do you think that we can pursue such cooperative practice or that, in fact, confrontations with the local representatives are inevitable sometimes/often?
A Degrowth Project: Rob Hopkins’ words resonate with us. The elected representatives’ role is to help us re-appropriate politics; as a participation of all to public affairs, and not to make decisions ” instead of us”. It is up to the citizens to experiment new lifestyles, production and barter modes outside mainstream channels. Voluntary simplicity or practical alternatives are Transition tools. From this perspective, local representatives can offer an invaluable support. But they can also be an impediment. That is why Transition experiments are not sufficient. It appears that we cannot avoid the need for a counter-power and for spoilsports of the system by meeting others, taking part in elections, even being part of majorities in a timely fashion. Like it or not, the concept of transition leads us to understand and accept that we come from a centralised and bureaucratic Growth society and that we need to dismantle its institutions and interdependences. It is necessary to create pathways between the men and women who are simultaneously in the system and its margins.
We must bring the elected representatives, political parties and political movements to rethink their relation to power and to abandon the logic of political re-appropriation. Importantly we must question the illusion that it is necessary to take power to change society. By inviting friends involved in practical alternatives to meet, discuss, lose inhibitions and play a part in counter-power, in a constructive capacity, we re-affirm that all are necessary and complementary of each other.
S!lence magazine: The French Degrowth movement has special characteristics; it has a stronger political presence, through essays, books, and electoral candidates … but also through local groups implementing concrete alternatives not dissimilar to Transition groups’ practices. Do you feel these two movements are converging or not?
A Degrowth Project: Strong convergences exist between these two movements, particularly, the relation to power, communal living and non-violent communication methods, ecological sensibility and open re-localisation as well.
Transition movements are rich and effective concrete alternatives but insufficient. We think that these movements are part of a Degrowth project, since they are examples with the potential to initiate a serene democratic transition towards new societal models that we still need to invent.
To the concrete alternatives such as the Transition movements Degrowth offers political meaning and political perspectives. It offers a holistic view, its analyses on the converging crises and their interconnections, its reflections on potential Degrowth projects.
The common aim is to conceive and build socially just, desirable and sustainable societies.
Anne-Isabelle Veillot, Cynthia Toupet, Christophe Ondet, Stéphane Madelaine and Vincent Liegey
Members of the Collective « Un projet de Décroissance »(A Degrowth Project)
Vincent Liegey, Stéphane Madelaine, Christophe Ondet Anne-Isabelle Veillot.
A Degrowth Project – Manifesto for an Unconditional Autonomy Allowance, Utopia.
“ […] the prerequisite for the transfromation of the economy is “ a strong adhesion from all and a participation to this desire for change”. That is the least … But we have to start somewhere and this stimulating book contributes to it undoubtedly”. Hervé Kempf in Le Monde.
“ And the success of the book may suggest that “transition is well underway”. Emmanuel Daniel in Slate.fr.