Headed Straight For The Cliff? There Is Another Way! … with a Degrowth project.

Reporterre is an independent French online daily dealing with environmental issues. They organised a very successful discussion in Paris in October « Environment in the heart of a reconstruction of politics« . A Degrowth Project collective participated in this event based on the ideas suggested in the following text:

Headed Straight For The Cliff? There Is  Another Way!
By Vincent LiegeyFriday, September 26th, 2014, on Reporterre.

If we step back and consider the crazy world we live in, it isn’t long before we lose hope… Yet society is full of energy and inventiveness, opening our eyes to new possibilities. Concrete alternatives are being brought to the table every day and they will help build a society whose horizons do not end with profit and competition. Let us stick together, looking forward to the future!

It is hard to feel hopeful in light of environmental indicators (the planet’s resources are being used up more quickly each year, fossil fuels and metals are being depleted, according to the most recent report of the IPCC); rising inequality (1% of the population owns 50% of the wealth, returns on capital are rising, debt and austerity measures are a sham); the fact that the economy is the new religion; and the increasingly absurd litany proclaiming that sacrosanct economic growth is the
only possible solution (from French President Hollande to Prime Minister Valls, and including that huckster, former President Sarkozy)…

Not to mention the geopolitical situation, characterized by a burgeoning military and endless imperialist wars over oil. We are witnessing the reemergence of two blocs, amounting to a new cold war, a war that is already heating up in our own backyard, in the Ukraine!

And yet…

Two parallel worlds, but in ours, there is hope

Last summer provided once again the opportunity to envisage a parallel world – a very real one – far from what is portrayed in the mainstream media, which is now nothing more than a mouthpiece spouting simple populisms in support of the oligarchical party system. Here is a sample.

In July, in Barcelona, 70 students from around the world came together to take intensive classes at the Degrowth Summer School. The Alter-Tour traveled across France from East to West providing many with the opportunity to learn about a whole range of alternatives and to debate issues, most of which were inspired by our publication, A Degrowth Project, and culminating with a Bike-o-Lution in the streets of the Atlantic coast city of La Rochelle, complete with the celebration of a Mass for Holy Consumerism on the beach!

For me, the summer didn’t end there. Instead, I headed to Basic Income Summer University where the tone – unlike that of the Alter-Tour – was more academic, with intense debates and time to reflect on many issues, most notably: the meaning of our lives, how to regain control of our daily routines, what kind of democracy we want, how to form a constituent assembly, and whether or not a cap on income is a good idea.

Next, I headed to the French Degrowth Summer university “(F)estives in Cerbère” where we tackled the same issues, focusing on three themes: rejection, plans and journey. Here too, the discussions, conversations and reflections were ever so lively, but stood out as superb examples of self-management and non-violent communication!

A Historic Gathering

Finally, a historic gathering took place in Leipzig, the Fourth International Conference on Degrowth, where the same issues were discussed by more than 3,200 attendees representing 74 countries from every continent…

Finally, I recently returned from Brussels where I attended the European Citizenship Summit, organized by, among other groups, the NGO DEEEP. The event was held under the big tent, set up out in front of the den of technocratic and oligarchic growth, the European Parliament.

This year’s theme: “Beyond the European Union’s obsession with growth”… Two or three years ago, a theme such as this would probably have been turned down… Here again, we sat down in workshops highlighting similar topics and proposals: direct democracy, greater participation, emancipation, debates over shared spaces, expanding free-access, etc.

Leipzig – The Fourth International Conference on Degrowth

Building a New International?

A new International is emerging. It has no name nor structure. While not entirely imbued with Degrowth, it is waiting in the wings, a movement in the making, building on the incredibly vibrant alternatives and deliberations already in progress!

The transition has begun, both in theory and in practice, although it has not yet been adopted by everyone everywhere. Above all, one question keeps coming back: How can we think about politics in new ways while remaining true to our aspirations?

Traditional political structures are no longer capable of legitimately mobilizing and representing those segments of the population skeptical of the system. How can we take the next step, in order to restore meaning to politics?

First off, some strongly converging trends are appearing, both in terms of programs and proposals, such as: a constituent assembly for the first real democracy; the idea of an unconditional basic income (ideally integrating free-access and local currencies), combined with a maximum acceptable wage; working less to live better; bringing jobs back from abroad; the political re-appropriation of economic tools including, among other things, putting our central banks back in proper perspective as one vehicle to get the transition started; the printing of money; citizen audits of public debt (how much will be considered illegitimate? Whose interests are being served?); the end of the imposition of large needless projects; direct democracy; and so on.

Although there are converging trends with respect to this initiative – in spite of some disagreement which are part of the process – this step, however necessary, still doesn’t go far enough.

New Ways of Practicing Politics

The challenge is to rethink both the path forward and the methods, to invent and experiment with new ways of practicing politics while working together: how can a decentralized movement be designed and carried out, one that is participatory, respectful of – even fostering – the diversity of political cultures, approaches and strategies, one that permits dialogue and self-critique with nonviolence and goodwill?

How can we create a horizontal network of collectives, movements and parties, one that is sufficiently open so as to prevent anyone from suffocating within it for lack of the freedom to try new things, one that is sufficiently coherent; one that is unified and visible so as to put pressure on our decision-makers while standing up to oligarchy?

In the same way, how can we think in new ways about our relationship to power so as to avoid falling into pathetic and destructive egotistical battles and sectionalism? How can we change society without seizing power… nor giving it up?

It will require that we open our minds, that we take time out for dialogue, for listening, while leaving behind dogma and technobabble, but also we will need to show humility and patience, accepting that dissonance is a given and the fact that the challenges ahead are enormous, and that there is no silver bullet.

So see you in Paris on October 6th when we will kick off – or rather, carry on with – the discussions that will lead to a new International, looking forward to the future!

Vincent Liegey
Co-author of a “Degrowth Project – Manifesto for an Unconditional Autonomy Allowance” (Utopia, 2013), spokesperson of the French Degrowth movement. Engineer, PhD student on Degrowth, transdiciplinary researcher. 

Text translated by Dan Golembeski

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