Re-politicising society, re-socialising politics with Degrowth

Re-politicising society, re-socialising politics
What political strategy for a democratic and serene transition towards sustainable and desirable societies of Degrowth

Since the early 2000s, more so in the last few years, we have witnessed the emergence of local citizens initiatives; breaking away from the traditional models of growth society.
At the same time, in France, but also in other countries, mainly Latin countries, debates and political movements build around the ideas of Degrowth are spawning.
Today, these movements are wondering how to implement these different approaches together and how to propagate a new societal project whilst retaining the integrity of this political paradigm. Re-localisation of the economy, therefore of life, is at a core principle of Degrowth.
These local initiatives, or concrete alternatives, such as “shared housing” or the AMAP
(Association pour le Maintien d’une Agriculture Paysanne – French Association for the Maintenance of Family Farming), are an integral part of the logic of re-learning how to live locally, to produce locally; thus re-creating humane societies able to initiate a transition towards food and energy self-sufficiency. This book proposes a few of these initiatives.

Local initiatives such as Les Transition Towns, attract the curiosity of many persons; either the not-concerned or blasé by the traditional militancy and its codes. Despite being often presented as a-political, these initiatives are breaking away from the traditional political methods of “fighting against”; the purpose of which is to access power. They return to the essence of Politics: the life of the City, by letting all citizens participate in the re-appropriation of their life choices. Therefore they are quintessentially political and constitute concrete examples of re-socialisation of politics and re-politicisation of society, they have started to build different societies; sustainable and desirable, at the local level without waiting for an hypothetical ascension to power.

Each of these alternatives does not represent an end in itself but together they form a cauldron of experiences, more or less successful, set to expand and multiply according to local circumstances. These initiatives, even though most are independent, participate directly or indirectly in the building of a political movement breaking away from Growth society, capitalism, and productivism.
What is at stake today, thanks to these initiatives and the richness of these experiences, is to weave a network by creating links, bridges, pathways, not only among themselves but also with the different political levels of Degrowth. This networking would facilitate the sharing and criticising of ideas, meetings, and to gain exposure, understanding, and coherence as well. It would at the same time reduce the risk of withdrawal onto oneself, communitarianism, the survivalist drift, or to be caught up by decrees forbidding these types of approach all together.

Today we observe that Degrowth can spread to the four levels of politics:

  • The Collective level: through concrete alternatives in action, proposed in this book
  • The Project level: project of transition together with a reflexion on the shape and nature of Degrowth societies.
  • The Exposure level: organising forums-debates, demonstrations, appearances in medias, a non-electoralistic participation to elections.
  • The Individual level: through voluntary simplicity and the decolonisation of our imagination.

Each of these levels are complementary and each of the anti growth society initiatives involves one or more level. Today we must cultivate this diversity. The four levels of Degrowth are interactive and must feed on each other, without seeking any domination.

Now I would like to show the complementarities between the Collective level and the different levels:
A practical local alternative, however relevant, can be brought down by law if it functions oblivious of institutional politics and of the societal debates. On the contrary, by endorsing exposure, particularly by participating in a non-electoralistic manner into the elections, it contributes in two ways: first by explaining the approach and opening up the debate on Degrowth, and, secondly, it creates links among local elected representatives, who could facilitate the creation of alternatives, without taking over, even less being a substitute for it.
Conversely, practical alternatives contribute to a greater level of exposure and give more credential to Degrowth. Exposure can trigger new ideas to spawn here and there.
Conversely, there are some synergies between the Individual and collective levels at the exposure level: citizens who have chosen voluntary simplicity engage in alternative actions. But, without concrete actions, these citizens would not find suitable outlets to implement their preferred lifestyles and would be condemned to isolation.
Practical alternative actions realise their internal coherence and implicit theoretical reflections, as well as a global meaning to their endeavours. And vice versa, the Project needs these experiments to grow.

On the complementarities between the Individual, Project, and Exposure;
These intellectual reflections enrich the person and lead them to start questioning his/her lifestyle and thought process. Conversely, the persons who have chosen voluntary simplicity and Exposure, put a human face on this way of life, rather than a mere theoretical dimension. Without Exposure, the project would be caught up in its own truths and never be opened to debate. The ideas of Degrowth would stay in the hands of a small, enlightened elite. Conversely Exposure without the Project would be condemned to a rehashing of the same slogans, failing to deepen the debate and to question the trajectory: what Exposure? How to spread Degrowth in a coherent manner?

We can see the complementarities between the different levels but also the relevance and the coherence of imagining a common space where they function together. Building this space is a starting point to shape and experiment what tomorrow Degrowth societies could be. It is about building new interactions with the other, a new engagement with politics, democracy, and power.

“ Degrowth is not only an aim but a trajectory and a method”.

During the reflections and the workshops we have engaged in for the Europe-Degrowth campaign  in France, we have opted for a critical mass approach, or how to change society without taking power,  by starting here and now to fight against the existing powers. The great contribution of these alternatives amounts to: a new political practice where action prevails over the desire of power and domination. In fact, it is about re-appropriating the “power to do” over the “power over”. In fact, our non-electoralistic approach pertains to a political approach breaking away from the illusionary proposition that taking power is a prerequisite for any change of society. Our freedom of speech, of tone, and our disinterested attitude give us greater freedom to play the part of an ideological irritant, to propose new ideas, and to initiate debates and practical actions.

Similarly, this coherence must be reflected in the life of our movement, which is set up around our network of local collectives, thematic collectives, practical alternatives, and our coming together for some common projects such as seminars, books, elections, summits, festivals, demonstrations, etc.
All our projects amounts to “a side step”, always questioning with humility and respect the coherence between the thinking, the trajectory, and the method. Each of these shared experiences, whether successful or not, constitutes a building block of this transition towards sustainable and desirable societies of Degrowth, without ever forgetting that diversity is what constitutes its richness and coherence.

This approach can complement the traditional political parties, which insist on the taking of power as a prerequisite. In fact, these political parties, subjected to the electoral agenda and constrained by public funding, must adapt their discourse and strategies to the system. Nevertheless some members share our ideas and can act as in-betweens to relay our ideas and to allow us to initiate or set up our alternative experiments by introducing laws and/or public funding to that effect.
But, this can only be achieved by turning upside down the political imaginary, which let us believe that everything comes from the top down and that voting well is just what is needed for a better tomorrow: the elected person is not a substitute for the active citizen. The elected person is an enabler for citizens to act.

Changing society could well be the consequence of an imperative reasoning imposing on us a less generous, possibly more violent nature. The degrowthists or Growth Objectors (GO), if they adhere to the “need” for change, also subscribe, most likely above all, to its “desirability”. Degrowth does not simply mean accepting some ecological constraints but the articulation of a societal ideal. Conversely, we are witnessing a total ideological delusion on both the Right and the Left. The near exhaustion of oil resources and the growth in inequalities lead us to conceive a possible collapse of our civilisation. Therefore the risk of fascist, even eco-fascist politics9 is greater, and an enforced recession will replace the chosen path to Degrowth. Degrowth proposes to anticipate these changes, as from now, in order to initiate a transition towards sustainable and desirable societies, a transition which can only result from a democratic process and a strong endorsement and participation to our ideas.

Therefore, in accordance with our critical mass strategy and most importantly without waiting for a grand fictitious advent, we must start here and now to re-appropriate our life choices. What is at stake here, is to find the triggers to initiate a re-socialisation of politics and a re-politicisation of society, by reiterating that politics is not just electoral game as we are led to believe. Politics is the life of the city. It is about building local communities, collectives, solidarities, in a society where individualism and the cult of the person, but also the illusion of almighty power, and the denial of our interdependence all contribute to the de-politicisation of our society.

The myriad of alternatives; diverse, creative, imaginative, and innovative we come across here and there, constitutes a hope for the re-appropriation of politics, hence of a democratic transition towards Degrowth societies, assuming that there are part of a network of the different levels of Degrowth. It is all about doing politics, but differently, not to take power but to bring forward our ideas and our projects, so that the reflection and re-appropriation of our life choices replace consumption and the acceptance of a doomed social reality.

Vincent Liegey
Former spokesperson of the French Degrowth movement.
PhD student on Degrowth at the University of economics of Budapest, Hungary.

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