Communist Degrowth


Shane Hopkinson
 

Comrades will be aware of Kohei Saito's book Karl Marx's Ecosocialism (it won the Deutscher prize in 2018) that builds on the earlier work of Bellamy Foster on Marx's ecology. 

Interestingly his next work (in Japanese) was on "Communist Degrowth" which people apparently people said would be a disaster (combining 2 unpopular concepts in the one title). Instead it's become something of a best-seller in Japan.  There's an English translation (where 'communist degrowth' has been relegated to the subtitle):
Marx in the Anthropocene: Towards the Idea of Degrowth Communism.

Should be an interesting read

Cheers

Shane





--
 
  


David Walters
 

I'd like to see a discussion of this "Degrowth" concept. It is a terrible term because, semantically and colloquially, it means "poverty". Marx talked about the "Freeing of the productive forces" and I've never seen Foster or others square that circle.

David Walters


Farans Kalosar
 

On Sat, Jul 2, 2022 at 01:57 PM, David Walters wrote:
I'd like to see a discussion of this "Degrowth" concept. It is a terrible term because, semantically and colloquially, it means "poverty". Marx talked about the "Freeing of the productive forces" and I've never seen Foster or others square that circle.

David Walters
Despite extreme reservations about the value of Engels as a scientific Supreme Leader, I have no trouble accepting the "metabolic rift" metaphor in some form, even if I do not believe that Nature as a whole has a single metabolism in any meaningful sense and also believe that Nature itself continually rends its own metaphorical metabolism.  There's no eternal life, even for Nature. The whole thing is going to pass away at some point, but metabolic rift--if less than a scientific touchstone--is nevertheless far more than just another metaphor.

All the same, while of course rejecting the infantile fantasy of "fully automated luxury communism" I think that many people might be tempted into something too close for comfort to "anarcho-primitivism" by sheer ignorance of the great catalogue of things required physically to reproduce the economy day after day.  We used to wonder at this; now that Walt Whitman has fallen out of favor, our perspective is much narrower.

I habitually watch YouTube videos by a man in western Pennsylvania who has turned the "will it start" genre into an extended meditation on the rescue and revival of heavy equipment, construction, the great catalogue of parts and supplies that seems to fill up the background of our lives automatically, and a kind of Robinson Crusoe enactment of a fantasy of near-total self-reliance.  This person--by all accounts what my late mother would have called "a terrible republican"--is by no means stupid or personally unpleasant.  ON the contrary, he is extremely intelligent and articulate, highly skilled in fundaml work techniques that many of us don't ever think about, and a skilled and genial producer of media "objects" that hold attention and--if you are interested--tell an interesting story.

But when I see him patching up piece after piece of worn-out heavy machinery--tractors, trucks, road graders, bulldozers, roller-compactors, excavators--all in service to his ideal of building a "dream shop" on a small farm, I can't help being reminded of two things: the ubiquity of fuel-and-resource-intensive machinery it takes to maintain any "lifestyle" we can truly imagine, and the sheer folly of believing that anyone can just walk away from the diabolical bargain inherent in advanced capitalism. 

Everything around us, to quote the late Robert Lowell, "slides by on grease."  There really is no way out of the greasy mess except by getting through it to the other side--if indeed that "other side" is really possible. And given the alternative, we had better hope there is a way. People need to sonsider the vast taxonomy of techniques and products--most of them fitting actual needs, if overfilling and wasting both lives and resources in the process of doing so

For me, "degrowth" in a good sense means above all getting rid of the excessive production and consumption required to maintain the growing mass of capitalist profits, first and foremost by eliminating the whole idea of profit as now realized on the basis of exploiting wage labor--or indulging in the endless sonfidence game of "innovative" financial instruments as the true form of productivity.

But many people perhaps have no idea what they are asking for when they de facto join the ranks of the anarcho-primitivists and verge on demanding an end to industrial production in all or most of its forms (if that is in fact a thing). 

So for me, the first thing is to reject capitalistic profit and the nauseous fiction of eternal growth in profitability, while NOT rejecting wholesale the idea of technology and technological progress.

Finally, elements of a definition from (yes) Wikipedia:

Degrowth (Frenchdécroissance) is a term used for both a political, economic, and social movement as well as a set of theories that critiques the paradigm of economic growth.[1] It can be described as an extensive framework that is based on critiques of the growth-centered economic system in which we are living. Degrowth is based on ideas from a diverse range of lines of thought such as political ecologyecological economicsfeminist political ecology, and environmental justice, pointing out the social and ecological harm caused by the pursuit of infinite growth and Western "development" imperatives.[2] Degrowth emphasizes the need to reduce global consumption and production (social metabolism) and advocates a socially just and ecologically sustainable society with social and environmental well-being replacing GDP as the indicator of prosperity. Hence, although GDP is likely to shrink in a "Degrowth society", i.e. a society in which the objectives of the degrowth movement are achieved, this is not the primary objective of degrowth. 
Note that the discussion is framed in terms of economics and revolves around the disestablishment of GDP as a measure of economic health. 
 
I don't see why Kohei Saito or Foster should be denounced, or thrown out of court, but a broader and inclusive--and perhaps at times a less theoretical--discussion might be preferable to one centering narrowly on this or that thinker or the convolutions of dialectical philosophy.


Anthony Boynton
 

Thanks for the reference, Shane. 

I think degrowth, despite the popular connotations, is necessary. 

In fact, global warming and associated environmental changes guarantee that it is going to happen regardless of which course human society "decides" to take. Our current course is to decimate human society through climate related disasters of droughts, fires, floods, crop failures, epidemics, mass migrations, and wars. Can we change course and plan degrowth? yes, but I think it requires social revolution in at least the most important political economies of the planet: China, Japan, the United States, the EU, and Russia. Beyond that it requires that we stop and reverse the growth of the human population to reduce overall consumption while increasing individual consumption. Myriad other, less difficult measures are also needed.

Anthony

On Sat, Jul 2, 2022 at 3:13 PM Farans Kalosar <fkalosar101@...> wrote:
On Sat, Jul 2, 2022 at 01:57 PM, David Walters wrote:
I'd like to see a discussion of this "Degrowth" concept. It is a terrible term because, semantically and colloquially, it means "poverty". Marx talked about the "Freeing of the productive forces" and I've never seen Foster or others square that circle.

David Walters
Despite extreme reservations about the value of Engels as a scientific Supreme Leader, I have no trouble accepting the "metabolic rift" metaphor in some form, even if I do not believe that Nature as a whole has a single metabolism in any meaningful sense and also believe that Nature itself continually rends its own metaphorical metabolism.  There's no eternal life, even for Nature. The whole thing is going to pass away at some point, but metabolic rift--if less than a scientific touchstone--is nevertheless far more than just another metaphor.

All the same, while of course rejecting the infantile fantasy of "fully automated luxury communism" I think that many people might be tempted into something too close for comfort to "anarcho-primitivism" by sheer ignorance of the great catalogue of things required physically to reproduce the economy day after day.  We used to wonder at this; now that Walt Whitman has fallen out of favor, our perspective is much narrower.

I habitually watch YouTube videos by a man in western Pennsylvania who has turned the "will it start" genre into an extended meditation on the rescue and revival of heavy equipment, construction, the great catalogue of parts and supplies that seems to fill up the background of our lives automatically, and a kind of Robinson Crusoe enactment of a fantasy of near-total self-reliance.  This person--by all accounts what my late mother would have called "a terrible republican"--is by no means stupid or personally unpleasant.  ON the contrary, he is extremely intelligent and articulate, highly skilled in fundaml work techniques that many of us don't ever think about, and a skilled and genial producer of media "objects" that hold attention and--if you are interested--tell an interesting story.

But when I see him patching up piece after piece of worn-out heavy machinery--tractors, trucks, road graders, bulldozers, roller-compactors, excavators--all in service to his ideal of building a "dream shop" on a small farm, I can't help being reminded of two things: the ubiquity of fuel-and-resource-intensive machinery it takes to maintain any "lifestyle" we can truly imagine, and the sheer folly of believing that anyone can just walk away from the diabolical bargain inherent in advanced capitalism. 

Everything around us, to quote the late Robert Lowell, "slides by on grease."  There really is no way out of the greasy mess except by getting through it to the other side--if indeed that "other side" is really possible. And given the alternative, we had better hope there is a way. People need to sonsider the vast taxonomy of techniques and products--most of them fitting actual needs, if overfilling and wasting both lives and resources in the process of doing so

For me, "degrowth" in a good sense means above all getting rid of the excessive production and consumption required to maintain the growing mass of capitalist profits, first and foremost by eliminating the whole idea of profit as now realized on the basis of exploiting wage labor--or indulging in the endless sonfidence game of "innovative" financial instruments as the true form of productivity.

But many people perhaps have no idea what they are asking for when they de facto join the ranks of the anarcho-primitivists and verge on demanding an end to industrial production in all or most of its forms (if that is in fact a thing). 

So for me, the first thing is to reject capitalistic profit and the nauseous fiction of eternal growth in profitability, while NOT rejecting wholesale the idea of technology and technological progress.

Finally, elements of a definition from (yes) Wikipedia:

Degrowth (Frenchdécroissance) is a term used for both a political, economic, and social movement as well as a set of theories that critiques the paradigm of economic growth.[1] It can be described as an extensive framework that is based on critiques of the growth-centered economic system in which we are living. Degrowth is based on ideas from a diverse range of lines of thought such as political ecologyecological economicsfeminist political ecology, and environmental justice, pointing out the social and ecological harm caused by the pursuit of infinite growth and Western "development" imperatives.[2] Degrowth emphasizes the need to reduce global consumption and production (social metabolism) and advocates a socially just and ecologically sustainable society with social and environmental well-being replacing GDP as the indicator of prosperity. Hence, although GDP is likely to shrink in a "Degrowth society", i.e. a society in which the objectives of the degrowth movement are achieved, this is not the primary objective of degrowth. 
Note that the discussion is framed in terms of economics and revolves around the disestablishment of GDP as a measure of economic health. 
 
I don't see why Kohei Saito or Foster should be denounced, or thrown out of court, but a broader and inclusive--and perhaps at times a less theoretical--discussion might be preferable to one centering narrowly on this or that thinker or the convolutions of dialectical philosophy.


Bobby MacVeety
 

For the 99% degrowth is well underway with most of the economic “growth” going to the merchants arms and fossil fuels which grow the way cancer grows, destroying the host. We need to grow class consciousness and an earth conscious energy plan and a society focused on care for each other.


On Jul 2, 2022, at 1:57 PM, David Walters <dwaltersmia@...> wrote:

I'd like to see a discussion of this "Degrowth" concept. It is a terrible term because, semantically and colloquially, it means "poverty". Marx talked about the "Freeing of the productive forces" and I've never seen Foster or others square that circle.

David Walters


David Walters
 

I appreciate everyone's chiming in on this. Lots of things to think about. I guess my view is that the polar opposite position to my own, not yet fully articulated, is Anthony's. Especially his POV on population control. I haven't a clue about how it makes this connect with climate change since it is poverty...something we can discuss what this actually means...is one of the larger causes for Green House Gas emissions (GHG), Also, what IS overpopulation? And do we use a nations borders to determine this (if we did, the UK would be the most "overpopulated" countries in the world since it has to import so much of it's food.

 

My initial view on this is the worlds governments are trying to either increase or maintain their populations standard of living. Or they simply don't give a shit. The countries that "care" (I do use this term advisedly) are not the undeveloped ones but the developing ones that want to rival or join the Imperialist club. India is a prime example, plus a dozen African ones starting with Nigerian and Egypt and including Ghana, Ethiopia (until recently when the county imploded), Kenya and of course South Africa. The Indo-Malaysian archipelago should be added as well. Then there is China, Vietnam and other countries.

 

Clearly in large part Imperialism, that is the political-economy of capitalism today, is the driving force, but it is a hugely contradictory dynamic since the interests of Imperialism globally is "m-m-m", that is investing money to make more money to accumulate more money or, as we normally call this, speculation. Speculation is anti-development. It doesn't immediately or even intermediately generated revenue (capital) flow. Imperialism wants the fasted return for the least amount of capital invested (stocks, real-estate, options, futures, derivatives more generally). Investing is infrastructure, most notably, in the developing world or underdeveloped world, is a "no-no" of major proportions. That is the IMF, World Bank and other global financial institutions generally look down on investing in physical property. A country might be interested in developing a railroad infrastructure to encourage long term economic grown (within the hardened borders of Imperialism, of course) and to develop their nation in a somewhat balanced approached to population, internal consumption, health and educations because the masses are demanding it. But the Imperialism would demand, if the railroad is to be built, to be optimized for trade, that is export to other countries, most notable the Imperialist center (EU, Japan, North America).  Anything else is opposed. This later globalist Imperialist scheme focuses on extractive industries and extremely centralized agriculture organized around exporting high quality fruits and vegetables or grains, not to be consumed in the country but overproduced to generate revenue.

For me the question is not population control, but how the worlds economy needs to be re-organized in a wise, human oriented way, that is socialism. While I think a lot of gains can be made the absolute impoverishment of half the world has to be addressed, if not there is no rebound from this crisis Anthony decribed. And for that to happen, we need development, a LOT of development, but in an ecologically friendly, wise as I noted above, and socially just way. Unless folks can address "de-development" that allows for an expansion of development to raise living standards anything else is political suicide and ultimately pro-poverty.

 

David Walters


sartesian@...
 

On Sat, Jul 2, 2022 at 10:03 PM, Anthony Boynton wrote:
Beyond that it requires that we stop and reverse the growth of the human population to reduce overall consumption while increasing individual consumption.
How do you propose to reverse the growth of the human population?  Without slanting the "control" to discriminate against women.  Seems to be almost impossible to me.

Population growth rates slow as a function of overall economic development, as women and children are no longer vehicles for domestic labor.  I think it has to be possible to eliminate 90-95% of fossil fuel operational use without imposing "birthing" limits. I say operational in that the capital costs  to build the necessary infrastructure don't seem to be subject to the same sort of reduction initially since we inherit a fossil-fuel based production base.  But... hydrocarbons fuel 98% of transportation, and  for example, the world's largest consumer of petroleum products is the US Navy (the Union Pacific RR used to be the 2nd largest, IIRC).  We can attack those two vectors.  This issue, IMO, isn't population growth, but the profit embedded in hydrocarbon use.


Farans Kalosar
 

On Sun, Jul 3, 2022 at 12:06 PM, David Walters wrote:

It is a hugely contradictory dynamic since the interests of Imperialism globally is "m-m-m", that is investing money to make more money to accumulate more money or, as we normally call this, speculation. Speculation is anti-development. It doesn't immediately or even intermediately generated revenue (capital) flow. Imperialism wants the fasted return for the least amount of capital invested (stocks, real-estate, options, futures, derivatives more generally). Investing is infrastructure, most notably, in the developing world or underdeveloped world, is a "no-no" of major proportion.

I don't see how anyone can disagree with this. But, as a recent article by Alejandro Pedregal and Juan Bordera in MR states:

A 2016 study already noted that the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan, and Australia had contributed 61 percent of the historical total accumulation of carbon dioxide emissions, compared to China and India’s combined 13 percent, and Russia’s 7 percent, while the rest of the world accounts for just 15 percent, and shipping and aviation for the remaining 4 percent—a disjuncture that would be even greater if emissions were calculated according to consumption and not just production.17

Inequality is reflected at many other levels as well. Another recent report by Oxfam calculated that the richest 1 percent of the planet has been responsible for emitting as much carbon dioxide as the poorest 3.1 billion people between 1990 and 2015, representing 15 percent of emissions. The richest 10 percent has emitted 52 percent, while the poorest half of the population have barely contributed 7 percent of the total.18 Another report published recently by the same organization calculated that “the world’s richest 1 percent are set to have per capita consumption emissions in 2030 that are still 30 times higher than the global per capita level compatible with the 1.5ºC goal of the Paris Agreement.”

Capitalism,does not seek to close the gap between rich and poor, and there is no sustained intention on the part of the wealthier nations to "raise" the less wealthy to their "higher" standard.  But if that were the project, and the necessary "development" took place on the model seen in the current "advanced" nations, the result would be an even greater ecological catastrophe than is emerging at present--one of unimaginable proportions.  

Isn't this really the irreducible crux of the matter?  Nature sets limits to the resources that can be exploited by human industry at current and foreseeable population levels, and these limits can no longer be ignored because of the ecological disaster that we see emerging everywhere around us.  Such limits have been imagined wrongly in the past, for example, when Malthus wrote circa 1798 that "to give full effect to the natural resources of the country a great part of the population should be swept from the soil."

This was clearly wrong for the end of the eighteenth century when Malthus wrote, and it is wrong now.  Something like this view, indeed, may underlie the murderousl anti-humanism of the current right wing.  What after all is Clarence Thomas's bold program to revoke nearly all the customary legal rights of ordinary citizens but some idea that the "great part" should be "swept from the soil"? But there is very little time left either politically or ecologically, and it is beginning to look as if the time required for the development of socialism simply is not available.

So WITBD?