Facing the current crisis: Critique and Resistance

Konstantatos Haris of the Harokopio University of Athens is a member of Syriza and Political scientist in the department of Geography. He states that Geography and History are also factors as well as different political and socio-economic structures. There are commonalities amongst many Southern European countries that need to be addressed today.

Whilst a lot of attention has been paid to the neo-liberalisation of economies in the 70s and 80s, not enough has been paid to environmental and resource factors, there is no 'one reason'. Neo-Liberalism has always set out to remove politics from economics and many feel it's too late to turn back to the 'golden age of capitalism' now. This has also led to a widespread alienation towards politics, rise of corruption and the growth of the far right.

The problem - Aggressive neo-liberalism

  • A double devaluation of labour and environmental commons
  • Catastrophic consequences of austerity on the environment
  • Competitiveness, productivity, extroversion, investment stimulation and employment opportunities
  • The 'poor sell cheap', this gives new opportunities for capital, tourism and resource extraction
  • Privatisation of services and resources

The old solution - Progressive productivism

  • Frequently from left-leaning, socialist and progressive groups
  • Based on well established and known theories
  • This is a long-standing attachment to post-war growth ideals from the left
  • Reconstruction should be taken over by the 'people', re-nationalisation. The nation state is the ideal
  • The ideal still tends to ignore environmental factors, extraction is still considered a positive

The new solution - Socio-Ecological Transformation

  • These ideas have come from the anti-globalisation movements, the squares and indigenous peoples
  • They propose meaningful alternatives to democracy, new non-hierarchical, horizontal organisational structures
  • Examples are worker cooperatives, social enterprise, solidarity initiatives, open source, Collaborative Consumption and alternative currencies

The 'orthodox' left claims that these experiments lack the critical mass necessary to make real change and cannot seriously challenge the system. However these 'experiments' have helped provide immediate aid to those most in need and this bottom-up approach is possibly helping make the change for those who it really matters to.

Conclusion - A unique political opportunity

There is a rising de-legitimisation of dominant capitalist structures, increasingly challenged and opposed. They are empowering their participants and helping them take part in the political system and 'economy'. The European South may be an ideal place to test many of the Degrowth theories as they are challenging that they need to follow what everyone else does. Many feel they have nothing to lose and need a change, they are ready to 'Take the Power back'. If successful, it may even spread from the South to the European North.

Between doom and Utopia

Barbara Muraca from the University of Jena.

Growth from magic wand to poison

So far Growth has helped create prosperity, reduced poverty, created employment, tax has paid for Government services, Political stability and less social conflict. However it needs to constantly accelerate to keep going, if it slows or stops, there is disaster. Of course there are limits to this growth and this promise can not hold for ever. Not only environmental limits but also social, creating needs and competition amongst the population is necessary. There is now an attitude of 'growth at any cost'. This has caused debt, speculation, exploitation and expansion risks (e.g. Fracking) and an intensification of the pace of life and a reduction in happiness and well-being.

Degrowth is a destiny?

Growth will stop and if growth based societies do stop there will be crisis and destabilisation. This enforced adaption to a shrinking economy may lead to a necessary return to localisation and family based services. However this could lead to a re-feudalisation of society with a lack of balance in the division of work between genders etc. It will also reduce academic, arts and cultural pursuits.

Degrowth as a project for social transformation

Degrowth is not about 'coping', 'Your recession is not our degrowth', it's a complete radical transformation of institutions. Degrowth could help be a bridge between the North and the South, capitalists and anti-capitalists etc.

Degrowth as a concrete utopia

There is no room for wishful thinking, Degrowth aims to anticipate what is really possible based on existing potential and tendencies. It then encourages and nurtures these potentials without blind (or militant) optimism.

Transforming the Social Imaginary

This will need to take place at a Structural and Institutional level, but also amongst societies shared ideals, visions and values. This redefining of values may also mean shifting the meaning of basic values such as 'freedom','autonomy', 'inequality', 'discrimination' and 'exploitation'.

Rethinking space and relations

Our current urban vs rural relations are based around production mechanisms, this is quite inefficient. There are already many projects challenging this around the world, the next stage is taking Collaborative Consumption to Collaborative Production. We can learn from poorer countries / people, how are they organising their structures and planning. Other examples of projects already doing this are the Open Source and Commons movements.

Education of desire and the project of Autonomy

Do these small scale experiments need to be scaled? What is our real need? 'Things' or control and autonomy over our lives?