In an article entitled From Taming to Dismantling: Degrowth and Anti-capitalist Strategy Ekaterina Chertkovskaya (a researcher based at Lund University, working on degrowth and critical organization studies) uses sociologist Eric Olin Wright’s classification of anti-capitalist strategies to discuss possible paths of transformation to a post-growth society.
Wright identifies three logics of transformation: ruptural, interstitial and symbiotic. Ruptural transformations seek a sharp confrontation or break with existing institutions and social structures. Interstitial transformations involve building new forms of social empowerment on the margins of capitalist society, usually outside spaces dominated by those in power. Symbiotic transformations, in turn, are aimed at changing the existing institutional forms and deepening popular social empowerment existing within the current system so as to ultimately transform it.
The second of these categories (interstitial transformation) is not really a solution to the problem of unbounded growth unless it eventually morphs into one of the other two categories. Chertkovskaya recognizes this fact and admits later in the article that the symbiotic logic of transformation (i.e. the transforming of current institutional structures) must eventually come to play a vital role in bringing about a post growth society. She seem to reject the ruptural or revolutionary strategy.
An emphasis on interstitial transformations is understandable since it offers an opportunity for immediate concrete action. You can grow a significant portion of the food you consume. You can preserve locally obtained food by canning and drying. You can learn various skills that make you less dependent on selling your labor to The Man. You can make yourself less dependent on external energy sources by better insulating your home or doing passive solar retrofits. You can engage in barter with like-minded neighbors, or if you are more ambitious you can help to create a local currency by means of a local exchange trading system (LETS). However, unless you want to go all the way back to the neolithic the mantra of relocalization will not get you to your desired destination. If you want to take some advantage of the more varied pool of material resources available from a wide geographic area, and if you want to take some advantage of the specializations and efficiencies of advanced technological culture, then the larger systems which make these resources available also need to be transformed.
Unfortunately symbiotic transformations represent an extremely daunting challenge. A complex interconnected system of social institutions and cultural norms must be transformed in order create an economy that is not dependent on constant growth. A mechanism must exist for creating reasonable standards of consumption. A reasonably efficient method of making decisions about infrastructure investment (both civil and manufacturing) must be created which does not require the payment of debt based interest as compensation for the risks involved in such decision making. The proprietorship of land must be able to change hands with incurring large debt based interest payments. A means of providing security of consumption for the elderly must be devised which is not dependent on growth based investment.
And even if one comes up with proposals for reform which address all of these issues, such proposals will have to face the resistance of an enormous cultural inertia which favors familiar forms of social organization. Samuel Butler in his essay God the Known and God the Unknown describes such cultural inertia in the following terms:
MANKIND has ever been ready to discuss matters in inverse ratio to their importance, so that the more closely a question is felt to touch the hearts of all of us, the more incumbent it is considered upon prudent people to profess that it does not exist, to frown it down, to tell it to hold its tongue, to maintain that it has long been finally settled, so that there is now no question concerning it…
Nevertheless, however conservative we may be, and however much alive to the folly and wickedness of tampering with settled convictions-no matter what they are-without sufficient cause, there is yet such a constant though gradual change in our surroundings as necessitates corresponding modification in our ideas, desires, and actions. We may think that we should like to find ourselves always in the same surroundings as our ancestors, so that we might be guided at every touch and turn by the experience of our race, and be saved from all self-communing or interpretation of oracular responses uttered by the facts around us. Yet the facts will change their utterances in spite of us; and we, too, change with age and ages in spite of ourselves, so as to see the facts around us as perhaps even more changed than they actually are…
Under these circumstances, organism must act in one or other of these two ways: it must either change slowly and continuously with the surroundings, paying cash for everything, meeting the smallest change with a corresponding modification so far as is found convenient; or it must put off change as long as possible, and then make larger and more sweeping changes.
Both these courses are the same in principle, the difference being only one of scale, and the one being a miniature of the other, as a ripple is an Atlantic wave in little; both have their advantages and disadvantages, so that most organisms will take the one course for one set of things and the other for another. They will deal promptly with things which they can get at easily, and which lie more upon the surface; those, however, which are more troublesome to reach, and lie deeper, will be handled upon more cataclysmic principles, being allowed longer periods of repose followed by short periods of greater activity…
So with politics, the smaller the matter the prompter, as a general rule, the settlement; on the other hand, the more sweeping the change that is felt to be necessary, the longer it will be deferred.
The advantages of dealing with the larger questions by more cataclysmic methods are obvious. For, in the first place, all composite things must have a system, or arrangement of parts, so that some parts shall depend upon and be grouped round others, as in the articulation of a skeleton and the arrangement of muscles, nerves, tendons, etc., which are attached to it. To meddle with the skeleton is like taking up the street, or the flooring of one’s house; it so upsets our arrangements that we put it off till whatever else is found wanted, or whatever else seems likely to be wanted for a long time hence, can be done at the same time.
Of course we are not going to take up the street and flooring our society unless we have a fairly clear idea what we are going to replace them with. The failure to provide such clear idea is a weakness of many people advocating for new economic norms. Economic Degrowth proponents express good ecological intentions but fail to make concrete structural proposals for the organizational structure of a post growth society.
In my book Eight Economic Truths I have attempted to lay out a set of organizational principles for a post growth society. I do not claim that this attempt has produced a definitive and final formula for transformation, but I hope that a concrete vision of new form of social organization may lead to more fruitful dialogues than can result from abstract discussions of strategy detached from concrete proposals of reform.