Degrowth Desires

By Francesca Jobson, Laura van Damme, Adam Cogan & Josep Maria Salleras i Mercader.

This text is the introduction to the magazine Degrowth Desires, which you can download and read here.

Degrowth. What exactly does it offer? While it speaks of a world that centres social welfare, community cohesion, environmental justice and, ultimately, the disregard of economic growth as the defining societal objective, it is unclear how and whether this vision can be desirable to everyone. There is likewise a tendency in discussions within degrowth to overlook the significance of class politics, including the role working class people (as the broad base of society) must play in realising a post-capitalist, post-growth transition.

Therefore, this issue is an incipient investigation into desire as a central component in formulating a degrowth vision that can garner sufficient popular support to achieve its goals. To this end, we reached out to various individuals, ranging from academics to trade unionists, and authors to everyday working people and activists. With their insights, several approaches to desire and its relevance to degrowth are considered and explored. While by no means a comprehensive overview, the interviews and articles found in this issue attempt to take the first step in highlighting the multifaceted nature of working class desires alongside the roots of such desires and the systemic structures and processes that underpin them. As such, this issue paints only the initial few brush strokes of a very large and complex picture, providing a tentative overview of what working class desire means for degrowth.

The propensity in degrowth to assume certain logics or avenues in its materialisation is one fundamental barrier explored. This approach can lead to essentialising groups of people and a presupposition of certain strategies without a genuine understanding or inclusion of various subjugated communities and the tensions within them. Frequently idealising a preconceived sense of locality and community across space likewise leads some strands of degrowth to underestimate the need to more directly contest these spaces. Something that can only be done by appreciating and appealing to the desires of those most affected by capitalism and its ancillary systems that together dominate our world today. (As well as, vitally, of those who may even have a superficial or imagined stake within these systems).

Ultimately this issue seeks to highlight key oversights within certain strands of degrowth that could arguably be branded overly middle class, producing a brand of bourgeois agrarian localism that we believe would not be desirable to overworked, impoverished people due to its messaging, its impracticality, and its alienating approach and aesthetic.
Effectively, we argue for a qualitative transformation of desire, as opposed to its quantitative limitation (which we believe is impossible in a free society), with a view towards challenging the capitalist monopolisation of desire by seeking the libidinal substrates for radical transformations. We additionally explore related questions—ranging from the contemporary value of Luddism, to a critique of simulation in political activism within the elite space of the university—and consider why the far right may have become more desirable than the radical left alongside how the left itself may perhaps partly be responsible for this.

Finally, we take care to note that the working class is not homogeneous, and acknowledge that it cannot be easily defined but instead takes on different meanings across contexts and cultures. However, we also acknowledge that despite our best intentions, we received responses primarily from white, cisgender men and women, and so wish to stress that our picture of working class desire is far from complete or representative. We hope to address these gaping holes in future work.

We also seek to avoid essentialising ‘the working class’ as an automatically conscious, ready-made, always latently revolutionary subjectivity. Rather, we view the working class as a contested, contesting, proactive subject group, laden with tensions and reactions, and shaped by suffering decades of ideological and material assault. We therefore refuse to brand working class political activity of any kind as the result of foolish delusion, but as the articulation of real, often legitimate desires (or fears) expressed in a political sphere that lacks a powerfully libidinal left-wing project for working class people of all stripes. If a degrowth transition is to happen, this has to change.