(Adapted from a previous version in Galician published at El Salto. Translated and adapted by Mark Burton and Salvador Lladó.)
“By speaking of degrowth, you don’t win elections”, said Juan Carlos Monedero, one of the most charismatic members of the Spanish political party Podemos, a few years ago. But the CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy; Catalan political party) does not seem afraid to present a degrowth program in the next Catalan elections.
In environmentalist circles, the position of many political leaders is often seen as cynical. The reason for that opinion is that despite being aware that the civilizing cul-de-sac in which we find ourselves would require policies for an organized and fair degrowth in the economic sphere, they end up arguing in defense of the maintenance of policies aimed at permanently increasing the value of Gross Domestic Product. Unfortunately, the vast majority of politicians still believe that people would not accept alternative policies and thereby they would be condemned to electoral collapse. This would be the so-called Carter effect, recalling the electoral defeat of the former US president a few years after a televised speech about the need for sacrifice for the sake of sustainability. However, there is a political force in Catalunya (recently also with representation in the Spanish Congress)) that has for several years been moving in a very different direction. Thus, including in its electoral programs what they recognize in both their own internal debate and with the scientific and activist community, the need to imagine economies beyond growth.
This is the CUP (Popular Unity Candidacy), which has just presented a program for its joint candidacy with the Guanyem Catalunya (a small, radical municipalist party), which expressly includes what are explicitly degrowth proposals, within the section on “Ecosocial Transition” as
“Promoting the degrowth of the material sphere of the economy, that is, the reduction of the consumption of matter and energy in absolute terms and especially that of the ruling classes, for an effective redistribution of wealth” (p. 64).
It is noteworthy that they do not place the goal in the famous improvement of efficiency and installation of renewable energy, a techno-optimistic commonplace for other political parties. That approach is in practice useless in a capitalist system where it is impossible to avoid the rebound effect – or Jevons paradox – which nullifies any improving efficiency. Besides, electricity of solar or wind origin are merely added up to a total energy consumption always on the rise, engendered by the obsession of governments in achieving permanent increases in GDP. If the goal, on the other hand, is clearly to reduce consumption, all policies would be defined in terms of it, for example forcing a “nationalization of the energy sector”, as stated on the first day of election campaign, as a condition for the CUP-Guanyem to enter a future pro-independence government after the February 14th elections. And with polls again giving them a representation of about 10 seats, as they had two legislatures ago, maybe that is possibility. That is to say, a political force that might have governmental responsibilities, is proposing policies of organized and democratic Degrowth, against the fears expressed habitually by forces of the Spanish left.
The CUP programme advocates an Ecosocial Transition based on a degrowth of the economy in terms of energy and materials.
The CUP electoral program has further references to degrowth:
“we consider that we have to move towards a non-extractive model for land use, balanced and efficient in all aspects, compatible with the policies of degrowth of the material sphere of the economy which the current territorial and urban development of the Catalan Countries neither guarantees nor encourages” (p. 65),“we will promote actions of urban degrowth and de-urbanization as necessary to correct dysfunctionalities of the region ”(p. 67),“we will guarantee the environmental rights of future generations and we will reverse the global ecological crisis encouraging the reduction of energy and material consumption” (p. 74, where they also advocate “energy and food sovereignty”).
In the section “Energy Model and Transition” (p. 82) we again appreciate that they are clearly committed to the public management of energy demand to ensure this decrease and recognize that we are on the verge of an energy crisis (in this they are also pioneers) that will require this kind of measure:
“To deal with the coming energy crisis, we are committed to a new energy model based on a social energy descent, renewable energies and energy saving, and respect for the environment, with the direct and active planning and participation of citizens, both in both design and implementation. For this reason, we will establish a National Pact for the Energy Transition of Catalonia and we will promote a future Law of Energy Transition, with the objectives of planning, regulating and establishing the limits of the energy demand in all economic sectors”.
To contrast this with other left-wing candidacies, we can cite the proposal of En Comú-Podem [the dominant and non-nationalist municipalist party, in power in the city of Barcelona, which is in alliance with the national Podemos party]:
“To not use GDP growth as a measure of economic and social progress” (p. 31).
In line with this, they do not mention the usual goal of economic growth although they only expressly advocate for degrowth in very specific economic sectors such as tourism and urban planning. This is undoubtedly in the right direction, but too tepid and insufficient for the severity of the civilizational and ecological situation. The PSC [the Catalan branch of the social democratic “PSOE, literally the ‘Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party’] is even further behind, anchored in the orthodoxy of the obsolete goals of “sustainable growth”, now tinged with “green”, “inclusive” and “resilient”: “Economic growth is necessary, but not enough for the progress of citizenship”, states their program (p. 10), which they intend to reconcile with nothing less than a “decarbonised, renewable and fair energy transition, economically prosperous and environmentally and demographically sustainable” (p. 108). It seems that the reflections of some French former co-religionist on the fact that the decoupling of GDP with repect to energy consumption is in fact a myth, have not yet crossed the Pyrenees. As for the ERC [the main left Catalan secessionist party], they also keep in their programme the usual mentions of the political goal of “economic growth”, although perhaps in a less explicit way than in the case of the PSC, but without leaving out an iota of techno-utopian orthodoxy: “Technological progress is one of the determining aspects of long-term economic growth” (p. 12). Thus, if we look at what they propose in their programs, the left with a parliamentary presence in Catalonia would be located today, following an axis from the clearest growthism to a declared degrowth position, as follows: PSC-ERC-EnComúPodem-CUP.
En Comú-Podem also proposes to supplant GDP as a guide to economic policy. In the Basque country, the Bildu party has been moving towards Degrowth for years, and there has been discussion in both the French and British parliaments.
It was indeed with the leader of ERC Oriol Junqueras (then vice president of the Generalitat, and later convicted by the Spanish Justice for his role in the Catalan independence referendum) with whom CUP deputy Sergi Saladié held in 2017 a first debate on Degrowth in the Catalan parliament. This debate was overshadowed by the famous independence referendum held just a couple of weeks later. If after February 14th ERC leads a new pro-independence government in Catalonia, and the CUP has the possibility to be the key to the formation of that government, we will probably see the continuation of that debate. Four years later, degrowth positions are even stronger than before in the heart of the secessionist, anti-capitalist and ecofeminist CUP, after its last assembly focused on the ecological issue in which the degrowth faction of the party have made remarkable progress.
Undoubtedly, this scenario would help the debate to be finally broached at the level of the Spanish and other regional Parliaments, following the Basque and Navarrese ones, where the need for degrowth has also begun to be heard in recent years, thanks to Podemos but especially to EH Bildu [left nationalist Basque party], with the remarkable and pioneering arguments of representative Dani Maeztu in 2011 and 2013 in the Basque parliament:
“For us the only option is degrowth”.
Notable experts from the Basque Country, Navarre and Catalonia also appeared before parliamentary commissions with arguments in favor of degrowth, such as Antonio Turiel, Jordi Solé, Antonio Aretxabala and Pedro Prieto. These pioneering debates in some regional parliaments follow those in France, where degrowth has already become a relatively common topic in National Assembly debates, and the United Kingdom, where there is even an all-party standing committee that has taken several years to study the question of the Limits to Growth. However, other Spanish regions and European countries are still behind in this type of economic considerations. Is it time to look again at Catalonia?
Teaser photo credit: A panoramic view of Barcelona. By Oliver-Bonjoch – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7383820