Could "degrowth" have the same fate as "sustainable development"? A discussion on passive revolution in the Anthropocene age



The sustainable development discourse, including the modern green growth version, may have aspects that contribute to environmental and social welfare but it is a top down reform project, that aims at correcting the environmental and social externalities resulting from economic growth. It is directed by governments that abide by the logic of capital. Although in principle there is civic engagement, public participation is limited and without challenging the dominant economic paradigm. Following Gramsci's terminology, sustainable development can be interpreted as a passive revolution, in the sense that change is managed through compromises with different social and political actors but within limits which neutralize any potential threat to economic and political power. On the contrary, the emerging (yet still marginal) alternative, multi-disciplinary, degrowth academic paradigm, has evolved from an activist movement since the first decade of this century, and retains close contacts and open communication with social movements that support a degrowth transition in economy and society. This transition directly challenges the established orthodox growth narrative and the mechanisms of capital accumulation. Thus, in contrast to the sustainable development discourse, it is difficult for the "power bloc" to accommodate degrowth. But in times of crisis and change, the dominant powers can certainly use some aspects of the degrowth discourse, assimilating and transforming them into elements that fit their new accumulation strategies, hegemonic visions and state projects. For this not to happen, degrowthers should focus their research and theory more on the workings of capitalist political economy, and their political practice on trying to form alliances with social actors, such as working-class movements,that are crucial for the achievement of hegemony.

Keywords: degrowth, sustainable development, green growth, European Green Deal, passive revolution, Gramsci, capitalism, eco-socialism

How to Cite: Trantas, N. (2021) “Could "degrowth" have the same fate as "sustainable development"? A discussion on passive revolution in the Anthropocene age”, Journal of Political Ecology. 28(1). doi: