Contractionary Revolution

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  • Book: The Contractionary Revolution. Frank Rotering.



Frank Rotering, from the preface:

"Humankind's economic activities over the last few centuries have driven the biosphere into overshoot, resulting in a looming cataclysm for life on earth. To reverse this overshoot condition our species must rapidly reduce its population, lower the consumption of the rich, and increase its ecological efficiencies. However, this solution cannot be implemented by growth-dependent capitalist economies, including China’s state-directed version. The unavoidable implication is that the system must now be historically superseded. Because this conclusion seriously threatens the powerful, it has been placed beyond the boundary of permissible thought and discourse. Severe penalties, both personal and professional, await those who stray into the forbidden territory. As a consequence, current discussions about the crisis are largely meaningless, and efforts to resolve it are futile. If the world's ecosystems are to be salvaged, this taboo must be shattered. In this book I attempt to do so, and then draw my conclusions about the way forward."


"The book is organized as follows:

Chapter 1 (Overshoot) clarifies the nature of the ecological crisis by distinguishing between resource overshoot, which is typified by peak oil, and impact overshoot, which is best represented by climate change. Impact overshoot is identified as the clear priority, and the urgency of reversing it – particularly its climate change component – is emphasized. The chapter places the crisis in historical context and discusses the roles played by human nature and capitalism.

Chapter 2 (Economy) presents an economic plan for resolving the overshoot crisis: the rapid contraction of the world’s rich economies through a process called organic change. As a central aspect of this process, a distinction is made between capitalism's economic logic, which determines the system's outcomes, and its institutions, which help implement this logic. Whereas the logic is transparently ecocidal and must be quickly replaced, the institutional features should be selectively retained. The core feature of this approach is a new economic rationality called the Economics of Needs and Limits (ENL). This is my proposed replacement for capitalism's discarded logic in guiding contractionary economies. The chapter also takes a critical look at the innocent-looking word "we", which causes immense confusion in environmental thought and discussions.

Chapter 3 (Power) examines the political obstacles to implementing the economic plan. It proposes a model that describes how the capitalist class exercises social control and thus maintains its power. Particular emphasis is placed on the "democratic illusion" - the pervasive but false perception that power is held by government and the populace it represents rather than by the capitalist class. The chapter’s aim is to provide potential leaders with the conceptual tools required for an autonomous understanding of capitalist power, thereby permitting the formation of an effective revolutionary movement.

Chapter 4 (Revolution) presents the theoretical basis for overcoming the political obstacles identified in chapter three. It defines a contractionary revolution, identifies the latter’s potential agents, and proposes a strategic approach to shift popular support to the contractionary cause. It also reviews the lessons to be learned from the Russian Revolution, and outlines a post-revolutionary scenario for a specific country (Canada) so that the reader can envisage what contractionists might do once in power."


Frank Rotering, from the preface:

"My intended audience consists of independent thinkers who are deeply troubled by the ecological crisis. Some, like me, have avoided institutional attachments to remain intellectually unencumbered. Others now chafe under institutional constraints, but could break the golden chains if a coherent plan for overshoot reversal appears. Still others are hiding in the interstices of capitalist societies, wondering if the fatally constricted thought that now ensnares the environmentally concerned will ever be transcended. The common thread among these independents is that their commitment to humankind and the natural world is stronger than their ties to the prevailing order.

The book's central message is that the world's rich economies must be fundamentally transformed, that such transformations will be fiercely resisted by those in power, and therefore that reversing overshoot is a revolutionary task. I have come to this conclusion reluctantly given the social disruption it entails, but it follows inexorably from the reality of our global situation. Anything less, even the most far-reaching policies and reforms by the world’s governments, will leave the ecocidal logic of capitalism in place and ensure the biosphere's catastrophic degradation. I should immediately state that the revolutions I propose are distinct from the socialist revolutions of the past. The goal is not to redirect the purported benefits of increased production from capitalists to workers, but to transform expansionary economies into contractionary economies. This objective should appeal not just to progressives, but to conservatives as well: business cannot be conducted on a dead planet, and contractionism does not reject private enterprise in principle. A related point is that the historical supersession of capitalism does not imply that all components of the system will be consigned to the dustbin of history. Some features of capitalism are extremely useful, and others have a firm basis in human nature. I therefore propose a revolutionary process that is based as much as possible on historical continuity and social evolution, but that attempts to meet the time constraints imposed by our ecological predicament.

My specific purpose in writing this book is to present the conceptual basis for the global contractionary movement. My fervent hope is that talented leaders will soon emerge to initiate this movement and to spearhead the required revolutions, thus giving concerned humankind a chance to salvage what remains of the biosphere.

Chapter 5 (Criticism) outlines the differences between the contractionary movement and its main alternatives: green reformism, ecosocialism, and radical environmentalism. Green reformism refers to the numerous initiatives that seek to reduce the economy's ecological impact through policies and reforms, thereby leaving capitalist logic in place. These approaches, which are widely preferred because they do not threaten the powerful, are serious impediments to the required economic transformations. Ecosocialism is the environmentally aware version of socialism, and radical environmentalism is the adoption of direct action to protect the environment. Both are rejected because of their inadequate strategies for resolving the ecological crisis.

Chapter 6 (Summary) is a recapitulation of the book's message. It is intended to stand on its own as a condensed explanation of contractionism's response to overshoot.

Because the book introduces a number of new terms and redefines several existing ones, a glossary is included as an appendix.

This book has a companion, The Economics of Needs and Limits, which describes ENL in detail. It is intended for those who have a technical orientation or a background in economic thought."

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