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Degrowth communism is capitalism’s monster Societal anomie explains Kohei Saito's allure

Is this what Marx wanted? (Fotoholica Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Is this what Marx wanted? (Fotoholica Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)


January 18, 2024   6 mins

A spectre is haunting the West — the spectre of degrowth communism. Or so Kohei Saito, the rising star of contemporary Marxist thought, would have you believe. Saito is the author of Slow Down: How Degrowth Communism Can Save the Earth, which was a huge success in his home country Japan, selling over half a million copies, and has now just been published in English.

Saito’s argument is pretty straightforward: capitalism is destroying the planet, and the only way to pull civilisation back from the brink of extinction is for “the entire world, without exception, to become a part of a sustainable, just society”. In other words, to embrace degrowth communism — a radical reorganisation of society based on the elimination of mass production and consumption, the prioritisation of use-value (social utility) over commodity value, and the total decarbonisation of the economy.

According to Saito — and this is what puts him at odds with most Marxists — Marx himself, towards the end of his life, embraced this kind of back-to-Earth communism, rejecting his earlier “productivist” iterations of communism. Indeed, Saito goes to great lengths in the book to rehabilitate Marx’s ideas in the light of contemporary progressive sensibilities, offering what some would describe as a “woke” interpretation of the German philosopher.

Several pages, for example, are dedicated to absolving Marx from the accusation of Eurocentrism — the idea, undeniably present in Marx’s most famous works, that every nation was required to follow the path of capitalistic industrialisation laid out by Western Europe, because this would eventually prepare the ground for revolution. “The country that is more developed industrially only shows, to the less developed, the image of its own future,” Marx writes in Capital.

According to Saito, Marx, in his later life, made a clean break with this view, acknowledging that the archaic, steady-state communal societies of the non-Western and pre-capitalist world actually represented a powerful alternative to capitalism — one that contained the seeds of revolution, and held important lessons even for the industrialised countries of the West.

This may very well be true. Yet, for all his criticism of Marx’s early Eurocentrism, Saito seems oblivious to his own Eurocentrism — or perhaps I should say Western-centrism. Even though Saito claims to speak “on behalf of the Global South and future generations”, and insists that the problems we face are global in nature, the truth is that Saito’s concerns reflect a very particular worldview: that of relatively affluent Westerners, especially young millennials and members of Generation Z.

Saito’s entire worldview, after all, is informed by a deep concern with the climate crisis and its allegedly existential threat to humanity. Throughout the book, he often repeats the quasi-millenarist notion that “human civilisation is facing a threat to its very existence” as a result of climate change. But this apocalyptic, doom-laden approach to the climate issue, which is at odds with climate science itself, is a specifically Western phenomenon.

This is understandable: post-material concerns such as ecology tend to take hold in places where basic material concerns have already been satisfied — that is, in affluent countries, first and foremost Western ones. It is no coincidence that Saito comes from Japan, which enjoys one of the highest standards of living in the world. But for most people on the planet, especially those living in poorer countries, climate change systematically ranks among the lowest policy priorities — well below more pressing material concerns such as hunger and poverty, access to water and sanitation, and education.

To the billions of people who still live in extreme poverty, and the millions who don’t even have access to electricity, Saito’s vision of degrowth communism, and his plea to scale back production and consumption, is unlikely to be very appealing. In fact, Saito’s insistence that countries in the Global South should refrain from pursuing growth — even “green growth” — might very well be seen as a form of Western eco-imperialism. Or, indeed, Eurocentrism: isn’t Saito implying that every country in the world should simply conform to the worldview of Western middle-class environmentalists?

In this sense, degrowth communism suffers from the same drawback of old-school communism: it’s an intrinsically universalist worldview, one that purports to offer a one-size-fits-all solution for all human societies, regardless of local cultural and civilisational specificities. This globalist outlook is typical of post-Nineties leftism, which Saito harks back to in several respects. This is also evident in his rejection of the nation-state, viewed as a reactionary, quasi-fascist construct, rather than the framework through which virtually all the major social, economic and political advancements of the past centuries were achieved.

It’s a view that is completely at odds with global realities. Simply put, the billion-plus people who still live in poverty in countries such as India, not to mention those in Africa, legitimately aspire to the comforts of industrialisation: round-the-clock electricity, modern housing, heating and cooling technologies, and healthcare. This will inevitably drive up their energy consumption. Western environmentalists such as Saito continue to entertain the notion that the future energy needs of developing countries can be met entirely by renewables, mainly wind and solar, but this is a fantasy.

Many of the world’s poorest nations have no choice but to rely on fossil fuels in the coming years, ideally in combination with nuclear energy, if they want to raise living standards — and indeed are taking steps in that direction, despite demands from rich-world advocates and policymakers for developing countries to abstain from fossil-based resources. This will drive up their emissions, but it will also pull millions of people out of poverty. Insofar as trade-offs go, this should be a no-brainer. But not for Western eco-warriors such as Saito.

Moreover, development and growth in the Global South should be welcomed for reasons other than just poverty reduction; it’s also about shifting the balance of power. For all of Saito’s criticism of the Imperial Mode of Living — the Global North’s reliance on the plunder of the people and resources in the Global South — he conveniently disregards the fact that the only way to for poorer countries to break free from the grip of Western domination is to boost their relative economic strength.

Indeed, Saito completely ignores the biggest story of our time: the shifting of the world’s geopolitical balance of power from the West to the Brics bloc, which was made possible because a country, China, managed to develop its own productive forces, and become a global powerhouse, at breakneck speed. This required the burning of huge amounts of fossil fuels — but has contributed to weakening the West’s stranglehold on the world to a degree that would have been unimaginable even 10 years ago. You would expect a critic of Western imperialism such as Saito to welcome this global shift; it isn’t even touched upon in the book.

Instead, Slow Down often reads like it was written in the late Nineties or early-2000s, at the height of the unipolar era. The Global South is described as a powerless victim of Western imperialism. But this is itself a Eurocentric view, one that ignores the huge challenges being mounted around the world against the Western international order — in Ukraine, the Red Sea, Francophone Africa and elsewhere. This includes breaking out of the structural underdevelopment imposed on developing nations by the West.

The fact that Saito completely ignores this trend betrays his Western middle-class biases: for eco-leftists like him, the fight against climate change will always trump the fight against imperialism. They would rather have the masses of the Global South languish in a state of underdevelopment rather than see them develop their productive forces — which inevitably entails the burning of fossil fuels. As it turns out, developing countries have no intention of pandering to Western middle-class concerns.

But while Saito’s message of degrowth has little to offer to the countries of the Global South, it would be a mistake to disregard it entirely. After all, in Western countries, it clearly resonates, and it’s important to understand why. His call for degrowth communism, like other contemporary critiques of capitalism, taps into a growing disillusionment with the Western socioeconomic model. Saito states the obvious when he says that our current system is no longer working for most people: notwithstanding the fact that we live in affluent societies, many of us are overworked, underpaid and lead ever-more precarious lives. Economic inequality continues to rise.

But perhaps even more dramatically, we live increasingly atomised, purposeless lives: there’s no higher meaning binding us together as a society. French sociologist Émile Durkheim coined the term anomie to describe a society defined by a breakdown in social norms and moral values. Aside from the diminishing returns of abiding by society’s rules — finding a job, creating a family — many young people wonder what the point of it all is. No wonder they are attracted by radical ideas such as degrowth communism, which promise less stuff but richer, fuller, deeper, more meaningful lives.

As Saito writes, under degrowth communism “there will be more opportunities to do sports, go hiking, take up gardening and get back in touch with nature. We will have time once again to play guitar, paint pictures, read. We can host those close to us in our homes and eat together with friends and family.” It’s easy to see the appeal of this vision. Not only does it offer the prospect of a better life; perhaps even more importantly, it offers something to fight for. It offers meaning. And the climate issue only strengthens the project’s secular-theological grounding: it’s not just about transforming society — but about “saving the world”.

In this sense, ideas such as degrowth communism and climate doomerism are, ultimately, the flipside of the anomic societies created by late-stage capitalism. Perhaps Marx was right: capitalism really does end up sowing the seeds of its own demise — not because of ever-rising levels of productivity, but because of ever-decreasing levels of meaning.


Thomas Fazi is an UnHerd columnist and translator. His latest book is The Covid Consensus, co-authored with Toby Green.

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Right-Wing Hippie
RH
Right-Wing Hippie
3 months ago

What’s really depressing is that we’re still debating these outmoded, disproven ideas 176 years later. Are we totally incapable of coming up with anything new in the field of political economics, or are we so deeply sunk into Spengler’s civilizational winter that all we have to offer is stale, warmed-over remixes of Marx?
(“remarxes”?)

Flibberti Gibbet
Flibberti Gibbet
3 months ago

You need to understand the motive force and mechanism behind this, it has nothing to do with a tiresome rerun of a 100 year old ideological debate.
The clowns in Brussels know they have screwed up and are ruining Europe. Their new game plan is to make “screw-up” a virtuous achievement. The EU hosted a mid summer conference to help found this new creed of decline, it has been conveniently attached to climate alarmism. Impoverished Europeans are good for the climate
Isn’t Ursula von der Leyen a clever girl, she has saved us.

Alan Thorpe
AT
Alan Thorpe
3 months ago

It isn’t just Brussels, it is the USA as well. I think this ideas coming out of the WEF reflect this. They know that the economic system based on central bank money printing has failed and they haven’t a clue what to do next.

Sensible Citizen
SC
Sensible Citizen
3 months ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

Exactly right. That’s why half the country want to bring back Trump. He printed money, but never at a rate that exceeded GDP growth. The new regime has entered banana republic territory.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago

Years ago, when I took the time to study the climate disaster I believed in, I became a skeptic. Then I noted that climate doom is a result of willing suspension of belief in evidence based decision making. What later struck me is that this suspension would not limit itself to climate, but would spread to other areas of thought. I never thought how it would spread like a deadly cancer. Yet here we are.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

You are not far wrong

Sensible Citizen
SC
Sensible Citizen
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

The human species are story tellers at their heart, and storytelling is arguably what separates us from our cousins in the trees. The “climate” narrative is a collection of stories intended to drive behavior — which is essentially what the aim of the world’s great religious texts.
Climate alarmism has an end-of-times narrative, their God is the “planet” and their devils are the human race. The planet is inanimate rock, gas and water. Nothing more. It doesn’t care if there is life on it or not, because it is a dead entity.
It doesn’t require a lot of thought to undo alarmism, and a new narrative is emerging.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

I have been following the issue since the early ‘90s. There was always a kernel of truth – CO2 warms the planet. But the hysteria was always, and still is, based on modeling. Actual data shows no increase in severe weather, other than increased temps. Alarmists shut down discussion because they lost every single debate, and simply resorted to trust the science, the consensus says, and everyone who disagrees is an evil racist. Since then, this same playbook has been used with immigration, gender ideology, homelessness and drug addiction, and the pandemic as well.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Yeah, that’s basically it. Environmentalism past a certain point is basically religion for atheists. I have no personal quarrel with that. Other people’s religion is no business of mine. Until of course, they begin to demand that entire populations convert to their faith and adhere to their dogmas for the sake of some ‘common good’. Then they become fundamentalists just like fundamentalists of every other religion in the world who attempt to force compliance to their worldview. They’re one step removed from the jihadists cutting off the heads of infidels. If they cross the line from nonviolent protest and writing books to using bombs and guns to make their point, then they should be treated just as the jihadists are, as dangerous threats to civil order and free expression.

Sensible Citizen
SC
Sensible Citizen
3 months ago

From an American’s perspective, there is no EU. There is only Germany who have now won WWII without firing a shot.
When Germans wake up to the scam of climate change, and they are beginning to, the EU will be transformed overnight. The destruction of the Nordstream II was a wakeup call that they are being manipulated by US hegemony and faux-politico-science.

Cathy Carron
Cathy Carron
3 months ago

Germany is waking up to the scam of climate change? – as they continue to decommission their nuclear energy plants?

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
3 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

He’s probably referring to the mass protests taking place right now and the groring support of AfD.

Sensible Citizen
SC
Sensible Citizen
3 months ago
Reply to  Cathy Carron

German citizens are not decommissioning nuclear plants — their idiotic leaders are doing that. German citizens are gathering sticks in the forest to feed their parent’s wood stoves as energy prices eclipse all other costs in the monthly budget.
Do a websearch on “recycling is a scam in Germany,” using German Google, and you’ll see that there is an awakening. Germans are not dumb people.

Steve Jolly
Steve Jolly
3 months ago

It’s amusing how a bunch of bean counting bankers accomplished what the Habsburgs, the Kaisers, and the Nazis all failed to do, that is establish German domination over the rest of Europe.

Sensible Citizen
SC
Sensible Citizen
3 months ago
Reply to  Steve Jolly

Isn’t it though. What is amazing are the sleep-walking Europeans who accept their fate because they are afraid of being called “right wing.”

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
3 months ago

UvL is one of the typical European politicians, who were failures in their mother countries, in her case “father country” Germany. She left chaos and mayhem behind in all her departments and was about to be exposed and investigated for corruption by the German parliamentary committee. Just in time, she was pushed by Merkel all the way upstairs to become the new President of the EU. Now she seems to create the same mayhem as she did in Germany. It leaves me speechless how she got away with her EU “leadership” during COVID, secretly contacting Pfeizer’s CEO, freelancing 900 mill. Vaccines and also enriching her husband with lab contracts. How does she get away with it?
UvL and the EU Commission are also driving the political campaign for Climate Change and its insane measures, deindustrialising Europe and especially her “Fatherland” Germany, which used to be the EU’s main industrial force and paymaster.
It seems the “degrowth communism” has finally arrived at the EU, and I wonder how long the people of Europe will tolerate it all, becoming so much poorer, which anybody sane knows, is always the consequence of Marxism.

Jim Veenbaas
JV
Jim Veenbaas
3 months ago

The longer political leaders push through destructive net zero policies, the more economic damage will be created, and the more dangerous the popular revolt will become. All these policies disproportionately impact poor people so the political class is insulated from its impact, but the further we go down the net zero rabbit hole, more and more people are impacted. The reckoning is coming, it’s unavoidable really. The only question is how much political, economic and social destruction it causes.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago

Because the dominant system (capitalism) is still as broken as it was when Marx was writing (and before then).

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

What has worked better than the dominant system, despite what you see as its brokenness?

Simon Blanchard
Simon Blanchard
3 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

That doesn’t mean capitalism isn’t currently dysfunctional. It’s always been subject to rule of law and will always find ways of circumventing the rules. That’s why we have to keep an eye on it. It might well be the “best” system but it should serve humanity more broadly. A case in point (it seems to me) is the fact that the customer is no longer king (you see it everywhere ); it’s now the shareholder. That’s not my understanding of how free markets are supposed to work.

Kathy Hayman
Kathy Hayman
3 months ago

It was never a free market and it’s always been about the shareholder, it’s just that we had more money in our pockets 30 years ago and therefore more consumer power. But certainly capitalism has become more rapatious because the rate of profits fall over time as Marx correctly stated so capital has to find ever newer markets which is why the public sector has been completely vandalised.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

That is not merely wrong.

Jim M
JM
Jim M
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

If it doesn’t deliver Utopia, it’s crap? Humans could not live very long in Utopia anyway. We need some struggle and meaning in life.

Keith Merrick
KM
Keith Merrick
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

I have a friend who often rails against capitalism but when asked to expand he usually mutters something about greed and oil costing too much. Can you be more specific? What part of capitalism is broken? What would be a better system?

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
3 months ago
Reply to  Keith Merrick

I think the free market has been bastardized by over regulation and the growth of monopolies. Too many corporations own their markets and use their size to shut down competition. Think big tech and Amazon’s treatment of third party sellers.

Roddy Campbell
RC
Roddy Campbell
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Is that the same system that has taken billions out of poverty, doubled lifespan and made the lives of the poorest citizens of the West luxurious beyond the dreams of most of the world in 1600?

It’s not without its faults. But it doesn’t encourage tyrannical regimes to murder 65 million of their inhabitants to stay on the narratives.

Kathy Hayman
KH
Kathy Hayman
3 months ago
Reply to  Roddy Campbell

That’s true but it’s only been possible on the basis of centuries of slavery and exploitation of millions of workers across the world;children in coal mines in the past in this country but also children still going quarrying lithium, cobalt and other rare minerals to feed our mobile phone and batteries for electric cars, dying from lung disease Also the destruction of vast territories in Malaysia and other Southeast Asian countries to produce palm oil. we all know about this. There are are many many instances of this including genocide of indigenous peoples across the world. I also believe that western capitalism has kept Africa subdued and poor. Witness the overthrow of the president of Niger. I had not realised that France still has complete control over the economies of the Sahel region. Colonial exploitation still persists in many parts of the world. Perhaps you think this doesn’t matter because they’re lesser people but I feel that we have been utterly inhumane in our exploitation and whilst it has enriched yes ordinary working people at what expense. Also that is rapidly changing as we see more and more people in poverty in western nations America pretty much falling apart from what I read and hear so ultimately it fails.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
3 months ago

I look forward to the debate between Kohei Saito and Bjorn Lomborg or Micheal Shellenberger. Like most climate alarmists, I’m sure Saito can’t wait expose the ignorance of these climate deniers….Wait, maybe I got that backwards.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

I’d absolutely love to see that debate myself but I literally can’t imagine any reasonably prominent platform that would host it. It’s the sort of thing the BBC should be doing but no chance of that.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
3 months ago

Any climate alarmist who doesn’t 100% promote nuclear energy is a fraud. Wind and solar require too much land, too many rare earth metals and an entirely new network of transmission lines and backup power. Oh ya, and they don’t work.

The province of Alberta, home to the largest fossil fuel deposits in North America, narrowly avoided rolling blackouts last week in -40 temperatures – because wind and solar were producing zero power when the cold front rolled in. Luckily, a neighboring province had excess capacity to send our way.

I don’t know if this Kohei Saito fellow opposes nuclear power, but he’s certainly on board with wind and solar.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Climate alarmism, at its heart, is a fraud.

James S.
James S.
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Amen.

iambic mouth
IM
iambic mouth
3 months ago

Communism is alluring only to people who never lived in any kind of communist regime. If you ask anyone in the country where I live (Poland) if communism is solution even to the most trivial problem, I bet the only response would be laughter. It amazes me that, with large-scale and failed applications of Marxism in the Soviet Union, Eastern European Block and North Korea (etc.), there are still delusional intellectuals who believe that communism is a sound response to any societal issue. Let me be clear – communism is hell. Indeed, as Popper once wrote, “those who promise us paradise on earth never produced anything but a hell.”

Cathy Carron
CC
Cathy Carron
3 months ago
Reply to  iambic mouth

Usually communists will tell you that communism I hasn’t been ‘correctly executed and they need another go at it…lol.

Jim Veenbaas
JV
Jim Veenbaas
3 months ago
Reply to  iambic mouth

I would upvote this a thousand times if I could.

iambic mouth
IM
iambic mouth
3 months ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Well, what can I say – we’ve been through this hell – and it really is hell (and still, a festering wound on our society, but that’s a different story).

Chipoko
Chipoko
3 months ago
Reply to  iambic mouth

Well said, Sir! Anyone who’s lived in Zimbabwe under the tyranny of Mugabe then Mnangagwa would testify to your conclusions!

Vyomesh Thanki
VT
Vyomesh Thanki
3 months ago
Reply to  iambic mouth

This is what ChatGPT says: “Degrowth communism and the communist regimes of the Soviet Union or China have different approaches to the role of the state, the level of industrialisation, and the relationship with the West. Here are some of the main differences:
The state: Degrowth communism advocates for a decentralised and participatory form of governance that respects the autonomy and diversity of local communities1The Soviet Union and China, on the other hand, adopted a centralised and authoritarian model of state socialism that suppressed dissent and imposed a uniform ideology23.Industrialisation: Degrowth communism rejects the idea of endless economic growth and seeks to reduce the ecological footprint of human activities by scaling down production and consumption1The Soviet Union and China, however, pursued rapid industrialisation and modernisation as a means of achieving national power and competing with the capitalist world45.The West: Degrowth communism criticises both capitalism and state socialism as unsustainable and unjust systems that exploit nature and people1The Soviet Union and China, while opposed to capitalism, also engaged in geopolitical rivalry and ideological conflict with the West, leading to military tensions and arms races23.In summary, degrowth communism is a radical alternative to both capitalism and state socialism that aims to create a more ecological and democratic society. The Soviet Union and China, despite being communist in name, followed a different path of development that was based on state control, industrial growth, and confrontation with the West.”

Ian_S
Ian_S
3 months ago
Reply to  Vyomesh Thanki

“suppressed dissent and imposed a uniform ideology” … but this is not unique to Soviet Russia and Red China: this is also the main goal of the rainbow-flag people, who are exactly the people who will enthuse over degrowth communism. The rainbow-flag people’s morality may be new, but their desire for the submission or genocide of all who oppose their belief system is as old as humanity itself. Don’t be fooled.

iambic mouth
IM
iambic mouth
3 months ago
Reply to  Vyomesh Thanki

Yes, I’m certain that this time and with this permutation communism will finally work.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
3 months ago

Almost makes Ash Sarkar’s ‘luxury communism’ sound attractive, fable though it is.

Chris Whybrow
Chris Whybrow
3 months ago

Have the BRICS countries actually come close to questioning Western hegemony? Russia and China have weak, corrupt militaries and very little soft power among their immediate neighbours and Brazil and South Africa are mired in corruption. India on the other hand has been dominated by a rather unpleasant Hindu nationalist government for quite some time. The only instance of one of these countries challenging the West with any force in recent times is South Africa’s (completely justified) ICJ case. None of these countries represent a credible alternative yet.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  Chris Whybrow

Down vote only because of the gratuitous anti-semitic detour.

Margalit Shinar
Margalit Shinar
3 months ago

Extraordinary. This book, extolling the virtues of “de-growth” to achieve more time spent with the family, comes from a country were people are not having children anymore! This is not only Neo-Marxism — it is Neo-Romanticism. In the poor, under developed societies of the past, the hard working peasant spent most of his/her harsh life working in the rice fields and not with the family. The past was NOT a better place. The post modern anomie does not arise from capitalism, but from the huge spiritual hole caused by the absence of religion, the total total breakdown of all values, the placement of the self above society and the resulting nihilism.

Andrew S. Green
AG
Andrew S. Green
3 months ago

“The post modern anomie does not arise from capitalism, but from the huge spiritual hole caused by the absence of religion, the total total breakdown of all values, the placement of the self above society and the resulting nihilism.”
Nail hit squarely and firmly on the head, thank you.
See Kingsnorth, Pageau et al.
I thought this little (15 minutes or so) talk from Jonathan Pageau explained it rather well.
https://youtu.be/Fsmqhu8-L1E?si=2R8kmYxo8x37NNSQ

Roddy Campbell
RC
Roddy Campbell
3 months ago

Spot on.

Robert
Robert
3 months ago

“..degrowth communism suffers from the same drawback of old-school communism: it’s an intrinsically universalist worldview, one that purports to offer a one-size-fits-all solution for all human societies…”

I think there are other drawbacks of communism, Thomas, but let’s not quibble.

Roddy Campbell
RC
Roddy Campbell
3 months ago
Reply to  Robert

“…degrowth communism suffers from the same drawback of old-school communism”

Yes. It doesn’t work. It took perhaps a quarter of a billion deaths to convince people about the old communism. Let’s hope the new type fails less painful.

But… those who don’t heed the lessons of history are destined to repeat them.

Alan Thorpe
AT
Alan Thorpe
3 months ago

We haven’t got capitalism in the west. We have statism bordering on fascism.

Alex Lekas
AL
Alex Lekas
3 months ago

The first-world hubris is astounding. Is Mr. Saito walking his talk? In other words, is he scaling back his lifestyle to a 12th century existence; is he refusing the proceeds from the sale of his books; is he living a life free of these horrible, terrible, no good, very bad fossil fuels? Because until he is, and until others like him follow their own teachings, they deserve little more than mockery and scorn.

Roddy Campbell
RC
Roddy Campbell
3 months ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Put him in a cave. No modern medicine. Oilskin and wool, and only a little of that. Wet firewood, earthy bulbs to eat for 6 months of the year. Famine, drought and flood without the resilience that the civilisation he despises would have provided.

It’s easy to dream and fantasise if you’re well-fed and safe. Careful what you wish for, O ye prophets!

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  Roddy Campbell

Plant medicine does work, wood is not always wet, wool still keeps us warm, tubers are a nutritious not to mention delicious food, and most years, believe it or not, nature provides in abundance. Life has never been all that bad.

Charlie Two
CT
Charlie Two
3 months ago

Saito is an imbecile.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  Charlie Two

Imbecile is far too nice. He is evil, toxic and dangerous.

Michael McElwee
MM
Michael McElwee
3 months ago
Reply to  Charlie Two

To call him an “imbecile” is to miss the point. He would be lucky to be an imbecile. He’s too smart for his own good.

Michael Walsh
MW
Michael Walsh
3 months ago

The subtext of every eco-warrior manifesto is a message to the poor of the world, i.e. “There’s just enough of us; way too many of you.”

Jim Veenbaas
JV
Jim Veenbaas
3 months ago
Reply to  Michael Walsh

Well said. It’s the poor who always get kicked in the teeth with this garbage. We’ve got ours – who cares about some rube in Ethiopia who is living the nightmare of degrowth today.

Daniel Lee
DL
Daniel Lee
3 months ago

“Saito’s argument is pretty straightforward: capitalism is destroying the planet, and the only way to pull civilisation back from the brink of extinction is for ‘the entire world, without exception, to become a part of a sustainable, just society’”.
He’s just saying the quiet part of Davos and the World Economic Forum’s plan out loud.

Marko Bee
Marko Bee
3 months ago
Reply to  Daniel Lee

Exactly. I was just about to ask if anyone else thought this was just the latest iteration of “You will own nothing, and you will be happy?”

Daniel Lee
DL
Daniel Lee
3 months ago
Reply to  Marko Bee

Yes, except that now our would-be overlords are saying, “You will own nothing and WE will be happy.”

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago

Wow. All of this and no discussion of Pol Pot. Saito is allegedly educated. Saito certainly uses a lot of big words. So perhaps he knew that to skip over the Cambodian experience with degrowth communism was…artful prudence. The author of this infomercial, err critique, has no such excuse. It is clear that communism is a proven disaster for the environment. Communism is a disaster for human communal living and human relationships. Communism is a disaster for human health. Reading this infomercial for global xenocide is a disgusting outrage. Saito is just another psychopath in the spirit (evil) of Marx, Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and of course his hidden inspiration, Pol Pot. Anyone promoting uncritical acceptance of this should, if they have a conscience, wonder why.

Jim Veenbaas
JV
Jim Veenbaas
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Totally forgot about Cambodia.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

In re-reading my response to this essay, I stand convicted of reading quickly, without coffee, and responding in a reflexive and emotional, and unfair to the author, manner. I apologize without reservation for the broad brush that incorrectly described the essay as infomercial and failed to see the nuance and critical review of the danger the subject of this say presents. The time-frame for editing has passed, or I would substantially edit my original post.

iambic mouth
iambic mouth
3 months ago
Reply to  UnHerd Reader

Cambodia is indeed one of the most telling examples of how communism works when applied real-life. I still don’t understand why Solzhenitsyn isn’t a compulsory reading, even in post-communist countries.

William Fulton
William Fulton
3 months ago
Reply to  iambic mouth

900+ pages, that’s why. No attention span for more than 11 minutes of You Tube.

Steve Everitt
SE
Steve Everitt
3 months ago

“there will be more opportunities to do sports, go hiking, take up gardening and get back in touch with nature. We will have time once again to play guitar, paint pictures, read. We can host those close to us in our homes and eat together with friends and family.” We already have ample opportunities for any of these activities. It seems to me, however, that most people would rather scroll through meaningless drivel for hours on Meta, tik-tok etc. than have a meaningful conversation or be creative.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 months ago
Reply to  Steve Everitt

When I read such fanciful lines, immediate questions include: who is going to make and sell the guitars? Who is going to make the paint and materials necessary for picture-making? People who have the luxury of a first-world existence have little to no understanding that they life they prescribe already existed. As the saying goes, it was usually poor, brutish, and short.

Keith Merrick
KM
Keith Merrick
3 months ago

‘This includes breaking out of the structural underdevelopment imposed on developing nations by the West.’
What structural underdevelopment have we imposed on developing nations?

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
3 months ago
Reply to  Keith Merrick

Right now the World Bank and other lenders will not extend loans to poor countries looking to fund fossil fuel development projects. It’s not structural underdevelopment, but it is a form of colonial oppression.

Allison Barrows
Allison Barrows
3 months ago

I had this conversation with my son recently. He was lamenting how the need to make money takes away the simple pleasures of, say, fishing or hiking or working a little backyard farm. I said that if one’s existence depends on hiking for miles to find a fish- able body of water only to come back to the hovel empty-handed to a wife who has no food to serve because the crops failed and the chickens died, the only “simple pleasures” available would probably result in more mouths to feed.

Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 months ago

It seems that he, like many young folks, has the equation backwards. The simple pleasures are made available by earning money to cover basic needs. I often think this generation believes it was born into the second-highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy.

Sensible Citizen
Sensible Citizen
3 months ago

There’s good news for the degrowth communism adherents! You can do it as a community without the rest of us! Lots of folks in the US created their own communes and dropped out in the 1960’s. Have at it!

Duane M
Duane M
3 months ago

It’s true. The Amish, for example, are doing just fine in my neck of the woods in America. It is no stretch to establish similar communities elsewhere (which they are doing). The only catch is that such communities require a strong internal binding principle, such as religious faith and other shared beliefs, and the associated boundary that results between that community and the neighboring community (in the Amish example, the ‘English’). Most of us on the Unherd channel are more protective of our individuality and less willing to sacrifice a portion of individuality for community.

AJ Mac
AJ Mac
3 months ago
Reply to  Duane M

Accurate. Many of the “traditionalist contrarians” (in some sense I’m one of them) that congregate here would find plenty to balk and chafe at if the world of their nostalgically-remembered childhood or favorite era of the (idealized) past came to be. Also, not all who advocate hard work and sacrifice for others–for the sake of family, community, congregation, etc.–are ready to chip in with it themselves.

Laurence Siegel
Laurence Siegel
3 months ago

Fortunately, they didn’t try to take over the government. And they’d better not try this time.

Citizen Diversity
Citizen Diversity
3 months ago

I love the “there will be more opportunities to do sports, go hiking, take up gardening and get back in touch with nature. We will have time once again to play guitar, paint pictures, read. We can host those close to us in our homes and eat together with friends and family.”
All very middle class, Tory shires. Or North London liberal. Especially if you’re retired, on a decent pension from the NHS, the mortgage is paid and the kids are off your hands. Didn’t Marx describe the ideal life under communism as huntin’, shootin’, and lit. crit. in the evenings?

james elliott
JE
james elliott
3 months ago

Typical bullshit from Fazi.

Grow up! Communism is not, has never been, and will never be a good idea.

How much of a slow learner do you have to be?

Does he know *nothing* of the history of the 20th Century?

G M
GM
G M
3 months ago

This presumes that communism actually works.
It has been shown to not work.
It leads to high prices, shortages, lower standard of living etc.

R.I. Loquitur
R.I. Loquitur
3 months ago
Reply to  G M

Don’t forget more pollution and environmental disasters!

Victoria Cooper
Victoria Cooper
3 months ago

Those who are happy to be the only species on earth look away now. Question: is there a way to protect the natural habitat of the planet without degrowthing?

R.I. Loquitur
RL
R.I. Loquitur
3 months ago

Sure. People who are concerned can form an investment pool and buy land they wish to protect.

R.I. Loquitur
R.I. Loquitur
3 months ago

John D. Rockefeller’s company, Standard Oil, through research and development found uses for the byproducts of refining products that its competitors would dump into Lake Erie (said byproducts being responsible for the lake catching fire now and then.). Doing so enabled Rockefeller to eliminate the waste and profitably lower prices, putting the same competition out of business. Imagine that, the profit motive of Capitalism leading to a cleaner environment and benefiting the poor with no government involvement. Just saying.

Madas A. Hatter
Madas A. Hatter
3 months ago

Fact check: fewer than one billion people now live in extreme poverty. We crossed that line a couple of years ago and the number is still falling.

PB Storyman
PS
PB Storyman
3 months ago

Several thoughts. I am not sure how we can simultaneously live “underpaid” and “precarious” lives when the actual poverty rate here in the US (accounting for all government dole) is said to be about 2.5%. Maybe some are just spoiled rotten and fail to be thankful for the wealth that supports them. Gratitude does wonders for the soul.
Ditto for service. Some lives may indeed be more meaningless, but this may be among those for whom service to others has morphed into indirect “social action” on behalf of allegedly oppressed groups. What Christians and Christian organizations still routinely do for others has become “rage against the machine” for the non- and anti-Christian younger generations. The former are among the most content and joyous people I know, certainly more so than those in the latter group described in this article.
This lack of direct service, and the rage against “systems” that can be ethereally identified but largely neither seen nor touched, may explain at least some of the emptiness and anger. These angry young people don’t really do anything tangible for anyone. They have been raised to believe that they are the smartest people in the room, yet they often have very little productive to say and actually do even less for their fellow man. Sure, they’ll be glad to rally for climate change, but completely ignore that realities of the truly poor that this article brings forward.
I am no sociologist, but I know younger relatives who are smart, capable, and wildly successful yet are also arrogant, cynical, and frustrated. They do a lot of hating, but not a lot of real analysis. Maybe the simultaneous pursuit of the wealth of a capitalist society while bemoaning its existence is too much to psychologically manage. Whatever the reason, they seem to do little for their fellow man except complain, curse old white people, and vote leftist.

Kathy Hayman
Kathy Hayman
3 months ago

I see, as usual, that this piece has caused predictable criticism. At the mention of Marx or communism people throw up their hands in horror and say ‘it never worked, I lived under it, in theory yes but in practice no’ and all the other thumbs down statements made by people, some of whom I suspect have never picked up a book written by Marx in their lives. I certainly think it is worth revisiting Marx and his ideas on Capital and the inherent, internal contradictions of capitalism. We see this for ourselves. As far as I can see Marx’s writings were as much a critique of capital as they were offering a solution for the exploited working class. After all he was speaking nearly 200 years ago and times have changed. His view which turned out to be incorrect was that proletariat revolution would occur in an advanced capitalist country such as Britain; in the event it occurred in a rather backward country; Russia. We mustn’t forget that the West was continuously undermining Soviet Russia and its satellite countries by keeping it out of the international monetary facilities ensuring that it had to survive by its own resources and incessantly maligning it from top to bottom. It clearly had huge problems but I do not see this as a reason not to revisit the idea of communism or socialism for the 21st and 22nd century. I’m not at all surprised that young people are sick of this exploitative, destructive and greedy system that we’re all subject to and that we’re all exploited by, a system causing huge inequalities of wealth across the world and in our own modern advanced societies. In the event, the West’s attempts to neutralise Soviet Union proved to be the making of modern Russia which has become a very powerful country largely down to its own efforts, much to the chagrin of Western politicians. Unlike European nations which have plundered most of the rest of the world to gain its affluence and power, and as you say, its smug middle class Western outlook as exemplified by this book Russia and China have followed a different course. I have no doubt this is one of the reasons why Western leaders in particularly the US are jumping up and down about Russia and the fact that far from failing in the war against Ukraine, territories that prior to 2022 were Ukrainian are now returned to Russia. If a nascent movement for a communistic way of thinking and living were to form in the next decades it would be very different from the one of the last century.

Duane M
Duane M
3 months ago
Reply to  Kathy Hayman

Well said.

Pete Marsh
Pete Marsh
3 months ago

“..the billion-plus people who still live in poverty in countries such as India, not to mention those in Africa, legitimately aspire to the comforts of industrialisation: round-the-clock electricity, modern housing, heating and cooling technologies, and healthcare. ”
Didn’t many of them, such as South Africa and Zimbabwe have that when they were colonies?