Just Growth (noTM) or just growth? *

Nandan Nawn

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Introduction: ecological disruptions from functioning
of capitalist system
It is a fact that without an expanded reproduction, a
capitalist economic system will die its own ‘natural death’. There can never be
a ‘zero growth capitalism’. Alternatively, to sustain itself, such a system
needs to exploit the sources that contributes to the value, so as to generate
the necessary surplus value, or simply surplus. 139 years ago, K H Marx in
of the Gotha Programme
had identified them:

Labor is not the source of all wealth. Nature
is just as much the source of use values (and it is surely of such that
material wealth consists!) as labor, which itself is only the manifestation of
a force of nature, human labor power. […] And insofar as man from the beginning
behaves toward nature, the primary source of all instruments and subjects of
labor, as an owner, treats her as belonging to him, his labor becomes the
source of use values, therefore also of wealth. The bourgeois have very good
grounds for falsely ascribing supernatural creative power to labor;
since precisely from the fact that labor depends on nature it follows that the
man who possesses no other property than his labor power must, in all
conditions of society and culture, be the slave of other men who have made
themselves the owners of the material conditions of labor. He can only work
with their permission, hence live only with their permission. [Emphasis as in

 In fact, in Capital, volume
1, chapter 15 titled ‘
and Modern Industry
’ he was more direct:
production, by collecting the population in great centres, and causing an
ever-increasing preponderance of town population, on the one hand concentrates
the historical motive power of society; on the other hand, it disturbs the
circulation of matter between man and the soil, i.e., prevents the return to
the soil of its elements consumed by man in the form of food and clothing; it
therefore violates the conditions necessary to lasting fertility of the soil.
By this action it destroys at the same time the health of the town labourer and
the intellectual life of the rural labourer.
all progress in capitalistic agriculture is a progress in the art, not only of
robbing the labourer, but of robbing the soil; all progress in increasing the
fertility of the soil for a given time, is a progress towards ruining the
lasting sources of that fertility. The more a country starts its development on
the foundation of modern industry, like the United States, for example, the
more rapid is this process of destruction. Capitalist production, therefore,
develops technology, and the combining together of various processes into a
social whole, only by sapping the original sources of all wealth — the soil and
the labourer.
The two—admittedly
long—quotes are indicative of the connections between the labourer and the soil
(or natural resources for that matter), and their state and the status within a
capitalist system. In this regard Marx had acknowledged many others’
contribution in
the long and interdisciplinary history: a ‘practical capitalist farmer
and an advanced agronomist for his time’
, American Josse Buel, Scottish agricultural chemist James F W Johnston,
American political economist Henry Carey, ‘Father of agricultural Chemistry’
Justus von Liebig, just to name a few (in particular see the last footnote in
chapter 15 of Capital, volume 1;
generally see, Foster 2000).
Mainstreaming of Ecology and Environment within the
Justice question
A capitalist
system’s ability to accumulate determines its ability to grow or in other words
its rate of growth. Historically, it had capitalized on its ability to exploit
the labourer; in contemporary times, the extent and form of informalisation and
casualisation of the labour force has reached its zenith, to preclude this
possibility any further—automatically, the focus is on exploiting and
extracting the other source of value, natural resources.
again, nature was abundant, and thus its regenerative capacity to act as a
source for materials and its assimilative capacity to act as a sink for
absorbing the waste from the economic system was taken for granted. However, in
contemporary times, by most accounts, the scale of activity within the economic
sub-system has been beyond the one which the larger ecosystem could support.
That makes the natural resources rival in control, access, use, and consumption—the reason for the conflicts, resulting
in movements seeking ‘environmental justice’ across the world.[2]
contestations are not only contemporaneous but inter-generational for a vast
variety of resources being non-renewable/exhaustible even within a reasonably
long human time-frame—economic, social, political or cultural. Thus, it is not only
the concentration of ownership and control of financial or physical assets, but
also the natural ones is the crux of the problem, notwithstanding the
the standpoint of a higher economic form of society, private ownership of the
globe by single individuals will appear quite as absurd as private ownership of
one man by another. Even a whole society, a nation, or even all simultaneously
existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the globe. They are
only its possessors, its usufructuaries, and, like boni patres familias, they
must hand it down to succeeding generations in an improved condition. (Capital,
Vol III, Chapter 46: Building Site Rent. Rent in Mining. Price of Land)
As in the
Economics discipline—both mainstream and heterodox alike—such  recognition of unequal distribution of natural
capital as a praxis for analyzing discontents, dissents and discords in the
social and political sphere is of a rather recent origin. Mainly due to the interventions
made by the movements and struggles epitomizing ‘environmentalism of the poor’
(see, Martinez-Alier), access to natural resources and protection from
pollution are now being increasingly recognized as an essential or inalienable component
of livelihood security. Demands for right to (formal) work has made the way for
the right to Jal, Jangal, Zameen and the like. 
The questions that this version of environmentalism or
ecologism poses are different from and beyond the demands for being free from environmental
pollution or its preservation by separating human beings from a given locality;
it revolves around sustaining the livelihoods based on access to natural
resources. It follows that the equity or fairness or distribution questions
need to be restated to include an additional dimension; the focus cannot just
be on the matter of employment creation (and/or upward wage revision) in the
formal sector but of securing the livelihoods, for which access to natural
resources is of crucial importance.
While most constituents of heterodox economics have
argued against a separation of aggregate income (or even wealth) from its distribution
as posited by the mainstream (new classical) economics, it has largely shied
away from the recognition of material basis for securing livelihoods. Without
the latter, however, the distribution of vulnerabilities ‘matrix’ remains
incomplete if not incorrect. Unequal access to natural resources augments the
susceptibilities of already marginalized population which may owe their origins
in a different sphere: income, caste, gender, sexual orientation, professed
religion, ability and the like.
In fact, concentration of control over natural
resources and its exploitation can lead to irreversible changes that can impact
over a vast array of population in catastrophic terms, not just in terms of
snatching away the basis for livelihood but also in terms of exposure to
environmental damages from such exploitation; history is replete with such
examples (see, Goldfrank et al.). Even
in the list of struggles that the
Permanent People’s Tribunal has supported in its three decades of
activity includes
environmental destruction.[3]
Locating causalities,
exploring disconnects
While a desirable ecological, economic, environmental
or social outcome can never be expected from the ‘market’ for various and
obvious reasons including the prevalence of externalities to the economic
decision making agents, even the balance sheet of supposedly socialist states
are not better, albeit with notable exceptions. The central problem is of non-recognition
of the connections, just like the disciplinary divide in academic discourse or
the lack of imagination (and interest) in the political sphere to explore forging
new solidarities or renewing older ones for a greater ‘common good’. An
illustration follows from India
on the matter of
agrarian crisis
prevailing across
the country in recent times
A tell-tale sign of this
phenomenon has been the growing and widespread economic unviability of farming.
It is a fact that the fragmented land with its present functional boundaries can
hardly serve any purpose; it incentivises self-exploitation of the household
labour, resulting in high morbidity rates which further incentivise a rise in
the number of hands, and the cycle repeats itself.
is obvious that for ensuring a dignified living of those with agriculture as
the ‘major’ occupation or livelihood, finishing the land reform agenda is
necessary that warrants land consolidation to exploit the economies of scale,
apart from the cooperation and coordination of many other kinds. To illustrate,
the fragmented parcels prevent the use of non-chemical inputs like
bio-pesticides (with less potency than its chemical equivalents) unless similar
practice is followed in the neighbouring parcels.
Similarly, halting the contamination of aquifer
warrants collective decision making and coordinated action. Put simply, t
is hardly any possibility of an individual adopting or applying a different
method, howsoever convinced on the unsustainabilities associated with the most
prevailing practices and/or willing.
(grassroot) activists, (political) actors
appears that not many activists are concerned over the multiple
unsustainabilities that have resulted into the crisis. In most of the agrarian
sites, the issue of ‘struggle’ is no longer the landlord versus the labourers,
for the simple fact that the latter category has become virtually non-existent.
Rather it is a motley group of farmer-cultivators with a range of gross cropped
area under their command/control, for whom the sole objective is to get as much
subsidy as possible from the government and/or as much remunerative price for
the crops from the Food Corporation of India.
the three things that characterise Indian agriculture are small farm size,
input subsidies (fertiliser, water, electricity) and the government procurement
policy, all having distinct and direct ecological and economic (just not
fiscal) effects. There is hardly any effort to link the health of the labourer
with that of soil, connected through the particular practice in question. Such
an absence of application of mind is appalling, to put it mildly.
illustrate, till date the health tragedy due to excessive use of a variety of
agrochemicals in Malwa region of Punjab—from which as many as 70 patients per
day travel (on average) on the ‘Cancer Express’ from Bathinda to the Acharya
Tulsi Regional Cancer Treatment and Research Centre in Bikaner, Rajasthan
(Donthi 2010)—could not find a place in the agenda, of either the activists or
the action plans. Even if one agrees that it is the inability of the farming
practioners to administer the ‘optimal’ dose of inputs, one wonders whether any
farmer’s organisation has made any attempt to address such an obvious gap.
the other hand, it was the Kerala wing of Democratic Youth Federation of India
(DYFI) that had filed a petition seeking a ban on the use of Endosulfan in
Kerala, which the Supreme Court had upheld in May, 2011. It followed a sit-in
by the (now) nonagenarian former Chief Minister of Kerala, and a former Polit
Bureau member of CPI(M) V S Achuthanandan in April, 2011 to force the UDF
government demanding such a ban. The concern expressed by the Solicitor General
representing the Union government is interesting: it was on the impact that an
immediate ban would be having on the production of kharif crops, especially
paddy and cotton, as if health of the agricultural workers does not matter. In
fact, government’s defence was that endosulfan is cost effective! Of course,
more interesting was the response from the bench: ‘money can’t be the only
yardstick to decide this matter’ (Juneja and Misra, 2011).
above was to exemplify an unfortunate (recent) trend in the political and
social sphere: to redress various forms of injustice, resorting to the judicial
route rather than the political one, i.e. of engaging with, mobilising and
leading the people. A classic case is the matters related to persons who had
been marignalised due to their sexual orientations, i.e. the lesbian, gay,
bisexual, and transgenders (LGBT)
. The mass or the dweller
on the streets can neither understand nor comprehend the legal juggleries or
nit-picking; it provides hardly any possibility of associating oneself. The
decision to withdraw the outside support to UPA government by the Left parties
on the Indo-US Nuclear deal is a similar example; one can wish that such a
decision could follow matters related to the failure of the then government to
ensure livelihood security owing to lack of access to its material basis—that
would have enabled the progressive, secular, democratic political forces to
forge solidarities in order to raise more central concerns over the functioning
of the capitalist system, and seek its alternatives.
Responses: Action
plans, Action taken
search over the questions asked
and responded between July 2, 2009 and May 22, 2012
at the Lok Sabha website,[4]
revealed 646 questions with ‘agriculture/ agricultural’ in the subject field,
most of which were on the macro aspects like policy, trade, supply chain,
research institutions, climate change, etc. There were only four with
‘community development’ and nine with ‘reconstruction’ (mostly, on Tsunami). In
addition, there were 465 questions with ‘farm’ in the subject field that
focused on the farm level micro-issues. Of these, various aspects of credit
contributed the most (99), followed by subsidy (41), assistance & package
(33), and interestingly, various aspects of organic farming including use of
fertilisers (27).
matter of ‘cooperation’, however, offers a contrasting picture. It is generally
seen as a state subject by the central government
, despite
the National Policy of Farmers (2007) emphasising on the encouragement and
support to small farmers’ cooperatives for taking up various activities. In any
case, the central government’s role is limited to the schemes for increasing
cooperative awareness among the farmers (by National Council for Cooperative
Training) or programme through National Cooperative Development Corporation
(NCDC) towards ‘development of cooperatives in agriculture and allied sectors,
transforming cooperatives as multi-purpose entities and promoting horizontal
and vertical functional linkages so as to enable the cooperatives to cater to
the overall needs of rural community’.
not very long ago, the matters of food, agriculture, cooperation, community and
rural development were connected as reveals the history of ‘business rules’ for
the Department of ‘Agriculture and Cooperation’. As in any case of ‘naming and
shaming’, this tiny history also provides a trajectory over the changing priorities
of the government of the day.
August 1979, D/o Cooperation which was taken out of M/o Agriculture (later M/o
Agriculture and Irrigation) in 1974 was transferred back and merged with D/o
Agriculture to make D/o Agriculture and Cooperation, as it exists today. At the
same time, D/o Rural Development was carved out to become an independent
ministry, of Rural Reconstruction. Later, in January 1985, this new ministry
was merged with the M/o Agriculture, to form M/o Agriculture and Rural
Reconstruction, with three departments, of Agriculture and Cooperation,
Agricultural Research and Extension, and Rural Development. Subsequently, in
September 1985, it was rechristened as M/o Agriculture and Rural Development;
the two became separated in July, 1991.
of today, M/o Rural Development works independently of M/o Agriculture, with
the latter consisting of three Departments, of Agriculture & Cooperation,
Agricultural Research and Education, and Animal Husbandry, Dairying and
Fisheries. Incidentally, there is no website for the M/o Agriculture; the link
from the portal india.gov.in points to the D/o Agriculture and Cooperation,
pointing to the centrality of agricultural production, rather than anything
else. It is growth, stupid!
Rural Development, in 1995, was renamed as that of
Rural Areas and Employment with three Departments,
of Rural Employment and Poverty Alleviation, of Rural Development and of
Wastelands Development. Again, in 1999-2000, the Ministry was re-christened
back to the M/o Rural Development, with three Departments, of Rural
Development, of Land Resources and of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MoRD).
Here, the casualties were labour and livelihood, notwithstanding the establishment
National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM) in June
. Even the ‘Plan(s) of Action’ drawn for
various divisions, departments and ministries of the Government of India
towards operationalization of the National Policy for Farmers (2007) mostly aim
at creating non-farm income, implicitly acknowledging the unsustainability of
farming as a livelihood (see, DAC, n.d.b.).
Lack of a holistic vision can however be justified
for the reasons of administrative convenience. But the disjuncture between
agriculture and ecology/ environment in the respective policies of the
government within the past twenty-five years is beyond any reasonable
explanation. Agricultural Policy of the government does not include anything on
the ecological aspects or cooperation or community development; neither the Environmental
Policy includes farming, leave alone matters related to rural development. Call
it growth fetishism, super specialisation, bureaucratic turf war or simply
foolishness: an extinct Planning Commission is the final icing on the
cake–there is no cake and there is no problem of eating it either.
Cooperation Experiences
in Agriculture and Rural Reconstruction:
However, there have been efforts in the past, both
distant and recent, towards establishing the connections between the multiple
dimensions of unsustainability, in India and elsewhere. In some, the respective
governments had been more active and in others, they were rather passive. As
expected, the experience had been of a mix of success and failure.
a century ago, Rabindranath Tagore had started his ‘experiment’ of rural
reconstruction. The environment within which it was conducted, was all
conducive for the ‘production of happiness’: a benevolent zaminadar, conscious and
sensitive to the needs of the raiyats,
who was keen to exploit the benefits of economies of scale through cooperation,
with a well-meaning team of village-workers led by a Cornell University trained
agronomist, Leonard K Elmhirst. Tagore himself was also a keen observer of
scientific developments, and their applicator in the matters of farming and
health related problems of the villagers. There were cooperative banks set up
with the Nobel Prize money as the start-up fund; ‘circulation of matter’, ‘robbery
of the soil’, were not just buzzwords for both Tagore and Elmhirst, the
principal architect of the programme. Even then, the bottom-up experiment had
failed, perhaps due to the inability to address and adjust to the scaling-up of
operations. A similar effort could be witnessed through the writings and
workings of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and his trusted lieutenant J C Kumarappa.
That experiment cannot also be regarded as a success by any means.
India, there had been at least two instances related to incorporation of
ecological aspects in agriculture: China, a classic case and Cuba, a more
recent one. The first had been recorded even by Leibig, one hundred and fifty
years ago, and the practice has been continued to this day, both in production
brigades and in the collective farms, though it is in the decline. In Cuba, the
developments in the international sphere towards the end of 1990s resulted in a
massive reduction of import of chemical fertiliser or spare parts of machines,
which had catapulted it into a kind of crisis, forcing it to depend on
non-chemical inputs for agricultural production. Today, Cuba has not only
recovered to the level of agricultural production prior to the crisis, but it
is largely following ecologically sound methods. Common characteristic of these
two experiences had been the cooperation, undoubtedly aided by a responsive and
responsible state.
A New Beginning?
On 18th September this year, several mass
organizations including
All-India Kisan Sabha
(AIKS), National Alliance for People’s Movements (NAPM), People’s Union for
Civil Liberties (Rajasthan), National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), and
many other trade unions and organisations working on land rights, led by Medha
Patkar (of NBA/NAPM) and former MLA Amra Ram (of AIKS/CPI(M)) had staged a
protest against the recently tabled Rajasthan land acquisition bill (2014) and
submitted a Joint Memorandum. The latter alleged that this ‘Bill is simply one
as to how to hand over fertile agriculture land, grazing land, Sawai Chak land
and forests to the corporates in the name of Infrastructure Development’ and
also that ‘the Government to take away land which is sustaining people’s lives
and livelihoods’.[5] This
‘new’ solidarity between the otherwise potential allies is a sign of welcome change
that was long overdue. One can only hope that similar actions are repeated
across the country. The corporate friendly government presently in office can
actually be a blessing in disguise–for likeminded political groups to shelve
their differences and exploit this opportunity to mobilise the masses. 
Just Growth and not just growth
an alternative to the growth that the capitalism offers, there have been calls
for low-carbon growth, green growth, de-materialised growth or even de-growth,
with each term attracting contested meanings. At the cost of simplicity, one
can bracket the first two as efforts to make capitalism
ecologically/environmentally more benign, which is an impossibility, for the
inherent ‘contradictions’ a la James O’connor. The latter two on the other hand
takes a clear anti-capitalist position:
degrowth is a downscaling of production and consumption that increases human
well-being and enhances ecological conditions and equity on the planet. It
calls for a future where societies live within their ecological means, with
open, localized economies and resources more equally distributed through new
forms of democratic institutions.[6]
the people, communities, and governments in the resource rich yet income poor populous
countries with most being dependent on access to natural resources for
livelihood, a more relevant call can be for Just Growth, etymologically a more
positive and (hopefully) popular term to communicate, convey and convince the
masses. This term expects to capture the imaginations of an aspiring yet rising
population, exposed to historic as well as prevailing inequities, which had to
share the various costs disproportionately but not the benefits of the growth
process that took place during either sides of attaining political independence.
Man is naturally prone to spoliation, and dreads
nothing so much as to have to exert his mental faculties in the acquisition of
what he needs […]. Necessity is the only compulsory agent that will ever make
him move, and this will come soon enough (Justus von Liebig, 1859, ‘Letter X’
in Letters on modern agriculture: with addenda by a practical agriculturist.
Embracing valuable suggestions, adapted to the wants of American farmers
, J
Wiley, New York, p. 196).

  1. All the references to Capital are from its
    Progress Publishers, Moscow three volume version of 1959 edition (1989
  2. Some of the arguments are based on the ‘Inaugural Lecture’ by
    Jayati Ghosh, Professor and Chairperson, Centre for Economic Studies and
    Planning, JNU, in the Symposium titled
    Growth, green growth or degrowth? New critical
    directions for India’s sustainability’ organised by TERI University and
    CSIR-NISTADS, September 12, 2014 in India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.
DAC, n.d.a, ‘Organisational History of the Department
of Agriculture & Cooperation’, Department of Agriculture and Cooperation,
Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, accessed at
http://agricoop.nic.in/Orghistory.pdf, last accessed on July 1, 2012.
DAC, n.d.b, Action Reported
by Ministries/ Departments/ Divisions of DAC on Steps/Points Identified in the
Plan of Action for Operationalisation of NPF 2007
. Department of
Agriculture and Cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, New
Delhi, accessed at
http://agricoop.nic.in/imagedefault/policy/Action%20reported%20by%20Depts.%20&%20Divs.%20-%20Master%20File.doc on 12 October 2013.
Donthi, Praveen, 2010, ‘Cancer Express’, Hindustan Times, January 16, accessed at
http://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/cancer-express/article1-498286.aspx, on November 11, 2014
Foster, John Bellamy, 2000, Marx’s Ecology:
Materialism and Nature
, Monthly Review Press
Goldfrank, Walter L., David Goodman, and
Andrew Szasz, eds., 1999,
and the World-system
, Greenwood Press.
Sugandh and Savvy Soumya Misra, 2011, ‘Supreme Court bans endosulfan: Order to
be effective till ICMR submits report’, Down
to Earth
, May 13.
Joan, 2002, The Environmentalism of the
Poor: A Study of Ecological Conflicts and Valuation
, Edward Elgar
‘Organisation’, Ministry of Rural Development, Government
of India, New Delhi, accessed at
http://rural.nic.in/sites/downloads/right-information-act/12OrganisationEstt.%28F%29.pdf, on July 1, 2012.

* (noTM) stands for no Trademark, like Copy Left; i.e. there
is no Trademark associated with the phrase ‘Just Growth’. There is no copyright
associated with this article as well. Anyone is free to use both the phrase and
the article in whatever way one may like to. A recognition of this author’s
labour is more than sufficient.
This phrase came
up for the first time in a conversation between four ecological economists,
Kanchan Chopra, Juan Martinez-alier, Pranab Mukhopdhyay and the author on the
way back to Guwahati from Tezpur after participating in the Seventh Biennial
Conference of Indian Society for Ecological Economics (INSEE), titled ‘Global Change, Ecosystems, Sustainability’, of which all four are life members. KC had been
its President twice (1998-2000, and 2010-2012), JMA has been the first
President of the International Society of Ecological Economics (ISEE) the
parent body of INSEE, PM had been the Secretary, INSEE (2012-2014), and NN had
been the Joint Secretary, INSEE (2010-12).
[2] See, http://www.ejolt.org/ in general. Its mission statement
reads, ‘
EJOLT is a global
research project bringing science and society together to catalogue and analyze
ecological distribution conflicts and confront environmental injustice’.
[3] For example, Agrochemical transnational corporation (Bangalore, 3-6
December 2011), Transnational corporations and peoples’ rights in Colombia
consequences for the environment, health, human rights (Vienna, 12-15 April
Industrial hazards and human rights – Bhopal II
(London, 28 November-2 December 1994) and
Industrial hazards and human rights – Bhopal I
(Bhopal, 19-23 October 1992) [Lelio and Lisli Basso Foundation, n.d. ‘Tribunale
Permanente dei Popoli—Introduction’ accessed at
http://www.internazionaleleliobasso.it/?page_id=207&lang=en on November 11, 2014
[4] Accessed online at, last accessed on June 20, 2012. The entry in
the ‘subject’ field is usually entered by the Lok Sabha Secretariat/ concerned
ministries, and each answer carries only one entry.
[5] All
India Kisan Sabha and 13 other organisations, 2014, Joint Memorandum of
People’s Organisation to take back the Rajasthan Land Acquisition Bill 2014,
submitted to Chief Minister of Rajasthan, 18 September. Also see,
Counterview, 2014, ‘Drop “draconian” Rajasthan
land acquisition bill, seeking to jail and fine protesters: Demonstrators to
CM’, accessed at
http://www.counterview.net/2014/09/drop-draconian-rajasthan-land.html, on
[6] Degrowth.org, n.d., ‘Introduction’,
accessed at
http://www.degrowth.org/definition-2 on 11th Novermber, 2014

The author is Associate Professor at TERI University, Delhi (nnletter@gmail.com)