We started the new year with a well-attended workshop on „Organising and taking space – and how is that Degrowth?“ on January 13, 2024, organised with and in the cultural centre 4lthangrund. We joined forces with 4lthangrund because one of the things that degrowth is about is commoning, a way of governing resources and services collectively – basically, what 4lthangrund is doing.
First, we asked the participants what they knew about the Degrowth concept & movement and the 4lthangrund cultural centre, and what they expected to learn from the workshop. Many people had a broad idea of Degrowth but were still happy to dive deeper into the concept and to find out more about 4lthangrund’s self-managed space.
We talked about shrinking the socially and ecologically destructive parts of the current economy, as well as shifting our focus on work from our capitalist lens of production to one of reproduction, such as life-sustaining care work, which is still mostly done by women. Of course, this socio-economic transformation will not happen as a top-down political miracle but requires a full democratization of the economy and the political sphere. This includes the socialization (or „collectivization“) of basic goods and services, moving away from the profit logic of the private sector, yet not simply handing governance over to the state either, but to basic-democratic decision-making bodies like councils.
We concluded with E.O Wright’s three modes of transformation, a concept that was fundamental to our book “Degrowth & Strategy”, published by Degrowth Vienna in 2022. Wright distinguishes between rupturing, interstitial and symbiotic strategies, each following a different approach in their relationship to the current capitalist system and how to transform it. We see 4lthangrund as an interstitial approach, showing up alternatives to the capitalist system by creating a self-governed space that we at Degrowth Vienna and about 25 other emancipatory initiatives are using.
What’s the story of 4lthangrund and the cultural center?
After our introduction to Degrowth, _willi from 4lthangrund led us through the history of the space and the collective. It all started around 2017-18, with a loose group connected to students of urban planning at the Technical University of Vienna and the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. The group opened a space in the half-empty building of the old University of Economics (old WU) in Althangrund, a „Grätzl“ (Viennese for neighborhood) in Vienna’s 9th district. From the beginning the “Wolke” (cloud) was a space that inhabited several other groups and collectives. In the following years the then independent group 4lthangrund (Althangrund 4 all) organised many political events and parties to create space and raise money for political and cultural initiatives, centered around anti-fascism, and refugee and neighbourhood solidarity.
From the beginning, 4lthangrund was part of a bigger struggle: halting the ongoing privatization of Vienna’s largest inner-city urban development area, and instead creating more accessible communal space(s). In 2020, the newly started free monthly programs with a wide range of political and artistic works came to a halt when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Nevertheless, an extensive and “Covid safer” program consisting of summer cinema, workshops and outdoor festivals was organized. In 2021 4lthangrund was looking for a larger and more long-term independent space, when a conflict arose with the Academy of Fine Arts, which almost led to the eviction of the Wolke. 4lthangrund successfully politicized their precarious situation and the power dynamics at play with their (crowdfunding) campaign #RaumfürAlle (space for everyone) Solutions were found, and instead of being kicked out of Wolke, 4lthangrund was able to rent out the old canteen of the old WU in 2022, next to the main building.
Since then, more and more groups and initiatives – including a food cooperative, a solidarity kitchen, a gardening project, an awareness collective and a kids‘ space – have taken up residence in the spacious two-story building, continuing their diverse monthly programs, hosting numerous exhibitions, and organizing a wide range of workshops and parties. A more detailed description of 4lthangrund, its program and history can be found on their website.
How to self-organize common spaces?
After leading us through the facilities of the old canteen, Réka from 4lthangrund explained to us how they self-organize on the principles of grassroots-democracy. The management of the space and the coordination of the program require weekly meetings and various working groups. All the collectives and groups that use the space are expected to attend the monthly meetings, which is necessary not only to find common solutions to the problems that arise in a space that is used by so many different groups and people, but also to create a social network within these individual groups that enables cooperation and supportive relationships.
Even though our heads were already quite full of information, as a final interactive exercise we got together in small groups to discuss how different spaces within 4lthangrund could develop in the future, what difficulties, but also what opportunities we see, linking our discussion to a larger degrowth vision. For a broad overview of the topics and discussion points, see the posters below.
The final check-out round showed that the (over three hours long!) workshop had increased people’s curiosity concerning degrowth, and their motivation to become (more) active themselves in self-organized spaces – an outcome that we, Degrowth Vienna and 4lthangrund, were very happy to see.