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Capitalism and the Urban Struggle | Boston Review
“One of the things that interests me is the simultaneity of what goes on in the urban network. Occupy Wall Street was about Wall Street, but Occupy movements sprung up in a hundred odd cities in the United States, and you can find Occupy movements in Europe and around the world. So the urban network is actually a very powerful set of political possibilities. Part of my argument is that we should be thinking about how to use the urban network and how to use the political power that lies with closing cities down or intervening in cities as part of what political struggle is all about.”



“DJ: Mainstream liberals who talk about urbanism focus a lot on environmentalism and culture. Cities promise greener forms of living, since they offer greater density and more efficient energy use. And these liberals obsess over green architecture, high-speed rail, and so on, as well as about cities as centers of “creative culture.” Would you say they’re guilty of a certain fetishism over green living and culture?

DH: Very much so. As I try to point out in the book, the culture industries are very much caught up in the search for monopoly rent. It’s interesting that they’re called “industries” these days, which means that there’s a commodification of culture and an attempt to commodify the cultural commons and even commodify history, which is an astonishing process.

A lot of the green stuff is about planting trees and making things look greener. But I’ve yet to see a really radical reconfiguration of urbanization that would really confront the questions of global warming. So the liberal view does that, but what it doesn’t pay attention to is the tremendous social inequalities that exist. In New York, the social inequalities are dramatic, and we have huge concentrations of what we call precarious and insecure, employed people in these cities. In a way it’s an urban proletariat that is engaging in the production and the reproduction of urban life, and I don’t see the liberals taking any notice of that as being a problem. I mean, the levels of social inequality in New York City are far, far greater now than they were 30 years ago, and I would not be at all surprised to see an urban insurrection going on over those levels of inequality.”



“DJ: There you argue that Murray Bookchin had a more reasonable answer to the problem of how to organize for large-scale reform, given the limits of horizontal, anti-hierarchical political structures.

DH: One of the things I criticize the left for is what I call “fetishism of organizational form,” and it’s not only anarchists. The communist parties of yore used to have a democratic centralist model from which they would never depart, and it had certain strengths and it had certain weaknesses. Now there are certain elements within the anarchist movement that now believe totally in this horizontality idea and will not contemplate anything that is hierarchical. So I say, “Well, look, you’re disempowering yourself by sticking to that as the only organizational form which is viable.”

Again, there are certain anarchists who think that it’s reasonable to negotiate with the state or to try to reform the state and certain anarchists who say they want nothing whatsoever with anything that looks like state power. I have problems with that. My concern would be to say, “Let’s try to think of an organizational form that can confront the nature of the problems that we face,” which include, by the way, the one that you talked about earlier about the global nature of the struggle. You cannot imagine that we could simply have socialism in New York City and nowhere else. We’ve got to start thinking about all of the international relations and international divisions of labor and the like. So I’m more concerned with finding a practical form of organization, which can confront the nature of the problems we face, and I find that these rather dogmatic assertions by the communists, on one hand, and some of the anarchists, on the other, that “This is the only form of organization which is acceptable” get in the way of a fluid discussion over what would be a good form of organization for political mobilization right now.

DJ: Do you think that we’ve come to any sort of promising conclusions about organizational form, or is this a debate that needs to take place over the course of many years?

DH: Oh, I think it’s a debate that’s unfolding, but it can unfold very rapidly. I mean, there are places in the world where people seem to have found ways to pin together both the horizontal and the hierarchical. I mention the case of El Alto in Bolivia, where that seems to have happened. There are other cases; I’ve been very impressed by the example of the Chilean student movement, which is very democratic and horizontal but at the same time accepts that there is a need for decisive leadership. As more and more models of that sort come to our attention, I think that more and more people will start to converge on a practical organizational form. At least that’s my hope. And I think what I was trying to do in the book was to contribute to that process by both critiquing fetishism and then talking about examples where it seems some mixture of organizational forms has been very successful.

DJ: Now that we’re in Spring, people in the Occupy movement are wondering, “Where do we go from here?” Can there be an Occupy movement without occupation—without actually occupying public spaces? It seems as though occupying public spaces is a very powerful form of protest that has succeeded in Egypt and elsewhere. So why not just continuing occupying?

DH: Well, I think there are intermediate forms of it. One example that I was talking about with some people the other day is the Madres de Plaza de Mayo in Argentina who, instead of occupying all the time, turned up once a week to a particular space to demonstrate over the question of what had happened to their disappeared children and grandchildren. Of course, they suffered a great deal of police harassment and in some cases violence, but they just kept coming there every week. We could do something like that: we could go to Zuccotti Park once a week and say, “Look, we are still here!” It could be a visible thing. Some weeks, there’d be 500 people there; maybe occasionally there’d be 5,000 people there. But if it became a tradition, that once a week we all went there to reassert the significance of our political movement, then this would be a very good step.

I think that one of the problems we have in New York City is that we have a vast amount of public space in which the public is not allowed to do what it wants. We have to liberate public spaces for these sorts of common political actions, and this is one of the arenas of struggle.

DJ: In terms of changing our politics, are there any steps that you think are promising? For example, some critics, such as Lawrence Lessig, point to money in politics as a central problem. There are others who talk about how we need more participatory democracy in place. Is there a political step that you think will make progress?

DH: There’s a political step that I think that we should take and be very clear about. This is what was so impressive about the Chilean student movement. They recognized very clearly that the situation they’re in was defined by what happened under Pinochet. Now Pinochet is dead, but they’re still living with the legacy of Pinochet. What they are struggling with is what you might call “Pinochetism.” In this country Reagan is long gone, but Reaganism has been doubled down on by the Republican Party in particular, but also accepted by large chunks of the Democratic Party. So we’ve got to go after Reaganism. In Britain, Thatcher is long gone, but we’ve got Thatcherism. In Egypt, Mubarak is gone, but Mubarakism is still there. So we’ve got to go after the systems of power and the systems of appropriation of wealth that have become pretty universalized right now, and we’ve got to see this as a real serious point of confrontation. As Warren Buffett says when asked if there’s class struggle, “Sure, there’s class struggle. It’s my class, the rich, who have been waging it, and we’ve been winning.” Our task, I think, is to turn it around and say, “His class shall not win.” And in order to do that, we’ve got to get rid of the whole neoliberal way of organizing contemporary capitalism.“
davidharvey  2012  capitalism  urban  urbanism  economics  democracy  cities  davidjohnson  henrilefebvre  righttothecity  anticapitalism  neoliberalism  politics  policy  liberalism  class  classstruggle  pinochet  warrenbuffett  chile  inequality  thatcherism  margaretthatcher  activism  murraybookchin  argentina  bolivia  ows  occupywallstreet  culture  society  green  greenliving  progress 
7 weeks ago by robertogreco

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