7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars David Harvey on the 'right to the city'
Within Marxist economics, David Harvey has made himself a specialist in questions of space, place, and geography, and this book is a specific application of that body of thought to the urban. Previously, Harvey had written on the history of Paris as the development of modernity, on spatial differentiation of global capitalism, and similar topics; now, he has turned his...
Published 18 months ago by M. A. Krul
2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent content, very bad (physical) book.
The book arrived in a relatively short time, and I started reading it right away. David Harvey doesn't hide anything: his radical views on how capitalism uses the urban areas are very interesting and the link with a more pro-active, revolutionary kind of analysis, towards urban activism, should be in my opinion, one of the main directions that social movements should...
Published 5 months ago by Rodrigo Rivera
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars David Harvey on the 'right to the city',
This review is from: Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution (Hardcover)Within Marxist economics, David Harvey has made himself a specialist in questions of space, place, and geography, and this book is a specific application of that body of thought to the urban. Previously, Harvey had written on the history of Paris as the development of modernity, on spatial differentiation of global capitalism, and similar topics; now, he has turned his eye on the city in the modern day, and the role of urban struggle in the struggle against capitalism more generally. In so doing, he makes a number of very valuable points of analysis. While he is at times, especially in the first chapter, somewhat vague in his summaries of (financial) capitalism generally, he is excellent when it comes to explaining the significance and particulars of the spatial dimension and the way it applies to the city. Harvey's analysis focuses on the city in two ways: first, as site of the generation of rents, and the role that rent plays in the accumulation of capital; and secondly, as a commons, created by the collective physical and symbolic production of its inhabitants.
On the former topic, his chapter on wine-making is particularly excellent, using this perhaps obscure topic to delineate how different kinds of rent are the practical form of accumulation and thereby structure its production from beginning to end. One important aspect here that Harvey rightly, and quite originally, underlines is the necessarily subjective nature of rent: because rent is a category of distribution, it is entirely dependent on the social convention of property, and thereby requires constant efforts to reinforce those symbolic and subjective discourses and ideologies that underpin its existence as property. Not just in the sense of respecting the private ownership of intellectual goods or of land, but also in the ability of companies to appropriate the symbolic value attached to a particular place and social geography, a fictitious value produced by its history and cultural significance. From tourism to advertising, a considerable degree of of capitalist activity concerns itself with such second-order appropriations. This also posits such cultural, symbolic and historical spheres as sites of struggle, where class conflict may arise over such appropriations and the desire of those living in those spaces, or reproducing those symbolic values, to reclaim them as a commons.
The second point, with regard to the city itself as commons, is the mainstay of the book. Here, Harvey outlines the potential of understanding the urban struggles, whether over housing, rent, open spaces, parks, safety, public transport, or whatever, as elementary forms of class struggle. He rightly excoriates those who would withdraw from cities and their struggles into the minimal forms of self-association in remote areas or self-contained communal houses, or who believe that it is sufficient to have self-governing municipalities and localism and decentralization above all else - as he rightly points out, neoliberalism can be decidedly accomodating to localism and decentralization, and smaller is not always better. But he also emphasizes the role of urbanization worldwide in creating a historically uniquely urban working class, a clear locus of potential for vigorous struggle against capitalism, and rightly calls on communist theorists to follow anarchist thinker Murray Bookchin's example in developing adequate ideas for an urban socialist future. At times, Harvey certainly veers too strongly in the direction of claiming originality here - he attacks Marxists for having ignored urban struggles and the newly precarious workforce as being equal participants in the class struggle with factory workers, but this is largely a strawman. Indeed, for most of the history of capitalism, and in most parts of the world, the description of "temporary, itinerant, insecure and precarious" has attached to industrial work as much as anything, and therefore this is nothing new. But the historical move to a worldwide urban working class majority is indeed new, and of great significance for Marxist thought.
For Harvey, then, the 'right to the city' is his proposal for what traditionally would be called a 'transitional demand': a political form of struggle and a way of organizing which is not anticapitalist per se, but will necessarily have to organize against capitalism to succeed, and has the potential to organize a broad array of very diverse groups. This is plausible and important. The question, of course, is as Harvey himself asks: how does one organize a city? Of great significance here, especially in the wake of the fiasco in Wisconsin recently, is his use of American union theorists Fletcher and Gapasin (Solidarity Divided: The Crisis in Organized Labor and a New Path Toward Social Justice) in seeking to broaden the traditional union struggles to comport with the real significance of rent and accumulation through rent in the life experience of the urban population. One major argument of this book is that the significance of rent has been understated by Marxist analysis as a practical and political site of struggle, mainly because as a distributional category it plays a subsidiary role in the pure theory presented in "Capital". This has in many cases led to an unacceptable narrowing of the activities of communist parties and movements as well as of labor unions, restricting their activities to those workers immediately occupied in production of commodities. Instead, as Fletcher & Gapasin rightly write, and Harvey cites: "If class struggle is not restricted to the workplace, then neither should unions be". Connecting such struggles with the wider struggles of unemployed people, of marginal workers of all sorts, of those engaged in domestic work and reproduction, and with the questions of practical life in the city outside the workplace are important ways forward for socialist organization and for a revival of unions; not just in Third World communities like El Alto in Bolivia or the Zapatistas in Chiapas, but at least as much for having a chance to organize urban Westerners against capitalist interests. At times, Harvey's suggestions here move somewhat in the direction of reformist 'municipal socialism', although he is right to point to the real accomplishments of those administrations. But with the Occupy movement in mind, Harvey's throwing down of the gauntlet to find an appropriate, centralizing, and internationalist urban basis for communism is a challenge that our best minds should seek to answer.
16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Aux armes, citoyens! Encore...,
This review is from: Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution (Hardcover)In 'Rebel Cities', David Harvey re-examines and interprets the basis of capitalist accumulation to show its essentially urban roots. This is certainly a wide and sweeping project and it is largely convincing.
He starts with 'The Urban Roots of Capitalist Crises', looking at the bases of the current malaise from a Marxist perspective. Too often, he suggests, Marxist analyses of the crises of capitalism parallel or mirror bourgeois economics, considering exploitation of the proletariat within a national economy. Harvey suggests that:
'[t]he role of the property market in creating the crisis conditions of 2007-09, and its aftermath of unemployment and austerity (much of it administered at the local and municipal level) is not well understood, because there has been no serious attempt to integrate an understanding of processes of urbanization and built-environment formation into the general theory of laws of motion of capital. As a consequence, many Marxists theorists, who love crises to death, tend to treat the recent crash as an obvious manifestation of their favoured version of Marxist crisis.' (P35)
Harvey goes on, therefore, to address this lack and to explore the role of housing and the built environment in the current crisis. Much of this will be familiar to anyone who has taken even a moderate interest in current affairs - the rise of predatory lending, the housing asset bubble, political pressures on state supported institutions such as the US Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, years of low interest rates and the supply of 'cheap' money all leading to the final collapse of the asset bubble. But he extends this account to consider the longer term 'capital accumulation through urbanization' (P42).
By emphasising the geographical specificity of class struggle, Harvey breaks away from the more 'traditional' bases of analysis at national or supra-national level. This makes a lot of sense with the demise of any easily identifiable proletariat (except in, as he points out, parts of China and India). By stressing the struggles within the urban environment, he can view class struggles in, to my mind, much wider and more dynamic terms. Whereas Zizek might talk of 'proletarianisation' in order to weld together 'three fractions of the working class: intellectual labourers, the old manual working class, and the outcasts (unemployed, or living in slums and other interstices of the public space)' (The Idea of Communism, P226), Harvey takes the public space itself as the basis for the class struggle. Rather than the usual emphasis on the control of wages, by looking at class relations from 'the other side' so to speak, allows Harvey to:
'recognise how easily real wage concessions to workers can be clawed back for the capitalist class as a whole through predatory and exploitative activities in the realm of consumption.' (P57)
Capitalism is, therefore, fundamentally bound up in the forms of urbanisation that we see around us. In order to combat this exploitation, it is fundamentally necessary to do it precisely from within these forms. This will inevitably cut across more 'traditional' views - clearly such an approach cannot simply be based on an industrial proletariat but must include cultural workers, immigrant workers, it must cross gender lines and even include those dismissively labelled the 'lumpenproletariat'.
In Chapter 4, Harvey examines 'The Art of Rent' or the ways in which capitalism attempts to take over, amongst other things, the common spaces and cultural production in the process of commodification. Sounding at times reminiscent of Thomas Frank, he still sees the city and the urban environment as the place where opposition to this commodification may most easy and effectively be mounted.
After this thorough grounding in theory, Harvey looks, in Section 2, at 'Rebel Cities' (P113). From the Paris Communes to the role of Barcelona in the Spanish Civil War to the Prague Spring and the recent rebellions and revolts in Cochabamba, Tahrir Square and El Alto, the urban environment is where active resistance to the counter-revolutionary neoliberal forces happens.
To put it another way, you do not step out of the class struggle when you leave work - it is all around you, in the (urban) environment and the relations that this implies - and so to ex- or abstract these movements from consideration within a greater class struggle is not only to ignore powerful and progressive forces but is also to irretrievably weaken analysis of the situation. If you don't realise this, the capitalists certainly do:
'It is in fact in the cities that the wealthy classes are most vulnerable, not necessarily as persons but in terms of the value of the assets they control. It is for this reason that the capitalist state is gearing up for militarized urban struggles as the front line of class struggle in years to come.' (P131)
This review is by no means comprehensive. At times, this book is hard work, but it is really worth the effort. It fits in well and extends David Harvey's previous analyses, but it does more than that. Apart from a sound theoretical underpinning, it also explores and suggests alternative means of social organisation, looking to the work of, amongst others, Murray Bookchin. And in 'The Party of Wall Street Meets Its Nemesis' the book ends with a rousing and powerful call to action.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another Effect of the Crisis?,
This review is from: Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution (Hardcover)Who has the right to the city? And how did city centers become so fashionable that neither the under or the middle classes can afford to live there. David Harvey blames the increasing inequality as well as the crisis caused mainly by the real estate market. Harvey discusses the way of the economy and furthermore mentions the downturn of Fannie Mae og Freddie Mac - guarantors of almost 80% of all loans in 2008 and the fact that two wars in Iraq did something to the profits made under the president Clinton.
The book also describes how construction companies in Seoul hired teams of sumo wrestlers in order to make them invade and crush entire living areas so that people would abandon the areas and thereby leave them free for selling to rich people.
Also a critic of the formerly famous micro loans in Bangladesh is included. The loans are not so desirable anymore as they fix the women in indebted positions with interests of 18% or more.
The reading is quite demanding but provides an interesting angle to the connection between the economy of a nation and the right to the cities.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Present for a student,
This review is from: Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution (Hardcover)Bought for my son in the first year of his Geography degree at Cambridge and he has found it useful for essays.
2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent content, very bad (physical) book.,
This review is from: Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution (Paperback)The book arrived in a relatively short time, and I started reading it right away. David Harvey doesn't hide anything: his radical views on how capitalism uses the urban areas are very interesting and the link with a more pro-active, revolutionary kind of analysis, towards urban activism, should be in my opinion, one of the main directions that social movements should discuss.
Unfortunately, after 30 pages or so, these first pages started to unglue from the cover. For a new book, it's not at all what I expected. Fortunately, someone offered me the same book but with a hardcover some days later. Fortunate coincidence.
Next time, use some of the profits to buy good glue, dear editors.
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Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution by David Harvey (Hardcover - 2 April 2012)
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