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The city we built and they stole | openDemocracy

19/06/2012 15:02

Harvey concedes the difficulty of drawing universal conclusions from such a contingent example. El Altoʼs success not only relied on somewhat unique geographical and political circumstances, but also held vital strategic benefits. 3 out of 4 of the main supply routes to La Paz run through El Alto, allowing the cityʼs residents to entirely cut off supply lines between La Paz and the West and South of the country through coordinated direct action. Yet El Alto is still instructive on two counts. First it reveals the potential of urban struggle centred around issues of consumption instead of production. Second, it escapes a certain “fetishisation of organisational form” that Harvey sees as an obstacle to the left making a shrewd evaluation of strategies for restoring its relevance. Surely Harvey is right here. For a long time the left has been mired in a way of thinking and acting which is already precluded by the tacit admittance of defeat and the impossibility of its own success. The endless debates about the minutae of organisational form are almost certainly a symptom of this, and it is clear that the left will never mount a serious challenge without building the sort of urban cross-alliances Harvey celebrates. It seems a little odd then that Harvey devotes a fair proportion of the book taking issue with horizontalism, albeit in a constructive rather than sectarian manner. The critique takes the following form: 1. Whilst horizontal forms of direct democracy are effective at the small scale, theyʼre unable to ʻscale upʼ to deal with the municipal, regional or global scale. The result is that wealth and resources could not be effectively redistributed across a city divided into autonomous localities, since no one community would consistently forsake their own wellbeing for the benefit of distant others. 2. The ʻtermiteʼ approach to revolution (the building of alternative societies within shell of the old) ends up leading to the selfmanagement of your own exploitation: since any business, cooperatively owned or not, cannot isolate itself from the economy at large, it is forced to be competititive or go under, thereby succumbing to the same logic as any generic capitalist company. The same is true for ʻfree communitiesʼ who must likewise engage with society at large, diluting their principles in the process. The problem is with Harveyʼs definition is that it appears to conflate an organisational approach based on consensus and a lack of leadership with its various programmatic offshoots, so that in the end “horizontalism” means occupy, means anarchism, means autonomism; all without any real discrimination between them. Inevitably this muddles the critique being made. Another problem is that whilst Harvey chips at horizontalism he doesnʼt have much to offer in its place. Somewhat

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978 84 460 3799 6 dossier harvey  
978 84 460 3799 6 dossier harvey