Speigel interviews David Harvey, Marxist and social theorist, on cities, and how urban dwellers in totality not the proletariat will become the catalysts for social change, that urban class warfare may come to the cities.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Why should a Marxist be concerned about major cities instead of the working class these days?
Harvey : Traditional Marxists admittedly see the avant-garde of the revolution in the industrial working class. However, since this is disappearing in the wake of Western deindustrialization, people are starting to grasp that urban conflicts will probably be decisive.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: Over the course of the debt crisis, wages have decreased and social benefits have been slashed in Greece. Meanwhile, general strikes haven’t generated enough pressure to reverse the changes. Can this be viewed as evidence to support your theory that the traditional proletariat can no longer paralyze a state?
Harvey : Yes. Today’s working class is part of a wider configuration of classes in which the struggle centers on the city itself. I replace the traditional concept of class struggle with the struggle of all those who produce and reproduce urban life.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: One of the basic theses of your book “Rebel Cities” is that urban development solves the problem of surplus capital. One builds streets and develops property on credit — and thereby attempts to escape recession.
Harvey : A report from the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco recently put it that way, saying that the United States has historically always surmounted recessions by building houses and filling them with things. Urbanization can solve crises — but, more than anything, it is a way to get out of crises.
In the discussions about mortgage reforms at the end of the 1930s, a key sentence was: “Indebted homeowners don’t go on strike.”
Long before Occupy, cities were the subject of much utopian thinking. They are the centers of capital accumulation as well as of revolutionary politics, where deeper currents of social and political change rise to the surface. Do the financiers and developers control access to urban resources or do the people? Who dictates the quality and organization of daily life?
Rebel Cities places the city at the heart of both capital and class struggles, looking at locations ranging from Johannesburg to Mumbai, from New York City to São Paulo. Drawing on the Paris Commune as well as Occupy Wall Street and the London Riots, Harvey asks how cities might be reorganized in more socially just and ecologically sane ways—and how they can become the focus for anti-capitalist resistance.