URBAN STRUGGLES, COMPOSITE ARTICULATIONS AND NEW CLASS ANALYSIS1
In Kalb, Don and Massimiliano, Mollona (eds.)
Global Urban Mobilization.
2 Therborn describes them as “drawing support from many layers of society – the urban poor, people of indigenous or African descent, progressive element of the middle strata – and in which industrial workers are rarely in the vanguard” (2012: 16).
7 See, for instance, the proposal of formalizing the informal economy of the South made by Robert Neuwirth (2013).
9 For an analysis of these contemporary urban movements in Brazil, see Santana and Mollona (2013).
11 The proposal would allow companies to outsource core workers and hence to operate with a workforce of zero full-time or permanent workers, relying instead on a reserve pool of workers provided by “contact centers” – labor brokers and temporary hiring agencies.
13 World Bank, Bringing the State Back into the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro, 2014.
15 Law 11 gave to FIFA exclusive selling, advertising and distribution rights over the World Cup.
17 He sees in the demonstrations “evidence of the unremitting rejections of former President Lula, President Dilma Rousseff and the PT by large segment of the upper and middle classes and the mainstream media” (2014: 661).
18 2014: 229
20 Calculated at R$1,000.
21 The population below the poverty line went from 36 percent in 2003 to 23 percent in 2008.
22 These often took the form of situationist interventions. One of the most successful of these involved a man dressed up in a Batman costume climbing on the roof of a building in central Rio with a placard reading, “We want quality schools and hospitals – fuck the World Cup.”
23 In one instance, after the FIP and MEPR accused the PSTU of “bourgeois pacifism” and reformism, some of its members physically assaulted an FIP group during a demonstration.
25 They are mainly children of casual laborers, maids and cleaners – all jobs with earnings below the poverty line.
27 Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, “What is Middle Class about the Middle Classes around the world?” MIT Department of Economics Working Paper, no 7-29, 2007.
29 André Singer, “Rebellion in Brazil: Social and Political Complexion of the June Events,” NLR 85, 2014.
30 The dynamics of poverty and inequality in Rio is more extreme than in other cities, where on average only 15 percent of demonstrators came from the lowest income level.
31 Waldir Quadros, “Brasil: Um Pais de Classe media,” Le Monde Diplomatique Brasil, 1 November 2012. Cited in Singer (ibid.).
- Cities nest within themselves different scales of political economy – regional, local, national and global – each of them with different temporal dynamics. The traditional spatial and temporal dynamics of capital and labor associated with factory work has been replaced by a radical temporal and spatial disjuncture between, paraphrasing Harvey,34 “life-spaces” (the space of community and places) and the forces operating in the abstract economy (international investors, sport institutions, global developers, hoteliers and oil companies). Such cognitive and experiential disconnect between economy and life in the urban context makes it difficult to develop class solidarity and sustained political action. But the convergence of different scales and forces of political economy within the city, as in June 2013, has a multiplier effect on solidarities, cross-sectional alliances and revolutionary action (see for instance the Greek example).
- As much as economics is an ideological construction, politics does not exist in a vacuum. The political economy approach I propose roots the analysis of urban struggle in the understanding of the economy and the relations of production of the city “as factory.” The focus on rents and incomes associated with the abstract logics of finance and services is only one aspect of it. Invisible labor infrastructures and grassroots economies – informal trade, small and illegal production, street markets – need to be unveiled too.
32 Ibid: 34
33 It was used for instance by Green MP Marina Silva in her electoral campaign in 2014 34 Harvey and Hayter (1994)
- In cities like Rio, where rural favelas and the hyper-developed center blend into each other, it becomes clear that the dynamics of inequality from urban rents (highlighted by Harvey35 and Piketty36) and land grabbing (highlighted by Sassen37) are part of the same global logic of dispossession. The important role of the MST in the June demonstrations highlight a new convergence in Brazil as in other parts of the South, between “new-peasant” and working- class struggles. More generally, do the casual laborers, landless peasants, street vendors and dispossessed ethnic minorities living in the slums in Asia, Africa and Latin America form a new class from the margins?38
- Class struggles are also moments of intellectual and material production. How can anthropology capture these processes, at once material and intellectual, without objectifying them and reducing them to abstract categories – such as “horizontalism,” “workerism” or “class”? Can our fieldworks combine participant observation with moments of reflection, taking place in the immediate and with our informants, on the life forms emerging in moments of political struggles?
- Latin America developed its own tradition of socialism, based on collaborations between middle classes and subaltern formations – informal laborers, unemployed unions, migrants’ coalitions and indigenous organizations – as an integral part of its anticolonial struggles. Horizontalism is also re-emerging in anticapitalist struggles in Argentina,39 Bolivia40 and Brazil.41 Traditionally suspicious of such “Bolivarist”42 alliances, European Marxism is now coming to terms with these horizontal forms of class composition, as it has become evident in the urban struggles in Spain, New York and Greece. But horizontalism, starfish organizations, decentralized networks, consensus and leaderlessness are also the modus operandi of mafia organizations, al-Qaida franchises, tea parties and the creative industries. Raymond William famously argued that “there are in fact no masses, but only ways of seeing people as masses.” So what is the right balance, between verticalism and horizontalism, through which we can imagine ourselves as new masses? Ex post, the most positive consequence of the June events was the re-articulation of the left around both horizontal and vertical processes and organizations.
After the events of June 2013, different strands of the left – old and new trade union confederations (CUT and CONLUTAS), subaltern organizations (MST and homeless) and the vertical and the horizontal left (MPL, PT and PSOL) – came together in a series of meetings, discussions and movements. The radical changes in the electoral
35 David Harvey, 2013.
36 Thomas Piketty, 2014.
37 Saskia Sassen, 2014.
38 Göran Therborn, 2014.
39 Marina Sitrin, 2006.
40 Raul Zibechi, 2010.
41 Andre Singer, 2012.
42 I am referring to Marx’s essay on Bolivar, which inspired some Marxist orthodox readings of Latin American politics.
44 Such as “Brazil does not want and will not be a new Venezuela” or “Nation + Liberty = PT (Workers Party) Out!.”
46 Explorers in the interior of Brazil hunting for gold, minerals and slaves.
Bayat, Asef. 2009. Life as Politics. How Ordinary People Change the Middle East.
Frazer, Nancy. 2000. “Rethinking Recognition.” New Left Review 3: 107-120.
Saad-Filho, Alfredo. 2013. “Mass Protest under ‘Left Neoliberalism’: Brazil, June-
Susser, Ida, and Stéphane Tonnelat. 2013. “Transformative Cities: The Three Urban