Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, by David Harvey, Verso Books, London, 2012, 187 pages, ISBN-13:978-1-84467-882-2. $19.95.
Many of the great revolutions of past centuries have been urban affairs. The names of major cities have been irrevocably linked with revolutionary uprisings: Paris with the French Revolution, the Paris Commune of 1871, and the events of May 1968; Barcelona and Madrid with the Spanish Civil War; and St. Petersburg with the Russian Revolution. In light of this history, it is strange how little theorizing has been devoted by thinkers of the world left to the place of the city in movements for social change. Much of Marxian thought has centered around the factory and its labor struggles, while Anarchism has often displayed a nostalgia for the rural commune. This ignores a basic reality--that the world is steadily becoming more urbanized. According to the UN, 2007 marked the tipping point: the first time in history that 50% of the human race was living in cities. That percentage has only increased in the years since.
Thankfully, we have the work of David Harvey to correct this oversight. His new book, Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution, is a much needed attempt to drag Marxist theory out of the factory and into the wider context in which the factory exists--that of the city. In doing so, he has displayed an insight which allows him to transcend the dilemma in which much Marxian theorizing has been trapped for the past four decades. This is the question of the relevance of a theory centered on industrial workers in an age where industrial employment (in the developed world at least) is in decline, while that in the service sector increases. By placing this issue within the context of the city, Harvey allows us to think in terms of the production of the urban environment.
Rebel Cities begins with a discussion of the work of the French Marxist and sociologist Henri Lefebvre. A dissident former member of the French Communist Party, Lefebvre was a major influence on the New Left for his pioneering work in which Marx's early concept of alienation was applied to the investigation of everyday life. In the 60s, his thought increasingly turned towards the investigation of urban life, in particular the spread of gentrification. Lefebvre was one of the first to notice the increasing trend to make the city oriented towards the needs of the wealthy, and to dispossess workers...