Both/And Reformatory and Revolutionary Action

As an urban planner/scholar of planning, I appreciate Harvey’s clear argument of the city as an important grounding place for the anti-capitalist struggle and revolution. I like his reference to Lefebvre, calling our political task “to imagine and reconstitute a totally different  kind of city out of the disgusting mess of a globalizing, urbanizing capital  run amok.” But Harvey (and Lefebvre) also emphasize that claiming the right to the city is not the ultimate action-it is an important step and a contributor to an entire anti­-capitalist revolutionary movement.

All around me, in the city of Seattle alone, I identify (and participate in) actions to claim the right to the city. Coinciding with my interest in food systems issues, I particularly see people and communities engaging in rights to their food system- or food sovereignty. For example, a community group has organized to establish a seven acre public food forest in South Seattle. Other groups of urban homesteader/sustainability types are coordinating in their neighborhoods to trade skills and expertise, share tools, and swap seeds

This raises, for me the question (and one raised by both Harvey and Holland)- what actions are truly revolutionary, compared to minorly reformatory? And what is the end goal we seek? It seems this is an area where Harvey and Holland differ. Harvey seems to see the only real, desirable alternative to capitalism as socialism, as we discussed in our book group. On this blog, M. Purcell sees this an old, tired concept. Holland is consciously less specific about the desired end goal- in fact, his support of an ongoing slow motion general strike highlights that there is not an end goal- all we need is a direction to move. We can support those alternatives that demonstrate true viability outside of capitalism. As we nurture and grow these, we will figure out next steps as we go. It is, a la Deleueze and Guatarri, an endless becoming.

As for what is merely reformatory versus truly revolutionary, perhaps it is not so important to distinguish between them right now. The important thing is to NOT just accept the capitalist state. Reformatory work may indeed provide building blocks for, rather than distract from, the revolution. It seems to me our best path is not to pursue either/or, but both/and. I think the slow motion general strike consists of reformatory actions such as GMO labeling efforts  (I 522 in Washington State) and the upcoming Forward on Climate Rally across the US (Feb. 17th) AND the construction of more revolutionary alternatives that push us to the “tipping point” described by Holland, such as the Seattle Farm Co-op (to which I belong) , seed and plant swaps, etc. In our book group, we described this as a sort of running forward, while still throwing wrenches over our shoulder at capitalism.

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