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A tussle is taking place in Westminster politics over the word ‘progressive’. Conservatives are divided over whether to claim the word from the left as part of the detoxification of the Tory brand or denounce it as an anodyne cover for dubiously pinko sentiments. Meanwhile, Nick Clegg casts around for coalition policies to promote as progressive to try to deflect the flak from the decidedly anti-progressive spending cuts.
Internships, Clegg thus weakly proposes, should be subject to open interviews, not awarded to family friends. The grammar school boy should have the opportunity to enhance his CV too. The issue of payment is not broached. Yet this intervention is part of a wider agenda to recast ‘meritocracy’ as the acme of progressive ambition. No need for the redistribution of wealth here. In fact, no problem that the cuts are redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich, so long as a few of the poor themselves can be redistributed that way too.
The Labour Party is not immune to pouring meritocratic wine into ‘progressive’ bottles. The contradiction inherent in Labour’s need to re-engage its working class support, while still appealing to ‘the squeezed middle’ (best expressed in Andy Burnham’s leadership campaign oxymoron ‘aspirational socialism’), dovetails with the dominant culture of commodification. Even those genuinely seeking redistribution express little vision beyond enabling more people to privately buy their way out of material deprivation.
In choosing to focus on radical visions for our cities in this issue of Red Pepper, we are hoping to show that something more attractive, and more challenging to capitalism, is possible. In his important 2008 essay for New Left Review, ‘The Right to the City’, David Harvey wrote: ‘The right to the city is … a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanisation.’
This sense of collectivity in the way we live in the city is something we need desperately to reassert. Yet this is not just an ideological problem. The physical city has often been constructed in a way that reinforces an outlook framed by atomistic individualism. We peer out of our windows at the noise, pollution and physical danger of traffic. Our fear of crime has soared in a cityscape that is increasingly privatised and subject to surveillance (see Anna Minton, page 26). Individual home ownership guts our common interest in solving the housing crisis as homeowners hope for ever‑increasing property prices.
Yet alternatives exist. As Chiara Tornaghi shows (page 22), various embryonic urban agriculture projects can be starting points for reclaiming the commons while cutting down the environmental impact of our food and multiplying the public green space in our cities. The post-war period of building new social housing may not have been universally successful, but as Owen Hatherley points out (page 28) the architects and planners in those years often had a vision of building design as serving a higher social purpose. Not everyone will agree with the modernist result, but it’s clear that community, democracy and solidarity can all be built into the city, and with them quality of life.
Given where we start from however, building a new radical urbanism will not be easy. We are helped in some ways by the aftermath of the financial crisis. The neoliberal juggernaut has been slowed and with it the building frenzy throwing up private apartments, shopping complexes and the infrastructure of boutique lifestyles for the wealthy.
At the same time, the perennial crisis in housing has been exacerbated, leading to rising repossessions and homelessness. Any movement to claim the right to the city needs to tackle the housing question centrally. As Stuart Hodkinson argues (page 20), such a movement must start with the immediate issues around providing affordable housing but seek always to decommodify housing and move towards collective ownership and control. In doing so, it will inevitably encounter a whole range of other issues, from the redistribution of wealth to the power of multinationals to the problem of gentrification.
Recent events in Bristol, with the so-called ‘anti-Tesco riot’ in the Stokes Croft area, are illustrative of this wider battle over the character of city life. The issue is not limited to a single, if symbolic, supermarket branch, but encompasses a struggle over gentrification and the entry of major retailers into an area currently characterised by local shops – many catering to ethnic minority communities – squatted buildings and some inspiring non‑profit community and arts spaces (see RP Aug/Sep 2008).
This concentration of radical urbanism is relatively unusual, but it need not be so. Combined with a movement to fight urban inequality, and a strategy of reclaiming the commons in housing, public space and elsewhere, such spaces can provide both a better way to live and a thorough-going challenge to the priorities of the capitalist city.
Dipesh Pandya speaks to documentary film-maker Sanjay Kak, who for 30 years has been working outside the mainstream to tell a story rooted in the struggles of those excluded by India’s militarism and its narrative of neoliberal growth
Jeremy Gilbert on how radical Labour politics can be inspired by the utopianism of the counterculture
Disasters have unequal impacts – it's the poor and marginalised who suffer most. David Harvey writes on Hurricane Harvey
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Working class theatre: Save Our Steel takes the stage
A new play inspired by Port Talbot’s ‘Save Our Steel’ campaign asks questions about the working class leaders of today. Adam Johannes talks to co-director Rhiannon White about the project, the people and the politics behind it
The dawn of commons politics
As supporters of the new 'commons politics' win office in a variety of European cities, Stacco Troncoso and Ann Marie Utratel chart where this movement came from – and where it may be going
A very social economist
Hilary Wainwright says the ideas of Robin Murray, who died in June, offer a practical alternative to neoliberalism
Art the Arms Fair: making art not war
Amy Corcoran on organising artistic resistance to the weapons dealers’ London showcase
Beware the automated landlord
Tenants of the automated landlord are effectively paying two rents: one in money, the other in information for data harvesting, writes Desiree Fields
Black Journalism Fund – Open Editorial Meeting
3-5pm Saturday 23rd September at The World Transformed in Brighton
Immigration detention: How the government is breaking its own rules
Detention is being used to punish ex-prisoners all over again, writes Annahita Moradi
A better way to regenerate a community
Gilbert Jassey describes a pioneering project that is bringing migrants and local people together to repopulate a village in rural Spain
Fast food workers stand up for themselves and #McStrike – we’re loving it!
McDonald's workers are striking for the first time ever in Britain, reports Michael Calderbank
Two years of broken promises: how the UK has failed refugees
Stefan Schmid investigates the ways Syrian refugees have been treated since the media spotlight faded
West Papua’s silent genocide
The brutal occupation of West Papua is under-reported - but UK and US corporations are profiting from the violence, write Eliza Egret and Tom Anderson
Activate, the new ‘Tory Momentum’, is 100% astroturf
The Conservatives’ effort at a grassroots youth movement is embarrassingly inept, writes Samantha Stevens
Peer-to-peer production and the partner state
Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis argue that we need to move to a commons-centric society – with a state fit for the digital age
Imagining a future free of oppression
Writer, artist and organiser Ama Josephine Budge says holding on to our imagination of tomorrow helps create a different understanding today
The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics
Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.
Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making
Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook