Run This Town: Building Class Power in the City

By Three Hamilton Members, One Toronto Member

The Marxist urbanist Henri Lefebvre wrote that the working class is made out of urban material. His point was that to understand the working class and to organize it, one had to look at everyday working class life from the totality of urban life, not only at the part of it that occurs on the factory floor. Further, one had to look at the totality of the urban working class, not only at its industrial or factory segment.

David Harvey, another Marxist urbanist, points out that most Marxists have largely not taken Lefebvre’s lessons to heart, and have instead tended to ignore both working class life outside the factory and working class segments outside of the industrial proletariat. This point is less true of anarchism as a whole. Anarchists have historically theorized about and organized amongst the full range of working class and dispossessed groups, such as the peasantry and indigenous people. Neither the anarchist canon nor anarchism in practice identified the industrial working class as the indisputable vanguard segment of the dispossessed.

Indeed, since the revival of anarchism in the 1990s, a great deal of anarchist theory and practice has focused on the terrain of urban class struggle; particularly, in the form of squatting, anti-police and anti-racist organizing, local food security, struggles against ecologically destructive and colonialist urbanization, building counter-cultural spaces in the city, and building urban sanctuaries for migrant workers. This is especially true in North America where the link with the broader anarchist tradition has been almost completely broken.[...] read more

Short Circuit: Towards an Anarchist Approach to Gentrification

By Two Toronto Members

I. Defining Gentrification

No matter how different the reasons may be, the result is everywhere the same: the scandalous alleys and lanes disappear to the accompaniment of lavish self-praise from the bourgeoisie on account of this tremendous success—but they appear again immediately somewhere else, and often in the immediate neighbourhood.
– Freidrich Engels, The Housing Question

Gentrification, etymologically speaking, is a relatively new word, coined in 1964 by the English Marxist sociologist Ruth Glass. Conceptually, some would claim that it has been a feature of urban life for hundreds of years. Between 1853 and 1870, for instance, the Haussmannization of Paris forced thousands of poor people from the centre of the city, where rents had traditionally been cheaper, to the urban periphery; these migrations were the forced results of structural changes Baron Haussmann had proposed to the city’s urban geography, and rapidly increasing rents. We might anachronistically consider displacements such as these an example of gentrification, but, as we will explore below, the term has some specificity and nuance that such comparisons fail to capture.

Glass came up with the term gentrification to describe the growing displacement of residents of working-class neighbourhoods in London by middle-class property buyers, often under the auspice of “urban renewal”. Much like in the United States, London witnessed a flight of monied residents from the city-centre to the suburbs following the second World War, precipitated by a boom in suburban housing stock. This boom was largely facilitated by the state: plans for the post-WWII reconstruction of London favoured the suburbs as the supposed future of the city. High demand for housing in the city-proper led policy planners to envision a city population dispersed across a wider geographical area. Financial and infrastructural incentives, like those included in the U.K.’s 1946’s New Towns Act and 1952’s New Towns Development Act, provided developers with public capital to create new suburban areas designed to contain “overflow” from crowded urban centres. This meant that many older neighbourhoods in London quickly converted to multi-occupant dwellings; as monied residents moved to the newly expanding suburbs, the demand for housing in the city decreased and became more affordable for working-class people. Like it did in many other cities, this transformation involved converting dwellings that had previously been single family houses into rooming houses or shared accommodations.[...] read more