Interview with David Harvey in Quito
By: Lina Magalhaes
1. Do for you, what is the central element of the concept Right to the City?
Harvey: Is the right to make the city the way that we want/desire. The don’t have around us the forces of capital accumulation and this type of city that emerges out of a very powerful elite who essentially built the city in accordance with their own wishes and the rest must live in it. Then the Right to the City is the right of all to discuss the type of city of their dreams.
2. How then can you say that the Right to the City is strictly linked to the movement anti-capitalist?
Harvey: The Right to the City is in itself “anti”, the empowerment of the upper classes, and of capital, but if he is completely anti-capitalist is another matter. There are people who believe that capitalism can be constructed from fair fees, through the courts. I don’t believe in that. For me the concept of the Right to the City is inherently and ultimately anti-capitalist, but this is my personal opinion.
3. Why is it so important to rescue today the concept of the Right to the City, developed in the years 60’ by Henri Lefebvre?
Harvey: I think that a good idea is that the concept never goes away. One of the functions that we academics must do is to preserve good forms of knowledge, and I think this is a good form of knowledge that deserves to be preserved. What’s interesting to me when I started thinking about how to preserve this concept was that this idea was already there in the streets. And when Lefebvre wrote the Right to the City was a type of demand that came from the streets, I was very interested in seeing that not only in the city of New York, where there is a strong movement for the Right to the City, but also across the world demand the Right to the City.
You can find it in Germany, in Brazil, south Africa, in every place. That is intuitive. I think that in the same way the people in a neighborhood want to have a sort, a sense of, not exactly the property of the ward, but a kind of contribution, of being someone there, and do something there, the same thing happens in the cities. I think that this is a concept that is intuitive to you does not go away.
4. What is the importance of this concept for the urban social movements of today? What is the relationship between the concept of the Right to the City and the urban social movements?
Harvey: I always argued that urban social movements are a vital part of the struggle, anti-capitalist. And the degree to which social movements are beginning to think about not only the specific struggles such as the anti-gentrification, or struggles around education, health, public spaces, and so The degree to which the urban movements begin to think of the city as a whole, it seems to me that comes to a potential movement which can be a vital part of any anti-capitalist struggle, and then they themselves begin to demand different types of cities, cities not dominated by the capital, and not dominated by the pursuit of profit, but dominated by the search to the creation of an environment that is open to creative activities and pleasurable.
5. What, then this should be the main strategy of the urban social movements, that is to say, rally around the concept of the Right to the City and not be separated into individual claims?
Harvey: I think that when social movements perceive that they enhance, deepen, and expand in their own causes when they wake up, to other causes, is when the idea arises to speak of the city as a whole. But many movements find it difficult to do that. I was very close to some movements, and if you are involved in a community group, people spend 24 hours a day working on this issue, and they simply do not have time to think about how to expand that movement. When you talk to them, you say, “yes, it is a good idea, but we don’t have time to do that.” I think if it is difficult. One thing I tried to do as an academic was to organize meetings within and outside the university, with different groups so that they could spend some time talking between them. Sometimes that helps, sometimes not. So are the social movements.
6. Do you consider, for example, the experience of the movement of Urban Reform in Brazil -who in his career made some mistakes and failed in some points-if you could advise these movements, that past mistakes should be avoided?
Harvey: it Is very difficult to not make the same mistakes. I do that all the time! But if we know clearly, exactly what we should do, then it would be easy. The fact is that currently I do not think that the political movements have a good idea of what it clearly should do. Then they are looking at, trying this, trying that, and then it is inevitable that not repeating the mistakes.
The other thing about the current social movements is that many of them are not very permanent, they are volatile, ephemeral, movements are strong in a specific time and in two or three years they fail, they cease to exist. And I think that any kind of social movement today has a strong organization and permanent that can in fact military in the distant future. And that’s true even in movements very strong. In Brazil, for example, the MST is not as strong today as it once was. Went through certain changes, maybe for better, maybe not. I think that the social movements tend to lose the flow and my impression in many parts of the world today is that the movements are not as strong, vigorous as the day they were, maybe in 10 years ago. The election of Lula in Brazil changed the direction of some social movements. Here, in Ecuador, the same thing happens.
7. You said yesterday that the Urban Revolution is a fundamental question, why is it fundamental? What is the need of the Urban Revolution?
Harvey: One of the things that Lefebvre points out there back in the 60’s-70’s in his book “The Urban Revolution”, is the global process of urbanization. And if you look at the large companies of the construction, the design of the banks here in Quito, or Buenos Aires, or Berlin, we note that it is really a global process of urbanization. And that is a revolutionary process. But a revolutionary process driven by the capital. And if you look at what happened to places that, to me, were once cute and appealing as Barcelona, you see that were ruined by this process of urbanization capitalist force. This is a revolutionary process, but a revolutionary process negative.
I’m very interested in the idea that if the capital can be an urban revolution, an urban revolution global, why can’t we have an urban revolution to the contrary, a revolution of the people against this style of urbanization, which is driving out the people of the valuable places, which is pushing the people to the environment Is that they do not have the right to the space? They have to leave the capital, the land must be exposed to the great investments, aiming at the maximum profitability. And with the high rent of the ground in the great cities of the world there are many people who do not find a place to live. That’s what happens in New York, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, in Quito, in every place. That is the universal nature of what is the urban revolution to the capital. And that revolution needs to be reversed somehow.
8. Perhaps we are walking to an Urban Revolution, from the great mobilizations that broke out in Brazil in June, at the same time also in Istanbul. Could we say that we are building this awareness of an Urban Revolution anti-capital?
Harvey: I think it is very important for the Left to realize this process, that these urban movements have a great potential of Urban Revolution. I think that what we have seen in the last few years is a revolt globally against what is happening in the major cities of the world. And the more the Left see that, instead of speaking of “workers of the world unite!”, would be “urban citizens of the world unite” around a different concept of urbanization. I would like the left to receive more attention in these uprisings. On the other hand, what we see are these irruptions, and three years later there is no stroke, are already gone. There is that problem of continuity of the movement anti-capitalist. I think that one of the evils is the product, the nature of the process of capitalist in which we are. Capitalism is created in the same way that his form of opposition, which is ephemeral, unable to express herself in long periods of time.
9. You mentioned the Left, however I feel that these new movements are not associated with a political party, to a political ideology. For example, in Brazil, in the main capitals of the country, we saw an autonomous movement, independent, and even one who rejects the association to the left. In Brazil, there is now talks of a crisis of the Left, of the PT (Workers ‘ Party of Brazil). Do you then consider that this would be a feature of the new social movements, to not be associated to any ideology or political party?
Harvey: Yes. That is a truth. In the Occupy and other movements that we’ve seen, I feel that there is some frustration with the traditional left by not having an answer to several issues. With the traditional left in power, as is the case of the PT in Brazil, there is a feeling that the expectations were not fulfilled. Even when the party performs certain policies of redistribution, the Left in Latin america challenged the dominant models of accumulation. What they do is to try to orchestrate activities distributive. This occurs in Ecuador, they say trying to get out of the model extraction, but in truth they continue to be dependent on that. In Brazil it happened a certain redistribution, but finally did not challenge the dominant forms of power. Then there is a certain frustration with the traditional left, and I think people see that.” That is the expression of a deep frustration with the traditional left. However we began to see the possibility of building new parties and a new political system that may be able to respond to this.
10. What these movements do not need to be linked to any political party?
Harvey: it Is always dangerous to the way in which these movements, volatile and ephemeral, they work, because they are always vulnerable to recruitment by charismatic leaders that can lead you to this or that direction. What we are seeing is the emergence of these parties crazy in Europe, where charismatic leaders attempt to capture what is happening on the streets. Then there should be a movement towards a more permanent form of organization and a vision that is more permanent of the political project, of the project global policy that has to be. We do not see this now, but I think that something like that has to come if we really want to be able to challenge the power of globalized capitalist system.
Source: research Group of the Right to the City. Group of students of Flacso-Ecuador (28/01/2014)