Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Bring Knitting Needles

"Jacobin,” Magazine, Double Issue. Fall 2014. 15/16 – Various Writers

‘Jacobin’ is a somewhat new theoretical magazine mostly written by academics – at least if this issue is typical.  Bhaskar Sunkara is the publisher and Alyssa Battistoni is the editor of Jacobin.  The former is a young publisher from Brooklyn by way of Westchester County, and the latter is a political science professor at Yale, starting her journalistic work at Mother Jones.  They claim there are more than 30 cities in the U.S. with “Jacobin Clubs,’ dedicated to a non-party approach to socialism.  Do you have to wear a red cockade to go?  Sort of a youthful and clever Marxism is in these pages, taking off around Occupy.  This issue of the magazine is dedicated to analyzing capitalist (and socialist) cities, and features an article by Mike Davis, one of the preeminent writers on this topic.  Davis wrote the classic “City of Quartz” about Los Angeles and “Planet of Slums” (reviewed below.)

Articles cover ostensible progressive Mayor DeBlasio’s gentrification plan for New York, disguised as providing affordable housing; the bulldozing of public housing and the replacement of public apartments with privatized vouchers in Chicago and Atlanta; the ignored public example of NY CHA; Goldman Sach’s Urban Investment Group (which has been christened “friendly FIRE);” an article taking apart the game SIMCITY as a reflection of neo-liberalism; an article humorously titled ‘the Jock Doctrine” about Brazil’s investment in sports mega-complexes to the detriment of public needs; the over-costs of the various Olympic Summer Games since the 1970s; invasive special economic zones created by the ‘charter cities’ idea; Richard Florida and the self-aggrandizing ‘creative class;’ a hilarious article by Davis on what and who to destroy in Los Angeles; the privatizing of sports stadiums; a history of Red Vienna when it was run by Social-Democrats until the advent of fascism;  lessons in the ‘socialist city;’ the link between city design and real mass democracy; New York’s 1970’s financial crisis as the template for direct control by neo-liberal forces intent on austerity; workers vacations and lastly, gay neighborhoods like the Castro and Greenwich Village becoming prizes of capitalist urban development.   


Of special interest is an article on the urbanization of the Chinese working class. As of last year, more people in the world now live in urban areas than in rural areas.  This oceanic change in living is a result of the concentration demanded by capital and will result in a social solidarity based on urban struggle.  In China, this change is especially significant and rushed, given the millions of new workers in that country. 

This article criticizes the Chinese Communist Party’s blind faith in class-neutral terms like ‘progress’ and ‘development’ at the expense of people’s real needs.  It comments on the continuing existence of ‘hukou’ or the household registration system, which discriminates against rural migrants.  It is expected that 200 million people will still be outside urban registration even if current CP plans are realized.  China is now attempting to get people to move to medium to small cities due to the enormous size of the larger ones.  These new cities (many which are still mostly empty) are based on peasants giving up their land, which leads to a loss of farm earnings and agricultural produce.  As Jacobin puts it, China is a creepy combination of ‘neoliberal capital flows and Stalinist labor control.’ 


Another interesting article is on the suburbanization of the U.S. working class – one of the most significant events in the last 50 years.  Unlike prior architectural analyses of suburbia, such as James Kuntsler’s classic “The Geography of Nowhere,” which focused on the alienation of the suburbs, Jacobin looks at its changing class geography.   For me, the suburbs are a cultural wasteland that makes organizing more difficult.  By dispersing workers, they are doing what the downsizing of factories has done – geographically weakening the class. 

Jacobin points out that the petit-bourgeoisie is re-colonizing the center of the cities, forcing more workers and poor people out to the suburbs, which have less services, parks and transport.  This is a recreation of Baron Haussmann’s reconstruction of Paris, which pushed the proletariat into the ‘red belts’ around the city on the eve of the 20th century.  Jacobin discounts Alinsky (‘organizing for organizing sake’), early SDS community activity in the 1960s and instead suggests annexing inner-suburbs, or replicating what the Communists did around Paris.  They quote David Harvey’s ‘right to the city’ as the theory behind any practice.  What they ignore is that suburban office and factory parks could be sites for geographic organizing too.  Housing was not the only thing spread out to suburbia – so were work sites, with devastating effect.  Massive plants like River Rouge were transported to other countries, and what remained were mini-mills and shrunken factories and shops across whole metropolitan areas - including small shops in the 'enterprise zones' of suburbia.

Certainly Jacobin provides a slew of valuable facts here, but wrapped up in a specialist and academic approach that will put some off. The heavy bond paper, price and artsy-sterile graphics will put some off too.  Its value is in addressing some of these neglected issues from a Marxist point of view – issues in which the acceptable narrative is all we hear from the corporate press.  I've heard its supposed to be humorous, so there is a plus. It’s sort of like a “Ted Talk” without the breezy bourgeois assurance, instead more factual socialist assurance.   One of their fund-raising slogans, “You give us fifty. We’ll give you the thorough Bolshevization of American Society.  Guaranteed.” sounds more like a sardonic comic line – which it is.

Other reviews that deal with class, real estate and geography – “Guns, Germs and Steel,”Tropic of Chaos,” “No Local,” and two books by David Harvey, “Rebel Cities” and “The Enigma of Capital.”  Use the blog search box, upper left.

And I bought it at MayDay Books, which is now regularly stocking Jacobin, as well as many other left magazines and newspapers – more than anywhere else in the Twin Cities

Red Frog
October 27, 2014

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