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2018-19 Cities of Dignity

URBAN TRANSFORMATIONS AROUND THE WORLD

The book Cities of Dignity: Urban Transformations Around the World (July 2020) is the third publication of the Global Working Group Beyond Development. Cities of Dignity, which will be available for free download, explores seven urban experiences: the self-determination and organization of slum dwellers in Buhj in India, Black-led urban commons in Birmingham, Jackson, and Detroit in the U.S., the San Roque popular market in Quito, Ecuador, the 15th Garden food sovereignty network in Syria, the resistance of slum dwellers of Maroko and Mokoko in Lagos Nigeria, the communitarian currency experimentation in Kenya, and the resistance of Izidora community in Belo Horizonte, Brasil.

Earlier work of the Working Group documents how radical multidimensional transformation is vital to ensuring the dignity and well-being of all living beings. We identified the following five key processes of social change are required to deepening justice, dignity, democracy and the sustainability of life: (i) decolonization; (ii) anti-capitalism; (iii) anti-racism; (iv) the dismantling of patriarchy; and (v) the transformation of predatory relations with nature. The Working Group shares the belief that radical change – understood as the transformation of our society, economy, and politics from the bottom up – is vital if we want to call a halt to the current social-ecological destruction being wrought by our crisis-hit civilization. 

At the same time, there are very tough preconditions for such change. Power and resources are more concentrated than ever before in the hands of global elites and corporate groups, and collective views of development, consumerism, and individualism are deeply rooted in the constructed subjectivities of the majority of the world’s population. Militarism, the spread of corporate technology, mass surveillance, and the mass media are enabling factors for these negative conditions, while a concerted global counter-offensive of reactionary and conservative forces is pushing back or battling emancipatory change in many parts of the world.

Urban Garden in Birmingham @Mabrouka M’Barek

The case studies that make up this book show various strategies involving different temporalities of transformation which are best tackled by distinct, potentially complementary political strategies. In the short term, there is a need to stop the accelerated ecological, political and social processes of destruction and dispossession by means of defensive struggles which also protect the achievements of social movements in previous cycles of struggle. There needs to be an active defense of spaces of autonomy (Chapter 3,5,6), self-organization (Chapter 3,4,5,7,8,9), and extension of the commons (Chapter 1,3,4,5), as these form the building blocks for deeper and sustainable change. 

Global Working Group Participants meeting with the Top Manta Refugee Collective in Barcelona in 2018 @Ashish Kothari

Any long-term multidimensional transformation will require other offensive political struggles, capable of creating new forms of existence and consciousness, new institutions, new modes of production, and new distribution and consumption practices. The required political framework needs to go far beyond the realities of the nation-state, the notion of human rights and current production, consumption, and distribution processes and practices, thereby responding fully to the civilizational and ecological crisis we are facing. Such a radically different society is already taking root and has even been adopted previously in many local processes of prefigurative politics. Political perspectives of plurinational, polycentricity, Buen Vivir, or bio-democracy and their specific expression on the ground allow for the possibility of overcoming the limitations of both modern liberal and Marxist Eurocentric political thoughts. During the Global Working Group’s meetings, we have seen that this requires deep and significant dialogues between cultures, political traditions, and social movements.

The appropriate strategies will differ depending on the individual local and historical context, but the challenge of nurturing relationships between them and of building ecosystems of change made up of various actors, strategies, and scales is a crucial one. The kinds of alliances we need are those that connect resistance and the establishment of emancipatory transformations, being based on shared principles that inspire localized practices. Existing struggles are not limited to the local or national level but are also fought on a global scale  (Chapter 2). 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION: BUILDING RADICAL URBAN TERRITORIES  Giorgos Velegrakis, Mabrouka M’Barek and Raphael Hoetmer

I URBAN COMMONS: FROM COLLECTIVE GOVERNANCE TO THE RIGHT TO THE CITY  Mauro Castro-Coma and Marc Martí-Costa

II AN ATLAS OF PRAXES AND POLITICAL POSSIBILITIES: RADICAL COLLECTIVE ACTION AND URBAN TRANSFORMATIONS Mary Ann Manahan and Maria Khristine Alvarez

III BRASIL

THE URBAN RESISTANCE FRONT: EXPERIENCES OF RADICAL URBAN TRANSFORMATION WITH A VIEW TO ACHIEVING SUSTAINABLE AND DEPATRIARCHALISED CITIES Isabella Gonçalves Miranda

IV ECUADOR

SEARCHING FOR ALTERNATIVES TO OLIGOPOLISTIC MODERNISATION: FOOD PROVISIONING, SOCIAL ORGANISATION AND INTERCULTURALITY IN QUITO’S URBAN MARKETS Ana Rodríguez and Patric Hollenstein

V UNITED STATES

FROM SELF-DETERMINATION TO COMMUNITY-DETERMINATION: BLACK-LED COMMONS IN THE UNITED STATES Mabrouka M’Barek and Elandria Williams

VI NIGERIA

WHAT SHALL WE DO WITH MAKOKO? SOLIDARITY, STRUGGLES, AND VISIONS OF SOCIAL CHANGE IN THE SLUMS OF LAGOS Isaac ‘Asume’ Osuoka and Abiodun Aremu

VII KENYA

COMMUNITY CURRENCIES FOR THE LOCAL ECONOMY: A CASE STUDY ON KENYA’S SARAFU-CREDIT VOUCHER SYSTEMS Marion Cauvet and Ruth Mwangi

VIII SYRIA

SELF ORGANISATION AND FOOD SOVEREIGNTY IN WAR-TORN SYRIA: THE 15TH GARDEN NETWORK Ansar Jasim

IX INDIA

AN EMERGING DEMOCRACY FROM THE BOTTOM UP: THE CASE OF BHUJ, INDIA  Aseem Mishra and Sandeep Virmani

COLLECTIVE REFLECTIONS:  TOWARDS COMMUNITY-DRIVEN RADICAL URBAN TRANSFORMATIONS Global Working Group Beyond Development

Ashish Kothari interviews Ruth Mwangi about the path-breaking idea of “Community Currencies” and how it is being implemented in Kenya. Read the story on our partner’s website Radical Ecological Democracy.

Watch the interview

Ashish Kothari interviews Elandria Williams and Mabrouka M’Barek about their learning journey in Birmingham (Alabama), Jackson (Mississippi) and Detroit (Michigan) exploring Black-owned and Black-led commons striving for dignity and self-determination. Read the story on our partner’s website Radical Ecological Democracy.

Watch the interview

Ashish Kothari interviews Bella Miranda Goncalves about survival and dignity strategies by urban poor in Brazil, including occupations of land to create viable settlements with the integration of agroecology and conservation principles, and larger civil society networks to enable resistance against an oppressive state.

Watch the interview

Ashish Kothari interviews Ansar Jasim , a German-Iraqi activist-researcher, about the brave and remarkable initiatives at food sovereignty in Syrian towns, in the midst of one of the modern world’s bloodiest war zones.

Watch the interview




2017-18 Alternatives in a World of Crisis

FROM STOPPING THE MACHINES OF SOCIO-ECOLOGICAL DESTRUCTION, TO THE BUILDING OF ALTERNATIVE WORLDS: RETHINKING OUR STRATEGIES FOR SOCIAL CHANGE

Jun 15th, 2017 by Raphael Hoetmer

From 12th until 19th of May the Global Working Group Beyond Development, hosted by the Brussels office of the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, held its second meeting in Ecuador, Latin America, in order to collectively analyze the opportunities and challenges, as well as the practical strategies, for the construction of multidimensional alternatives which would respond to the current civilizational crisis to which capitalism and its economic, social and cultural dynamics have led.

The second meeting of this group of thirty engaged researchers, activists and popular educators included a public conference at the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar in Quito, a three day workshop and a field visit to the municipality of Nabón in the southern Azuay province of Ecuador, aimed at learning from the experience of building Buen Vivir or living well from the bottom up, as it has been practiced by the communities and associations of Nabón with the support of the alternative local government led by two female mayors of the indigenous Pachakutik political movement, during four successive periods of government.

The discussions of the group were also inspired by five case studies on the construction of multidimensional alternatives in different regions of the world: the self determination of the local people of the village Mendha Lekha in India; the community resistance against oil extractivism and the closely associated colonial state in the Niger Delta in Nigeria; the current building of an alternative municipalism in Barcelona, Spain; the creation of social urban alternatives in the midst of economic crisis in Greece; and the process of the Bolivarian revolution, later labeled as Socialism of the 21st century, in Venezuela.

Historical moment of civilizational crisis

The meeting was marked by a particularly critical historical context that underlines the urgency of the debate on multidimensional alternatives which are able to address issues of class, gender, race, coloniality, state power and sustainability. Climate change and ecological destruction put the future of humankind at risk, whilst extractivism is expanding its grip on livelihoods around the world, and an “imperial mode of living” based on consumerism and individualism without limits has been installed in elites and spreads in middle classes around the world. The global (counter-) offensive of a confluence of right wing populism, religious conservatisms of different kinds and aggressive capitalism have put the global left on the defense, whilst social movements are threatened by different forms of state repression, criminalization, and private violence in new corporate-state formations.

The group agreed that these tendencies are the effects of a civilizational crisis, rooted in patriarchal, colonial and imperial capitalism and its predatory relations with nature, which are being further promoted by the development paradigm. Radical transformation is imperative and urgent, but at the same time, it is precisely social movements proposing alternatives as much as different modes of living which persist or are constructed in different local contexts as alternatives that are under attack.

Learning from our experiences

It is necessary to learn from the last decades of social mobilization, in which popular insurgency and the building of constituent power several times destabilized the status quo, particularly in Latin America, Southern Europe, West Africa and the Arab World. However, as many of these efforts prioritized taking control over the State at the national level as their main strategy, the posterior moment of their institutionalization and government ended in the best case in a more limited change then was hoped for, and in other cases in clear disappointment and setbacks.

In Latin America, the results of these processes have been particularly contradictory in what regards the transformation of economic structures and modes of production, the relationship with indigenous autonomies and the postulates to build plurinationality as an alternative to the monocultural nation state and to implement gender justice. Also, the predatory relations with nature deepened under the influence of progressive governments. One of the lessons of this cycle might be that politics as we know it is not enough for the kind of transformation the world needs. At the same time, the political legacies, instruments and analytical horizons of the global left seem to be insufficient to meet the contemporary challenges, as they were developed to overcome a very different capitalism in the XIXth and XXth centuries.

New strategies and challenges for the Left

The current context presents particular challenges for the legacy of the Left, as its role in emancipatory politics has grown increasingly ambivalent due to its difficulties to overcome state- and class-centered, productivist and economicist politics which often still conceive themselves as vanguardist. At the same time, the global left remains the principal reference of organization and action against capitalism in the World, so that its refoundation seems necessary for multidimensional transformation.

This refoundation not only requires the recuperation of the own plural history of the lefts and its legacies beyond the currents that historically became hegemonic. It also needs to engage in a critical dialogue, a learning process and constructive alliances with indigenous, feminist, Gandhian and other emancipatory movements beyond the Left. This implies the necessity of intercultural dialogue regarding grammars of social transformation.

The current historical moment implies different temporalities of transformation which are best met by different, eventually complementary political strategies. In the short term there is a need to stop the accelerated ecological, political and social processes of destruction and dispossession. Thus strong social movements of resistance all levels, local, regional, national, continental and global are necessary and this struggle will require a multitude of strategies including different approaches toward the state. These include the politics of left political movements or parties which dispute the legal and institutional conditions for transformation within the framework of the State.

Strategies of prefigurative politics have so far been most successful when bound to specific territories with significant ranges of autonomy from national state institutions – with local governments, accountable through mechanisms of direct democracy, sometimes serving as allies as in the cases of Nabón in Ecuador and the municipalism in Spain. Making use of the own instituent power in order to preserve existing commons or create new ones and thus de-link from the logics of the globalized capitalist world market emerged as a path forward for the deepening of democracy and self-determination, as well as the transformation of relations with nature, depatriarchalization and decolonization.

It is a matter of further debate and practice, how these and other strategies combine for a radical and multidimensional transformation that achieves profound cultural and political change and can put an end to exploitative economic and social relations.

New perspectives on global relations

Finally, responding to the purpose of a global working group, the debates addressed the need of rethinking the concepts and traditions of solidarity and internationalist relations. Here, emphasis was made on the need of overcoming money-centered and paternalistic logics of aid or the tradition of supporting specific struggles abroad, which are abandoned when another new struggle comes up. The alternative would be engaging actively in the transformation of the own sociopolitical context, while taking into account the effects that this context necessarily generates elsewhere on the globe, and engaging in reciprocal and horizontal interpeoples relations which allow intercultural dialogue and experience-based learning processes.




International conference “World in crisis. Alternatives from the five continents “

The graduate program of Latin American Cultural Studies from the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar in Quito Ecuador, in cooperation with the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation organized the international conference “World in crisis. Alternatives from the five continents ” with participants of the Global Working Group Beyond Development on May 18th 2017.

Program

10h30-10h50 Opening

Jaime Breilh, Rector of the UASB
Claus-Dieter König, Deputy Director Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Brussels
 
10h50-11h10
Miriam Lang, Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar
Civilizational crisis and alternatives – reflections on the challenges of the present. This paper will address some assumptions, hypotheses, and theoretical and political challenges surrounding the civilizational crisis and the construction of alternatives.
 
Table 1: Europe 11h10-12h20
Maxime Combes, Attac France
Post-election and resistance scenarios in France.

While in France the extreme right is encouraged by the implosion of political and institutional frames of reference, the winners of globalization try to save ‘the system’ and a new left finally incorporates ecological aspects, following socio-ecological struggles that have influenced its visions.
 
Mauro Castro, Polytechnic University of Catalonia and Collective the Cooperative Hydra, Catalonia
Seizing Institutions: The Barcelona Communist Municipal Movement
The victory of “citizen platforms” in the 2015 municipal elections in Spain has been a milestone of electoral democracy in the recent political history of Europe. In this presentation some analysis keys about Barcelona en Comú, a movement-party that has governed the city of Barcelona for 21 months, will be exposed.

Moderator: Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos, Institute of Environmental Science and Technology, Autonomous University of Barcelona
 
Table 2: Asia 12h20-13h30
Mary Ann Manahan, Focus on the Global South, Philippines
In Defense of the Commons: Resistances and Alternatives in Southeast Asia Land and resource appropriation, commodification, and privatization are major challenges for popular and social movements in Southeast Asia that practice shared access, collective use and governance of natural resources as a common form of tenure. The defense of these commons, however, opens spaces for social mobilization, resistance and the construction of alternatives.
 
Maduresh Khumar, National Alliance of People’s Movement, India
Social movements and resistance to capitalist expansion in India. With the current market-based neoliberal growth strategy, India’s 1.2 billion people will soon be faced with a massive ecological and social crisis. The talk will focus on the resistance of various social and environmental movements, the State’s response and the challenges of articulating an alternative discourse to the dominant forms of development.
 
Moderated by: Ivonne Yánez, Acción Ecológica, Ecuador

13:30 – 15:00 Break
 
Table 3: Americas 15:00 – 16:30

Edgardo Lander, Central University of Venezuela
Learning from the progressive cycle in Latin America. This paper will present a reflection on what the experience of the so-called progressive governments has been based on a key question: To what extent have these experiences brought us closer to overcoming capitalism and have opened gaps in the direction of exit to the deep civilizing crisis that humanity faces today?
 
Irma Velásquez, Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and Duke University, Guatemala
Latin America today from the perspective of indigenous women In Guatemala, after a 36-year-old armed conflict, women survivors of the genocide, who also faced sexual violations and servitude, seek justice using national courts. The case of Ixil and Sepur Zarco Guatemala women will be briefly addressed.
 
Elandria Williams, Highlander Research and Education Center, USA
Building transformative solutions in the belly of the beast: socio-economic and organizational dynamics in the southern United States. The United States faces a frontal right-wing attack that is not limited to Donald Trump, but is part of a cycle related to the 400-year heritage of colonialism, imperialism and capitalism rooted in genocide and slavery. In this moment of setback, the left in the United States is fighting and laying the foundations for a reconstruction based on the principles of community self-government, the solidarity economy, reparations, and sustainable and healthy communities.

Moderator: Karin Gabbert, director of the Rosa Luxemburg Andean Region Foundation
 
16:30 – 17:00 Coffee
 
Table 4: Africa 17h00-18h15
Mabrouka M’Barek, Middle East Institute Washington D.C./ Tunisia
Perspectives to six years of the Arab spring. Mabrouka will give an overview of the current situation in the Arab region, focusing on the Maghreb and Yemen. Several cases of civil resistance will be discussed in the areas of climate justice, economic justice and transitional justice.




2016 Overcoming the Development Imperative and Fostering Alternatives

by Ulrich Brand

Given the highly uneven dynamics of global capitalism and the constantly occurring crises in many regions of the world, the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, Brussels Office, invited to a first meeting to enhance a transnational exchange of global and local problems as well as resistances and alternatives.

Under the header “Beyond the development imperative”, political activists and critical scholars met in January 2016 for three days (with Ashish Kothari, Kalpavriksh, India, and Ulrich Brand, Vienna University, Austria, as initiators) in order to start a dialogue among possibilities to overcome the so powerful and in many respects exclusive capitalist development imperative – an imperative that is at the same time productive and destructive that creates material well-being for many people but at enormous socio-economic, political and ecological costs and by excluding many others and destroying their livelihoods. “Development” and “economic growth” go still hand in hand and their common denominator is that capitalist dynamics are assumed to solve most problems like a “magic bullet”, and in light of the ecological crisis as supposedly “green” development and growth.

The Global Working Group Beyond Development heavily questions these assumptions and related practices. It started in January with 23 people from 16 countries and with a strong presence of the international offices of the Foundation. It intends to prepare the ground for a solid transnational cooperation, i.e. to share experiences, to reflect own practices in light of others in order to strengthen own forces. The group explicitly did not want to start with the elaboration of common strategies but focused in its first meeting more on creating mutual understanding, trust and the desire to cooperate for some years together – a necessary and inspiring process.

Additionally, the group members were aware that they are in no way “representatives” of their continents. RLS Brussels invited them because all of them are politically close to the Foundation, are knowledgeable in specific issues and are experienced and inspiring for work in collaborative ways. However, the strength of the group is in its diversity and the engagement of the members to contribute to radical emancipatory change in their countries, regions and worldwide, i.e. to a comprehensive social-ecological transformation. Moreover, RLS already started regional groups in Latin America and Southeast Asia with some personal overlaps. The Global Working Group will cooperate closely with those and other processes.

The discussions in Brussels were organised around several questions and axes:

  • What the group members would like to understand better from each other and what is to be shared from the respective experiences in different regions?
  • What can be learned from existing experiences of collaboration: what are key factors for a good way to work together and good collaboration?
  • What are agreements and elements of a work program for a global working group that not repeats the work that is done elsewhere?

The three days showed that such an exchange is incredibly fruitful and bears a great analytical and political potential. The group members from Africa and Asia, for instance, indicated the need to know more about debates in Latin America about resource extractivism and alternatives to it. Moreover, it became clear that any discussion about alternatives needs to be sensitive of colonial legacies that are – also among emancipatory forces – still present. The mapping of important concrete alternatives and conflicts is taking place elsewhere, see e.g. EJOLT, but the group could re-interpret them in light of the question how to overcome the global development and growth imperative and how to create and foster alternatives.

It became clear that there is an urgent need to reflect on own experiences in the respective regions and countries and that this might benefit from experiences elsewhere: For example, the relationship between state, political parties and movements, the role of private corporations, important conflicts and discourses for alternatives, the meaning of democracy and socialism.

A cross-cutting issue was to know more about the role of the EU in different regions and about China´s role, especially in Africa and Latin America. Another topic was where and whether the distinction of a political “left” and “right” is still useful and how to draw upon socialist experiences of states, parties, trade unions and movements. A major point was that, in contrast to many Latin American debates and their insistence on commonalities, it does not make sense to talk in a general way about “Africa” or “Asia” or “Europe”.

One debate was about the role of imaginaries, utopias and “futures” for radical change. Liberal and conservative forces present all the time studies and “flagship reports” on future prospects, i.e. how the world might look like in the year 2030 or 2050. They intend to influence current debates about what to do in order to achieve certain futures (e.g. a carbon-free economy) and to avoid others like accelerating climate change. What are emancipatory approaches to theses dynamic and powerful processes of “futuring”?

Of course, the productivity of such a group lies in the possibility to reflect globally – this is at the same time a danger when the unevenness of discussions and experiences is not considered. The group managed this tension quite well but it needs to be reflected constantly.

This is also the case for feminist perspectives – on current global dynamics as well as on alternatives – that were very present at the first meeting and should remain a strong focus in the future. Not by chance, the group detected as a possible common denominator to think emancipatory politics as a contribution to just and ecologically sustainable forms of social-ecological reproduction. Such a reproduction should consider processes beyond the formal market and wage-labour and question the development and growth imperative that is today forcefully organising social-ecological reproduction around the world.

Concepts as “(neo-)extractivism” or “imperial mode of living” might make us better understand the global and highly uneven functioning of capitalism; notions like „good living for all“ (buen vivir, ubuntu, swaraj) or “social-ecological transformation” might be interesting perspectives for alternatives. However, the group was also hesitant to universalising claims and left it as an open debate.

Experiences from other undertakings showed that to start such a group means to build trust, to trust in diversity and to acknowledge differences, but at the same time to identify common political interests. Such a group needs a transparent exchange of information and non-hierarchical learning processes as well as new methods without an overload of work because the members are already engaged in many other things. It is important to ensure a certain continuity and infrastructure. Such a group works when everybody feels respected and gets political and personal surplus.

Image: Roșia Montană, Cristian Bortes / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

At the end of the three days, the group agreed to continue and enhance its work. Sub-groups on several topics were formed; it was agreed upon more exchange among African, Asian and Latin American actors, for instance, a delegation from China to Latin America is planned as a concrete step. Its specific contribution will be to bring together critical debates on the development imperative at a global scale, to get an understanding what really occurs politically in different regions with respect to the development imperative, and to contribute to overcome regional but also global obstacles for alternatives. Thanks to the Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung Brussels, the group disposes over an excellent infrastructure for such an important endeavour and will probably meet again beginning of 2017.


Ulrich Brand, Vienna University, Department of Political Science

Publications:

Más alla del desarrollo / Beyond Development
Latin American regional working group “Alternativas al Desarrollo”/ Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, Andean Office, Quito

Socioecological Transformations
Journal für Entwicklungspolitik/Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung, Brussels Office