Planning, localism and the left
Aram Eisenschitz: Town Planning, Planning Theory and Social reform / Greg Sharzer: The Political Economy of Localism / Jamie Gough: How Can the Class-Struggle Left Use the Local Scale at the Present Time?
Town Planning, Planning Theory and Social reformby Aram Eisenschitz
Town planning is often seen as an instrument of social reform. It is argued here that this was not the case under social democracy; and by implication neo-liberalism and globalisation do not necessarily act as brakes upon reform. Planning should be interpreted in class terms, as a means of stabilisation and legitimation thereby helping to ensure growth. It fragments social reality in order to contain the political movements that could urban problems could generate. This view of planning may explain why social reform is not high on planning’s agenda. But social reform is possible but only at times of intense conflict. For planning to take advantage of such transient opportunities, planning theory needs development. The paper concludes by developing a model of social reform and looking at some of the flashpoints that could trigger it.
The Political Economy of Localismby Greg Sharzer
Localism is an ideology that suggests social change happens most effectively at the micro level, through schemes designed to re-organize the economy to meet social need. This paper historicizes localism as a continuation of 19th century reformist socialism.
Firstly, this paper retraces Marx’s critique of Ricardo, who naturalizes capitalist relations of production while leaving distributive relations open to change. Marx also analyzes utopian thinkers who, although defending workers against bourgeois attacks on subsistence rights, continue to focus on ameliorating conditions of exchange rather than production.
Secondly, this paper suggests that present-day localist theory repeats these debates. Localists such as Schumacher and McKibben replicate the mistakes of the Left-Ricardians by naturalizing capitalist exploitation and addressing all their reforms at creating alternative distribution mechanisms in the form of local markets. Having de-historicized commodity exchange, localism promotes the sovereignty of consumers and petty-commodity producers by encouraging schemes to ‘buy local’. The political economy of localism is revealed to be a form of petit-bourgeois socialism.
Finally, this paper suggests that the excesses localism identifies stem from capitalism’s inherent drive to profit, not the size of an enterprise or community or lack of market regulation. Attempts to restrict the power of capital must primarily challenge productive relations, not exchange relations.
How Can the Class-Struggle Left Use the Local Scale at the Present Time?by Jamie Gough
This paper argues, contrary to much traditional left thought, that the local scale has certain important strengths for the organisation of struggle against exploitation and oppressions, albeit with dangers of falling into ‘localism’. This contradiction makes development of local left strategy particularly important. The paper considers some issues for such strategy at the present time, when the overriding need is to overcome the fragmentation, isolation, individualism and anomie amongst workers generated by three decades of neoliberalism. It is argued that the local scale is a vital one in developing face-to-face networks of workers to confront both production and social-reproduction issues, and to begin to overcome the many types of division within the working class. Many important issues span production and reproduction spheres, and these are well addressed at the local level. The local state should not be ‘by-passed’ by the left through fetishising social economy initiatives, but rather the local state’s resources should be increasingly subject to the demands and direct organisation of workers. The necessary links of local organisation to larger spatial scales of struggle are explored.