Read this to be inspired by stories of city-based resistance in some of the most difficult conditions possible.
The editors want to confront the idea that capitalism is triumphant everywhere and instead look at examples where “the hegemony of ruling classes is being directly challenged by mass organisations”. Their examples range from Africa to Asia to Latin America.
Luke Sinwell’s chapter, Thembelihle Burning, describes a sustained revolt during 2015 in an informal settlement 25 miles from Johannesburg in South Africa. It culminated in a three-week road blockage, a strike and an unofficial state of emergency with 75 residents arrested, three hospitalised and one murdered.
But the repression did not crush the movement. It eventually forced the authorities to make the settlement legal, thereby clearing the way for the delivery of basic services such as water, electricity and housing. Sinwell stresses the importance of the resistance being “driven from below by explicitly socialist mass organisations with deep-seated democratic impulses”.
Perhaps the best chapter is the one on “The ‘Spirit of Marikana’ and the Resurgence of the Working Class Movement in South Africa” by activist-scholar Trevor Ngwane. He details the miners’ strikes, their refusal to be defeated despite the massacre of 34 people, the disgusting role of the bosses and the government. But he also brings out the interaction between struggles in the workplace and those in the “living space” that can unite labour and community fightbacks.
Claudia Delgado Villegas, writing on the “The Ayotzinapa Massacre: Mexico’s Popular Protests and New Landscapes of Indignation”, describes the extraordinary determination of the parents of 43 students from a rural teachers’ college who were kidnapped in 2014. The campaigners refused to believe lie after lie from the police and government and have become the focus for a wide range of other protesters. Their slogans, such as “The state did it!” have been taken up by thousands of people outside those immediately involved.
Other chapters look at the Uruguayan Recyclers’ Union, and resistance in Nigeria, Kolkata, Jakarta and Rio de Janeiro. They reveal details of battles that, in some cases, will be wholly unknown even to many activists.
But overall you are left wondering how these particular struggles can be part of a broader anti-capitalist project that can point towards the destruction of the system itself. The editors say that this book is “the beginning of a much more thorough political research project that aims to link isolated struggles in urban areas more integrally to each other on both a national and international scale”. That will be very welcome.