Another excerpt from my book, which is now “in press,” on Henri Lefebvre’s understanding of revolution…
For Lefebvre the political project of autogestion and democracy is always also a project to transform the way we produce and use space. He imagines politics to always be spatial, as for example when he imagines a transition from the industrial city to urban society. In The Production of Space he sets out the more general project of moving from “abstract space” to “differential space” (see also The Urban Revolution, pp. 37, 125-127) The former is a space “determined economically by capital, dominated socially by the bourgeoisie, and ruled politically by the state” (Production of Space, p. 227). It is a space of domination that has been expropriated and alienated from users and is controlled by a heteronomous elite. Abstract space reduces space to its economic function as either a means of production or an exchangeable commodity. What we need to do, he says, is to undermine abstract space and enable “the production of a space that is other,” a differential space (PoS, p. 391). Differential space would involve restoring the fullness of space
whereby living labor can produce something that is no longer a thing…needs and desires can reappear as such, informing both the act of producing and its products. There still exist – and there may exist in the future – spaces for play, spaces for enjoyment, architectures of wisdom or pleasure. In and by means of [differential] space, the work may shine through the product, use value may gain the upper hand over exchange value: appropriation…may (virtually) achieve dominion over domination, as the imaginary and the utopian incorporate (or are incorporated into) the real…(PoS, p. 348).
The project of differential space is a project of reappropriation. Thinking about space, what he calls a “science of space,” must “be viewed as a science of use” that would “accord appropriation a special practical and theoretical status. For appropriation and for use…and against exchange and domination” (PoS, p. 368). “Any revolutionary project today,” he declares (PoS, pp. 166-167), “whether utopian or realistic, must, if it is to avoid hopeless banality, make the reappropriation of the body, in association with the reappropriation of space, into a non-negotiable part of its agenda.” “Revolution,” he goes on to say,
was long defined either in terms of the political change at the level of the state or else in terms of the collective or state ownership of the means of production….Today such limited definitions of revolution will no longer suffice. The transformation of society presupposes a collective ownership and management of space founded on the permanent participation of the ‘interested parties,’ with their multiple, varied and even contradictory interests (PoS, p. 422, emphasis added).
Those “interested parties” are the users of space, those who actively inhabit space in the course of their daily lives. It is they who must reappropriate space by wresting its control away from its owners and from the state. Democracy and autogestion, for Lefebvre, are thus always spatial projects. They are always struggles by users and inhabitants of space to appropriate and collectively manage that space in a way that meets their needs and satisfies their desires.