Austerity? No. Democracy? Yes.

Another session I participated in at the Los Angeles AAG was part of a series of sessions on Austerity and Local Politics organized by Deb Martin, Gordon MacLeod, and Katherine Hankins.  This is a shorter piece, since it was a panel.  I argued for a methodological focus on constituent (popular) power (the will to govern ourselves), rather than on constituted power (the power of the state and capital).  Sadly, the discussion afterwards seemed to suggest that most in the audience were still resolved to continue being fascinated by constituted power…

The Will to Govern Ourselves

I agree with the organizers when they call for detailed empirical analyses of local politics. But before we rush off and get started, I want to ask what we would be looking for out there. And I want to suggest a provisional answer to that question, which is that we should be looking for our own will to govern ourselves. This will is always present, but it is often hard to see, and it is always engaged in a struggle with another will, our will to be governed.

As the recent wave of uprisings makes clear, this will to govern ourselves is more or less intense at different times and in different places. And so in looking for it, we should be attentive to its history and geography, about where and when it is likely to be found.  And we have just been through a particularly intense surge of this will to govern ourselves. It was articulated with passion and clarity in 2011 by the People’s Assembly of Syntagma Square:

For a long time decisions have been made for us, without consulting us. We…have come to Syntagma Square… because we know that the solutions to our problems can only be provided by us. We call all residents of Athens…and all of society to fill the public squares and to take their lives into their own hands.  In these public squares we will shape our claims and our demands together.

For many Spanish in that same year, it was que se vayan todos (get rid of them all) and no nos representan (they do not represent us).  Not a cry to replace one set of rulers with another. But an outcry against the whole architecture of rule.

que se vayan todos


I think if we use this lens in our search for local politics, if we search for the will to govern ourselves, it will offer us at least one very important benefit: it will allow us to see beyond the many extortions that we are currently subjected to, that currently frame our politics, that reduce the options available to us and render contemporary local politics virtually apolitical.


What are these extortions, and how might the will to govern ourselves help?

One extortion perhaps most familiar to those in the U.S. and Northern Europe is this: if you don’t want neoliberal localization, devolution, and privatization you have to accept a strong national redistributive state. More generally, it says if you don’t want neoliberalism, you have to accept a welfare state. Here the will to govern ourselves rejects both options as starkly oligarchical and searches for a democracy beyond.

A related extortion says if you don’t like capitalist markets you have to accept a state command economy. Our will not to be governed is searching here for something beyond, something like Eugene Holland’s free-market communism.

Or on the Left, we are often subjected to this: if we don’t accept a strong party leadership the neoliberals will have their way. Here anarchists, radical democrats, autonomist Marxists, and people in the new social movements have been searching for something beyond.

In Southern Europe, they know only too well this extortion: if you don’t want utter financial collapse, you must accept austerity.  Que se vayan todos.


In Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Bahrain, Iran, Libya, and other places, they faced a more stark and cynical extortion: if you don’t want the entire society to descend into violent chaos, you have to accept the rule of an autocrat. This is the old Hobbesian extortion: bellum omnium contra omnes or Leviathan? The devil or the deep blue sea? In Tunisia and Egypt people responded: we’ll take our chances in the deep blue sea.


If we are to overcome these extortions, I think, we must do something that takes tremendous courage and creativity: adopt a politics of refusal. We need to adopt, with the Spanish, Bartleby’s motto: “I would prefer not to.”  We need to say no to such extortions. But, perhaps counter-intuitively, this saying no is not a negative act. It is a positive one. Saying no is a declaration that we intend to search for a way forward.  It is an attempt to push through and find out what happens next, to discover what we are capable of building instead.

So, in thinking about the empirical investigations we might undertake, I think we should seek out the Bartlebys, seek out those who have already found the courage to refuse extortion, of whatever kind, find those who have been confronted with the abyss and not been cowed. We should look for those who have been exploring what possibilities there are beyond welfare-state-or-neoliberalism, beyond austerity-or-collapse, beyond leviathan-or-chaos. How did they summon the courage to say no? Did they organize their refusal? How? What consequences did they face? What new lands did they discover in the wake of their refusal? What lies beyond, in the deep blue sea?

In Spain, for example, what comes next after indignation and revolution? What kind of politics, and actions, and activities, and initiatives, and moods, and feelings, and forms of life are emerging in the wake of their historic awakening and their declaration that they intend to begin governing themselves? What new tendrils, new connections, new intensities, new paths, new strengths, new escapes are emerging? Are those new forces finding each other? Are they connecting? How? What can we learn from their example? To what extent is a new common, a new non-State republic, a new democracy emerging?

My sense is that in the study of local politics today our lips dripping with the words of neoliberalism, austerity, and oligarchy. Far fewer voices are singing the emergence of constitutent power, of potentia, of puissance.


This is one voice, from Puerta del Sol, saying “the revolution was in our hearts but now it flies free in the streets.” My sense is that we are not yet obsessed with such voices, with the continual re-emergence, all over the world, of the will to govern ourselves. But we should be. We are experiencing an incredibly intense burst of the continual, insistent, and joyous desire for democracy. And we should be rapt in our attention.


My Recent Talk on the Right to the City


I just gave a talk in the colloquium of the Department of Architecture here at UW, and it was a great time.  I thought I would post the text, in case it is of interest.  That is below.  I will also upload the slides, which you can right-click-and-save with this link.  They are in .odp format, so let me know if you cannot read them.

Here is the text:

Slide 1

Hello everyone. Thanks so much to the organizers for the invitation to come and speak with you today.

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Mark Purcell, and I am an urbanist and political theorist in the Department of Urban Design & Planning. I study democracy and political mobilization in the city, and I have a particular interest in struggles for a right to the city.

I think the thing that would be most useful for the group is to report on some of the lessons I have learned in studying the concept of the right to the city, and then hopefully we can, together, explore how useful that idea is for living and flourishing in cities today. I will concentrate particular attention on the work of Henri Lefebvre, the French political thinker and activist who is one of the main progenitors of the idea.

Slide 2

Before I do that, though, let me open with two stories.

[***] In May of 2011 people from all over Spain came to Madrid, to the Puerta del Sol, to express their indignation at the austerity measures their government was foisting upon them. Echoing similar events in Argentina in 2001, [***] the Spanish chanted “que se vayan todos,” get rid of them all. They were referring not to a specific ministry or party, they were rejecting the entire Spanish government because, they felt, it had become nothing but a handmaiden to global financial interests that wanted the Spanish people to pay for a crisis that the banks had created. [***] “No nos representan,” they shouted, they do not represent us. They decided to turn away from the government and turned toward each other, developing a system of popular assemblies and committees to work out among themselves what future they wanted to build together.

The Greeks, faced with even harsher austerity measures, came together in Syntagma Square in Athens and responded in a very similar way, by turning toward themselves. The first declaration issued by the People’s Assembly of Syntagma Square read, in part:

 For a long time decisions have been made for us, without consulting us. We…have come to Syntagma Square… because we know that the solutions to our problems can only be provided by us. We call all residents of Athens…and all of society to fill the public squares and to take their lives into their own hands.  In these public squares we will shape our claims and our demands together.

Slide 3

With those as background, let me turn to the right to the city. I want to suggest that there are two main approaches to the idea: a liberal-democratic approach and Lefebvre’s approach. I will argue that these two are very different, and that Lefebvre’s is the much more preferable way to understand the right to the city, the one that best captures the popular desire on display in Spain and Greece.

But before I emphasize the differences, let me first identify an important theme that both approaches share. [***] Both want to elevate the figure of the user or the inhabitant of urban space over and above the owner of that space. As a result, both approaches emphasize use value over exchange value. This is important because in almost every city in the world today, the property rights of owners outweigh the use rights of inhabitants, and the exchange value of property outweighs use value in determining how urban space is to be used. And so in almost all its forms the right to the city is understood to mean a struggle to augment the use rights of urban inhabitants vis a vis the property rights of owners.

Slide 4

OK, so what is the liberal-democratic approach? This is the mainstream thought in contemporary efforts for a the right to the city. [***] Liberal democracy is a form of the [***] nation-state in which people are granted a relatively weak measure of democratic control through elections, parties, laws, and stable state institutions. [***] Liberal democracy also values individual liberty and strives to protect it by granting individuals rights that are designed to protect their liberty from both the state and fellow citizens.

In this political imagination, rights are legal protections that are held by individual citizens and guaranteed by the liberal-democratic state. [***] And so in this way of thinking the right to the city is essentially a proposal to add to the existing slate of liberal-democratic rights. [***] The liberal approach trains its political attention squarely on the state, since that is the institution that will guarantee any future right to the city. [***] A liberal approach to the right to the city thus tends to think of political action in terms of legal strategies. And it conceives of rights as end results. When a legal right is secured, the struggle is won, and it has come to a close.

[***] Such liberal initiatives for a right to the city exist at the local scale (Montreal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities, Mexico City Charter for the Right to the City), the national scale (City Statute in Brazil, Right to the City Alliance in the US), or the supranational scale (European Charter for Human Rights in the City, World Charter for the Right to the City).

In Brazil, for example, the project has been to have the State augment the rights inhabitants have to use urban space so that they are equivalent to the property rights of owners. The state is then legally required to balance both sets of rights when making development decisions.

I think this liberal-democratic idea of the right to the city is important. It can be an effective tool for addressing very real inequalities in the city. Moreover, I think its focus on inhabitants and the use value of urban space points us in the direction of a radical idea. But I want to argue that that idea can’t reach its full potential, especially as Lefebvre understood it, until we go beyond a liberal-democratic world-view in which the state guarantees a right to the city.

Slide 5

To see why, let’s begin by remembering that the liberal-democratic state is what the young Marx called the bourgeois state, and he offered a withering critique of how it serves as a key element of capitalist domination. For his part, Lefebvre very much ascribes to and builds upon Marx’s critique. His idea of the right to the city aims to go beyond a liberal-democratic conception. And so most of the thinking and practice around the right to the city today is very different from what Lefebvre was hoping for.

[***] Henri Lefebvre was a French intellectual and activist whose work spans the second half of the 20th century. He was a Marxist and active in the French Communist Party at a time when Stalinism was dominant, both in the French Communist Party and in the Soviet Union. [In addition, he also lived under a highly centralized and interventionist French state that actively managed the capitalist economy.] As a result of those engagements, Lefebvre actively sought a way to think Marxism and communism without the state. His project was to imagine a radical democratic future beyond capitalism and beyond the state. [That project made him a central intellectual figure in the 1968 uprisings in Paris, which were carried out by workers and students seeking a democracy beyond the state and capitalism.]

I think we have to understand Lefebvre’s right to the city in the context of that wider radical-democratic vision. [***] Most people who think about the right to the city, when they decide to engage with Lefebvre directly, turn to this book, which includes his book titled The Right to the City. But I think if we want to know the full power of Lefebvre’s idea, we need to dig more deeply into his whole corpus of work.

Slide 6

So let me try to put his right to the city in the context of Lefebvre’s wider vision. [***] Very near the end of his life, in 1990, Lefebvre proposed something he called “a new contract of citizenship” between citizens and the state. He offers this contract as the core of his political vision for the future. On its surface, it looks to be very much in line with a liberal-democratic imagination, like nothing more than a tweaking of the current agreement between the state and its citizens. [***] Lefebvre even lays out a number of new rights to be included in the new contract. Among other rights, he offers these four I’ve listed here. But as we saw, the agenda of liberal-democratic rights guaranteed by the state is not at all his agenda. His new contract of citizenship is something much more politically revolutionary, and it cannot be contained by the liberal-democratic state. Lefebvre doesn’t want to tweak the contract; he wants to dissolve it. To see why, let me begin by examining in more detail this third right, the right to autogestion.

Slide 7

Understand what Lefebvre means by autogestion helps us understand how Lefebvre conceives of rights and the new contract. Autogestion is a French term that is usually translated as “self-management.” It traditionally refers to workers who take control of a factory and manage it themselves, without capitalist managers. While Lefebvre mentions autogestion in his book on the new contract of citizenship, [***] he really examines the idea fully in the collected volume State, Space, World. For Lefebvre, the rights in the new contract are notan addendum to existing liberal-democratic rights. They are not ends that are achieved when they are guaranteed by the state and codified in law. [***] Rather he conceives of rights as a point of departure for a renewal of political life. When we claim the rights in the contract, he thinks, we are rousing ourselves, we are touching off a political awakening, a rising up and shaking off of a torpor. [***] Through this awakening, we decide to become active again, and we take direct control over the conditions of our own existence. For Lefebvre, therefore, when we claim rights we are launching a struggle to reappropriate our own power, power that has been expropriated by the state and by capitalist institutions. This awakening, this active taking up the project of self-management or autogestion, is for Lefebvre the same thing as a project of radical democracy. And it is not just for the factory; it is for every sphere of society.

Lefebvre’s radical democracy is utterly different from the liberal democracy we have been talking about. He understands radical democracy to be something quite close to a Marxist-Leninist project: [***] it involves a dictatorship of the proletariat, one that is not imposed by a vanguard party that has seized the state, as in orthodox Marxism, but one that emerges spontaneously from below, through the political struggle of workers themselves. [***] As a result, there will be a deepening of democracy, even if that sounds paradoxical, because the overwhelming majority of people in society (the proletariat) are taking control of the decisions that shape society. As people become active and realize their own power, as they demonstrate to themselves that they are capable of managing their own affairs, [***] it becomes apparent to all that the state apparatus is a manager that is no longer necessary, and it withers away. In a very similar way, capitalist institutions like the corporation as well as the property relation also wither away as people demonstrate that they are capable of managing economic production for themselves. This twin hope, for the withering away of the state and of capitalism, is entirely non-negotiable in Lefebvre’s project of radical democracy. And of course that hope stands in stark contrast to a liberal-democratic understanding of rights guaranteed by the state.

Slide 8

OK, so how does this political awakening he talks about bear upon the right to the city, which is another of the rights Lefebvre says is part of the new contract? [***] To understand the importance of the city in Lefebvre’s thought, we need to turn to this book, The Urban Revolution. There he makes a distinction between what he calls the industrial city, on the one hand, and urban society, on the other. ‘Industrial city’ for him doesn’t mean the classic city of industrial factory production. [***] Rather it signifies the capitalist city that we inhabit today, in which private property and exchange value are the dominant ways to organize space, in which the dominant socio-spatial processes separate and segregate people from one another. The industrial city actively works to disconnect urban inhabitants from each other. They are warehoused, almost stored, in urban spaces Lefebvre calls habitat. This separation renders them politically passive, and they function only as workers and consumers rather than as active participants in urban life. The industrial city is a city that produces standardized commodities, and its purpose is to be an engine of capitalist economic growth. The industrial city is an oligarchy, managed by an elite few of state experts and corporate managers. [***] Wemight call this the neoliberal city. In his famous book from the 1960s, Guy Debord called it The Society of the Spectacle.

Slide 9

These are just some images to evoke some of these ideas about the industrial city:

[***] The classic suburban landscape of habitat: warehousing people and creating separation, segregation, isolation.

[***] Or the shopping mall: consumption spaces for consumers rather than political gathering places for active citizens.

[***] Or 2200 Westlake, which despite it being the darling of the urbanist community, is very much what Lefebvre would have called the industrial city…

Slide 10

Lefebvre contrasts the industrial city starkly with what he calls urban society. [***] In urban society, inhabitants appropriate urban space, make it their own again, and use it to meet their needs. Urban society counters segregation by drawing inhabitants together, centralizing them into spaces where they encounter each other and engage each other in collective and meaningful negotiations about the kind of city they desire. These encounters build a shared sense of common purpose, but they also serve to make inhabitants aware of the substantive differences among them, differences they must manage and mobilize as they decide their urban future together. In urban society, inhabitants are active socially and politically. Through a process he calls l’inhabiter (as opposed to habitat), they participate fully in urban society. This participation nourishes their creative potential and makes it possible for them to produce unique works of their own rather than standardized commodities for the capitalist market. In urban society the purpose of the city is not economic accumulation but rather the development of each person’s human potential. (This distinction very much echoes Aristotle’s politics, but also Marx and Engels’ communism: an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all). Urban society is, in short, a city in which urban inhabitants manage the space of the city for themselves without the state and without capital. It is radical democracy. [***] It is urban autogestion. It is the communist city.

The right to the city then, following Lefebvre’s conceptions of rights, is never an end. Never a legal right to be codified by the state. It is, rather, a collective declaration by urban inhabitants that they intend to begin a struggle for urban autogestion, for a city in which urban space is produced by inhabitants for inhabitants. In the course of that struggle, they will freely develop their potential as inhabitants, as citizens, and as human beings.

Slide 11

Again just some images to evoke what he is getting at:

[***] Classic autogestion: workers at FASINPAT in Argentina on the shop floor making decisions about production.

[***] Landless activists in Brazil occupying land they use to grow food, land that is owned by landowners who under-use it or use it for ranching.

[***] People in the summer of 2011 in Greece experimenting with autogestion as they rise up against the austerity state.

[***] People in 2011 in Spain doing the same thing.

[***] Or, just a bit later, people in Israel doing something quite similar.

[***] Guerrilla gardeners planting and growing food on an abandoned lot in Baltimore.

[***] A favela in Brazil: even in 1970 Lefebvre saw very clearly the importance of these settlements off the grid, these entire urban worlds that are to a significant degree produced and managed by the inhabitants themselves.

Slide 13

Quite a vision. A vision against which you may be wanting to raise a deep-seated objection: this vision of an urban society managed directly by users, without capital and the state, is fantastical, too radical, a pipe dream. So let me end by arguing why I think it is, on the contrary, entirely practical.

[***] Recall that for Lefebvre the new contract of citizenship, and the right to the city that is a part of it, is only a point of departure for a process of political awakening. Claiming a right to the city is a way to open a path toward a new horizon, toward a possible world, toward what he calls the “virtual object” of urban society. What does he mean, urban society is a “virtual object”? Unlike the industrial city, urban society is not fully actualized. And yet, at the same time, Lefebvre says practices of urban society already exist now amidst the industrial city. It is just that they are fledgling. He argues we can see glimpses of urban society in the spaces of the industrial city. It emerges, here and there, if only for a moment. The key is to pay attention to it, to learn to recognize it, and to help it flourish.

But the problem is that urban society is not easy to see. The light of the industrial city is blinding. It makes it difficult to perceive the fledgling urban society that is emerging. So what we must do, what Lefebvre does, is to imagine a full-blown urban society in thought. The way we do this is by amplifying and intensifying the fledgling urban society that already exists. [***] Urban society as he imagines it is an idea carefully extrapolated from fledgling practices of urban society that already exist inside the industrial city. [***] Once we imagine this full-blown urban society in thought, we can use that virtual object as a lens to help us better see those glimpses of actual urban society in the industrial city. Urban society as a virtual object can help us see, for example, meaningful connections among inhabitants in the midst of pervasive separation and segregation; or active citizens producing space amidst passive consumers; or the everyday acts of users amidst the economic interests of owners. It can help us see democracy amidst oligarchy, urban autogestion amidst the neoliberal city.

Lefebvre is adamant that urban society is not an unrealistic utopia. It is not a far-off goal at the end of history. It is rather a deeply practical revolutionary project: extrapolate urban society in thought, learn it, understand it, and then seek out its fledgling practices in the city we inhabit today. Once we discover those practices, we can protect them, nurture them, and help them grow on their own terms. It is a practical, concrete project of radical democracy, a project we can engage in today and carry forward into the future.

Slide 14

[***] It is, I think, essentially the project that Italo Calvino lays out in Invisible Cities: we have to “seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno of the industrial city, are not inferno, are urban society, and help them endure, and give them space.”

Thanks very much.

Democracy, Squatting, and My Forthcoming Book

Here is one last piece from the recent Association of American Geographers conference.  This was for a session organized by Pierpaolo Mudu and Miguel Martinez called “Squatting and Social Centers: Resistance and Production of Critical Spaces.”  Unfortunately, because of travel challenges I was unable to be at the session in person, but the benefit of that is I prepared a more polished text to be read at the session, which I will paste below.  It serves as a good preview for my forthcoming book, The Down-Deep Delight of Democracy, which I hope will be out sometime early next year.  Here is the text:

What I want to contribute today is an idea of democracy that I hope is useful in thinking about popular struggles in general, and about squatting and social centers in particular.  The idea is taken from a book I just completed on democracy.  In the book I examine a range of theorists—particularly Lefebvre, Deleuze and Guattari, Gramsci, Laclau and Mouffe, Hardt and Negri, Rancière, and Nietzsche, as well as the work of David Foster Wallace.  I argue that it is possible to find in all of them a deep desire for democracy, and this desire is remarkably similar across the various writers.  So the idea of democracy I offer in the book and today is a kind of bricolage assembled from the work of these multiple theorists.

For me, the point of thinking and writing about democracy at all is to help build a conceptual frame, a way to think about a larger political project in the contemporary era.  By “contemporary era,” I mean right now: the financial collapse and the wave of austerity policies that seems to be the best the state and the financial oligarchy can come up with as an answer to the crisis.  Certainly austerity is not only the wrong approach, it is in fact so preposterous that we should respond with indignation, as so many have.  That’s easy, but I also want to suggest that our long-term goal should not be to merely return to social democracy, or the welfare state, or Keynesianism.  These strategies aim at rebuilding a strong state as a means to mitigate (or even, for some, to overcome) the problems of capitalism.  Whatever the value of those strategies in the current moment, I want to argue that they are not really democratic strategies.  We are capable of much more than the welfare state.  We are capable of democracy.

So then clearly I want to argue that the liberal-democratic state is not the democracy we should seek.  In that state, a relatively few people are selected, separated out from the population, and designated to govern the whole.  In other words, the few rule the rest.  This arrangement is by definition an oligarchy.  And more generally, the state, any state, is what Hobbes said it is: it is an arrangement where people alienate their own power to an entity outside themselves, and that entity uses their own power to rule them.  Liberal-democracy gives people a voice in choosing the oligarchs, but it doesn’t change the state’s fundamentally oligarchic structure of rule.  This structure is equally true of all state institutions: elections, parties, laws, bureaucracies, and representative bodies.

So then what is democracy?  Let’s try this: democracy is a mode of living together in which people manage for themselves the conditions of their own existence.  People in a democracy are thus autonomous rather than heteronomous; that is to say that in a democracy people “give themselves the law” rather than having the law given to them by another.  People rule themselves instead of being ruled.  Moreover, in order to be autonomous, they have to be politically active rather than passive.

One predictable objection to this way of thinking about democracy is a practical one: it is impossible for all the people, everyone together, to govern themselves directly.  This objection holds an element of truth, and in response we might revise our original idea: we should think of democracy not so much as a state of being or as a perfect political community at the end of history.  Drawing on Lefebvre’s Urban Revolution, we can think of democracy as a horizon toward which we travel, one we can never reach because a horizon always recedes, but one that suggests to us a direction in which we must move.  Or drawing on Deleuze and Guattari we could think not in terms of “democracy” as a state of being but in terms of “becoming-democratic” as a process, as a struggle, as an ongoing effort to manage our affairs for ourselves as much as we are able.  This idea is precisely what Lefebvre means when he says in State, Space, World that democracy is nothing other than a permanent struggle for democracy, an ongoing striving toward the horizon of democracy.  Becoming-democratic.

So of course such a struggle to become democratic would require that all people also “become-active,” that they continually refuse passivity, refuse the temptation to “let someone else do it,” that they continually cease to be the political spectator and become the political actor.  Here Rancière’s Emancipated Spectator is quite useful, but even moreso is David Foster Wallace’s exploration of this very issue, most famously in Infinite Jest.  In that book characters engage in courageous struggles to remain active, to manage their own affairs against overwhelming temptations to give in, temptations to let themselves be carried away, in their case by drugs and by entertainment.

What we find in Wallace is a vivid sense of the personal struggle to become active and autonomous.  And that individual struggle is critical.  But of course the struggle must also be collective.  We must struggle together to become democratic, to rule ourselves as a community.  So it is essential to consider what kind of relations we should have in that community, what kind of collectives we should be trying to create.  This is an enormous question, of course, so let me offer just a few points.

In the theory I have been working with, as well as in the many popular initiatives we have seen in 2011, there is much interest in creating leaderless groups whose members engage each other in horizontal, non-hierarchical relations.  Deleuze and Guattari talk of rhizomes, centerless assemblages in which any can connect to any other.  They also talk of “bodies without organs,” which are collectivities that are able to operate effectively without specialized nodes of organization.  Such groups try to avoid developing fixed organizational centers that are responsible for certain tasks (research, strategy, communications, logistics, etc.), since such centers would be oligarchies, rendering the rest of the body passive and ruled with respect to that function.  Deleuze and Guattari are imagining, in other words, a body (politic) without (party) organs.  Such organ-less groups would need to develop a kind of emergent intelligence or consciousness so it can act.  Here Deleuze and Guattari, and many others, have turned to the natural world for models.  A wolfpack, a flock of starlings, and a bee hive are commonly cited as masses of individuals that act without a centralized leadership.  But there are models in the human world too: Hardt and Negri have argued that the human brain functions as a rhizome, as a leaderless network of neurons that coordinate themselves whenever “a person” makes a decision.  And we could say too that at certain moments the crowds in Tahrir, Sol, Syntagma, and Zucchotti (not to mention Tiananmen) operated spontaneously in this way as well.  And that does not even take into account the conscious experimentation with leaderlessness and horizontality evident in Sol, Syntagma, and in the Occupy struggles in the US.

As with becoming-democratic more generally, we are unlikely to achieve this kind emergent organization as an end state, as a stable state of being.  Rather, we should think of ourselves as engaged in an ongoing, collective struggle to become-leaderless and horizontal, to become-starling and wolf, to become-Sol and Syntagma.  To return, over and over, to Tahrir Square.

As a final thought let me try to link all this back to the question of squatting and social centers.  Lefebvre insisted that the struggle to become-democratic, the struggle to increasingly manage our affairs for ourselves, was necessarily a struggle over space.  That is, for Lefebvre democracy was nothing other than the struggle to manage for ourselves the production of space.  Living as we do in a city and a world where inhabitants are alienated from the space they live in, where that space is managed for them by an oligarchy that cleaves to the dominant logic of private property and market exchange, what we need is a collective struggle by inhabitants to re-appropriate space.  This is a struggle to reclaim space for their own use, yes, but it is also a struggle to reclaim the management of space, to reclaim collective control over the complex processes of its production.  “Any revolutionary project today,” Lefebvre writes, “must…make the reappropriation of the body, in association with the reappropriation of space, into a non-negotiable part of its agenda” (Production of Space, p. 166-7).  Certainly it seems clear that squatting and social centers are attempts by inhabitants to reappropriate space.  In part, this reappropriation is in order to use the space.  But it is also often an attempt to reappropriate control over the management of space.  It seems to me, and I think Lefebvre would agree, that this latter effort is the key.  Becoming-democratic means not only an effort to seize and occupy space; but also it requires that we become autonomous and active though an ongoing struggle to manage the production of that space for ourselves.