5. The Territory Has Been Absorbed by the City – The City Must Be Absorbed by the Territory

The Territory Has Been Absorbed by the City – The City Must Be Absorbed by the Territory – Miguel Amorós

In the globalized and urbanized world rural space properly speaking does not exist; it is entirely dependent on the city, whether as a reserve of urbanizable space, or as the stage set or dump for the urban area. The rural space has no autonomy; a territorial arrangement imposed from the city designates its function and its destiny, according to the quantity of surplus value expected from it. The urban explains the rural and not the other way around.

Nor can one speak of a specifically rural way of life, since the habits, customs and behaviors of the countryside are those that are typical of urban life. Agriculture suffered the blows of modernity and industrialization a long time ago, but what is taking place now is not simply a mere turn of the transgenic or hydroponic screw on agrarian production, but the non-agricultural use of rural land. At the present time, the rural areas are not the remnants of what has not yet been urbanized, nor are they even a suburban periphery; at most they can be considered as the interstices within standardized society, but not in the sense of fractures or discontinuities, but as integrated blank spaces. With globalization, urban expansion made a qualitative leap, going from a consequence of capitalism to a presupposition for capitalism. The colonization of the territory is no longer a result, but a necessary precondition for capitalist social relations.

Community under the empire of global capitalism is impossible, since it is a pre-capitalist formation and at the present time any feature that displays such a character has been erased; the smallest detail of everyday life fell under the influence of capital, embedded in its mechanisms of value production and determined by its technology.

Both the working class culture that once subsisted in the most refractory neighborhoods of the cities, as well as the traditional peasant culture that survived in the most remote places, are disappearing. And along with these cultures, the working class and the peasantry also disappeared as structured and active groups. They have been replaced by unconscious, fragmented and uprooted masses. The processes of demographic concentration, standardization, bureaucratization and accumulation of power consecrate the limitless metropolis or the conurbation as the only form of living on the territory, at the same time that they dissolve the remnants of tradition, the bonds that endowed a concrete social group or class with cohesion.

The contradictions between bourgeoisie and proletariat, or country and city, have lost their explosive negativity but they have not entirely dissipated; they are preserved and superseded in the new framework of capitalism, that is, they are perfectly assimilated and integrated. The urban way of life is conditioned not only by work, but by consumption, mobility, surveillance and control. Urbanism is equivalent to non-communication, artificiality, repression, cultural underdevelopment, multiple dependencies and moral poverty. The conurbation is therefore synonymous with regression and banality.

It is not just that rebellion is impossible outside of a tiny ghetto, but that not even the least degree of freedom can be practiced within such a place. In the urban systems the degree of complication attained requires highly developed bureaucracies, sophisticated technologies, extreme hierarchies and police apparatuses that are operative in real time, and an executive class of experts, mandarins and prison wardens that renders any kind of self-government, direct democracy or self-organization unviable. In the conurbation, freedom is a crime. It is excluded by the technology of the market.

A project for liberation cannot be founded on the self-management of the conurbations, but on their dismantling. Thus, the construction of the realm of freedom is a process of ruralization, which by no means implies the search for a new equilibrium of the market, the promotion of rural businesses at the expense of urban ones, but the abolition of the market, in other words, the establishment of a non-commodified economy and technology.

Both require a refounding of the community outside of the metropolitan area, since the establishment of a natural and extra-economic way of life is implausible in the conurbations.

The community needs to reproduce itself on the basis of alternative technologies and a certain degree of separation from the city, a non-capitalist mode of functioning whose first step might very well be the self-production of food. The social question is re-posed in agrarian terms, but this has nothing to do with the usual peasant trade unionism or with the financing of agricultural exploitation, or in general, with a rural population that is equally subject to capitalism and therefore a satellite of the conurbation, but with the dissidents from all areas who are in search of air that is less enslaving.

However, flight to the countryside, the agro-ecological option, self-sufficiency in consumption, barter or cooperation are never enough, since up to a certain point a subsistence economy can coexist with a market economy, and can even fit in quite well with the latter in critical periods like the present. It does not have enough of a negative dimension, it is not saturated with the negativity that has been displayed, for example, by the revolts of the suburbs.

It is not possible to store up enough flammable material to burn the bridges that unite the liberated spaces with the co-management of the social disaster, because their practice does not point beyond passive resistance. For the economy of dissidence to provide a subversive content that could give credibility to an emancipatory project, barriers have to be erected against the conurbations, and, if possible, the latter must be made to recede. A certain de-urbanizing capacity must be possessed and this can only be provided by the defense of the territory.

The territorial conflict entails a profound impulse directed against the market economy that is lacking in a self-sufficient and diversified communitarian economy, since this is the only situation that can generalize local problems, that is, that can transform particular interests into general interests that are incompatible with the interests of the economy and power. It would be engaging in mystification, however, to claim that the conflict, such as it is currently expressed, is of great concern to domination. On the one hand, it still has not displayed all of its destructive potential—it has not yet attracted enough people to its cause—and on the other hand, there are too many people who are located within the system and are attached to their specialty or work directly for the dominant order.

The defense of the territory will not contribute to the dissolution of this order if it does not arouse the passionate involvement of a good number of those who are affected; if it does not manage to convert moral indignation into anti-developmentalist consciousness; if it does not transform territorial aggression into disaffection with the system. Only thus can the defenders distinguish themselves from those who from their same old trenches fight so that domination, with the requisite political and economic reforms, can be perpetuated. The social decomposition of the conurbations will undoubtedly bring allies, especially from among those who are excluded by the series of economic crises. They must become conscious of their responsibility for the creation of the infrastructures by means of which the defense of the territory will penetrate the conurbations and carry the war into the enemy’s rearguard.

Miguel Amorós

Text compiled from notes for talks presented in La Coruña, on October 13, 2010, at the CSO “La Casa das Atochas”, and in León, on October 17, 2010, in the CCAN, organized by the “Louise Michel” bookstore.