Subproject 2

‘Right to the City’ and Situationist movements in the 1960s

This project will be carried out by

Mathijs van de Sande

His research interests are theories of radical democracy, anarchism, (post-)Marxism(s), feminist theory, political representation, political activism, and social movement theory.

Project outline

As the political influence of traditional Marxism declined in the 1960s, a new and distinctively urban reading of ‘The Commune’ emerged in the French philosophical debate. A crucial role was played by the short-lived collaboration between the philosopher Henri Lefebvre and The Situationist International, an avant-gardist group led by Guy Debord. They famously described ‘The Commune’ as “the biggest festival of the nineteenth festival”. The intention behind this, deliberately playful, definition was rather serious. Lefebvre and the Situationists argued that only everyday experiences offered possible escape routes from capitalist domination. ‘The Commune’ was their example par excellence: they perceived it as a distinctive moment or ‘situation’ at which the people of Paris reconquered their living environment – quite literally, as Haussman’s renovations had pushed them out of the city. As Lefebvre put it, the Parisians thus claimed their ‘right to the city’.

The aim of this subproject is to reconstruct how this philosophical debate on the urban character of ‘The Commune’ has affected the communalist repertoire. How was the city reimagined as the locus of democratic politics, in which the everyday and the political intersect? How did this debate build on the councilist tendency discussed in subproject one, and to what extent did it break with traditional Marxism? What impact did this debate have on the events of May ’68 or on European squatters’ movements in the 1970s and 1980s? How did it inform the emergence of a municipalist tendency, most notably in the political thought of Murray Bookchin, who advocated participatory democracy at a local level and confederal organisation on an international scale?