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"Rather break the law than the poor"

Red Metropolis: Socialism and the Government of London
Forfatter: Owen Hatherley
Forlag: Repeater books (Storbritannia)
HOUSING / London, a futuristic skyscraper city, a neo-Tokyo, a city in a country ruled by an authoritarian and nationalist elite. Where did Corbyn's manifesto for massive development of municipal housing go?

This article is machine translated by Google from Norwegian

Owen Hatherley shows in Save Metropolis how big cities need to address the absence of the progressive state.

The book is one of several strategic books in the wake of Corbyn's policies and defeat in 2019. Hatherley begins the book on the depressing election night. He spent much of the 1990s and 00s wondering where the future lay. Hatherley was part of an environment that had long missed the futurism of modernism – or what his comrade Mark Fisher had called "popular modernism", an inclusive and expanding modernism which had all sorts of cultural and political repercussions in the 50s, 60s and 70s. Hatherley, for example, debuted with Militant Modernism (2009), a book dedicated to the hometown of Southampton's planning and architectural office. It was then, as it had been a long time since the city authorities had produced forward-looking modernist and socialist architecture.

On election night, however, Hatherley realizes what the future holds. He is in it: London, a futuristic skyscraper city, a neo-Tokyo, a city in a country ruled by an authoritarian and nationalist elite – with a press that supports it in thick and thin, as he writes. Not modernism, but a modern dystopia of the future.

Nevertheless, Hatherley draws an optimistic conclusion: Corbyn's manifesto for "municipal socialism" involved, among other things, a massive development of municipal housing – as he had long proposed a national investment bank for this.

The Greater London Council

Ever since the establishment of the London County Council (LCC) in 1889 – which from 1965 was called the Greater London Council (GLC) – has then also London took many a measure that can inspire. Particularly important was the massive development of municipal housing that everyone had access to. The GLC was so radical and inspiring that Margaret Thatcher brutally and undemocratically shut down the entire organization in 1986 – precisely because it represented the opposite of her policies. From the year 2000, London again became a municipality, not as solid as in the 80s, but with a mayoral function – an alternative to a conservative state.

Hatherley was part of an environment that had long missed modernism
zeal for the future – a «popular modernism», an inclusive and expanding modernism.

Hatherley believes that an activist mass movement must push an administrative machinery – the key to the left's historic success in London. His strategy is quite simple: Do not reduce politics to propaganda. Instead, start with massive measures in cities that the left controls, and show through action instead of words that left side are both social and manageable. That was it Labour did in London in the years before they broke through nationally around World War II – the policy the welfare state entailed, was already introduced and tested in London.

And Hatherley thinks the people of London voted for it Corbyn precisely because they had sky-high living expenses and little money to live on. And who is the average city dweller? Yes, it is among other things the 71 people who tragically burned to death in Grenfell Tower in North Kensington.

You can feel Hitterley's mind quivering as he describes how what was once a completely fireproof municipal 24-storey block was to be rehabilitated so that those in the neighborhood would not have to look at the concrete. A rehabilitation process that was so neoliberal not only in its purpose but also in its approach, that the evaluation struggles to apportion the blame, since the process involved so many different contractors. Urban development has long since abandoned ideals of quality and democracy – this is about cutting costs – so much was cut in costs that North Kensington's otherwise wealthy residents could get less to pay in taxes, Hatherley points out.

What about Oslo?

Several times while reading the book, I thought why this book does not exist in Norway – a polemical story about Oslo's radical communal history? Here, too, there are a number of examples of municipal initiatives. When the housing market had been stagnant since the wave of speculation at the end of the 1800th century, Oslo Municipality finally took matters into its own hands and began building municipal housing. The municipality's collaboration with OBOS in the post-war period is an alternative to today's market-driven urban development.

If you ask city politicians in Oslo today, such as urban development councilor Rasmus Reinvang, why they do not makes something, they simply answer that they do not may not be do something. Things reportedly have to happen at the national level before they can lift a finger. They should read Hatherley's London story, about socialists who ended up in prison with slogans such as "rather break the law than the poor" because they opposed the poor regulations of a conservative state. But it really paid off. Does Oslo first have to do something locally for it to spread nationally?

In 2021, it is not only parliamentary elections, but also the Paris Commune's 150th anniversary – maybe this year something must happen?

avatar photos
Alf Jørgen Schnell

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