When the left takes the city

This week, the focus is on experience of left parties and organizations at the municipal level. Although the left has still exercised only limited political power in many places since the financial crisis, some cities have seen left projects come to power or build new institutions in interesting ways. My two guests shed light on two examples of municipal socialism in Europe and North America.

First, Yusef Quadura describes the experience of Barcelona en Comu. In 2015, this new left coalition took control of the municipal government in Barcelona. Led by the housing activist Ada Colau, the party did what Podemos couldn’t do nationally and garnered enough support to govern with the intention of implementing a left program, at least at the municipal level. To get a sense of the plans, accomplishments and challenges faced by Barcelona en Comu just over a year into its mandate, I spoke with Yusef, a member Barcelona en Comu’s international group. Yusuf is also part of the party’s co-ordinating committee in the Gracia district, where we met and talked over coffee (excuse the ambient noise), and a substitute counsellor for the Gracia district council.

My second guest is Kali Akuno, a leader within Cooperation Jackson, a municipal organization far beyond just a political party in Jackson, Mississippi. Although the group elected the radical Chokwe Lumumba as mayor of Jackson in 2014 (before he died tragically only a year into his term), electoral politics is only a small, supporting part of Cooperation Jackson’s mission. Kali describes what this network of worker-run cooperatives, party and movement congealed into one is up to and some of challenges it faces.

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Questions for the Canadian left

Harper is gone, but (as a friend only quarter-jokingly said) we got the second worst outcome sold as the best, so now what? That’s the 10 second version of this post. I want to throw up a few questions or, better yet, problems that I think the Canadian left will have to face together over the next few years. There are no easy answers here.

In 2015, the Liberals once again showed that they are masters at campaigning to the left. But as we now wait for them to show how equally apt they are at governing to the right, it’s clear that it won’t simply do to say “told you so!” in four years time. It is not by accident that the Liberals are Canada’s “natural governing party,” for if anything, they know how to govern. They are experts at balancing competing interests or, more accurately, giving the semblance of balancing interests all the while closely aligned with the interests of the elite, and the upper middle class.

Still, we have to recognize that things will be different and that this affects where people are and how they relate to politics. On the one hand, the Liberals do open up some space on the left by making symbolic gestures here and there; at the same time, they close off this space by drawing the limits of respectable progressive politics. They don’t fill the void left by a weak left as do the Conservatives with their exclusionary, pocketbook politics aimed at the working class. In fact, they speak to a broader cross-class progressive segment of the population in a way that can be disorienting. (more…)

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