Rather than submitting to the authority of conventional spatial boundaries, movement became constitutive of space, and space was constituted as an event. It was not the order of space that governed patterns of movement but movement that produced and practiced space around it. The three-dimensional movement through walls, ceilings, and floors across the urban bulk reinterpreted, short-circuited, and recomposed both architectural and urban syntax. The tactics of “walking-through-walls” involved a conception of the city as not just the site, but as the very medium of warfare – a flexible, almost liquid matter that is forever contingent and in flux. ("Walking Through Walls")I am drawn to the work of those who are thinking about "New Military Urbanism" -- the ways in which the urban is not only a place in which contemporary wars are increasingly waged, but becomes an actual means by which war is waged -- but I have deep suspicions that there isn't anything new, postmodern or innovative about Military Urbanism. Flux, contingency, fluidity etc: these are all very familiar themes; however, in this case, transgressive postmodern spatial practices are not being celebrated, but are seen as increasingly totalizing exercises of military might. The mobilization and reconfiguration of urban syntax is an interesting feature of both Israel's 'architecture of occupation' in a colonial context, and the growing 'occupation movement' in response to home foreclosures and University privatization across the world. The tactics and strategies of occupation and urban militancy seem to be polyvalent: that is, they can be mobilized by either side in the battle for the control of urban space. But I wonder whether or not the resurgence of the theory and practice of what Gramsci once called a "war of maneuver" -- urban warfare and armed insurrection against capitalism -- is a sign that the issues of cultural hegemony and cultural "subversion" are being outpaced by the current reality of a long-term stagnation within the advanced capitalist world. The symptoms of this passage from the cultural dominant to the primacy of urban militancy are everywhere, and the spectacular narratives of the metropolis appear to be unevenly anticipating this shift.
This renewed interest in the problem of military urbanism is not the symptom of some postmodern hyper-space of total war. Rather, this revival is a symptom of the decline of prevailing postmodern architectural dogmas and cultural/spatial figures, which have tended to neutralize class conflict. This is a return to politics not as some sphere of human action with anxieties about fusion and proximity on the one hand -- with corresponding resurgences of nativism and xenophobia -- and cosmopolitical ethics and civic republicanism -- the heated cultural debate over competing value systems -- on the other. These are doubtlessly the prevailing media narratives of the politics (The Tea Party, BNP, Le Pen, etc) of our era, but I would argue that the strategic terrain of struggle for hegemony is shifting from the cultural to the urban. We have the reappearance of man as a zöon politikon, in the most literal sense: man as a city-dweller, and the city as the site and means of new social struggles.
I plan to return to this contemporary conjuncture in a future post, but for now, I'd like to trace a history of military urbanism and urban militancy in 19th century Paris.
Haussmann and Strategic Embellishment
Those who have argued that we are living in some sort of postmodern hyper-space of total war in which military planners are tripped out on Deleuze or Baudrillard would do well to return to Walter Benjamin's notes in The Arcades Project on urban militancy in Paris during the 19th Century, the 'capital of modernity.' Of particular interest is the implicit notion in Benjamin's archival fragments and marginal commentary of a spatial dialectic: the processes by which revolutionaries appropriate urban space in a struggle against the interests of capital and the counter-movement in which capital then appropriates this urban syntax in cycles of speculative accumulation (housing bubbles) and military urbanism. What follows is my attempt to reconstruct the unfolding of this spatial dialectic in the revolutionary struggles of Paris from Benjamin's fragmentary analysis.
[Left: Jean Victor Schnetz, Combat devant la hôtel du ville]
Unemployment spikes in Paris during the summer of 1830, and by July, a full-blown insurrection against the Bourbon monarchy swept the city. For three 'glorious days,' the people took to the streets, and according to one 1831 account cited by Benjamin, "Fewer [soldiers] were felled...by bullets than by other projectiles. The large squares of granite with which Paris is paved were dragged up to the top floors of the houses and dropped on the heads of the soldiers." Barricades were built and reinforced with the bodies of dead soldiers, "I saw a group of Swiss, who had been kneeling and begging for their lives, killed amid jeering, and I saw the stripped bodies of the gravely wounded thrown contemptuously onto the barricades to make them higher" (Arcades, 138). Revolutionaries appropriate the paving stones and height of buildings as weapons against soldiers. Barricades are strategically constructed around the city in worker's quarters. The demographics of sympathetic neighborhoods and the architecture of narrow streets paved with flagstone are both appropriated as weapons in the struggle. Similarly, hostile soldiers themselves become defensive and offensive weapons as their dead bodies are stripped of guns and ammunition and used as a raw material for the construction of more fearsome barricades against other soldiers.
[Left: Horace Vernet, Painting of Battle at Soufflot barricades at Rue Soufflot Street on 24 June 1848]
The July Monarchy was established after the overthrow of the Bourbons, and Louis-Philippe introduces wooden paving to the city to prevent future uprisings from having such easy access to stone projectiles. But in the midst of a protracted economic crisis of 1843-1848 radical Republicans, whose meetings were banned, began holding "dinner parties" which turned into riots when police tried to shut them down in the early months of 1848. Overturned omnibuses, uprooted trees, and fires were used to build barricades in the streets, at which point Louis-Philippe abdicated the throne and the Second Republic was established with universal male sufferage, freedom of the press and the abolition of slavery. The rich fled the city, over half of all businesses closed shop, 479 newspapers were founded, and 100,000 people were employed in national workshops to guarantee the droit à travail and ameliorate unemployment. However liberal voices displaced radical republicans in the Second Republic and moved to close the national workshops on June 21, 1848. Demonstrating the power of radical media to rapidly galvanize the population of Paris, the workers of the city take to the streets on the following day in an open revolt that lasts until the last barricade fell to General Cavaignac's troops on June 26th. 1,500 workers were killed and 15,000 prisoners were deported to Algeria. This was the beginning of counter-revolutionary architecture and the tactic of 'walking through walls' to avoid street fighting and barricades. Sigmund Engländer writes in 1864: "Already at the time of the June Insurrection, [Cavaignac's troops] broke through walls so as to be able to pass from one house to another" (Arcades, 135).
In December of 1848 Louis Bonaparte is elected the first president of France, and stages his famous coup d'état on 2 December 1951 becoming dictator before ascending to the throne the following year as emperor and king Napoleon III on the anniversary of the coronation of his uncle, Napoleon I, in a series of events ridiculed by Marx in 18th Brumaire. Napoleon III rules for just under two decades (until 1870) and has the curious historical distinction of being the first president and last monarch of France.
However, what concerns me here isn't so much the history of Napoleon III, as much as that of his chief architect, Baron Haussmann, who was commissioned to "modernize" the architecture of Paris from 1852-1870. Concerning this massive 19th century housing and construction boom in Paris, which is now called Haussmannization, a contemporary, André Cochut, wrote in 1868, "The financial policy of the Empire has been consistently guided by two main concerns: to compensate for the insufficiency of normal revenues and to multiply the construction projects that keep capital moving and provide jobs...With the gathering of this enormous subsidy, whether by direct loans (on which it was necessary to pay interest) or by putting to work available capital ( on which revenues were lost), there has resulted from these extra-budgetary operations an increase of debts and liabilities for the state" (Arcades, 135, emphasis mine). In other words, the French Empire inflated a housing bubble to compensate for falling revenues and provide opportunities for capital investments and job creation. Because real estate was a speculative investment without high rates of profitability, this massive subsidization of housing increased France's sovereign debt and led to private sector losses. There was, however, a brief period of a little over a decade, where the rising tide lifted all ships.
In addition to setting off a wave of fraudulent speculation, the reconstruction of Paris also had an explicit military objective: to make urban revolt in Paris more difficult. Benjamin writes in his "Exposé of 1935,"
Haussmann tries to shore up his dictatorship by placing Paris under an emergency regime. In 1864, in a speech before the National Assembly, he vents his hatred of the rootless urban population, which keeps increasing as a result of his projects. Rising rents drive the proletariat into the suburbs. The quartiers of Paris in this way lose their distinctive physiognomy. The "red belt" forms. Haussmann gave himself the title of "demolition artist," artiste démolisseur. He viewed his work as a calling, and emphasizes this in his memoirs. Meanwhile he estranges the Parisians from their city. They no longer feel at home there, and start to become conscious of the inhuman character of the metropolis...The true goal of Haussmann's projects was to secure the city against civil war. He wanted to make the erection of barricades in Paris impossible for all time...Widening the streets is designed to make the erection of barricades impossible, and new streets are to furnish the shortest route between the barracks and the worker's districts. Contemporaries christen the operation "strategic embellishment." (Arcades, 12)These two imperatives, to make streets more difficult to barricade by widening them and by displacing workers from the city core to the peripheral "red belt" and to plan the boulevards so as to ensure the circulation of soldiers from barracks to the remaining worker's districts are perfectly clear on a map.
Below is the 1760 plan of Paris by Vaugondy.
Below is an overlay of Haussmann's major streetwork (in red) and the newly constructed, or expanded military barracks of Napoleon III (in pink) from 1852-1870.
With the emergency powers invested in him by Napoleon III, Haussmann had achieved what no other Parisian architect had ever come close to: he split the city in half, connecting a renovated Rue de Sébastopol in the north to the renovated blvd. Saint-Michel in the south, burrowing though a densely clustered network of alleys and dead ends. The geographic center of the city, Île de la Cité (home of Nôtre Dame) was largely demolished and converted into a fortified military garrison. Other important connections are the two striking horizontal boulevards along Rue de Rivoli and St. Germain on the Right and Left Banks respectively. Rivoli would now extend from barracks at the Louvre Palace and Châtalet straight to the Bastille. A newly constructed barracks at Place de la République was connected to the strong north-nouth axis of Sébastopol. These long and, in some cases, 100 ft-wide thoroughfares replaced narrow streets and required the demolition of many neighborhoods that were predominantly working class. They also opened up very long sight lines: both aesthetically pleasing (as in the Ave. de l'Opéra) and useful from a military perspective for surveillance.
Below are some late-19th century post cards of these new "perspectives"
During the conflict with the Prussians, the Hôtel du Ville had already been established as a target for revolutionary activity -- though the building's revolutionary history goes back to the 1789 Revolution -- when on 30 October 1870, revolutionaries occupied the building and captured the Government of National Defense, demanding the establishment of a communard government. Napoleon had recently fortified the barracks adjacent to the Hôtel du Ville which were connected to one another by an underground tunnel built in 1807. Soldiers rescued the government by making use of this underground tunnel, and the memory of this episode is doubtlessly the reason for which the government moved its headquarters to Versailles. When the Paris Commune was established in 1871, the communards chose this strategic building as the site of their headquarters and as troops from Versailles moved in to crush the commune, the communards set the building on fire leaving behind only a stone shell.
What is at stake in this spatial dialectic is the way in which strategic embellishments and military urbanism can be seized by revolutionary militants and made to serve other ends. The state-sponsored militarization of the Parisian population during the war, led to a diffusion of arms and strategic knowledge that was turned against the state itself. The construction of fortified military positions as a part of the urban syntax of Paris created strategic positions on a map for communard occupations.
The creation of wide boulevards paradoxically led to the construction of stronger and better secured barricades. The tactic was perfected. Benjamin writes that the barricades stretched across the great boulevards, sometimes reaching a height of two stories. In other words, strategic embellishments had the effect of emancipating "the forms of construction from art." Architecture becomes "engineered construction." The bourgeoisie conceive and re-configure the city as a battlefield for class warfare and this new urban syntax becomes the site and means of revolutionary insurrection.
Towards a New Urban Militancy
This Imperial housing and construction boom is strikingly analogous to the contemporary creation of what my friend and comrade Maya Gonzalez has characterized as the "post-war state-driven housing market" in the United States. She argues that the "policy of the fiscal state facilitated a monetary and credit revolution that both enabled and actively promoted a new kind of economic growth based on the mass production and consumption of consumer durables. The end of World War II provided the material for this revolution, both in the form of the requisite consumers returning home from war, and in the key commodity which enabled the boom to take shape in its magnitude — housing."
In other words, the state created an explosive housing market that shaped a new working class of homeowners/consumers. Gonzalez writes, "At Fed-controlled interest rates — kept low throughout the expansion — investment could take place in products that accompany growing homeownership, such as cars, washing machines and other expensive appliances. The home became a concentrated node of the creation of new needs for the American working class — a space that needed to be filled with household commodities, that usually necessitated car ownership, and that could be infinitely improved and renovated. Finally, it represented an investment, a debt to be repaid, and ultimately an asset, and thus consistently produced a more compliant working population." Thus, the production and ownership of housing and consumer durables were absolutely crucial to the post-WWII boom in capitalism. Under the pretext of national security and interstate commerce, superhighways would quickly dominate the American urban syntax, linking up bedroom communities on the urban periphery with jobs at the core.
What sort of urban militancy could take root in this context? If the space of the metropolis is the product of a spatial dialectic between a military urbanism and urban militancy, how do we elaborate forms of struggle that would seize hold of this new spatial and political conjuncture of late capitalist decline? How does the Left shift to an analysis and practice of a "war of maneuver" after so many years of concern for cultural hegemony? Venturing an answer to these questions would be a bit premature, for this is the unthinkable horizon of the current political conjuncture. It is in this precise dialectical sense that the project of thinking communism today is analogous to the moment in which the young Marx began his analysis of political economy in the early 1840s.
If, as Benjamin writes, "dialectical thinking is the organ of historical awakening" and the "realization of dream elements, in the course of waking up, is the paradigm of dialectical thinking," then perhaps we are still within the epoch of postmodernity, dreaming of the epoch to come, precipitating our awakening however weakly. However, there is little doubt that with "the destablizing of the market economy, we begin to recognize the monuments of the bourgeoisie as ruins even before they have crumbled." (Arcades, 13)