It is very important for revolutionaries to investigate the organization of power in the regions in which they live and operate. Why? Because if we are going to fight for a liberated world, then we better have a solid historical and strategic foundation. A comprehensive analysis of objective conditions can help us develop a plan of action that is rooted in concrete realities and possibilities, rather than just surface appearances, or ideological abstractions.
All too often, analysis is either confused with academic dogma, or is limited to the simple appearance of things. We have to break out of these stifling tendencies, by forging a new path, or orientation. This means critically interpreting the world we live in, not by imposing our categories on it, nor simply by observing its ordinary appearance. What we have to do is uncover a concealed social reality, and bring that into plain view.
To excavate the realities and possibilities of any social terrain is a tremendous task, which should not be taken lightly. It entails an intensive learning process, informed by direct participation in local struggles. This brings us to the question of practice. The research we do means little if it does not help us engage with upsurges of resistance as well as everyday acts of defiance. We are trying to develop a praxis; a combination of theory and practice. This is an extremely complicated process, especially in an urban situation, which is the situation we find ourselves in.
Urban space is highly contradictory and paradoxical, much more so than the prior sites in which major class dynamics where located, such as in the factory. The urban space absorbs greater numbers of people and practices, and in this sense, it is the ultimate habitat for collective social life, much more so than predominantly rural spaces. Yet at the same time, this large accumulation of people and things is accompanied by increased stratification, exploitation, violence, poverty, and alienation. The class struggle, as it unfolds in the urban environment, reaches a level of social tension which is unmatched in any other human environment.
According to the World Health Organization, most people in the world now live in urban zones, and this trend is only going to grow. Class struggle in an urban space has more of an impact than in primarily rural spaces. In less urbanized areas, people are less connected and influenced by one another; disruption in one spot does not necessarily effect another. But in a highly urbanized society, it is more difficult to counter a revolutionary struggle which threatens state power. An urban revolution, waged by networks of small, independent affinity groups, with highly motivated revolutionaries, basic materials, an appealing political cause, a solid strategy, and good security, can undermine state power over a considerable area.
A word on definition: when speaking of the “urban,” this refers not only to the city proper, but also to the suburban peripheries which are organized around the centralized city core. In other words, “urban space” encompasses the “inner-city” as well as the “suburbs.” Suburbs of Philadelphia, such as Chester, Manayunk, Coatsville, and even more distant suburbs like West Chester and Downingtown, are all connected to the Philadelphia regional economy through the movement of commodities — labor and goods. The urban economy is often organized throughout areas which are geographically delineated from each other, such as Philly PA, Camden NJ, and Wilmington DE. Considering this, “metropolis” might be the best word to describe the urban space, a sprawling zone where commodities circulate far beyond the official city limits.