The Revolution in the city is possible: Historical notes of yesterday, today and tomorrow

Michael Schraibman

The revolution of the cities against the feudal lords takes place in Europe in XII-XVI centuries. Local residents, most of whom were small, independent craftsmen and traders, united in groups (guilds, workshops, or brotherhood -something resembling a modern cooperatives) organize self-governing cities. They choose a municipal authority for the administration of social functions and sometimes assembly of inhabitants control the work of municipalities. They refuse to pay tribute to the feudal lords and their armed gangs. Cities of Europe cease to obey the laws of feudal lords or kings (or, at least, seek to change these laws in their favor).

When we hear the word “feudalism”, it often misleads us. We imagine some noble people who somehow live better than others. It should be remembered that the lords does not fundamentally differ from modern gangsters. Feudal lords were the gang leaders who collected tribute from the towns and villages, “protecting” them from other gangs. The inhabitants of European cities rebelled against them just as workers and farmers of Southern México are revolting today against the mafia. These independent cities were called communes. “Commune is a disgusting word”, wrote in the XII century Church chronicler Guibert de Nogent…

Commune Incliti Poloniae regni… (Kraków, 1506; C.107.g.14) is known as Łaski’s Statues

Some cities have achieved independence without bloodshed. Others, such as cities of Northern France (Amiens, Lyon, Beauvais, Soissons, etc.) and Flanders (Ghent, Bruges, Lille) became self-managed centers as a result of armed struggle. The cities of Northern and Central Italy -Venice, Genoa, Siena, Florence, Lucca, Ravenna, Bologna etc.- became into communes in IX-XII centuries. Modern Switzerland emerged from the Association of Cantons with mixed rural and urban populations that appeared in the XIII century.

The cities-associations co-organised the trade and repelled together attacks of feudal lords and kings. Northern Italian cities (Lombard LeagueNorth Alliance of the 16 cities) defeated the powerful Emperor Frederick Barbaros in the year 1176. The Hanseatic League was a huge political and economic Union, which unites nearly 300 autonomous cities in North-Western Europe from mid-XII to mid-XVII centuries. The Hanseatic League developed thanks to trade expansion along the shores of the Baltic and North seas. In Spain in the years 1520-1522 armed “Rebelión de los Сomuneros” raged. There was movement of cities led by Toledo against the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of Europe: history of the continent did not go towards the creation of federations of independent cities. Communes could not completely destroy their enemies, eliminate all feudal relations (racket) and every one of Kingdom and Empire centrally involved in the same robbery. If this opportunity -the opportunity to put the Federation cities instead of feudal gangs and Nation-States- would be implemented, modern Europe would have been different. Perhaps it would be similar to Switzerland. There would be no Nation-States or monarchies, nor the European Union. Instead there would be a giant Confederation of Independent towns and villages. It is not our ideal, but today Switzerland is the most free, rich and technically advanced country in Europe.

Gstaad, Swtizerland.


Today, many people criticize the EU, USA and other bureaucratic machinery of the States. Why? These machines have enormous dimensions, as they are designed for centralized management of hundreds of millions people. Of course, democracy cannot exist in such systems. In addition, centralized bureaucratic apparatus has grossly violated the interests of the regions. Despite any declarations or elections every 4 years, the State apparatus composed of millions of officials, manages complex social processes daily. All poor people are in its full power.

However there is an alternative. It was formulated by the American social researcher, historian, anarchist; Murray Bookchin. This alternative is called libertarian communalism. It is based on the idea of society as a Confederation of Independent Municipalities. Free cities and villages where the power is based on local residents -meetings and referenda run by using methods of direct democracy, proceeding from its own interests. They vote for whatever laws they need at meetings or referendums, choosing their own local councils. Volunteer militia keep order and perform the tasks of self-defense. Self-governing cooperatives are managing local property. Organized in cooperatives producers will abide by the decisions of local assemblies. Independent in domestic matters, the free cities will join the Confederation in order to solve economic, cultural, scientific and military tasks.

Murray Bookchin is one of the main ideologists for the revolution in Northern Syria (Rojava), influenced by Zapatista Insurrection in Chiapas 20 years before it.

Is this possible? For supporters of libertarian communalism and anarchism revolution is not a Bolshevik nightmare. For them, the social revolution is a continuation and development of the process that was started by the revolution of the communes of the XII century.

Many people today criticize large-centralized State. It dictates to people how they should live, suppress the local culture and economy. However, critics often suggest as an alternative a return to the strong Nation-State (supporters of Brexit in the UK, National Front of Marine Le Pen in France, etc). That is different, but the same bureaucratic system. But, theoretically, there is another possibility -transformation of Europe into a giant Confederation of Autonomous Municipalities. In this sense, the social revolution is the continuation of a very ancient historical struggle.

Libertarian communalism has spread widely. In México, in the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca, Michoacán and Chiapas, tens of autonomous municipalities declared itself. They refuse to pay taxes to the Mexican government, establish the authority of the Community Assemblies, choose their own municipal councils, take land into collective property, creating the Communitarian Police/Guard. In Syria in some Arab or Arab-Kurdish cities there is the power of Local Councils and they have learned to live without a State…

CRSJ-PCP (Citizen & Popular Police) marching in La Montaña region in Guerrero, México.

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