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Anarchist Squatting and Land Use in the West
Direct Action and the Critique of Real Estate
By Anders Corr
Anarchist Squatting and Land Tenure: Direct Action and the Critique of Real Estate
Occupation Insurrection: Towards an Anarcho-spatialist Land Tenure
Towards an Anarchist Land Tenure
Occupy, Resist, Insurrect
Scream, Envision, Squat
Anarcho-agrarianist Thought and Action
The Search and Struggle for an Anarchist Land Tenure introduction 'Squats' are growing as a form of resistance within the anarchist community. In many North American and in most major cities of Europe, anarchists see squatting as a practical way of subverting current dominative constructs of real estate while at the same time creating a space for the growth of community forms which prefigure the sought-for anarchist utopia. This current activity continues an anarchist project against spatial property, that is, the commodification of land and housing, over the last several centuries which have included anarcho-agrarian occupations of land, agrarian uprisings, and rent strikes.
The basic societal construct which anarchist squatting challenges is the ownership of land. Land is the ground upon which we walk, the element from which our food grows, and the object for which generations of anarchists have struggled and died. Land is essential to survival, for every moment that we live we rely on its presence. A 1985 Green Anarchist editorial indicates the importance which anarchists place on the
reorganization of dominative land tenure:
The land is the source of all wealth, the source of all freedom and we want back the land. Without land we are condemned to the servility of employment to earn the necessities of our life; we are condemned to Blind Obedience legally implicit in all job contracts; without land our small caring communities are destroyed; without land we can never be self-sufficient; without land we must doff our caps to the landowners and bosses. Without land there can be no freedom. (8) From the seventeenth century Diggers to squatters in New York City today, land has occupied a central position in anarchist ideology and praxis. In Noam Chomsky's recent film Manufacturing Consent, for example, he mentions the need for a movement that challenges the distribution of resources, pointing to feminist and civil rights movement which has made strong social change. An important area which is not sufficiently addressed, according to Chomsky, is the distribution of natural resources. The number of anarchists who have concentrated on land tenure are many. Most of Joshua K. Ingalls' (1816-1898) anarchist activity in North America revolved around land and Charles Fowlers' (1851-1889) Kansas City paper The Sun committed a significant proportion of its space to the inequitable distribution of land (Reichert 509-512). Several anarchist books and journal issues are solely devoted to land issues, squatting, or housing. George Woodcock's New Life to the Land, written in World War II England, calls for autarchy in the production of food, saying that this would contradict the domestic food deficit needed to balance industrial capitalist exports of manufactured goods. Revolutionary societies, he maintains, must be selfsufficient in that they will be faced with economic boycott by remaining capitalist powers, a theory born out by the economic blockades of Cuba and Nicaragua by the United States. He goes on to outline a system of federated agricultural collectives doubtless patterned on Spain's anarchist collectives of a few years earlier, and ends by calling for action in the realms of 'pan-occupation,' rent strikes, boycotts of the wartime centralized marketing organization and large capitalist farmers, and the organization of mutual-aid societies. Colin Ward's books on housing promote user-control and development. "The Land" issue of London's Anarchy (7/64) makes an initial stab at what anarchists think about land in the introduction, and the articles cover agriculture, soil conservation, and resistance to eviction. The "Use of Land" issue of The Raven (No. 17, 1992) covers matters of property and expropriation, intentional communities, the Spanish collectives, the land question in nineteenth century English politics, the right to communal recreational paths through private property, and the nineteenth century radical land politics, environmentalism, and land war in Scotland. Finally, Green Anarchist's "Land Issue" (1993), covers radical environmental actions, inequitable land distribution, the history and politics of land in Britain, and the compatability of property and land.
Books on anarchist squatting abound, including Ron Bailey's The Squatters, which gives a history of squatting in England and outlines the London squatter scene which he took part in during the 1960s. New Anarchist Review's Ideal Home is a 'how to' book on squatting in London for the 1980s. Hooligan Press' Squatting in West Berlin provides pictoral as well as textual history of an extremely militant squatter struggle during the 1980s. Two issues to date of Shadow Press' Squatter Comics feature cartoonists' vision of the squatter scene of New York's Lower East Side, and the Hackney Community Defense Associations' pamphlet "Squats 'n' Cops" covers some of London's squatter struggles in 1993.
It is not surprising that anarchists are concerned with land issues given that a plethora of problems facing them are caused, at least in part, by inaccessibility to land. Many anarchists walk the line between homelessness and squatting. Without land on which to house themselves or even grow gardens, many are forced to prostrate themselves before an employer for their livelihood. Depending upon a person's sex, race, international location, and class, people are accorded differential access to land (Corr forthcoming 1996).
Many, especially in the third world, are plagued with malnutrition. Eviction of individuals and entire communities engenders severe distress and cultural destruction.
Because of the growing importance of land and housing among anarchists, the following is an attempt to compile anarchist literature, current practice, and pertinent non-anarchist literature to form an exposition of anarchist philosophy regarding land and housing.
critique of land and housing ownership
An easy way of understanding anarchist land and housing direct action is to examine the critique which forms its basis. Egalitarianism is a foundational component of an anarchist critique of land ownership.
Once society is ready to struggle for equality, the ownership of land is doomed to dismissal. "Land ownership is an injustice," states Ana, an anarchist squatter in Mexico, "because there is maldistribution of land instituted against the will of the people." (Ana and Gustavo 1) Ana's impression is congruent with existing studies on the distribution of land. Of all private land in the world, nearly three quarters is controlled by just 2.5% of all landowners (NI 11/87). An average of 71.6% of rural households in Africa, Latin America, the Near East and the Far East (excluding China) are landless or near landless (Sinha 16).
These statistics are commonly presented as if top-heavy land ownership patterns are unique to the third world, when in fact similar statistics exist for North America and Western Europe. In England 1% of the population owns 75% of the land and 30% is owned by 1,700 individuals - of whom 300 are peers and 700 members of old families of the landed gentry. The 400 richest individuals in the country own 4.4 million acres between them and 103 of them are members of the aristocracy. In 1974 33% of Portuguese families lived in shantytowns or houses with more than one family. For the working class, rent accounted for 40% of the family budget in the Lisbon area (Mailer 204)."The general pattern of large-scale land tenure has changed little in the last few centuries;" writes Francis Reed, "what have been sacrificed are the small proprietor and the Common Rights of the majority, in the cause of Empire and enormous gains for the few." (30) Statistics and scholarship on the distribution of land within the United States also reveals a dramatic concentration of wealth and widespread impoverishment. According to the publication Geodata (Hartzok 2), 3% of the United States population owns 95% of all U.S. private land. 568 companies control 301.7 million acres of U.S. land, which is more than 22% of all the nation's private land. Totaling up the worldwide land interest of these same companies, their holdings consist of a total area larger than that of Europe -- almost 2 billion acres. International Paper for example, the largest U.S. landowner, controls 8 million U.S. acres and 20 million worldwide, roughly two-thirds the size of England (Riker 43). The bottom 78% of U.S. landowners own only 3% of private land, and when taking into account inter-familial hierarchy, 80% of U.S. residents own no land at all (Lewis 1980). Excepting the 1930s depression, homelessness is greater in the early 1990s than at any other time in U.S. history. The National Union of the Homeless estimated that there are from three to five million homeless people in the United States, and social service agencies and local governments claim that the number is growing (Aulette 253) The situation seems to be worsening as the poor lose land to the rich. Geisler points out that "real estate constitutes 55 percent of the total net worth of all U.S. households (up from 48% in 1963) and the share of all real estate held by the nonrich is falling over time. The shares held by the rich (top 10 percent of households in wealth terms) and the very rich (top 1%) are increasing... Not only is real estate highly concentrated, but it constitutes a major wellspring of future wealth, an inauspicious situation for the poor and near poor."
(forthcoming in Geisler, 1995) The above U.S. statistics illustrate the distribution of land held privately. Land owned by the U.S.
government, 42% of the national land mass, largely benefits middle and upper class citizens as well.
Geisler points out that public land policy routinely subsidizes the wealthy through "one sided access to timber, grazing, water and mineral rights for well-endowed interest groups, lucrative commercial concessions to US and foreign corporations, and private recreational complexes on or near national parks, forests and seashores." Geisler maintains that land is controlled for the advantage of the rich on a governmental level through zoning and land use planning. "Through much of the current century, those in power have used land use control to benefit themselves and to advance their plans for growth or no growth." The losers in this equation are invariably people of color and low-income communities.
eviction In order to enforce this inequity, anarchists note, absentee landowners evict those who cannot pay for the land they need to grow food, do business, or construct shelter. Forced eviction of the poor from land or space they desperately need is repeated over and over throughout the centuries in communities across the
globe. Writes Shelley in The Mask of Anarchy:
Asses, swine, have litter spread, And with fitting food are fed, All things have a home but one,- Thou, Oh Englishman hast none! (Anarchy 23: 9) The pain of eviction experienced by communities in early anarchist history continues today. Philadelphia
anarchist Aisha tells of her experience being evicted by a landlord:
At first he said I couldn't use the phone anymore. Then he kept yelling at me for leaving the lights on. I used to toast bagels in the oven. I was really dumb, I used to turn the oven to 400 degrees, put a bagel in and forget. I did that one day and he said I had to get out. Where can you find a place to live if you make fifty dollars a week? My last week there I was already evicted, he said I could stay one more week. My last day he said get out. I toasted a bagel again that day, forgot and left the oven on. He called the cops, and told them that I had turned on the gas and was trying to kill him. I was downstairs and these cops came in with a flashlight and they said 'Are you Aisha -----? We hear you are turning the gas on..." They were cool but they threw me out immediately. I had to give them back my keys. To get my stuff out of the house I had to have a police escort. I had to call the cops to come and get my stuff out of the house when I was ready to move. This lead into my next squat. (personal interview) As would have been the case if Aisha did not join a squat, many recent evictees become homeless when they cannot find housing. Anarcho-punk band A.P.P.L.E. sings the "Shantytown Blues (Homelessness)" in
a 1987 45 release:
See a man lying in the street He has no home He lives in the streets Asking passing people what they could spare? But they don't reply they only stare And I ask you Why we let this be? "Cause it doesn't concern me" Living in a park Living in a box Living in the subway Can you close your eyes so you just don't see they are human beings just like you and me? And I ask you Why you do not see? "Cause it doesn't concern me" Another Shantytown rises from the ground Has the great state forgotten? Or is it that the state just doesn't care? A sensitive fascist is very rare Ask the state why they let this be? "Cause it doesn't concern me" The essence of eviction is the dispossession of a user by someone more powerful than they through the use or threat of force. According to anarchist philosophy, eviction wastes human life and energy when the user/evictee has less access to resources than the evictor. Flora Park in Hamburg Germany was designed and tended by squatters and autonome in an abandoned construction site. "It took a lot of work but the results were worth it," according to one participant. "All kinds of people went into the park each day to relax, communicate, etc." (PE early 1992) In the summer of 1991.it took a small battle to evict the