Warren Draper delves into the thinking behind ambitious anarchist project A Commune in the North (ACitN).
It would be hard for anyone who has been involved with anarchism, cooperatives or radical ecology over the last three decades not to have come across the legend that is LeedsCath. If you are a zine lover, you have likely held a zine printed by her Leeds-based workers co-op Footprints. If you are part of a workers co-op yourself, or are a member of a housing co-op, then you may well know her from Radical Routes. One hundred LeedsCath’s and we’d already be living in utopia.
Sadly we don’t live in Cathalonia (sorry, couldn’t resist), but she has a vision which can get us closer if we dare to try. Writing in Peace News in 2019, Cath set out the motivations and intentions for her ‘impossible plan’:
“I want to create a place where people give according to their ability and receive according to their need; where sharing lives creates surplus time for caring, playing, creating and engaging in the wider world; where different generations live together, learn from each other and look after each other; where most needs for food, shelter and fuel can be met from the surrounding area […] Impossible, you cry – well, to be fair, I think so too, but I’m gonna give it a shot. I’ve been to utopia and seen it in action – at Twin Oaks in Virginia and at Can Tonal in Catalonia. I know it works at communes across Europe and I want it here.”
The enthusiasm which comes from meeting people who are already living their impossible dreams is contagious. It lifts you and it makes you strive for more freedom within your own life and the lives of those you love. It is why we made connections with revolutionaries, and why we formed the DIY Alliance. In 2017 Cath ‘did a Greta’ and sailed the Atlantic in her quest to learn from inspiring communistic projects in Europe and the Americas. The voyage took her to some amazing projects, including the inspiring Federacion Anaquista de Gran Canaria who have successfully homed over 70 families in La Esperanza, a squatted tower block in Guía, Las Palmas. And, of course, to Twin Oaks in Virginia, which convinced her of the possibility of founding a new wealth-share commune in the north of England. Cath’s journey should be a book in its own right, but you can read the much appended version on her blog, or in the latest edition of Diggers & Dreamers.
It was this journey which ultimately led to the formation of A Commune in the North (ACitN). D. Hunter of The Class Work Project gives a good overview of ACitN’s central vision:
“A Commune in the North, which as working titles go is descriptive and has a certain charm, aims to be the home of 200 people in a semi-rural spot in Yorkshire or East Lancashire. There is talk of setting up care homes, light industry, and other businesses which will create the economic base for the project; permaculture and sustainability are at the forefront of the founding members’ minds. Central to the project is personal development as a process of deconstructing the white-supremacist, patriarchal, capitalist system that has shaped us. There is an eagerness to ensure that it isn’t just a nice place to live but a political base for those with anarchist, libertarian-communist, and similar leanings, and a desire to ensure that the project entwines itself positively with the geographical community it finds itself in.”
As a community activist, I decided to become involved with ACitN because they are actively seeking a location where the geographical community they find themselves in is a working class community. As Dom’s article on the subject of communes and the working class articulates:
“I am convinced that with a left and a working-class as economically stratified as the one we have in the UK, that the collectivisation of our resources is vital before we can even come close to denting the capitalist class’s hold on society […] As well as providing a material benefit to many folks’ lives, collectivisation of resources and wealth within either the working class or the left as whole connects to another process that ACitN aims to pursue: the deconstruction of white-supremacist capitalism that shapes our thoughts and actions.
“In both Chav Solidarity and Tracksuits, Traumas and Class Traitors I wrote about this extensively, and through the workshops we’ve been running at The Class Work Project this is something we’ve tried to push into social movements. Again, I don’t want to go into much depth here, but will say that this work needs to be carried out both individually and collectively. This is not in order to make us more fully realised or just better people, or to provide an excuse for relentless navel gazing and narcissism — although it certainly runs the risk of that. The purpose is for us to be able to see how we might reproduce capitalist values within our organising practices, so as to best avoid this.”
ACitN realises that — in our collective fight for a better, braver, brighter future for all — we have an awful lot to learn from each other. The idea that there is a singular perfect vanguard with all the answers should be left back with the 20th Century among the ruins which those vainglorious vanguards helped to create. The fight is for autonomy, solidarity, peace and diversity, not the one-size-fits-all dogma of the authoritarians. Nor will the working class be freed simply by becoming more middle class.
Nobody has all the answers, especially those whose lives are relatively comfortable thanks to the system we are trying to oppose. As I have previously observed, those whose lives are furthest removed from the dominant system have the most to offer when it comes to building real alternatives to that system. So ACitN is actively trying to build a space which facilitates — but does not dominate — the process of collectivisation. One which not only satisfies the needs of those who live there, but which helps to build community wherever it may find itself. To these ends the plan of ACitN is:
- Egalitarian – income/wealth sharing, equal access to resources and decision-making
- 100-200 people
- Mostly communal, with porous/soft/flexible boundaries (everyone has their own room)
- Generating income collectively through community businesses
- Relatively self-sufficient and with an understanding that always increasing self-sufficiency is probably wise given the increasing problems facing us/society/the planet
- Skill- & knowledge-sharing inside and beyond the community
- A commitment to always improving inter-personal communication and self-knowledge
- enjoy and take pride in work and doing a good job and serving others/the community
- A regenerative approach to the health of the land, ourselves, our relationships and our ecology
- An understanding that the state and capitalism are not our friends
- solidarity and practical aid beyond our community
- An inter-generational community which values the contributions and meets the needs of different age groups: from each according to their ability, to each according to their need.- Being as accessible as possible: physically, mentally and emotionally
- A place of refuge and hope
- Ideally in West or South Yorkshire or East Lancashire.
It is not going to be easy. The situation regarding land and property rights in England is among the most inequitable in the world, second only to countries like Brazil — although Brazil has Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST), a landless workers movement seizing back land for the common good (Impossible here? … You won’t know unless you try!). But it should be obvious to anyone paying attention, that if we want a better world then we are going to have to build it ourselves. And why not? We are more possible than they can powerfully imagine!
If you’d like to get involved or find out more, vist acommuneinthenorth.org.uk.
If you have some spare cash, a house or some acreage, get in touch!
~ Warren Draper