Squatter’s Digest: A hard-hitting start

What a start to 2019 — some of the news that has kicked off the year has been so big it will already be familiar to many readers. The eviction of ADM for example. For 21 years the squatted docklands in Amsterdam were a place of pilgrimage for squatters and other weirdos all over the world. It’s a damn shame to see it go, the amount of creativity that came out of one space surely lends itself to the argument for free spaces. In response to this many actions were taken out across Europe, and a new squat was opened in Bristol in solidarity. Even more recent was the eviction of Klinika in Prague which began approximately one week ago. Klinika was an autonomous space that for three years hosted a people’s kitchen, political discussions, and had a bar and ran alternative and music events. There’s a lot to discuss about both evictions, but I’d like to touch on some other updates before that.

Back home, in a not-so-squat-related event, the crew from Syndikat, an anarchist pub collective in Berlin, dropped in to pay a visit to their landlords, the Pears Brothers, who were terminating their tenancy without any real reason after the anarcho-pub had been there for 33 years. Pears Global Real Estate Investors are a company that tried to hide their involvement in the ownership of Syndikat through the use of many offshore front companies, and do this all over the world. The Syndikat collective came to London to surprise their landlords with a little action outside their London headquarters. Fun was had making placards and banners, and as a result of showing up on their doorstep unannounced, the Syndikalists were rewarded with meeting one of the executive officers who promised to at least look into their case. Direct action might have at least increased the chances of getting the goods. Keep an eye out for the documentary the crew are producing about their struggle, and hopefully we will know soon the fate of Syndikat.

The Syndikat protest was a very peaceful, playful one, one to remind the owners that they knew who they were, and that they wanted to maintain the relationship they had to continue running the pub. A kind of theme for this month’s piece is the (false) dichotomy of violence vs non-violence when it comes to struggles. And of course to look at it from the lens of a squatter. Which is why we’ll return to the plight of ADM and Klinika in a bit. But first, some violence! (I promise I’m not actually glorifying violence, but this one is a good one).

Approximately one month ago three people were dragged from their house in Roscommon, Ireland by private security hired by the KBC Bank to evict them. The physical behaviour of the men provoked outrage, especially as video hit the internet showing the Gardai simply standing there and allowing it to take place, not once convinced that the actions of the bailiffs was anything but reasonable (not that there’s any faith lost when there’s no faith in police in the first place). And then it transpired that the men were in fact from Northern Ireland, and considered themselves British. Well, that didn’t go down well. Twenty-four hours later a mob of 50 people armed with baseball bats and firearms stormed the property, and kicked the living crap out of the security guards and burnt their cars. Presumably having remembered the hell the British had put people through in the past, there was nary a thing said that wasn’t in admiration of the mob. Two men were arrested in the wake, but then released without charge.

I tell you who would like that particular piece of news – those wacky anarcho-squatters from SLAP – the Squatters of London Action Paper. A sporadically-released newsheet that gets distributed across the UK, containing local and international news as well as entertaining quips and features, it’s not nearly as painful to read as the Digest, and I hear from local sources that they may be putting out a new edition very shortly. Keep your eyes peeled for that then when it arrives in physical copy and presumably digitally on here and libcom.org.

So. ADM, and Klinika, both facing down evictions in the space of a week. This really sucks, I have visited both places, have friends there, and found them to be incredible examples of autonomous free spaces. What caught my eye though, was that when eviction was due for both squats, there was communication that any resistance to the bailiffs or police would be non-violent. To be non-violent in itself is not something I want to criticise, I wasn’t there and it wasn’t me facing down the pigs. What I want to do is break down the concept a little, and talk about how we frame these things, and what it means for other people.

Firstly, the executors of the court orders, bailiffs or police, are not prevented from utilising at least some forms of violence in enforcing these orders. So it needs to be acknowledged that to deny yourself or others the possibility or opportunity to engage in “combative” tactics is to potentially (though not necessarily, and I’ll return to this) put yourself at a disadvantage at a practical level. People were still unfortunately arrested and beaten at both ADM and Klinika despite the proclamations of non-violence.

On a more philosophical level, I find it strange that there needed to be a communication that the resistances would be non-violent from the beginning. I appreciate that both of these squats are places that see a multitude of people come through them, so there is a need to respect the capabilities and requirements of individuals on site (including children), and there may be people attending the eviction that need communicating to about particular boundaries, but to publicise this intention in advance not only informs state forces ahead of time, it starts to creep dangerously into that false dichotomy, and hierarchy, of violence and non-violence in struggle. Other similar concepts appear in the squat world, the good squatter/bad squatter divide, or the deserving and undeserving poor. I don’t mean to insinuate that fellow squatters are intentionally promoting this divide or hold these views, but I question the need to ever describe any action as non-violent due to the immediate image it throws up of any actions that are not non-violent being negative in contrast. Just like the good/bad squatter trope, the idea is not invalid, but presents more of an internal issue for people to work out the dynamics amongst themselves, I feel that it shouldn’t be externalised for publicity’s sake, playing one group of people involved in a struggle off against another. (This in fact recently happened in a squat in London in which a crew attempted to stave off the owner of a building from evicting them and other crews by blaming the other crews for illegally using electricity and suggesting that the owner should use the police to evict the “bad” squatters. It unsurprisingly didn’t work).

Now as I mentioned, I don’t mean to slag off the idea of non-violence in favour of some machismo-centred indiscriminate violence. Non-violent resistance can be effective, empowering, and can in fact hold the high ground where violence may be futile. And not just the metaphorical high ground. I haven’t stated that Klinika has actually been evicted, as it is a story that has not yet played out to the end. Their resistance is ongoing. Initially the thugs broke in and started clearing people and furniture out. But then it became apparent that there were people on the roof (high ground, geddit?), and there weren’t enough security to effectively clear everyone out from the building. What resulted was a pause in the eviction, and people returned to the squat to hold a political hip-hop and hardcore gig that night, despite there still being security in the premises, who proceeded to pepper-spray punters. The people on the roof have now been up there for 6 nights, in freezing temperatures, with people throwing up food and drinks to the roof-top squatters to keep them going. How long they will last is unclear, but the massive support and publicity they are receiving only grows the longer they are there.

Would they have been more successful if they had taken baseball bats to the security? Probably not to be fair. And that’s why each situation needs to be dealt with according to its circumstances. Most successful revolutions and struggles have not been exclusively non-violent, and to deny that can play into issues of privilege (Peter Gelderloos has a lot to say on this in How Non-Violence Protects The State, and The Failure Of Non-Violence, I’m too lazy and ill-informed to expand on these ideas right now). That’s why I believe we should not polarise the issue of violence. It’s not that people aren’t supporting each other, it’s not that most people don’t believe in a diversity of tactics, but I feel that we need to be aware of how that is presented and communicated so that we don’t inadvertently throw others under the bus.

When it comes to squats, I support anyone who chooses whichever method they see best to defend their homes and spaces. Violent resistance has not necessarily provided success in relation to other passive resistances. In fact most times when we have provided “active” resistance we have still ended up on the street with our possessions, just as much as we have when not fighting back. But then we have other examples, such as the more recent case of squatters in Manchester who fought back against bailiffs and police, who buggered off as a result. It works sometimes and that’s a fact. We’re in this struggle together against the property magnates and developers, we should support people however they choose to resist. The division is upwards, let’s not make it sideways. From London to Amsterdam, to Prague – keep supporting squats and eviction resistances everywhere.


Pic courtesy of Outer Site Pictures