On contemporary squatting and what the future might hold for us

“When they kick out your front door
How you gonna come?…”

As the discussion about the squatting ban is finally kicking off I’ll hereby try to add some insights to the situation. In English because of the international character of the squatting movement in the Netherlands as well as having the prospect of having to appeal on solidarity actions from abroad in the near future and thus it would suit us to keep our discussions on theory and practice as accessible as possible, also for those beyond the imaginary borders of the Dutch nation.

In this article I’ll be, besides giving some insights myself, sometimes referring to an article that has been recently posted on the Dutch Indymedia to complement, critique and provoke further discussion. This being the article ‘Anarchist perspective on the squatting ban’ written by ‘A collective‘. Besides that I want to highlight ‘The political bankruptcy of the squatting movement’ (published in Dutch) written under the name of ‘Luca Voorhorst’ (a well recommended read!) as I fully share her or his analyses of the Dutch squatting movement and instead of rewriting all the arguments I’d make more sense to read this as well and see the texts as complementary to each-other. As this article hasn’t been translated to English yet I’ll try to do so as soon as possible to keep this discussion as accessible as possible to everyone involved in the squatting movement.

Yet again it has to be said that this is a critique of the most common tendency’s within the Dutch squatting movement and luckily enough there’s quite some inspiring exceptions to these.

The impotence of contemporary Dutch squatting as a tool for radical social struggle
The Netherlands has a long and wild history of squatting starting in the early sixties. Throughout the past decades it has taken very different faces though it has to be said this was never a homogenous one. It’d be fair to state that in the past decade there’s been a strong de-politisation within the movement where a rather big part does not affiliate itself with radical politics anymore and for another part has become merely an identity that complements a countercultural identity; to squat as to fulfil the expectations of a rebellious ‘radical’ and countercultural image. Squatting has become a commodity. It’s merely a way to live for (pretty much) free for some and is something that complements their ‘anarchist identities’ to others. Most squatted spaces have been limited to either just housing or to places where we ‘consume (politics…?)’ as if running our in-crowd people’s kitchens in itself constitutes a political action. This is not to denounce the importance of having what we could call ‘positive’ initiatives within our movement. They are an essential part in the struggle for change. Though when this is predominantly the case without a constant critique and attack (whatever shape that might take) on contemporary society then the building of this alternative culture has become an end instead of a means, something that exactly runs along the lines of the arguments that some more reformist-orientated groups have made in offence to the squatting ban and this is something that allot of self-proclaimed radicals claim to disagree with.

Therefore I’d like to critique a phrase in the text that was written by ‘A collective’. Please consult the original article as well as these things are taken out of context and thus give an incomplete picture of the full statement they’re trying to make. So the ‘A collective’ states: “…squatting is an alternative way of living. It is not a third option to buying or renting a house. It is the complete opposite”. I have to disagree on this statement, first of all because I wouldn’t want to label squatting in itself as an alternative way of living. As it is put here the mere fact that one squats could be seen as a break with normality and that it is so regardless of the further praxis of it’s inhabitants and users. And thus it contradicts itself in stating that it is not a third option to renting or buying as squatting in itself, being a (semi-)legal way of getting space the mere act of squatting a space is in itself nothing but an alternative way of consuming, another way of getting space, for free, but still well within the margins of the legal framework that the state has put us in.

And this legal frame work that is so accepted, even by some of our anarchist friends in the movement, that restricts our possibilities and even more our imagination in what we could use the tool of squatting for in a context of social struggle. It’s also this legal framework that has shaped the squatting movement to what it now predominantly is, begging the state for acceptance and tolerance as the movement fulfils all these functions that are so terribly important to our society. The only spaces where alternative culture can roam freely and where we’ll have our parties! (…and shut the fuck up about how messed up contemporary social and economic organisation is). The only spaces where people on the margins of our society can find space! (..and thus instead of furthering critique and attack on the very condition that lead these people to being on the margins of society they become pacified yet they stay in a precarious situation). Opening space for some within our own ranks to denounce those going beyond institutionalised forms of protest to keep their space as there, all of a sudden, a line is crossed from the legal activity of squatting in itself to defending our spaces and in doing this breaking the law. It opened the path for the ‘friendly’ squatter, the cultural activist, the ones critical about our society but nonetheless not willing to challenge it in any way that goes beyond the ways the state gives us. It gave way to a split between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ squatter, us ‘bad’ squatters being left, wondering how to profile ourselves in this whole issue around the squatting ban, being unable to affiliate to most arguments put forward by the lobby monsters that our co-squatters can be.

And that’s perhaps one of the main problems of the radical political movements within the contemporary Dutch squatting movement. This legal framework created a schizophrenic situation where anarchists and left radicals are jumping out, and back in, the margins of the legal system. An activity that we perceive to be radical, or at least perceive to have some potential as a tool for radical politics has become an almost fully institutionalised form of protest. In being so creating a split between parts of the movement willing to go beyond institutionalised forms of resistance and those wanting to stay within it and in being so also losing a big potential in being a tool for social struggle. In my opinion this fact hasn’t been recognised as broadly as it should’ve been among the radical communities in the Netherlands. Awkwardly struggling to try staying within the margins when it comes to squatting and accepting the limits being put on us always left us somewhat uncomfortable. Especially in the Netherlands where most of the radical communities are organised in and around the squatting movement and the squatting movement works as (or at least should work as…) a catalysator for other aspects of social struggle it’s quite devastating being stuck in and organised around something that in itself merely constitutes a break with normality, not challenging social and economic organisation in itself, maybe sometimes giving alternative examples to it but never breaking with it and in this also providing us with an ‘alternative’ comfort zone. In the best cases we left people inspired with our alternative ways of organisation and leaving them thinking; “Isn’t it great that this is possible within our great liberal democracy..?” or something along these lines… How inspiring and great the initiatives might even be, they become a part of the contemporary society instead of challenging it. It’s lost it’s radical potential by staying within the boundaries of what’s accepted by the state and in so lacking the ability to challenge people’s perception on what’s wrong with contemporary social and economic organisation as well as these very boundaries the state puts upon us. I feel the need to emphasise here that I’m not stating that no means are good if they’re legal. I’m just putting forth some arguments why I think the illegality of a certain means might challenge our entire society more, in some aspects, than legal means might do.

Partly this schizophrenic situation might also explain the “…lack of analysis on the squatting issue from the side of the anarchists” – ‘A collective’. I slightly disagree as the topic is being discussed thoroughly among anarchists. Perhaps the lack of expression beyond personal conversations is explainable trough the schizophrenic position we take as anarchists facing the squatting ban. But slowly but surely it’s becoming apparent that this is nothing but a silence before the storm. Once the squatting ban is truly in place and when it will become clear how the state will deal with it in practice (which, especially in the Netherlands, all too often differs strongly from what’s in the books..), only then there’ll be a solid ground for anarchist organisation in the context of squatting. We never asked for our freedom, we took it, and we will keep doing it. The only organisation that is to be done for now is the collective discussion on how to position ourselves within the current reformist struggle to stop the ban on squatting, how we will organise squatting when it won’t be legal anymore and how we will deal with the prospect of repression.

And let’s try to see the positive sides of the whole story which have been expressed rather awkward and sometimes even blatantly disturbing “…making squatting illegal again it might even rid us of the parasitical element that has infested the squatting scene.” – ‘A collective’. Though I have to strongly disagree on the way the ‘A collective’ states it, especially labelling solely counter cultural elements in our communities as “parasitical”, we are facing a situation where ‘squatting’ is going to be ours again in its full potential. Where it’ll be solely the ground of radical critique and struggle against contemporary society and where this very form of protest will not be diluted by reformist tendency’s. This is not a plea for marginalisation of our movement but rather a callout to prepare for the building of an actual radical movement instead of sharing ground with reformist groups and being left with the impotent tool of squatting as it is now.

Let’s prepare ourselves for a time where squatting will be the ground for realising inspiring alternatives to contemporary society, not being a part of it. Lets prepare ourselves for creating grounds where to organise ourselves from politicly. Lets look forward to having truly liberated spaces again, where entering these spaces constitute a step out of contemporary society, where political discussions and practice find a space again. Where we can find the flaws in our ideas and socialisation and challenge ourselves in the process of building egalitarian communities. Where we can organise revolutionary solidarity with our friends in need here, everywhere, anywhere. Where we will meet people to try and realise the dreams we have in these liberated spaces but perhaps even more beyond the walls of these spaces.

Let the squatting ban be a slap in the face of those who’ve believed the lies of the state and were content with finding space in the margins of this society, ignoring the fact that this is a privileged position. Not bothering the situation of the less privileged in our society and taking comfort in the so called ‘free spaces’. Let it be a wake up call that the state doesn’t want us to challenge their lack of imagination, doesn’t want us to challenge the lack of joy in our everyday lives, a joy that we can not find in contemporary social organisation. And let them realise that if they want to keep their free-space that we’re going to have to challenge the entire structure of social and economic organisation and that those who stayed outside the margins of privilege while we were stuck in our comfort zones deserve our solidarity, wake up, you’re one of them now.

Welcome to the ‘wonderful’ world of the marginalised, where the mask of our great liberal democracy shatters in front of you, where you’re in constant conflict with the state, where you realise that you’re lucky because people get fucked over by the state far worse for far less then for what you perceive to be a ‘basic right’. But lets not forget it’s also a place where imagination, passion, desire and dreams can roam freely. Now is the time to start finding your friends and see what we can do when the time’s there as it’ll be a time of joy but as well a time of repression, let’s get ready..!

Zwartboek kraker

“…With your hands on your head
Or on the trigger of your gun?”

It has to be said that in being outside the margins of our legal system as a squatter we have to beware for an over-romanticisation of that situation. There’s nothing romantic about being locked up for not having the right passport etc.. But like I stated before, this only puts more weight on the need for solidarity to all those outside of the margins. I also realise I might sound slightly  over-positive on the whole situation, I guess in a way it’s trying to be a counterweight to the self-defeatist stance allot of our friends are taking in stating that it’ll all fall apart anyway after the squatting ban. This article is not intended to deny the possible repression and the fucked up situations we’re facing but rather to inspire and urge people to get organised.

“Wer nicht kämpft, hat schon verloren.”
– Bertolt Brecht

Recommended reading:

‘The political bankruptcy of the squatting movement’ by ‘Luca Voorhorst’ (in Dutch)

‘Anarchist perspective on the squatting ban’ by ‘A collective’

‘The poverty of Idealism: On the nature of struggle’ by ‘Schrift’

About this entry