Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Continuity Anarchism

Not that many people consciously distinguish between the classical anarchist movement and the modern one and no one really treats them as fundamentally separate, but in aggregate they take on a different flavour when you read about them, see films about them and hear about them.

It's just a way that the story gets told.

Like this (Which I'm not criticising by the way, it's funny. I'm the one who isn't funny)

99 years - The Classical Anarchist Period 1840 - 1939

Anarchism had it's 'heyday' (in this version of the story) in the years between the time that the first of the classical anarchist thinkers, Proudhon, declared himself to be an anarchist in 1840, until the defeat of the Spanish revolution 99 years later.

And it's some damn tale to tell...

The gradual development of the theory, the initial communal experiments, the variety of the ideas coming up, mutualism then collectivism and individualism and then the rise of the mammoth; anarcho-communism. The first daring attempt to put it into practice on a larger scale in the Paris Commune and the dramatic split with the Marxists a year later. The glory days of anarcho- syndicalism in France, Spain, Italy, Argentina where huge proportions of the workers were organised into anarchist unions. The chaos of the Russian revolution, Nestor Makhno's free territory, the Black Army pitted against the Red Army... all eventually culminating in the glory of the Spanish revolution, the deconstruction of the capitalist system, heroic international displays of solidarity and then coming to an abrupt end in betrayal at the hands of supposed allies and then defeat at the hands of the fascists...

And then the story stops.

We know that the Second World War happened immediately afterwards, we know that most of the classic thinkers were dead or dying, the big groups were stopped in their tracks either suspended or finished entirely by the war.

And as we emerged into the light after the war was over the new world was one in which western imperialist capitalism was pitted against Russian authoritarian communism, and where was anarchism? Left scratching it's head wondering what went wrong.

72 years of post war Anarchism 1945 - Now (2017)

Anarchism re-emerged as something new and different (again, in this version of the story). It was now about art, sexual revolution and counter-culture, even pacifism and more recently about identity politics and more anarcho-adjectives than you can shake a stick at. And in amongst this we haven't really got anywhere or done anything particularly significant, just talked a lot, dressed up and every now and then throw a brick through a Starbucks window.

Re-evaluating this story

But is this right? Has the focus of the anarchist movement really changed? If so has it widened to demand anarchy for every part of everyone everywhere, or has it narrowed to fit only the demands of the first world's rebellious youth?

My answer is no, I don't think that's the right story. The recent developments in anarchism are logical developments, we're still on the same course as we've always been.

Both the WWI and WWII were huge interruptions in the anarchist movement but both times the spark of anarchy survived and the fire continued to rise.

Anarchism was linked with feminism and anti-racism before and after, anarchists participated in large scale social movements before and after. Many anarchists of the classical period survived long into the post war period (Rudolf Rocker was with us right up to 1958 for example) and many anarchists that we think of as mainly belonging to the modern period cut their teeth back in the 20s and 30s (Boockchin, Ward, Chomsky). Also a great many of our organisations were founded way back in the old days and never really stopped (IWW, IWA etc.)

Don't think for a second that if the communards of Paris could have seen the Zapatista uprising in '94 or been present at the declaration of autonomy in Rojava in '14 that they wouldn't have thought it was beautiful or that they wouldn't have been proud of all the other shit we've been up to and just how far we've taken the ideas of anarchy. There are concepts and behaviours that we have integrated into our movement now that people back then would have kicked themselves for not having thought of, just as we all will in 50 years for things we can't see now.

No revolution is pure and perfect we are mistaken if paint an unrealistically romantic picture of the past or if we write the present off as corrupted or dull.

With that in mind, lets celebrate the modern anarchist movement's top 5 (in no particular order)

1. The Spanish Revolution - You heard me. This fight wasn't over until it was over, and it wasn't over until the 1960s. In 1949 Italian anarchists raised the black and red flag outside the Spanish consulate in Genova and went inside and burned the archives. There were 2000 skirmishes between 1943 and 1952 with guerrilla fighters who wouldn't give in and accept the Franco regime. They even conducted an air-raid with a light aircraft from France in 1948. Read more here.

2. The Zapatista Uprising In 1994 and until present day. Hundreds of thousands of people participated and this year as it turns 23 years old the struggle continues. Land deeds were burnt and prisoners were set free. It was neither mainly comprised of anarchists, nor was it led by anarchists but anarchism was never far away and few of us have failed to notice it's libertarian-socialist character Read More here. Marxists were there too of course but this takes nothing away, we fought side by side with the Poum in Spain too.

3. The Battle of Seattle 1999 - One of the biggest and best organised of protests in first world cities of recent times, the protests at the gathering of the World Trade Organisation in Seattle meant something. 40,000 people showed up and the majority of them wanted nothing less than to put a stop to the conference, even if it was a bit of a rag tag bunch with everyone from hippies to conspiracy theorists involved, it's remembered for the anarchist involvement. What this showed was that even in a first world nation full of imperialism and conservatism and even in a relatively prosperous period where unemployment was low we can still get enough people out on the streets to rock the boat. All this set the scene for 'Occupy' movement 12 years later as it became clear that the relatively good times were coming to an end.

4. Anarchist Exarcheia Athens, Greece - Neither fascists or police will enter this neighbourhood lightly. Anarchists have marched through openly armed (link here), so many buildings are squatted that newspapers are reporting that police are unable or unwilling to intervene (link here), thousands of refugees in the biggest crisis since World War 2 have found shelter and solidarity here (link here), anarchists are even running a hospital (link here). Exarcheia may not be defended at the barricades (although it sometimes is) but it clearly represents something special. Maybe the fact that anarchists haven't attempted to formally 'take' this area has been what has allowed it to continue to develop in the way it has and allowed a new society which is actually worth defending to begin to grow in the shell of the old.

Solidarity from London
The anti-fascist flag is raised
5 The Rojava Revolution - As with the Zapatista uprising anarchists have neither led this nor have most of the people involved been anarchists. We have no interest in trying to 'claim' these events for ourselves. What we want to claim, and for everyone to claim, is their liberation and Rojava is a part of that tradition. As with Chiapas Mexico though, anarchists have never been far away from what is going on in Northern Syria. And many have travelled out there to help. Everyone is familiar with the pictures and reports of the fight against Daesh, many of us kept up to date with the defence of the city of Kobane as Daesh closed in on one side and Turkey locked the border down on the other but Rojava is even more than this. Much of the political power is now in the hands of neighbourhood councils and much of the economy is run as co-operatives, we're also clear about the link between the stuggle against Daesh and the struggle against resurgent European Fascism. This is an unfinished revolution but it's still very much in the making.


Proudhon visits Rojava
We're running books-fairs with thousands of people turning up, brand new books are coming out every year, we're all over the internet, we're leading the anti-fascist efforts in much of western Europe, we're on the streets giving practical aid to homeless people, smuggling refugees across borders... As well as all of the above we've also seen the Oaxaca uprising in 2006 and probably numerous others that could fit broadly into the libertarian-socialist category but about which I don't know enough to mention!

We're probably only just warming up yet.

Monday, 2 January 2017

The Landscapes of 'Chiltern Hills East' map

My other thing is walking and taking pictures.

All these pictures are of landscapes which are on or very near to this map (OS Explorer Map - Chiltern Hills East)
The River Thames reaches 'Clivden Cliff' near Cookham

A chalk stream in Burnham Beaches - a 927 acre ancient woodland site
A pond in Burnham Beaches

A church built using Chiltern flint with a Chiltern Hill in the background

Rolling hills of farmland and woods near High Wycombe
More rolling hills - marked on the map as being the site of a medieval village

Looking towards the white cross on the side of a hill near Princes Risbrough

Looking from the top of Pulpit Hill towards Coombe Hill

A river beach on the Thames near Bourne End

The Thames valley in late summer

A wooded hillside near High Wycombe

An old barn near Watford

Hughenden Valley

On the side of a steep hill at the edge of the Chilterns where it drops off into Aylesbury Vale

Looking towards Hughenden Manor from the Disraeli monument

Flowers and trees on top of a hill near Princes Risbrough

The monument on West Wycombe Hill

A History of the Scale of Homelessness in England

This is a brief history of trends in the scale of homelessness in England. I wanted to do this in order to work out whether current levels of homelessness and more specifically rough sleeping are unprecedented or not and also to identify causes in the trends.

Crappy statistics

Statistics about homelessness are crap. They're always missing people out, they keep changing the way they compile them, there is sometimes pressure on from the top to get certain results back from a count, even if this means excluding some people. But this doesn't mean that they're completely useless.

Having some data to look at is better than nothing. When counts of homeless people have been done in the same way for a few years in a row it's possible to get an idea of trends, plus, even where data is obviously far from perfect we can get a 'ball park' figure. For example - a count of rough sleepers in London in 1949 found only 6 people sleeping rough. Do I think that there were really only 6 people sleeping rough in London in 1949? Absolutely not but you'd find at least 6 on any given street in central London now so we can take it as a fact that things are now much worse than then. In addition we can look at what else we know about different time periods. There was still a huge housing crisis in London after WW2 in London (due to a combination of many bombed out homes and the return of large numbers of soldiers) but the response to it from those affected was to launch a huge squatting movement meaning many people who were homeless were not sleeping on the streets. In contrast with now we again are facing a huge housing crisis but squatting in residential properties has recently been criminalised. This further confirms the trend and builds up a big picture of what is going on.

The story

What we know to start off with is that a count of rough sleepers was undertaken in late 2015 finding 3569 people. We also know that this count has been conducted in the same way since 2011 when 2181 people were counted (the 2010 figure of 1768 is the basis of the claim that rough sleeping doubled in the 5 years from 2010-15 but it wasn't done in quite the same way). When you work in a charity that helps homeless people (as I do) and you look back on the last 3 years and see that numbers of people coming in for help have risen by 60% it really feels like a crisis. What I want to know is how it compares with the situation in various times past and why numbers have fluctuated.

The idea that homelessness can all be put down to laziness or drug addiction is laughable. It's a complex issue but the rapid rise that we've seen in recent years can't be put down as being due to a huge increase in laziness!

In the beginning

Homelessness has existed in some form for centuries in England. Homeless people have left little record of themselves early on, in fact that main evidence we have for their existence going back more than a few hundred years are anti-vagrancy laws (which go back to at least the 6th century).

The first estimate of how many 'vagrants' there were in the Kingdom was taken in the 1600s - at that time it was said that there were around 20,000. It's extremely difficult to gauge how accurate this is but it's a notably high figure, considering the population was far lower in those days. Vagrants usually slept rough, they sometimes wandered the country looking for work or sometimes looking for charity. So, without wanting to brush over the huge differences between the life of a 17th Century 'vagrant' and a 21st Century 'rough sleeper' they are probably the most comparable. Another group of homeless people we count today are the number in hostels. In medieval times monasteries ran 'hospitals' for travellers and 'the poor' to stay in (meaning houses of hospitality rather than medical institutions). Again, they would have been very different to a modern hostel but vaguely comparable - there were 700 of these founded in England between 1066 and the middle of the 16th Century, the median number of beds was 12 so we might hazard a guess that there were about 8400 beds available (in 2014 there were 36,540).

Although monastery provision was rough to a sudden end in 1530s almshouses continued to exist in some shape or form but it wasn't until later that century with the 'Act for the relief of the poor' came in that provision was centrally organised in any meaningful way. This also saw the introduction of workhouses for the poor.

Modern times

Coming in to the 20th century, by the 1930s 17,000 people were still staying in 'spikes' which were institutions that had descended from the old workhouses. There was also a street count in London of rough sleepers that found 80 people.

After WW2 things got much better for a few decades. A massive council house building programme was a big factor and the introduction of the welfare state to replace the old 'poor laws' was another. It wasn't until the 1960s that homelessness began to rise again.

In 1965 a number of counts were made due to public attention on the issue (partly stoked by the film 'Cathy Come Home'.
  • 965 people were counted sleeping rough by the national assistance board.
  • 1367 people claiming national assistance (an unemployment benefit) who were down as having no accommodation. 
  • 567 commercial or charitable hostels and lodging houses were accommodating 28,789 people.
  • 1956 people accommodated in National Assistance Board  reception centres (the very last remnants of what was the workhouse and then the 'spike'). 
Suggestions have been made that the increase during the 1960s was as a result of the final slum clearances occurring.

The next really significant event was the 1977 homelessness act, the basis for current state assistance to homeless people. It wasn't enough to counter the decline of council housing in the 1980s though. It's widely believed that homelessness took a further turn for the worse during the 80s although little data seems to be publicly available.

By the 1990s we start to see a few more street counts being done for which the data is available. In 1991 the census attempted to count everyone who was sleeping rough on the night it was taken and found 2703 but by 1998 the Department for Environment, Transport and the Regions estimated that this number had fallen to more like 1850, a gradual decline. This is also mirrored in the number of people who were seeking help from local authorities under the 1977 act (subsequently updated by further acts in 1996 and 2002) - 300,560 in 1992/3 down to 244,130 in 1997/8.

By 2003/4 the situation had deteriorated again 135,420 households accepted as homeless by local authorities (a different number to the ones above which refer to people approaching their local authority for help - not necessarily actually being accepted as homeless and being 'owed a duty'). This was a peak statistically but after this it gets difficult to tell what was happening. A new 'housing options' approach was brought in to get the numbers down. This provided new ways for local authorities to not count people and numbers fell to a low in 2009/10 of only 40,020 people being accepted. This decline was probably a mixture of people not being counted and the effects of some big efforts and lots of funding from the labour government at the time to reduce the issue.

Meanwhile in background something else was going on. During the post-war 20th century the proportion of people housed in the private rented sector (with all it's insecurity and poor conditions) had been going down while the numbers of people housed in social housing or owning their homes was rising. The number in social housing peaked in the early 80s and the number owning their homes peaked in 1997. Since then the private rented sector has gone from housing about 10% of the country in 2002 to around 20% now (with recent suggestions that this may actually be a huge underestimation due to the number of people in shared houses - particularly in London and the South East).

This come back of the private rented sector was engineered. As social housing was no longer being built on a large scale and much of it was being sold off the rights of private tenants were being ripped up (rights to remain in their homes, regulation on rent rises). This was in order to induce private landlords back in to the market and in worked. What we ended up with though was millions of people who now were always potentially at 2 months notice from being kicked out of their homes and little protection from harassment, poor conditions and un-affordable rent rises. Whatever efforts had gone into fudging the numbers could no longer hide it. Add to this the welfare reforms that ripped away funding for hostels and other supported housing schemes as well as many reforms that either made it more likely for people to become homeless or more difficult to escape from homelessness once they were in it.

Numbers of rough sleepers have shot up to levels that seem on the face of it to surpass any previous period in the 20th and 21st centuries. Towards the end of 2016 the charity Shelter estimated that more than a quarter of a million people were homeless altogether (a figure calculated to include all the people sleeping rough, in hostels and in temporary accommodation from local authorities. They said that it was a conservative estimate.

There is also no real reason to hope that the rise will stop or even slow down any time soon. There are further welfare reforms to come that will exacerbate it further (the benefit cap introduced in December 2016 is yet to have it's full effect and the full roll out of Universal Credit are both likely to cause further chaos). Plus the level of house building has no recovered since the recession.


This is an acute housing crisis, in some respects probably the worst that we've seen in a 100 years or more and it's got further to go yet.