Academic anarchy centres
Looking for stuff on the Centro Iberico I found this photo of William Orbit there circa 1981 on his website and then this bit of text - although it misses out quite a few e.g. Rosebery Avenue, Molly's Cafe, the Bingo Hall, the Ambulance Station, the Hope and Anchor - and the original - the Parallel Universe at St. James Church, Pentonville Road.
Also- what about the many Peace Camps and Free Festivals?
So it goes.
Reflections on the UK Social Centres Movement Paul Chatterton / Stuart Hodkinson Leeds, October 2006
Paul Chatterton (email@example.com) and Stuart Hodkinson (firstname.lastname@example.org) are both members of the Commonplace Social Centre (www.thecommonplace.org.uk) in Leeds and are working together with Jenny Pickerill at Leeds and Leicester Universities on a solidarity research project called Autonomous Geographies (www.autonomousgeographies.org) that aims to support the development of autonomous spaces in the UK.
Since the dawn of capitalist society in the late 1400s and the beginning of land enclosures in the UK, the (re)claiming of space from private ownership by popular movements to re-collectivise their lives and fight the commodification of land, labour and life has had a long and rich history. Key tendencies of these popular movements have been ‘autonomy’, defined here as the desire for self-legislation for both the individual and the collective at the level of social institutions, and ‘anarchism’, the desire to live free of government rule. Many resistance movements have born these imprints such as the Diggers of the 17 th century and proto agrarian and intentional communities, as well as more confrontational urban movements such as the mass post-war squatting movement, or the Stop the City demonstrations of the early eighties, Reclaim the Streets and the ‘J-18’ Carnival Against Capital in the late 1990s, which sought to consciously confront capitalism by shutting down financial districts in mass street parties.
This experience contrasts starkly with urban resistance movements in other European countries who have politicised and confronted the use and control of public space as part of a broader contestation to the enclosure of everyday life. The most spectacular has been Italy’s Occupied Social Centres movement, which was founded in mid-1970s by the non-parliamentary ‘antagonist’ youth movement seeking to improve their social conditions but rejecting both ‘capitalist work’ and the socialist parties who had abandoned working class struggles for a share of state power. Occupied social centres turn unused or condemned public buildings and factories into self-organised cultural and political gathering spaces for the provision of radical social services, protest- planning and experimentation with independent cultural production of music, zines, art, and pirate micro TV. The social centre idea has gradually spread across Western Europe with the exception of Britain where autonomous movements have been weak and the socialist left has generally refused to embrace the practice of physically reclaiming public spaces for political, cultural and community use.
Since the emergence of what has become popularised as ‘global anticapitalism’ since J-18 and the Battle of Seattle in 1999, a discernible growth has occurred in the number of occupied and legalised social centres in the UK, along with dozens of other self-organised, radical spaces that we cannot include here due to space constraints (like infoshops, squat cafés, protest camps, convergence centres, eco-villages). Yet with the exception of Lacey (2005) and a small number of activist debates (Anon 2003a; 2003b; Rogue Element 2004; Text Nothing, 2005) virtually no critical engagement with this phenomenon exists. Our aim in writing this pamphlet is to begin to address this deficit by discussing the origins and role of social centres. We begin by briefly reviewing the social centre scene in the UK since the early 1980s before identifying the main activities and political orientation of contemporary spaces. After moving on to some of the key challenges facing these spaces, we conclude by offering some propositions on their future strategic direction in the development of autonomous social movements in the UK. We’ve included a resource section at the end listing the reading that influenced and informed our analysis, as well as some useful websites, addresses and email lists.
Social Centres and their Precursors in the UK
Although the term ‘social centre’ does not appear to have been used until the past few years, in the early 1980s a string of similar experiments emerged out of the intense and confrontational anarcho-punk movement. Generally known as ‘Autonomy Clubs’, these radical spaces were both the symbols and centres of punk’s second wave, which fused anarchist politics with a wider DIY counter-culture among an angry and non-conformist youth generation alienated by the political project of Thatcherism. Key political struggles revolved around the Claimants’ Unions and the unemployed, anti-fascism and animal liberation.
Set up and run by collectives of anarchists or communists and strongly politicised anarcho-punk bands like Crass and The Apostles who helped fund their existence, Autonomy Clubs mixed live music with “book fairs, fanzine conventions, discussion groups, films, debates and political workshops” (Martin 1994). Probably the first were the occupied 1-2-1 Centre in Brixton (1980-1997) and the rented Autonomy Centre in Wapping (1982-3); others included The Station in Gateshead (early 1980s), squatted spaces like the Centro Iberico (1982) in West London, or collectively owned premises such as the 1 in 12 Club in Bradford and the Autonomous Centre of Edinburgh (ACE) both of which still exist today (see Table 1)
The 1990s brought another surge of social movement mobilisation around the injustices of the Poll Tax, the repressive Criminal Justice Act and the Tory Government’s road and airport expansion programme. A new generation of activists emerged more focused on deep green politics fused with the ‘party and protest’ attitude of rave culture. Organised around the ecological direct action network, Earth First!, and inspired by Hakim Bay’s idea of the Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ), numerous squatted rural protest camps appeared with the aim of halting road building such as at Newbury and Twyford Down. In the urban environment, precursors of social centres sprung up in the form of Squat Cafés like the Anarchist Teapot in Brighton (1996-99), the OKasional Cafés in Manchester (1998-2003) and Eclectic City in Newcastle (2000-2002) offering cheap organic vegan food, DIY cultural events and a living example of anarchist politics.
[Pamphlet continues for a few more pages}