London squatter talks
TONY MAHONY is head of the campaign for clearing hostels and slums. This co-ordinates and publicises all the squatting campaigns taking place in Britain. At present there are five in London and many others in the North, notably in Manchester. For a national organiser of the most militant and successful left-wing campaigns in Britain, Tony has an unusual background. He was educated in a Jesuit school in London and proceeded to study for the priesthood for a few years. For a reason which he claims is incomprehensible to him he had chosen to be a Carmelite monk in Aylesford Priory in Kent. But before ordination he began to see the grave, radical defects in British capitalist society and, on his departure, he became associated with Slant, the Catholic Marxist group in Britain. He is still associated with this group, but in the last two years he has become dissatisfied with their arid intellectualism and smug satisfaction with intellectual, rather than material revolt.
Since he joined the squatters campaign he has shaken the Council establishments in London. His skilful organisation of the squat in Redbridge reached the front page of British newspapers and gained the support of such an unlikely ally as the London Times. In this campaign the squatters used British law to its full extent by utilising a Charter of 1831 to delay evictions and subsequently to preclude police support of evictions.Eventually Redbridge Council lost its temper and sent in the notorious security organisation of Barry Quartermain which The Sunday Times Insight team showed to include exfascists and criminals. In one of the evictions the father of a large family had his jaw broken by one of Quartermain's thugs who had previously served a sentence for assault and battery. This was too much for the liberal press and the Council had to relent in the face of severe newspaper criticism. This campaign and its victory over the Council was the prelude to a rapid spread of similar campaigns. Last month Mahony visited the Dublin Housing Action Committee to compare notes. He has other interests in Ireland apart from squatting. His parents were Irish and his education kept him in close contact. His answers to Nusight questions show the fertile, creative mind that can come from a Catholic, Irish and radical Marxist fusion.
Q. What is a squatting campaign?
T. M.: I can only speak of the three campaigns I have personal knowledge of which are at the moment taking place in London. Each is the product of different local conditions and political pressures.Basically it is an attempt through direct action by homeless people to achieve their right to a decent roof over their heads. In England the groups are local and autonomous which means there is no central strategy or single ideology.
Q. How has your successful campaign affected the radical Britain?
T. M.: To answer your question it is necessary to examine your statement that the campaign has been a success. There have been failures, you see, as well as successes. I'm going to be unpopular by giving my views on why success and failure, but I think they are pertinent. Wherever a group of radicals have worked hard for a long time in the area where they live, bringing the local issues to the notice of the people, proving that their concern is for local people, then any direct action campaign is usually a success. However when the infallible indeologists (and we have plenty of them) come into an area without any of this long hard work at grass roots level, there is usually no support from the people and failure is the inevitable result. It is worth quoting Mao Tse Tung here-not because he is particulary profound or original, but because he sums up a political truth. " To link oneself with the masses, one must act in accordance with the needs and wishes of the masses. All work done for the masses must start from their needs and not from the desire of any individual." that the effect on the radical movements must be judged. Too much vulgar Marxism is going around the organised groups, Often their theory has no relevance, either to present conditions, or to England itself. The squatters movement is often seen as nothing more than an insignificant reformist movement, They say it is not a workers' struggle. But the point is that a squatters' campaign goes right to the heart of the matter of property relations. It demands that human values come first. By taking over empty property a squatter dismisses the ethic of capitalism and a whole de-mystifying process is achieved in one act I think, over the last month or so, the organised Left is beginning to see this. And, of course, squatters are working-class families, and we are beginning to make connections with the trade union movement.
Q. What is the nature of housing which has meant that your campaign has created quite a crisis for the ruling class and has affected the radical left so deeply?
T M.: Capitalism created the modern city. As the power of the state over peoples lives grew, so increasing responsibility had to be shouldered. Housing the working class was one responsibility. But it is an intrusion into the single aim of making profit. It uses resources that could, according to capitalism, be so much better employed elsewhere, So housing has never been adequate. This view of working people's lives permeates everywhere: the factory, health services, education, the lot. In modern capitalism work is a most mystified activity. Accepting one has to work, the factory or office as it is now organised seems inevitable. And, of course, the clean canteens, clubs, bonuses have taken the edge off alienation. But the right to a home, a good house, directly conflicts with the system. It is the exposed nerve of our society. Housing, I think, at this particular time, shows capitalism to be the inhuman system it is. I do feel that increasingly the Left will come to understand this, and the housing issue will playa major part in developing urban guerilla warfare.
Q. What are you doing in Dublin?
T. M.: The pubs apart, I want to exchange information with the Dublin Housing Action Committee. We can learn from one another and, I think, fight together. It is British capitalism that is going to destroy your city unless something is done, it is squatters who may save it. There is a connection here. We fight a common enemy, and in England it is immigrant Irish families who are leading the struggle. The Flemings are examples of this. I am the son of Irish parents who had to leave Ireland because there was no work and no houses for them, so I have a special interest in seeing the struggle in this country victorious It is also important to forge links in order to reunite the workers' struggle in both countries which has been divided by the ruling class playing on ethnic and religious prejudices.
Q. Can housing really be an international issue?
T. M.: Housing is not the international issue: it is part of it. In this sense, the answer is yes. What I do not want you to think is that we believe we have found the magic formula for instant international revolution. What we claim is that we are playing a small but significant role in the struggle of all people who suffer under the increasing barbarism of capitalism. I agree with Marcuse that unless the home issues of Western countries are agitated on, unless we are restless and show the ruling class that they cannot just blow up the Third World without any reflex action at home, then all is lost. The struggle for a better society must be waged on many fronts. I can't go to Vietnam, Latin America or Africa; nor could I take on the struggle of black power. Housing affects me and all our people; the development of the struggle affects the confidence of the ruling class at home and abroad. It shows ordinary people that they have power and they can act and win. That is how housing is an international issue and part or' the revolutionary struggle of all the oppressed.
Q. What do you think of Dublin Housing Action Committee and the Left in Ireland?
T. M.: It is not my place to analyse the Dublin Housing Action Committee or the Irish left movement. Though I would like to make a brief comment: Dublin Housing Action Committee is a truly working class movement and fights for the needs ofthe working class. In this it stands head and shoulders above many so-called working class organisations. The issue it is fighting for is vital to the development of working class consciousness and, thereby, Ireland's future. As for the left generally, if it develops the writings and actions of such men as Connolly and Larkin, I am sure it cannot falter, Ireland has produced classic works of socialist theory and men equal to the needs and demands of revolution. I do not see that the nationalist issue is a stumbling-block either, rather it is part of the development of the struggle for freedom.
Q. What future do you see for Ireland, and will this interact with Britain?
T. M.: This is a difficult question for me to answer. Let me say only that I agree with Marx and Engels that the destinies of our two countries are woven together. It is my hope and what I fight for, that one day our two countries will be united in friendship and equality. When the socialist revolution occurs in Ireland, the English ruling class will have received a mortal blow and, if things continue to develop in the whole of Ireland as they seem to be doing, it may be sooner than many anticipate.