La Felguera Collective (Madrid committee)
The difficulty most of the average population in Spain faces in getting a decent house (rocketing prices, lifetime mortgages, crap temporary jobs with very low salaries, high prices of houses to rent and so on…) gave rise to the “movement for a dignified housing” during the last year.
What began as an autonomous initiative ended up being recuperated by all sorts of leftist political professional opportunists, from the Bolshevists to the official trade unions, not to forget certain kind of reformist “anarchists”.
The most radicalised sectors tried to fight back by putting forward ideas such as boycotting the polls for the regional parliaments that took place last year, but their proposal did not prosper because of opposition by the aforementioned recuperators/retrievers .
The present text was written by the situationist/anarchist group “La Felguera” as a response to the flaws and the lack of radicalism that characterised, since its very beginning, such a movement – in an attempt to set up a more radicalised and anarchic counter-offensive within this field.
One of the ways chosen to do the latter has been to reverse the meaning of the initial motto for this campaign (“you will never have a house in your fucking life”), turning it into the one that can be read in the heading of this article: “you’ll never have a life in your fucking house”.
I think that if any radical political initiative were to be set up in London, it should learn from such actions and always try to prevent any smelly leftists from manipulating and using our genuine struggles for their own ends.
Following is the translation of the second chapter of the La Felguera text. The rest will be finished in the months to come and will be (hopefully) published bit by bit in further issues of this journal.
The translator is not a professional one but takes the entire responsibility for any mistakes. English is not my mother tongue but I have tried to do my best anyway. If someone knows how to enhance this translation, feel free to do it and send an improved version to Occupied London.
.. Our right to regain the city
The struggle for dignified housing nowadays only hides away a more meaningful claim arising from a widespread and anti-civilisatory unease: the claim to get our city back.
By organizing life within cubicles (to live in lined/carpeted/upholstered beehives) regardless of whether they are thirty or one hundred square meters (we don’t give a damn about that), the city is denied to us because it becomes nothing but the reflection of a socio-economic model that should be swept away completely and forever. By building a life that forces us to move/rebound from work to home, from home to work or from work to alienating, tasteless and boring leisure venues, there is no space left for proper life either in this or in any other western city… unless, of course, the whole mapping was to be subverted. Such subversion of life does not imply merely a change to the background decoration, but a brand new political context of such radicalism.
The unbearable truth of the incomplete (half-) life of the present is already hitting an increasingly large number of people: When they have their half-rights, they will then get their half-life and therefore, their half-happiness, having simultaneously given up the rest, the most important stuff – those things without whose existence nothing can ever be felt as meaningful or fulfilling. They will then realise, disillusioned and disappointed, that mere resentment towards the middle class or the owners/landlords does not eliminate the alienation of the contemporary world.
The problem, therefore, is not – or not only – that we have no access to “decent” housing because prices are prohibitive and our salaries pure shit. We must go further and ask if it is possible to have a decent life within the framework of this city, some city spectacular and alien to our actual needs. When the whole issue is reduced to a purely economic question – which is to say simple access to cheaper housing – the fight becomes blind and limited from going any further; in other words, it limits itself. The issue of housing cannot be raised seriously and radically without criticizing the very foundations on which the city itself rests, together with the urbanism and the daily life that exists in its framework… and such a critique is nothing but the critique of capitalism itself.
Police control is exercised today in an increasingly absolute and despotic fashion. Through the control of space in the city (by means of controlling areas of existence), domination over the political is also ensured. In this context, capitalism reproduces its own spaces of action: It speculates with the goods that it has previously put into circulation following the flow of the need for housing with its specific change value. Housing, then, is not the natural infrastructure humans need for their survival, but the last dispossession of their alienated existence. Power has stolen from us not only our sleep but also our dreams. The housing problem exists within a given structure… We’ll have to tear down that structure then!
Henri Lefebvre once asked about the city – “what has it been for Power?” It is that ferment filled with suspicious activities and crime, it is home to turmoil. State power and big businesses can hardly conceive a better strategy than belittle, degrade, destroy the urban society. The city has always been a venue suspicious of power: It is inhabited by desires and provides spaces and time allowing for the enjoyment of the public sphere. Until very recently some feeling could be found, that of belonging to a “place” and to a true community – some feeling that has always been the germ of resistance and revolution: Normality in the city is dissolved and “deviated” behaviours find a privileged place for their realisation within the anonymity of the mass. The city also used to be where one could expect the unexpected, the “magic”, the baffling, the sort of phenomena that could disrupt daily life – and change it. Hence one of the main strategies of power has always been to control the urban space, to destroy its social networks by means of absolute separation between the people who live there and even between them and the places they inhabit, ultimately turning the city into a sterile, empty and predictable “non-place” where nothing can, nor should, happen.
Every day, then, we see how the city is being destroyed in an accelerated manner, disintegrating the few remaining fragments of solidarity, community, shared and enjoyed by living in neighbourhoods and on the streets. Meanwhile, a vast operation of camouflage is being set up in order to continue the degradation of our living conditions and the expansion of misery everywhere, some operation trying to pass off as an enhancement of our lives. Politicians, builders, entrepreneurs, engineers, architects, journalists, bureaucrats and of course, the party of the state, the “ciudadanistas” (“citizenists”)  all work towards the same goal: trying to convince us that the destruction taking place in the city eliminating any trace of free life is inevitable, and advantageous for our lives. If we give up our dreams and desires of happiness and agree to cooperate, we can expect to enjoy a safe and comfortable life in the new city of the image, the technology, the entertainment and the so-called communications.
What are they offering us? New infrastructures that will enable us to get faster to the workplaces where we lose our lives, whether in a metaphorical or in a literal sense. New alternatives of entertainment where we can spend the little and insignificant spare time we have left, involved in passive activities from which the resort to imagination and play as well as the chances for joy and friendship have been banished. New and sophisticated technological gadgets without which (they say) we can no longer live, but that far from having improved our lives, have impoverished and turned them more boring and predictable. New forms of communication that are only useful to further isolate and separate us (no matter how much they keep claiming the opposite) from those that we love. Even our homes are no longer a shelter.
It has been said that one of the defining characteristics of our time is the assimilation and consequent comparability between leisure and work time:
“While labor and pleasure are becoming more and more similar in their structure, they are at the same time separated ever more strictly by invisible lines of demarcation. Pleasure and Spirit [Geist] are being driven out of both in equal measure. In one as the other, brute seriousness and pseudo-activity prevails.”
-Theodor W. Adorno, Minima moralia. Reflections on a Damaged Life
The same is true of space. Every house is increasingly akin to any average/ standard office space. The domestic space is becoming increasingly cold and impersonal. The low-cost designer Ikea-like furniture that is being imposed replays the sepsis and the faceless uniformity of the office. Not only does it say nothing about the person who lives in a given domicile, but its “interchangeability” with the furniture of any other home or even with that of the office, the doctor’s waiting room or the headquarters of the Ministry of Finance is in itself indicative of the epoch in which we live. It is not important, it seems to be telling us, where we might be or what is being done in a given site, since everything is already the same everywhere.
On the one hand, the countless technological gadgets and appliances that fill the house are another effect of the assimilation of the household into the workplace, both saturated of technology and empty of humanity, sensitivity and beauty- and on the other, a consequence of the new leisure style – lonely and isolated from the others and the environment; in a word: autistic. Hence the curious paradox of a clerk who comes back home tired for having spent eight hours in front of a computer and plugs in his “personal” computer to spend another eight hours connected, but of course, now enjoying her or his leisure time.
Throughout the twentieth century we have seen how the architecture of the domestic space gradually changed: adapting to the needs and interests of the powers that govern society it transformed, subtly and quietly but also dramatically, the different customs and ways of relation and communication within the framework of the city and the home. The situationist Ivan Chtcheglov said once that “Architecture is the simplest means of articulating time and space, of modulating reality, of engendering dreams.” 
As usual, the situationists were better understood by their foes than by their potential supporters so the architecture of the last years of the twentieth century has had as its highest goal to effectively articulate time and modulate reality – not in order to create dreams but instead, to fully develop them nightmare characteristics of the consumerist society: the separation, the lack of real communication, the most absolute loneliness and mistrust among individuals.
We only need to visit any residential neighbourhood on the outskirts of the city to see this. Every house here looks identical to all others but still aspires to be different. There, fear, resentment and contempt toward the neighbour next door can always be felt and smelt in the air; towering gates are therefore erected to increase the distance between each other even more: you at your house, I’m in mine and God is in everybody’s – not the Christian or Muslim God, but the one of this brand new religion posed by the consumerist way of life.
Gradually, a dual process has begun to develop in every physical structure that is a house. On the one hand its space is increasingly turning into a kind of “bunker”: the important issue here is to isolate ourselves from the outside, from the streets (and therefore from the people who often hang out on them), since it is on them that the unpredictable, dangerous, unpleasant is to be found.
“Nothing good happens on the street, under the sun; In times of Fascism an open door or a large window are somewhat threatening, and the house becomes, once again, a stronghold, if not a catacomb.”
-Ernst Bloch, The Principle of Hope
We must be isolated from one another because, as it is repeatedly stated by the mass-media, someone will always want to mug, rape or murder us. That way, the street is seen as a place to be feared, rather than be discovered, claimed, taken over and made ours.
Yet the isolation must be offset by the development of infrastructures making people feel there is something pleasant outdoors after all. Thus, all sorts of elements and ornaments are added to the urban landscape in a bid to disguise, often ostentatiously, the ugliness and degradation of all senses that are being imposed by the new constructions, and above all by the impoverishment of life experiences, communication and sensitivity. Hence next to each new urban housing project, artificial parks are being created – spaces where everything is regulated to its finest detail, from the time for grass irrigation to the shut-down times.
Meanwhile we witness gigantic centres of entertainment and consumption proliferating and spreading everywhere. In these spaces security and order prevail, offering a sort of worry-less, isolated, disturbance-free and experience-free amusements. A cold entertainment lacking any emotion and feeling other than those sold to us at their corresponding price. Fourier’s old dream, which foresaw streets closed to the outside world has been achieved without, alas, its utopian and social dimension – leaving nothing but the isolation and omnipresence of lifeless commodities.
The house ceases to be an intimate and personal place in which to rest and live, and becomes a place as alien to us as our workplace, which is why we try to spend as little time as possible among its four walls and flee from it as soon as we have a chance to so do. The little time spent on it is filled with television and DVD’s as if nothing more could be done there and perhaps that is now the truth. The street does not belong to us either. “If you are not in the office and do not want to be in your house then consume”, they keep telling us. The city is turned in a massive theme park divided into different environments: leisure centres, monumental/historical centre, shopping areas etc… In each, absolutely everything must have a price and a clearly defined role.
The street has been reduced to a transit point, down from a living space to discover and to intervene socially and politically. Those who still dare to merely venture alone through the city streets, avenues and side streets become potential suspects.
You are living in upholstered/lined beehives, dreaming about a safe future.
Rubble, it’s all your future is! Rubble!
-RIP (mythical Basque/Spanish punk 80’s band)
Translated from the Spanish original by Mohawk, in the Autumn of year 23rd of the Orwell Era (2007 by the already obsolete Judaeo-Christian calendar).
Recuperators/retrievers: This word/s has/have been used here in the same way used in the Situationist theoretical writings. It therefore refers to those individuals and organizations who claim to support every radical revolutionary struggle with the treacherous purpose of using these to support their own interests, be it the growth of their particular “sects” or the individual political careers of some so-called “progressive” leaders. Their real aim is, in exchange, to become the next interlocutors talking on behalf of the “oppressed masses” with power as well as to convince the most radicalised elements to keep waiting for one thousand more years till the “objective conditions“ for revolution eventually arise. This “recuperation” of what otherwise begin as radical and non-negotiating conflicts contributes to de-activating initial radical impulses and to channel them through the systemic mechanism of reformism. This has been for a very long time the actual role of the left everywhere, from the Communist and Social Democratic parties to some so-called anarchist trade unions, not forgetting a quite vast spectrum of Bolshevist/ Leninist, Troskyst, Maoist and even more ludicrous and deluded groups holding funny and meaningless denominations.
“Ciudadanistas” (“citizenists”): This word may not exist in English yet so I have decided to include it here. I have clumsily translated it into “citizenists/citizenism without being sure if such a thing is grammatically possible. At any rate, “ciudadanistas” and “ciudadanismo” are relatively new words in the Spanish political jargon. They make reference to those sectors of the middle class that are at risk of dropping out and see themselves among the dispossessed due to the present acceleration and increase of competitiveness brought by the economic globalisation of capitalism. This way the aforementioned social groups would “radicalise” themselves in an highly opportunistic and hypocritical attempt to regain their lost status. In order to do so, they become “the party of the state” and strive for a return to the old “welfare state” which saw them arise as an artificial social group turning themselves into the favourite aim for the policies of many “recuperator” left-wing (sometimes even far right or far left) organizations. The vast majority of these “new leftists” (leaving apart a few rare exceptions) are not interested at all in destroying the state/capitalism/patriarchy/everyday life but instead in maintaining the patronising presence of State intervention in the economy. They are the main “apostles” of the motto “another capitalism is possible”. –An impossible monster with noble feelings, “green” policies and philanthropic expectations.
Formulary for a New Urbanism, Internationale Situationniste #1