Many if not most of the open spaces - commons, woods, greens - of any size that remain today in South London, or London as a whole, exist because they were preserved from development by collective action. Whether by rioting, tearing down fences & re-opening up enclosed land, or by legal agitation, much of the commons & parks that make life in the Smoke just about bearable wouldn’t be there if they hadn’t been actively defended.
The global financial crisis, rooted so fundamentally in the private market model of housing provision, reminds us that neoliberal housing policies work primarily in the interest of the powerful capitalist property sector and not the public. In this essay, I address the political question of what anticapitalists should do about housing by returning to the stage of an often ferocious debate between Marxists, socialists and anarchists that dates back beyond Friedrich Engels’ famous 1872 polemic, The housing question (Engels, 1872). In what follows, I draw on the various insights as well as the commonalities and tensions present in these debates to devise a set of ‘ethical coordinates’ (Gibson-Graham, 2006) that might guide an anticapitalist housing politics. These coordinates are built out of recent theoretical discussions of Peter Linebaugh’s concept of ‘commoning’, and particularly the work of Massimo De Angelis (2006, 2007), and they rest on three ethics of commoning: the prefigurative desire to ‘live-in-common’ and solve our housing problems collectively in the here and now; the strategic need to defend and produce ‘anticapitalist commons’ (Kamola and Meyerhoff, 2009) that impose limits to capital and open up an outside to accumulation; and the hegemonic quest for an alternative world in which commons and commoning can be generalised at the expense of capitalism.