Squatting & the property question - Personal Possessions & Communal Property v Private Property


After an illegal eviction on Phibsborough Rd. in June much debate arose surrounding the legitimacy of the squatters and their rights to take over empty and unused properties and put them to use. This piece looking at the issue of squatting and property rights was written by a WSM member and an An Spreach member who was evicted on that day from the property.

---Personal Possessions & Communal Property v Private Property---

While one's immediate reaction to using and living in an empty home or putting workplaces/land to use that is legally owned by another individual or company may immediately be that it is illegitimate or morally wrong, this article aims to deconstruct the argument that individuals, legal or real should be able to dominate and/or control property for their exclusive use, or to leave it rot at the expense of others. The ideas and justifications for private property go to the heart of the capitalist/statist system and its ability to control resources and the means to life to the exclusion, exploitation and detriment of the majority of the planet's population.

What is private property?—'property is theft!'

Within the capitalist world, capitalist ideologues use the word ‘property’ to mean anything from a toothbrush to a workplace, this understanding of the word property has filtered into everyday use—however this is a false use of the word property. Its use in this context convinces people to associate their personal possessions with the monopolization of the means of life (private property). Essentially, private property is the domination and control of resources (land/workplaces/food etc.) by individuals, which is backed up by overwhelming force (the state). Take, for example, Irish Water. Denis O'Brien and his cohorts control (dominate) the company to their own ends and profits and the state uses the gardaí to back it up when their operations are disrupted by legitimate protestors fighting for their rights and livelihoods. This the how the relationship between private property and the state operates.

The quote above, ‘property is theft’, which is taken from the French anarchist Proudhon forms the basis of the anti-capitalist attack on private property. The reasoning behind the statement that property is theft is that the Earth and all of the things produced by humans are the cumulative products of thousands of years and generations of work, science, innovation and production. It is also impossible for an individual or group to quantify the worth of work considering the fact that all work is interrelated and interdependent on each stage of production. Therefore we cannot accurately quantify who owns what – except for what is directly produced by ourselves with absolutely no outside interference or help, an impossible task.

The existence of private property leads to the monopolization of the means of life into the hands of a few, meaning those who directly use the means of life and have no ownership over these resources are enslaved to the minority who do. This situation is a direct attack on human dignity, rights, and freedoms. Just as under slavery and feudalism the individual who does not own private property to sustain themselves under capitalism survives under the control and whim of those who have stolen and monopolized, through the enormous force of the state, the means of life. Those without private property are under the definite control of those who do.

Following on from this critique of private property flows the concept of use rights or 'usufruct'. With private property there is a divorce between ‘users’ of property and ‘ownership’ of property. In an anarchist or socialist world the basic principle of property would switch from private property to personal possession and use of property (communal property). Communal property is a situation where people who use the property (land/buildings/resources) have user rights to the property but the property itself is in the ultimate possession and direction of the community. Take, for example, a participatory cooperative business today - these companies usually run with the direct participation of their workers, who have a complete say in the day-to-day running of their workplace but are subject to external conditions (in this case the capitalist market) - in an anarchist world the external conditions would be the community itself and the relationship between the workers and community would be voluntarily entered into and mutually beneficial, instead of one of exploitation and domination.

In a socialist-anarchist world people would have rights to their personal possessions that they had built up throughout their life but would only have user rights to communal property which would support and sustain human beings. From this distinction between ‘use’ and ‘domination’ flows the rights of individuals to squat and take over unused homes/resources for their own need to have a roof over their heads.

When the idea of private property is pulled apart at any length the idiocy of it becomes apparent. When studied private property is obviously a usurpation of our human rights to dignity, freedom, self-determination in our lives and self-respect as well as being a rejection of our natural inheritance: the Earth.