Property is Theft Lefties


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Property is Theft

Series that looks back at the 1970s and 80s. This edition examines a Brixton street where squatters lived by their left-wing beliefs.


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This programme contains very strong language

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Hello, how are you? Here we are, talking about Villa Road.

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Hello, hello.

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MUSIC: Come The Morning by Sol Invictus

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# The world and all its angels Are talking in my head

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# The world and all its angels... #

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SHE SCREAMS

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# ..The world and all its angels Set table for a feast

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# The world and all its angels Come to toast the suckling beast

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-# Come the morning

-Come the morning

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-# By the dawning light

-By the dawning light

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-# Such crimes and stories

-Such crimes and stories

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# Behold the wondrous sights... #

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Power to the...biosphere!

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In the 1970s, Villa Road in south London was a squatted street.

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Behind these doors, anarchists mixed with hippies and feminists.

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A primal therapy commune established itself across the street from a wholefood cafe.

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And homeless single mothers rubbed shoulders with Marxist revolutionaries.

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This was a generation that wanted to change the world.

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Squatting was in its idealistic heyday in the mid-'70s.

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In London alone, there were over 30,000 squatters, often occupying whole streets of abandoned houses,

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with hundreds of squatters living together in communities.

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In Brixton, the town planners' futuristic '60s blueprint for a new town centre had been shelved,

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and streets like Villa Road lay empty, stranded between the past and the future.

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Into this vacuum came the squatters. They were politicised, and they were on the left.

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They believed in collective living and collective action, and they chose to live by their beliefs.

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We actually thought that we could produce a revolution.

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We could produce very radical change in the way things were organised.

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We could increase the power of ordinary people, of working people,

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we could reduce oppression, all those sorts of things.

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We thought all those things could be done at that time, we were trying to do them.

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It was a politicised generation.

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I mean, we were Marxists, I suppose. Dialectical materialism

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and historical materialism

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were phrases that tripped off the tongue.

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What would your ideal goal have been?

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My goal is always revolution.

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Absolutely.

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Absolutely.

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The idea was that people would organise and would rise up against capitalism,

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and there would be a revolution.

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One was always a little big vague about exactly what form that might take in Britain,

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but, you know, a general strike, whatever.

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It sounds and it was wildly Utopian.

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-But you believed it?

-Yeah.

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Practically everybody I knew was political in one way or another, and you know, it was a moment in time

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where we thought we knew everything, we had incredible energy, there were things happening.

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There'd been the miners' strikes, there were factory occupations,

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there were things like...the Black Power movement in the States,

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there was the anti...and so on, so there was something positive which was that people were optimistic.

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People thought they could change the world, and wanted to,

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and so there was a lot of activism around and obviously one of the areas was housing.

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So would you personally get the crowbar and be...?

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Yeah. Yes, I would.

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We would go along perhaps late at night and get in the houses and get the electricity

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sorted out and then help the people to clear out the houses and make them habitable really.

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When we moved into the houses, they had had council wreckers

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in them who had broken a lot of the fabric of the houses.

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They broke the toilets and they poured concrete down them.

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The broke a lot of the windows, they tore up floorboards and pulled down ceilings.

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And we all set to fix them, and when I look back on it, the sort of things we did were quite astounding.

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Because they had poured concrete down the drains,

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it meant that you had to dig up the connection to the main sewers out in the street.

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We just used to dig up the whole lot and connect it up to the mains.

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What do you remember about that house, 39, when you got there?

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-How terribly filthy... it was, and...

-No floorboards...

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-No, no floorboards.

-There was an old guy who had shell-shock, caught him living there.

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-That's right.

-The basement was full of excrement,

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-because he had mental health problems.

-It needed a lot of cleaning up.

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We went out skipping -

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skipping was going round and looking in the skips

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that were on the streets and...

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collecting whatever it was you needed.

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So that was, you know... There were two activities, skipping and wooding.

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Wooding was going out and reclaiming all the wood from the houses that were being demolished,

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and, you know, you basically built your environment.

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In winter, the ice was on the inside of the windows.

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Heating was like one bar,

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one of those long fires mainly for bathrooms, I think.

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We used to cook on that as well, beans on toast - total fire hazard.

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The wiring was totally bent and, you know, illegal, the gas was.

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It was, you know... I remember seeing a huge rat coming up from the basement at one time.

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Yeah, it was pretty rough.

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Perhaps surprisingly, in the middle of a black community in Brixton,

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the core group that colonised Villa Road were white, middle class graduates,

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mainly from Oxford and Cambridge universities.

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Xander Fraser arrived in 1974 with a fire in his belly

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and a degree in architecture from Cambridge University.

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Were you rich?

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No, from the day I left Cambridge,

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I never took or asked for money off my parents but, yes, am I from a relatively well off family? Yes.

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But again, we go back to the spirit of the times.

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I felt it didn't make any sense for me to be ultra critical of my parents

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and their view of the world, and then sit there taking money off them.

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The people that I became friendly with and spent most of my time with

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were university graduates who found themselves on Villa Road.

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You know, Oxbridge, very educated,

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very committed, political, leftist kids.

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Well, I was working class and not very well educated and I didn't know much

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about Marx's theory of blah, blah, blah, you know, and I do now, I have to say.

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So it was an education for me really.

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I was from a very typically middle class background.

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I'd had a private education

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and then I'd gone to university.

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So...

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and I probably sounded a bit posh.

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# In 1649 to St George's Hill

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# A ragged band they call the Diggers

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# Came to show the people's will

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# They defied the landlords

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# They defied the laws

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# They were the dispossessed reclaiming what was theirs

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# "We come in peace" they said... #

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Pete Cooper was a graduate from Oxford who chose to squat for political reasons.

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He lived at number 31, the most rigorously political household on the street.

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What were you doing, signing on?

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Signing on and I got a job briefly as a road sweeper,

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which was great, because I got the blue council jacket, you know,

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which was sort of a workers' uniform, it was great, you know.

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I hadn't any career plan at all, I didn't really think in those terms.

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I think actually people seriously thought that the revolution was coming.

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We were certainly a student, ex-student house.

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I would say we were one of the sort of lefty houses rather than the sort of hippy houses.

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I wouldn't say that I was particularly taken by the politics

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of it all, involved in the politics of it, before I went to Villa Road.

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It was only really after I got there that that started to develop.

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Before Cambridge, I went to Eton. It was a bit of an education in class consciousness for me, if you like.

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And I remember the second day I got there, when I started, I was 12 -

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1965 or '6 -

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and there was a speech from the headmaster to all the new boys

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who explained that we were going to be running the country and that we were at Eton

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to learn how to do that.

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It seemed absurd, and so I'm sure I wasn't the only person

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who went to Eton who got pushed or went in a different direction.

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# ..The sale of property we do disdain

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# No man has any right to buy and sell the Earth

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# The private gain by theft and murder

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# They took the land

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# Now everywhere, the walls spring up at their command. #

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There were two influences on us. One was obviously Marx.

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We were Marxists, we saw ourselves as Marxists.

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We were in things like Marxist reading groups and we studied Marx.

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But we were also influenced by people like Laing

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and Cooper

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and were into the death of the nuclear family.

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This rejection of the nuclear family was born of an intellectual analysis

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which saw the family as an essential unit of a capitalist society.

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We felt it was necessary - or should be possible -

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to have supportive, economically viable,

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emotionally rewarding relationships, familial sexual relationships,

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with people without creating, or commodifying as we like to call it, commodifying the family unit.

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We had a lot of theories around the family unit being the building block of capitalism.

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These beliefs made life complicated at the squatters' resource centre that Paul helped to run.

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If people within a sexual relationship had or wanted...

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to have an intimate physical relationship,

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whether it was sexual or not, with other people,

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then that had to be acknowledged and it had to both be acknowledged

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by both partners, but also allowed to happen.

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It was agonising, because you were supposed to say it before you do it,

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not just come back and say, "Oh, by the way, I've bonked Bill."

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You would...have to explore

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the feelings you had,

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the pressures - emotional and sexual - on you and the other person

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with the group or with the people it directly impacted on

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before you did the deed.

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I mean, I don't know anybody

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who like thought they want to get married.

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I certainly didn't think I wanted to get married

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and I consider myself proud never to have got married.

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And it is quite different again now, but, yeah, I mean,

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nuclear family... a lot of us had come from pretty unpleasant nuclear families.

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And that does open up ideas for how you might live.

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It seemed that the nuclear family was really in crisis.

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And...you know, the idea of a stable couple having children

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was not really part of most people's experience in that particular kind of sub society, you know.

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And it also implied a degree of isolation from others.

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I mean, there was a great collectivist vibe at that time.

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How you live together was very much open to question,

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and I think we...partly just out of necessity, but we tended to live in communes,

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and that seemed as if that was the way that that could work more generally in society.

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By the mid-'70s, there were about 5,000 squatters in Lambeth, more than in any other London borough.

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Down the road from Villa Road was St Agnes Place, another squatted street, populated by Rastafarians

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and many members of the Workers Revolutionary Party.

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Jane Halsall-Dixon has squatted here since she was three years old

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and is one of very few squatters left in Lambeth.

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We're going up.

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This is the very small bathroom,

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which is used by about 15 people at the minute.

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This is kind of a bicycle room.

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'There' been, you know, a transient community of people who have moved in here

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'and sorted their lives out a bit, got themselves together and possibly moved on, possibly not.

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'In my case, not! But, you know, it's provided housing for a hell of a lot of people in 30 years.'

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There's probably about 12 people, and what I remember about it was I didn't have to cook.

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Probably once every 12 days, because everyone had to cook.

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There was a rota system, so I didn't have to do the housework every day, I didn't have to cook every day,

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I didn't have to shop every day, I had to do it like once every so often,

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and it was fantastic, I liked that.

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Cos I'm not really a domesticised person, to be quite honest.

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There was this Polish girl and, God, I was just in a fury at her the whole time!

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We pooled all our money, and then we would each take turn making dinner.

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She was always really going for THE most bargain basement bargains she could.

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So one day she comes home with like...

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I don't know, 4 lbs of pork chops, right, that just stank, you know.

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And she said, "Don't worry, I'm going to soak them in vinegar."

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So she soaks these pork chops in vinegar and I said, "I'm not going to eat these pork chops

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"that have been soaked in vinegar and they're rotten. Where are you buying rotten food?"

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Anyway, after I left, she started sleeping with my boyfriend! Then I was mad at her for another reason.

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I do remember in the first house that I visited before I moved onto Villa Road, I'd be in the kitchen.

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You'd have people wandering in and out of this kitchen. There were teacups everywhere.

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Someone might take a teacup and just go rinse it for half a second in the sink.

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You'd be drinking out of these incredibly - to my mind now and even then - grotty cups.

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You know, we were young, it didn't matter. We just sort of did it.

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The house that I moved into,

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number 20, was much more tidy.

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Things like toilet paper instead of newspapers, things like that.

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It was like, "OK, I can live here, we have toilet roll."

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And we washed our glasses, we washed our mugs.

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Hi, Pim!

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What you're looking at is a very first experiment

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of a...system of...

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well, nomadic living, perhaps you could call it.

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Or perhaps retractable housing systems.

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Pim, originally from Holland, came to Villa Road in the early '70s.

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Having lived in a teepee in California,

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he believed that the environmental way forward was for people to build their own dwellings.

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'For a long time, he lived in a handmade hut in the garden of 31 Villa Road.

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'He now squats a few doors down, living in a domed tent inside his house.'

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Often...it sort of strikes me, when I wake up in the morning...

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the moment of opening your eyes, and what is it that you see?

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And it often sort of strikes me, how delightful it is

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when you open your eyes and just look up at the ceiling.

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It is not the ceiling. You look up at the sky.

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'How I see from the bottom down and then have this...view.

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'It's a beautiful start of the day.

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'It is something that could be available to anyone.'

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In the '70s, all aspects of living were being called into question.

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These were the early days of feminism, and women on Villa Road

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were as keen to end male domination as to overthrow capitalism.

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I think over time we had several different Marxist reading groups going on.

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The one I remember in Villa Road, the one I remember going to,

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was an all women's Marxist reading group.

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Through that, I think we started to think about redefining our role as women.

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We were doing consciousness raising. We would go away for weekends and have weekends away and stuff.

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We did things like...we had a book called Our Body Ourselves, which was fantastic.

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Women learned about how to have orgasms

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through Spare Rib and vibrators, which was absolutely fantastic.

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And, um, I think, yeah, that was brilliant.

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We read books, sort of Marxist books, I suppose.

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We did self-examination, which was quite popular in those days.

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-What does that mean?

-You know, when you examine...

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I remember one meeting that we had a speculum, because Maureen's a doctor.

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So she could have them, and we examined ourselves and learnt about our bodies.

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Which bit of your body?

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You're getting me so embarrassed!

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We, you know, we tried to find out where our cervixes were,

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which was a journey in itself.

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Do you remember examining your cervix?

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No, I didn't do any of that.

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But, yes, that was going on. Lots of use of mirrors.

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I realised that it is perhaps a useful exercise for human beings

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to try and live at the lowest possible level of a standard of living

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rather than always trying to get to the higher...up the ladder and getting more and more and more.

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Maybe perhaps less is perhaps also beautiful.

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The Villa Road community governed itself.

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Villa Roaders were antagonistic to the police,

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who they viewed as an embodiment of their enemy, the state.

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Would you ever have called the police?

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-No.

-What did you do instead?

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Well, where there were instances of theft and so on within the street,

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then those were dealt with at street meetings.

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One incident I remember, we jailed the guy for a week, I believe.

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Everyone was losing their stereos

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and, um...

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we eventually managed to catch this young, black guy,

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who was, I think, 15 at the time.

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And, um, so...he said that he had been thrown out of home,

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that he had nowhere to go and he was stealing all this stuff so that he could survive.

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And so in typical Villa Road fashion,

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we held a street meeting, emergency street meeting, what to do about him.

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And we decided that we would give him a home, give him somewhere to live and we would give him money.

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And so he lived with us then.

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Villa Roaders identified politically with the working class.

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They supported striking workers. They had a Villa Road banner and travelled en masse

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to march in support of the striking firemen and the Grunwick workers.

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They wanted to link the squatting struggle to other anti-capitalist struggles.

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Can you explain why, as squatters,

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you thought it was important to join ranks with workers?

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Because the general atmosphere of the time was, we were all...believed in, you know, everybody getting together

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and the only way to change the world was for everybody to get together

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to recognise that we all had interests in common, and so on - a sort of general leftism.

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There was a strike on by the tarmac workers.

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And I went along on behalf of the squatters and spoke with a megaphone,

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just explaining that we supported their struggle

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and inviting them to take part in a joint march on the town hall.

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The workers were going to be the ruling class of the future.

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'Xander Fraser even became a squatters' representative in the Transport and General Workers Union,

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'allowed in as a mark of their solidarity with the Villa Road struggle.'

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They should be organised. We are anxious that they should join forces...

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Were you the only squatter who was a member of the T&G?

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Well, I have to say, I did find it slightly unusual, yeah.

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Because, technically...

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I was a building worker, so on that level,

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I assume I was entitled to be there.

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But yeah, really, I was in that branch as a representative

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of Villa Road, not because I was working in the building trade.

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Oh, no. Watch out for this telephone...thing.

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Just step over it.

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This room is...

0:24:040:24:05

problems with the flooring.

0:24:070:24:09

It is a...

0:24:090:24:12

a kind of communal work space.

0:24:120:24:15

Um, and it functions quite well like that for us.

0:24:150:24:19

Some on the left had more ambitious political goals

0:24:250:24:28

and were explicitly focused on building a revolution to overthrow the state.

0:24:280:24:32

Piers Corbyn was an astrophysicist,

0:24:320:24:35

a full-time squatting activist in West London and a revolutionary.

0:24:350:24:39

He was well-known in squatting circles and always present at protests and demonstrations.

0:24:390:24:46

Everybody seems to remember you charging round London with a carrier bag,

0:24:460:24:49

containing peanut butter sandwiches that was your sole sustenance.

0:24:490:24:53

-Is that right?

-Er, I used to eat a lot of peanut butter sandwiches.

0:24:530:24:57

I believe there's a jar of peanut butter over there still!

0:24:570:25:00

Mainly the bags contained leaflets.

0:25:020:25:04

In those days, I was a remember of the International Marxist Group.

0:25:040:25:09

I'd been so for two years.

0:25:090:25:11

I joined the IMG and I was excited about being in this political organisation.

0:25:110:25:18

The IMG was a Trotskyist-derived group,

0:25:180:25:22

and the initials stand for the International Marxist Group.

0:25:220:25:26

There is a very complex genealogy of the IMG's relationship to the Fourth International,

0:25:260:25:33

which was, as you may know, the alternative to the Stalinist International.

0:25:330:25:40

What the IMG was...it called itself the British section of the Fourth International,

0:25:400:25:45

the Trotskyist Fourth International, which was like a liaison

0:25:450:25:50

or an alliance of revolutionary groups around the world.

0:25:500:25:54

Their general activity was to build Labour movement support, activity and trade unions and so on.

0:25:540:26:02

They saw this type of stuff as possibly peripheral, possibly not.

0:26:020:26:06

There was ambiguity.

0:26:060:26:07

Some hardline Trotskyist groups were unenthusiastic about getting involved in a political issue

0:26:070:26:13

as woolly and vegetarian as squatting. They preferred to focus on workers' struggles,

0:26:130:26:18

hoping to build a disciplined vanguard that would bring on the revolution.

0:26:180:26:22

But some revolutionaries did take squatting seriously.

0:26:220:26:26

-Was the IMG the only revolutionary party?

-PHONE RINGS

0:26:260:26:30

Oh, there's your phone.

0:26:300:26:32

Er...

0:26:320:26:34

Weather Action.

0:26:340:26:36

Oh, magic! How are you?

0:26:380:26:41

Oh, fine. I'm just... It's all right. Carry on.

0:26:410:26:44

I'm being interviewed by some...

0:26:440:26:47

The BBC are here interviewing me about squatting and housing.

0:26:470:26:50

But it doesn't matter. Carry on. Carry on, tell me.

0:26:500:26:53

Bye.

0:26:540:26:56

Sorry. Yep, someone just wanted something.

0:26:560:27:00

Um... I should have ignored that really, shouldn't I?

0:27:000:27:04

Was the IMG the only revolutionary organisation to get behind squatting?

0:27:040:27:09

Um, yes, in a serious way, anyway.

0:27:110:27:17

The IMG, fanatical about correct Marxist terminology, nitpicked about whether or not

0:27:170:27:22

squatting could strictly speaking be defined as a revolutionary act.

0:27:220:27:27

On Villa Road, Pete Cooper had joined the party.

0:27:270:27:30

Was squatting in and of itself a revolutionary act?

0:27:300:27:36

Oh, God, I can't remember.

0:27:360:27:37

From the Trotskyist point of view, I think it would have been foolish

0:27:370:27:41

not to engage the energies of these people who were clearly very willing to take part in direct action.

0:27:410:27:47

For you in the IMG, would you have said that squatting itself was a revolutionary act?

0:27:470:27:52

Well, some of us did, yes,

0:27:520:27:55

because it was expropriation of property, and we said it had a dynamic of revolutionary act.

0:27:550:28:01

But for the IMG, the real point of demanding housing

0:28:010:28:04

was not to GET housing, but to expose the weaknesses of capitalism.

0:28:040:28:08

Those demands for housing...

0:28:080:28:11

What was it? Housing and jobs...

0:28:110:28:15

Not evictions and lay-offs, yeah.

0:28:150:28:16

They were, in kind of...

0:28:160:28:19

Trotskyist terms, those are transitional demands, are they?

0:28:190:28:23

That's right. Transitional demands were demands that couldn't really be met within the terms of the system.

0:28:230:28:29

So transitional demand is a demand

0:28:290:28:32

-that sounds like a reasonable demand...

-Yeah.

0:28:320:28:35

..but that will expose the shortcomings of the capitalist state in their inability to deliver it.

0:28:350:28:40

Yeah, like housing for all. It seemed reasonable. Why shouldn't everyone have somewhere to live?

0:28:400:28:45

But the system probably couldn't deliver without fundamentally changing.

0:28:450:28:49

Could housing for all be achieved?

0:28:490:28:51

Well, they would say, the IMG would say, no, it couldn't be achieved

0:28:510:28:55

under capitalism, so this was therefore an anti-capitalist demand,

0:28:550:28:59

a transitional demand,

0:28:590:29:01

which is something everybody wants, but can only be achieved if capitalism is destroyed,

0:29:010:29:06

so the dynamic of the movement will lead to the destruction of capitalism

0:29:060:29:11

along with other sort of demands, other transitional demands,

0:29:110:29:14

if support in a united front gets wide enough.

0:29:140:29:19

That is, I think, how Trotskyist method works.

0:29:190:29:25

That really made a lot of sense to me.

0:29:250:29:27

I have a bit of a...compulsion.

0:29:310:29:35

Particularly when I keep passing by a particular spot,

0:29:350:29:40

and there is every time the same kind of items there,

0:29:400:29:44

and then this process of thinking..."What can I do with it?"

0:29:440:29:49

Particularly with these items, and, um...

0:29:490:29:53

..here is a nice example.

0:29:590:30:03

For the first few weeks or months, I just didn't think I should pick it up.

0:30:030:30:10

Then at some point, I thought, "Well, I'll start picking up just a few pieces

0:30:100:30:15

"and take them home and see what I can do with it."

0:30:150:30:18

Some on Villa Road saw their inner world as the route to changing society.

0:30:210:30:26

Luise Eichenbaum had come to London from New York as a trained psychotherapist,

0:30:260:30:31

attracted by British feminist writing.

0:30:310:30:34

From her squat in Villa Road,

0:30:340:30:35

she set up the Women's Therapy Centre with Susie Orbach,

0:30:350:30:38

believing that therapy could be harnessed to left-wing goals.

0:30:380:30:42

For me, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy

0:30:420:30:45

absolutely came right out of my political activity,

0:30:450:30:50

because, as a feminist,

0:30:500:30:53

we really understood that in order to change one's self, you couldn't just say,

0:30:530:31:00

"I no longer want to be this person, the person I was raised to be,

0:31:000:31:04

"the little girl raised to be a certain kind of feminine character,

0:31:040:31:09

"who defers to people, who is submissive, who feels insecure, who doesn't feel entitled and so on."

0:31:090:31:15

We knew that we no longer wanted to be that person, and so,

0:31:150:31:19

if one wanted to change deeply, we had to look to the unconscious.

0:31:190:31:23

I think people came to see that

0:31:230:31:27

bringing change wasn't just about

0:31:270:31:32

changing physical social aspects of society.

0:31:320:31:37

I think people started to recognise

0:31:370:31:40

that change actually maybe has a psychological dimension, an internal dimension, as well.

0:31:400:31:48

-What could you do?

-Why should I...?

0:31:480:31:50

What could you do if you let go, Jimmy baby?

0:31:500:31:54

What could YOU do if YOU let go, Jimmy?

0:31:540:31:57

'I was very political, right from my teenage.'

0:32:010:32:04

I come from a very political family.

0:32:040:32:06

I spent a very intensive ten years from the age of 17 on,

0:32:060:32:10

utterly involved in outward politics.

0:32:100:32:13

But I was also engaging in a lot of personal relationships.

0:32:130:32:16

A girlfriend of mine, a German girl, who was also very active in politics, committed suicide.

0:32:160:32:22

And I just thought, I could go that way so easily, because I so often felt suicidal.

0:32:220:32:27

I started to think, "Just a minute, we're in a very radical left-wing movement

0:32:270:32:32

"with very radical left-wing boyfriends, and she was unhappy enough to do that,

0:32:320:32:37

"and I'm unhappy enough nearly to do that."

0:32:370:32:39

So, I thought, "Hmm, it's not all out there, it's also inside."

0:32:390:32:44

Having decided to devote her life to therapy,

0:32:440:32:47

Jenny James became a follower of Wilhelm Reich, an associate of Sigmund Freud's.

0:32:470:32:53

Significantly, Reich was a communist whose left-wing goal

0:32:530:32:57

was to adapt therapy to make it available to the working class.

0:32:570:33:01

More controversially, Jenny also followed Californian psychotherapist Arthur Janov.

0:33:010:33:07

He had developed a therapy known as primal scream, in the course of which

0:33:070:33:12

patients relived the trauma of their own birth.

0:33:120:33:14

-It's the only place I had.

-That's right.

0:33:160:33:20

It was mine. It was safe.

0:33:200:33:22

Despite having no formal training, Jenny set up a primal therapy commune in Donegal in Ireland.

0:33:430:33:49

At the same time, she established a sister commune in a squat at number 12 Villa Road.

0:33:490:33:55

The idea was that therapy should not be the preserve of the moneyed bourgeoisie,

0:33:550:34:00

but should be available free of charge to anybody.

0:34:000:34:03

I was called the black sheep of the... Oh, I'd brought the therapy movement into disrepute.

0:34:030:34:08

This came from the big, posh therapy centres. What it boiled down to was I wasn't asking money.

0:34:080:34:12

Anyone can do therapy if they go through things themselves. They don't need some posh training.

0:34:120:34:18

It was just a question of human empathy and, of course, knowing yourself really well,

0:34:180:34:23

being honest with yourself. And so I just opened the doors.

0:34:230:34:27

It was primal scream and it did involve...screaming.

0:34:270:34:31

Letting... Which was... Sorry, I'm not laughing at that.

0:34:310:34:34

It was very genuinely felt.

0:34:340:34:36

It was about letting out your inner anguish.

0:34:360:34:41

Um, it was noisy.

0:34:410:34:44

SHE SCREAMS

0:34:440:34:45

That's what I say to you! Ah...!

0:34:450:34:48

It is extremely organic and well worked out. Nothing's false. It is something that comes out.

0:34:480:34:53

When things do really come out from very far down in the body, they can sound quite animal-like.

0:34:530:34:57

They can be quite scary.

0:34:570:34:59

What wasn't nice was that they were all naked while they were doing it.

0:35:010:35:05

When you're six, and there's a big group of people rolling round the floor naked,

0:35:050:35:09

you're thinking, "What is going on here?"

0:35:090:35:11

There was my friend's mum - she was the one that did it - Babs.

0:35:110:35:15

You just think, "It's so strange,"

0:35:150:35:18

cos you're playing out in the garden, you pop in for a drink, and someone's in the kitchen naked.

0:35:180:35:23

Helen Russell joined the primal scream commune in Villa Road in 1976.

0:35:230:35:28

Jenny...Jenny is very charismatic and very, very strong.

0:35:300:35:36

Her personality is very, very strong.

0:35:360:35:39

It's like she has an aura... like this, you know.

0:35:390:35:43

Our one-to-one sessions were extraordinary and incredibly valuable.

0:35:430:35:49

I wouldn't ever regret any of that or want it to be any different.

0:35:490:35:55

Um, but the downside was the group. Living...

0:35:550:36:01

The thing was, we're all there, we're all feeling really vulnerable.

0:36:010:36:05

We're all looking for ourselves.

0:36:050:36:07

We're all looking for friends and support and home and family and answers.

0:36:070:36:12

So everybody was vulnerable and everybody was at different stages of this exploration, this journey.

0:36:120:36:20

And there was no account taken of that in any structured way

0:36:200:36:26

or in any way really.

0:36:260:36:28

Throughout the years, what would happen is, now and then, some of the stronger characters would

0:36:280:36:34

actually cross the metaphorical line. They'd cross the line, come in, get involved.

0:36:340:36:38

We had a lot of lovely-looking women in our commune.

0:36:380:36:40

-They'd form relationships. They'd start to look at it.

-So was that what drew them in?

0:36:400:36:45

-The women?

-I would say that was probably obviously a first hook, if you like.

0:36:450:36:52

But then they'd see and it was very interesting what we do.

0:36:520:36:55

They'd see that and they'd see that it worked.

0:36:550:36:57

They'd get interested. It was a deeper way of living.

0:36:570:37:00

I remember that, um,

0:37:000:37:03

the primal screamers...

0:37:030:37:06

The story was... I think it was probably true, too.

0:37:060:37:09

..that the primal screamers sort of sent vixens out onto the street

0:37:090:37:14

to seduce the handsome boys who were on the left,

0:37:140:37:19

and to get them to scream instead of, you know, agitate or something.

0:37:190:37:25

I don't think it was that organised. It sounds a bit of a conspiracy theory to me.

0:37:250:37:29

You weren't lured in by a woman?

0:37:290:37:31

I was lured in by a woman, actually. So, you never know, do you?

0:37:310:37:34

I don't think she was acting on orders. I think she just fancied me.

0:37:340:37:38

It always reminded me of that film, The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers,

0:37:380:37:42

in that one would wake up and discover

0:37:420:37:45

that somebody else from the street had been captured by the primal scream.

0:37:450:37:48

INDISTINCT SCREAMING AND SHOUTING

0:37:480:37:51

In May 1976, Pete Cooper crossed the road

0:37:550:38:00

and went to live at number 12.

0:38:000:38:02

There was a view that the personal is political,

0:38:020:38:06

and that the way you have relationships with other people is actually as significant as...

0:38:060:38:12

as significant a part of social transformation as the actual...

0:38:120:38:16

the institutions of the state, and what have you.

0:38:160:38:19

So I'd sort of resigned from this sort of leadership position in the street,

0:38:190:38:25

in favour of a kind of inward journey. It seems strange now.

0:38:250:38:29

It seems one was Marx, one was Freud,

0:38:290:38:32

but actually Reich seemed to offer a position to...

0:38:320:38:35

I didn't think of it as being as less revolutionary.

0:38:350:38:38

I thought of it as possibly more a further step in a revolutionary direction.

0:38:380:38:44

Was he lost to the IMG at that point?

0:38:440:38:47

I would say so, yeah. Yeah, yeah...

0:38:470:38:50

It took me by surprise, it really did...

0:38:500:38:53

cos you spend some time railing against these personal or politics people, you know,

0:38:530:38:58

and then he became one.

0:38:580:39:00

In a sense, I felt he joined it in rather a similar...

0:39:000:39:05

um, with a rather similar impulse that he joined the IMG,

0:39:050:39:08

and that was that he was looking for something that would engage him.

0:39:080:39:12

This continuing search for a belief system led Pete Cooper

0:39:120:39:17

to embrace ideas that were far removed from his rigorous left-wing analysis.

0:39:170:39:21

Along with the therapy, there was a whole ragbag of kind of new age, humanistic ideas.

0:39:210:39:27

For example, better eyesight without glasses.

0:39:270:39:31

So I stopped wearing me glasses for a while,

0:39:310:39:34

believing that my short-sightedness would go, as my energy flowed more, um, freely.

0:39:340:39:41

What I wanted was my hands to grow...

0:39:410:39:44

..because I'm a piano player.

0:39:450:39:47

And so what I wanted, was my hands to grow.

0:39:470:39:50

I got this idea that my hands had stopped growing,

0:39:500:39:53

when I was about nine, which was when my little sister was born.

0:39:530:39:58

You know, you put these twos and twos together, and you come up with 79!

0:39:580:40:02

And so I have no idea of the truth of this or not, really,

0:40:020:40:06

but it was something that Janov wrote about in his books,

0:40:060:40:09

that people had gone through such deep, therapeutic healing,

0:40:090:40:14

that parts of their bodies which had been stunted...

0:40:140:40:18

unstunted themselves, and they kind of picked up your life where it had got stopped.

0:40:180:40:24

So I had this daft idea...

0:40:240:40:27

To me, it was a really real idea. ..that my hands would grow. My hands didn't grow!

0:40:270:40:31

Helen Russell left the screamers and crossed the road in the opposite direction.

0:40:310:40:36

Embracing the political fervour of her fellow Villa Roaders,

0:40:360:40:39

she became passionately involved in the politics of defending the street.

0:40:390:40:43

There's another bedroom upstairs, but the person whose room it is isn't here,

0:40:430:40:48

and I don't really want to go up and invade their space, cos it's not really like that.

0:40:480:40:54

Do you want to come out?

0:40:550:40:58

So...this is my room.

0:41:040:41:06

Yeah, it's all right, this room. Although nowadays the pigeons keep me awake.

0:41:060:41:10

PIGEONS COO

0:41:100:41:12

By 1976, there were at least 200 squatters living on Villa Road.

0:41:170:41:22

As temperatures rose during the exceptionally hot summer of that year,

0:41:220:41:27

the confrontation between squatters and the council intensified.

0:41:270:41:31

Under threat of eviction, the squatters on Villa Road

0:41:310:41:34

decided to defend the houses by barricading themselves in.

0:41:340:41:38

They were now living behind their own iron curtain in a state of siege.

0:41:380:41:43

The barricades came about because... the, um,

0:41:430:41:49

Lambeth Council wanted to demolish the whole of Villa Road.

0:41:490:41:55

This had been their long-term plan.

0:41:550:41:57

They couldn't do it because we were living in the houses.

0:41:570:42:02

But they, I think, probably served eviction orders on us

0:42:020:42:07

and we decided that we were going to stay,

0:42:070:42:11

and so, we thought, "Well, we'll barricade ourselves in.

0:42:110:42:14

"The bailiffs will come, but if they can't get into the houses, they can't evict us."

0:42:140:42:20

So that was another form of direct action.

0:42:200:42:24

We would scour Lambeth, looking for wood,

0:42:240:42:28

sheets of corrugated iron, barbed wire.

0:42:280:42:32

There were a lot of building sites that went short of things in those days!

0:42:320:42:37

And the ingenuity of people to get all these materials together was phenomenal.

0:42:370:42:43

The barricade in front of 7 and 9 Villa Road was very beautiful,

0:42:430:42:46

because we painted it. It was a carefully tended barricade.

0:42:460:42:50

"Victory Villa" was the big sort of slogan.

0:42:500:42:53

"Property is theft." That was another

0:42:540:42:56

of the slogans on the barricades. We were all into that.

0:42:560:42:59

There was an anarchist tinge to the Villa Road collective political will.

0:42:590:43:05

New arrival on the street was committed anarchist Tony Cook, who became Helen Russell's boyfriend.

0:43:050:43:12

He believed in continual struggle, and built his barricades accordingly.

0:43:120:43:17

The first thing I and the two chaps who moved in with me

0:43:170:43:21

began to do was to sort out the barricades

0:43:210:43:25

on our house. We had, um...

0:43:250:43:28

It was like triple barricades

0:43:280:43:31

of corrugated sheets and joists, and then more corrugated sheets,

0:43:310:43:35

then joists and props, all put together with six-inch nails.

0:43:350:43:39

Then on top of the barricade was barbed wire

0:43:410:43:45

and a gutter,

0:43:450:43:47

the plan being that we would fill the gutter with petrol

0:43:470:43:51

and have bits of burning tyre,

0:43:510:43:53

so we would have a sheet of flame to meet the bailiffs,

0:43:530:43:58

before they could even get to the house itself.

0:43:580:44:01

And we also had this huge, great, big wooden ball, like, um,

0:44:030:44:09

on the ball and chain, but this was made of wood with big six-inch nails stuck in it,

0:44:090:44:14

on the end of a rope, that you could swing and it would lazily move in front of the house

0:44:140:44:20

as another disincentive to come anywhere near us.

0:44:200:44:26

Sitting at a piano in a basement behind the barricades,

0:44:260:44:29

Helen Russell worked through the night composing music,

0:44:290:44:32

deeply affected by the threat to the street.

0:44:320:44:35

It was the most special time of my life, actually.

0:44:350:44:39

It crossed my mind that I should do a setting of the Requiem Mass.

0:44:390:44:43

I'd learned Latin at school. I was very bad at it,

0:44:430:44:46

but I loved the poetry of it, I loved the sound of it.

0:44:460:44:50

And, um...there's a line in the offertorium -

0:44:500:44:55

tantus labor non sit cassus...

0:44:550:44:58

..which, um...

0:45:000:45:02

It just means "let not this great work be in vain".

0:45:020:45:06

PIANO MUSIC

0:45:060:45:09

And that's everything. That is everything.

0:45:090:45:12

The great work.

0:45:120:45:13

In January '77, the council decided to destroy squatters' homes.

0:45:310:45:37

They targeted St Agnes Place, and came to demolish it, bringing with them an army of 250 policemen.

0:45:370:45:43

Villa Roaders rushed to the rescue.

0:45:450:45:48

Very early in the morning, we found out that the council were moving in bulldozers,

0:45:530:45:59

there were large busloads of police turning up at the end of the street, and all the rest of it.

0:45:590:46:05

We all shot off down there. Quite a lot of the residents had already climbed up onto the roofs,

0:46:050:46:11

basically saying, "If you're going to knock the house down, you'll have to knock us down with them!"

0:46:110:46:16

Got all the council workers digging up the pipes, down at the front.

0:46:180:46:23

They filled the drains with cement, and took out water and gas pipes.

0:46:230:46:27

They really went to town to make sure they were uninhabitable.

0:46:270:46:30

In this picture, you can see a protester.

0:46:300:46:33

He's one of the squatters who tied a rope round his waist...

0:46:330:46:36

There was a few of them. ..and actually walked across the top of this, what's left

0:46:360:46:42

of the main framework of the house.

0:46:420:46:45

We, together with the lawyers from the Law Centre,

0:46:470:46:52

managed to get an emergency High Court injunction

0:46:520:46:55

by midday or one o'clock that day,

0:46:550:46:58

forcing the council to withdraw their equipment,

0:46:580:47:00

'and to leave us alone.'

0:47:000:47:02

St Agnes Place was saved, and the council was publicly and humiliatingly defeated.

0:47:020:47:08

Lambeth Council had to rethink its approach.

0:47:080:47:11

But Villa Road was still under threat,

0:47:110:47:14

and the barricades remained in place there for another two years.

0:47:140:47:18

In 1977, Tony Wakeford was living at number 15.

0:47:280:47:32

He was a member of the Socialist Workers Party

0:47:320:47:37

and wrote anti-police songs for his punk band, Crisis.

0:47:370:47:41

# ..To keep you silent

0:47:410:47:43

# And he can poke And he'll punch you

0:47:430:47:45

# With a 3ft bloody truncheon

0:47:450:47:48

# PC, what are they for?

0:47:480:47:49

# PC, what are they for?

0:47:490:47:52

# PC, what are they for?

0:47:520:47:54

# PC, what are they for?

0:47:540:47:58

# PC, what are they for?

0:47:580:48:00

# He's got sanitational violence

0:48:000:48:03

# To keep you silent

0:48:030:48:05

# And he can poke And he'll punch you

0:48:050:48:08

# With a 3ft bloody truncheon

0:48:080:48:12

# PC, what are they for?

0:48:120:48:14

# PC, what are they for?

0:48:140:48:17

# PC, what are they for?

0:48:170:48:19

# PC, what are they for? #

0:48:190:48:23

-Were you doing a lot of drugs at Villa Road?

-Yeah.

0:48:230:48:27

And before. And after.

0:48:270:48:29

Yeah, mainly, um, lots of speed

0:48:290:48:31

and some acid.

0:48:310:48:33

Terrible.

0:48:330:48:35

HE LAUGHS

0:48:350:48:37

I'm a fat git now, but then I was, like, nine stone.

0:48:370:48:41

And it got to the stage where I woke up one morning,

0:48:410:48:45

looked in the mirror, pushed my teeth, and all my teeth just went...

0:48:450:48:49

They sort of bent inwards. Yeah, terrible. Lots of speed.

0:48:490:48:53

-Are they your teeth now?

-They're capped. Awful.

0:48:530:48:56

That decade, things did seem very black and white.

0:49:010:49:04

People really took sides

0:49:040:49:07

and made decisions over what they were going to do.

0:49:070:49:12

It was a very, you know, um,

0:49:120:49:15

no-middle-ground type of thing. At the time, we were all very committed.

0:49:150:49:20

Despite their committed struggle, the outcome for the Villa Roaders was only a partial victory.

0:49:360:49:42

In 1978, the council came up with a deal.

0:49:420:49:45

They would preserve the north side of the street on condition that the south side was destroyed.

0:49:450:49:51

This was agreed. The squatters took down their barricades,

0:49:510:49:54

and in the summer of '78,

0:49:540:49:56

the south side of Villa Road was demolished to make a small patch of green alongside the A23.

0:49:560:50:02

Most of the houses on the north side became a housing co-op.

0:50:070:50:12

A few squats remained, including Pim's house,

0:50:120:50:15

where he continues to live by his ideals.

0:50:150:50:19

Actually, I never use this bathroom.

0:50:210:50:24

I have a composting toilet.

0:50:240:50:27

I have a lifestyle which does not require running water.

0:50:270:50:32

I've been doing that ever since I lived in a tepee and I also was doing that in the little hut out there.

0:50:320:50:38

So where's your toilet, Pim?

0:50:380:50:40

It is a composting toilet.

0:50:400:50:42

As a matter of fact,

0:50:420:50:44

next to the branches, that is where the toilet and the kitchen waste and everything...

0:50:440:50:50

and it is a beautiful, um, compost there.

0:50:500:50:55

Fertility.

0:50:550:50:57

The street became much less of a cohesive, exciting place to be.

0:50:570:51:03

There were a few houses that still now have people in them

0:51:030:51:09

who were in them at that time.

0:51:090:51:12

But a lot of people went away to different parts of the world.

0:51:120:51:16

I left, eventually.

0:51:160:51:19

I feel really proud of what we achieved, actually.

0:51:190:51:22

The revolution didn't happen, but the houses were saved.

0:51:220:51:26

St Agnes Place refused to compromise and continued to battle for survival for the next 30 years.

0:51:330:51:39

It became one of the only '70s squatting communities to survive until now.

0:51:390:51:45

But the council have recently taken action to repossess the street once and for all.

0:51:450:51:51

All the remaining squatters have now received eviction notices.

0:51:510:51:55

I love living here, you know. It is my home. I've thought about the fact that...

0:51:550:52:01

you know, if Lambeth weren't coming to evict me, would I just live here for my entire life?

0:52:010:52:07

From the age of three years old till I peg it, whatever age that would be, you know what I mean?

0:52:070:52:13

To be honest with you, I probably would.

0:52:130:52:16

Some part of me sort of thinks, "That's really sad,"

0:52:160:52:19

you know what I mean? God, get a life, go out. Go and live somewhere else.

0:52:190:52:24

But it's my home. And, um...

0:52:240:52:27

You know, the idea of not having it

0:52:280:52:31

is...is...is a difficult thought.

0:52:310:52:35

But, um...

0:52:370:52:38

Sorry, can I stop?

0:52:410:52:43

# From the men of property the orders came

0:52:480:52:53

# They sent their hired men and troopers to wipe out the diggers' claim

0:52:530:52:58

# Tear down their cottages Destroy their corn

0:52:580:53:02

# They were dispersed but their vision lingers on

0:53:020:53:08

# You poor take courage

0:53:080:53:10

# You rich take care

0:53:100:53:13

# This earth was made a common treasury

0:53:130:53:16

# For everyone to share

0:53:160:53:18

# All things in common

0:53:180:53:21

# All people one

0:53:210:53:23

# You diggers all stand up for glory Stand up now! #

0:53:230:53:28

-Do you live as a nuclear family now?

-Yep.

0:53:320:53:36

And what are your political ideals now?

0:53:360:53:40

Would you still like to see the end of capitalism?

0:53:400:53:45

Yeah, I would, really. Yeah.

0:53:450:53:47

I don't care about capitalism.

0:53:470:53:49

I get a pension out of the tax... pay taxes off everybody,

0:53:490:53:56

so it would be counter-productive to be anti-capitalist, right?

0:53:560:54:02

You don't slap the hand that feeds you.

0:54:020:54:05

-Do you live in a nuclear family now?

-Yes, I got married, um...

0:54:050:54:09

I'm supposed to know that! ..about seven years ago.

0:54:110:54:16

Do you still hold the same left-wing beliefs that you did?

0:54:160:54:20

Absolutely.

0:54:200:54:22

I feel quite strongly about the environment, um, and certainly, I support things like...

0:54:220:54:29

There were people at Crystal Palace who were trying to save it.

0:54:290:54:32

They were living in trees. I very much supported those tree people.

0:54:320:54:36

How would you describe your politics now?

0:54:360:54:40

Deep, deep, deep, deep, deep green!

0:54:400:54:43

Extremely green. I, for example, have never had a fridge in my life.

0:54:430:54:48

If I'm ever in a house where there is one, I switch it off immediately.

0:54:480:54:52

What do you do now, Sue?

0:54:520:54:55

I'm going to work on a llama farm. I'm going to have some time in the country.

0:54:550:54:59

Sue, what do you do now?

0:54:590:55:01

Um, well, I paint and, um, I like to spend some time in India.

0:55:010:55:07

I teach and I practise psychotherapy.

0:55:070:55:10

I'm the America's editor of the Economist.

0:55:100:55:13

I still see myself as a...

0:55:130:55:15

you know, as a left-wing anti-capitalist,

0:55:150:55:18

but it's of no consequence to anybody,

0:55:180:55:21

because I'm not doing anything about it.

0:55:210:55:23

What I do now is, I'm Professor of Romantic Poetry, Queen Mary University of London.

0:55:230:55:29

Did you go on to live in a nuclear family?

0:55:290:55:32

Yes.

0:55:320:55:34

More or less. Yes.

0:55:340:55:37

not particularly successfully!

0:55:370:55:39

Would you still see yourself as someone who was hoping for the overthrow of capitalism?

0:55:390:55:46

Um, I think that's a very long shot now.

0:55:460:55:51

Would you still welcome the overthrow of capitalism?

0:55:510:55:54

Probably not. It's not really an option, is it?

0:55:550:55:59

You have to be really strong to keep on fighting.

0:55:590:56:02

You know.

0:56:020:56:04

Um...

0:56:040:56:05

I am fighting. And we all are.

0:56:050:56:09

Those of us who are still doing what we're doing in this way. We are still fighting.

0:56:090:56:14

You know, I'm doing my bit for the housing co-operative movement.

0:56:140:56:18

I think capitalism

0:56:180:56:20

has got a dynamic which will have to end.

0:56:200:56:24

The internal conflicts of capitalism are quite horrendous.

0:56:240:56:29

What do you do now?

0:56:290:56:31

I do long-range weather forecasting.

0:56:310:56:33

# The world and all its angels

0:56:330:56:36

# Are talking in my head

0:56:360:56:39

# The world and all its angels

0:56:390:56:42

# They lay upon my bed.

0:56:420:56:45

# The world and all its angels

0:56:450:56:48

# Set table for the feast

0:56:480:56:52

# The world and all its angels

0:56:520:56:55

# Come to toast the suckling beast

0:56:550:56:58

-# Come the morning

-Come the morning

0:56:590:57:03

-# By the dawning light

-By the dawning light

0:57:030:57:06

-# Such crimes and stories

-Such crimes and stories

0:57:060:57:09

# Behold the wondrous sights

0:57:090:57:11

-# Come the morning

-Come the morning

0:57:120:57:15

-# By the dawning light

-By the dawning light

0:57:150:57:18

-# Such crimes and stories

-Such crimes and stories... #

0:57:180:57:21

This edition recalls Villa Road, a street in Brixton where squatters lived by their left-wing beliefs - communal living, collective action and an unswerving commitment to Marxist ideology.