Dorset 3.0

Just a quick update to say that we were doing a Radical Routes stall last weekend, during the third Dorset Radical Bookfair here. We were there to talk about Radical Routes and co-ops in general, and enjoyed various chatter with co-operators new and old – and at least one new Dorset-based co-op should be getting along to the next Radical Routes Gathering in November, to help get their project off the ground.

Various UK-wide campaigns and distros were present, doing their thing, including Berkshire Antifascists, Black Skin Black Flag, Dorset Parents Campaign Group for SEND Children (see link for their FB page), Freedom Press, IWW Dorset, Prisonism, Wessex Solidarity, and Weymouth Animal Rights, amongst others. There was also fellow Bristolians, Bristol Anarchist Federation and Bristol Radical History Group.

Various meetings were held, on the following topics: ‘Chav Solidarity’, ‘Green Romanticism’, ‘Land and Liberty’, ‘The News. Really?’, ‘Prison: A Survival Guide’, ‘Reclaiming Pride’, ‘Strengthening Global Links: On International Anarchism’, and ‘Wildcat strikes in the Royal Mail’.

The day was capped by an afterparty of punk and folk, with sets by the Sporadics, Blunders, Broken Dregs, Jonny L, and Ash Ludd & Dan Kemp. All in all, a good day out for all present, and we hope to be back there at the Corn Exchange next year.

Beyond Dorset, we’re also looking to get Radical Routes co-ops stalls present at various other events this year. We still need slots filled at the Derbyshire Woodland Festival on the 21st and 22nd September, as well as the Co-op Party Conference in Glasgow between the 11th and 13th October, and also at the Practitioners’ Forum in Manchester on 7th November; if you can help get Radical Routes stalls happening at these events, please get in touch. Also, the next RR Gathering takes place between the 15th and 17th November, at the Star and Shadow in Newcastle, and all are welcome* to come along.

*You know, if you care about co-ops and making the world a better place, that is.

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The Only Good Landlord?

We had the pleasure of an interview with the Bristol Cable back in June, and that article has recently gone up online here (on 27th August, for their 20th edition).

For those of you that don’t know, the ‘Cable is a home-grown Bristolian community-owned co-op putting out a quarterly free magazine, and aims for “accurate and impactful journalism that engages our communities and holds power to account”. We support a lot of what the ‘Cable’s about, and include them in our Links page.

The article itself delves into the extortionate rents, lack of stability, and lack of control endemic to the ever-expanding private rental sector, and Bristol’s skyscraping property prices. It also explores the pros and cons of forming a housing co-op. They spoke to two of our fellow established Bristol co-ops, venerable Somewhere and youthful Hammerhead, as well as others, and our own contribution tops it off with a sob story!

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What’s in a Name?

When thinking of a name for our fledgling co-operative, we wanted something that was meaningful without being too obvious. After bouncing ideas around, we finally found one that summed up why we wanted to create a housing co-operative, and what we hoped it would (and wouldn’t) become.

Our name comes from ‘The Dispossessed: An Ambiguous Utopia,’ a speculative science fiction novel by Ursula K Le Guin. Anarres is one of two connected worlds that the story focuses on. It is a relatively desolate moon, yet one populated by committed idealists. Its inhabitants are attempting to build an ideal society in the face of scarcity, bureaucracy, and the tension between the freedom of the individual and the needs of the community.

Whilst our ambitions don’t quite stretch to the moon and back, we do find a lot of common cause with Le Guin’s characters. Our housing co-operative, like its namesake, should be an example of an alternative way of living, one that embraces an egalitarian outlook and an emphasis on collective decision-making. We also want Anarres to contribute to revolutionary change in wider society, and to take ongoing inspiration from other projects we take part in.

For those of you who are curious about Le Guin’s work, or contemplating reading The Dispossessed yourself, we have posted a review of the book written by a dear friend of ours.

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A Review of Ursula K Le Guin’s ‘The Dispossessed’

“I come to you like the beggar man…”

When I first sat down to write this review all I could think of saying was along the lines of “The Dispossessed is about two worlds divided by a wall, and what it means to be a beggar on either side of this divide. Go read it!” Unfortunately that isn’t much of a review, but with that in mind…

The Dispossessed is a work of speculative science fiction exploring two different societies living in orbit to one another:

Urras. The Blue-Green world of plenty. This is a world of class, a world of division. The place where the rich are rich and the poor are poor. Where workers take the brunt from the bosses wars and wants, no matter if the boss claims to be a capitalist or a communist. It is our world presented to us in another name.

Anarres. A moon colony of idealistic anarchists in exile. Now several generations old, it sits in isolation from the rest of humanity and the worlds beyond. Life here is tough and resources are scarce. When crops fail or disaster strikes the hardships leave deep scars against the egalitarian psyche. Although the ideals of anarchism are spoken of, the local conditions are helping the world sleepwalk into bureaucratic syndicalism that sacrifices individual will to the collective.

Each is presented in a spiral of oppressive behaviours, each holding the redemptive key to the other’s doom. The spirit of Anarres shows what can be achieved if society is reordered along the principles of horizontal organisation, free association, solidarity and mutual aid. The resources of Urras can break the bane of economic scarcity that is choking anarchism to death in the face of collective survival.

The opening of the book presents to us a wall.

The wall keeps one world in. The same wall keeps the other world out. This applies no matter which side of the divide you look from and it is this wall – constructed not only of stone but of the material conditions of the two societies – that is examined in great detail. Le Guin does not present this in dry terms however. Her deft characterisation of Shevek, our ideal anarchist cypher and lead character, is able to explore and reveal to us the words as they are lived, rather than simply providing us with dry exposition or simple narrator-descriptions, which could be read but not felt.

Alien planets beyond the entwined orbit of Anarres and Urras give warnings of other possible futures. Terra has been destroyed by self-created environmental catastrophe. Hain shows a disinterested world dying in spirit due to a lack of creative passion. The wall that separates and acts as the doom of Anarres and Urras is shown to also be the foundation to the downfall of these not-so-distant places.

A special note must be made towards the use of of language to convey the morals, philosophy, thought and behaviours of the people of Anarres. Their language sets up what they can or can’t put into words and communicate and commonly conceive. These altered boundaries of consciousness let us understand for ourselves the way their society behaves, and in doing so invites the reader to think in a different way, one that goes out-with those presented in the mainstream of our day-to-day lives. In short, it is consciousness raising.

Like the anarchist ideals the book so deftly explores, the story itself does not leave us with an ending so much as a staging point for our own journey. To use the ideas of the books, it comes to you like a beggar man, relying on you for all that it requires and leaving you enriched by realising you would be better with nothing but what you carry as long as all needs are met. By the end of reading it I was stood at the wall between two worlds with the choice over whether I help to dismantle it, and by choosing to do so build a greater whole.

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