Socialist Worker

Goodbye to London: trying to take down the system squat by squat

Noel Halifax appreciates a new book that recalls the squatters movement of the 1970s

Issue No. 2234

Squatters in Tolmers Street, North London in 1975 (Pic: Nick Wates)

Squatters in Tolmers Street, North London in 1975 (Pic: Nick Wates)

In London during the 1970s radical squatters and artists came to see squatting as the new politics.

They believed they were making a new world with no need for political parties, formal meetings, the old politics of trade unions, the nuclear family or property relationships—as in rent or ownership.

The new societies you made in your squat would replace capitalism.

This is the lost world that this excellent book of photographs recalls and the attached essays remember.

It was produced to go with an exhibition in Germany and it is the photographs, posters and works of art that make it worthwhile.


The essays are variable and mostly lightweight. The best is by Jon Savage and gives a real sense of the movement’s atmosphere.

But at the other extreme Andrew Wilson’s half-heartedly researched comments on seemingly randomly chosen artists and movements is really awful.

This is a shame as he is supposed to be providing a historical account of art and politics of the period to balance the simple reminisces.

This was a period of intense class struggle and everyone knew it—for one thing the lights kept going out.

So it is not surprising that many artists engaged with workers’ struggle and dealt with issues of oppression.

The book highlights the work of six such artists—Margaret Harrison, Peter Kinnard, Jo Spence, Stuart Brisley, Marc Karlin and Derek Jarman.

This enjoyable book captures the mood of the time, and I regret that the exhibition is not coming to Britain.

And yes the editor, Astrid Proll, is the sometime member of the German Red Army Faction, who lived in London during the mid 1970s.

Goodbye to London—Radical Art & Politics in the 70’s, edited by Astrid Proll. Published by Hatje Cantz. Go to

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Tue 11 Jan 2011, 18:33 GMT
Issue No. 2234
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