Socialist Self-Help Muhlheim

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= SSM Sozialistische Selbsthilfe Mühlheim (Socialist Self-Help Mühlheim), a 'associate' housing project in Germany


"Sozialistische Selbsthilfe Mühlheim (SSM) is a self-organized residential and work project with a tradition and a vision. SSM evolved in the wake of a squat in an old Schnapps distillery in the Mühlheim district of Cologne. After negotiating with the city of Cologne for four years, SSM signed a rental contract for the distillery buildings. It took the legal form of a Verein, an association controlled by its members. This arrangement has given SSM some assets that it can use to generate revenues to sustain itself. It rents out one part of its hall for events, for example. And since one of SSM’s activities is liquidating households, another part of the building is used for furniture storage. The project also runs a secondhand store. The group has always taken pride in not becoming politically or financially dependent; it began without any supporting funding and is financially self-sufficient today.

Since its founding in 1979 about twenty people have been living throughout on the SSM site. Their common space enables them to live independent lives without social isolation, and their community ethic is prized by members as a way to counter the capitalist, consumerist sensibilities of the surrounding city. SSM members seek not only to take control of their own lives, but to advance more humane, ecologically responsible urban policies. For example, SSM took a strong activist role in opposing the demolition of the Barmer Viertel neighborhood of Cologne – one of many SSM’s public-spirited initiatives that have earned it the respect and admiration among city officials as well as the general population.

In light of such activism, the abbreviation SSM could reasonably stand for “self-help and solidarity come to life in Mühlheim.” The community has been providing communal housing since 1979 and creating jobs that conventional markets do not find lucrative enough to create. SSM members confidently use the term “socialist self-help” to describe their projects. SSM is a commons because it relies on self-organized governance and public-spirited action, combined with the self-reliance, sense of responsibility and ecological commitments of its members. It is a living social system that is independent and durable, and therefore able to enter into constructive engagements with both the market and state. Confirming its wide respect, SSM won the Soziale Stadt 2012” prize (“Social City 2012”) from a business organization, the Association of German Housing and Real Estate Companies."