Housing crisis shows the need for socialism

(The Workers' Advocate, Vol. 19, No. 10, October 10, 1989, p. 5)


. The founders of communism, Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, lent their voices to the protests against homelessness over a century ago. And they showed that the housing crisis is one of the inevitable by-products of the capitalist system and its impoverishment of the working masses. In Engels pamphlet, The Housing Question, he describes this process as follows:

. "Whence the housing shortage then? How did it arise? . . . it is a necessary product of the bourgeois social order; . . . it cannot fail to be present in a society in which the great laboring masses are exclusively dependent upon wages (capitalist wage-slavery -- ed.) . . . in which improvements of the machinery, etc. continually throw masses of workers out of employment; in which violent and regularly recurring industrial fluctuations determine on the one hand the existence of a large reserve army of unemployed workers, and on the other hand drive the mass of workers from time to time on to the streets unemployed; . . . and in which finally the homeowner in his capacity as capitalist has not only the right but, by reason of competition, to a certain extent also the duty of ruthlessly making as much out of his property in house rent as he possibly can. In such a society the housing shortage is no accident, it is a necessary institution and can be abolished together with all its affects on health, etc. only if the whole social order from which it springs is fundamentally refashioned." (Part Two, Section 1, pp. 41-42 of the Progress Publishers edition, 1970)

. Engels goes on to explain why the government, under capitalism, does next to nothing to alleviate the housing problem. He states:

. "It is perfectly clear that the state as it exists today is neither able nor willing to do anything to remedy the housing calamity. The state is nothing but the organized collective power of the possessing classes, the landowners and the capitalists, as against the exploited classes, the peasants and the workers. What the individual capitalists . . . do not want, their state also does not want. If therefore the individual capitalists deplore the housing shortage, but can hardly be moved to palliate even superficially its most terrifying consequences, the collective capitalist, the state will not do much more." (Part Two, Section 2, p. 65)

. In The Housing Question Engels explains that a social revolution which places the workers in power is needed to undertake a full solution to the housing problem. To begin with, the workers, having seized power, can fairly easily eliminate the immediate housing shortages by taking over the buildings of the wealthy. Engels writes:

. ". . . But one thing is certain: there is already a sufficient quantity of houses in the big cities to remedy immediately all real 'housing shortage,' provided they are used judiciously. This can naturally only occur through the expropriation of the present owners by quartering in their houses homeless workers or workers overcrowded in their present homes. As soon as the proletariat has won political power, such a measure prompted by concern for the common good will be just as easy to carry out as are other expropriations and billetings by the present-day state. " (Part One, pp. 30-31)

. Of course, there will be broader and more complex housing issues to face after such initial measures. But only the revolutionary rule of the working class is motivated and able to resolve these problems in the interests of the workers and poor. <>

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