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Proletarian Housing Justice

By Ryan

Art by M.A. Nesterov-Berzin. USSR, 1947.

A crisis looms over 40% of Americans’ renting property. In my home state of Ohio, half a million people face eviction. By the US Census Bureau Household Pulse Survey, roughly the same number either have slight or no confidence that they will be able to pay their rent next month. And of those who are already behind on their rent, when the eviction moratorium runs out on the 31st of January (assuming it is not extended again, though if it is, one can simply substitute the new end date into my article and the same principles apply) they will owe the months of rent that they have been unable to pay. Where are they to find the money for this? Surely, if they had access to these funds, they would not be behind on their rent in the first place. This is the situation as it stands in the United States, the parasitic landlord class has been held from its feast for a time, but without a solution, the senselessness and brutality of their ownership descend upon the working class again. As ever, the vultures will have their profits, damned by the consequences to those they feast on. Unless something is done.

No communist, as well as no sensible person, would argue against a resolution to this crisis. Millions of working people facing simultaneous eviction at any time is a scathing indictment of a failing system. To have it happen in the coldest months of the year, at a time when these people will face risk of becoming another vector for the coronavirus pandemic, does not just border on barbarity; It is barbarity, in capitalism’s personal style. 

The most popular solution to this crisis, so popular that even the capitalist’s media has been seen discussing it, is to simply cancel rents. People cannot pay the rent, so do not make them pay it. Unemployment has left many without the means to make money, and so by no fault of their own, they suffer. As landlords own the housing and demand money payment for it, if one cannot find a job because the capitalist market is breaking down from the strain of a global pandemic, then they will soon find themselves without housing. To force the working class to pay for the lost profits of the finance bourgeoisie and the landowning class is absurd. It is they who champion this moribund imperialist system, who extoll its illogic as pure truth. It is they who should bear the burden of the system they so gleefully claim to captain. The anarchy of production is their evil, not that of the workers. The inability to plan for the housing of working people and the potential of a crisis where many would not be able to work is the doing of capitalists, not the proletarians exploited by them.

This brings us to the core of this issue. As the bourgeoisie rules in this country, it is they who get to decide how a crisis is resolved, and if it is resolved at all with the resources of the state.  To visit one example that the rotten dictatorship of capital has generated for this crisis, the legislature to the State of Oregon, just before Christmas, voted on House Bill 4401. This bill, along with its pair that extended the state’s eviction moratorium to January, is the capitalist’s proposed solution to the eviction crisis. The bill betrays who it services from the very beginning, “The Housing and Community Services Department shall make distributions to compensate residential landlords for 80 percent of the past-due rent of qualified, enrolled tenants   that   the   landlord has not collected after April 1, 2020…”. The proposal states in very clear terms that it will “compensate residential landlords”. On what grounds should we compensate them? It is their parasitism that created this crisis, their lack of planning and endless seeking of abundant profits that drove rents so high, so much so that a working family could barely afford to pay them even before the pandemic. This is the bourgeoisie’s answer to cancelling rents, with bourgeois class solidarity. Two immediate inadequacies come to mind form this plan: The first, that the bailout of the landlords must come from government funds. What is the source of government funds under the dictatorship of capital? Two places, the proletariat of their own nations and a portion of the super-profits derived from the imperialist subjugation of other nations. In either case, this bailout will not be any radical redistribution of wealth or economic power, the extracted surplus of the working people in this country and abroad will be redistributed slightly to prop up a struggling section of the bourgeois class. The second inadequacy is that, when all of this is done, the relations of owner and tenant will be unaltered. The machine which has grinded to its disastrous halt, asks not for us to dismantle it and build a better machine in its place, but to grease it and allow it to continue working until such time that it breaks down again. Neither of these are enough, even if the burden can be pushed off the working people of this country, proletarian internationalism demands we reject that this burden be borne by the proletariat of another through imperialist extraction.

So, what is the proletarian solution to the housing crisis? How must we dismantle the machine and how must we rebuild it? This process has the potential of taking many forms and manifest itself differently in many places, so we will focus only on a blueprint for this program. Firstly, rents for tenants who have fallen behind due to unemployment, reduced hours, illness, etc., must be forgiven. For landlords who have fallen behind on the mortgages or other expenses of their properties such that they are in danger of being repossessed, their property will be expropriated and either nationalized or placed in the hands of an ownership group composed of its tenants. The landlord, therefore, should be offered an administrative position at working person’s wages as they will still hold many of the accounts and administrative functions of the property. Rents must be slashed from the perilous rates they are at now to alleviate the financial burden on so many working people. Rents should be accounted for on the costs of upkeep of the building, administration, renovations, and a planned surplus for expansion and community projects. In this, we will strike a double blow against the imperialist grip on American housing. The expropriation of landlords will remove their wretched parasitism from the wages of the vast numbers of Americans renting property, placing the properties they once held in the hands of socialized holding groups as it cuts away at the grip of financial capital on the lands of the working class. These proposals address the need in our time not to merely ameliorate the worst and most immediate excesses of capitalist exploitation, but to go beyond these and fight against them by means which do not restore the relations of this exploitation for the long term, but break them down. I have no doubt these proposals will be mocked and rejected at hand from the legislators who are crafting their bourgeois solutions to the housing crisis, but in doing so, they will only strengthen our cause. The bourgeois politicians and the opportunists will show ever more clearly whose interests they represent, and the need for the workers of the world to wrest control of this system from their hands and into our own. Comrades, we have no need of their bourgeois solutions to a housing crisis which by their very nature can only come from the exploitation of proletarians somewhere. We must demand proletarian solutions and a proletarian future.