Homelessness: Front Line in the Fight for Class Unity
The destruction of the capitalist economy is eliminating the economic and social privileges historically extended to a large section of the American working class. The hitherto unknown breadth of equality of poverty is creating the basis for real class unity across lines of color, gender and geography. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the growing movement among and around America’s homeless. Because they are destitute, the homeless are the most economically equal of all. This makes their subjective political unity an immediate practical possibility.
Computerized production is replacing human labor, which is creating an entirely new class of workers – those partially or completely separated from the productive economy. This began with the introduction of the micro-chip into industry in the 1970s and1980s, causing permanent unemployment to spread across the Rust Belt and beyond. The appearance of mass homelessness at that time was the first clear sign that capitalism was creating something new, a section of the working class the system no longer had any use for. This new class grew incrementally over the decades and rapidly expanded in the 2000s, when overall US workforce participation began to fall rapidly. The leap in automation projected over the next twenty years signifies an even larger and more accelerated expansion of this class in the immediate future.
From Division to Class Unity
The future of this new class depends on whether it can become conscious of its objective position in the economy and in society, its power, and its independent class interests. The movement today is more or less at the level of social awareness – that is, the general understanding that something is wrong in society, that it is a social and not a personal problem, and that it requires some kind of organizing to achieve a social solution. Simultaneously, an embryonic stage of social consciousness is beginning to emerge. Social consciousness is the understanding that the root of our problems is not just a social condition, but is our class position, our relationship to the means of production. Class identity means moving beyond the appearance of the problem, whether it be gender, color, immigration status, or any other secondary feature. Class identity is the understanding that the underlying reality that determines our existence is our class position in society, and our exploitation as a class based on that position. Revolutionaries raise consciousness by explaining the roots of the problem and by defining a vision for the future, along with a strategy to get there.
The battleground around homelessness is an immediate opportunity and a critical arena where revolutionaries can carry forward the fight for this class identity. Throughout its entire history the American working class has been controlled, divided, and thoroughly dominated through the politics of all-white unity. The growth of the new class, especially its most destitute and visible section – the homeless – creates the opportunity for a decisive break with this history. With fewer and fewer jobs for anyone, the question of a competitive advantage for one or another section of workers becomes relatively insignificant.
The clear economic equality of the homeless makes their political unity, and the unity of people around them, much more readily achievable than the unity of other sections of the working class. The homeless are physically thrown together in the same streets, shelters, and encampments. They are pushed toward each other by the fact that they experience common conditions: common lack of housing, common police oppression, common criminalization. Their shared situation creates ties that can become stronger than the subjective or historical differences that may have divided them in the past.
Political class unity among the homeless is also made possible by the fact that the causes of homelessness are indisputably economic: according to the National Coalition for the Homeless it is “the result of poverty and a lack of affordable housing.” The homeless themselves are extraordinarily diverse, a fact that in itself proves the broad effect of these economic causes. They are approximately 40% white, 40% African American, 11% Latino, 35% in families, 20% children, 72% urban, 21% suburban, and 7% rural (National Coalition for the Homeless, National Alliance to End Homelessness, US Interagency Council on Homelessness). As a result, homeless people who begin to understand class identity are well positioned to be able to take it into an incredibly broad cross-section of the new class as a whole, across lines of color, religion, and region.
Private Property Cannot End Homelessness
The very existence of homelessness in modern America directly challenges the historic ruling class myth, that the American private property system makes a better life for everyone, regardless of class. The homeless are the visible proof that this has become a lie: the new class in America today is a section of the working class that the corporations have no use for and in fact do not care if they live or die.
The accelerated increase of homelessness over past three decades, along with the official abuse, the failure of the shelters and the failure of government plans to either eliminate or reduce homelessness is evidence of a systemic breakdown and proof that modern homelessness is not an accident or isolated occurrence. This fact by itself causes not only the homeless, but broad sections of the working class to question and challenge the myths they were taught about the viability and fairness of the capitalist economy.
A private property economy cannot solve homelessness any more than it can solve the problem of technological unemployment. As the demand for workers declines and disappears, builders cannot and will not construct housing for people unable to pay for it. Corporations will not pay taxes to subsidize housing (and other necessities) for workers that they simply do not need. According to the laws of private property they cannot invest money in anything that does not increase their profits. Homelessness continues to increase. A recent study in Los Angeles found that despite the best efforts of service providers, 13,000 new people become homeless there every month. A recent media report revealed that many bus drivers for Apple Computer, the wealthiest company in the world, are forced to sleep in their cars because the monthly $2900 salaries they earn cannot pay the $2-3000 a month rents in the area.
Society’s polarization of wealth and poverty, caused by the destruction of value, is forcing the ruling class, along with federal, state and local governments to act increasingly hostile against the poor. The homeless represent an Achilles heel for the ruling class. This is why they have unleashed a propaganda war to depict them as lazy, crazy, immoral, and unworthy. It has enacted anti-homeless laws, bulldozed camps, destroyed personal property, and set off a wave of police repression and brutality. The sickening murders of homeless people by law enforcement in the last few years alone include James Boyd in Albuquerque, Kelly Thomas in Fullerton, Charly Keunang on Skid Row in Los Angeles, and Michael Tyree in San Jose, to name just a few. Because homelessness cuts across color lines, it is not a condition that can be treated as a color issue. In fact, government policy and propaganda is increasingly depicting the homeless as a separate grouping of humans or “race” to be isolated and hated based on economic and social status.
The ruling class has always attacked workers, but has learned to prevent a united response by targeting them based on color, nationality, or social feature rather than explicitly by class position. The Sensenbrenner Bill of 2006 provoked a mass spontaneous uprising when it attempted to brand immigrant workers as felons – but because it targeted Latinos, the response tended to be limited to Latinos. The military-style occupation of Ferguson in 2014 singled out African Americans because their community was segregated. Although people of all colors responded, polling revealed dramatic differences in understanding by African American and white workers of the role of law enforcement. Attacks on the homeless necessarily cross America’s historic color lines and therefore offer a unique opening to propagandize around a response across these lines. This is an important and necessary step toward the class identity necessary to effectively resist and ultimately turn back these attacks.
Responsibility of Revolutionaries
The outcome of the battle depends in large part on the role of revolutionaries. Capitalism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries needed workers to populate its expanding industries. There is no such expansion of employment in the future of today’s economy. It literally and objectively no longer needs hundreds of millions of workers. This changes everything. The ruling class will use every hateful ideology in its arsenal, developed over centuries of slavery and genocide, to justify its current and growing fascist assault on our very right to exist.
Revolutionaries understand this danger, and they understand that society does not have to be organized this way. The true role of government should not be to secure profit and privilege for the exploiters, but rather the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of the masses.
The role of revolutionaries is to unleash the struggle by introducing an alternative vision to the poverty and desperation projected by corporate rulers. Freed from the oppressive laws of private property, computerized means of production make an abundant, cooperative economy an immediate practical possibility. In addition, revolutionaries also outline the political line of march necessary for the new class: political organization, political power, and transferring the means of production from private corporate property into public property.
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011