Hold Government Accountable to End Homelessness
Homelessness in America is the clearest sign that a new class of workers has been created as a result of their displacement by automated production. It is living, visible proof that there is a section of the population for which the ruling class no longer has any use. Because it has no place in the system, however, this new class is also the key to overturning it and building a new one.
While mounting a massive public relations campaign around ending homelessness for a few, the government is mobilizing every historical, ideological and political weapon available, to suppress and persecute the masses of the homeless. It is step by step casting aside the “social contract” that mediated the struggle between capitalists and workers in the twentieth century, when workers were needed for production. There is no such period in the future of today’s capitalism. The economy no longer needs hundreds of millions of workers, and the system’s inherent disregard for human life is emerging. While the system relies on forms and methods from the past, it is much more dangerous today.
The Situation Today
For some thirty years the movement around homelessness has fought to a stand-off, resisting some of the worst forms of repression, while making few (if any) real, lasting gains in housing for the homeless. However, after decades of spinning its wheels, the movement today however is in a state of flux, demonstrating an influence, strength, and ability to wring concessions far beyond its numbers or organizational capacity.
What is causing this change? Despite deceptive HUD reports to the contrary, society is seeing increased homelessness in more and more communities. Today, there too many homeless to isolate as was done in the past. They are visibly spilling out of the old downtown and “skid row” locations, into suburban neighborhoods and rural towns, creating a political crisis for politicians at every level. At the same time, the prolonged recession and “jobless recovery” is pushing more and more workers to the edge of desperation.
From Florida to California, a grassroots movement of homeless people and supporters is emerging, organizing around the premise that housing and other basic necessities are a human right. In some areas it is replacing the various “homeless coalitions” run by bureaucrats, non-profits, and business owners, who marginalized the homeless, hiding them in jail-style shelters.
On the West Coast, especially in the wake of Occupy, homeless people have used encampments as a key organizing form, not only for survival but for protesting. In Washington, DC, a philanthropist donated 50 tents that were immediately set up by the homeless seeking protection from winter weather. The Mayor responded by finding housing for some and calling on police to remove the rest.
Virtually all politicians resist encampments, because their true agenda for the homeless is to crush them until they disappear. Local politicians have been promising to “end homelessness” since 2000, and have violated those promises with impunity. Homeless encampments make it harder for them because they are a visible sign of their failure to deliver.
Homelessness is threatening the ruling class’ ideological hold on the workers and on society as a whole. People can see more dramatically than ever, the market economy is failing to meet the needs of its people, and the social contract has been abandoned. The ruling class today has no incentive to house the homeless and no intention to do so, but cannot admit this because the homeless have public support. As a result, politicians adopt well-publicized plans to house a fraction of them, to make it look like they care, to make it look like the system works. Then they harass, oppress, criminalize, or brutalize the rest until they go to jail, the hospital, or leave town.
It is becoming clearer every day that the private property system is only concerned with housing as an investment commodity for profit, not shelter to protect human beings from the elements. This is proven by the spread of “ghost houses,” which are deliberately kept vacant (not even rented out), to be used strictly as investment vehicles for wealthy speculators to park their investments.
The homeless are beginning to develop political independence and unity based on their economic equality. One aspect of this unity and independence is that the “Non-Profit Industrial Complex” is unable to get a real foothold in the homelessness movement. While it can co-opt a few leaders, provide services and talk about “affordable housing” and “cutting poverty,” it cannot effectively connect with the homeless leaders as a whole. It cannot connect, because of its funding streams and political alliances; it cannot and does not advocate for real, effective, immediate solutions to homelessness.
The significance and power of this movement is its objective position in society. It is part of a displaced class that is growing rapidly and creating new leaders and organizations the ruling class cannot control. These are not the “same old” organizations that have been fighting these issues for decades. The power of the homelessness movement today comes from the fact that the ruling class has no solution for it, is powerless to prevent or end it, and has no moral defense for refusing to house its people.
New organizations are connected with camps, kitchens, churches, etc. They are unstable, frequently splitting around trivial issues, with old ones dying and new ones arising all the time. Their very instability, however, makes them more open to influence by revolutionaries, who help them unite and keep politically on track. At the same time there is a growing convergence between movements around homelessness and larger movements for tenants’ rights, affordable housing, and movements for health care, Fight for $15, and against police violence.
The starting point for class unity of all who can be united is the demand that the government provide housing and basic necessities for everyone; turn over the hundreds of thousands of government-owned vacant homes to the homeless, instead of to private investors to make money. When the State refuses to do so, revolutionaries can propagandize around which class it serves, and how and why a system based on private property cannot provide for the needs of its people.
Making demands on the federal government brings together the scattered struggles against individual landlords, banks, or corporations into a political struggle against the State. National demands open up a battlefield where class consciousness can be taught.
Role of Revolutionaries
Across America, a debate is raging around the cause of, and solution to, homelessness. Is it caused by the failure of corporations and government to ensure an adequate supply of housing? Or is it caused by failure of individuals to be smart and hard-working enough to be able to afford it? The facts make it clear that government is to blame, but since the system cannot admit this, it scapegoats the poor. If the answer is personal failure, there is nothing for the homeless to do but suffer in silence and lose all hope. But if the government is responsible, then the battle is on to hold it accountable to solve the problem.
The role of revolutionaries is to position themselves by agitating concretely for class unity in the various housing and homelessness battles. At the same time they use that positioning to draw the revolutionaries into discussions and education around the fact that private property is the ultimate cause of homelessness, and a cooperative society is the solution.
The question for revolutionary propagandists is to learn to use the concrete features of the housing and homelessness crisis to explain the private property system and how it is the obstacle to meeting the demands of our class. Revolutionary propaganda teaches people to look beneath the features and understand the causes of the crisis. Why won’t the system provide affordable housing? What is the relationship between new technology and the growth of homelessness? What would society look like if it were reorganized around meeting human needs instead of corporate profit?
The homelessness movement cannot advance without political consciousness. Political consciousness cannot arise without conscious revolutionary teachers, and revolutionary teaching requires building an organization of revolutionaries to make it happen. Many in the movement resist studying or joining a revolutionary organization, because they are not ready to accept that homelessness is caused by a failed capitalism, rather than just by bad policies, or they see revolutionary activity as an added obligation. They do not grasp where revolutionary ideas come from, and the fact that it is up to all of us to study the history and science of society.
The only answer is more agitation, propaganda, and education within the movement as it grows. People are ready for new ideas, but we have to meet them where they are. Revolutionaries have to spread their ideas and organize their study circles where the movement is breaking out. The homeless and the people around them are part of a class with a historic mission. The ruling class tells them their lives have no meaning, no value, and no purpose. They are hungry for the ideas that will validate their experience, honor their dignity and their contribution to building a new society. The stone that the builders rejected is becoming the cornerstone.
May/June 2016 Vol26.Ed3
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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