Fight for Basic Needs Opens Door to Revolution
The 2020 elections are offering voters their starkest choice in decades: Double down on the fascist future of misery and concentration camps promised by the Trump administration, or open the door to a political revolution capable of building a peaceful, prosperous, cooperative society.
Corporate political representatives in both parties are stepping up their attacks in order to stop this political revolution before it gets started. The outcome of the elections is becoming a life and death matter for millions of Americans. The significance of electoral campaigns like Bernie Sanders’ and others is not just their New Deal-style programs, but the fact that they are emerging during a time of systemic breakdown. The New Deal used government spending to stabilize capitalism, but Sanders is promoting his program at a time when the economy is self-destructing.
As Andrew Yang pointed out, today’s automation increasingly no longer needs human labor. Since capitalism by definition requires the buying and selling of labor power to exist, it can therefore no longer be saved by a New Deal, a Sanders program, or anything else. Revolutionaries fight for the Sanders campaign not just because it addresses our immediate demands, but because it opens up a sweeping debate about the entire corporate property system.
Moms 4 Housing
As the system crumbles, the sharpening struggles of the economically displaced are pushing the property issue into electoral debates. In Oakland, California a group of recently dispossessed, working, homeless mothers took over a vacant home owned by the speculator, Wedgewood Property. They organized the group “Moms 4 Housing.” This action to protect their children dramatically called into question a system that protects corporate property over the lives of human beings. The moms argued that their human right to housing surpasses the speculator’s “right” to keep the home vacant. This idea resonated with a population and an electorate that are feeling at risk of displacement and homelessness themselves. Three hundred people turned out on January 13 to attempt to block their eviction.
Homelessness in Oakland has almost doubled in the past two years, and more than a hundred homeless encampments have sprouted up in almost every corner of the city. At the same time, Oakland has four empty residences for each homeless person and thousands of “market rate” housing units sit empty. This is typical of more cities across the country, so much so that the Trump administration announced that it plans to use law enforcement to round up homeless people and place them in government detention facilities.
The Oakland women represent the social force that points the way forward to the reconstruction of society — the new class of workers cast out by labor-replacing technology. The needs of this new class cannot and will not be met within the existing system, because it no longer has decent jobs for people, but still requires them to have money to pay for what they need. This is the essence of the problem, but also points the way forward toward the solution: a society where wealth is distributed according to need, not money. Destitution is forcing people to move from talk to action to secure their right to housing and other necessities.
Why is this happening? Because the automation revolution has triggered permanent unemployment, and a dramatic shift to part-time and temporary jobs that do not pay a living wage. A worker in Oakland would need to earn $48.71 an hour to be able to afford the median monthly rent. At the same time, corporations are refusing to pay taxes to support workers they do not need, and state and federal housing programs have been cut to the bone.
The emergence of so-called “hedge cities” is intensifying the crisis. Hedge cities are a new form of private property and corporate control. The term was coined in a 2017 report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing. With increasing automation, declining rates of manufacturing profit have diverted more and more capital into financial speculation. According to the Rapporteur, “Financialization of housing refers to structural changes in housing and financial markets and global investment, whereby housing is treated as a commodity, a means of accumulating wealth, and often as security for financial instruments that are traded and sold on global markets. It refers to the way capital investment in housing increasingly disconnects housing from its social function of providing a place to live in security and dignity, and hence undermines the realization of housing as a human right.”
Hedge cities are those where speculators acquire such massive amounts of housing that they drive up the price of all the rest. A recent study by Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and Strategic Actions for a Just Economy, found that 41 percent of residential property in Los Angeles is owned by corporate entities, not individual human beings, and 103,000 housing units were unoccupied and vacant. The Atlantic reports that almost half of all luxury housing units built in New York City in the last five years are empty.
Although housing has always been a commodity under capitalism, hedge cities sharpen the debate over the viability and morality of private property. Do homes rightly belong to the millions of people who need them to survive, or to the handful of speculators who have no need for them except as investment vehicles for accumulating higher profits?
Women Take on Corporate Predators
Moms 4 Housing did not stop in Oakland. On January 7, they impacted the housing narrative of the entire state by boldly disrupting a press conference by Democratic Party leaders promoting State Senate Bill 50. SB 50 is a pro-gentrification bill that threatens to displace even more millions of people from their homes. It would up-zone areas around transit routes, which are concentrated in the most low-income working-class neighborhoods. This will unleash the profiteers and speculators to make even more money than they already have. The alleged purpose is to address California’s housing shortage, but California’s problem is not so much an absolute shortage as a problem of housing distribution. Most California cities routinely exceed their market-rate and luxury housing production goals but create only a fraction of the low-income housing needed to house the working class.
The SB 50 model claims to increase “affordable” housing by requiring market rate residential development to include an incremental amount of “inclusionary housing” units in each building or contribute to an affordable housing fund. But this is not working. The number of affordable units produced is not enough to meet the need, and in fact most “affordable” housing is not affordable to low-income people. Excess luxury housing also crowds out low-income housing from the available residential land. The massive public investment proposed by Sanders is to take $2.5 trillion from the corporations and build ten million units of the low-income housing that people need, instead of begging for crumbs from profiteers.
Abolish Speculation in Real Estate
The role of revolutionaries in both the social and electoral movements is to continue, at every step, expose the role of corporate property as the obstacle to meeting human needs. The people being thrown out of this economy need a new system. They cannot survive in this one. Modern automation and Artificial Intelligence are creating the material abundance necessary. But in order to access it, we have to build a cooperative economy, where housing, food, health care, and education are available to each according to their need, and from each according to their ability.
However, a cooperative economy cannot emerge spontaneously, and cannot be built one cooperative at a time, or one reform at a time. The corporations will never allow it. We wholeheartedly support the call for political revolution, but it is more than a slogan. It is a life and death political struggle to claw control of government away from the corporations, return their resources to the public, and establish a working-class economic and political democracy. The responsibility of revolutionaries is to fight for the vision, clarity of purpose, strategy, and organization necessary to make it happen.
It is not any material shortage or scarcity that creates the deprivation we face today, but the private property system that blocks people from accessing the abundance that already exists.
In the progressive electoral campaigns of Sanders and others, revolutionaries fight for the programs and demands of the new class, and fearlessly confront the corporate property system whenever it gets in the way. Moms 4 Housing modeled this when they selected speculator property to take over. No one is talking about taking away anyone’s home who needs it to live in, or any other personal property. The vulture capitalist Wedgewood had the gall to accuse the mothers of “stealing” because they moved into an empty home to save the lives of their children. The moms shot back that it is the corporations that hoard empty homes that are the real criminals. Although they temporarily lost in a court of law, they won in the court of public opinion, and that is the court that will determine our future.
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