Homes and Hovels
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children may be an admirable institution in the eyes of those who fail to realize its limitations: namely, that it is powerless to prevent the poverty stricken unhappy home conditions arising from a social system whose “mainspring” is profit, and where the amount of rent paid determines the quality and quantity of the shelter that is sold. Pay eight guineas a week and you can live in comfort; pay eight shillings a week and you can live in misery.
There’s the rub—the quantity of wages determines the quality of shelter and there is no escape from this state of affairs, so long as shelter and the workers’ labour power both exist as commodities.
Slums always with us
Without tiresome reminders of the slums that are still with us, despite their “abolition” on paper over the years by Governments of the day, surely it must be obvious that if Capitalism produces them, through the inability of its wage slaves to afford decent homes, the only solution is to abolish the wages system, which is the real stumbling block to the so-called housing problem. Despite the foregoing, we constantly read statements, such as the following, culled from the Liverpool Echo of 30th November:—
“Lady Celia Noble, wife of Sir Humphrey Noble. High Sheriff of Northumberland and mother of two sons and a daughter, told the annual meeting of Blackpool branch of the N.S.P.C.. yesterday that a happy home life was the surest way of preventing misery and delinquincy in children.
“ ‘The child who is secure and has affection is not the child who goes into the juvenile court,’ she said.” (Our italics.)
This statement is illuminating merely because of what it does not tell us, namely, about the child who is not “secure” and whose quota of comfort and affection is on a diminishing ratio in relation to the degree of misery and degradation of the particular slum environment he or she inhabits.
Can Lady Noble, who has been fortunate enough to bestow on her offspring the degree of comfort in her home which she deems necessary to prevent the misery she mentions, inform us how to provide all children with similar desirable home conditions in a class divided, buying and selling world? Socialists continually point out that the abolition of the wages system is the only possible solution for the miseries which spring from production for profit.
Our Mansion and Hovel World
In passing, the following quotations have some bearing on the subject:—
“In a society in which there is war and its consequences the conditions do not exist for active life mellowing into old age. In cities built haphazardly, the mansion and the slum are corollaries. Where the horror of street upon street of back-to-back hovels is tolerated, there is unlikely to be any appreciation of the need for parks and open fields. As long as the individual worker is the most cheaply replaced component of industrial stock, his welfare is not likely to he the first consideration in production factories will continue to be built and mines sunk to satisfy other reasons than the dictates of life and health. The production of goods and food geared to any other motive than their consumption by the producers must lead to the insanity of food being burnt and production restricted when there is widespread malnutrition and want with all their consequences on health. Morbidity and mortality directly arising from poverty and social mismanagement in a society that has technologically solved the needs of production, present to medicine not a problem, but an outrage.” (Arnold Sorsby’s “Medicine and Mankind.” (Our italics.)
The illusion that the vast mass of the working class can somehow “hoist” themselves out of their poverty and degradation by such means as “home buying” on a mortgage system is a popular fantasy held by those who fail to comprehend the underlying cause of slums and poverty which is that the working class have to sell their labour-power on the market.
The Snare of Home Ownership
Whilst on the subject of home ownership—Lewis Mumford, in his work, Culture of Cities, has this to say—
“The failure of decent housing to obtain capital through competition in the market has led to widespread attempts to foster home-ownerships among the workers: under the guise of offering security, those who have fostered this movement, including Government agencies, have sought to burden the worker with the risks: risks whose returns are not sufficient to attract the necessary capital from the more wary. This diversion of the worker’s meagre budget to housing not merely undermines his standard of life: it lessens his freedom of movement and, during a financial crisis or a local shutdown often results in the complete loss of his entire investment—and the roof over his head as well.” (Our italics.)
The problem facing the world wide working class is one of poverty caused through wage slavery—the solution lies in abolishing the wages system and establishing Socialism. So long as these facts are ignored by the majority we shall continue to read in the Daily Press the empty speeches of the defenders of King Capital, whether well meaning or hypocritical.
G. R. RUSSELL.