Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Transgender politics

Representation in the bourgeois parliament can be important to any liberation struggle that is still in its infancy. Yet 15 years after the first transgender person was elected to the New Zealand parliament, our representation has not improved. The current parliament lacks any transgender representation and only two political parties have transgender candidates standing for election this year. Indeed for the past seven years we have relied on gay or feminist MP’s to advocate on our behalf. This is quite problematic as people who do not experience this unique struggle tend to be quite out of touch with the community and their experiences.

The transgender liberation struggle is a prime example of this, those who we rely upon for advocacy and representation are no longer able to do so effectively. The gay community has become heavily commercialised, as well as being dominated by rich gay men. Feminist groups meanwhile are becoming increasingly transphobic, with Radfem tendencies becoming increasingly dominant within Anarcha-Feminist groups. On one level this highlights the importance of transgender representation within parliament yet it also highlights the inadequacy of bourgeoisie “Democracy” to properly address our concerns regardless of who is in power.

When Whangarei lawyer Kelly Ellis first announced her candidacy for the Labour party I was excited. Initially it looked like the beginning of a new chapter for transgender liberation (paying lip service to liberation struggles being one of the few things that help distinguish the Labour party from National). When the Labour party announced the so called progressive list however, she was ranked so low that her only chance of getting into parliament would be winning the deeply conservative Whangarei electorate, an impossible task during the best of times.

Georgina Beyer has really been the only significant transgender representative in the New Zealand parliament, she was elected MP for Wairarapa for six years. However she later left parliament due to the confiscation of Māori land by the Clark government. Beyer is a Māori Trans woman who has put a lot of her political focus on Maori struggles. Today she is the MANA Movement candidate for Te Tai Tonga with a very small chance of winning that electorate.

Georgina Beyer’s selection for Te Tai Tonga brings some hope for Transgender people. MANA however is a small party that is only likely to send a few MP’s to parliament. On the slight chance that Georgina Beyer can break the Tirikatene family stranglehold on Te Tai Tonga, she will be returned to parliament.

With neither of the major party's running a Transgender candidate that is likely to be elected. We must therefore focus on how we can best use radical grass roots politics to further our struggle for liberation. The liberal approach of “using the appropriate channels” has failed to improve conditions for working class, Transgender people to any significant degree. And relying on cisgender people to advocate for us is simply not acceptable, we must fight for our rights like so many before us.

Comrade Eva.

Dirty Politics and Capital

Nicky Hager's latest political expose "Dirty Politics" has exposed attitudes towards power which could be called "entitled", as well as the toxic interpersonal relationships which drive the people at the centre of our political system. It is in some ways shocking, the lack of self censorship revealed by emails and messaging, shows shrill hatred towards not just towards particular individuals, but entire groups of our fellow humans. One cannot help but wonder if the attitude of Cameron Slater towards Cantabrians is shared by our parliamentary leadership, and indeed if this has lead to many of their current miseries.
But though the litanies of immoralities, jingoism, jobism etc . . looms large, there is a central premise within Nicky's book which must be noted. There is a general decline worldwide in our democracy, it appears weak compared to what it once was. Voter turnouts throughout developed countries are generally in decline, there is increasing alienation between voters and their representatives and a proliferation of minor parties, some, such as golden dawn are openly fascist. Nicky suggests a quote by Simon Lusk provides some illumination to this quandary.
“There are a few basic propositions with negative campaigning that are worth knowing about. It lowers turnout, favours right more than left as the right continues to turn out, and drives away the independents.’ In short, many people stop participating in politics. If politicians cannot be trusted, if politics looks like a petty or ugly game, and if no one seems to be talking about the things that matter, then what’s the point of bothering to participate? Just leave them to it. There are innovations in US Republican Party thinking on this point; election tactics do not have to be just about winning votes; they can be equally effective if groups of people in society just stop voting altogether. We should not assume that everyone thinks low voter turnout is a bad idea. Sitting in the midst of the negative politics was John Key…"
- Simon Lusk.
The ideas within this quote are problematic to say the least. The idea is that revulsion with the political elite will essentially tarnish all political opposition as well, that politics will become a stinking corpse that none would dare touch from fear of the disease. But corpses must be buried, and this system would ultimately create its own gravediggers. Even the most violent, bloody, dirty political regimes in history are eventually confronted with social forces which seek their destruction, this has been repeated a hundred times over. Undermining parliament in the long term threatens the very power these parties seek to win, it's contradictory to engage in such politics by choice.
Secondly the idea has a circular logic to it, dirty politics depresses voter turnout through alienation. This alienation then leads to lower turnout strengthening the practice of dirty politics. More dirty politics are practiced lowering voter turnout further, strengthening the practice of dirty politics. This forms a perfect circle without a history or future, nor does it offer any explanation for the rise of dirty politics or most importantly how to fight it?
To this end I would like to advance an alternate perspective on the context within which dirty politics must be understood. An international context with clear historic, economic and ideological origins.
"With this generalised involution has come a pervasive corruption of the political class… Commonplace in a Union that presents itself as a moral tutor to the world, the pollution of power by money and fraud follows from the leaching of substance or involvement in democracy. Elites freed from either real division above, or significant accountability below, can afford to enrich themselves without distraction or retribution. Exposure ceases to matter very much, as impunity becomes the rule. Like bankers, leading politicians do not go to prison… But corruption is not just a function of the decline of the political order. It is also, of course, a symptom of the economic regime that has taken hold of Europe since the 1980s. In a neoliberal universe, where markets are the gauge of value, money becomes, more straightforwardly than ever before, the measure of all things. If hospitals, schools and prisons can be privatised as enterprises for profit, why not political office too?"
- Perry Anderson.
Here Perry Anderson offers an alternative explanation for the spread of dirty politics, as Marx pointed out "the political follows the economic". Dirty politics do not represent a development separate from our system of economic development, it is a way of maintaining the ideological dominance of capitalism broadly and neo-liberalism specifically. We can see examples of this throughout the neo-liberal political-economy that now pervades. Examples include misinformation campaigns and defamation attacks by petrochemical companies against global warming advocates, Clothing corporations over the conditions of workers in the global south and defense of executive bonuses within the financial sector after the financial crisis they perpetrated, not one went to jail.
What Nicky Hager has revealed in his book is the connection between these corporations and our 'so-called' representatives. The sharing of tactics, resources and political objectives. But we do not need Nicky's book to provide examples of the mutual interests of the state and capital acting against the interests of the population. Casino deals, financial bailouts, deregulation and attacks on welfare are all examples of the complicity of the state, often under the direction of 'Commissions' lined with the cream of business.
To this end dirty politics does not represent a political strategy for retaining office but the spread of capitalist neo-liberal ideology within the political parties which alienated large sections of the party membership, allowing the growth of corporate interest and control to every party aspect including parliamentary strategy. Dirty politics then becomes about maintaining the corporate control of parties.
Fighting dirty politics then must not just be a political endeavour, it must transform the economic conditions which lead to the rise and maintenance of dirty politics. Fought not just with the vote but with the struggle for the minimum wage, secure hours and democratic control. Corporate economic power can only represent a temporary victory unless it consolidates its power to once again dominate political power. To fight this dependency and free ourselves from the stinking corpse of politics we must become 'gravediggers' not just of capitals influence over politics but of the economy as well.
Dave, SA

Monday, September 01, 2014


Many people don’t vote for National because they don’t like their economic policies, which favour the rich and hurt the poor. But it’s also important to understand that National creates policies and a social environment that is bad for women.

Many of the policies that National has created over its last two terms in government worsen women’s position. For example, they cut the training allowance for solo mothers on the Domestic Purposes Benefit, even though their own social welfare minister, Paula Bennett, used this benefit herself when she was on welfare. This is known as ‘pulling the ladder up after yourself’. Over the last year, they’ve also created policies that mean that WINZ is constantly checking up on solo mothers and trying to force them into work, even if they’re already in jobs, as many are. These women are harassed by WINZ workers and forced to come into the office for long, tedious appointments that don’t help them to find jobs.

National has also created policy that means that innocent women can have their benefits cut if their partners commit benefit fraud. National is more prone to abusing women on social welfare in this way because, in order to trick poor people into voting for them, and against their own interests, they have to create a climate of fear, dividing sections of the poor up and turning them against each other. They try to make the working poor believe that the poor who are on social welfare are their enemies. To follow through on this, they have to create policies that punish the poor on social welfare, so it looks like they’re ‘protecting the interests’ of the working poor. Many of those who need social welfare are women, so they’re on the receiving end of these unjust policies.

Another way in which National hurts women is through the basic sexism of their outlook on society. For example, National has close ties with Cameron Slater, the blogger who accused a woman who was almost raped by a Malaysian diplomat of only complaining because she was a ‘feminist’. They also failed to investigate this case properly until they were forced to by media interest. National delisted domestic violence from the crimes that New Zealand keeps statistics on, and attacked Labour’s attempts to have an equal number of male and female MPs in parliament – an attack that made Labour water down its policy. 

Finally, National will always put the interests of the rich ahead of the interests of women whose rights need protecting. For example, they ignored the fact that one of their most generous donors had a record of domestic violence, and accorded him privileges he probably shouldn’t have received (Labour also received donations from this man). National supports employment policies like creating more casual workers, these workers have no guaranteed hours and almost no rights, as their hours can be slashed at will without a good reason being given. Casual workers are often women who are unable to work full time as they care for children or other family members. It suits National to have a big workforce of poorly paid workers with hardly any rights, as their rich friends will like this pool of cheap, flexible labour. Over the last few years, the women who make up the bulk of the workers in low paid jobs such as care work and cleaning have struggled for better pay and conditions, only for National to refuse to help them.

Women can stick together and fight against National and its policies. Oppressing women benefits the rich, because it creates a big pool of people who will work for low wages and don’t have the emotional strength or time to defend themselves. It’s important to think about how National creates an environment that benefits the rich not just by creating legislation that makes many people poorer and less powerful, but how they specifically try to fool people into voting for them by turning the working poor against those on welfare, and men against women.

Mary Ann.

Housing and Revolution.

Since the latest financial crisis the housing markets of many countries including Aotearoa (New Zealand) have not only rebounded to pre-crisis (2006) price levels, they have in many cases exceeded them. This situation is not unique to Aotearoa but is following the trend of many of the central capitalist nations, even Greece, still being racked by economic crisis, is seeing a resurgence in house prices.
This is largely due to the dominance of finance capital which, during this period of continued depressed consumption and manufacturing, has instead looked to speculative means in order to ensure continued capitalist profit. This is aided by the quantitative easing policies of numerous central banks including the Federal Reserve and European Union. Trillions of dollars of low to no interest cash has flooded the market, effectively bidding up prices. If you are fortunate enough to be a recipient of this money and by fortunate I mean, a member of the ruling capitalist class or its representative, then its straight back to the pre-crisis business of reckless speculation as usual.
However, for the largest section of the worlds population, workers; who are forced to sell their labour for wages, as they don't own the means of production (factories, land, etc), wages have largely stagnated or increased below the rate of inflation. In the face of a rising speculative bubble and devaluing currency, this is severely harming the ability of the working class to rent or purchase housing, as well as raising the prices of those commodities which are land intensive to produce, primarily food and taxes such as rates.
Parliamentary politics in Aotearoa, which due to the working classes struggle for universal suffrage last century, relies upon the votes of the working class to form a government. The Government has feigned concern at the plight of their 'citizens', largely ignoring the underlying causes of the crisis. They attempt to lay speculative blame (as if it were fact) on a deluge of reasons, hoping to obfuscate the underlying contradictions, while securing election to parliament with all its privilege for themselves.
Dominant among these obfuscations has been; foreign investment, supply and demand, or blaming "red tape and bureaucracy". However as pointed out before, these reasons are simply symptomatic of the development of capital and the rise of financial capital, in particular its international character. As the National party embarrassingly pointed out, during the height of the last financial boom while Labour had been in office, it had sold more land to foreign investors, inline with the strength of finance capital at the time. Further proof of both major parties commitment to be the best "managers" of the system rather than to oppose it.
Does this mean that there is no hope to a resolution within the parliamentary system for the plight of the workers? The short answer is no, parliament cannot resolve the contradictions of the capitalist system, parliament was shaped by capital to manage society on behalf of the capitalist class. As Marx pointed out, once every few years those members of the oppressed class may gather to choose which members of the oppressing classes should oppress them. This is all the democracy capital will surrender, any more is resisted violently. Ultimately, all parliamentary parties must uphold capital, as without it parliamentary politics would become redundant, as without capital there can be no capitalist class. But this answer, though correct is reductionist, and does not include parliament into a strategy for challenging the rule of capital.
The long answer is that although parliamentary politics can sometimes resemble a pigsty, just like a pigsty, it has its uses. The very fact workers have won many concessions including; holiday pay, sick leave, breaks and socialised healthcare, shows that the working class can influence parliament, if only temporarily as many of these things are under attack by capital and parliament. Winning concessions from parliament are vital to demonstrate the real power that the working class wield. Further, as a basis for real material improvements to the conditions of our life. And finally to create the most favourable conditions for the seizure of power by a strong, organised, educated working class. In this context, with these objectives in mind we can as revolutionaries, provide limited support to parliamentary parties who propose the greatest advance of working class interests.
Workers and revolutionaries should therefore identify those parties whose policies, though a chasm remains, best align with the interests of the working class. Additionally to ensure that some substance exists within the rhetoric, a parliamentary party whose members bring a proven record of opposing the worst abuses of capital. And fights against the primary capitalist tools for the ideological division of workers; racism, sexism and nationalism. These are factors which must be of primary concern for the casting of working class votes, anything less is a vote for reaction, opportunism and division.
The party which best fits these criteria, especially since the collapse of the alliance and final gutting of labour by neoliberal ideologies, is Internet MANA.
Returning to the focus on housing, the MANA party in particular, proposes two items which will make the most difference to working class families, and will threaten the grip of financial capital on housing. The first is to abolish homeless, the second, to build 10,000 additional state homes a year while retaining rents at no more than 25% of income.
Abolishing homelessness is of course an aspirational goal, but it is also a real one and one that threatens the very relationship between supply and demand which is a sacred cow to capital. During capitalist production, although the capacity to produce sufficient commodities exists, inevitably the ability of society to pay for those commodities collapses, causing unemployment before the total need for them is satisfied. The material criminality of a system which forces people to go without when the means to satisfy their needs exists, cannot be overstated. In housing those who are left without are called homeless. Filling garages, portable cabins, tents and cars, an estimated 50,000+ in Auckland alone, their existence is a testament to the wretched price the market demands.
Million dollar mansions for those with the money, grinding misery for the rest. To ensure adequate housing for all regardless of means, is to challenge the vile failings of the market, to put human need before the ability to pay. But by removing the ability of the market to judge supply and demand by the ability to pay, a new question is posed. How then is a plan created to ensure adequate supply of housing? This can only be answered by a new form of social organisation, where housing is constructed according to planned social need. A plan constructed by the direct democratic involvement of those who consume the housing, created and funded by their labour, for their consumption.
However in answering the above question we have abstracted away the financier and developer, who have profited handsomely under the current arrangement. They would of course violently oppose such an arrangement, which effectively cuts out their existence as middlemen, standing between production and consumption. A series of attacks against any government would be harsh and likely threaten its economic continuity, investor strikes, capital flight and lockouts would be expected. Of course the MANA party leadership is likely to back down in the face of stiff opposition by capital. However, the confrontation creates the opportunity for workers who voted for reforms, if organised, to continue the dispute by non parliamentary means. To overcome these would require the direct mobilization of the working class to crush capitalist opposition, through seizing capital, breaking lockouts and seizing political power under their direct democratic control, pulverising any further capitalist maneuvering. Such an effort can be called nothing short of revolutionary, throwing all the existing social and economic relations into the air, daring the newly empowered working class to define them, wages, production, politics all would be redefined.
In the 1870's a major debate emerged in the German left regarding the shortage of housing for workers in major cities. 144 years later we still are having the same debate. In 1872 Fredrick Engels in his work, 'The Housing question' pointed out that the solution to the housing question lay not within reforms, but a revolutionary programme of the workers. The reason being that solving the housing question could not simultaneously solve the social question of capital and inequality. But only by overcoming the exploitative system of capitalism, which created the question in the first place could the answer be found. The only way to take a step towards solving the conditions our class endures, not just in housing, but in labour, unemployment and discrimination, is to take a step towards the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. To replace the growing capitalist oligarchies with the democratic rule of the workers. Voting MANA is a small but important step towards a greater goal.
All power to the working class!
All power to the imagination!
Dave, SA

MANA policy priorities are to:
  • Abolish homelessness.
  • Make it a duty of government to ensure every individual and family is housed in secure, safe, and affordable accommodation.
  • Develop a national housing strategy based on quality research which identifies true levels of homelessness and substandard living arrangements.
  • Ensure there is enough rental housing that is safe and affordable.
  • Stop the sale of state houses and eviction of tenants, and instead build 10,000 new state homes per year for rent (or rent-to-own) until the current crisis in rental availability for people and families on low incomes is addressed.  This will also create jobs and training opportunities.
  • Maintain income related rents at no more than 25% of income for state, local government, community and iwi social housing, and develop an income rent control system for use in the private sector.
  • Put state housing back under the management of HNZ rather than MSD.
  • Introduce a ‘warrant of fitness’ for all rental housing, to ensure no accommodation is let without basic standards being met, including sanitation, insulation, warmth, fire safety, and the removal of any toxic materials.
  • Reinstate tenure for families in state homes so they can’t simply be reviewed out of their homes by governments wanting to reduce state house numbers.
  • Assist low and middle income earners into home ownership
  • Develop a new low-interest, no deposit Māori Home Ownership Scheme (with low-cost mortgage insurance) for Māori first home buyers to increase the number of Māori owning their own homes.
  • Develop a new Kiwibank Home Ownership Scheme that would provide low-interest loans (with low-cost mortgage insurance) to low and middle income individuals and families with a demonstrated savings record.
  • Ensure low income families are better able to save for a home and service a mortgage by raising the minimum wage to a living level (set at 66% of the average wage).
  • Support the development of Indigenous housing models, as well as sweat equity, shared equity, eco housing, cooperative housing, and other innovative forms of home ownership.
  • Require all new housing developments of 10 homes or more to include a minimum of 50% of affordable homes.
  • Better regulate house prices by imposing a tough capital gains tax on property investors whose buying and selling activity helps push prices up.
  • Restrict foreign ownership of housing to ensure better availability and greater affordability for New Zealanders.
  • Increase government support for third sector housing providers
  • Increase government support for third sector housing providers – whānau, hapū and iwi, community, and church based organisations who work to provide quality social housing for rent (or rent-to-own) in local areas.
  • Properly fund supported accommodation
  • Provide adequate ongoing funding for emergency housing, women’s refuge and supported housing for those with particular health and social needs – in every district.  Increase funding and other support for tenants’ protection groups.
  • Support housing development on Māori land
  • Introduce a major papakainga housing programme, which works to overcome in sensitive, practical ways the many current barriers to building housing on Māori communally owned land.
  • Establish the right of Māori to remain in or return to their home rohe without penalty from the state.
  • Improve rural housing
  • Maintain and increase rural housing improvement programmes which enable whānau to bring their homes up to decent health and safety standards.
  • Increase government support for rural districts, including through greater assistance with public transport, sewerage, water, wastewater, waste, roading, and other infrastructure.
  • Support sustainable housing
  • Increase funding and support for environmentally sustainable and low cost, low tech building trades training programmes.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The One state solution.

The Two-State Solution for Palestine has been tried since 1948 and even earlier. The concept of dividing Palestine into two states has been going on since the inception of Israel. Mandated Palestine was originally the division of Palestine into two states, one for Jews one for Arabs. That was in 1920 and basically split the country 50/50. As a result of the 1947-48 war, Israel retained all the Jewish part plus 60% of the Palestinian part. This was the founding of Israel, it was founded on the theft of Palestinian land: the Nakba, or catastrophe.

700,000 Palestinians were expelled from their land where they had lived for generations. Many have been living in refugee camps in Lebanon and other countries ever since. Many of them still hold the deeds to their proprties and the key to their front door. Around the same time 700,000 Jews moved to Israel from neighbouring Arab countries. The Palestinians have been fighting for their land ever since. In 2017, it will be 100 years since the Balfour Declaration, which was the beginning of all this, where Great Britain sided with Zionism and called for the creation of a Jewish homland in Palestine. Perhaps this could be a date to aim for, for the return to all Palestinians their land and freedom.

In 1967, during the 6 Day War, Israel seized the Gaza strip, Sinai Peninsula, West Bank and the Golan Heights, they have occupied these areas ever since. The UN Security Council resolution 242 of November 1967, which emphasises the inadmissiblity of the acquisition of territory by war, demanded the withdrawal of Israel's armed forces from territories occupied in the recent conflict. Israel has been in contravention of this resolution and resolution 338, which called for a ceasefire and negotiations for peace ever since.

In 1991 George Bush sent half a million soldiers to enforce a UN Security Council resolution, which called for another Middle Eastern amy – Iraq's – to withdraw from another occupied Arab land – that of Kuwait. Rather ironic considering The USA's unwavering support of Israel.

The numbers of Palestinians massacred by Israel is unimaginable; it has been going on since Israel was created, and is still happening as we speak. I won't try to list every massacre, for they are too numerous to list, but I will mention some of them for the record:

About 70 massacres occurred during the 1948 war when Israeli soldiers killed roughly 800 Arab civilians and prisoners of war. At the Sabra and Shatilla massacres in 1982, about 3500 civilians were murdered by Lebanese Christian militias supervised by IDF soldiers and was later found to be the responsibility of Arial Sharon. The Hebron massacre of 1994 was a shooting carried out by an American-born Israeli (Baruch Goldstein), a member of the far-right Israeli Kach movement, who fired on unarmed Palestinians praying inside the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in the West Bank, killing 29 and wounding 125. In 2002 in Jenin, two major Israeli offensives and the reoccupation of the West Bank left nearly 500 Palestinians dead, including 70 children. The Gaza massacre of 2008 /2009 killed approximately 1400 Palestinians, mostly civilians. And Gaza in 2012, 133 Palestinians were killed and 840 wounded, to mention just some of them.

Every peace agreement that has been entered into has been broken or ignored by Israel. The one that really broke the camel's back in my view was the Oslo Accords in 1993. This started out as peace talks between the state of Israel, neighbouring Arab countries and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), negotiated by Yasar Arafat. At the outset many believed the Israelis would try to divide the Arab nations and get agreements behind the backs of the others, breaking the Arab bloc. But what happened in the end was Arafat secretly negotiated with the Israelis behind the backs of even his own Palestinian leaders, and made an agreement which basically handed everything over to Israel on a plate, relinquishing 78% of historic Palestine to Israel. 


A detailed investigation in 2000 revealed that not a single one of the Accords has been honoured by Israel since 1991. The Oslo Agreement gave away the rights of Palestinians to return to their lands, something which had always been a non-negotiable part of Palestinian bargaining. Arafat's selling out of the Palestinians, and the corruption of his officials with the setting up of the so-called Palestinian States lost him the support of the Palestinian people. The Oslo Agreement and its subsequent shennanigans was basically the end of any hope of a Two-State Solution. Israel has proved that it is not interested in any Palestinian state and basically won't be happy until it completely removes the Palestinians from the face of the earth.

The only real hope for Middle East peace is for the end of the Israeli state as we know it; for Palestine/Israel to be one state where all citizens have equal rights and all exiled people to be able to return to their land and live in peace. It will take a long time for this to happen and will need a lot of help from the rest of the world. Perhaps we can take a leaf out of South Africa's book in some respects, but this process calls for a revolution in all the neighbouring countries, a real and successful Arab Spring. Not only that, but a revolution in American foreign policy before this is likely to happen.

Who knows what could be around the corner. From the perspective of International Socialism the future of us all is inexticably linked.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

Housing Resistance

“The history of all hitherto existing societies is the history of class struggles... [in this] the bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part... [it] has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation... [this revolutionary force] must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere.”

These words are taken from the opening lines of the Communist Manifesto, written more than 150 years ago.  Yet they perfectly describe the world we live in today; a world rent by economic strife and class struggle driven deep into every tiny crack and crevice of modern society.

But the world was not always like this.  Some few human communities still exist as they have done for hundreds of years, in peace and security, where money has little use except in trade. In certain remote and ancient villages in northern Africa or the Middle East, whitewashed homes still stand cool and secure, where successive generations are raised without debt or mortgage, or fear for the future.  These houses have doors made of wood and iron that have never felt the knock of a Sheriff or a Banker or a Real Estate broker.  The children raised in these homes play and grow to marry without ever once calculating the inheritance they'd collect if only their parents would have the decency to die.

Yes, in some places, evidence still exists of a better way to live than this.  But not here.  In our world, all our relations are in some respect, “money relations” as Marx put it.  Ours is a world where poverty and oppression go together like pasta and sauce.  Where a mother's love, and a father's devotion are reducible to precise dollar values in divorce proceedings.  Where lawyers and accountants must first slice up the family home before the bride is allowed to cut up her wedding cake. Where parents charge rent to their children and evict their unemployed teenagers for overdue arrears.  Where the division of a parent's estate is fought over while these same parents sit, still very much alive, silently ruing their part in raising such a brood of monsters... this is the “market economy”, where “money problems” are served at every family dinner, and “financial insecurity” slips under the sheets to intrude itself between husband and wife when the lights go out.  This is the Bourgeois Revolution, triumphant.

Seen in this way, it is an outrage, but seen every day, it fatally evades attention.  It is a tumour growing on the body of society.  Everyone you meet on the street has the same affliction, growing within them, dominating their thoughts and sapping their strength... “How do I make more money?  And like so many cancer sufferers, to stop for a moment and reflect, what is that stabbing pain? Is to admit doubt, and with doubt, fear, and with fear, anxiety, and with anxiety, weakening and collapse.  We must keep moving, growing! but we are not growing, it is the tumour that grows.  We have no time to stop, we must work!  We can't afford to be sick!  When finally the “problem” becomes so enormous it can no longer be denied, it is of course too late.  At the end of our lives, we realise we have served this thing growing inside us to the exclusion of almost everything else that matters.  And finally, at the very moment our eyes are truly open for the first time, we die.

This is the life we have made for ourselves. We cannot imagine living any other way.  Yet there is another way, if we could, squinting, only see it, and choose it.

One thing, a small thing really, but a thing nonetheless which has been made a killing field in the class struggle, is the fight over Housing Security.  It was not an issue until the bourgeoisie made it one, but now that it is one, it is a fight to the finish, at least as far as workers are concerned.

Capitalism, as Marx demonstrated, must possess everything, own everything, control everything, no matter how sacred or seemingly insignificant.  And the family home is such a thing. The process of owning everything requires disruption and destablisation. Workers, the sole producers of value must be unsettled so they can be parted from what they have earned and acquired and rely upon.  And of course, the single most important thing that any worker can own, besides their lives and health, besides their time and labour, is their home.

A worker who owns their own home is secure.  They have resources and leisure in which to contemplate their lot in life, and their duty as human beings.  They do not have to work as hard to support themselves and their families.  They are free, at least to think, to question.

Workers who do not own their own homes, who must work to pay off a a heavy mortgage, whether it is theirs, or their landlord's, are in a precarious situation.  If they lose their jobs, they lose their homes, and in our society, being homeless and unemployed is a form of “fiscal death” which is itself a form of “social death” leading in some cases to physical death.  Workers rightly fear it.  This fear makes them amenable to control.   Workers who are tenants, or in debt are therefore more compliant, more docile, more subservient, and easily dissuaded from taking collective action as they ought. 

Housing insecurity therefore can be seen as a form of Social Control, one which keeps pressure on workers so that ideally, they will be more “productive” and less politically disruptive.  Where this form of social control becomes public policy, you are looking at the class struggle, aimed squarely at your head.  Now imagine instead an army of workers secure in their homes, able to work a little less, and attend a few more meetings, read a few more books, and think.  Such an army of workers would be very hard to put down.  Which is yet another reason why housing security is such a hotly contested social battle ground.

It is no coincidence then, that “property investing” and the commodification of residential housing began at the same time that Neo-Liberalism was popularised by Thatcher and Reagan.  Since the 1980's, an incipient “housing bubble” has been inflating, fueled by low taxes for the rich, oceans of printed money and a lemming-like urge to repeatedly buy assets that inarticulate instinct tells us we should already own by right.  We fell prey to an unbelievably pervasive public relations campaign showing happy families and picket fences. We were sold on the idea that we owed it to ourselves to get into debt.  Banks and financial advisors around the world advised “mums and dads” to replace the vanishing pensions their taxes had already paid for with “rental property portfolios” using borrowed money.  This would bring in “passive income” from “renters” who would obligingly “pay your mortgage for you” so that you, the “smart money” would be able to “secure your financial future”.  Millions bought it, literally, and promptly lost everything because of it.  The promise of financial freedom, dangled like a carrot from a white picket fence post was alas a lie.

For more than 30 years, property prices have increased on the back of this propaganda barrage, from an historic average 2:1 ratio of house price to gross income, to more than 6 times, as it is now.  A simple wooden house built in 1930 that was not meant to last more than 50 years now sells 80 years later for over $1 million.  If the present situation continues, with house prices growing at current rates, the same mouldy house will be priced at $2 million in 2022.  In contrast, worker's wages have not only failed to keep pace, they have actually declined in the same period.  This is a ridiculous and unsustainable state of affairs.

The answer is clear;  while so ever worker's homes are treated as commodities to be traded and speculated upon, workers can never be secure.  The only solution is to put an end to the speculative market in residential properties.  The easiest way to do this is to remove the commercial incentive for investing in property for exploitative purposes.

This is currently considered unthinkable, but in fact, it has been done before, many times, in different ways, and in some of the most unlikely places. 

One way this has been done is through Rent controls.  The United States has an extensive history of rent control, with rent controls common in San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and Washington DC.

Rent controls can take many forms, but typically involve putting a cap on rent rises for a tenant while they are occupying the property, and granting the tenant much stronger occupancy rights.  These stronger occupancy rights effectively remove the distinction between home ownership and rental tenancy, making the tenant as secure in their control of the property as they would be if they actually owned it.  Rent control tenants in many San Francisco properties for example cannot have their rent raised, even after decades, and cannot be removed or evicted unless the owner themselves or their immediate family intends to move in. 

Many millions of Americans know what rent control is, and would count themselves very fortunate to live in a rent controlled property in a city like San Francisco.  However, it seldom crosses their minds to consider that rent control is actually a form of Socialism, won by struggle, through the organised participation of militant tenant associations. 

Contrary to the rabid fears of Neo-Liberals, such rent controls do not adversely affect rental accommodation availability in these cities.  Instead, rent controls merely drive out the speculators.  Property owners continue to buy apartment buildings for their intrinsic value, not their speculative value.  Rents typically cover property taxes, maintenance and the opportunity cost of the original investment. 

While not an entirely adequate Revolutionary Socialist solution, it nonetheless breaks the back of the property hoarders and speculators, and restores housing security to workers.  Activism in this context is crucial for the creation of class consciousness – tinkering with reforms will not suffice.  However additional support can come in the form of  legal restrictions on the number of rental properties that can be owned concurrently, the creation of housing co-ops, Building and Friendly Society formation and so forth.  All of these methods together serve to subvert the commercial incentives for speculators, improve home affordability and housing security, and thus take pressure off of workers.  Taking pressure off of workers is vital, as it allows them leisure to examine their role in society, and to develop other social policy changes even more wide-ranging and ambitious than housing reform.

In New Zealand, most Kiwi's, shocked at the growing gap in housing affordability seldom consider that there is anything that can be done about it, other than to work harder and save more.  This is precisely what the bourgeoisie want workers to think.  The bourgeoisie are solving their need for greed by propagating the myth that there is “no alternative” to Neo-Liberalism and pitiless “personal responsibility”, when all the while, the game has been rigged from the beginning.  But there is an alternative to “generational mortgages” and permanent home insecurity. It is called resistance.

Linda M.
Socialist Aotearoa