Usa: proletarians immolated on the altar of profit
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 14; Autumn - Winter 2017)
Nearly 2,300 people died from fires in their homes in 2016. In December alone 230 deaths – 59 of them children – were recorded by the US Fire Administration. These figures are only partial because they are based on information published in the press, which cannot be exhaustive because not all were reported in the media. They also do not take into account the wounded and traumatized people who have been victims or witnesses of a disaster. In addition, the USFA records only deaths related to dwelling places, which excludes certain inhabited warehouses. It was in a building of this type that 36 people died, burned or suffocated, last December 2 in Oakland, on the San Francisco Bay. According to some sources, there are more than 200 inhabited warehouses in Oakland that do not respect even minimum safety standards.
Lacking the ability to pay their increasingly higher rents (as in California) or victims of the economic crisis (as in the Northwest), thousands of proletarians find themselves obliged to rent poor quality houses or apartments, many downright unhealthy. In these lodgings, the owners do not take the care to install smoke alarms or emergency stairs. In addition to this, there are ever-increasing difficulties in heating, which require using various means such as portable electric radiators, wood stoves, even hot-plates... According to the report of the Century Foundation of 2015, 14 million Americans reside in neighborhoods marked by «extreme poverty» (compared with 7 million in 2000).
Other proletarians are condemned to become homeless. In Los Angeles, there are more than 26,000 homeless people in the city (44,000 across the county and 120,000 across the state of California). They are forced to live in tents, in makeshift shelters, or in their cars, and are exposed to infectious diseases that have become endemic (such as tuberculosis). In New York, 60,000 people, including 25,000 children, do not have fixed housing. In 2010, the National Coalition for the Homeless estimated the number of people freezing to death on the streets of the United States to be 700 per year. In total, according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, the country has more than half a million homeless, one quarter of whom are children.
Many proletarians live in inhuman and despicable conditions throughout the territory of the world’s leading economic power. Their miserable living conditions and their deaths are a direct consequence of the brutal reign of capital!
So our conclusion can only be the same as that of Engels: «As long as the capitalist mode of production continues to exist, it is folly to hope for an isolated solution of the housing question or of any other social question affecting the fate of the workers. The solution lies in the abolition of the capitalist mode of production and the appropriation of all the means of life and labor by the working class itself» (1). The diagnosis has not changed, the cure either!
This remedy does not negate the immediate struggles against expulsions, against increases in rents and additional charges, or for the occupation of empty dwellings. But, on this terrain as on others, the limits inherent in any partial struggle must be remembered. The only way of defending the living conditions of the proletarians today is to fight resolutely against capital; these defensive struggles must be placed within the final perspective of the overthrow of capitalism and not in its reform, otherwise they are sterilized from the start by seeking solutions that are acceptable in the capitalist framework. Only the struggles based on the exclusive defense of the interests of the proletarians and the impovershed layers can lead to significant mass movements and thus acquire sufficient strength to wrest concessions from the ruling class and its state.
It is also in defensive struggles that the conditions favorable for the future offensive struggle, the general attack on capitalism, that is to say, the proletarian revolution, the midwife of a society, communist society, can be prepared. Only the latter can really improve the quality of housing at the same time as all the conditions of life and work of the broad masses now producing all the social wealth that weighs on their shoulders and crushes them down instead of releasing them.
The new economy will for the first time be entirely devoted to the satisfaction of the needs of the life and development of the human species.
(1) cf Engels, «The housing question», second section, ch. III
International Communist Party