Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Building Socialist Homes

 Capitalism ignores human needs. In the name of efficiency, it wastes energies and stops or restricts production; in the name of market freedom it erects a barrier to free consumption; in the name of economic rationality, it produces the most irrational contradictions. 

Sick, inhumane, and historically outdated, the capitalist system goes on creating its disgusting social contradictions—and will continue to do so until workers decide to reorganise society on the basis of production for use instead of profit.

The skill and technology to provide every human being with decent accommodation has existed for decades; no person need to live in the street or in a slum or, indeed, in the modern slums, designed by architects who have been instructed to design homes consistent with the poverty of their future inhabitants. Every man, woman and child could live in decent accommodation, but the facts of capitalism are far from allowing that to happen. Never before has the construction industry been able to use such advanced techniques as are available 

 “Home-owners” (mortgage-payers, in fact) struggle to pay off the mortgage at the expense of the upkeep of their homes, thus paying for the privilege of living in a pleasantly situated slum. None of this need be: unfit dwellings. unsanitary conditions, overcrowding, vagrancy, choosing between pleasant shelter or a holiday, repossession of homes. These are all features of a system which does not build houses to live in (that would be too simple for the wise minds of the economists), but to sell on the market with a view to profit. It is only because shelter is a commodity rather than an entitlement that the housing problem exists. Indeed, there is no housing problem in our society—there is a social problem arising from the capitalist system, which is not to do with bricks, cement and labour, but with rent, interest and profit.

Ask building workers and they will tell you that, technically, it has never been easier to build decent structures. New materials, improved tools and computer design methods make it possible to provide really pleasant dwellings in the time it used to take to produce only shoddy products. In short, the productive forces present no problem to the construction industry. So, are we producing more homes than ever? No. Is what is being produced better than ever? In the vast majority of cases, no. 

Those making decisions in the construction industry are not employed to consider the needs of the consumer or the producer, but those of the investor. Those who invest money in the construction industry are not looking for moral dividends, but material gain in the form of profit. So, if it is more profitable to build offices than homes—or squalid dwellings rather than attractive ones—or to cease production altogether rather than satisfy existing needs, those are the decisions which are taken. It is the capitalist system, with its concern for a profit before human need, which forces those in control of production to behave in ways which create ludicrous social contradictions.

Before the First World War Robert Tressell wrote what is still the finest account in English of working-class life in the building industry: The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. All these years later it is still a favourite among construction workers—and the tragedy is that after decades of what the lying capitalists call “progress" the conditions are still very similar. One condition which is strikingly the same as ever is the constant concern of capitalists to produce shoddy (and therefore cheap) buildings where they can get away with it. Capitalism is a system which sticks art (pictures of old Dukes wearing blond wigs and tights) in the galleries and claims to revere creativity, but when it comes to useful production shows contempt for craftsmanship and enterprise. 

The majority of workers can only afford to rent or buy relatively dull and badly designed accommodation. Under this system, you get what you pay for. That's why those who build the palaces spend their wages on the rent of second-rate homes while the parasites who own the construction companies live in mansions,

What will a socialist society do to the construction industry? 

Firstly, the purpose of the new social order will be to produce for need and not for profit. So, there will be no concern in the minds of those involved in construction work other than to build what people need. No person need ever again be homeless; no person needs to live in a dwelling which is unsanitary. 

Secondly, socialism will end wage slavery, where the labour-power of the producers is a commodity to be bought by the highest bidder: builders will produce according to their ability, without receiving wages, in the confident knowledge that they, like all men and women, will have free access to all of the goods and services which humanity can create. 

Thirdly, there will be no need to produce inferior buildings for "inferior" people to live in. Socialism, which will be a class-free society of common ownership and democratic control, will produce the best for everyone. As a matter of fact, it often involves more effort to produce inferior buildings than it would to produce decent ones: one of the perverse features of capitalism is that hours and days are wasted by “experts" working out ways to create rubbish when it is easier (but costlier) to create a decent product.

 Fourthly, socialism will not allow men and women to endure intolerable hazards for the sake of productivity. That is not to say that there will not be accidents, in a society of production for use. but—and this is the opportunity which socialism offers—there need never be another builder killed because construction is organised on a purposely unsafe basis. 

Finally, socialism will offer the builder the respect that he or she deserves as an artist. In a capitalist society, the artist is respected for the useless products of one's creation— the more ornamental and useless the more “artistic” the creation must be.

 In socialism, we can start taking pride in useful creations: homes, offices, factories, ships, and hospitals. Even today you will often meet workers who take pride in saying that they helped to build that housing estate—but they had no control over its design, they were forced to make it a second-rate product. So, instead of a society of palaces for parasites, why not let us build a society of the best for all? Why not, in other words, join the biggest construction industry ever seen: the movement to build world socialism?

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