Characteristics of slums - urban poor?

Hugh Rodwell m-14970 at
Fri May 10 17:24:02 MDT 1996

Right, Zeynep, let's get on ...

>Another favorite saying of mine:
>"Revolution and counter-revolution sleep in the same bed". The rise of
>fascism is in many instances due to a revolutionary situation in which the
>left is defeated.

Can't think of any instances where this wasn't the case.

That saying's a bit off-putting. 'Sleeping with the enemy' -- too much! How
about rephrasing it 'Revolution and counter-revolution are forged in the
same furnace'?

>Do you accept the term, urban poor? What does it mean for you?

I could use it as a descriptive term, a bit like 'people' and 'popular' in
things like the 'popular masses'. It's not analytical, it's convenient

The 'urban poor' means what it says. Town-dwellers living at or under
subsistence level.

Things heat up with the following suggestion:

>>Maybe the agitation will centre on something like:
>>Food, Flats, and Freedom from Crime.
>We *are* the criminals.
>Seriously, the youth from the slums, unemployed most of the time, facing no
>future have already burned the bridges. They are organising very fast, and
>if you say "food, flats and freedom from crime", they'll ask if you are a
>government agent. They are already directly organising in revolutionary
>organisations, frankly demanding to overthrow the state. The problem is they
>are becoming isolated within the working class movement as a whole. They are
>an inseparable part of the whole movement, while they do not take the
>problems of the movement as a whole on their agenda. They do not think of
>their actions in terms of politicizing (have I made up the word?) the
>working class movement, but act in a "let's get even with the police" mode.
>I was wondering, as it must be a similar situation in especially Latin
>America, what has happenned in those places?

It brought Adolfo into the fray as well:

>"Food, Flats, and Freedom from Crime", is the very slogan of every tin-pot
>dictator and electoral drug money financed swindler in Latin America, take
>two or three pennies either way from the price of potatoes!
>Sorry, but maybe you ought to take a sabbatical in Latin America, Hugh

with Zeynep concurring:

>Again, I find myself agreeing with Adolfo, I don't know about the sabbatical
>one though. (Can *I* take one there?).
>That slogan is what every bourgeois politician says here anyway and always.
>They now keep telling each other, "see, if they had food and flats, they
>wouldn't behave so badly."

The slogans are very urban in content. In much of Latin America (eg Brazil
which is half the continent) 'Land' would really be an essential additional
slogan - the Landless Movement is powerful there.

I'm surprised at the reaction to these slogans. They're popular and
democratic slogans aimed at badly fed and shanty-dwelling masses. They're
no more trivial or fake than were 'Land, Peace, Bread' in 1917. I said
agitation, Perhaps I should have specified 'during a revolutionary
situation'. Why do you immediately associate them with the lying slogans of
bourgeois politicians?

Anyhow, food and housing, clean water, hygiene, medicine, schools, work and
wages, child and age care are all totally inadequate for the masses in
Latin America and any and each of them could play its part in mobilization,
along with slogans against injustice and exploitation.

Zeynep, you get the food and flats perspective the wrong way round. Your
politicians say: "if they had food and flats, they
wouldn't behave so badly." I say, they will make a revolution because they
haven't got food or flats, and there's no way lying bourgeois politicians
will hurt their rich friends by taking their profits to provide these

The 'Flats' slogan has a very concrete illustration in my mind. It's the
encroachment of the living conditions of the villas miserias in Buenos
Aires into the formerly not too badly off working-class district of Boca.
Whole houses are being taking over by rackrent landlords and the big old
flats (in one of which I've stayed) are being divvied up into chicken coops
rather like the cardboard compartments found in old Soviet housing. The
houses are being covered with corrugated iron facing. It's a double attack
-- on the people forced to exist in these cubbyholes and on those who still
have the dignity of a decent place to live.

(I like Adolfo's 'sabbatical' by the way. I'm not an academic, and teachers
in Sweden lost the right to a term's (six months) study every five years
more than ten years ago. As luck would have it, just when I was notching up
my fifth year! Can't win em all... Maybe Adolfo could slip me a few bob for
a study trip?)

When I was in Sao Paulo, a comrade told me she'd pulled up her car outside
the party  premises a day or two back, at nine o'clock in the morning, and
found a pistol at her head. She was ordered out of the car and the gunman
took it and drove off. An Argentine pupil of mine had been visiting
relatives in a poor part of Buenos Aires and returned to tell of
nine-year-old kids holding up buses at gunpoint. A friend of mine living in
Brixton, London, had been mugged three times going to the phone box. Old
people damn near everywhere are at great risk of getting their legs broken
for their pension money.

This insecurity is corroding social relations. It won't be solved by cops.
This must be emphasized to avoid misunderstanding. No cops. No social
workers. No state authorities. No charity. No priests. No manna from heaven
or other divine intervention. The only way will be by self-policing
communities offering good alternatives and clear, immediate punishment if
needed. If it doesn't get done by democratic revolutionary means, it'll get
done by harsher methods, such as those used by the IRA in Ireland (eg
'kneecapping' for taking other people's cars for joyrides).

I sympathize with Zeynep saying 'We *are* the criminals', and with Robert's
emphasis on 'lumpen rage', but this isn't the point. The same way as people
like stable prices, they like order. Even where petty crime is a way of
life forced on everybody by the system, people still recognize who's decent
and who's scum. They also recognize who's a cop and who's not. Christ, even
a rich lady or two working for homeless kids in Rio get to open schools and
move around unmolested in the favelas cos they understand why the dealers
deal and let them be. How much easier for revolutionaries focusing on even
deeper needs and fighting the real enemies of the poor, and not just easing
some symptoms.

Moving like a fish in water among the urban masses is a self-evident goal
for revolutionaries. Understanding these basic democratic needs is a good

Just in passing, one of my tests for a minimally healthy society, is if you
can feel as secure outside as you do in your own home -- if of course you
feel safe there. (Mind you, there can obviously be healthy communities in
unhealthy societies -- even in the States I believe there are still a few
places where you don't have to lock the door when you go out.)

Democratic demands like these, however, without large-scale mobilization
and a powerful revolutionary party to give them body will of course just be
so much piss and wind. Not so much Flats as Flatulence.



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