[Marxism] home ownership and labor militancy

Sun Eagle suneagle79 at yahoo.com
Thu Feb 16 12:34:34 MST 2012

Home ownership, legal and illegal, can cut both ways for the working class. Most Americans are unaware that squatters played an important role in the creation of large cities such as Minneapolis/St. Paul, San Francisco, and even Brooklyn, and defended their lots by both the law and the gun. (Scorcese's GANGS OF NEW YORK captures some of this scene, but without the class analysis; in the film "territory" has to do more with status than social class.) For a comparative look at home ownership, Third World and First, I recommend Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, a New Urban World by Robert Neuwirth.
My own research into the world of the urban poor and shantytowns  in Brazil suggests that squatters see themselves as petty, or in the words of another historian, "penny capitalists." Instability of both work and residence gives them a stake in voting for politicians who patronize that particular community, with cash and promises of eventual legalization, not those who have a vision of an entirely different society. In Cuba the urban poor, particularly in Havana, came over to Castro's side only after the Revolution enacted an urban reform in 1959, but not before. (Whether Batista enjoyed the support of Havana squatters is something I recently debated at Fordham University, on the negative side.) Brazil from 1945 to the present shows the urban poor granting their votes to right-wing populists, while the Worker's Party, and before that the now defunct Brazilian Communist Party, gained very little traction. In the Muslim world the electoral success of the
 AKP in Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt can be attributed in large part to their neighborhood organizing in the shantytowns for years before they were elected to national office. Thus, there is indeed an urban subproletariat, numbering at least one billion, living in a "planet of slums" but it does not follow that they are a natural constituency for the left.
I think if you look at the history of the United States and other settler
states you will see that working class home ownership was not foisted on
the working class to depress militancy, but developed as part of the
struggle of the landless and poor white settlers for control of the land
that the settlers were stealing from the indigenous societies they were
destroying and displacing. 

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