A recent article in the New York Times, “Relief Eludes Many Renters as Fed Raises Interest Rates,” bemoans the current conundrum facing workers with regards to housing. According to realtor websites such as ApartmentList and Zillow, rental prices soared 17.5% between 2018 and January 2022. Harder hit, of course, are young people, single parents, and people of color — all more likely to be renters. High rents are the problem — so what is the capitalist economic solution? They propose we take a step back and watch these high rents push people back into their parents’ homes or into overcrowded roommate situations. Then rental prices will fall because of slowing demand. And yet, we are also to expect that this spike in rental prices will encourage builders to build more apartments, with a subsequent fall in rent because of added supply onto the market.
The NYT report identifies what economists (erroneously) believe is another cause of rising housing costs – rising wages. The resident economist at ApartmentList.com says that “the main thing that could cool down the rental market is a slowing of wage growth,” and “a lot of the lifestyle gains that came with more and better housing are probably going to reverse a bit.”
So here is the pro-capitalist economist’s thinking, as reported in the New York Times: wages are going up, though not as high as inflation. Workers are losing money. Rents are going up, taking more and more of less and less wages. This will force workers into homelessness or crowded housing, which is good because that will result in a higher supply of empty dwellings. Housing will continue being built, though with difficulty; the Fed’s raising of interest rates has slowed down building because it’s harder for developers to borrow money to pay for the skyrocketing cost of raw materials and, of course, higher wages. Only through further immiseration — lowering wages and increasing homelessness — can the working class ever hope to achieve the basic need of shelter. In this neat little rat’s nest of logic we can see how capitalism drags itself (and most of us with it) to the bottom of the ocean.
Make America Great Again, indeed.
Perhaps the responsible consumer is expected to live with their parents as long as possible, or risk catching Covid several times while in some kind of flophouse situation with several roommates. This brain-dead thinking dovetails nicely with the social reproductive agenda of the far right, who believe that “respectable” youngsters move out of their parents’ homes only when they get married. The rest are doomed to cramming themselves into increasingly expensive apartments or becoming single mothers — who are, incidentally, the most oppressed demographic category for rental cost as their share of income according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2020 survey on consumer spending data and other census data. These girls need to behave lest they find themselves unable to abort their fetus and subjected to being labeled bad girls so deserving a lifetime of rental hyper-exploitation. Make America Great Again, indeed.
Nowhere in the NYT article is an alternative proposed. Indeed, the economists who support capitalism seem to be stumped. This is not surprising, as their checks are cut by the class that stands to profit most off the immiseration of the working class — the capitalist class itself. They know which side their bread is buttered, an observation even the most free-market-minded among them would agree with. What is more necessary than ever is input from real economists, those who are turned away from institutions of capitalist power because they say something other than what the capitalists want to hear. We need meaningful, workable alternatives for the people most affected by capitalism’s long march off the cliff.
The federal safety net has been torn apart by decades of what Ruth Wilson Gilmore and others call the strategy of neoliberal “organized abandonment.” The aspects of the state they are dismantling were built on the New Deal and Works Progress Administration, and later the civil rights, environment, and women’s and LGBTQ liberation movements. Workers, led in the 1930s by a strong Communist Party and militant labor movement, were able to win economic gains never before seen in the history of the working class. The scaffolding they built enabled further economic and democratic gains during the 1960s. These gains were won in no small part through applying pressure on the federal government, which ultimately has courts, law enforcement agents, and jails that the working class have previously used to help enforce its agenda.
After more than two years of an ongoing pandemic, we stand at a precipice, witnessing the stripping away of our economic and democratic gains. Those we vote into power bolster the cops who regularly repress our First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble, look the other way on police murder, and allow a flood of guns to white vigilantes and channer racists.
The US government . . . magically has the power to enforce war against Russia [but] is unwilling or unable to pass legislation that would directly benefit more than half the working class.
With the right to abortion eviscerated by the Supreme Court, all eyes are on Congress and the president to pass legislation guaranteeing this right. Yet Joe Biden lashed out at what he called activists for calling his response to abortion bans insufficient. He is either buying into the right-wing lie that access to abortion is not overwhelmingly supported by the majority of this country, or he is admitting that the U.S. government, while magically empowered to enforce war against Russia, is unwilling or unable to pass and enforce legislation that would directly benefit more than half of the working class.
The very structures of so-called democratic governance, from the Electoral College and gerrymandered districts to the filibuster and the undemocratic Senate itself, prevent Congress from advocating for the needs of the working class. The state exists as a tool that the dominant class (in this case the capitalists) uses to further its aims. Capitalism, having become bloated and slow in its quest for ever-shrinking rates of profit, uses the state to immiserate us, to strip away our rights and futures.
If the Dems can’t pass an abortion-rights law, how can we expect them to regulate companies like Uber, BlackRock, Amazon, or Tesla? To manage the pandemic in a way that saves lives? To put shackles on Big Oil to save the planet from global warming? Again, what’s needed are serious approaches to these issues, not fatalistic or cynical bromides. We desperately need solutions — workable alternatives from organizers, trade unionists, activists, and economists alike.
If a strong Communist Party and militant labor movement were necessary in the 1930s, we must — at minimum — struggle to build both today. This means buying time and space to organize, which means, among other things, turning out to push back the extreme right at the ballot box.
We cannot fight for radical reforms, much less socialism, within such a nightmare scenario.
The alternative to lukewarm Democratic control is not favorable to our purposes; indeed, it is the road to fascism. The January 6 hearings remind us that, without the solid, overwhelming democratic majority that voted out Donald Trump in 2020, the brittle republic we seek to build socialism on top of could have collapsed completely and been replaced with fascism, American-style. We cannot fight for radical reforms, much less socialism, within such a nightmare scenario. The extreme right has been building towards this moment for decades, and their anti-democratic tactics are paying off in the most anti-democratic arenas. Decades of fundraising, racist voter suppression, corruption, dirty dealing, and seditious plots are bearing the fruit of draconian court rulings, coup attempts, and demoralization among and immiseration of our class.
Tensions in the electoral arena remain high in the run-up to the midterm elections. While some might roll their eyes and stay home, complaining that Joe Biden has failed to deliver on the PRO Act, Ukraine, women’s and LGBTQ rights, and police accountability, this simply makes way for further legislative deadlock. It gives the extreme right — not us — time and space to organize.
Meanwhile, we cannot simply let the struggle stay at the ballot box. Voting is only one tool at our disposal. Before, during, and after elections, we should dedicate ourselves to building the Communist Party and labor movement through on-the-ground organizing, strikes, boycotts, occupations, marches, education, and other tactics that reflect the diversity of our movement. This necessarily includes pushing both the Party and the labor movement deeper into the struggle for democratic rights, such as the fight against racism, homophobia, and transphobia and for the right to obtain safe and legal abortion on demand, all of which are intimately connected to economic advancement for our class as a whole. Biden’s party will remain asleep unless the working class is there to wake them up and force them into action, much as the Communist Party did with Roosevelt’s New Deal and his aggressive stance towards the reactionary Supreme Court.
This is not a call to return to the strategies and tactics of the 1930s, but for a serious examination of what made them necessary in the first place, as well as their successes and failures. There is no space for nostalgia, idealism, or dogmatic thinking. We don’t have the time.
The opinions of the author do not necessarily reflect the positions of the CPUSA.
Image: Housing Is a Human Right (Facebook).
Source: Communist Party U.S.A.