Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Conquest of Bread

This weekend I saw that the homeless colonies are back all up and down the Wai`anae coast. They've also moved back into Ala Moana Park. There are small camps all along the bike paths between my house and downtown.

And the focus of our government is all on building Trump Towers in Waikī and condos for millionaires in Kaka`ako. The Senate just refused to reconfirm the Chair of our Department, in part due to revelations of unethical backdoor arrangements between Title Companies and the Bureau of Conveyances. And though I initially supported him, I have a simmering anger about the endless Land Crimes being committed in our state, and in the end I agreed with those who said that he had to go. We have an economy based upon land speculation, a government funded by realtors, and a system where indigenous people are forced off their land to make room for time shares and condos and resorts.

I know things need to change. I don't know how to realistically change them. Yet.

I'm leaning more and more to anarchism. I'm starting with Kroptokin, and I'll work my way forward.

from Chapter VI (Dwellings) of The Conquest of Bread (Peter Kropotkin, 1906)

THOSE who have closely watched the growth of certain ideas among the workers must have noticed that on one momentous question--the housing of the people, namely--a definite conclusion is being imperceptibly arrived at. It is a known fact that in the large towns of France, and in many of the smaller ones also, the workers are coming gradually to the conclusion that dwelling-houses are in no sense the property of those whom the State recognizes as their owners.

This idea has evolved naturally in the minds of the people, and nothing will ever convince them again that the "rights of property" ought to extend to houses.

The house was not built by its owner. It was erected, decorated, and furnished by innumerable workers--in the timber yard, the brick field, and the workshop, toiling for dear life at a minimum wage.

The money spent by the owner was not the product of his own toil. It was amassed, like all other riches, by paying the workers two-thirds or only a half of what was their due.

Moreover--and it is here that the enormity of the whole proceeding becomes most glaring--the house owes its actual value to the profit which the owner can make out of it. Now, this profit results from the fact that his house is built in a town possessing bridges, quays, and fine public buildings, and affording to its inhabitants a thousand comforts and conveniences unknown in villages; a town well paved, lighted with gas, in regular communication with other towns, and itself a centre of industry, commerce, science, and art; a town which the work of twenty or thirty generations has gone to render habitable, healthy, and beautiful.

A house in certain parts of Paris may be valued at thousands of pounds sterling, not because thousands of pounds' worth of labour have been expended on that particular house, but because it is in Paris; because for centuries workmen, artists, thinkers, and men of learning and letters have contributed to make Paris what it is to-day--a centre of industry, commerce, politics, art, and science; because Paris has a past; because, thanks to literature, the names of its streets are household words in foreign countries as well as at home; because it is the fruit of eighteen centuries of toil, the work of fifty generations of the whole French nation.

Who, then, can appropriate to himself the tiniest plot of ground, or the meanest building, without committing a flagrant injustice? Who, then, has the right to sell to any bidder the smallest portion of the common heritage?

On that point, as we have said, the workers are agreed. The idea of free dwellings showed its existence very plainly during the siege of Paris, when the cry was for an abatement pure and simple of the terms demanded by the landlords. It appeared again during the Commune of 1871, when the Paris workmen expected the Communal Council to decide boldly on the abolition of rent. And when the New Revolution comes, it will be the first question with which the poor will concern themselves.

Whether in time of revolution or in time of peace, the worker must be housed somehow or other; he must have some sort of roof over his head. But, however tumble-down and squalid your dwelling may be, there is always a landlord who can evict you. True, during the Revolution he cannot find bailiffs and police-serjeants to throw your rags and chattels into the street, but who knows what the new Government will do to-morrow? Who can say that it will not call in the aid of force again, and set the police pack upon you to hound you out of your hovels? We have seen the Commune proclaim the remission of rents due up to the first of April only!1 After that rent had to be paid, though Paris was in a state of chaos, and industry at a standstill; so that the revolutionist had absolutely nothing to depend upon but his allowance of fifteen pence a day!

Now the worker must be made to see clearly that in refusing to pay rent to a landlord or owner he is not simply profiting by the disorganization of authority. He must understand that the abolition of rent is a recognized principle, sanctioned, so to speak, by popular assent; that to be housed rent-free is a right proclaimed aloud by the people

Are we going to wait till this measure, which is in harmony with every honest man's sense of justice, is taken up by the few socialists scattered among the middle-class elements, of which the Provisionary Government will be composed? We should have to wait long--till the return of reaction, in fact!

This is why, refusing uniforms and badges--those outward signs of authority and servitude--and remaining people among the people, the earnest revolutionists will work side by side with the masses, that the abolition of rent, the expropriation of houses, may become an accomplished fact. They will prepare the ground and encourage ideas to grow in this direction; and when the fruit of their labours is ripe, the people will proceed to expropriate the houses without giving heed to the theories which will certainly be thrust in their way--theories about paying compensation to landlords, and finding first the necessary funds.

On the day that the expropriation of houses takes place, on that day, the exploited workers will have realized that the new times have come, that Labour will no longer have to bear the yoke of the rich and powerful, that Equality has been openly proclaimed, that this Revolution is a real fact, and not a theatrical make-believe, like so many others preceding it.


If the idea of expropriation be adopted by the people it will be carried into effect in spite of all the "insurmountable" obstacles with which we are menaced.

Of course, the good folk in new uniforms, seated in the offcial arm-chairs of the Hôtel de Ville, will be sure to busy themselves in heaping up obstacles. They will talk of giving compensation to the landlords, of preparing statistics, and drawing up long reports. Yes, they would be capable of drawing up reports long enough to outlast the hopes of the people, who, after waiting and starving in enforced idleness, and seeing nothing come of all these official researches, would lose heart and faith in the Revolution and abandon the field to the reactionaries. The new bureaucracy would end by making expropriation hateful in the eyes of all.


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