Thursday, March 30, 2023

Workers’ Houses in the Next Ten Years (1943)

From the October 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

Concurrent with the development of the war and long before the housing shortage came to be felt acutely, articles on post-war building reconstruction began to appear in the national press and popular periodicals.

With the bombing of English towns, evacuation, and compulsory billeting, came a marked increase in the numbers of such pronouncements. Like most other aspects of post-war reconstruction, our future architectural environment has been depicted in most attractive and novel forms.

The average reader may have been led to suppose that in some remarkable way the war will have made possible “ideal homes” for everyone and gardens for their children to play in, even though he may not have been so interested in schemes for new civic centres and roof-top aerodromes.

Those who have lost their homes by bombing, those who have been forced to live under the most cramped conditions in single rooms with shared kitchens, together with those who have always lived in this way, have perhaps been buoyed up by these promises of better times to come.

One cannot escape the conclusion that our rulers have been more than ready to accept the assistance of social reformers and unemployed but hopeful architects in this contribution to the maintenance of national morale.

And yet in these same papers, warnings of difficulties ahead seem to make game of their sanguine prospects. We are told that strict economy in national expenditure must be maintained. How much rent then will the wage worker be able to afford ? “Taxation’s burden on industry” will have to be minimised. How much will be spared for housing subsidies ? No secret is made of the possibility of mass unemployment. What kind of shelter will the unemployed be able to buy?

Of the physical difficulties resulting from the wartime cessation of building and disruption of the building industry, of the shortage of materials and skilled labour in face of an unprecedented housing shortage, little need be said here. The recent debates in Parliament have sufficiently exposed the situation and the inability of statesmen and experts to meet it. It is only necessary to add that it took twenty-five years between the wars for capitalism to produce four million houses, the number now said to be urgently required. Even if building were to proceed at its highest pre-war rate it would take over eleven years to build them.

It has been said that demolition has been carried out for us by the enemy, that the public are becoming increasingly aware of what technical progress can achieve, and that it will be in a mind to demand it.

As for the bombing, severe though it has been, it has demolished only a small part of our slums. Moreover, damaged houses can be patched up. According to the Minister of Health, of 2,750,000 houses damaged by bombing “no fewer than 2,700,000 houses in England and Wales have been given first-aid repairs, and more extended work has been done to 1,100,000” (statement in House of Commons, May 4, 1943, and to London Master Builders’ Association July 26, 1943).

Barrack-like tenements can be built on the ruins of slum houses in spite of a “public demand” for houses with gardens. Reporting Lord Latham, leader of the L.C.C., the News-Chronicle (April 1, 1943) states .-
“Thousands of Londoners in the eastern boroughs will, after the war, have to live in flats . . . houses could not be built because of the lack of space and the cost of land (our italics).
Public demand will be unavailing, unless the public understands more fully the nature of the so-called “housing problem”; understands how capitalism sets a limit to the production of houses, as it does to the production of all other things required by the working class.

The capitalist system is based on the production and sale of goods for profit. To obtain this profit the capitalist purchases the physical and mental energies of the workers at their market price. With the ever-present competition of unemployed in the labour market, this price, or wage, is reduced to the bare minimum compatible with the maintenance of the worker in a physical and mental condition suited to the efficient performance of his work and to the reproduction of his kind. With regard to one aspect of this. Mr. Churchill has put the matter plainly: —
“You cannot conduct a modern community except with an adequate supply of persons upon whose education. whether humanitarian, technical or scientific, much time and money have been spent.” (Reported in the News-Chronicle, March 22, 1943.)
This necessary physical and mental standard will vary according to the kind of work on which the worker is engaged The kind of shelter necessary for himself and family will vary in the same way.

The agricultural worker and the miner can work and reproduce themselves even though their only protection is the squalid cottage or “back-to-back” slum. The skilled or “black-coat” worker must have slightly better conditions if the quality of his work is to be maintained, and if his children are to have an environment conducive to a higher standard of development.

By the natural competitive working of the labour market, the worker, then, finds himself, at best, with only sufficient money to rent accommodation of this minimum standard. Indeed, the Industries Group of P.E.P. (Political and Economic Planning) are of the opinion that: —
“. . . the income of the average working class family has been too small to enable it to buy as much shelter as is desirable for comfort and efficiency. (“Housing England,” p. 145—our italics.)
The modest improvement in the standard of new housing does not invalidate these general conclusions, for it should be noted that, between the wars, the technical level of most wage workers was rising. New housing scarcely kept pace with the increase in the number of families, so that the condition of the lower-paid sections was little affected.

In 1935 there were still 38,773 “back-to-back” houses in the “prosperous” city of Birmingham alone (Bourneville Research Trust, “When We Build Again,” p. 31), and according to Mr. Craven Ellis, in the same year there were in Great Britain 4,607,000 houses at least 80 years old, and of these 1,052,000 at least 180 years old (quoted in “Housing Before the War and After,” M. J. Elsas, p. 21).

That this state of affairs was the direct result of the poverty of the wage worker and not shortage of either labour or materials, is shown by the fact that in 1933 the average unemployment among building and public works employees had been 336,503, almost a third of the total engaged in these industries.

Writing in 1942, M. J. Elsas says : —
“If we could assume the mere quantitative problems of housing were to be solved in a not too distant future, it is to be hoped and expected that the qualitative problem will come to the fore. “(“Housing Before the War and After,” p. 30.)
The failure to supply even sufficient numbers of minimum dwellings is the inevitable outcome of the erratic course of capitalism, with its periodic cessation of building during slumps and wars; but what Mr. Elsas calls the “qualitative problem” will remain unsolved until capitalism, and with it the wages system, is abolished.

Only when a system is established based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production, including building materials, land and plant, when wealth, including houses, is produced for use instead of profit; only, that is, under Socialism, will the workers obtain the kind of homes they want, and decent and commodious accommodation be available for all.
John Moore

With or Without Comment (1943)

From the October 1943 issue of the Socialist Standard

Holy Russia
As it was 20 years ago : —
“There is full religious toleration, but the communist party is fiercely anti-clerical and conducts an unremitting controversy with the orthodox church— certainly the most reactionary and grossly superstitious form of belief that survives in the civilised world.— (“The Russian Workers’ Republic.” H. N. Brailsford. Published about 1921. P. 150.)
As it is to-day : —
“A nation-wide programme of church repair and reconstruction has been started in the Soviet Union. 
Archbishop Sergei, head of the Russian Orthodox Church, and the chairman of the Moscow Soviet have visited the new Virgin Monastery in Moscow to inspect damage done. 
Soviet architects are preparing blue-prints of a model type of village church to be erected in place of the  hundreds burned down by the Germans. Work is also going on on plans for restoring to the smallest detail the famous Istra Monastery, which was badly damaged by the Germans in 1941.”—(Reuter, Moscow, March 11. Manchester Guardian, March 13, 1943.)

“Marshal Stalin on Saturday officially received, in his capacity as Soviet Premier, the acting Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Sergei of Moscow, Metropolitan Alexis of Leningrad, and Metropolitan Nikolai of Kiev. In the course of the conversations Metropolitan Sergei informed Stalin and Molotov . . . that the Church leaders intended shortly to call an assembly of Orthodox bishops to elect a Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia, and to set up a Holy Synod, or Church Council, under the Patriarch. Stalin, as head of the Government, received this information sympathetically and declared that the Government would have no objection.—(Daily Worker, September 6, 1943.)
Mr. Alexander Werth, Moscow Correspondent of the Sunday Times (August 22) suggests that one of the reasons for the favour now shown to the Church by the Russian Government is the desire to increase the birth rate.

Another obvious explanation of the change is that now the Communist International has been formally disbanded the Orthodox Church will serve as a useful means by which Russian foreign policy can exercise influence in those Balkan countries where the Orthodox Church is strong. The Times cautiously remarks that it is better that Russian interest should be expressed through the Church than through Communist channels.— (Times, September 17.)
“The Archbishop of York, 68-years-old Dr. Garbett, travelled to Russia . . . with two small suitcases—one held his ordinary clothes, the other his ceremonial robes, vestments in cloth of gold and the gold-lined mitre.”— (Daily Mail, September 16, 1943.)
Was this journey really necessary?
“We greet you, we salute you, we thank you, we remember you in our prayers, and we say God bless and God guide the people of Russia and their great leader, Joseph Stalin.— (Bishop of Chelmsford; who said also that Christians in Russia form “a far larger number and percentage of the general population than is the case in this country.” Daily Telegraph, June 28, 1943.)
* * * *

An Excellent Precedent
“Mussolini, trying to assert himself in his old blustering manner, complained of the lack of light and running water when he was imprisoned on Ponzi Island, according to neutral travellers reaching Madrid from Rome to-day.

He did not complain for long. According to one account (quoted by British United Press). Mussolini was told by the prison warden :

‘This prison was built on plans signed and approved by yourself. Thousands of your political prisoners have been lodged here—and you are the first to complain.'”—(Evening Standard, August 26, 1943.)
When shall we see Ministers of Health living in “workers'” houses, food millionaires living on the food they sell, Ministers of Labour labouring at the wages they fix?

* * * *

Morals and 1,000,000 Slum Dwellings
“You cannot expect cleanliness, truth and honesty from people brought up in houses which are damp, verminous and without sanitary decency. There must be a million such houses in this country. Sexual morality fails when there is deplorable overcrowding in filthy houses. 
For 50 years after the present war we shall be struggling to regain the moral and social level which our people reached at the end of the Victorian era. The Church can give invaluable service in this task, but we must show a wisdom bred of wide understanding and sympathy.”—(Dr. Barnes, Bishop of Birmingham (reported in Daily Telegraph, May 27, 1943.)
* * * *

A Reform Which Didn’t Reform

A Companies Act was passed in 1928 to remedy abuses of the law governing companies. In 1929 the 1928 Act and all other existing Companies legislation was consolidated in the Companies Act, 1929.

Its sponsors said it was a very good act. It was based on the report “of a very able Committee” (President of the Board of Trade, House of Commons, February 21, 1928). “The House,” he said, “owes a real debt of gratitude to the members of that Committee.” On April 29, 1929, he said that the Consolidated Act was “a perfect piece of consolidation,” and that a tribute was due to the Parliamentary draftsmen for their work.

It might have been supposed that such a well-favoured Act, running to 385 Sections and 12 Schedules, could be regarded as the last word on the subject; but now the Government has appointed a new committee to inquire into the matter all over again. The Manchester Guardian explains the new inquiry thus : —
“This new review … is dictated, first, by evasive practices (some plainly criminal) which have developed in recent years and, by changes that have taken place in the same period in the industrial and commercial practice of the country. The ‘shameful swindling’ of the inventor (as an authoritative voice called it) by ingenious rogues acting barely within the terms of the 1929 Act is perhaps the principal motive behind the new inquiry.”—(Manchester Guardian, June 30, 1943.)
In short, the ingenious rogues soon found new legal ways of “driving a coach and four” through the 1929 Act; and the Times is sceptical whether the new inquiry will do anything better : —
“Unless the present Committee are extraordinarily successful in interpreting the current of public opinion (as well as in remedying past and present abuses) and in picturing the future form of organisation of industry, the Companies Act of their amending, like the Act of 1929, will itself be wanting amending long before the 1950’s or 1960’s.”—(Times, July 5, 1943.)
It is interesting to record an observation made by the President of the Board of Trade at the time of the 1928 Act. He scouted the idea “that frauds and lesser malpractices can be stopped by the simple expedient of a prohibition by Act of Parliament” (House of Commons, February 21, 1928) and went on to make the illuminating remark that “the imposition of statutory regulations and prohibitions might not merely put a stop to the activities of a wrong-doer but place quite intolerable fetters upon honest business.” It was better in some cases, he said, to refrain from action “because it might be of doubtful advantage and might gravely interfere with the necessary elasticity of business.”

How long will it be before the new Act is shot through like the old one?

* * * *

News About the Next War

A short while ago a Royal Air Force officer said that whether bombing won this war or not, it would certainly win the next war. I doubt if Sir Arthur Harris would agree.
“It appears to me that bombing should be regarded in the framework of military history. No two major wars are dominated by the same weapon. The war of 1914-18 was a submarine war It was very nearly won by submarines. The Germans thought that the following war would be a submarine war; but it has turned out to be a bomber war. That, in itself, implies that the next war will not be a bomber war, but a war dominated by some new weapon, perhaps some form of radio weapon.”—(Major Oliver Stewart, Evening Standard, September 1, 1943.)

“. . . Having had two wars in one lifetime, we are naturally running the second war rather better, very much better, than we did the first. If we have a third war in our lifetime—and I hope we shall not—we shall run that war with almost complete perfection, in the light of this second experience.”—(Mr. Herbert Morrison, Home Secretary, House of Commons, May 26, 1943.)

* * * *

Russia Abandons Educational Experiments

Admirers of Soviet Russia used to make much of their educational methods, co-education, self-government, free secondary education, and so on. One by one these have been abandoned. The following summary is from the Economist (August 28, 1943) :—
“The new school year in Russia starts with a sensational reform. The co-education of boys and girls in secondary schools has been prohibited. . . . The reform is to be enforced with the utmost determination. . . . No reasons have been, given officially to explain this step, which marks a significant departure from Soviet pedagogical principles. Co-education was until recently regarded as one of the progressive features in which Soviet schools took a particular pride. The reform is, no doubt, in keeping with the reforms carried out a few years before the war, which brought the Russian school back to its more or less traditional path. The so-called self-government of school children was then abolished; the authority of the teacher was re-established; uniforms for school children, as well as formal examinations, were re-introduced; and last, but not least, fees were introduced for secondary schools attendance.”
Alexander Werth, Moscow correspondent of the Sunday Times, reports (August 22, 1943) that a Russian paper, Komsomolskaya Pravda, in a recent article, emphasised that “boys must train to be soldiers and technicians. . . . The essential function of girls—who among other things will in the schools receive special training in sewing, hygiene, and cooking—’is to become future mothers.’ ”
Mr. Werth goes on :—.
“In youth organisations today the idea of authority of parents and teachers is being strongly inculcated. The enormous losses suffered in the war . . . coming on top of the various errors in the past, such as the abortion laws, which were not repealed until 1936, have unquestionably prompted the Government to adopt a long-term population and birth-rate policy with a return to strong family principles. In this connection it is interesting to observe the encouragement given to the Churches, especially in rural areas.”— (Sunday Times, August 22, 1943.)
* * * *

Comrades in Arms?
” Nowadays privates and N.C.O.s travelling in a bus, tube or train, must give up their seats to men of senior rank should they be standing.”—(From an article on New Regulations in the Russian Army, Daily Worker, July 9, 1943.)

“There is a very great division indeed between rates of pay for officers and men of the Red Army. The men get 10 roubles a month. That is about 6d. of my money. An officer of field rank on active service in the line earns up to three or four thousand roubles a month.”—(Paul Holt, Moscow Correspondent of Daily Express, May 24, 1943.)

* * * *

The Vatican and its Money

The Daily Express (September 4, 1943) reported the arrival in London of a Signor Fummi who is “an important banker in Italy, and advises the Pope on financial matters. The Vatican State is probably by far the richest for its size in the world and its finances are spread in almost every country. The Pope takes a personal interest in the various investments and sees that the resources of the Papacy are carefully nursed. Recently he sent a representative to America to look into investments there, and Signor Fummi will spend some time with Bank of England and other financial experts going into the considerable Vatican finances invested here.”

Forward (September 11, 1943) quotes the following from The Week : —
“What may prove a new factor of international importance is disclosed in news reaching us from an unimpeachable New York source to the effect that the Vatican account has now been effectively concentrated in the hands of the Morgan Bank. And it is stated the account is … probably among the three largest single accounts now handled by the House of Morgan. The account, it appears, by no means represents merely the gigantic Vatican funds raised in the United States, but on the contrary is to a considerable extent composed of moneys raised in Europe and transferred to New York.”
Edgar Hardcastle