How the Bourgeoisie Solves the Housing Question
As usual, Germany needed a much longer time before the chronic sources of infection existing there also reached the acute degree necessary to arouse the indolent big bourgeoisie. But he who goes slowly goes surely, and so among us also there finally arose a bourgeois literature on public health and the housing question, a watery extract of its foreign, and in particular its English, predecessors, to which it was sought to give a deceptive semblance of a higher conception by means of fine-sounding and solemn phrases. Die Wohnungszustande der arbeitenden Klassen und ihre Reform [The Housing Conditions of the Working Classes and their Reform] by Dr. Emil Sax, Vienna, 1869. belongs to this literature.
I have selected this book in order to present the bourgeois treatment of the housing question only because it makes the attempt to summarize as far as possible the bourgeois literature on the subject. And a fine literature it is which serves our author as his “sources!” Of the English parliamentary reports, the real main sources, only three of the oldest are mentioned by name; the whole book proves that its author has never glanced at even a single one of them. On the other hand, a whole series of banal, bourgeois, well-meaning philistine and hypocritical philanthropic writings are enumerated: Ducpétiaux, Roberts, Hole, Huber, the proceeding of the English congresses on social science (or rather social bosh), the journal of the Association for the Welfare of the Laboring Classes in Prussia, the official Austrian report on the World Exhibition in Paris, the official Bonapartist reports on the same subject, the Illustrated London News, Uber Land und Meer [On Land and Sea] and finally a “recognized authority,” a man of “acute practical perception,” of “convincing impressiveness of speech,” namely – Julius Faucher! All that is missing in this list of sources is the Gartenlaube, Klepdderadatsch and the Fusilier Kutschke. [Pseudonym of a German patriotic poet. -Ed.]
In order that no misunderstanding may arise concerning the standpoint of Dr. Sax, he declares on page 22:
It is the essence of bourgeois socialism to want to maintain the basis of all the evils of present-day society and at the same time to want to abolish the evils themselves. As already pointed out in The Communist Manifesto, the bourgeois socialist “is desirous of redressing social grievances in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society,” he wants “a bourgeoisie without a proletariat.” We have already seen that Dr. Sax formulates the question in exactly the same fashion. The solution he finds in the solution of the housing question. He is of the opinion that:
Whence then comes the housing shortage? How did it arise? As a good bourgeois, Dr. Sax is not supposed to know that it is a necessary product of the bourgeois social order; that it cannot fail to be present in a society in which the great masses of the workers are exclusively dependent upon wages, that is to say, on the sum of foodstuffs necessary for their existence and for the propagation of their kind; in which improvements of the existing machinery continually throw masses of workers out of employment; in which violent and regularly recurring industrial vacillations determine on the one hand the existence of a large reserve army of unemployed workers, and on the other hand drive large masses of the workers temporarily unemployed onto the streets; in which the workers are crowded together in masses in the big towns, at a quicker rate than dwellings come into existence for them under existing conditions; in which, therefore, there must always be tenants even for the most infamous pigsties; and in which finally the house owner in his capacity as capitalist has not only the right, but, in view of the competition, to a certain extent also the duty of ruthlessly making as much out of his property in house rent as he possibly can. In such a society the housing shortage is no accident; it is a necessary institution and it can be abolished together with all its effects on health, etc., only if the whole social order from which it springs is fundamentally refashioned. That, however, bourgeois socialism dare not know. It dare not explain the housing shortage from the existing conditions. And therefore nothing remains for it but to explain the housing shortage by means of moral phrases as the result of the baseness of human beings, as the result of original sin, so to speak.
The whole talk about the “ignorance” of both parties amounts to nothing but the old phrases about the harmony of interests of labor and capital. If the capitalists knew their true interests, then they would give the workers good houses and put them in a better position in general, and if the workers understood their true interests they would not go on strike, they would not go in for Social Democracy, they would not take part in politics, but docilely follow their superiors, the capitalists. Unfortunately, both sides find their real interests altogether elsewhere than in the sermons of Dr. Sax and his numerous predecessors. The gospel of harmony between labor and capital has been preached now for almost fifty years, and bourgeois philanthropy has expended large sums of money to prove this harmony of interests by building model institutions, and, as we shall see later, we are today exactly where we were fifty years ago.
Our author now proceeds to the practical solution of the. question. How little revolutionary Proudhon’s proposal to make the workers into the owners of their dwellings was, can be seen from the fact that bourgeois socialism even before him, tried to carry it out in practice and is still trying to do so. Dr. Sax also declares that the housing question can be completely solved only by transferring property in dwellings to the hands of the workers. (Pages 58 and 59.) More than that. he falls into poetic raptures at the idea and breaks out with the following flight of enthusiasm:
In any case, Dr. Sax has solved the question raised in the beginning: the worker “becomes a capitalist” by acquiring his own little house.
Capital is the command over the unpaid labor of others. The house of the worker can only become capital therefore if he rents it to a third person and appropriates a part of the labor product of this third person in the form of rent. By the fact that the worker lives in it himself the house is prevented from becoming capital, just as a coat ceases to be capital the moment I buy it from the tailor and put it on. The worker who owns a little house to the value of a thousand talers is certainly no longer a proletarian, but one must be Dr. Sax to call him a capitalist.
However, the capitalist character of our worker has still another side. Let us assume that in a given industrial area it has become the rule that each worker owns his own little house. In this case the working class of that area lives rent free; expenses for rent no longer enter into the value of its labor power. Every reduction in the cost of production of labor power, that is to say, every permanent price reduction in the worker’s necessities of life is equivalent “on the basis of the iron laws of political economy” to a reduction in the value of labor power and will therefore finally result in a corresponding fall in wages. Wages would fall on an average corresponding to the average sum saved on rent, that is, the worker would pay rent for his own house, but not, as formerly, in money to the house owner, but in unpaid labor to the factory owner for whom he works. In this way the savings of the worker invested in his little house would certainly become capital to some extent, but not capital for him, but for the capitalist employing him.
Dr. Sax is thus unable to succeed even on paper in turning his worker into a capitalist.
Incidentally, what has been said above applies to all so-called social reforms which aim at saving or cheapening the means of subsistence of the worker. Either they become general and then they are followed by a corresponding reduction of wages, or they remain quite isolated experiments, and- then their very existence as isolated exceptions proves that their realization on a general scale is incompatible with the existing capitalist mode of production. Let us assume that in a certain area a general introduction of consumers’ co-operatives succeeds in reducing the cost of foodstuffs for the workers by 20 per cent; in the long run wages would fall in that area by approximately 20 per cent, that is to say, in the same proportion as the foodstuffs in question enter into the means of subsistence of the workers. If the worker, for example, spends three-quarters of his weekly wage on these foodstuffs, then wages would finally fall by three-quarters of 20 = 15 per cent. In short, as soon as any such savings reform has become general, the worker receives in the same proportion less wages, as his savings permit him to live cheaper. Give every worker a saved, independent income of 52 talers a year and his weekly wage must finally fall by one taler. Therefore: the more he saves the less he will receive in wages. He saves therefore not in his own interests, but in the interests of the capitalist. Is anything else necessary in order “to stimulate in the most powerful fashion the primary economic virtue, thrift?” (Page 64.)
For the rest, Herr Sax tells us immediately afterwards that the workers are to become house owners not so much in their own interests as in the interests of the capitalists:
Herr Sax believes he has thereby solved the social problem:
Our leader causes us to take the first step downwards by informing us that there are two systems of workers’ dwellings: the cottage system in which each working-class family has its own little house and if possible a little garden as well, as in England; and the barrack system of large buildings containing numerous workers’ dwellings, as in Paris, Vienna, etc. Between the two is the system usual in Northern Germany. Now it is true that the cottage system is said to be the only correct one, and the only one whereby the worker could acquire the ownership of his own house, while further the barrack system has very great disadvantages with regard to hygiene, morality and domestic peace – but unfortunately the cottage system is not realizable just in the centres of the housing shortage, in the big cities, on account of the high price of land, and one should therefore be glad if houses were built containing from four to six dwellings instead of big barracks, or at least the disadvantages of the big tenement system made up for by various building refinements. (Pages 71-92.)
We have descended quite a long way already, have we not? The transformation of the workers into capitalists, the solution of the social question, a house of his own for each worker, all these things have been left behind, up above in “the region of ideals.” All that remains for us to do is to introduce the cottage system into the country areas and to make the workers’ barracks in the towns as tolerable as possible.
On its own admission, therefore, the bourgeois solution of the housing question has come to grief-it has come to grief owing to the antithesis of town and country. And with this we have arrived at the kernel of the problem. The housing question can only be solved when society has been sufficiently transformed for a start to be made towards abolishing the antithesis between town and country, which has been brought to an extreme point by present-day capitalist society. Far from being able to abolish this antithesis, capitalist society on the contrary is compelled to intensify it day by day. On the other hand the first modern utopian socialists, Owen and Fourier, already correctly recognized this. In their model plans the antithesis between town and country no longer exists. Consequently there takes place exactly the contrary of that which Herr Sax contends; it is not the solution of the housing question which simultaneously solves the social question, but only by the solution of the social question, that is, by the abolition of the capitalist mode of production, is the solution of the housing question made possible. To want to solve the housing question while at the same time desiring to maintain the modern big cities is an absurdity. The modern big cities, however, will be abolished only by the abolition of the capitalist mode of production, and when this is once on the way then there will be quite other thing to do than supplying each worker with a little house for his own possession.
In the beginning, however, each social revolution will have to take things as it finds them and do its best to get rid of the most crying evils with the means at its disposal. And we have already seen that the housing shortage can be remedied immediately by expropriating a part of the luxury dwellings belonging to the propertied classes and by quartering workers in the remaining part.
Continuing, Herr Sax once more leaves the big cities and delivers a lengthy verbose discourse upon working class colonies to be established near the towns; he describes all the beauties of such colonies with their joint “water supply, gas lighting, air or hot water heating, wash houses, drying rooms, bathrooms, etc.,” with their “creche, school, prayer hall (!), reading room, library ... wine and beer hall, dancing and concert hall in all respectability,” with steam power laid on to all the houses so that “to a certain extent production can be relayed from the factory into domestic workshops”; but this does not alter the situation at all. The colony Herr Sax describes has been directly borrowed by Mr. Huber from the socialists Owen and Fourier and merely made entirely bourgeois by discarding everything socialist about them. Thereby, however, it becomes really utopian. No capitalist has any interest in establishing such colonies, and in fact none such exists anywhere in the world, except in Guise in France and that was built by a follower of Fourier, not as profitable speculation but as a socialist experiment. [And this one also has finally become a mere centre of working class exploitation. (See the Paris Socialiste of 1886.) – Note by F. Engels to the second German edition.] Herr Sax might just as well have quoted in support of big bourgeois project-spinning the example of the communist colony “Harmony Hall” founded by Owen in Hampshire at the beginning of the ’forties and long since defunct.
In any case, all this talk about colonization is nothing more than a lame attempt to soar again into “the region of ideals” and it is immediately afterwards again abandoned. We descend rapidly again. The simplest solution then is:
Further details can be studied in my Condition of the Working Class in England, pp. 184 and 256. Herr Sax, however, thinks that these objections “hardly deserve refutation.” (Page 111.) But does he not want to make the worker the owner of his dwelling? Certainly, but, as “the employers must always be in a position to dispose of the dwelling in order that when they dismiss a worker to have room for the one who replaces him,” well then, there is nothing for it but “to make some provision for such cases by agreement for the revocation of ownership.” (Page 113.)
[In this respect also. the English capitalists have long ago not only fulfilled but far exceeded all the cherished wishes of Herr Sax. On Monday, October 14, 1872, the court in Morpeth had to adjudicate on an application on behalf of 2,000 miners to have their names enrolled on the list of parliamentary voters. It transpired that the greater number of these miners, according to the regulations of the mine at which they were employed, were not to be regarded as tenants of the dwellings in which they lived, but, as occupying these dwellings on sufferance, and they could be thrown out of them at any moment without notice. (The landowner and house owner were naturally one and the same per-on.) The judge decided that these men were not tenants but servants, and therefore as such not entitled to be included in the list of voters. (Daily News, October 15, 1872.) – Note by F. Engels.]
This time we have come down with unexpected suddenness. First it was said the worker must own his own little house. Then we are informed that this is impossible in the towns and can be carried out only in-the country. And now we are told that ownership even in the country is to be “revocable by agreement!” With this new sort of property for the workers discovered by Herr Sax, with this transformation of the workers into capitalists “revocable by agreement,” we have safely arrived again on firm ground, and have here to examine what the capitalists and other philanthropists have actually done to solve the housing question.
If we are to believe our worthy Dr. Sax, much has already been done by Messieurs the capitalists to remedy the housing shortage; and the proof has been provided that the housing question can be solved on the basis of the capitalist mode of production.
Above all, Herr Sax quotes us the example of – Bonapartist France! As is known, Louis Bonaparte appointed a commission at the time of the Paris World Exhibition ostensibly to report upon the situation of the working classes in France, but in reality to describe their situation as blissful in the extreme, to the greater glory of the Empire. And it is to this report, drawn up by a commission composed of the corruptest tools of Bonapartism, that Herr Sax refers, particularly because the results of its work are “according to the committee’s own statement fairly complete for France.” And what are these results? Of eighty-nine big industrialists or joint-stock companies which gave information to the commission, thirty-one had built no workers’ dwellings at all. According to the estimate of Dr. Sax himself, the dwellings that were built house at the most from 50,000 to 60,000 people, and the dwellings themselves consist almost exclusively of no more than two rooms for each family.
It is obvious that every capitalist who is tied down to a particular rural district by the conditions of his industry – water power, the position of coal mines, iron-stone deposits and other mines, etc. – must build dwellings for his workers if none are available. To see in this a proof of “latent association,” “an eloquent testimony to a growing understanding of the question and its wide import,” a “very promising beginning” (page 115), all this demands a very highly developed habit of self-deception. For the rest, the industrialists of the various countries differ from each other in this respect also according to national character. For instance, Herr Sax informs us (page 117):
And to give us old Akroyd as an example! This worthy was certainly a philanthropist of the first water. He loved his workers, and in particular his female employees, to such an extent that his less philanthropic competitors in Yorkshire used to say of him that he ran his factories exclusively with his own children! It is true that Dr. Sax contends that “illegitimate children are becoming more and more rare” in these flourishing colonies. (Page 118.) Yes, that is true so far as it refers to illegitimate children born out of wedlock, for in the English industrial districts the pretty girls marry very young.
In England the establishment of workers’ dwellings close to each big rural factory and simultaneously with the factory has been the rule for sixty years and more. As already mentioned, many of these factory villages have become the nucleus around which later on a whole factory town has grown up with all the evils which a factory town brings with it. These colonies have therefore not solved the housing question, on the contrary, they first really created it in their localities. On the other hand, in countries which in the sphere of large-scale industry have only limped along behind England, and which have really only got to know what large-scale industry is after 1848, in France and particularly in Germany, the situation is quite different. Here, it is only colossal foundries and factories which decided after much hesitation to build a certain number of workers’ dwellings – for instance, the Schneider works in Creusot and the Krupp works in Essen. The great majority of the rural industrialists let their workers trudge miles through the heat, snow and rain every morning to the factories, and back again every evening to their homes. This is particularly the case in mountainous districts, in the French and Alsatian Vosges districts, in the valleys of the Wupper, Sieg, Agger, Lenne and other Rhineland-Westphalian rivers. In the Erzgebirge the situation is probably no better. The same petty niggardliness occurs both among the Germans and among the French.
Herr Sax knows very well that both the very promising beginning and the flourishing colonies mean less than nothing. Therefore, he tries now to prove to the capitalists what magnificent rents they can obtain by building workers dwellings. In other words, he seeks to show them a new way of cheating the workers.
First of all, he holds up to them the example of a number of London building societies; partly philanthropic and partly speculative, which have shown a net profit of from four to six per cent and more. It is not necessary for Herr Sax to prove to us that capital invested in workers’ houses yields a good profit. The reason why the capitalists do not invest still more than they do in workers’ dwellings is that more expensive dwellings bring in still greater profits for their owners. The exhortation of Herr Sax to the capitalists, therefore, amounts, once again, to nothing but a moral sermon.
As far as these London building societies are concerned, whose brilliant successes Herr Sax so loudly proclaims, they have according to his own figures – and every sort of building speculation is included – provided dwellings for a total of 2,132 families and 706 single men, i.e., for less than 15,000 persons! And is it presumed seriously to present in Germany this sort of childishness as a great success, although in the East End of London alone half a million workers live under the most miserable housing conditions? The whole of these philanthropic efforts are in fact so miserably futile that the English parliamentary reports dealing, with the situation of the workers never even bother to mention them.
We will not even speak here of the ludicrous ignorance of London which shows itself throughout this whole section. Just one point, however: Herr Sax is of the opinion that the Lodging House for Single Men in Soho went out of business because there was no hope of obtaining a large clientele” in this neighborhood. Herr Sax imagines that the whole of the West End of London is one big luxury town, and does not know that right behind the most elegant streets the dirtiest workers’ quarters are to be found, of which, for example, Soho is one. The model lodging house in Soho which he mentions and which I knew twenty-three years ago, was well enough frequented in the beginning, but closed down finally because no one could stand it, and yet it was one of the best.
But the workers’ town of Millhausen in Alsace – that is surely a success?
The workers’ town of Millhausen is the great show-piece of the continental bourgeois, just as the one-time flourishing colonies of Ashton, Ashworth, Greg and Co., are of the English bourgeois. Unfortunately, the Millhausen example is not any product of “latent association,” but of the open association between the Second French Empire and the capitalists of Alsace. It was one of Louis Bonaparte’s socialist experiments, for which the state advanced one-third of the capital. In fourteen years (up to 1867) it built 800 small houses according to a very defective system, an impossible one in England where they understand these things better, and these houses are handed over to the workers to become their own property after thirteen to fifteen years of monthly payments at an increased rental.
It was not necessary for the Bonapartists of Alsace to invent this way of acquiring property; as we shall see, it had been introduced by the English co-operative building societies long before. Compared with English conditions, the extra rent paid for the purchase of these houses is rather high. For instance, after having paid 4,500 francs by installments in fifteen years, the worker receives a house which was worth 3,300 francs fifteen years before. If the worker wants to go away or if he is in arrears with only a single monthly installment (in which case he can be turned on to the streets), six and two-thirds per cent of the original value of the house is reckoned as the annual rent (for instance, 17 francs a month for a house worth 3,000 francs) and the rest is paid out to him, but without a penny of interest. It is quite clear that under such circumstances the society is able to grow fat, quite apart from “state assistance.” It is just as clear that the houses provided under these circumstances are better than the old tenement houses in the town itself, if only because they are built outside the town in a semi-rural neighborhood.
We need not say a word about the few miserable experiments which have been made in Germany; even Herr Sax, page 157, recognizes their woefulness.
What then exactly do all these examples prove? Simply that the building of workers’ dwellings is profitable from the capitalist point of view, even when all the laws of hygiene are not trodden under foot. But that has never been denied; we all knew that long ago. Any investment of capital which satisfies an existing need is profitable if conducted rationally. The question, however, is precisely, why the housing shortage continues to exist all the same, why the capitalists all the same do not provide sufficient healthy dwellings for the workers. And here Herr Sax has again nothing but exhortations to make to the capitalists and fails to provide us with an answer. The real answer to this question we have already given above.
Capital does not desire to abolish the housing shortage even if it could; this has now been completely established. There remain, therefore, only two other expedients, self-help on the part of the workers and state assistance.
Herr Sax, an enthusiastic worshipper of self-help, is able to report wonderful things about it also in regard to the housing question. Unfortunately he is compelled to admit right at the beginning that self-help can only effect anything where the cottage system either already exists or where it can be introduced, i.e., once again only in the rural areas. In the big cities, even in England, it can be effective only in a very limited measure. Herr Sax then sighs: “Reform in this way (by self-help) can be effected only in a roundabout way and must therefore always be imperfect, namely in so far as the principle of ownership reacts on the quality of the dwelling.” It would be permissible to doubt even this, in any case, the “principle of ownership” has not exercised any reforming influence on the “quality” of the author’s style. Despite all this, self-help in England has achieved such wonders “that thereby everything done there to solve the housing question from other angles has been far exceeded.” Herr Sax is referring to the English “building societies” and he deals with them at great length because:
Hence, the capitalists will not and the workers cannot. And with this we could close this section if it were not absolutely necessary to provide a little information about the English building societies, which the bourgeoisie of the Schulze-Delitzsch type always hold up to our workers as models.
These building societies are not workers’ societies, nor is it their main aim to provide workers with their own houses. On the contrary, we shall see that this happens only very exceptionally. The building societies are essentially of a speculative nature, the smaller ones., which were the original societies, not less so than their bigger imitators. In a public house, usually at the instigation of the proprietor, in whose rooms the weekly meetings then take place, a number of regular customers and their friends, small shopkeepers, clerks, commercial travelers, master artisans and other petty bourgeois – with here and there perhaps an engineer or some other worker belonging to the aristocracy of his class found a building society. The immediate occasion is usually that the proprietor has discovered a comparatively cheap plot of land in the neighborhood or somewhere else. Most of the members are not bound by their occupations to any particular district. Even many of the small shopkeepers and artisans have only business premises in the town and not any dwelling; whoever is in a position to do so prefers to live in the suburbs rather than in the centre of the smoky town. The building plot is purchased and as many cottages as possible erected on it. The credit of the better off members makes the purchase possible, and the weekly contributions together with a few small loans cover the weekly costs of building. Those members who aim at getting a house of their own receive cottages by lot as they are completed, and the appropriate extra rent serves for the amortization of the purchase price. The remaining cottages are then either let or sold. The building society, however, assuming that it does good business, accumulates a larger or smaller sum which remains the property of the members, providing that they keep up their contributions, and which from time to time, or when the society is dissolved, is distributed among them. This is the life history of nine out of ten of the English building societies. The others are bigger societies, sometimes formed under political or philanthropic pretexts, but their chief aim is always to provide the savings of the petty bourgeoisie with a more profitable mortgage investment at a good rate of interest, with the prospect of dividends as a result of speculation in real estate.
The sort of clients these societies speculate on can be seen from the prospectus of one of the largest if not the largest of them. The Birkbeck Building Society, 29 and 30, Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane, London, whose gross receipts since its existence total £10,500,000 sterling, which has over £416,000 in the bank or invested in state securities, and which at present has 21,441 members and depositors, introduces itself to the public in the following fashion:
[We add here a little contribution on the way in which these building societies and in particular the London building societies are managed. As is known, almost the whole of the land on which London is built belongs to a dozen aristocrats, including the most eminent, the Duke of Westminster, the Duke of Bedford, the Duke of Portland, etc. They originally leased out the separate building plots for a period of ninety-nine years, and at the end of that period they take possession of the land with everything on it. They then let the houses on shorter leases, thirty-nine years for example, with a so-called repairing clause, according to which the leaseholder must put the house in good repair and maintain it in such condition. As soon as the contract has progressed thus far. the ground landlord sends his architect and the district surveyor to inspect the house and determine the repairs necessary. These repairs are often very considerable and may include the renewal of the whole frontage, or of the roof, etc. The leaseholder now deposits his lease as a security with a building society and receives from this society a loan of the necessary money – up to L1000 and more in the case of an annual rental-of from £130 to £150 – for the building repairs which are to be carried out at his cost. These building societies have thus become an important intermediate link in a system which aims at securing the continual renewal and maintenance in habitable condition of London’s houses belonging to the landed aristocracy without any trouble to the latter and at the cost of the public. And this is supposed to be a solution of the housing question for the workers! — Note by F. Engels to the second German edition.]
For the rest, it is clear to everyone that the Bonapartists of the workers’ town of Mulhausen are nothing more than miserable imitators of these petty-bourgeois English building societies. The sole difference is that the former, in spite of the state assistance granted to them, swindle their clients far more than the building societies do. On the whole their terms are less liberal than the average existing in England, and while in England interest and compound interest is reckoned on each deposit and the latter also can be withdrawn at a month’s notice, the factory owners of Mulhausen put both interest and compound interest into their own pockets and repay no more than the amount paid in by the workers in hard-earned five-franc pieces. And no one will be more astonished at this difference than Herr Sax who has it all in his book without knowing it.
Thus workers’ self-help is also no good. There remains state assistance. What can Herr Sax offer us in this connection? Three things:
[Jobbery is the exploitation of a public office to the private advantage of the official or his family. If, for instance, the director of the state telegraphs of a country becomes a sleeping partner in a paper factory, provides this factory with timber from his forests, and then gives the factory orders for supplying paper for the telegraph offices, then that is a fairly small but quite a pretty “job,” inasmuch as it demonstrates a complete understanding of the principles of jobbery; such as, for the rest, in the case of Bismarck was a matter of course and to be, expected. – Note by F. Engels.]
The agents of these urban authorities, who owe their positions to all sorts of family considerations, are either incapable of carrying into effect such social laws, or disinclined to do so. On the other hand, it is precisely in England that the state officials who are entrusted with the preparation and carrying into effect of social legislation are usually distinguished by a strict sense of duty – although in a lesser degree today than twenty or thirty years ago. In the town councils, the owners of unsound and dilapidated dwellings are almost everywhere strongly represented either directly or indirectly. The system of electing these town councils according to small wards makes the elected members dependent on the pettiest local interests and influences; no town councilor who desires to be re-elected dare vote for the application of this law in his constituency. It is comprehensible therefore with what aversion this law was received almost everywhere by the local authorities, and that up to the present it has been applied only in the most scandalous cases – and even then, as a general rule, only as the result of the outbreak of some epidemic, such as in the case of the small-pox epidemic last year in Manchester and Salford. Appeals to the Home Secretary have up to the present been effective only in such cases, for it is the principle of every Liberal government in England to propose social reform laws only when compelled to do so and, if at all possible, to avoid carrying into effect those already existing. The law in question, like many others in England, has only the importance that, in the hands of a government dominated by or under the pressure of the workers, a government which would at last really administer it, it would be a powerful weapon for making a breach in the existing social state of things.
Herr Sax declares on page 203 that this is carrying the principle into practice correctly and to “an unlimited extent also.” And with the confession that even in England and to “an unlimited extent” the state has achieved next to nothing, Dr. Sax concludes his book, but not before having delivered another moral homily to all concerned.
[In recent English Acts of Parliament giving the London building authorities the right of expropriation for the purpose of new street construction, a certain amount of consideration is given to the workers turned out of their homes. A provision has been inserted that the new buildings to be erected must be suitable for housing those classes of the population previously living there. Big five or six storey tenement barracks are therefore erected for the workers on the least valuable sites and in this way the letter of the law is complied with. it remains to be seen how these buildings will serve; the workers are unaccustomed to them and in the midst of the old conditions in London they form a completely foreign development. In the best case, however, they will provide new dwellings for hardly more than a quarter of the workers actually evicted by the building operations. – Note by F. Engels to the second German edition.]
It is perfectly clear that the existing state is neither able nor willing to do anything to remedy the housing difficulty. The state is nothing but the organized collective power of the possessing classes, the landowners and the capitalists as against the exploited classes, the peasants and the workers. What the individual capitalists (and it is here only a question of these because in this matter the landowner who is also concerned acts primarily as a capitalist) do not want, their state also does not want. If therefore the individual capitalists deplore the housing shortage, but can hardly be persuaded even superficially to palliate its most terrifying consequences, then the collective capitalist, the state, will not do much more. At the most it will see to it that the measure of superficial palliation which has become standard is carried out everywhere uniformly. And we have already seen that this is the case.
But, one might object, in Germany the bourgeoisie does not rule as yet; in Germany the state is still to a certain extent a power hovering independently over society as a whole, which for that very reason represents the collective interests of society and not those of a single class. Such a state can certainly do much that a bourgeois state cannot do, and one could expect from it something quite different on the social field also.
That is the language of reactionaries. In reality, however, the state as it exists at present in Germany is also the necessary product of the social basis out of which it has developed. In Prussia – and Prussia is now decisive – there exists side by side with a landowning aristocracy which is still powerful, a comparatively young and markedly very cowardly bourgeoisie, which up to the present has not won either direct political domination, as in France, or more or less indirect as in England. Side by side with these two classes, however, there exists further a rapidly increasing proletariat which is intellectually highly developed and which is becoming more and more organized every day. We find, therefore, in Germany alongside of the basic condition of the old absolute monarchy, an equilibrium between the landowning aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, also the basic condition of modern Bonapartism, an equilibrium between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.
But both in the old absolute monarchy and in the modern Bonapartist monarchy the real governing power lies in the hands of a special caste of army officers and state officials. In Prussia this caste is supplemented partly from its own ranks, partly from the lesser aristocracy owning the entailed estates, more rarely the higher aristocracy, and least of all from the bourgeoisie. The independence of this caste, which appears to occupy a position outside and, so to speak, above society, gives the state the semblance of independence in relation to society.
The state form which has developed with necessary logic in Prussia (and, following the Prussian example, in the new imperial constitution of Germany) out of these contradictory social conditions is pseudo-constitutionalism, a form which is at once both the present-day form of the dissolution of the old absolute monarchy and the form of existence of the Bonapartist monarchy. In Prussia, pseudo-constitutionalism from 1848 to 1866 only concealed and brought about the slow decay of the absolutist monarchy. However, since 1866, and still more since 1870, the transformation of social conditions and thus the dissolution of the old state has proceeded openly in the view of all and on a tremendously increasing scale.
The rapid development of industry and in particular of stock exchange swindling has dragged all the ruling classes into the whirlpool of speculation. The wholesale corruption imported from France in 1870 is developing at an unprecedented rate. Stroussberg and Péreire take off their hats to each other. Ministers, generals, princes and counts deal in shares in competition with the cunningest stock-exchange Jews, and the state recognizes their equality by conferring titles wholesale on these stock-exchange Jews. The rural aristocracy, who have been industrialists for a long time as producers of beet sugar and distillers, had long ago left the old and respectable days behind and now swell the lists of directors of all sorts of sound and unsound joint-stock companies. The bureaucracy is beginning more and more to despise embezzlement as the sole means of improving its income; it is turning its back on the state and beginning to hunt after the far more lucrative posts on the administration of industrial enterprises. Those who still remain in office follow the example of their superiors and speculate in shares, or “participate” in railways, etc. One is even justified in assuming that the lieutenants also have their hands in certain speculations. In short, the decomposition of all the elements of the old state and the transition from the absolute monarchy is in full swing, and with the next big trade and industrial crisis not only will the present swindle collapse, but the old Prussian state as well. [Even today, 1886, what holds together the old Prussian state and its basis, the alliance of the big landowners and the industrialist capitalists sealed by the protective tariffs is solely the fear of the proletariat which has grown tremendously in numbers and class consciousness since 1872. – Note by F. Engels to the second German edition.]
And this state, in which the non-bourgeois elements are becoming more bourgeois every day, is to solve “the social question,” or even only the housing question? On the contrary. In all economic questions the Prussian state is falling more and more into the hands of the bourgeoisie. And if since 1866 legislation on the economic field has not been even more adapted to the interests of the bourgeois than was actually the case, whose fault is that? The bourgeoisie itself is chiefly responsible, being firstly too cowardly to press its own demands energetically, and secondly resisting every concession immediately the latter simultaneously gives the menacing proletariat new weapons. And if the state power, i.e., Bismarck, is attempting to organize its own bodyguard proletariat in order thereby to keep in check the political activity of the bourgeoisie, what is that but a necessary and familiar Bonapartist recipe which pledges the state to nothing more, as far as the workers are concerned, than a few benevolent phrases and at the utmost to a minimum of state assistance for building societies à la Louis Bonaparte?
The best proof of what the workers have to expect from the Prussian state lies in the utilization of the French milliards which has given a new short reprieve to the independence of the Prussian state machine in regard to society. Has even a single taler of all these milliards been used to provide shelter for those Berlin working class families which have been thrown on to the streets? On the contrary. As autumn approached, the state even caused to be pulled down those few miserable huts which had served the workers and their families as a temporary shelter during the summer. The five milliards are being expended rapidly enough for fortresses, cannon and soldiers; and despite Wagner von Dummerwitz, and despite Stieber’s conferences with Austria, there will not be used for the German workers even as much of those milliards as was used for the French workers out of the millions which Louis Bonaparte stole from France.
In The Condition of the Working Class in England I gave a description of Manchester as it looked in 1843 and 1844. Since then the construction of railways through the centre of the town, the laying out of new streets, and the erection of great public and private buildings have broken through, laid bare and improved some of the worst districts described in my book, others have been abolished altogether, but many of them are still, apart from the fact that official sanitary inspection has since become stricter, in the same state or in an even worse state of dilapidation than they were then. On the other hand, however, thanks to the enormous extension of the town, whose population has increased since then by more than half, districts which were at that time still airy and clean are now just as excessively built upon, just as dirty and overcrowded as the most ill-famed parts of the town formerly were.
Here is just one example: On page 80 and the following pages of my book I describe a group of houses situated in the valley bottom of the river Medlock, which under the name of Little Ireland was for years one of the worst blots on Manchester. Little Ireland has long ago disappeared and on its site there now stands a railway station built on a high foundation. The bourgeoisie printed with pride to the happy and final abolition of Little Ireland as to a great triumph. Now last summer a great inundation took place, as in general the rivers embanked in our big towns cause extensive floods year after year owing to easily understood causes. And it was then revealed that Little Ireland had not been abolished at all, but had simply been shifted from the south side of Oxford Road to the north side, and that it still continues to flourish. Let us hear what the Manchester Weekly Times, the organ of the radical bourgeoisie of Manchester, has to say in its number of July 20, 1872: