One of the few things I’m currently in uncertain disagreement with regarding anarchism is the idea of private property. In many cases, it is quite simple, but in others, like housing, and data, there are some discrepancies that it would be wrong to not address. Seeing as I have probably written more about anarchism in the past few days than I have since I started the site, now seems to be a good time to discuss them.
One of the core tenets of communist anarchism, as proposed by Alexander Berkman, is the abolition of private property and ownership. This makes sense in a number of areas, such as work, industrial, and agricultural relations. The land, factories, workplaces, etc., and the materials required to carry out this work, from farming equipment to new technologies, can be used to the benefit of all people and to those who work with them. This socialising of work and what is often called the means of production gives workers the freedom they need to carry out their work and expand their creative expression. While you and your colleagues may be in possession of something, like farmland or a factory (to borrow the examples many older thinkers use), you, nor anyone else, actually owns it.
I don’t intend on going into the details of this, however, as this piece is focussed more on a few areas where I feel possession but not ownership is flawed. Specifically, housing and data are two I find particularly interesting, the latter more so because it is something that Berkman and other anarchists of old would have had no concept of in the way we understand data and privacy. I will talk about data in another piece.
Shelter, a dwelling or housing of some description, is a basic human right. It is on par with the right to suitable food and nutrition and clean drinking water. No one should be denied the ability to live somewhere securely and safely, and the mass displacement of various populations and rising homelessness across the globe is a tragic indictment on how we have failed to provide these necessities.
I spoke to a couple of friends from university the other week about the idea of the “housing market”. Markets, in capitalist systems, imply a supply and demand. This means that there will always be those who will never get the chance to own a home of their own. It creates a division between those who have a house and those who don’t, either leaving someone homeless or renting at the mercy of landlords, an unfair power dynamic where you pay someone else for the right to live in “their” property while they sit on multiple other properties. The value of these properties can also go up artificially or naturally as a result of actions mostly out of the control of the majority of the people.
Last year, more people bought their seventh property (I believe Australia-wide) than people who bought their first. These investment properties can rise in value even if they remain empty, locking people out of a market they cannot afford while those with excess gain profits over time. There is, of course, a bubble. As the Global Financial Crisis showed us, the policies that many neoliberal countries adopted from the 80’s and onwards are not sustainable. I’m not an economist by any means, but a looming housing market collapse in the brink of a recession doesn’t sound like good economic management.
But even dismissing the economics of it, taking a purely humanitarian and human rights stance would clearly reveal the concept of a housing market to be a massive infringement on the right to shelter, to a home. That we can have homeless people in a world of empty homes is a disgrace. That we have such mass displacement, which will only get worse with climate change, when there are obvious ways to mediate these occurrences, is a tragedy that will unfold viciously over decades. That there are those who exploit others who cannot afford to own a home is an injustice that must be fought.
From this perspective, socialising housing makes sense. Everyone, according to their needs, has the right to a home. Whether you’re an individual or a large family, a home that matches the requirements of your circumstances should be an inalienable right. If you are in any way disabled, or become disabled, a home equipped with the appropriate infrastructure and such should be available to you.
But if housing is socialised, do you own this home, or merely possess it?
Despite my leanings towards socialisation, the idea of owning a home, a space that you can call your own and use as you see fit, is one of many ultimate expressions of your creative freedoms. Along with it comes privacy, another right that all individuals and families are owed. While community and work spaces can be public and collective, no one else, without your permission, should have the right to tell you how to command your personal space.
Now, am I dealing with petty semantics? Does the anarchist ideal of socialised housing cover this? Possession as opposed to private ownership could still imply the above right to command your own space, so long as you live there. When you move on from that space, or when you die, I agree that the house should not then become inheritance to any family – that would lead to families that would group together and dominate more properties, defeating the purpose of socialisation in the first place.
Perhaps I just haven’t read the right works that cover this, but even if it is a semantic issue, it is still worth pointing out. One of the things I know many who are averse to the idea of socialising housing or abolishing private ownership take issue with is that they will not have the right to “own” a home, that it will become a “public” asset. While housing should be public and socialised, I feel that if you are in possession of a house, a home with the requirements befitting your circumstances, you have the right to “own” that. It is not “privately” owned, in that you can’t own multiple properties, exploit those who you allow to live in them, or pass them down after you die, but nor should it be “public” to the extent your privacy, freedoms, and creative expressions are impinged upon.
Again, is this implied in the anarchist view of housing and possession regarding socialised housing? Maybe it is, but I haven’t yet come across that. I may even be at odds with anarchist thought, or my understanding may be a misinterpretation. I should also note that this right to “own” a property does not eliminate the prospects for those who wish to live in communal areas, or use “their” space as one open to public use. It’s all about the individual’s rights and choices on the matter, which I believe to be an integral part of anarchism. This is all purely my understanding and thoughts on the matter given the knowledge I currently have.
It is an interesting, if minor, discussion to have, and one that I fear we as a global society are extremely far from having, seeing as there are so many who go without so many of their basic rights.
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