30 April 2014

Housing by People

Development, Part 3a

Housing by People

Housing by People (excerpts attached), by John Charlewood Turner, is a discussion of housing, from a well-educated point of view, and of where decisive power should lie, who should act, and how all these responsibilities should be divided up.

Turner’s book can serve us as a small link to the great, beautiful and necessary field of study called urbanism, of which very little emerges into the general public realm. Urbanism is a site of ideological struggle. It is also a labyrinth, in which it is easy to get lost. Turner, as you will see, refers to “the mirage of development”; meaning the illusion of development.

Turner’s focus in the two chapters that are given here is on autonomy versus heteronomy, and on proscription versus prescription. In short, he is in favour of Power to the People.

Turner is undoubtedly a partisan of the poor petty-bourgeoisie, and is a very clear-minded student of, and exponent of, their needs.

For the partisans of the working class, Turner’s guidelines are therefore invaluable. They provide insight into the world of a class that is quite different from the proletariat. The two classes are very close in time and space, even as close as to be co-existent in the same biological families; yet their needs and outlooks are different.

Predecessors to Turner in this urban-studies tradition have been Patrick Geddes, Lewis Mumford, and Ebenezer Howard.

The illustration shows Howard’s famous diagram “The Three Magnets”, from his 1902 book “Garden Cities of To-morrow”.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Housing by People, C1, C6, Who Decides?, John Turner.

29 April 2014

Local Class Alliance

Development, Part 3

Local Class Alliance

The politics of class alliance are well understood and well executed at national level in South Africa in terms of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) policy developed during the last nine decades, which led directly to the democratic breakthrough of 1994.

The NDR remains the dominant framework of South African politics, having been refreshed at Polokwane in 2007. At national level, the interests of the working class continue to be well articulated through the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the trade union movement whose largest centre is COSATU.

The petty bourgeoisie, on the other hand, has no dedicated political expression at national level, and nor has the peasantry. In spite of the large size of these segments of the population in South Africa, they are compelled to rely on others, at national level. This is a consequence of the “sack-of-potatoes” nature of both of these two classes: the rural petty-bourgeois who are the peasants; and the urban peasants, who are the petty-bourgeoisie.

Both these classes are made up of individualists who aspire to live autonomously as families, with everything of their own. The working class is compelled to represent the interests of these mostly extremely poor sections of the population at national level. Otherwise, the established big bourgeoisie would quickly exploit the poorer ones as political foot-soldiers for capitalism, or possibly for demagogic fascism.

The monopolists also, in practice, exploit the peasants and the petty bourgeois directly, feeding off their younger brothers and sisters in the predatory way which Rosa Luxemburg described so well in Chapter 2 of “Reform or Revolution?” from which our main text (attached) is taken.

Local class politics

But at local level, in South Africa, the situation of the working-class vis-à-vis the petty-bourgeoisie and peasantry is reversed. The organised working class has hardly any formal presence either at electoral ward level (where ANC branches are organised), or at voting district level. Here, the petty-bourgeois individualists are working on their home ground and at the scale of their own business operations. COSATU Locals and Socialist Forums are in the shade, if they exist at all.

The SACP generates cadres, and organises and assists the masses, including the ANC, in many different ways, but it has not stood candidates in elections for many years. Whether its electoral practice changes, or not, the SACP is attempting to make a major impact at local level when the entire party is re-organised into Voting-District-based branches.

Advantage reversed at local level

In terms of theory, there is relatively little that would serve as ideological guidance to the working class on the topic of local development, whereas the petty-bourgeoisie has an abundance of material and history to lean on, some of which we will unpack in more detail during this part of our course.

The town is the birthplace of the bourgeoisie and it is the natural territory of the petty-bourgeoisie. The municipality is the “executive committee” of the local bourgeoisie. Not only is it their instrument, but it is their regenerator, whose job it is to reproduce bourgeois relations at local level and to bring forth new generations of bourgeois-minded councillors and bureaucrats.

Organs of People’s Power

In the past, one effective working-class tactic was to confront this concentration of local bourgeois strength with an organised workers’ democratic power such as, in South Africa, what were known as “Civics”. In Russia, long before the revolutions of 1917, this movement took the form of “soviets”. The first one, as Vladimir Shubin relates, was set up in the textile manufacturing centre of Ivanovo in 1905. Another tactic, problematic though it has been, is the setting up of producer and consumer co-operatives. This series will attempt to develop both of these perspectives in due course.

In this part, our CU job is to review some of the debate in the literature of petty-bourgeois development. It is not the aim of the working-class to drive any other class to premature extinction. In the “18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte” Karl Marx described the peasantry, with sympathy, as a “sack of potatoes”, because they could not unite at national level. In the spirit of this work, the working class must unite the weaker classes and lead them, and make provision for them in terms that will satisfy them.

For the classic peasantry, this meant giving them land and a market for their produce. For the petty bourgeoisie, it is the freedom to do business, and the guarantee, in the face of the predatory monopolists, of a market. As much as they need us, so also do we, as the proletariat, need these classes as allies against the monopoly bourgeoisie. Therefore, as partisans of the working class, we should read these works with a serious interest.

How will things change? The communists must strive to reproduce, in every locality, the same well-expressed and solid class alliance which has up to now underpinned the NDR at the national level. This means providing for both the petty-bourgeoisie/peasantry, and for the working class. These classes must be able to see a clear way forward, in alliance with each other, at local level, where, at present, it is working-class organisation that is lacking.

Illustration: The hammer-and-sickle emblem of the communists represents the alliance of workers and peasants.

·        The above is to introduce the original reading-text: Reform or Revolution?, Chapters 2, 7, 9 and 10, Luxemburg, Part 1 and Part 2

23 April 2014

Reactionary Petty-Bourgeois Utopia

Development, Part 2a

Reactionary Petty-Bourgeois Utopia

To understand the controversies of the present day intelligently (to borrow a phrase from the attached text), one needs to go back. We went back to Engels’ 1872 book on “The Housing Question”. Today we go back to Lenin, in 1905.

Lenin’s “Petty Bourgeois and Proletarian Socialism” is an example of the antipathy of both these writers towards “reactionary petty-bourgeois utopia”. Both Engels and Lenin opposed the liberal view of emancipation, whereby the worker’s household is re-constituted as a miniature image of the bourgeois household.

The relevance of it is also to the concept of “development”, a word that is not used in Lenin’s article, by the way. But clearly, Lenin is looking at a situation wherein “development” in our modern, vulgar sense is very much on the agenda, i.e.: The masses are poor. Something must be done.

Lenin points out the class realities:

“Will the fullest liberty and expropriation of the landlords do away with commodity production? No, it will not.

“…after destroying the power of the bureaucracy and the landlords, it will set up a democratic system of society, without, however, altering the bourgeois foundation of that democratic society, without abolishing the rule of capital.

Lenin, already in 1905, 15 years before he launched the concept of the National Democratic Revolution (in the report-back of the Commission on the National and Colonial Question to the Second Congress of the Communist international in 1920) had fully grasped the necessity of such an NDR and its close relationship to the trajectory of social development in its full, dialectical sense. He writes:

“Can a class-conscious worker forget the democratic struggle for the sake of the socialist struggle, or forget the latter for the sake of the former? No, a class-conscious worker calls himself a Social-Democrat for the reason that he understands the relation between the two struggles. He knows that there is no other road to socialism save the road through democracy, through political liberty.”

But Lenin refuses to allow the revolution to ossify into any sort of equivalent to the idea of a static, perpetual “National Democratic Society”. He says:

“The peasants' struggle against the landlords is now a revolutionary struggle; the confiscation of the landlords' estates at the present stage of economic and political evolution is revolutionary in every respect, and we back this revolutionary-democratic measure. However, to call this measure "socialisation", and to deceive oneself and the people concerning the possibility of "equality" in land tenure under the system of commodity production, is a reactionary petty-bourgeois utopia, which we leave to the socialist-reactionaries.”

What is a reactionary petty-bourgeois utopia? The illustration above, a German Nazi poster dating from about 25 years after Lenin wrote the linked article, implies a reconstruction and development programme that is purely utilitarian and even innocent. The progress that it offers appears as the static end of progress. It is the kind of thing that Paulo Freire referred to as “necrophilia”.

Please download the document, read it and appreciate the extraordinary clarity and foresight that Lenin was able to achieve, aged 35, in 1905, and how much of it rings true, today.

·        The above serves to introduce the original reading-text: Petty-bourgeois and Proletarian Socialism, 1905, Lenin.

20 April 2014

The Housing Question

Development, Part 2

The Housing Question

Thanks to his book, “The Condition of the Working Class in England”, Frederick Engels is, among many other things, considered to be the father of modern urban studies and town planning.

Therefore one might approach another of his books, “The Housing Question” (part of it is attached) expecting answers to that same housing question. One might hope for instructions about what to build. One might expect sermons about “delivery”, or even model house-plans. Instead, one finds severe polemic about very fundamental issues of class struggle. Why is this?

It may help to first examine what polemic is. Engels begins the attached text with references to his opponent Mulberger, who had complained that Engels had been blunt to the point of rudeness. Engels concedes little more than sarcasm:

“I am not going to quarrel with friend Mulberger about the ‘tone’ of my criticism. When one has been so long in the movement as I have, one develops a fairly thick skin against attacks, and therefore one easily presumes also the existence of the same in others. In order to compensate Mulberger I shall try this time to bring my ‘tone’ into the right relation to the sensitiveness of his epidermis.”

But later, admitting that he had misrepresented Mulberger on a particular (quite small) point, Engels lambastes himself as “irresponsible”.

“This time Mulberger is really right. I overlooked the passage in question. It was irresponsible of me to overlook it…”

The rules of polemic are roughly these: It is done in writing. It is always against another named individual’s writing. It is direct and frank and pays little regard for bourgeois squeamishness; on the other hand, it pays the utmost respect to the meaning of the opponent’s words. Opponents in polemic never misrepresent each other. Everything is permissible, except misrepresention.

Development is class struggle

After his remarks about “Mulberger”, Engels goes straight into a long paragraph (the second half of page 1, going over to page 2) that contains a summary of theory and practice, vanguard and mass, from the 1840s up until his point of writing, just one year after the fall of the Paris Commune. The paragraph mentions “the necessity of the political action of the proletariat and of the dictatorship of the proletariat as the transitional stage to the abolition of classes and with them of the state.”

This is the Communist Manifesto all over again. So, we can ask, why does Engels “go to town” to this extent? Is this not merely “housing” we are talking about? Is not housing something that everybody needs? Classless, surely? A win-win situation? Motherhood and apple-pie?

Engels says: NO! Engels says: the class struggle is here.

What we can read in Mulberger, through Engels’ eyes, is the petty-bourgeois (and full bourgeois) greed for this Housing Question as a means, or a tool, for reproducing petty-bourgeois consciousness, and this is just exactly how the post-1994 South African Government started dealing with the housing question. Yes, there should be lots of houses, it said in effect, but they must be petty-bourgeois-style houses, both in physical type, and in form of ownership.

The argument about housing is an argument about the reproduction of capitalism. It is an argument about the continuation of the ascendancy of bourgeois values over those of the working-class. For the bourgeoisie, the creation of a dwelling is an opportunity to invest that house with peasant-like values of individuality, and with petty-bourgeois ideas of “entrepreneurship”, and to regulate and control the people, according to these values.

Everything that happened in “housing” in South Africa post-1994 is pre-figured in the banal prescriptions of Mulberger that Engels lambastes. Any critique of housing in South Africa will inevitably have to follow the example of Engels if it is to be of any use. Please, comrades, read the first pages and the last paragraphs of this document, if you cannot read all of it.

As the Communist Manifesto says, the history of all hitherto-existing societies has been a history of class struggle. The coming “development” period of South African history will also be a period of class struggle. We may not necessarily win every specific struggle. But what this text of Engels says is: let us never fool ourselves. Win or lose, we are in a class struggle, and there is no neutral ground, least of all on the question of housing and land development. There is much more to be studied here, but the key is political.

Please read the attached text.

[Pictures: Shack, Abahlali BaseMjondolo; RDP House, David Goldblatt (“Miriam Mazibuko watering the garden of her new RDP house, Extension 8, Far East Bank, Alexandra Township, Johannesburg, 12 September 2006. It has one room. For lack of space, her four children live with her parents-in-law.”)]

·       The above serves to introduce the original reading-text: The Housing Question, 1872, Part Three, Frederick Engels.

8 April 2014

Planet of Slums?

Development, Part 1a

Planet of Slums?

Today’s instalment is Mike Davis’ brilliant and celebrated essay, “Planet of Slums”, published in 2004 and later made into a book. It is appropriate to have it here, because of its early allusion to Engels’ “Condition of the Working Class in England” (“when the young Engels first ventured onto the mean streets of Manchester”), and because of Davis’s constant references back to what he says were the “predictions” of “classical Marxism”.

Davis starts by announcing the fact that at some point between 2004 and now, the world would change forever when, for the first time, the number of human beings living in cities would exceed those remaining in the rural areas.

The world moved from being majority-rural to being majority-urban.  It is good that Davis reminds us of this fact. The newspapers probably failed to notice it. Says Davis, in his opening summary:

“In 1950 there were 86 cities in the world with a population over one million; today there are 400, and by 2015, there will be at least 550. Cities, indeed, have absorbed nearly two-thirds of the global population explosion since 1950 and are currently growing by a million babies and migrants each week. The present urban population (3.2 billion) is larger than the total population of the world in 1960. The global countryside, meanwhile, has reached its maximum population (3.2 billion) and will begin to shrink after 2020. As a result, cities will account for all future world population growth, which is expected to peak at about 10 billion in 2050.”

The cities that soaked up all the people were of different types, according to Davis. Using Marx’s and Engels’ foundational work as his polemical foil, Davis implies that Engels foretold a future of “Manchester Capitalism”, whereas, Davis says, the most massive cities and conurbations of today exhibit features that contradict Engels’ and Marx’s “predictions”.

Davis is trying to argue that the urbanisation that Engels described in his pioneering work, no longer applies. Perhaps he is trying to argue that the class struggle no longer applies, or has been cancelled.

Davis is undoubtedly wrong in this overall argument of his, but he does succeed in producing a stimulating focus on urbanism, and in highlighting a few facts, as he had previously done with his book “City of Quartz”, a class-based analysis of town planning in Los Angeles, California, USA.

Here are three Mike Davis quotes. The first two are from this essay:

“Classical social theory from Marx to Weber, of course, believed that the great cities of the future would follow in the industrializing footsteps of Manchester, Berlin and Chicago.”

“The global growth of a vast informal proletariat, moreover, is a wholly original structural development unforeseen by either classical Marxism or modernization pundits.”

And the third from a separate interview (in “Space and Culture):

“Neither classical Marxism, nor any other variety of classical social theory or neoliberal economics, ever predicted that such a large fraction of humanity would live in cities and yet basically outside all the formal institutions of the world economy.”

This is actually a literary fraud on Davis’ part, because Marx and Engels were never in the prediction business. It is true that they sought to understand the world and made many observations about it, but “the point is to change it”, as Marx noted in the 11th Thesis on Feuerbach.

A conception of the world as developing by itself in a certain direction, without the help of political consciousness and political agency, is something that has always been denounced by “classical” Marxists. Lenin called it “economism”. The inadequacy of “economism” is the reason why the vanguard Party is a necessity.

So Davis is wrong about Marx and the Marxists. Whether he is wrong in other respects is worth examining and debating.

·        The above serves to introduce the original reading-text: Mike Davis’s 2004 “Planet of Slums

7 April 2014

Urban from Rural

Development, Part 1

Urban from Rural

This is the first main post of our series on Development, which is to run over ten weeks in the second quarter of 2014.

By serialising the material in this way, we are able to synchronise our reading, the better to assist dialogue around these texts. These postings are also arranged to conveniently serve a pre-planned schedule of weekly study-circle discussions. PDF reading texts will be attached, formatted for printing as booklets (A4 folding to A5). All the CU courses, including this one, are available for download via the link that is given below. That link will continue to be given at the bottom of each post.

To begin this course, we note that:

·        The National Democratic Revolution (NDR) is a class alliance. It is a unity-in-action for the extension of democracy to the outer limits of the nation and to all conceivable mass constituencies. It is the pre-requisite for further political progress thereafter.

·        Kwame Nkrumah wrote: “Seek ye first the political kingdom and all else shall be added unto you”.

·        The substance of people’s political concerns is of a material kind; but development is human


With these preliminaries in mind we begin our series on Development with the first of two instalments touching on the work of Frederick Engels.

The main one, attached today, is Engels’ own book “Condition of the Working Class in England

The next instalment in this part will be an article from a critic of Engels’: Mike Davis. To continue the course, these two will be followed by some modern writings on urban/rural problems. Then we will go to some of Lenin’s writings, including some from the period of the New Economic Policy or “NEP”, adopted after the Russian Bolshevik Revolution. After that, the series will proceed to the question of Industrial Development and of large-scale national planning.

It would be hard to exaggerate the historical importance of Engels’ work on “the condition of the English working class”. It is the founding work of town-planning, yet it was written by an office clerk in his twenties who had no university education. Chance had taken him to Manchester, a place so far ahead of its time in those days that the phrase “Manchester Capitalism” was coined to describe its uniqueness, as well as its universal significance.

The CU suggests that comrades page through the attached chapter, although it is long, and read as much of it as is comfortable for them.

Not only did Engels objectify the great industrial towns in literature, systematically, and for the first time. But also, his work laid the empirical and experiential basis, before Engels had fully teamed up with Karl Marx in September 1844, of the conception of the working class as the gravedigger of capitalism and as the leading class in all of humanity and in all of human history. This was at a time when the proletariat was in the most miserable circumstances, as Engels describes. Yet he saw the historic position that they occupied, and their consequent revolutionary potential.

The “Industrial Revolution

For context: It is said that in terms of the technology applied in the daily life of the masses, the condition of Western Europe by the middle of the Eighteenth Century (i.e. the 1700s) had hardly reached the level of the far more urban Roman Empire that had fallen more than 1200 years earlier, after which Europe sunk into rural-based feudalism, a condition which survived in some parts right up to the 20th century.

The first three centuries of bourgeois power in Britain had been taken up with cruel overseas adventures. Among them were the Atlantic slave trade, the slave plantations, the competitive trade in the commodities produced there, and the resulting wars. In this period the banking, insurance, shipping and financial services, that were later to serve capitalism, became highly developed.

The Industrial Revolution of the late Eighteenth Century marked the turn away from slavery and towards capitalist wage-slavery, coinciding with the development of the coal-fired steam power that allowed factories (“mills”) to escape from remote sources of water power and to coagulate in urban density.


Manchester was the first of these great industrial cities. Engels arrived there from Germany at the age of 19 in 1839, when Manchester was reaching an urban-industrial maturity that was unique in the world. And Engels saw it for what it was.

Johannesburg was established in Engels’ lifetime, not so very many years after he wrote his description of the then-new “Great Towns” of Britain. Like Manchester, Johannesburg had its productive districts, its more polite commercial, commodity and financial markets, its separate dormitory slums for workers, and its nice suburbs for the bourgeoisie and their hangers-on. Johannesburg is close to the Manchester model.

There are people still alive in Johannesburg today whose grandparents were among the city’s founding inhabitants. It is not difficult to comprehend that only a few generations separate us from the time when overall social conditions had not yet surpassed those of Ancient Rome.

It is not too much to claim, in relation to this work of Engels, that this is where the concept of modernity begins. In this literature modern urbanism takes shape as an idea.

The picture above is of McConnel & Company’s Mills, Manchester, in about 1820, the year of Frederick Engels’ birth, and also the year of the arrival of the “1820 Settlers” in the Eastern Cape.

·        The above serves to introduce the original reading-text - Engels’ 1845 “Condition of the Working Class in England”, Chapter 2, The Great Town, Part 1 and Part 2.

2 April 2014

Development Is Ours

Development, Part 0

Lenin and the GOELRO Plan, by Pavel Filonov

Development Is Ours

Introduction to a 10-part Course: “Development, Rural and Urban”

Some Relevant Quotations on “Development

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.
Marx/Engels, Communist Manifesto, 1848

Communism = Soviet Power + Electrification
V I Lenin, 1921

What we want is to combine in our process of inquiry the action of the forms of thought with a criticism of them. The forms of thought must be studied in their essential nature and complete development: they are at once the object of research and the action of that object. This is Dialectic, instead of being brought to bear upon the categories from without, it is immanent in their own action.
G W F Hegel, Shorter Logic (1830)

“When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master, that’s all.”
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, 1871

“The free development of each is the condition for the free development of all”
Marx/Engels, Communist Manifesto, 1848


“Development”, like many other powerful words, including “Freedom” and “Democracy”, had a meaning in revolutionary philosophy long before it had a vulgar bourgeois economists’ meaning.

Part of the purpose of our studies is therefore always, and with deliberation, to reclaim the political language that our revolutionary predecessors pioneered and left to us, and to take it back from the bourgeois demagogues who constantly try to steal it.

Development is the interior unfolding of a unitary phenomenon or system, propelled by the struggle of opposites within it. Development is the essence of dialectics. It is dialectics in motion. It is the essence of change. This revolutionary meaning of the word “development” is the only one that has a clear definition and an intentional purpose. It means the development of people.

The vulgar economists’ definition of the word “development” is a vague gesture in the direction of more infrastructure, lowering the cost of doing business, a higher GDP, and other such “indicators” or presumed generally-beneficial goods expediently selected to suit the occasion. In the US slang, it is “motherhood and apple pie”.

On grander occasions, the brandished indicators may be an internationally-endorsed set of arbitrary “development goals”, which, though globally celebrated, nevertheless fail to rise above the ad hoc and the eclectic, because they continue to evade the dialectical meaning of “development”.

The obfuscation of the word “development” is as deliberate as our attempts to clarify it. This is because in actual human society, development is class struggle, with winners and losers. There is no such thing as a “win-win” class struggle. There is no such thing as a “tide that lifts all the boats”. Some of the boats are tied to the bottom.

Bourgeois economists, and Imperialism generally, although it has manifestly failed worldwide to employ even half of the people and to provide for them adequately, are obliged to pretend that there can be such a thing as generally-beneficial development that does not challenge the capitalist system.

Hence they have stolen our word and hidden its true meaning, in an attempt to deceive us. We must take it back.

The picture is Filonov’s representation of Lenin and the ground-breaking “GOELRO” plan that included the electrification of the Soviet Union.

·        To download the full Development, Rural and Urban course in PDF files, please click here