Those who have watched at all closely the growth of certain ideas among the workers must have noticed that on one momentous question—the housing of the people, namely—a unanimous conclusion has been insensibly arrived at. It is a known fact that in the large towns of France, and in many of the smaller ones also, the workers are coming gradually to the conclusion that dwelling houses are in no sense the property of those whom the State recognises as their owners.
This idea has evolved naturally in the minds of the people, and nothing will ever convince them again that the "rights of property" ought to extend to houses.
The house was not built by its owner. It was erected, decorated and furnished by innumerable workers, in the timber yard, the brick field, iind the workshop, toiling for dear life at an inadequate wage.
The money spent by the owner was not the product of his own toil. It was amassed, like all other riches, by paying the workers two-thirds or only a half of what was their due.
Moreover—and it is here that the enormity of the whole proceeding becomes most glaring—the house owes its actual value to the profit which the owner can make out of it. Now, this profit results from the fact that his house is built in a town possessing bridges, quays and fine public buildings, and affording to its inhabitants a thousand comforts and conveniences unknown in villages; a town paved and lighted with gas, in regular communication with other towns, and itself a centre of industry, commerce, science and art; a town which the work of twenty or thirty generations has gone to render habitable, healthy and beautiful.
A house in certain parts of Paris maybe valued at thousands of pounds sterling, not because thousands of pounds' worth of labor have been expended on that particular house, but because it is in Paris; because for centuries workmen, artists, thinkers and men of learning and letters have contributed to make Paris what it is to-day—a centre of industry, commerce, politics, art and science; because Paris has a past; because, thanks to literature, the names of its streets are household words in foreign countries as well as at home; because it is the fruit of eighteen centuries of toil, the work of fifty generations of the whole French nation.
Who then can appropriate to himself the tiniest plot of ground, or the meanest building, without committing a flagrant injustice? Who then has the right to sell to any bidder the smallest portion of the common heritage?
On that point, as we have said, the workers are agreed. The idea of free dwellings showed its existence very plainly during the siege of Paris, when the cry was that the landlords should remit the rent altogether. It appeared again during the Commune of 1871, when the Paris workmen expected the Communal Council to decide boldly on the abolition of rent. And when the New Revolution comes it will be the first question with which the poor will concern themselves.
Whether in time of Revolution or in time of peace, the worker must be housed somehow or other: he must have some sort of roof over his head. But, however tumble-down and squalid your dwelling may be, there is always a landlord who can evict you. True, during the Revolution he cannot find bailiffs and police-sergeants to throw your rags and chattels into the street, but who knows what the new government will do to-morrow? Who can say that it will not call in the aid of force again, and set the police pack upon you to hound you out of your hovels? We have seen the Commune proclaim the remission of rents due up to the 1st of April only! After that rent had to be paid, though Paris was in a state of chaos and industry at a standstill, so that the revolutionist had absolutely nothing to depend on but his allowance of fifteen pence a day!
Now the worker must be made to see clearly that in refusing to pay rent to a landlord or owner he is not simply profiting by the disorganisation of authority. He must understand that the abolition of rent is a recognised principle, sanctioned, so to speak, by popular assent; that to be housed rent-free is a right proclaimed aloud by the people.
Are we going to wait till this measure, which is in harmony with every honest man's sense of justice, is taken up by the few Socialists scattered among the middle-class elements, of which the provisionary government will be composed? We should have to wait long—till the return of reaction, in fact!
That is why, refusing uniforms and badges—those outward signs of authority and servitude—and remaining people among the people, the earnest revolutionists will work side by side with the masses that the abolition of rent, the expropriation of houses, may become an accomplished fact. They will prepare the soil and encourage ideas to grow in this direction, and when the fruit of their labors is ripe the people will proceed to expropriate the houses without giving heed to the theories which will certainly be thrust in their way—theories about paying compensation to landlords, and suchlike ineptities.
On the day that the expropriation of houses takes place, on that day, the exploited workers will have realised that the new times have come, that they will no longer have to bear the yoke of the rich and powerful, that Equality has been proclaimed on the house-tops in very truth, that this revolution is a real fact, and not a theatrical make-believe, like too many others which went before.
- ↑ The decree of the 30th March: by this decree rents due up to October, 1870, and January and April, 1871, quarters were remitted.