London: the Grenfell Tower was completely reduced to ashes.
Thanks to real estate speculation!
(«Proletarian»; Nr. 14; Autumn - Winter 2017)
On the night of June 14, shortly before one o’clock in the morning, a fire broke out in this 24-storey high-rise apartment; in a few minutes, animated to a prodigious speed, the conflagration engulfed the whole Grenfell Tower. After a few days it was determined that there were scores of casualties, 79 dead and – missing – and it is likely that the final number of mortalities will reach one hundred.
At more than 67 meters, with 120 apartments where more than 600 people lived, this was a low-rent skyscraper, one of the human hives typical of cities under capitalism. It was located in the North Kensington neighborhood, but in the midst of much more modern, wealthier and aesthetically more elegant buildings. It was regarded as an anomaly in this upscale neighborhood, not only because of its «raw concrete, rough-cut» style (1), but mainly because it was inhabited by low-income families.
It did not take long to understand that the fire and above all the rapidity of its vertical propagation was due to the recent renovation work to make the building more aesthetically pleasing and for which highly combustible materials were used! The Grenfell Tower had to be put up to date with an «improvement to its exterior appearance»; behind the choice of increasing the number of rental units, reducing emergency exits, using poor quality and unsafe materials, writes the Huffington Post (1), lies the dominant ideology («neo-liberalism») which has shaped the spatial and demographic development of the city of London since the late 1970s. Champions of this neo-liberalism were Reagan in the USA and Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain.
The aim of this political «strategy» was to diminish the economic role of the public sector and thus of the State (synthesized in the famous formula «Rolling back the frontiers of the State»). Thus the State was to promote as much as possible the privatization of the economic sectors where, after the war, enormous quantities of capital had been invested to restart the industrial and economic activity of the country; These sectors had become important potential sources of profit for private capital, especially after the great economic crisis of 1974-75, when public administrations turned to the private sector to reduce public deficits, giving substantial advantages to investors; and the real estate sector with all its speculators was one of the most privileged. One of the most gigantic examples of real estate speculation has been the development of the London Docklands; under the Thatcher government, this vast harbor area was razed to build skyscrapers of glass and steel of the City; The old harbor facilities were replaced by glittering edifices of international finance, true symbols of the characteristic change of imperialism, passing from material to financial economics.
Under this policy, a whole series of material concessions were granted to private companies; in particular the management of public real estate, with the minimum cost and maximum profit!
The Grenfell Tower is not a lone example. In London there are scores, many of which have been «renovated» in the same way, with the same combustible materials: a short-circuit in a refrigerator in one apartment is enough, as was the case with the Ethiopian taxi driver who lived on the fourth floor of the Grenfell Tower, to set off an infernal pyre. Capital thus obtained two results: the inhabitants of the tower who were not burnt alive, were forcibly relocated elsewhere, probably condemned for the rest of their lives to precariousness, and in place of this low-rent firetrap they will construct another edifice for real estate and financial speculation!
After such a terrible catastrophe, on the part of the «authorities» there were the usual promises of investigation and opening of prosecution against those «responsible» for the tragedy. But it is these same authorities who have worked for decades to maximize capitalist profits, they are the ones who gave all the authorizations for the renovation work that was the basis of the fire! It is they who bend to the enormous interests of the big financial groups who determine the choices including neighborhoods and buildings to «renovate» because they no longer satisfy the voracious cannibalism of capitalism.
In bourgeois society, based on the exploitation of wage labor by which the ruling class extorts surplus value, which is then transformed into profit and rent, economic and social organization according to «human measure» is impossible: the only measure is capitalist profit. It is the unbridled search for profit that leads capitalism to be necessarily «vertical» on land, on sea as well as in the air (one thinks of the gigantic cruise ships and container carriers, or the flying mastodons with wingspans of nearly a hundred meters), necessarily resorting to speed and gigantism.
The incessant development of cities, linked together by road and expressway networks, is the demonstration of the irrational and damaging consumption of land, removing agriculture from ever more land in favor of disastrous urbanization which forces individuals to crowd together in environments that are unwelcoming, unhealthy and unnatural. Everything that reduces the space of man [the space of life in every sense] is capitalism! (3).
Capitalism is the economy of waste from the point of view of the needs of human beings: productive disproportion and fierce competition lead to the gigantism of waste; it is enough to think of the enormous production of commodities which are useless or even harmful for life or health. But capitalism also has its conception of waste: to allow proletarians to work in healthy, hygienic, pleasant environments, without danger and for a limited time (for example one or two hours a day) would be an enormous waste for the capitalists. On the contrary, they must «save» by increasing labor productivity to the maximum, and not by investing in making conditions of life and work humane. Investments must be used to increase profits, to fight against competition, to save market shares, and also to defend the capitalist system as a whole through its political, social, religious and armed forces. In the same way that the factories still are prisons of wage-slavery where the proletarians are subjected to dehumanizing conditions, housing – especially «social» housing – generally has very deficient conditions of safety and health, and which are the causes of announced tragedies.
How many times have the inhabitants of these buildings denounced the dangers they present, as they did at the Grenfell Tower? Each time the «officials», the «authorities» provided no follow-up to these denunciations ... other than when a new possibility for profit materialized, or when the tragedy finally took place! And besides it was the renovation work itself that brought about the catastrophe!
In capitalist society, every productive activity is mercantile; it is subject to the law of the market, which is not reduced to the banal law of supply and demand, but to the most ferocious law of competition according to which labor Is not a harmonious part of human life, but its opposite to which it is opposed to both the individual and the society. Capitalism cannot provide a solution to reverse this relationship: the solution lies in the overthrow of capitalism, the destruction of this mode of production and its social organization which continually produces the contradictions and social antagonisms of a society divided into classes.
It is particularly disgusting that the authorities and government that have launched, supported, defended and applied the «neo-liberal» policy now call on the people of London to unite around the survivors and the government ... so that these tragedies would never happen again!!! But there will be others in Great Britain or in other European countries, in the United States or in Asia, because the laws of capitalism are the same everywhere; as far as tragedies are concerned, especially to those who are proletarians, there are no boundaries!
It is not by changing the exterior cladding of buildings that insecurity will disappear for the proletarian masses. Capitalist economies on structure, construction on materials, composition of cement, etc., demanded by real estate speculators and banks lending capital to maximize profits, will inevitably cause the deaths of tens or hundreds of lives!
Certainly, after the disaster the authorities suddenly began to take into account other buildings and to evacuate the inhabitants of those «discovered» as dangerous. But after a month, a season, or a year, everything will be forgotten: capital does not look back, it hides and forgets its misdeeds and continues its crazy race to maintain its power and mode of production. But the life of Her Majesty, Capital, is not «at zero cost»: it is costly in dead, injured, terminated, marginalized people, rampaging over the environment, invisible poisonings, disasters that are called «natural» or due to «fate», whereas they are due to capitalism itself.
From such a putrefied and degenerate society can there be born a different society in which the harmony between social and productive activity prevails, where space prevails over cement, where social antagonism is thrown along with Capitalism into the dustbin of history? Can there be born from this society, entirely oriented towards satisfying the demands of Capital and its speculations, a society which puts at the center the satisfaction of the needs of the human being as a social individual, a society organized not only rationally without wasting earth, water, air, and products of man, but capable of establishing a relation with nature such that it can have control, if not complete, at least sufficient to maintain in the long term a relation harmonious with human needs?
After having constituted a great historical advance in relation to preceding societies, Capitalism, a society divided into classes and especially into a dominant class and a dominated class, entered into a phase of conservatism and reaction. Like all human societies, Capitalist society follows a historical trajectory determined by the peculiarities of its economic development, a trajectory which remains indecipherable to bourgeois theories, which are full of prejudices of all kinds, but which is very clear for Marxism. The struggle between the two main classes of society, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, is decisive because to achieve the qualitative leap from the transition from bourgeois society to classless society to communist society, it is necessary to destroy an essential obstacle: bourgeois political power, its State. It is only after overthrowing this obstacle and in more than one country, that the new proletarian power will be able to start the economic transformation of society; a transformation that can take place at the international level on the basis that the proletariat is an international class with the same interests all over the world.
No doubt there is no direct link between the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower and the proletarian revolution that will have to bring down the bourgeois power. But the question must be considered in a manner that is not contingent, in separate episodes, in the way the bourgeois think; The Marxist perspective is international and historical and considers all aspects as the consequences of a single mode of production, without, of course, neglecting the different degrees of economic, social and political development of the different countries. It is indisputable that the mechanism that guides the choices of capitalists is the same in all countries, and it must be confronted and fought with theoretical, political and practical weapons that cannot be misled by national, cultural, religious or localist peculiarities.
It is only when the proletarians begin to look beyond the paltry individual and petty bourgeois horizon in which they are confined; it is only when they begin to recognize themselves as class brothers and sisters, as members of a class with a historical task to accomplish, when they begin to struggle not only to withstand the continuing deterioration of their conditions, but also for their amelioration; it is only when they recognize themselves as a social force capable of reaching the same political and practical level as the ruling class and when they will have understood that class solidarity is the true unifying force to overcome competition between them and to check the attacks of the bourgeoisie; it is only then that they will succeed in reacting to the conditions imposed on them and to see that in each tragedy that strikes them that the responsibility lies with the bourgeois domination in times of peace as well as in times of war.
The permanent terrorism with which the bourgeois economic and political power intimidates and mutilates the proletariat in all countries is manifested in the daily exploitation of the labor force through the harassment and repression of state institutions, through the racism of the rich bourgeois towards the proletarians and the poor populations more and more composed of proletarians from all parts of the world. In addition to accidents on the factory floor, there are accidents in transport, automobiles, railways, sea and air, due to the frenzy for capitalist profit, and catastrophes such as those in residential buildings; not to mention the wars that the imperialist powers continually unleash on the planet, causing the exodus of disinherited masses from country to country in search of a place to survive.
It is only in the class struggle that the proletariat will find the response to its status as a wage slave, whether it be a slave in a war-stricken country or in a rich dominant imperialist country.
June, 23rd 2017
(1) This is a style which Swiss architect Le Corbusier was representative and which used raw concrete for popular dwellings.
(2) See: www.huffingtonpost.it/michele-grimaldi/lincemdio-della-grenfelle-tower-e-gli-effeti-collaterali-del-ne_a_22488458/
(3) See the article «Space against Cement» (1952) which criticizes the famous Swiss architect Le Corbusier, in Amadeo Bordiga, «The Human Species and the Earth’s Crust», Ed. Payot p. 150.
International Communist Party