LOS ANGELES: Turn the Defeat of Prop. 10 into a Revolutionary Lesson

By Ulrike Salazar

Proposition 10, the proposed statute that would have made universal rent control more possible in California, failed to pass in last week’s midterm elections.

For the last three years, Los Angeles has been an epicenter of the anti-gentrification and tenants rights movement. With big rent hikes, mass displacement, urban redevelopment and evictions, working-class tenants of Los Angeles have organized and fought back.

Many leaders of mass organizations and nonprofits were devastated after the polls closed for the midterm elections with 62 percent of voters turning down Proposition 10, according to the Washington Post. Even with a slight increase in voter turnout this year, the numbers were consistent with the decades-long abstention from bourgeois elections by the masses.

To the surprise of these leaders, like the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, Los Angeles locals of the Service Employees International Union and nonprofit community groups, all their mass mobilizing, canvassing, money, and ads were not enough to pass the proposition which would have repealed the state’s default policy on rent control.

The Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act allows landlords to raise rent in newly constructed apartment units, condominiums and single-family dwellings – many of which are rented out in Boyle Heights and Unincorporated East Los Angeles (which is not a part of the city and has no rent control). It is a reactionary policy that enables landlords to freely increase rents with limits locally anywhere outside of the City of Los Angeles.

Money-hungry property owners, like landlords, see an opportunity to increase their profit by hiking up rents as gentrification sweeps across California. Landlords don’t look at their property and think about how it could be used by people without homes. No, they see it for what it is under capitalism: a thing to sell (or rent). By no means is any of this new. It is an understood grim reality. Understood, but not accepted.

Even bourgeois economists see the inherently unethical nature of treating housing like a commodity. The demand for housing is there and will never go away under capitalism. The supply of rental units, apartment buildings or duplexes or single-family units, is controlled by the capitalists and landlords. And prices keep going up.

This is, in part, due to the general rising cost of utilities and overhead and management of rental properties. But it is generally due to the value of their rental properties increasing. As the neighborhood is redeveloped, it becomes more desirable and richer, attracting trendy, affluent property owners and renters.

This is why landlords and developers often are one in the same or work closely with one another, as well as with city officials – sometimes privately, sometimes publicly – like most of the Los Angeles City Council, including the Chair of the Planning and Land Use Management Committee, Jose Huizar.

Renters make up the majority of the population in Los Angeles, according to the online news website Curbed Los Angeles. Los Angeles also is one of the most expensive cities to live in. It is also one of the most expensive places to rent in the country, according to HousingWire.

It is also more expensive to rent than it is to purchase a home and pay an average mortgage. The only reason the majority don’t own their home is because very few have enough capital to put down a down payment or have good enough credit and financial stability to take out a home loan. This point must be belabored. The working class is living paycheck-to-paycheck, paying more 30 percent of their income on rent. Our class is exploited, oppressed and constantly struggling.

So why, again, did Proposition 10 fail when it would have undoubtedly helped the vast majority of working-class renters?

Tenants associations, unions, and nonprofits correctly blame the bourgeois landlord lobby and their deep pockets. The day after the midterm elections associations such as the Los Angeles Tenants Union and allied organizations descended on one particular landlord lobby and real estate firm – Blackstone Group – in the City of Santa Monica.

Blackstone Group donated approximately 6.2 million dollars to the propaganda campaign against Prop 10, according to the Santa Monica Daily Press. Protesters numbered in the hundreds and entered the offices of the real estate firm. The Santa Monica Police were called and issued an order to disperse, with some refusing to leave resulting in several arrests.

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The protesters were correct in attacking the real estate firm and their mass campaign of misinformation against the proposition. The knee-jerk reaction of petite-bourgeois activists is to blame California voters for the proposition’s failure. This shows the cynicism toward the people, a distrust of the masses who yearn for revolutionary change, even the minority who vote.

But the masses want revolutionary change, and in many cases they cannot go on living in the same way. This truth still stands, but what is missing is a general critique and analysis of our electoral system.

Capitalism and reforms are not incompatible. Since the rise of capitalism everywhere, including here in the U.S., it has allowed for democratic and economic reforms and progressive legislation. This certainly has benefited the masses, although only in the short-term and only for certain sections of the masses. But we must look at the historical context of these reforms. What was happening during that time in the country?

President Roosevelt’s New Deal did not drop from the sky. It was initiated by the pressure of the masses and revolutionary elements, in and outside of the U.S. communist movement.

The bourgeois government instituted economic reforms to appease the revolutionary fervor of the masses during the Great Depression, including in the housing market. Even the eight-hour workday was a reform in the previous century. But it was fought and won with blood and gunfire.

The people won reforms during the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Power Movement, the Chicano Movement and so on, with the most militant aspects of these movements pushing for more radical change.

All of these movements, at times, clashed violently with the state. All of these movements have martyrs. Revolutionary movements will always have gains and losses. But until that revolutionary movement can be transformed into a highly-centralized and militarized revolutionary organization (something that has been missing for some time), all gains will be absorbed by the state as allowable modifications that never hit the core of the system – which is private property, the private ownership over the means of production by the capitalist class.

The electoral system is controlled by the capitalists. It is almost like a gladiator arena where it’s all for show. The electoral political arena is where the revolutionary demands of the proletariat go to die.

To enter into it thinking it can be an arena of revolutionary struggle is wrong. The demands of the proletariat carried into the electoral political area are carried there by either by petite-bourgeouis activists (like nonprofits) or the liberal bourgeoisie of the government (the Democrats). The working class has no real representation in electoral politics. A change to that economic system in the entire history of the world has not ever and will never come about through peaceful elections.

Even if Proposition 10 had passed, the working-class tenant – who is incorrectly mostly seen as a tenant and not a member of the revolutionary working class – will face other forms of oppression in other areas of their lives. If not housing, then work. If not work, then their children’s school. If not school, then on the street by the militarized police. If none of the above, then through an increase in the cost of living, the stagnation of wages, the shrinking of employment opportunities, the attack on welfare programs or civil liberties, etc. But more often than not the worker is attacked by a combination of all of the above.

Electoral politics also offer no solution to the rising threat of fascism. You can’t stop fascism with votes. You can’t vote fascism out of office. And fascism has already attacked the tenants rights movement, specifically the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Action (ACCE).

On Nov. 9 the San Diego offices of ACCE was vandalized and set on fire. While no suspects have been apprehended, many are suspecting it’s the work of fascists, especially because there was a deliberate pile of ACCE T-Shirts set on fire and the arson occurred on the anniversary of Kristallnacht.   

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ACCE was one of several organizations in support of Proposition 10.

“Last night, an enemy of our housing justice movement set fire to the ACCE office in San Diego & burned ACCE tee-shirts on the lawn. This is political terror meant to intimidate us, but it shows us just how fearful & repressive our enemies are,” the Los Angeles Tenants Union shared on Twitter.  

The working-class tenant cannot be seen as mostly a tenant but rather a worker who is pushed into being a tenant. This prioritizes the workers’ relationship to the means of production, which puts the housing struggle as a class struggle. And the class struggle is irreconcilable with peace.

Only war, revolutionary war, can empower the working class. The working class cannot be led astray by petite-bourgeois activists, well-meaning or not. The historic role of the working class is smashing capitalism and building socialism.

Reforms will be won along the way, but if we continue to allow organizations to organize the masses mostly as renters and not as the masses and the working class for revolution, all reforms will be in vain.

The people deserve more than just rent control. The people, under capitalism, have nothing. We deserve everything.