The Housing Question by Frederick Engels

Part two
How the Bourgeoisie Solves the Housing Question

In the section on the Proudhonist solution of the housing question it was shown how greatly the petty bourgeoisie is directly interested in this question. However, the big bourgeoisie also is very much interested in it, if indirectly. Modern natural science has proved that the so-called “poor districts” in which the workers are crowded together are the breeding places of all those epidemics which from time to time afflict our towns. Cholera, typhus, typhoid fever, small-pox and other ravaging diseases spread their germs in the pestilential air and the poisoned water of these working-class quarters. In these districts, the germs hardly ever die out completely, and as soon as circumstances permit it they develop into epidemics and then spread beyond their breeding places also into the more airy and healthy parts of the town inhabited by the capitalists. Capitalist rule cannot allow itself the pleasure of creating epidemic diseases among the working class with impunity; the consequences fall back on it and the angel of death rages in its ranks as ruthlessly as in the ranks of the workers.

As soon as this fact had been scientifically established the philanthropic bourgeois began to compete with one another in noble efforts on behalf of the health of their workers. Societies were founded, books were written, proposals drawn up, laws debated and passed, in order to close the sources of the ever-recurring epidemics. The housing conditions of the workers were examined and attempts were made to remedy the most crying evils. In England particularly, where the greatest number of large towns existed and where the bourgeoisie itself was most immediately threatened, great activity began. Government commissions were appointed to inquire into the hygienic conditions of the working classes; their reports, honorably distinguished from all continental sources by their accuracy, completeness and impartiality, provided the basis for new, more or less, radically effective, laws. Incomplete as these laws are, they are still infinitely ahead of everything that has been done in this direction up to the present on the continent. Nevertheless, the capitalist order of society reproduces again and again the evils which are to be remedied with such inevitable necessity that even in England the remedying of them has hardly advanced a single step.

As usual, Germany needed a much longer time before the chronic sources of infection existing there also reached the acute degree necessary to arouse the indolent big bourgeoisie. But he who goes slowly goes surely, and so among us also there finally arose a bourgeois literature on public health and the housing question, a watery extract of its foreign, and in particular its English, predecessors, to which it was sought to give a deceptive semblance of a higher conception by means of fine-sounding and solemn phrases. Die Wohnungszustande der arbeitenden Klassen und ihre Reform [The Housing Conditions of the Working Classes and their Reform] by Dr. Emil Sax, Vienna, 1869. belongs to this literature.

I have selected this book in order to present the bourgeois treatment of the housing question only because it makes the attempt to summarize as far as possible the bourgeois literature on the subject. And a fine literature it is which serves our author as his “sources!” Of the English parliamentary reports, the real main sources, only three of the oldest are mentioned by name; the whole book proves that its author has never glanced at even a single one of them. On the other hand, a whole series of banal, bourgeois, well-meaning philistine and hypocritical philanthropic writings are enumerated: Ducpétiaux, Roberts, Hole, Huber, the proceeding of the English congresses on social science (or rather social bosh), the journal of the Association for the Welfare of the Laboring Classes in Prussia, the official Austrian report on the World Exhibition in Paris, the official Bonapartist reports on the same subject, the Illustrated London News, Uber Land und Meer [On Land and Sea] and finally a “recognized authority,” a man of “acute practical perception,” of “convincing impressiveness of speech,” namely – Julius Faucher! All that is missing in this list of sources is the Gartenlaube, Klepdderadatsch and the Fusilier Kutschke. [Pseudonym of a German patriotic poet. -Ed.]

In order that no misunderstanding may arise concerning the standpoint of Dr. Sax, he declares on page 22:

“By social economy we mean political economy in its application to social questions; or, to put it more precisely, the totality of the ways and means which this science offers us for raising the so-called (!) propertyless classes to the level of the propertied classes, on the basis of its ‘iron’ laws within the framework of the order of society at present prevailing.”

We shall not bother to deal with the confused idea that “economics” or “Political economy” deals at all with any other than “social” questions. Let us get down to the main point immediately. Dr. Sax demands that the “iron laws” of bourgeois economics, the “framework of the order of society at present prevailing,” in other words, that the capitalist mode of production must continue to exist unchanged, but nevertheless “the so-called propertyless classes” are to be raised “to the level of the propertied classes.” However, it is an unavoidable preliminary condition of the capitalist mode of production that a really, and not a so-called, propertyless class, should exist, a class which has nothing to sell but its labor power and which is therefore compelled to sell its labor power to the industrial capitalists. The task of the new science of social economy invented by Dr. Sax is therefore to find ways and means, in a state of society founded on the antagonism of capitalists, owners of all raw materials, instruments of production and foodstuffs, on the one hand, and of propertyless wage workers, who own only their labor power and nothing else, on the other hand, by which, inside this social order, all wage workers can be turned into capitalists without ceasing to be wage workers. Dr. Sax thinks he has solved this question. Perhaps he would be so good as to show us how all the soldiers of the French army, each of whom carries a marshal’s baton in his knapsack since the days of the old Napoleon, can be turned into field marshals without at the same time ceasing to be private soldiers? Or how it could be brought about that all the forty million subjects of the German Empire could be made into German kaisers.

It is the essence of bourgeois socialism to want to maintain the basis of all the evils of present-day society and at the same time to want to abolish the evils themselves. As already pointed out in The Communist Manifesto, the bourgeois socialist “is desirous of redressing social grievances in order to secure the continued existence of bourgeois society,” he wants “a bourgeoisie without a proletariat.” We have already seen that Dr. Sax formulates the question in exactly the same fashion. The solution he finds in the solution of the housing question. He is of the opinion that:

“by improving the housing of the working classes it would be possible successfully to remedy the material and spiritual misery which has been described, and thereby – by a radical improvement of the housing conditions alone – to raise the greater part of these classes out of the morass of their often hardly human conditions of existence to the pure heights of material and spiritual well-being.” (Page 14.)

Incidentally, it is in the interests of the bourgeoisie to disguise the fact of the existence of a proletariat created by the bourgeois production relations and determining the continued existence of these production relations. And, therefore, Dr. Sax tells us (page 21) that the expression working classes is to be understood as including all “impecunious social classes,” “and in general, people in a small way, such as handicraftsman, widows, pensioners (!), subordinate officials, etc.,” as well as actual workers. Bourgeois socialism extends its band to the petty-bourgeois variety.

Whence then comes the housing shortage? How did it arise? As a good bourgeois, Dr. Sax is not supposed to know that it is a necessary product of the bourgeois social order; that it cannot fail to be present in a society in which the great masses of the workers are exclusively dependent upon wages, that is to say, on the sum of foodstuffs necessary for their existence and for the propagation of their kind; in which improvements of the existing machinery continually throw masses of workers out of employment; in which violent and regularly recurring industrial vacillations determine on the one hand the existence of a large reserve army of unemployed workers, and on the other hand drive large masses of the workers temporarily unemployed onto the streets; in which the workers are crowded together in masses in the big towns, at a quicker rate than dwellings come into existence for them under existing conditions; in which, therefore, there must always be tenants even for the most infamous pigsties; and in which finally the house owner in his capacity as capitalist has not only the right, but, in view of the competition, to a certain extent also the duty of ruthlessly making as much out of his property in house rent as he possibly can. In such a society the housing shortage is no accident; it is a necessary institution and it can be abolished together with all its effects on health, etc., only if the whole social order from which it springs is fundamentally refashioned. That, however, bourgeois socialism dare not know. It dare not explain the housing shortage from the existing conditions. And therefore nothing remains for it but to explain the housing shortage by means of moral phrases as the result of the baseness of human beings, as the result of original sin, so to speak.

“And here we cannot fail to recognize – and in consequence we cannot deny” (daring conclusion!) – that the responsibility rests partly with the workers themselves, those who want dwellings, and partly, the much greater part it is true, with those who undertake to supply the need, or those who, although they have sufficient means, make no attempt to supply the need, viz., the propertied, higher social classes. The responsibility of these last consists in the fact that they do not make it their business to provide for a sufficient supply of good dwellings.”

Just as Proudhon takes us from the sphere of economics into the sphere of legal phrases so our bourgeois socialist takes us from the economic sphere into the moral sphere. And nothing is more natural. Whoever declares that the capitalist mode of production, the “iron laws” of present-day bourgeois society, are inviolable, and yet at the same time would like to abolish their unpleasant but necessary consequences, has no other resource but to deliver moral sermons to the capitalists, moral sermons whose emotional effects immediately evaporate under the influence of private interests and, if necessary, of competition. These moral sermons are in effect exactly the same as those of the hen at the edge of the pond in which she sees the family of ducklings she has hatched out gaily swimming. Ducklings take to the water although it is not dry land, and capitalists grab after profit although it is heartless. “There is no room for sentiment in money matters,” was said already by old Hansemann, who knew more about it than Dr. Sax. [Hansemann, David Justus (1790-1864), Prussian financier and leader of the Rhenish “progressive” bourgeoisie, was Finance Minister of Prussia from March to September 1848, and later head of the Bank of Prussia. He founded the Diskonto-Gesellschaft. – Ed.]

“Good dwellings are so expensive that it is absolutely impossible for the greater part of the workers to use them. Big capital... is shy of investing in houses for the working classes – and as a result these classes and their housing needs fall for the greater part into the hands of speculators.”

Disgusting speculation – big capital naturally never speculates! But it is not ill will, it is only ignorance which prevents big capital from speculating in workers’ houses:

“House owners do not know what a great and important role is played by a normal satisfaction of housing needs; they do not know what they are doing to the people when they give them, as a general rule, such irresponsibly bad and deleterious dwellings, and, finally, they do not know how they damage themselves thereby.” (Page 27.)

However, the ignorance of the capitalists must be supplemented by the ignorance of the workers in order that the housing shortage may be created. After Dr. Sax has admitted that:

“The very lowest sections” of the workers “are obliged (!) to seek a night’s lodging wherever and however they can find it in order not to remain altogether without shelter and in this connection they are absolutely defenseless and helpless,” he tells us, “for it is a well-known fact how many among them (the workers) from carelessness, but chiefly from ignorance, deprive their bodies. One is almost inclined to say, with virtuosity, of the conditions of natural development and healthy existence, in that they have riot the faintest idea of rational hygiene and, in particular, of the enormous importance played by the dwelling in this hygiene.” (Page 27.)

Here, however, the bourgeois donkey’s ears protrude. Whereas, so far as the capitalists are concerned, their “guilt” disappears in ignorance, where the workers are concerned ignorance is only the cause of their guilt. Listen:

“Thus it comes (namely through ignorance) that if they can only save something on the rent they will move into dark, damp and inadequate dwellings, which are in short a mockery of all the demands of hygiene... that often several families together rent a single dwelling, indeed even a single room – all this in order to spend as little as possible for rent, while on the other hand they squander their income in a really sinful fashion on drink and all sorts of idle pleasures.”

The money which the workers “waste on spirits and tobacco” (page 28), the “public-house life with all its regrettable consequences which drags the workers again and again like a lead weight back into the mire” lies indeed like a lead weight in Dr. Sax’s stomach. The fact that under existing circumstances drunkenness among the workers is an inevitable product of their living conditions, just as inevitable as typhus, crime, vermin, the bailiff and other social ills, so inevitable in fact that the average figures of those who succumb to chronic drunkenness can be calculated in advance, is again something that Dr. Sax cannot allow himself to know. My old elementary teacher used to say, by the way: “The common people go to the public houses and the people of quality go to the clubs,” and as I have been in both I am in a position to confirm it.

The whole talk about the “ignorance” of both parties amounts to nothing but the old phrases about the harmony of interests of labor and capital. If the capitalists knew their true interests, then they would give the workers good houses and put them in a better position in general, and if the workers understood their true interests they would not go on strike, they would not go in for Social Democracy, they would not take part in politics, but docilely follow their superiors, the capitalists. Unfortunately, both sides find their real interests altogether elsewhere than in the sermons of Dr. Sax and his numerous predecessors. The gospel of harmony between labor and capital has been preached now for almost fifty years, and bourgeois philanthropy has expended large sums of money to prove this harmony of interests by building model institutions, and, as we shall see later, we are today exactly where we were fifty years ago.

Our author now proceeds to the practical solution of the. question. How little revolutionary Proudhon’s proposal to make the workers into the owners of their dwellings was, can be seen from the fact that bourgeois socialism even before him, tried to carry it out in practice and is still trying to do so. Dr. Sax also declares that the housing question can be completely solved only by transferring property in dwellings to the hands of the workers. (Pages 58 and 59.) More than that. he falls into poetic raptures at the idea and breaks out with the following flight of enthusiasm:

“There is something peculiar about the longing in mankind to own land; it is an urge which not even the feverishly pulsating business life of the present day has been able to weaken. It is the unconscious appreciation of the significance of the economic achievement represented by landownership. With it the individual obtains a secure hold; he is rooted firmly in the earth, and every economy (!) has its most permanent basis in it. However, the blessings of landownership extend far beyond these material advantages. Whoever is fortunate enough to call a piece of land his own has reached the highest conceivable stage of economic independence; he has a terrain on which he can rule with sovereign power; he is his own master; he has a certain power and a secure guarantee in time of need; his self-confidence develops and with this his moral power. And from this comes the deep significance of property in the question before us.... The worker, today helplessly exposed to all the changing circumstances of economic life, and in constant dependence on his employer, would thereby be rescued to a certain extent from this precarious situation; he would become a capitalist and be safeguarded against the dangers of unemployment or incapacity to work, as a result of the real estate credit which would thereby be open to him. He would thereby be raised out of the ranks of the propertyless into the class of the property owners.” (Page 63.)

Dr. Sax seems to assume that man is essentially a peasant, otherwise he would not ascribe to the workers of our big cities a longing for property in land, a longing which no one else has discovered. For our workers in the big cities freedom of movement is the first condition of their existence, and landownership could only be a hindrance to them. Give them their own houses, chain them once again to the soil and you break their power of resistance to the wage cutting of the factory owners. The individual worker might be able to sell his house on occasion, but during a big strike or a general industrial crisis all the houses belonging to the affected workers would have to come onto the market for sale and would therefore find no purchasers or be sold off far below their cost price. And even if they all found purchasers, the whole great solution of the housing question of Dr. Sax would have come to nothing and he would have to start from the beginning again. However, poets live in a world of fantasy, and so does Dr. Sax, who imagines that a landowner has “reached the highest... stage of economic independence,” that he has “a secure hold,” that he has “become a capitalist and... safeguarded against the dangers of unemployment or incapacity to work, as a result of the real estate credit which would thereby be open to him,” etc. Dr. Sax should take a look at the French peasants and at our own small peasants in the Rhineland; their houses and fields are loaded down with mortgages, their harvests belong to their creditors before they are brought in, and it is not they who rule with sovereign power on their “terrain” but the usurer, the lawyer and the bailiff. That certainly represents the highest conceivable stage of economic independence – for the usurer! And in order that the workers may bring their little houses as quickly as possible under the same sovereignty of the usurer, our well-meaning Dr. Sax carefully points to the real estate credit which they can make use of in times of unemployment or incapacity to work instead of becoming a burden on the poor rate.

In any case, Dr. Sax has solved the question raised in the beginning: the worker “becomes a capitalist” by acquiring his own little house.

Capital is the command over the unpaid labor of others. The house of the worker can only become capital therefore if he rents it to a third person and appropriates a part of the labor product of this third person in the form of rent. By the fact that the worker lives in it himself the house is prevented from becoming capital, just as a coat ceases to be capital the moment I buy it from the tailor and put it on. The worker who owns a little house to the value of a thousand talers is certainly no longer a proletarian, but one must be Dr. Sax to call him a capitalist.

However, the capitalist character of our worker has still another side. Let us assume that in a given industrial area it has become the rule that each worker owns his own little house. In this case the working class of that area lives rent free; expenses for rent no longer enter into the value of its labor power. Every reduction in the cost of production of labor power, that is to say, every permanent price reduction in the worker’s necessities of life is equivalent “on the basis of the iron laws of political economy” to a reduction in the value of labor power and will therefore finally result in a corresponding fall in wages. Wages would fall on an average corresponding to the average sum saved on rent, that is, the worker would pay rent for his own house, but not, as formerly, in money to the house owner, but in unpaid labor to the factory owner for whom he works. In this way the savings of the worker invested in his little house would certainly become capital to some extent, but not capital for him, but for the capitalist employing him.

Dr. Sax is thus unable to succeed even on paper in turning his worker into a capitalist.

Incidentally, what has been said above applies to all so-called social reforms which aim at saving or cheapening the means of subsistence of the worker. Either they become general and then they are followed by a corresponding reduction of wages, or they remain quite isolated experiments, and- then their very existence as isolated exceptions proves that their realization on a general scale is incompatible with the existing capitalist mode of production. Let us assume that in a certain area a general introduction of consumers’ co-operatives succeeds in reducing the cost of foodstuffs for the workers by 20 per cent; in the long run wages would fall in that area by approximately 20 per cent, that is to say, in the same proportion as the foodstuffs in question enter into the means of subsistence of the workers. If the worker, for example, spends three-quarters of his weekly wage on these foodstuffs, then wages would finally fall by three-quarters of 20 = 15 per cent. In short, as soon as any such savings reform has become general, the worker receives in the same proportion less wages, as his savings permit him to live cheaper. Give every worker a saved, independent income of 52 talers a year and his weekly wage must finally fall by one taler. Therefore: the more he saves the less he will receive in wages. He saves therefore not in his own interests, but in the interests of the capitalist. Is anything else necessary in order “to stimulate in the most powerful fashion the primary economic virtue, thrift?” (Page 64.)

For the rest, Herr Sax tells us immediately afterwards that the workers are to become house owners not so much in their own interests as in the interests of the capitalists:

“However. not only the working class. but society as a whole has the greatest interest in seeing as many of its members as possible bound (!) to the land” (I should like to see Dr. Sax himself in this position.) “.... All the secret forces which set on fire the volcano called the social question which glows under our feet, the proletarian bitterness, the hatred... the dangerous confusion of ideas... must disappear like mist before the morning sun when... the workers themselves enter in this fashion into the ranks of the property owners.” (Page 65.)

In other words, Herr Sax hopes that by an alteration of their proletarian status such as would be brought about by the acquisition of house property, the workers would also lose their proletarian character and become once again obedient toadies like their forefathers who were also house owners. The Proudhonists should take that to heart.

Herr Sax believes he has thereby solved the social problem:

“A juster distribution of goods, the riddle of the Sphinx which so many have already tried in vain to solve, does it not now lie before us as a tangible fact, has it not thereby been taken from the region of ideals and brought into the realm of reality? And if it is carried out is not thereby one of the highest aims achieved, one which even the socialists of the extremist tendency present as the culminating point of their theories?” (Page 66.)

It is really lucky that we have worked our way through as far as this, because this shout of triumph is the culminating point of Herr Sax’s book, and after that it gently descends from “the region of ideals” into insipid reality, and when we have descended we shall find that nothing, nothing at all, has changed in our absence.

Our leader causes us to take the first step downwards by informing us that there are two systems of workers’ dwellings: the cottage system in which each working-class family has its own little house and if possible a little garden as well, as in England; and the barrack system of large buildings containing numerous workers’ dwellings, as in Paris, Vienna, etc. Between the two is the system usual in Northern Germany. Now it is true that the cottage system is said to be the only correct one, and the only one whereby the worker could acquire the ownership of his own house, while further the barrack system has very great disadvantages with regard to hygiene, morality and domestic peace – but unfortunately the cottage system is not realizable just in the centres of the housing shortage, in the big cities, on account of the high price of land, and one should therefore be glad if houses were built containing from four to six dwellings instead of big barracks, or at least the disadvantages of the big tenement system made up for by various building refinements. (Pages 71-92.)

We have descended quite a long way already, have we not? The transformation of the workers into capitalists, the solution of the social question, a house of his own for each worker, all these things have been left behind, up above in “the region of ideals.” All that remains for us to do is to introduce the cottage system into the country areas and to make the workers’ barracks in the towns as tolerable as possible.

On its own admission, therefore, the bourgeois solution of the housing question has come to grief-it has come to grief owing to the antithesis of town and country. And with this we have arrived at the kernel of the problem. The housing question can only be solved when society has been sufficiently transformed for a start to be made towards abolishing the antithesis between town and country, which has been brought to an extreme point by present-day capitalist society. Far from being able to abolish this antithesis, capitalist society on the contrary is compelled to intensify it day by day. On the other hand the first modern utopian socialists, Owen and Fourier, already correctly recognized this. In their model plans the antithesis between town and country no longer exists. Consequently there takes place exactly the contrary of that which Herr Sax contends; it is not the solution of the housing question which simultaneously solves the social question, but only by the solution of the social question, that is, by the abolition of the capitalist mode of production, is the solution of the housing question made possible. To want to solve the housing question while at the same time desiring to maintain the modern big cities is an absurdity. The modern big cities, however, will be abolished only by the abolition of the capitalist mode of production, and when this is once on the way then there will be quite other thing to do than supplying each worker with a little house for his own possession.

In the beginning, however, each social revolution will have to take things as it finds them and do its best to get rid of the most crying evils with the means at its disposal. And we have already seen that the housing shortage can be remedied immediately by expropriating a part of the luxury dwellings belonging to the propertied classes and by quartering workers in the remaining part.

Continuing, Herr Sax once more leaves the big cities and delivers a lengthy verbose discourse upon working class colonies to be established near the towns; he describes all the beauties of such colonies with their joint “water supply, gas lighting, air or hot water heating, wash houses, drying rooms, bathrooms, etc.,” with their “creche, school, prayer hall (!), reading room, library ... wine and beer hall, dancing and concert hall in all respectability,” with steam power laid on to all the houses so that “to a certain extent production can be relayed from the factory into domestic workshops”; but this does not alter the situation at all. The colony Herr Sax describes has been directly borrowed by Mr. Huber from the socialists Owen and Fourier and merely made entirely bourgeois by discarding everything socialist about them. Thereby, however, it becomes really utopian. No capitalist has any interest in establishing such colonies, and in fact none such exists anywhere in the world, except in Guise in France and that was built by a follower of Fourier, not as profitable speculation but as a socialist experiment. [And this one also has finally become a mere centre of working class exploitation. (See the Paris Socialiste of 1886.) – Note by F. Engels to the second German edition.] Herr Sax might just as well have quoted in support of big bourgeois project-spinning the example of the communist colony “Harmony Hall” founded by Owen in Hampshire at the beginning of the ’forties and long since defunct.

In any case, all this talk about colonization is nothing more than a lame attempt to soar again into “the region of ideals” and it is immediately afterwards again abandoned. We descend rapidly again. The simplest solution then is:

“that the employers, the factory owners, should assist the workers to obtain suitable dwellings, whether they do so by building such themselves or by encouraging and assisting the workers to do their own building and by providing them with land, advancing them building capital, etc.” (Page 106.)

With this we are once again out of the big towns where there can be no question of anything of the sort and back in the country. Herr Sax then proves that here it is in the interests of the factory owners themselves that they should assist their workers to obtain tolerable dwellings, on the one hand because it is a good investment, and on the other hand because the inevitable:

“resulting uplift of the workers ... must result in an increase of their mental and physical working capacity, which naturally – no less – is of advantage to the employers. With this, however, the right point of view for the participation of the latter in the solution of the housing question is given; it appears as the outcome of a latent association, as the outcome of the care of the employers for the physical and economic, mental and moral well-being of their workers, which is concealed for the most part under the cloak of humanitarian efforts and which is its own pecuniary reward because of its results in producing and maintaining a diligent, skilled, willing, contented and devoted working class.” (Page 108.)

The phrase “latent association,” with which Huber attempts to impose on this bourgeois philanthropic drivel “a higher significance,” does not alter the situation at all. Even without this phrase the big rural factory owners, particularly in England, have long ago recognized that the building of workers’ dwellings is not only a necessity, a part of the factory equipment itself, but also that it pays very well. In England whole villages have grown up in this way, and some of them have later developed into towns. The workers, however, instead of being thankful to the philanthropic capitalists, have always raised very considerable objections to this “cottage system.” Not only are they compelled to pay monopoly prices for these houses because the factory owner has no competitors, but immediately a strike breaks out they are homeless, because the factory owner throws them out of his houses without any more ado and thus renders any resistance difficult.

Further details can be studied in my Condition of the Working Class in England, pp. 184 and 256. Herr Sax, however, thinks that these objections “hardly deserve refutation.” (Page 111.) But does he not want to make the worker the owner of his dwelling? Certainly, but, as “the employers must always be in a position to dispose of the dwelling in order that when they dismiss a worker to have room for the one who replaces him,” well then, there is nothing for it but “to make some provision for such cases by agreement for the revocation of ownership.” (Page 113.)

[In this respect also. the English capitalists have long ago not only fulfilled but far exceeded all the cherished wishes of Herr Sax. On Monday, October 14, 1872, the court in Morpeth had to adjudicate on an application on behalf of 2,000 miners to have their names enrolled on the list of parliamentary voters. It transpired that the greater number of these miners, according to the regulations of the mine at which they were employed, were not to be regarded as tenants of the dwellings in which they lived, but, as occupying these dwellings on sufferance, and they could be thrown out of them at any moment without notice. (The landowner and house owner were naturally one and the same per-on.) The judge decided that these men were not tenants but servants, and therefore as such not entitled to be included in the list of voters. (Daily News, October 15, 1872.) – Note by F. Engels.]


This time we have come down with unexpected suddenness. First it was said the worker must own his own little house. Then we are informed that this is impossible in the towns and can be carried out only in-the country. And now we are told that ownership even in the country is to be “revocable by agreement!” With this new sort of property for the workers discovered by Herr Sax, with this transformation of the workers into capitalists “revocable by agreement,” we have safely arrived again on firm ground, and have here to examine what the capitalists and other philanthropists have actually done to solve the housing question.

If we are to believe our worthy Dr. Sax, much has already been done by Messieurs the capitalists to remedy the housing shortage; and the proof has been provided that the housing question can be solved on the basis of the capitalist mode of production.

Above all, Herr Sax quotes us the example of – Bonapartist France! As is known, Louis Bonaparte appointed a commission at the time of the Paris World Exhibition ostensibly to report upon the situation of the working classes in France, but in reality to describe their situation as blissful in the extreme, to the greater glory of the Empire. And it is to this report, drawn up by a commission composed of the corruptest tools of Bonapartism, that Herr Sax refers, particularly because the results of its work are “according to the committee’s own statement fairly complete for France.” And what are these results? Of eighty-nine big industrialists or joint-stock companies which gave information to the commission, thirty-one had built no workers’ dwellings at all. According to the estimate of Dr. Sax himself, the dwellings that were built house at the most from 50,000 to 60,000 people, and the dwellings themselves consist almost exclusively of no more than two rooms for each family.

It is obvious that every capitalist who is tied down to a particular rural district by the conditions of his industry – water power, the position of coal mines, iron-stone deposits and other mines, etc. – must build dwellings for his workers if none are available. To see in this a proof of “latent association,” “an eloquent testimony to a growing understanding of the question and its wide import,” a “very promising beginning” (page 115), all this demands a very highly developed habit of self-deception. For the rest, the industrialists of the various countries differ from each other in this respect also according to national character. For instance, Herr Sax informs us (page 117):

“In England only recently has increased activity on the part of employers in this direction been observable. This refers in particular to the more out of the way hamlets in the rural areas.... The circumstance that otherwise the workers often have to walk a long way from the nearest village to the factory and arrive there so exhausted that they do not perform enough work is the chief reason which furnishes the employers with the motive for building dwellings for their workers. However, the number of those who have a deeper understanding of conditions and who combine with the cause of housing reform more or less all the other elements of latent association is also increasing, and it is these people to whom credit is due for the establishment of those flourishing colonies.... The names of Ashton in Tiyde, Ashworth in Tuxton, Grant in Bury, Greg in Bollington, Marshall in Leeds, Stratt in Belper, Salt in Saltaire, Ackroid in Copley, and others are known on this account throughout the United Kingdom.”

Blessed simplicity and still more blessed ignorance! The English rural factory owners have “only recently” begun to build workers’ dwellings! No, my dear Herr Sax, the English capitalists are really big industrialists, not only as regards their purses, but also as regards their brains. Long before Germany possessed a really large-scale industry, they had realized that for factory production in the rural districts expenditure on workers’ dwellings was a necessary part of the total investment of capital and a very profitable one, both directly and indirectly. Long before the struggle between Bismarck and the German bourgeoisie had given the German workers freedom of association, the English factory, mine and foundry owners had had practical experience of the pressure they could exert on striking workers if they were at the same time the landlords of those workers. The “flourishing colonies” of Greg, Ashton and Ashworth are so “recent” that even forty years ago they were hailed by the bourgeoisie as model examples, as I myself described twenty-eight years ago. (The Condition of the Working Class in England, Note on page 186.) The colonies of Marshall and Akroyd (that is how the man spells his name) are about as old, and the colony of Strutt is much older, its beginnings reaching back into the last century. Since in England the average duration of a worker’s dwelling is reckoned as forty years, Herr Sax can calculate on his fingers the dilapidated condition in which these “flourishing colonies” are today. In addition, the majority of these colonies are now no longer in the countryside. The colossal expansion of industry has surrounded most of them with factories and houses to such an extent that they are now situated in the middle of dirty, smoky towns with 20,000, 30,000, and more inhabitants. But all this does not prevent German bourgeois science, as represented by Herr Sax, from devoutly repeating today the old English paeans of praise of 1840, which no longer have any application.

And to give us old Akroyd as an example! This worthy was certainly a philanthropist of the first water. He loved his workers, and in particular his female employees, to such an extent that his less philanthropic competitors in Yorkshire used to say of him that he ran his factories exclusively with his own children! It is true that Dr. Sax contends that “illegitimate children are becoming more and more rare” in these flourishing colonies. (Page 118.) Yes, that is true so far as it refers to illegitimate children born out of wedlock, for in the English industrial districts the pretty girls marry very young.

In England the establishment of workers’ dwellings close to each big rural factory and simultaneously with the factory has been the rule for sixty years and more. As already mentioned, many of these factory villages have become the nucleus around which later on a whole factory town has grown up with all the evils which a factory town brings with it. These colonies have therefore not solved the housing question, on the contrary, they first really created it in their localities. On the other hand, in countries which in the sphere of large-scale industry have only limped along behind England, and which have really only got to know what large-scale industry is after 1848, in France and particularly in Germany, the situation is quite different. Here, it is only colossal foundries and factories which decided after much hesitation to build a certain number of workers’ dwellings – for instance, the Schneider works in Creusot and the Krupp works in Essen. The great majority of the rural industrialists let their workers trudge miles through the heat, snow and rain every morning to the factories, and back again every evening to their homes. This is particularly the case in mountainous districts, in the French and Alsatian Vosges districts, in the valleys of the Wupper, Sieg, Agger, Lenne and other Rhineland-Westphalian rivers. In the Erzgebirge the situation is probably no better. The same petty niggardliness occurs both among the Germans and among the French.

Herr Sax knows very well that both the very promising beginning and the flourishing colonies mean less than nothing. Therefore, he tries now to prove to the capitalists what magnificent rents they can obtain by building workers dwellings. In other words, he seeks to show them a new way of cheating the workers.

First of all, he holds up to them the example of a number of London building societies; partly philanthropic and partly speculative, which have shown a net profit of from four to six per cent and more. It is not necessary for Herr Sax to prove to us that capital invested in workers’ houses yields a good profit. The reason why the capitalists do not invest still more than they do in workers’ dwellings is that more expensive dwellings bring in still greater profits for their owners. The exhortation of Herr Sax to the capitalists, therefore, amounts, once again, to nothing but a moral sermon.

As far as these London building societies are concerned, whose brilliant successes Herr Sax so loudly proclaims, they have according to his own figures – and every sort of building speculation is included – provided dwellings for a total of 2,132 families and 706 single men, i.e., for less than 15,000 persons! And is it presumed seriously to present in Germany this sort of childishness as a great success, although in the East End of London alone half a million workers live under the most miserable housing conditions? The whole of these philanthropic efforts are in fact so miserably futile that the English parliamentary reports dealing, with the situation of the workers never even bother to mention them.

We will not even speak here of the ludicrous ignorance of London which shows itself throughout this whole section. Just one point, however: Herr Sax is of the opinion that the Lodging House for Single Men in Soho went out of business because there was no hope of obtaining a large clientele” in this neighborhood. Herr Sax imagines that the whole of the West End of London is one big luxury town, and does not know that right behind the most elegant streets the dirtiest workers’ quarters are to be found, of which, for example, Soho is one. The model lodging house in Soho which he mentions and which I knew twenty-three years ago, was well enough frequented in the beginning, but closed down finally because no one could stand it, and yet it was one of the best.

But the workers’ town of Millhausen in Alsace – that is surely a success?

The workers’ town of Millhausen is the great show-piece of the continental bourgeois, just as the one-time flourishing colonies of Ashton, Ashworth, Greg and Co., are of the English bourgeois. Unfortunately, the Millhausen example is not any product of “latent association,” but of the open association between the Second French Empire and the capitalists of Alsace. It was one of Louis Bonaparte’s socialist experiments, for which the state advanced one-third of the capital. In fourteen years (up to 1867) it built 800 small houses according to a very defective system, an impossible one in England where they understand these things better, and these houses are handed over to the workers to become their own property after thirteen to fifteen years of monthly payments at an increased rental.

It was not necessary for the Bonapartists of Alsace to invent this way of acquiring property; as we shall see, it had been introduced by the English co-operative building societies long before. Compared with English conditions, the extra rent paid for the purchase of these houses is rather high. For instance, after having paid 4,500 francs by installments in fifteen years, the worker receives a house which was worth 3,300 francs fifteen years before. If the worker wants to go away or if he is in arrears with only a single monthly installment (in which case he can be turned on to the streets), six and two-thirds per cent of the original value of the house is reckoned as the annual rent (for instance, 17 francs a month for a house worth 3,000 francs) and the rest is paid out to him, but without a penny of interest. It is quite clear that under such circumstances the society is able to grow fat, quite apart from “state assistance.” It is just as clear that the houses provided under these circumstances are better than the old tenement houses in the town itself, if only because they are built outside the town in a semi-rural neighborhood.

We need not say a word about the few miserable experiments which have been made in Germany; even Herr Sax, page 157, recognizes their woefulness.

What then exactly do all these examples prove? Simply that the building of workers’ dwellings is profitable from the capitalist point of view, even when all the laws of hygiene are not trodden under foot. But that has never been denied; we all knew that long ago. Any investment of capital which satisfies an existing need is profitable if conducted rationally. The question, however, is precisely, why the housing shortage continues to exist all the same, why the capitalists all the same do not provide sufficient healthy dwellings for the workers. And here Herr Sax has again nothing but exhortations to make to the capitalists and fails to provide us with an answer. The real answer to this question we have already given above.

Capital does not desire to abolish the housing shortage even if it could; this has now been completely established. There remain, therefore, only two other expedients, self-help on the part of the workers and state assistance.

Herr Sax, an enthusiastic worshipper of self-help, is able to report wonderful things about it also in regard to the housing question. Unfortunately he is compelled to admit right at the beginning that self-help can only effect anything where the cottage system either already exists or where it can be introduced, i.e., once again only in the rural areas. In the big cities, even in England, it can be effective only in a very limited measure. Herr Sax then sighs: “Reform in this way (by self-help) can be effected only in a roundabout way and must therefore always be imperfect, namely in so far as the principle of ownership reacts on the quality of the dwelling.” It would be permissible to doubt even this, in any case, the “principle of ownership” has not exercised any reforming influence on the “quality” of the author’s style. Despite all this, self-help in England has achieved such wonders “that thereby everything done there to solve the housing question from other angles has been far exceeded.” Herr Sax is referring to the English “building societies” and he deals with them at great length because:

“very inadequate or erroneous ideas are current about their general character and activities. The English building societies are by no means associations for building houses or building co-operatives; they can be described in German rather as ‘Hauswerbvereine’ [associations for the acquisition of housing property]. They are associations which aim at accumulating funds from the periodical contributions of their members in order then, out of these funds and according to their size, to grant loans to their members for the purchase of a house.... The building society is thus a savings bank for one section of its members, and for the other section a loan bank. The building societies are therefore mortgage credit institutions calculated for the requirements of the workers which, in the main, use the savings of the workers to assist persons of the same social standing as the depositors to purchase or build a house. As may be supposed, such loans are granted by mortgaging the real property in question, and the conditions are such that they must be paid back in short installments which combine both interest and amortization. The interest is not paid out to the depositors, but always placed to their credit at compound interest. The members can demand the return of the sums they have paid in, plus interest, at any time, by giving a month’s notice.” (Pages 170 to 172.) “There are over 2,000 such associations in England and their total capital amounts to about L15,000,000 sterling. In this way about 100,000 working class families have obtained possession of their own hearth and home; a social achievement the like of which will certainly not be quickly found.” (Page 174.)

Unfortunately here too the “but” comes limping along immediately after:

“However, a perfect solution of the question has by no means been achieved in this way; for the reason, if for no other, that the acquisition of a house is open only to the better situated workers. In particular, sanitary considerations are not always sufficiently taken into consideration.” (Page 176.)

On the continent, “such associations find only little scope for development.” They presuppose the existence of the cottage system which exists only in the countryside on the continent, and in the countryside the workers are not sufficiently developed for self-help. On the other hand, in the towns where real building societies could be formed, they are faced with “very considerable and serious difficulties of all sorts.” (Page 179.) They could build only cottages and that is no good in the big cities. In short, “this form of co-operative self-help” can “in the present circumstances – and hardly in the near future – not play the chief role in the solution of the question before us.” These building societies are, we are told, still “in their first undeveloped beginnings” and “this is true even of England.” (Page 181.)

Hence, the capitalists will not and the workers cannot. And with this we could close this section if it were not absolutely necessary to provide a little information about the English building societies, which the bourgeoisie of the Schulze-Delitzsch type always hold up to our workers as models.

These building societies are not workers’ societies, nor is it their main aim to provide workers with their own houses. On the contrary, we shall see that this happens only very exceptionally. The building societies are essentially of a speculative nature, the smaller ones., which were the original societies, not less so than their bigger imitators. In a public house, usually at the instigation of the proprietor, in whose rooms the weekly meetings then take place, a number of regular customers and their friends, small shopkeepers, clerks, commercial travelers, master artisans and other petty bourgeois – with here and there perhaps an engineer or some other worker belonging to the aristocracy of his class found a building society. The immediate occasion is usually that the proprietor has discovered a comparatively cheap plot of land in the neighborhood or somewhere else. Most of the members are not bound by their occupations to any particular district. Even many of the small shopkeepers and artisans have only business premises in the town and not any dwelling; whoever is in a position to do so prefers to live in the suburbs rather than in the centre of the smoky town. The building plot is purchased and as many cottages as possible erected on it. The credit of the better off members makes the purchase possible, and the weekly contributions together with a few small loans cover the weekly costs of building. Those members who aim at getting a house of their own receive cottages by lot as they are completed, and the appropriate extra rent serves for the amortization of the purchase price. The remaining cottages are then either let or sold. The building society, however, assuming that it does good business, accumulates a larger or smaller sum which remains the property of the members, providing that they keep up their contributions, and which from time to time, or when the society is dissolved, is distributed among them. This is the life history of nine out of ten of the English building societies. The others are bigger societies, sometimes formed under political or philanthropic pretexts, but their chief aim is always to provide the savings of the petty bourgeoisie with a more profitable mortgage investment at a good rate of interest, with the prospect of dividends as a result of speculation in real estate.

The sort of clients these societies speculate on can be seen from the prospectus of one of the largest if not the largest of them. The Birkbeck Building Society, 29 and 30, Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane, London, whose gross receipts since its existence total £10,500,000 sterling, which has over £416,000 in the bank or invested in state securities, and which at present has 21,441 members and depositors, introduces itself to the public in the following fashion:

“Most people are acquainted with the so-called three-year system of the piano manufacturers according to which anyone hiring a piano for three years becomes the owner of the piano after the expiration of that period. Prior to the introduction of this system it was almost as difficult for people of limited income to acquire a good piano as it was for them to acquire their own house. Year after year such people paid the hire money for the piano and expended two or three times as much money in this way as the piano was worth. But what is feasible with regard to a piano is feasible with regard to a house. However, as a house costs more than a piano, a longer period is necessary to pay off the purchase price in rent. In consequence the directors have come to an agreement with house owners in various parts of London and its suburbs, as a result of which they are in a position to offer the members of the Birkbeck Building Society and others a great selection of houses in all parts of the town. The system according to which the board of directors intends to work is the following: it will let these houses for twelve and a half years and at the end of this period, providing that the rent has been paid regularly, the tenant will become the absolute owner of his house without any further payment of any kind. The tenant can also contract for a shorter space of time with a higher rental, or for a longer space of time with a lower rental. People of limited income, clerks, shop assistants and others can make themselves independent of landlords immediately by becoming members of the Birkbeck Building Society.” [Retranslated from the German.-Ed.]

That is clear enough. There is no mention of workers, but rather of people of limited income, clerks and shop assistants, etc., and in addition it is assumed that, as a rule, the applicants already possess a piano. In fact we have to do here not with workers, but with petty bourgeois and those who would like and are able to become petty bourgeois; people whose incomes gradually rise as a rule, even if within certain limits, such as clerks and employees in similar occupations. The income of the worker, however, in the best case remains the same in amount, and in reality it falls in proportion to the increase of his family and its growing needs. In fact, few workers can take part in such societies and then only in exceptional cases. On the one hand their income is too low, and on the other hand it is of too uncertain a character for them to be able to undertake responsibilities for twelve and a half years ahead. The few exceptions where this is not valid are either better-paid workers or foremen.

[We add here a little contribution on the way in which these building societies and in particular the London building societies are managed. As is known, almost the whole of the land on which London is built belongs to a dozen aristocrats, including the most eminent, the Duke of Westminster, the Duke of Bedford, the Duke of Portland, etc. They originally leased out the separate building plots for a period of ninety-nine years, and at the end of that period they take possession of the land with everything on it. They then let the houses on shorter leases, thirty-nine years for example, with a so-called repairing clause, according to which the leaseholder must put the house in good repair and maintain it in such condition. As soon as the contract has progressed thus far. the ground landlord sends his architect and the district surveyor to inspect the house and determine the repairs necessary. These repairs are often very considerable and may include the renewal of the whole frontage, or of the roof, etc. The leaseholder now deposits his lease as a security with a building society and receives from this society a loan of the necessary money – up to L1000 and more in the case of an annual rental-of from £130 to £150 – for the building repairs which are to be carried out at his cost. These building societies have thus become an important intermediate link in a system which aims at securing the continual renewal and maintenance in habitable condition of London’s houses belonging to the landed aristocracy without any trouble to the latter and at the cost of the public. And this is supposed to be a solution of the housing question for the workers! — Note by F. Engels to the second German edition.]

For the rest, it is clear to everyone that the Bonapartists of the workers’ town of Mulhausen are nothing more than miserable imitators of these petty-bourgeois English building societies. The sole difference is that the former, in spite of the state assistance granted to them, swindle their clients far more than the building societies do. On the whole their terms are less liberal than the average existing in England, and while in England interest and compound interest is reckoned on each deposit and the latter also can be withdrawn at a month’s notice, the factory owners of Mulhausen put both interest and compound interest into their own pockets and repay no more than the amount paid in by the workers in hard-earned five-franc pieces. And no one will be more astonished at this difference than Herr Sax who has it all in his book without knowing it.

Thus workers’ self-help is also no good. There remains state assistance. What can Herr Sax offer us in this connection? Three things:

“First of all, the state must take care that in its legislation and administration, all those things which in any way result in accentuating the housing shortage among the working classes are abolished or appropriately remedied.” (Page 187.)

Consequently, revision of building legislation and freedom for the building trades in order that building shall be cheaper. But in England building legislation is reduced to a minimum, the building trades are as free as the birds in the air; nevertheless, the housing shortage exists. In addition, building is now carried out so cheaply in England that the houses totter when a cart goes by and every day some of them collapse. Only yesterday (October 25, 1872) six of them collapsed simultaneously in Manchester and seriously injured six workers. Therefore, that is also no remedy.

“Secondly, the state power must prevent individuals in their narrow-minded individualism from reproducing the evil or causing it anew.”

Consequently, inspection of workers’ dwellings by the sanitary authorities and building inspectors; the authorities to have power to close down dilapidated and unhygienic houses, as has been the case in England since 1857. But how did it work there? The first law of 1855 (the Nuisances Removal Act) remained, as Herr Sax admits himself, “a dead letter,” as also did the second law of 1858 (the Local Government Act). (Page 197.) On the other hand Herr Sax believes that the third law (the Artisans’ Dwellings Act), which applies only to towns with a population of over 10,000, “certainly offers favorable testimony to the great understanding of the British Parliament in social matters.” (Page 199.) But, as a matter of fact, this contention does no more than offer “favorable testimony of the utter ignorance of Dr. Sax in English matters.” That England in general is far in advance of the continent in “social matters” is a matter of course. England is the motherland of modern large-scale industry; the capitalist mode of production has developed here most freely and extensively of all, its consequences show themselves here most glaringly of all and therefore it is here also that they first produce a reaction in the sphere of legislation. The best proof of this is factory legislation. If, however, Herr Sax thinks that an Act of Parliament only requires to become legally effective in order to be carried immediately into practice as well, he is making a great mistake. And this is true of the Local Government Act more than of any other act (with the exception, of course, of the Workshops Act). The administration of this law was entrusted to the urban authorities, which almost everywhere in England are recognized centres of corruption of all kinds, nepotism and jobbery.

[Jobbery is the exploitation of a public office to the private advantage of the official or his family. If, for instance, the director of the state telegraphs of a country becomes a sleeping partner in a paper factory, provides this factory with timber from his forests, and then gives the factory orders for supplying paper for the telegraph offices, then that is a fairly small but quite a pretty “job,” inasmuch as it demonstrates a complete understanding of the principles of jobbery; such as, for the rest, in the case of Bismarck was a matter of course and to be, expected. – Note by F. Engels.]

The agents of these urban authorities, who owe their positions to all sorts of family considerations, are either incapable of carrying into effect such social laws, or disinclined to do so. On the other hand, it is precisely in England that the state officials who are entrusted with the preparation and carrying into effect of social legislation are usually distinguished by a strict sense of duty – although in a lesser degree today than twenty or thirty years ago. In the town councils, the owners of unsound and dilapidated dwellings are almost everywhere strongly represented either directly or indirectly. The system of electing these town councils according to small wards makes the elected members dependent on the pettiest local interests and influences; no town councilor who desires to be re-elected dare vote for the application of this law in his constituency. It is comprehensible therefore with what aversion this law was received almost everywhere by the local authorities, and that up to the present it has been applied only in the most scandalous cases – and even then, as a general rule, only as the result of the outbreak of some epidemic, such as in the case of the small-pox epidemic last year in Manchester and Salford. Appeals to the Home Secretary have up to the present been effective only in such cases, for it is the principle of every Liberal government in England to propose social reform laws only when compelled to do so and, if at all possible, to avoid carrying into effect those already existing. The law in question, like many others in England, has only the importance that, in the hands of a government dominated by or under the pressure of the workers, a government which would at last really administer it, it would be a powerful weapon for making a breach in the existing social state of things.

“Thirdly, the state power must,” according to Herr Sax, “make use of all the positive means at its disposal to remedy the existing housing shortage to the most comprehensive extent.”

That is to say, it must build barracks, “truly model buildings,” for its “subordinate officials and servants” (but these are certainly not workers), and “grant loans to municipalities, societies and also to private persons with a view to improving the housing conditions of the working classes” (page 203), as is done in England under the Public Works Loan Act, and as Louis Bonaparte has done in Paris and Mulhausen. But the Public Works Loan Act also exists only on paper, the government places at the disposal of the commissioners a maximum sum of £50,000 sterling, i.e., sufficient to build at the utmost 400 cottages, that is to say, in forty years a total of 16,000 cottages, or dwellings for at the most 80,000 persons – a drop in the ocean! Even if we assume that after twenty years the funds at the disposal of the commissioners were to double as a result of repayments, that, therefore, during the past twenty years dwellings for a further 40,000 persons have been built, the whole still remains a drop in the ocean. And as the cottages have an average life of no more than forty years, after forty years the liquid assets of £50,000 or £100,000 must be used every year to replace the most dilapidated, the oldest of the cottages.

Herr Sax declares on page 203 that this is carrying the principle into practice correctly and to “an unlimited extent also.” And with the confession that even in England and to “an unlimited extent” the state has achieved next to nothing, Dr. Sax concludes his book, but not before having delivered another moral homily to all concerned.

[In recent English Acts of Parliament giving the London building authorities the right of expropriation for the purpose of new street construction, a certain amount of consideration is given to the workers turned out of their homes. A provision has been inserted that the new buildings to be erected must be suitable for housing those classes of the population previously living there. Big five or six storey tenement barracks are therefore erected for the workers on the least valuable sites and in this way the letter of the law is complied with. it remains to be seen how these buildings will serve; the workers are unaccustomed to them and in the midst of the old conditions in London they form a completely foreign development. In the best case, however, they will provide new dwellings for hardly more than a quarter of the workers actually evicted by the building operations. – Note by F. Engels to the second German edition.]

It is perfectly clear that the existing state is neither able nor willing to do anything to remedy the housing difficulty. The state is nothing but the organized collective power of the possessing classes, the landowners and the capitalists as against the exploited classes, the peasants and the workers. What the individual capitalists (and it is here only a question of these because in this matter the landowner who is also concerned acts primarily as a capitalist) do not want, their state also does not want. If therefore the individual capitalists deplore the housing shortage, but can hardly be persuaded even superficially to palliate its most terrifying consequences, then the collective capitalist, the state, will not do much more. At the most it will see to it that the measure of superficial palliation which has become standard is carried out everywhere uniformly. And we have already seen that this is the case.

But, one might object, in Germany the bourgeoisie does not rule as yet; in Germany the state is still to a certain extent a power hovering independently over society as a whole, which for that very reason represents the collective interests of society and not those of a single class. Such a state can certainly do much that a bourgeois state cannot do, and one could expect from it something quite different on the social field also.

That is the language of reactionaries. In reality, however, the state as it exists at present in Germany is also the necessary product of the social basis out of which it has developed. In Prussia – and Prussia is now decisive – there exists side by side with a landowning aristocracy which is still powerful, a comparatively young and markedly very cowardly bourgeoisie, which up to the present has not won either direct political domination, as in France, or more or less indirect as in England. Side by side with these two classes, however, there exists further a rapidly increasing proletariat which is intellectually highly developed and which is becoming more and more organized every day. We find, therefore, in Germany alongside of the basic condition of the old absolute monarchy, an equilibrium between the landowning aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, also the basic condition of modern Bonapartism, an equilibrium between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.

But both in the old absolute monarchy and in the modern Bonapartist monarchy the real governing power lies in the hands of a special caste of army officers and state officials. In Prussia this caste is supplemented partly from its own ranks, partly from the lesser aristocracy owning the entailed estates, more rarely the higher aristocracy, and least of all from the bourgeoisie. The independence of this caste, which appears to occupy a position outside and, so to speak, above society, gives the state the semblance of independence in relation to society.

The state form which has developed with necessary logic in Prussia (and, following the Prussian example, in the new imperial constitution of Germany) out of these contradictory social conditions is pseudo-constitutionalism, a form which is at once both the present-day form of the dissolution of the old absolute monarchy and the form of existence of the Bonapartist monarchy. In Prussia, pseudo-constitutionalism from 1848 to 1866 only concealed and brought about the slow decay of the absolutist monarchy. However, since 1866, and still more since 1870, the transformation of social conditions and thus the dissolution of the old state has proceeded openly in the view of all and on a tremendously increasing scale.

The rapid development of industry and in particular of stock exchange swindling has dragged all the ruling classes into the whirlpool of speculation. The wholesale corruption imported from France in 1870 is developing at an unprecedented rate. Stroussberg and Péreire take off their hats to each other. Ministers, generals, princes and counts deal in shares in competition with the cunningest stock-exchange Jews, and the state recognizes their equality by conferring titles wholesale on these stock-exchange Jews. The rural aristocracy, who have been industrialists for a long time as producers of beet sugar and distillers, had long ago left the old and respectable days behind and now swell the lists of directors of all sorts of sound and unsound joint-stock companies. The bureaucracy is beginning more and more to despise embezzlement as the sole means of improving its income; it is turning its back on the state and beginning to hunt after the far more lucrative posts on the administration of industrial enterprises. Those who still remain in office follow the example of their superiors and speculate in shares, or “participate” in railways, etc. One is even justified in assuming that the lieutenants also have their hands in certain speculations. In short, the decomposition of all the elements of the old state and the transition from the absolute monarchy is in full swing, and with the next big trade and industrial crisis not only will the present swindle collapse, but the old Prussian state as well. [Even today, 1886, what holds together the old Prussian state and its basis, the alliance of the big landowners and the industrialist capitalists sealed by the protective tariffs is solely the fear of the proletariat which has grown tremendously in numbers and class consciousness since 1872. – Note by F. Engels to the second German edition.]

And this state, in which the non-bourgeois elements are becoming more bourgeois every day, is to solve “the social question,” or even only the housing question? On the contrary. In all economic questions the Prussian state is falling more and more into the hands of the bourgeoisie. And if since 1866 legislation on the economic field has not been even more adapted to the interests of the bourgeois than was actually the case, whose fault is that? The bourgeoisie itself is chiefly responsible, being firstly too cowardly to press its own demands energetically, and secondly resisting every concession immediately the latter simultaneously gives the menacing proletariat new weapons. And if the state power, i.e., Bismarck, is attempting to organize its own bodyguard proletariat in order thereby to keep in check the political activity of the bourgeoisie, what is that but a necessary and familiar Bonapartist recipe which pledges the state to nothing more, as far as the workers are concerned, than a few benevolent phrases and at the utmost to a minimum of state assistance for building societies à la Louis Bonaparte?

The best proof of what the workers have to expect from the Prussian state lies in the utilization of the French milliards which has given a new short reprieve to the independence of the Prussian state machine in regard to society. Has even a single taler of all these milliards been used to provide shelter for those Berlin working class families which have been thrown on to the streets? On the contrary. As autumn approached, the state even caused to be pulled down those few miserable huts which had served the workers and their families as a temporary shelter during the summer. The five milliards are being expended rapidly enough for fortresses, cannon and soldiers; and despite Wagner von Dummerwitz, and despite Stieber’s conferences with Austria, there will not be used for the German workers even as much of those milliards as was used for the French workers out of the millions which Louis Bonaparte stole from France.

[Engels alludes to the repeated declarations of the German political economist, Adolph Wagner, that if the favorable conjuncture created in Germany after the French-German war, were to be utilised to set up credits of five billions for France, it would have produced a meaningful improvement of the situation into which the working masses had been thrown. It does not appear that the Wagner, a university professor and member of the Prussian Senate, ever acquired a noble title; most likely, Engels is being satirical; Dummerwitz is equivalent, in fact, to “dim wit.” ]


In reality the bourgeoisie has only one method of solving the housing question after its fashion-that is to say, of solving it in such a way that the solution continually reproduces the question anew. This method is called “Haussmann.”

By the term “Haussmann” I do not mean merely the specifically Bonapartist manner of the Parisian Haussmann – breaking long, straight and broad streets through the closely-built workers’ quarters and erecting big luxurious buildings on both sides of them, the intention thereby, apart from the strategic aim of making barricade fighting more difficult, being also to develop a specifically Bonapartist building trades’ proletariat dependent on the government and to turn the city into a pure luxury city. By “Haussmann” I mean the practice which has now become general of making breaches in the working class quarters of our big towns, and particularly in those which are centrally situated, quite apart from whether this is done from considerations of public health and for beautifying the town, or owing to the demand for big centrally situated business premises, or owing to traffic requirements, such as the laying down of railways, streets, etc. No matter how different the reasons may be, the result is everywhere the same: the scandalous alleys and lanes disappear to the accompaniment of lavish self-praise from the bourgeoisie on account of this tremendous success, but they appear again immediately somewhere else and often in the immediate neighborhood.

In The Condition of the Working Class in England I gave a description of Manchester as it looked in 1843 and 1844. Since then the construction of railways through the centre of the town, the laying out of new streets, and the erection of great public and private buildings have broken through, laid bare and improved some of the worst districts described in my book, others have been abolished altogether, but many of them are still, apart from the fact that official sanitary inspection has since become stricter, in the same state or in an even worse state of dilapidation than they were then. On the other hand, however, thanks to the enormous extension of the town, whose population has increased since then by more than half, districts which were at that time still airy and clean are now just as excessively built upon, just as dirty and overcrowded as the most ill-famed parts of the town formerly were.

Here is just one example: On page 80 and the following pages of my book I describe a group of houses situated in the valley bottom of the river Medlock, which under the name of Little Ireland was for years one of the worst blots on Manchester. Little Ireland has long ago disappeared and on its site there now stands a railway station built on a high foundation. The bourgeoisie printed with pride to the happy and final abolition of Little Ireland as to a great triumph. Now last summer a great inundation took place, as in general the rivers embanked in our big towns cause extensive floods year after year owing to easily understood causes. And it was then revealed that Little Ireland had not been abolished at all, but had simply been shifted from the south side of Oxford Road to the north side, and that it still continues to flourish. Let us hear what the Manchester Weekly Times, the organ of the radical bourgeoisie of Manchester, has to say in its number of July 20, 1872:

“The misfortune which befell the inhabitants of the lower valley of the Medlock last Saturday will, it is to be hoped, have one good result: namely that public attention will be directed to the obvious mockery of all the laws of hygiene which has been tolerated there so long under the noses of our municipal officials and our municipal health committee. A forcible article in our daily edition yesterday revealed, though hardly trenchantly enough, the scandalous condition of some of the cellar dwellings near Charles Street and Brook Street which were reached by the floods. A detailed examination of one of the courts mentioned in this article enables us to confirm all the statements made about them, and to declare that the cellar dwellings in this court should long ago have been closed down, or rather, they should never have been tolerated as human habitations. Squire’s Court is made up of seven or eight dwelling houses on the corner of Charles Street and Brook Street. Even at the lowest part of Brook Street, under the railway bridge, a pedestrian may pass daily and never dream that human beings are living under his feet in what are little more than caves. The court itself is hidden from public view and is accessible only to those who are compelled by their impoverishment to seek a shelter in its sepulchral seclusion. Even if the usually stagnant waters of the Medlock, which are shut in between locks, do not exceed their usual level, the floors of these dwellings can hardly be more than a few inches above the surface of the river. A good shower of rain is capable of driving up filthy and nauseous water through the drains and filling the rooms with pestilential gases such as every flood leaves behind it as a souvenir....

“Squire’s Court lies at a still lower level than the uninhabited cellars of the houses in Brook Street-twenty feet lower than the street level, and the foul water driven up on Saturday through the drains reached to the roofs. We knew this and therefore expected that we should find the place uninhabited or occupied only by the sanitary officials engaged in cleaning the stinking walls and disinfecting the houses. Instead of this we saw a man, in the cellar home of a barber, engaged in shoveling a heap of decomposing filth, which lay in a corner, onto a wheelbarrow. The barber, whose cellar was already more or less cleaned up, sent us still lower down to a number of dwellings about which he declared that, if he could write, he would have written to the press to demand that they be closed down. And so finally we came to Squire’s Court where we found a buxom and healthy-looking Irishwoman busy at the washtub. She and her husband, a night watchman, had lived for six years in the court and had a numerous family.... In the house which they had just left, the water had risen almost to the roof, the windows were broken and the furniture was reduced to ruins. The man declared that the occupant of the house had been able to keep the smells from becoming intolerable only by whitewashing it every two months.... In the inner court, into which our correspondent then went, he found three houses whose rear walls abutted on the rear walls of the houses just described. Two of these three houses were inhabited. The smell there was so frightful that the healthiest man would have felt sick in a very short space of time.... This disgusting hole was inhabited by a family of seven, all of whom had slept in the place on Thursday evening (the first day the water rose). Or rather, not slept, as the woman immediately corrected herself, for she and her husband had vomited continually the greater part of the night owing to the terrible smell. On Saturday they had been compelled to wade through the water, chest high, to carry out their children. She was of the opinion that the place was not fit for pigs to live in, but on account of the low rent – one and sixpence a week – she had taken it, because her husband had been out of work a lot recently owing to sickness. The impression made upon the observer by this court and the inhabitants huddled in it, as though in a premature grave, was one of utter helplessness. We must point out, by the way, that, according to our observations, Squire’s Court is no more than typical – though perhaps an extreme case – of many other places in the neighborhood whose continued existence our health committee should not countenance. Should the committee permit these places to be inhabited in the future then it is taking on itself a responsibility whose gravity we shall not discuss further here, and it is exposing the whole neighborhood to the danger of infectious epidemics.” [Retranslated from the German.-Ed.]

This is a striking example of how the bourgeoisie solves the housing question in practice. The breeding places of disease, the infamous holes and cellars in which the capitalist mode of production confines our workers night after night, are not abolished; they are merely shifted elsewhere! The same economic necessity which produced them in the first place, produces them in the next place also. As long as the capitalist mode of production continues to exist, it is folly to hope for an isolated solution of the housing question or of any other social question affecting the fate of the workers. The solution lies in the abolition of the capitalist mode of production and the appropriation of all the means of life and labor by the working class itself.