… but first, the revolution!

The conversations springing from the recent crying tantrum published in Truth-Out have given me the opportunity to see “…but first, the revolution!” deployed earnestly in real time. I feel very connected to history knowing that I’m stuck in arguments that have lasted 100 years.

The thread here has a very clear articulation of phase two of the ideological (as opposed to ordinary personal preference based) argument against building more housing in San Francisco, against turning SF from a medium sized city into a real metropolis. “You talk about a city with a growing population as if that is something people should somehow just accept …”
The argument is that the Bay Area’s population is growing because capitalism causes labor migrations. An anti-capitalist, I guess, shouldn’t just accept that this symptom or phenomenon is happening, and shouldn’t do anything to ameliorate its effects, they should instead, apparently, try to frustrate the migration by suppressing housing construction even if that harms renters & low income people in the Bay & traps poor people in their disinvested communities in other parts of the US (or the world).

The problems with this way of thinking seem obvious but I’ll spell them out. As an economic migrant myself, and thinking of the immediate interests of other people similarly situated, I can’t imagine how a policy program that ignores our needs could possibly gain political traction among us. It isn’t. Good luck organizing the masses.

Second, this framework can be used to argue against almost any welfare improving reform! Safe drug injection sites? Well drug addiction is a result of poverty & alienation, which are phenomena of capitalism. “You talk about drug users as if their existence is something we should just accept …” 
Protecting workers from wage theft, or trying to get increases in minimum wage? Wages, having to work for someone else, are a phenomenon of capitalism. “You talk about wages as if the employer-employee relationship is something we have to just accept …” Rent control? “You talk about landlords as if their existence is something we have to accept …” It’s vapid. I’m left wondering why this all purpose excuse for the status quo is being deployed against the “acceptance” of economic migration but not other capitalist phenomena that are the targets of reform.

When I worked as a window washer, one of my coworkers was an actual neo-nazi — he had a tattoo on his forearm of starving Jews, behind barb wire, and fires burning Jews in the background. My grandmother and great aunts were in the Holocaust, they lived, they were the starving but living figures in his tattoo. Other great aunts and uncles were killed, they were the burning Jews. I was stunned and disturbed by this person. I was 19, he was 21. Should I try to kill him? Get him fired? What was my proper reaction? I realized pretty quickly that even though he had really sad and scary ideas, in practice they were irrelevant. “This guy,” I remember thinking, “doesn’t even vote.” He worked peacefully for our boss, who was Jewish, and alongside me. He didn’t get in fights, steal stuff or use drugs. He was straight edge. We wound up talking a lot about history and political philosophy… constantly. He was starving to talk to someone else that read books. He eventually grew out of being a nazi & got his tattoos removed.

Long tangent. The point is, as far as politics goes, the anti-capitalists are similarly irrelevant as a practical matter. It’s interesting to talk about ideas on Facebook, but they don’t even vote and they definitely don’t organize around candidates or legislation.

Our effective political opponents are homeowners who, also, oppose population growth and SF becoming a big city not because of elaborate anti-capitalist rationalizations, but because of ordinary, subjective personal preference. They just don’t like it. They don’t like traffic and they don’t like looking for parking. And they vote. That’s all they need.

Every now and again a duplex owner will have a kid, like Andrew Szeto, who will go to college and learn about anti-capitalism. He will, happily protected from the local hosing market because he lives in one of his parents’ apartments, self-righteously tap out a screed rationalizing his parents’ opposition to building apartments (think of the traffic it’ll bring) in their two storey duplex neighborhood, using the rhetoric of the glorious revolution. It’s for the workers. He swears.