Rereading “The Housing Question” in Light of the Foreclosure Crisis
Keywords:housing, financial crisis, foreclosures, Friedrich Engels, masculinist "free outlaw"
This paper identifies productive and problematic strands in “The Housing Question”. My research in New York and throughout the U.S. during the financial and housing crises of the 1970s and mid 2000s led me to reread “The Housing Question” and see its continuing relevance for understanding these crisis. First, recent Marxist scholarship is reviewed that compliments and extends Engel’s analysis by recognizing the role of housing markets and finance in capital exploitation. These more recent crises also revealed how neoliberal capitalism differs significantly from industrial capitalism in ways that require some rethinking of the housing question. Secondly, this paper critically examines Engels’ underlying masculinist ideal of the “free outlaw” worker as the necessary condition for revolutionary collective action and its overt lack of attention to women’s lives and contributions. The role of housing in social reproduction was especially neglected, as was the whole topic of non-workplace value production. The conclusion explores the implications of these points for understanding the politics and possibilities of struggles around housing.
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