Talking Trash: Landlordism, Capitalism, and Canadian History

  With the way my article was structured I hope it was clear that the Manitoba Renters Guidelines showed Stephen Lafluer, from the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, was dead wrong when it came to rent controls. Developers do have massive advantages once they build. They can set their rents freely for the first 20 years in any style of building. There is also the emerging trend of reno-victions being experienced by many low-income tenants. On top of this there is the trend of developing condos and dispensing with landlordism and trending towards property management.

  What I find most troubling is the fact there is very little analysis of how landlordism is similar to capital exploitation in production. In both cases the means of existence are alienated from the citizen, worker or tenant. Landlords make profit off of the classes systematically dispossessed from owning land and property. Landlords gain profit while the poor are never able to purchase the lodging they rent. There used to be a revolutionary tradition of opposing landlordism as a system of exploitation that went alongside wage slavery as the two central ways of extracting resources from the lower classes. This tradition was eliminated by the reformist tendencies on the left in the rise to hegemony of social democratic politics.

  The revolutionary tradition of opposition to landlordism used rent strikes and eventual building takeovers as a way to build working class and poor autonomy from the upper classes, the 1%. Creating building by building solidarity amongst tenants was a long term goal used for the betterment of the poor classes as a whole. The possibility of this type of activism is re-emerging with the development of solidarity networks and coalitions against poverty. This strategy is very different from building co-ops and collective housing. Most poor people will never have the capital or ability to participate in new developments, so they need to develop their own ability for autonomous housing themselves.

  Land tenure and property rights, and the ability of the rich to be rich is often assumed to be just, fair, and right. However, the reality is in Canada land was stolen from the Indigenous here by the settler elites. Thomson and Weston the two richest people in Canada are descendants of British settlers. Many of the richest settlers brought wealth from their original thefts from peasants in Europe during the enclosure movements. They were able to capitalize on the privilege created by colonialism and set themselves ahead by shrewd business dealings.

But once ahead, the way capitalism generates profits continued to propel their economic advantage, until the wealth of their families was enshrined for successive generations. Virtually none of the top 1% of Canada succeeded without the use of family wealth to continue to concentrate control and economic advantage for his or her own profit. Most of the 1% are rich because of their grandfather’s shrewd business dealings. While the poor start with very little because their families were systematically dispossessed of their wealth through colonial land acquisition or wage slavery.

  The poor and downtrodden are a product of history. Their existence is dependent on a specific set of choices and conflicts between different groups of people. The reason a poor drunk homeless Indigenous person is ubiquitous with the experience of downtown Winnipeg is because of the intersection of a confluence of factors that all stem from colonial contact. Indigenous peoples have been deliberately and systematically dispossessed of their lands and resources by the Canadian Government and it’s precursors in France and Britain.

The Church and Governments deliberately undermined their entire cultural framework in the interests of imperialism and capitalism. The Government of Canada pushed Indigenous people on to reserves and consciously underfunded these concentration camps; sent their kids to residential schools where they were stripped of their culture and abused, taught these kids western patriarchy. Canada then sent them into a world that distrusted them and looked down upon them for being dark and descendants of a culture they hoped would disappear. The settler Government and everyone who worked for it played a role in creating genocide and implemented a plan that traumatized whole nations.

  The reason the dispossession happened was to make way for Canadian businesses and the development of a national elite made up of settlers. The settlers had no interest in being ruled by Indigenous elites in a capitalist society. It was only fitting to be ruled by whites, apparently. Canada is itself an imperial project, the expansion of British and French capital. These imperial projects are always based in blood and theft.

  In these contexts, it is the least the rich can do but pay high taxes and good wages to workers. I have no sympathy for rich people, who pretend and live by a mythology of their wealth coming from hard work. In Canada wealth is most often built by prospering from your family’s historical participation in Colonialism and the continuing denial of sharing equally with your employees or tenants. Corporate landlords and property management companies should not have the holdings they do. There shouldn’t be the disparities that exist. People aren’t as intellectually and physically unequal as the wealth disparities in the world would have us believe. The meritocracy is just plain backwards. It is a colonial lie. The American/Canadian dream is really an American/Canadian nightmare, because it stems from the annihilation and exploitation of Indigenous and Blacks (through slavery).