This is the fifth instalment of Red Flags, Novara Media’s advice column for anti-capitalists (here’s the first, second, third and fourth). Inspired by our columnist Sophie K Rosa’s book, Radical Intimacy, Red Flags will explore how capitalism fucks up our intimate lives – not just our romantic relationships, but also our friendships, home lives, family ties, and experiences of death and dying – and what we can do about it.
I’m an only child and a nephew of aunts and uncles with no children. I’m also a committed socialist who might end up owning multiple homes. What’s the most ethical way to deal with this dilemma? I can admit to a fearful and precarious instinct against selling them, but I loathe the idea of becoming a landlord like the parasites I rail against.
– Reluctant Landlord
Dear Reluctant Landlord,
I wonder how far off this future is when you might end up owning multiple homes. Which is, bleakly, another way of saying: I wonder when your parent(s), aunts and uncles will die.
I say this because there is an interesting temporal aspect to your question. Assuming you aren’t set to inherit all this property imminently, the thinking you are doing now is preempting a dilemma for your future self – who will undoubtedly think and feel differently to you today.
That isn’t to say I think it’s fruitless to do this thinking. In fact, if one of your concerns is that your political values might slip away in the future, doing this thinking now could stand you in good stead to make decisions that align with your socialism.
Let’s consider what elements of this scenario you can and can’t control. You probably can’t determine what you inherit – though you might tell your relatives you would prefer they leave the property to someone else, it’s ultimately in their hands. But you do have control over what you do about owning multiple homes.
Our psyches are influenced by capitalist logic. It makes sense that you have “a fearful and precarious instinct” about what you do with your future property. You are very fortunate to be in a position where you may inherit a home for yourself in the future, something we all need and deserve. But it sounds like we are not talking about a single home. You are set to inherit multiple homes, in a society where most struggle to find a secure home and many face homelessness.
The instinct to hoard wealth might be woven into the ego, as it developed in an economic system that demands money in exchange for survival, and covets wealth. But as “a committed socialist”, wealth hoarding and landlordism do not align with your values.
As Ian Parker and David Pavón-Cuéllar write in Psychoanalysis and Revolution: “Our liberation can only be collective and this is why it is not encompassed by the kind of common sense that locks us up in the prison of our ‘ego’ … Psychoanalysis, in its critique of the ego, poses each of us with a choice, as to whether we will continue to attempt to dominate ourselves and others and nature or find a different way of being with it.”
If you do end up inheriting these properties, how to proceed in a way that reflects your professed socialism? WWACSD (what would a committed socialist do)? There isn’t a simple answer to this – indeed, many self-proclaimed socialists own multiple homes. Many hide their wealth out of shame – being up front about what you own is a step in the right direction. Seeking guidance from comrades about what to do with “your” properties is another – by consulting the collective, you’ll be challenging the notion that the properties are exclusively your prerogative.
It is helpful that you can identify and acknowledge both your instinct to hoard and your commitment to acting ethically. It might not be possible to decide exactly what you will do with multiple properties ahead of time, but you can explore some options.
If you “loathe the idea of becoming a landlord like the parasites [you] rail against” – don’t do it! There are numerous other possibilities, here are some of them:
- Donate the properties to people or political/community groups who need them.
- Allow people or groups to live in or use the properties rent-free. You’d want to draw up agreements around rights and responsibilities – for example, eviction protections for them. MayDay Rooms in London are provided by a benefactor – you could look into this process for inspiration.
- Look into how you could convert the properties into housing co-ops. I’d recommend contacting Radical Routes about this.
- Open up the properties and invite local communities to come and visit them, so that they can collectively decide what projects they might want to run in the space – for example, a food or childcare co-op.
With any of these possibilities, it would be essential to think about power. Unless you relinquish your ownership entirely, as the proprietor you will have power over whoever is living in or using your space whether you want to or not. Being attentive to this is the only way to mitigate its impact.
You ask “What’s the most ethical way to deal with this dilemma?” It could be useful to break this question down. What does it mean to you to be ethical? Is (multiple) property ownership compatible with your ethics? Given that it is arguably impossible to lead an entirely ethical life under capitalism, what compromises with your values do you want to live with, whilst remaining true to your commitments?
Finally, I would invite you to challenge the notion that inheriting multiple properties is a “dilemma”, as such – though it may be complicated for you to navigate given your politics, in the world we live in, it is a huge privilege. What will you do with it?
Sophie K Rosa is a freelance journalist and the author of Radical Intimacy.