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Susan Green

The Hood, the Bismarck – and Housing

(9 June 1941)

From Labor Action, Vol. 5 No. 23, 9 June 1941, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

On May 24 the biggest battleship in the world went down to its watery grave. It took with it, to a useless death, over 1,300 unfortunate men, trained, and skilled in the arts of war instead of peace.

There now lie in utter, irretrievable waste, at the bottom of the sea where the Hood sank, tens of thou sands of tons of materials desperately needed by human beings all over the world for such peacetime essentials as DECENT HOUSING.

In exactly five minutes there was wiped from the face of the earth what was built in many years by the toil of men. A concentration of labor and material costing some $50,000,000 was thus destroyed in the war between the imperialists of the world.

Three and a half days after the sinking of the Hood, the bomb-battered Bismarck nosed into the sea and disappeared forever. The creatures of the sea have by this time devoured, without any national preference, some 1,500 Germans along with the 1,300 Englishmen.

Battleships vs. Housing

It took German workmen three years to build what was the newest and strongest floating fort, which nevertheless went down in no time. All this labor has been absolutely lost to human use. All the splendid building materials that made up the Bismarck will now serve the sharks in a game of hide and go seek. An absolute waste of another $50,000,000 and of human lives!

Thus the sinking of the Hood and the Bismarck has dramatized for the working people of the world the tremendous, criminal, human and material waste of imperialist war.

During the days when the Hood and the Bismarck incidents occupied the place of honor in the daily press, one could have learned, by careful scanning of items considered less important, that a new housing project is now under way in New York City. In the Fort Greene area of Brooklyn, near the Navy Yard, where even more modern editions of the Hood and Bismarck are being constructed at top speed, 28 city blocks are sprouting the groundwork for buildings which will house, in comparative comfort, over 3,500 families.

This building project, which will serve the very useful purpose of taking perhaps 17,500 people out of tuberculosis-breeding. fire-trap, old-law tenements will cost a mere $22,000,000 – roughly, about ONE FIFTH of the cost of the Hood and the Bismarck, which in no way furthered the well-being of human beings and took more than 2,800 men down to the bottom of the sea.

The working people of every nation on earth for years and years have been in need of clean, healthy places in which to live. In Rome and London, in New York and Berlin, in Istanbul and Madrid, there has been a monotonous, depressing and significant similarity.

THERE HAVE BEEN THE SHOW PLACES WHERE THE RICH RESIDE AND GET RECREATION, and just as inevitably THE SLUMS WHERE THE POOR EXIST AND RECREATE. Alike in “democratic” England and fascist Italy, in “democratic” America and nazi Germany, the vital need of the Working people for DECENT HOUSING has – along with their .other vital needs – been ignored. If not entirely ignored, it has been most inadequately dealt with. This goes equally for all the capitalist countries.

But not so with the needs of the imperialists of all nations for the instruments of war! No half-way measures in Germany when it came to war preparations. No putting off for another day in Italy when it came to airplanes and tanks. Time is of the essence, and: neither men nor materials are spared in England to gear the country for war. And in the United States the most tremendous sea, air and land forces of all are being built with blitzkrieg speed.

What the Facts Show

The striking contrast of capitalism’s stupendous, unstinting building for destructive war, with its puny provision for peacetime needs of working people, is brought into focus by a few figures pertaining to the United States.

The United States naval program alone calls for the expenditure of billions of dollars. Super-battleships, doubling the cost of the Hood and the Bismarck, are being laid. The incredible sum of $100,000,000 will go into each of these ocean monsters, which – with an “unlucky shot” – may go to keep the Hood and the Bismarck company at the bottom of the sea – a total waste!

EACH of these naval units to be produced by workers for the war use of their imperialist masters embodies in itself enough wealth to build nearly FIVE housing projects like the one at Fort Greene in Brooklyn. About EIGHTY-SEVEN THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED men, women and children could be provided with a healthier, freer, gayer life if that wealth went into building DECENT HOUSING instead of ONE super-battleship.

There are in democratic New York City, about 500,000 old tenement apartments – in buildings 60, 80 and 100 years old – without heat and hot water, without proper toilets and baths, without sufficient ventilation, without fire protection. In this city alone about 2,500,000 people are on this sub-level of existence – WHILE, OF COURSE, BEING EXHORTED BY THEIR EXPLOITERS EVERY MINUTE OF EVERY DAY TO GO “DEFEND THEIR WAY OF LIFE.”

Five Years or 133 Years

How long do you think it would take the American capitalist system to clear the shameful slums of New York City alone? Not in your life will it be done. Not in the lifetime of a new-born babe. Not in the life of generations to come. For, at the rate of building allowed by the present allocation of funds for such projects as the Fort Greene houses, IT WILL TAKE 133 YEARS! This is the speed with which capitalism takes care of the elementary needs of’ human beings!

But the building of the two-ocean navy – THAT IS ANOTHER STORY – in a mere FIVE OR SIX YEARS it will be completed – as will be also the army and air forces amounting to many more billions of dollars. The American imperialists won’t have to wait 133 years for the murderous weapons they want! Neither did the German, Italian or English bosses have to wait 133 years.

The boss-imperialists of the world are today debating the lessons FOR THEM of the sinking of the Hood and the Bismarck. Some of them think that bombers are better than battleships. Some think otherwise.

To the workers of the world the sinking of all this wealth that the workers of England and Germany produced for no good purpose, and the the loss of life, pose another question:



On to socialism, under which fine houses, robust health, abundant happiness FOR THE WORKING PEOPLE will be the aim of labor!

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Last updated: 19 August 2014