There's been a Communist revolution and your house now belongs to the people. How did this play out in concrete terms?

[For context, I recently finished listening to Waiting For Snow In Havana, by Carlos Eire, who lived through the Cuban Revolution as a boy.]

Of course, I know that large estates/mansions belonging to former nobility and high level bourgeois were often expropriated immediately immediately, and their occupants evicted or worse. But at least anecdotally it seems that those who’d owned ordinary houses went on living in them for quite some time. Carlos Eire mentions relatives continuing to live in his family’s Havana home, and his father’s art collection going to one of them.

So how would things work? Did the occupants start paying rent to the goverment, or higher taxes, or what? Was expropriation used as a judicial punishment after conviction for opposing the ruling party?

I don’t know, but here are some other logical issues to consider-

The government is not going to evict everyone - they gain nothing by simly pulling a game of musical houses.

Presumably they nationalized the large landlords and others who owned and leased large amounts of living space - so now your landlord is the government, not Pedro Gonzalez Inc. Perhaps the Pedro accounting department stays on until they can consolidate all the property into one management office?

Also, presumably the first thing they do is nationalize all the banks; so if you had a mortgage, you now owe it to the government. Again, the banks’ accountants etc. perhaps stay on until everything is consolidated into the bank department of the new government.

If you had a job with an interesting business that is closed down (or consolidated) by the government, eventually you have no income, no good job - what happens with the mortgage? Does the bank/government foreclose? What if a midlevel party operative takes a liking to the property? Maybe only for the richer houses? What if you owed your mortgage as a private loan to someone who has left the country or been arrested?

I imagine the disruption starts and continues for months and years until it settles into a new steady state. IIRC the news of the day, Castro started off as a darling of the liberals, a breath of fresh air, finally tossing out the blatantly corrupt old regime. He proceeded slowly to tighten the screws on assorted businesses and the more the conservatives in the USA yelled, the more he gravitated to Moscow.

(Love the classic scene in Godfather II where the family bosses are slicing up a cake in the shape of Cuba… While something completely outside their experience is unfolding outside the city.)

Most of us live in some level of a communist/socialist system. Especially in urban areas. If I quite paying my property tax, the municipal government will take it. If i do not pay my federal taxes I will lose things.

It underlies being a part of a community that shares certain things.

Unfortunately it can go way out of balance when it tries to go completely to the ideology in spite of the realities.

I am not that well informed of Cuba in particular. But it does not seem as screwed up as other instances of extreme communism/socialism.

Look forward to some good info in the thread.

Obviously, when it comes to details, different revolutions play out differently.

In the Soviet Union, after the 1917 revolution a decree abolished (1) the right to own vacant land in a city (i.e. land with no building on it); and (b) the right to own land with a building in a city, if the value of the land + building exceeded an amount set by the city government. In both cases, the land/buildings became the property of the city government. Those in occupation of the land/buildings could continue to occupy, but would have to pay market rent (which they might already be doing, of course, if they had been tenants of the expropriated owners). An expropriated owner, if unable to work and having no other means of subsistence, could get compensation up to 10,000 rubles. (I have no idea what kind of purchasing power 10,000 rubles might have represented in 1918.)

The effect of this was that if you owned a modest building in a city (whether it was your home or, e.g., your shop or workshop), you got to keep it, with the city government deciding the value threshold that would determine who got to keep their buildings and who had them expropriated. How scrupulously this decree was respected by city governments in the chaotic and volatile early years of the Soviet Union is another matter, of course, but basically it established in principle that private ownership of modest buildings was not forbidden.

The Soviet Constitution, adopted in 1936, affirmed the right of private ownership of (among other things) your own dwelling-house, and the right to bequeath it to your heirs.

In the mid-1950s it was estimated that about a third of housing stock in the Soviet Union was privately-owned. You could also get land from the state to build a new house on; you didn’t own the land, but you held it in “perpetual tenure”, subject only to the payment of a modest ground rent. If you sold your house, the perpetual tenure of the land on which the house stood automatically went with it.

So, basically, it was not the default position that your home was forfeited to the state after the revolution, or that you had to pay rent to continue living in it. But, the larger and more valuable your home was, the more likely it was that it would be forfeited to the state.

Yeah, Communism comes in many many favours, about as many as there have been countries that have declared themselves communist. Communism is riven by so many ideological and factional divisions as to make the tag impossible to use to characterise any single economic or governmental system.

If you believe the right wing conservatives in the US, Sweden is a communist country. Which is of course ridiculous, but underlines the problem with tag-lines.

Mostly any new regime will institute as much change of ownership as they feel is needed to satisfy ideological and popular demand. It is unlikely that the popular uprising that installed the regime is on board with having their own meagre possessions forfeited to the state. Straight down the line communism was concerned with the economy, and thus ownership of the economically important properties - factories, farms etc. The “means of production”. In the Soviet Union many even quite wealthy middle class people kept their very nicely appointed and large apartments. The bureaucracy is a constant in most regime changes. You can’t wipe out the management layer, not if you expect the economy to survive. Not that things like collectivisation of farms didn’t wreck it anyway.

On the other hand you can get insane regimes such as the Khmer Rouge. Under them is wasn’t clear you owned the clothes you stood up in. Private housing was prohibited and communal living was enforced. Even private cooking was banned. This wasn’t a political regime, it was basically an insane religion with the mask of politics. They did wipe out the bureaucracy, and the country failed. The Cultural Revolution had similar issues with ideology verging on religion versus economic and political ideals.

As others have said, Communism comes in different flavors, but as a practical matter, a regular family’s living situation wouldn’t change at all. However this change in ownership is used as a justification as to why you no longer have any privacy rights. In the US, you may say “You cannot search my house without a warrant!” Well, if it is no longer your house, then they can. If someone else could make better use of it, they could shuffle people around (which is what the objection was to the Supreme Court’s Kelo decision centered upon) to make more efficient use of property for society.

Private property ownership means many things, but in these discussions, the sine qua non of property rights is the right and power to exclude others from using it. Many freedoms stem from that such as the Fourth Amendment, the right to have contraception in your home, Griswold v. Connecticut, obscene materials in your home, Stanley v. Georgia, or engage in homosexual sodomy in the home, Lawrence v. Texas. The fact that these activities occurred in your own home (at least at the time) was a critical part of those decisions.

So, to answer the question, in concrete terms not much would change in your day to day life, but the government is now “justified” in doing pretty much what it wants in regulating (what used to be) your house because it is now the government’s house.

I don’t know about the specifics of East German property law, but I think it must have been similar to this. I gather that from Christoph Hein’s autobiographical novels, from which it’s clear that there were no mass evictions, and it’s clear that some people mentioned had lived in their houses since befire the war. Farms of appreciable size were more apt to be nationalized, with the former owner often staying on to run it as before, including the supervision of all the farmhands.

But God help you if you were Baron von Hohenase* with a castle and huge tracts of land; the early postwar regime might send you to one of the re-opened concentration camps.

*The legal advantages enjoyed by the aristocracy had been abolished in 1918, but they remained a distinct social class somewhat like the “old money” class in America.

Watch Dr. Zhivago for the scene where he comes home to find that his house has been confiscated and divided up for housing

Well, there is not much point of going to all the trouble of a messy revolution if you cannot get rid of the aristocracy and all the capitalist pigs, right? The Church too, depending.

Now, in the Soviet Union, it was uncool if someone decided you were a “kulak”. This did, in fact, lead to many farms of appreciable size being nationalized. Later, under Stalin, there were some non-fun times in the 1930s when people were starving, and politics (the rich being enemies of the poor and so on) led to “kulaki” being shot, imprisoned, sent to Siberia, sent to a labour camp, you get the idea. At least the oligarchs were not in charge!


There’s the old Italian joke where a communist party member is trying to explain communism to a poor small farmer.
“If a farmer owns two cows, the state takes one and gives it to a poorer farmer.”
“Ah. I understand.”
“And if a farmer owns two goats, the state takes one and gives it to a poorer famer.”
“Yes, I understand.”
“If a farmer has two chickens, the state takes one and gives it to a poorer farmer.”
“That, I don’t understand.”
“What don’t you understand about it?”
“I have two chickens.”

A series of Google searches doesn’t tell me much, but the impression I get is that in Cuba after the revolution, all housing was “nationalized” but occupants of the more modest buildings were given a form of rights short of full ownership. Since then, the state has been slowly divesting itself of the “ownership” and responsibility. From assorted articles:

After the revolution of 1959, the new government under Fidel Castro began to improve social services, public housing, and official buildings. Nevertheless, after Castro’s abrupt expropriation of all private property and industry (May 1959 onwards) under a strong communist model backed by the Soviet Union followed by the U.S. embargo, shortages that affected Cuba in general hit Havana especially hard. By 1966–68, the Cuban government had nationalized all privately owned business entities in Cuba, down to “certain kinds of small retail forms of commerce” as per law No. 1076.

On February 24, 2019, Cuba adopted a new Constitution.1 The new Constitution formally recognizes private-property ownership. From the beginning of Socialism’s impact on Cuba, private-property ownership had been legally abolished until Fidel Castro stepped down from power in 2008.2 This new Constitution shows a departure from the socialist grasp on the economy. Cuba likely recognizes that private-property ownership is fundamental to economic growth in capitalist countries and now seeks to benefit from the growth that accompanies a system of private-property rights.

Something positive is that since 1960 those who were renters of housing that had been expropriated and paid rent to the State for twenty years, obtained the right of perpetual usufruct of the land, plus the ownership of their homes. That is why today 85% of Cubans own their homes.

In larger cities and especially in Havana, you can see the results of the Urban Reform law more clearly, which served revolutionary “justice” by handing out what belonged to someone else. It took place in the early years of the Revolution and involved stripping property-owners of the houses they rented out and giving them to the rentees.

It’s been a long time since I watched the movie, and I don’t remember getting any sense of how big the house was. But if it was really and honestly big enough for thirteen families, it wouldn’t surprise me that the author made it a target of expropriation.