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Mutualist Blog: Free Market Anti-Capitalism

To dissolve, submerge, and cause to disappear the political or governmental system in the economic system by reducing, simplifying, decentralizing and suppressing, one after another, all the wheels of this great machine, which is called the Government or the State. --Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Stromberg: Writing in Letters of Blood and Fire

Freeman, Libertarian Critter and Brad Spangler earlier had some comments on an old article on primitive accumulation by Joseph Stromberg, in Agorist Quarterly. Now Roderick Long announces he's made it available online. So here it is: "English Enclosures and Soviet Collectivization: Two Examples of an Anti-Peasant Mode of Development."

It's well worth reading. It compares the enclosures of early modern Britain, Stalin's forced collectivization, and latifundismo in Latin America.


Blogger Larry Gambone said...

Stromberg's essay ought to be required reading for all the neocons and pseudo-libertarians who have attacked the Venezuelan land reform measures.

June 23, 2006 4:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Larry, I concur wholeheartedly.

I work with a fella who pretty much fits the description of a "vulgar libertarian". I hesitate to use the phrase because we're basically pals and all, but is he ever it. It can be very frustrating...


June 23, 2006 5:20 PM  
Blogger Sheldon Richman said...

How great to have Joe Stromberg's important essay online. Thanks, Roderick! And thanks, Joe!

June 24, 2006 6:35 AM  
Anonymous Sudha Shenoy said...

I have a summary of what specialists on "enclosure" have to say at Liberty&Power. It is an interesting contrast, not least in what specialists find "enclosure" involves. This is quite distinct from what pop 'historians' like Birdzell & Rosenberg call "enclosure", & also from what libertarians & others see under this term.

June 25, 2006 9:27 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

sudha shenoy,

Interesting post. Your description of how an enclosure commission was chosen (one member by the lord of the manor, one by the biggest landowner, and one by everyone else) sounds kind of like the process by which an "improvement district" is formed these days. A handful of people who own the majority of property value in the proposed district can force it on everybody else, regardless of their wishes.

In response to Sheldon's comment over there, you said that every property owner was compensated after enclosure with an equal amount of property. I wonder just how broadly you're using the term "property owner." Did it include all who had traditional access rights of some kind, or only those with some particular form of tenure?

June 26, 2006 10:54 PM  
Anonymous Sudha Shenoy said...

1. Historians cannot take 20th century American developments, dress everyone in quaint historical costume, & proclaim, 'This is history'.

Let me repeat: Before enclosure, landowners had strips of land scattered across two or three very large areas (the 'open fields'.) Farming decisions had to be communal -- the majority, at least, of all tenant farmers & owner-occupiers had to agree. Individual management, by tenant-farmer or owner-occupier, was impossible. So the object of enclosure, _through the centuries_, was to consolidate holdings into single, 'ring-fence' farms. By 1700, some 71% of England was so 'enclosed', by agreement.

Parliamentary enclosure covered only 24% of the land, _in the Midlands_. And even here, more land was enclosed _by agreement_ than by private Act of Parliament.

2. Enclosure was done by the _landowners_. It was only during the 16th/17th centuries that _tenant_ farmers took the initiative, in many cases, for obvious reasons. In the 18th/19th century, tenant farmers _could_ have nothing to do with the enclosure -- they weren't _landowners_. All _landowners_ got the same amount of land they had in the open fields, _plus_ more land in lieu of their 'common rights'. Such rights attached to the _land_ held in the open fields, i.e., _landowners_ owned the common rights. After enclosure their tenant-farmers generally got more land, in a _single_ bloc, plus new or modernised farm buildings.

Additionally, some _older_ cottages_ already had small quantities of land attached to them. Therefore the _owners_ of these cottages had some common rights. Therefore _additional_ land was attached to such cottages after enclosure (as I mentioned.) Therefore the _tenants_ of these cottages got the use of more land than before, when they _rented_ such cottages.

3. Many cottages, especially newer ones, did _not_ (did not) have common rights. But their _tenants_ could, in many cases, use the commons by _payment_ of a 'fine' (fee) or 'by sufferance'. That is, the _owners_ of common rights, i.e., landowners & owners of older cottages, often _tolerated_ the use of commons & wastes by tenants of cottages with _no_ such rights attached. After enclosure, such _tenants_ -- of cottages with _no_ common rights attached -- no longer had any commons & waste to use (by paying a fee or by sufferance), since the commons & waste were enclosed by their _owners_, the landowners & the owners of cottages _with_ common rights. Commissioners were careful to inquire into all such matters, as I stated.

June 28, 2006 8:21 PM  
Anonymous Sudha Shenoy said...

I would like to clarify three points.

1. MPs required a 'consent document' before they considered an enclosure Act. They required agreement by the owners of at least 75-80% of the land, by value. In many cases, the percentage of agreement was much higher. Owners were also 'neutral'. So 'opposers' were a very small minority, in terms of the _value_ of land held.

Note that enclosure meant that everyone's land was consolidated into one or two blocs, instead of being scattered all over the landscape. It also meant that no one's land was grazed communally by everyone's beasts after harvest. So a very small minority of landowners, by value, were compelled to accept all their land in one or two blocs, with additional land (in most cases) in lieu of common rights. Commons & waste were thrown into the pool & redistributed _pro rata_, according to the value of the common rights attached to the land already owned, in the open fields.

2. I said: Cottages with some land attached therefore had some common rights, & therefore got more land attached after enclosure. Thus the _tenants_ of such cottages found they had more land _attached_ to the cottages. This could not equal the quantity of common land, of course, which they had previously used _in common_ with other cottage-tenants, tenant-farmers, & owner-occupiers.

3. Many commons, it should be noted, were not very valuable, & already had 'stints'& regulations, limiting the number & kind of beasts that could be run, as also the times of year.

June 28, 2006 8:57 PM  
Anonymous quasibill said...

The most interesting point(s) of this conversation to me involves the word "value". As an Austrian, I tend to cringe when people use terms like "equal" or "as much". By what standard are you making such a determination? By government fiat? If so, I'm not sure I can hop on that ride.

Furthermore, it seems to me that the idea that it was the majority of the "value" in an area that was required for government intervention, not majority of space, is a nifty sophistical dodge of a major issue. Once again, how was "value" determined? By whom? Did such a definition allow a small group of elites dictate outcomes to a larger group of commoners?

These are the kinds of semantics that statists, whether they be mercantilists or communists, always hide behind. Sloppy definitions and use of language create alot of camoflage for extortion.

Finally, alot of this discussion tends to assume the answer to the ultimate issue - who had property rights and what were they?

As a somewhat disinterested, and uninformed, outsider, these are the questions that are raised from reading this exchange.

June 29, 2006 11:01 AM  
Anonymous Sudha Shenoy said...

Oh dear.

1. This is an _historical_ development under discussion, _not_ a philosophical issue. That is, we refer to _actual happenings._ The 'value' was the rental value of the land, already established, since most of the land was let to tenants. The value of owner-occupied land was established with reference to the rental value of land in the neighbourhood.

2. A 'private' Act of Parliament (to repeat) applied _only_ to those who asked for & paid for it. The initiative came from the people who wanted it to apply to them. MPs did _not_ initiate the Act.

Such Acts are not found in the American universe. Whether libertarian doctrine can nevertheless assimilate them, is for libertarians to decide. They must decide whether libertarian doctrine is a perfect substitute for historical research & understanding.

3. As mentioned several times already, enclosure was intended to consolidate every landowner's land into one or two blocs, so it could be managed individually. Previously, land had to be managed _collectively_, because every landowner's land was in strips intermingled with every other landowner's land. This system of communal management required 'common land' as well, over which everyone's beasts could be pastured. The common rights were part & parcel of landownership. That is, if a landlord owned strips of land in the open fields, he _also_ owned rights to use the common & wastes. No ownership of land, no such ownership of common rights.

Older cottages had small quantities of land attached, therefore the owners of such cottages also owned some common rights. After enclosure, such cottages had additional land attached. Newer cottages had no (no) land & therefore their owners had no (no) common rights.

Tenants of cottages did not own the cottages they rented. Therefore they were not owners of common rights. They used the commons & wastes because they rented cottages which had common rights. To repeat: tenants are not owners.

3. The above is a crude summary of the results of specialised historical research into enclosures, an historical development which stretched over several centuries. Enclosure by private Act was only the tail-end of this long-term development.

Does such specialised research have anything to contribute to libertarian doctrine? That is for libertarians to say. Again, does historical research & understanding (which professional historians find difficult) have anything to contribute to liibertarian doctrine? Only libertarians can answer that.

June 29, 2006 7:44 PM  
Blogger Kevin Carson said...

Sudha Shenoy,

You repeat essentially the same points you made in your L&P post, but without explaining just who the "land owners" actually were. Again, did that category include those with traditional tenure rights in the land, or did it refer mainly to the landed gentry's politically-created "property" in the land?

I must admit that my gut instinct, whenever I see the majority of country's population working land that their ancestors have worked time out of mind, and paying rent to a class of absentee landlords, is to regard the people working the land as its rightful owners and those receiving rent as a statist overclass. And it is likewise my instinct, when a legal procedure is administered mainly by the latter and results mainly in reducing the number of the former on the land, to suspect that the process was rigged.

June 29, 2006 11:57 PM  
Anonymous quasibill said...

Oh dear.

Yes, it is historical, but history must be interpreted by humans for it to have ANY meaning whatsoever. And to do that, one must make philosophical foundations clear, so that other humans can understand the interpretation.

As for your argument that most of it was already let to tenants, that seems to (again) ignore the base issue, as well as those small owner/operators. The base issue (again) being some of the other rights involved.

Here's a hypothetical for you to begin to understand the point:

Early nobleman claims "ownership" of large swath of land currently worked by peasants. Conflict ensues, and as a compromise, peasants cede "ownership" to nobleman in exchange for certain promises (certain access rights, protection, and possibly law provision).

Many years later, nobleman (or his assigns) decide they no longer want to be bound by their obligations, but want to maintain their "ownership".

Not arguing that this is directly the case in England, just an important consideration when one is determining who has what rights. It is awfully simplistic and naive to just start at "well, they owned the land because they had the requisite piece of paper" while ignoring the historical development of their claim to title. Again, this is the question to be answered, really, and you are assuming the answer as the starting point of your discussion.

Furthermore, nothing in your reply at all addressed the point about defining the majority in terms of value instead of by space, or by number. Under this system, one well connected landowner could constitute the majority over, say, one hundred small landowners.

When one acknowledges that value is subjective, any attempt at forced aggregation of value is immediately suspect, and in fact is a hallmark of extortion.

Again, as I noted, I have no dog in this fight. My current beliefs are not in any way connected to the outcome of this debate. I am curious as to the resolution, as re-evaluating history through a different philosophy has been very enlightening to me (DiLorenzo's books are some of my favorites). But as I noted above, there is no such thing as "history divorced from philosophy".

June 30, 2006 6:05 AM  
Anonymous Sudha Shenoy said...

1. Let me set out certain of the legal conditions & developments that are found in the _standard history texts & in legal history texts_. That is, the results of the specialised study of the available documents, records, etc.

As I said before, from the later 15th century onwards, a division of labour developed between those who supplied fixed capital, the landlords, & those who supplied working capital, the tenants. Landlords took the long-term risks, tenants took the short-term risks. Tenants took out leases, long- or short-term; or they were 'tenants-at-will', i.e., in practice secure tenants. Many tenants were mobile -- they might move to another district, or to another landlord. Tenancies were secure property rights: landlords had to buy out leases if they wished to change tenants & compensate tenants for any improvements. Even in the later 15th century, these were the types of tenancies found in practice, & therefore later incorporated into the land law. (Again as found in the records & studied by legal historians.)

Similarly, landownership had by then ceased to include lordship over men; it had become ownership of the land.

2. Anglo-Saxon society was highly stratified (eg, there were 3 classes of slaves, plus semi-slaves, etc.)(See especially the Anglo-Saxon law codes.) Later, in the medieval period, men were divided by status, into (1) villeins or serfs, who were 'tied to the land' & sold with it. Their goods belonged to their lord & they paid him for permission to live away from his lands & permission to marry. They owed him 'labour services' which were later 'commuted' into money payments. They paid him death duties & 'entry fines' -- on inheriting a holding on the manor.And they paid 'rent' for their holding. (Many studies of the records of various estates.)

Even under this system there was considerable geographical _mobility_, as the records show. There are many such studies, especially from the Toronto School.

(2) 'Freemen' whose lord was the king. They could move freely around the realm, they paid lower 'rents', they paid none of the 'villein' payments. Freemen were, of course, quite mobile.

After the Black Death, villeinage died out in practice: people refused to take up land on villein terms. And they could take up land on different manors, so that system died out too. Mobility increased after the Black Death, of course. Again, there are _specialised_ studies of these developments.

Genealogical studies show considerable _mobility_, both social & geographical.

Obviously I oversimplify a complex set of developments that occurred over some 400 years (from the 11th to the 15th centuries) & then over some 300 years or so, down to the 18th century or later. But these are the categories & developments found in the relevant _specialised historical & legal texts_.

3. Similarly, the points I made about the period of Parliamentary enclosure are all taken from the _specialist_ literature on the subject, the results of specialised research.

4. To repeat: enclosure was a shift from communal management to individual management of land. For each landowner (as found in the historical/legal documents), this meant that land which had been previously scattered in innumerable separate strips over 2-3 open fields, was consolidated into one or two blocs & managed individually. Where previously a landlord had, say, 100 acres in 150-200 separate, scattered strips, he got 100 acres in one bloc or in two blocs.This applied to all landowners, including owner-occupiers & small landowners. Tenants got new, consolidated farms, with new/modernised buildings, etc.

Again, there was more land enclosed by agreement than by private Act, even in areas which had such Acts. Note that the landlords who opposed enclosure were forced to accept the same quantity of land they had before -- but now in one or two consolidated blocs. They were also forced to accept additional land to cover common rights.

Because the openfields were divided up into separate individual blocs, the commons & wastes also _had_ to be allocated individually. Again: common rights went with land held in the open fields or with cottages that had land attached. Agricultural labourers were also _mobile_. Some may have _rented_ such cottages for long periods, others for short. In areas where the commons were stinted or poor, tenants of common-right cottages had access to such poor & stinted commons.

4. Again: agricultural employment _increased_ (increased) from the late 18th to the mid-19th century. The added labourers came from rising population, as did the labour going into non-agricultural employment.

5. Let me repeat: I summarise very crudely some of the results of _specialist_ historical research. This is continuing research into the documents, records, etc. A few of the main references on enclosure (what historians have studied under this head)are given at the end of my piece on Liberty & Power.

I repeat that the above relies on what specialist historians have reported from their continuing study of the original materials. This is all that historians can do. They cannot go outside what materials have survived from what people did.

6. Philophy & history: Historical materials are not plasticine to be moulded at will by philosophers. Historical materials are far more intractable than that.

June 30, 2006 9:50 AM  
Anonymous Sudha Shenoy said...

I should have said: Landlords came in all shapes & sizes. Even in the medieval period, below the aristocracy, the Church & the monasteries, there were many small landlords who had perhaps knightly status, or were simply 'gentry'. This continued to be even more true in later centuries. By the late 18th century, landowners ranged from the small numbers of the aristocracy through the larger numbers of 'gentry' with no titles, down to professional men, innkeepers, craftsmen, shopkeepers, etc. Many small owner-occupiers were part-time farmers.

June 30, 2006 10:00 AM  
Blogger Charles Johnson (Rad Geek) said...

Sudha: Historical materials are not plasticine to be moulded at will by philosophers.

Who claimed that they were?

I don't see anywhere that quasibill denies that the political process of enclosure involved calculations of "value" that were done in the way that you describe. What he denied is that such calculations actually told anyone something useful about value or rightful ownership or legitimate rights to the land.

An historian has every right to expect that the understandings of these concepts by decision-makers at the time -- and not a philosopher's contemporary reflections on the true nature of the concepts -- will be used in trying to understand the decisions that they made. But she has no right to expect that the understanding of whose claims were legitimate, or whether compensation was appropriate to the loss of value, or whether the resulting allocation of land respected the rights of the people who had used or laid claim to it it up until the enclosure. Whether enclosure violated or respected the property rights of the people working the land at the time is something that you need to know historical details to judge accurately. But it is not something that the historical details alone determine; it requires independent reflection on the categories, such as rights, ownership, value, compensation, law, claim, etc., that are used to describe the situation.

There are many examples throughout history of people who believed false things about philosophical concepts such as value, right, ownership, law, consent, justice, etc., and many examples of those false beliefs being encoded in the formal law or the political proceedings of the states that they lived under. To take an example from a very different time, under the statutory law in the Southern United States the overwhelming majority of black human beings were treated as "a species of property" and members of the white political class in those states equated respect for private property rights with deference to slavery by the free states and by the federal government. They were, however, mistaken: there is no such thing as rightful ownership over another person and respect for genuine private property rights demanded (then as much as now) the nullification of slavers' claims, not deference to them. It would be a mistake for contemporary libertarians to bend or twist historical facts in such a way as to ignore the nature of the claims that slavers made on behalf of their so-called "private property rights" in fellow human beings. It is, however, no sin to point out that slavers did not actually own their slaves, and were no different, from the moral standpoint, than any other band of kidnappers and pirates.

Of course, you might claim that Carson's or Stromberg's or somebody else's understanding of the historical details goes beyond making judgments about the legitimacy of the claims; that they gloss over, or ignore, important historical facts about what claims were made, and by whom they were made, and how the claims were responded to. Fine, but the problem then has to do with some universal human failings (oversimplification and confirmation bias) and nothing at all to do with the proper relationship between historians and philosophers.

July 02, 2006 1:29 PM  

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