Thursday, 11 April 2013

Capital I, Chapter 27 - Part 2

Whilst feudal state owned land was wrested into the hands of a few by combined means of theft and force, the appropriation of communal property was achieved by continual acts of violence over a long period. But, in the 18th Century the law itself is also used to bring about the theft of these lands. The means of doing this are the Enclosure Acts.

“Whilst the place of the independent yeoman was taken by tenants at will, small farmers on yearly leases, a servile rabble dependent on the pleasure of the landlords, the systematic robbery of the Communal lands helped especially, next to the theft of the State domains, to swell those large farms, that were called in the 18th century capital farms or merchant farms, and to “set free” the agricultural population as proletarians for manufacturing industry.” (p 678)

Marx cites from some of the economic literature of the 18th century, which opposed the process of Enclosure, and which detailed these thefts and processes of concentration of farms. The process means that peasants, who were formerly self-sufficient in food, clothing etc. can no longer provide for themselves. They have to become wage labourers. But, at the same time they now also have to buy the food and clothing they previously produced for themselves, thereby creating a market for these commodities.

In fact, usurpation of the common lands and the revolution in agriculture accompanying this, told so acutely on the agricultural labourers that, even according to Eden, between 1765 and 1780, their wages began to fall below the minimum, and to be supplemented by official poor-law relief. Their wages, he says, 'were not more than enough for the absolute necessaries of life.'” (p 680)

The process of theft of common land and of the small plots belonging to the peasants continued through the 18th century. I've set out this process in my blog post We Was Robbed. Writers of the time described the nature of the process.

As early as 1724, Daniel Defoe had noted that, on estates near London, families of local gentry were being displaced by families enriched in business; and Cobbett, the writer who admired Squire Coke of Holkham, felt very differently about the people from London whom he termed “the Squires of Change Alley”. Parliament passed a series of so called Enclosure Acts. A few such Acts had been obtained under Queen Anne and George I, and over two hundred during George II’s reign, but even at the accession of George III in 1760, the open field system still existed in half the counties of England mostly in the Eastern counties bounded by the East Riding in Yorkshire, Norfolk, and Wiltshire. During George III’s reign some 3,200 Enclosure Acts were obtained including in 1801 a General Enclosure Act, which simplified the procedure.

On the face of it these Acts seemed fair. Land in a village was supposed to be the subject of Enclosure only if the owners of four-fifths of the area of property to be enclosed were in favour. But there
 was an in built problem here for the small peasant. The landed aristocracy were the biggest owners of landed property and, depending upon how the boundaries of the land to be enclosed were drawn, their individual land ownership could of itself ensure that the figure of four-fifths was achieved. In addition the increase in the number of capitalist farmers previously mentioned, meant that these new elements whose capitalistic methods of farming were only possible on large enclosed fields were bound to vote for Enclosure, and they themselves had larger areas of land ownership than the average peasant because it had been bought from the former squirearchy whose economic fortunes had been in decline. As many of the landlords were themselves suffering financially it was in their interest to have the land enclosed, in order to rent it out to capitalist farmers who would pay more rent. Secondly, in order to have a vote, it was necessary to prove that you were, in fact, a land owner. Most of the small peasant farms had passed down through generations of the peasant’s family, and no written documentation existed to prove such ownership. This was not just a problem at this stage, but at a later stage when, after Enclosure and the replacement of the old strip of land, a new enclosed field was to be allotted. If you could not prove ownership, you got no new allocation. Moreover, in many cases even where peasants did produce title deeds to their land, they were simply torn up, so that no proof existed, and the landlord then appropriated the land.
Arthur Young

Even if these hurdles were overcome, the small peasant farmer was at a massive disadvantage. The compact piece of land he received after Enclosure had to compensate him not just for his arable strip, but also for his former use of the common land, which was now appropriated by the landlord. Not only did he lose the use of this land (which he like the other villagers had previously owned collectively) on which to graze his cattle, etc., but he also lost his source of fuel. Once an Enclosure Act had been passed, the Government sent in Commissioners to undertake the process. Of course, who were these Commissioners, ordinary peasants? Not on your life. There were normally three of them, and they were peers, gentlemen, clergymen, or farmers. And of course their fees and travelling expenses (which, with repeated trips back to London, were considerable given the cost of transport at the time) had to be paid, and this cost fell far more heavily in proportion on the pockets of the peasant than it did on the large landowner. Nor did the cost end there. The hedges or fences were also inordinately expensive for the peasant, as was the cost of the award, which had to be paid by each person who benefited.
Oliver Goldsmith

Even Arthur Young, who had for years advocated enclosure, was forced to acknowledge the “knavery of commissioners and attorneys” acting under the Enclosure Acts, and stated that “by nineteen out of twenty Enclosure Acts the poor are injured, and most grossly.” Oliver Goldsmith in his poem, The Deserted Village, lamented,

A bold peasantry, their country’s pride,
When once destroyed can never be supplied.

Those that managed to hang on soon found that their other means of livelihood was soon removed. Factory-produced goods soon replaced hand spinning and other crafts. In addition, new Game Laws were introduced that were extremely harsh. Where once the common land was a free source of food, in the form of game, these new laws meant that the penalty, for example, of being found, on open land, with nets for rabbiting, was seven years transportation. But, the greatest crime was the actual theft of the peasants’ land, which the Enclosure Acts themselves constituted.

Some small freeholders, who had been the most independent type of yeoman because being owners of their land they need obey no squire, kept their farms as long as prices were high, but at the end of the French Wars at the beginning of the 19th century many of these too had to sell up and move to the towns as agricultural prices fell.

A similar process occurred in France, Belgium, and western Germany during the 17th and 18th centuries.

“In the 19th century, the very memory of the connexion between the agricultural labourer and the communal property had, of course, vanished. To say nothing of more recent times, have the agricultural population received a farthing of compensation for the 3,511,770 acres of common land which between 1801 and 1831 were stolen from them and by parliamentary devices presented to the landlords by the landlords?” (p 681)

All of these thefts of land result in the peasants being cleared from it, and the agricultural labourers, who take their place, are then confined to the substandard hovels previously discussed.

The clearest example of those thefts and clearances is provided by the theft of clan land in Scotland and Ireland, and the massive clearances that occurred there.

In Scotland and Ireland, the land was owned collectively by the clans. Each clan chief had no individual right to this property, yet that was what was brought about with the support of the British State.

“This revolution, which began in Scotland after the last rising of the followers of the Pretender, can be followed through its first phases in the writings of Sir James Steuart and James Anderson. In the 18th century the hunted-out Gaels were forbidden to emigrate from the country, with a view to driving them by force to Glasgow and other manufacturing towns. As an example of the method obtaining in the 19th century, the “clearing” made by the Duchess of Sutherland will suffice here. This person, well instructed in economy, resolved, on entering upon her government, to effect a radical cure, and to turn the whole country, whose population had already been, by earlier processes of the like kind, reduced to 15,000, into a sheep-walk. From 1814 to 1820 these 15,000 inhabitants, about 3,000 families, were systematically hunted and rooted out. All their villages were destroyed and burnt, all their fields turned into pasturage. British soldiers enforced this eviction, and came to blows with the inhabitants. One old woman was burnt to death in the flames of the hut, which she refused to leave. Thus this fine lady appropriated 794,000 acres of land that had from time immemorial belonged to the clan. She assigned to the expelled inhabitants about 6,000 acres on the sea-shore — 2 acres per family. The 6,000 acres had until this time lain waste, and brought in no income to their owners. The Duchess, in the nobility of her heart, actually went so far as to let these at an average rent of 2s. 6d. per acre to the clansmen, who for centuries had shed their blood for her family. The whole of the stolen clanland she divided into 29 great sheep farms, each inhabited by a single family, for the most part imported English farm-servants. In the year 1835 the 15,000 Gaels were already replaced by 131,000 sheep. The remnant of the aborigines flung on the sea-shore tried to live by catching fish. They became amphibious and lived, as an English author says, half on land and half on water, and withal only half on both.

But the brave Gaels must expiate yet more bitterly their idolatry, romantic and of the mountains, for the “great men” of the clan. The smell of their fish rose to the noses of the great men. They scented some profit in it, and let the sea-shore to the great fishmongers of London. For the second time the Gaels were hunted out.” (p 682-3)

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