communal property

(2011) by kevin carson

intro’d via dave gray on fb.. saying he’s reading.. seeing like a state.. for 2nd time:

urban planners backed by state power are rather like tailors who are not only free to invent whatever suit of clothes they wish but also free to trim the customer so that he fits the measure

then alex ryan (from words: cadastral usufruct interstripping)

and then words in kevin‘s communal property (2011):


39 pg pdf – notes/quotes:

ayn rand on indians not having rights to land.. just because born here.. esp if didn’t know what to do with land..

Communal ownership of land is a legitimate and plausible model for property rights in a stateless society based on free association.

p 4

Roderick Long, in particular, has argued for what he calls “public property”—as opposed to state property: “I have no interest in defending public property in the sense of property belonging to the organized public (i.e., the state). In fact, I do not think government property is public property at all; it is really the private property of an agency calling itself the government.

1\ rise and persistence of village commune

Let us imagine a community in which families have *usufruct rights to parcels of cropland during the main growing season.

*usufruct: the right to enjoy the use and advantages of another’s property short of the destruction or waste of its substance

p 6

A given social system, even if participation in its institutions is formally completely voluntary and there are no coercive barriers to exit, tends to function like ground cover plants that create an interlocking ecosystem and crowd out alternatives, or a forest of one species of trees that exclude other species by overshadowing

which has proven unhealthy no..? thinking of helena and ladakh.. and the need for diversity in land.. specialization as not healthy


kropotkin: In short, we do not know one single human race or one single nation which has not

p 9

The Arable Mark, and its English open-field counterpart, was a three-field system with *interstripping of family plots in each field and a periodic redivision of plots between families. The Common Mark consisted of common waste, woodlot, and pasture, of which each family was



The appropriated lands of each township were laid out with equal good sense and propriety. That each occupier might have his proportionate share of lands of different qualities, and lying in different situations, the arable lands, more particularly, were divided into numerous parcels


Marx’s Asiatic mode in India was essentially a variant of the open-field system, but—as with the Russian mir—with a despotic imperial state rather than a feudal system superimposed on it.

2\ destruction of peasant commune by the state

It was only with the rise of the modern state, toward the end of the Middle Ages, that governments began to take an interest in regulating the lives of individuals. The modern centralized state was confronted with the problem of opacity, and became preoccupied with, in James Scott’s language, an “attempt to make society legible, to arrange the population in ways that simplified the classic state functions of taxation, conscription, and prevention of rebellion.

Legibility is a condition of manipulation. Any substantial state intervention in society—to vaccinate a population, produce goods, mobilize labor, tax people and their property, conduct literacy campaigns, conscript soldiers, enforce sanitation standards, catch criminals, start universal schooling—requires the

p 11

invention of units that are visible…. Whatever the units being manipulated, they must be organized in a manner that permits them to be identified, observed, recorded, counted, aggregated, and monitored.

the demise of us.. the demise of land..

The degree of knowledge required would have to be roughly commensurate with the depth of the intervention. In other words, one might say that the greater the manipulation envisaged, the greater the legibility required to effect it.

It was precisely this phenomenon, which had reached full tide by the middle of the nineteenth century, that Proudhon had in mind when he declared, “To be ruled is to be kept an eye on, inspected, spied on, regulated, indoctrinated, sermonized, listed and checked off, estimated, appraised, censured, ordered about…. To be ruled is at every operation, transaction, movement, to be noted, registered, counted, priced, admonished, prevented, reformed, redressed, corrected.


From another perspective, what Proudhon was deploring was in fact the great achievement of modern statecraft. How hard-won and tenuous this achievement was is worth emphasizing. Most states, to speak broadly, are “younger” than the societies that they purport to administer. States therefore confront patterns of settlement, social relations, and production, not to mention a natural environment, that have evolved largely independent of state plans. The result is typically a diversity, complexity, and unrepeatability of social forms that are relatively opaque to the state, often purposefully so…. If the state’s goals are minimal, it may not need to know much about the society…. If, however, the state is ambitious—if it wants to extract as much grain and manpower as it can, short of provoking a famine or a rebellion, if it wants to create a literate, skilled, and healthy population, if it wants everyone to speak the same language or worship the same god—then it will have to become both far more knowledgeable and far more intrusive.2

p 11

In the case of common property farmland, the imposition of freehold property was clarifying not so much for the local inhabitants—the customary structure of rights had always been clear enough to them—as it was for the tax official and the land speculator. The cadastral map added documentary intelligence to state power and thus provided the basis for the synoptic view of the state and a supralocal market in land.29

Freehold title and standard land measurement were to central taxation and the real-estate market what central bank currency was to the marketplace.

p 12

Replacing a society in which most ordinary people have access to the land on a customary basis, with a society in which most of those same people must rent or purchase land in order to cultivate it, has the virtue—from the perspective of the state and the ruling economic class—of forcing the peasantry into the cash economy

money as os

In addition, forcing peasants and laborers into the cash economy means they must have a source of cash income to participate in it, which means an expansion of the wage labor market.

earn a living ness

The Enclosures in England. Fairly early in Medieval times, there had been a modest amount of land ownership in severalty. Lords of manors, who had originally *interstripped their domains with the rest of the holdings in the open fields, had early on consolidated them into closes.

p 15

The landlords saw themselves as the backbone of the British way of life, and the imposition of more effective control on village society as a general benefit to the peace and order of society. Given their assumption that “order would be resolved into its original chaos, if they ceased to control the lives and destinies of their neighbours,” they concluded “that this old peasant community, with its troublesome rights, was a public encumbrance.”5

science of people already

p 16

But the extraction of a larger surplus from the agricultural labor force was also very much a conscious—and explicitly avowed—part of their motivation. The landed classes bore a powerful animus against the common lands because they rendered the rural population less dependent on wage labor, so that rural laborers were uninterested in accepting as much work from the landlords as the latter saw fit to offer.

A pamphleteer in 1739 argued that “the only way to make the lower orders temperate and industrious… was ‘to lay them under the necessity of labouring all the time they can spare from rest and sleep, in order to procure the common necessities of life‘.”59

A 1770 tract called “Essay on Trade and Commerce” warned that “[t]he labouring people should never think themselves independent of their superiors…. The cure will not be perfect, till our manufacturing poor are contented to labour six days for the same sum which they now earn in four days.

Arbuthnot, in 1773, denounced commons as “a plea for their idleness; for, some few excepted, if you offer them work, they will tell you, that they must go to look up their sheep, cut furzes, get their cow out of the pound, or perhaps, say they must take their horse to be shod, that he may carry them to a horse-race or cricket match.”

holy cow

Bishton, in his 1794 Report on Shropshire, was among the most honest in stating the goals of Enclosure. “The use of common land by labourers operates upon the mind as a sort of independence.” The result of their enclosure would be that “the labourers will work every day in the year, their children will be put out to labour early, … and that subordination of the lower ranks of society which in the present times is so much wanted, would be thereby considerably secured.

p 17

The 1807 Gloucestershire Survey warned that “the greatest of evils to agriculture would be to place the labourer in a state of independence,”

p 20

The dream of state officials and agrarian reformers, at least since emancipation, was to transform the open-field system into a series of consolidated, independent farmsteads on what they took to be the western European model. They were driven by the desire to break the hold of the community over the individual household and to move from collective taxation of the whole community to a tax on individual landholders…. …It was abundantly clear that the prejudicial attitude toward *interstripping was based as much on the autonomy of the Russian village, its illegibility to outsiders, and prevailing dogma about scientific agriculture as it was on hard evidence.84 Stolypin’s attempted revolution from above met with incomplete success. In most villages a majority of peasants ignored the new property lines laid out from St. Petersburg and continued to practice *interstripping and allot their land within the mir.

p 21

Under the reinvigorated communes after the Revolution, the village mir supervised something like the *interstripping and periodic redivisions which had prevailed under the full-blown open field system

p 22

Among other things, this included a large-scale rural division of labor with each kolkhoz specializing in some monoculture crop and the individual village ceasing to be a diversified economic unit.

splitting/specializing up .. the labor.. the people.. the natural ness

And if collectivization was a miserable failure in terms of total output and efficiency of production, it was for the most part a success at achieving its stated goals—even at the cost of mass starvation in the countryside—of increasing the efficiency of extraction and obtaining sufficient food to support Stalin’s urban industrialization program

extraction.. colonization..oppression..

create institutional forms and production units far *better adapted to monitoring, managing, appropriating, and controlling from above..

remember reading somewhere on how agriculture was start of decline.. here.. seeing it as what we do in ed.. we create institutional people forms.. not for better society/people.. but so that they are *better adapted to monitoring, managing, appropriating, controlling…

and then back to the recent docs i’ve taken in.. the land is our body.. the soil parts our belly

all about control.. because fear chaos if not controlled..

p 23

Kolkhoz officials, like the old landlords, used peasant labor for their own private purposes, and had the power—in fact if not in law—“to insult, beat, or deport” peasants for disobedience. The internal passport system effectively made it illegal, as under serfdom, for the peasant to flee the countryside.96 Naturally, the peasants saw their work for the kolkhoz—like their labor obligations to the old landlord—as something to be done as perfunctorily as possible so they could *get back to working their own kitchen gardens.

and we do this toxification of human spirit so deeply.. that it *appears .. our natural state is to watch tv if free rather than to *get back to our own art/garden

*appears because that’s what we keep observing us doing with time off.. but we’re not realizing that that is because we’re so tired.. we’re spent.. and why as the day ness is not something we can compromise..

Where, as was frequently the case, the colonial authorities found that the lands they sought to exploit were already “cultivated”, the problem was remedied by restricting the indigenous population to tracts of low quality land deemed unsuitable for European settlement. In Kenya, such “reserves” were “structured to allow the Europeans, who accounted for less than one per cent of the population, to have full access to the agriculturally rich uplands that constituted 20 per cent of the country

3\ the question of efficiency

p 24

But as increased population ran up against the existing extent of cultivation, land became more valuable than people, and the result was social stratification based on the more prestigious families’ control of access to land and the increasing deference required to secure access rights

p 25


Kropotkin, in Mutual Aid, mocked those who defended the process of enclosure and private appropriation of the communes as “a natural death… in virtue of economical laws.” It was, he wrote, “as grim a joke as to speak of the natural death of soldiers slaughtered on a battlefield.”


If there is any one lesson to be gained from all this, it is a warning against the common tendency for libertarians to conflate the private-state dichotomy with the individual/common dichotomy.

p  29

Anyone today who works at wage labor, who experiences clocking in as cutting off a piece of her life and flushing it down the toilet, as entering someone else’s place and being a poor relation in someone else’s house, of leaving her own judgment and values at the door and becoming a tool in someone else’s hand, a means to someone else’s ends rather than an end in her own right, knows exactly what Bourne meant. The untold millions of people who punch a time-card with a sick feeling in the pits of their stomachs at the prospect of “How much shit am I going to have to eat today to keep my job?” know what a sense of belonging and ownership are mainly from their lack.

p 30

…It becomes clear that beneath the argument between these writers lay a fundamental agreement. Opponents agreed on the nature of English rural society before enclosure, and they agreed on enclosure’s effect: it turned commoners into labourers. Their disagreement was about the worth of each class; neither side doubted that the transformation occurred, and had profound consequences.126

Indeed, as we saw earlier, many of the strongest advocates for Enclosure were deliberately and avowedly motivated not so much by a desire to improve the efficiency of cultivation and animal husbandry, as by a desire to improve the efficiency of extracting labor from the rural population. Advocates for enclosure were explicitly motivated, in part, by the prediction of “complete wage dependence.

p 31

A central theme running through all Enclosure advocacy in the eighteenth century was that “commoners were lazy.” And their very obsession with this “problem” is itself an indication of the economic significance of the commons.

They used laziness as a term of moral disapproval. But what they meant was that commoners were not always available for farmers to employ. We might ask why were they unavailable?…. In fact… every commoner was lazy, whether wages were high or not. This suggests that they refused to work because they could live without wages, or regular wages.

Their laziness becomes an indicator of their independence of the wage.

And the degree of frustration critics felt when they saw this laziness may be a guide to how well commoners could do without it.128


Apologists for Enclosure sometimes emphasize the alleged due process entailed in it. But in fact the formal procedure of Enclosure—behind all the rhetoric—amounted to a railroad job. The Hammonds described the formal process of Enclosure as it was justified in legal theory, but argued that in fact it was a naked power grab. The lord of the manor typically worked out the plan of Enclosure and drafted the petition to Parliament, presenting it as a fait accompli to the peasantry only after everything was neatly stitched up. If anyone balked at the terms of Enclosure, they were likely to be warned by the landlord—quite unofficially—that the Enclosure was inevitable, and “that those who obstructed it would suffer, as those who assisted it would gain, in the final award.” If they persisted in obstinacy, the only recourse was to appeal to “a dim and distant Parliament of great landlords to come to his rescue.”12

p 32

Christopher Hill, in language much like the Hammonds’, mocked similar claims by Mingay that no coercion was involved in Enclosure

There was no coercion, we are assured. True, when the big landowner or landowners to whom fourfifths of the land in a village belonged wanted to enclose, the wishes of the majority of small men who occupied the remaining twenty per cent. could be disregarded. True, Parliament took no interest in the details of an enclosure bill, referring them to be worked out by its promoters, who distributed the land as they thought best. But the poorest cottager was always free to oppose a Parliamentary enclosure bill. All he had to do was to learn to read, hire an expensive lawyer, spend a few weeks in London and be prepared to face the wrath of the powerful men in his village. If he left his home after enclosure, this was entirely voluntary: though the loss of his rights to graze cattle on the common, to pick up fuel there, the cost of fencing his own little allotment if he got one, his lack of capital to buy the fertilizers necessary to profit by enclosure, the fact that rents, in the Midlands at least, doubled in consequence of enclosure—all these might assist him in making his free decision. But coercion—oh dear no! Nothing so un-British as that. There was a job waiting for him, either as agricultural labourer in his village or in a factory somewhere, if he could find out where to go and if he and his family could trudge there. ‘Only the really small owners,’ say Professor

p 33

Given the history of land ownership in the countryside, and the glaring fact that a peasantry had been reduced over a millennium to tenant status by feudalization and land engrossment, the burden of proof should have been on the other side. As Ludwig von Mises wrote:

Nowhere and at no time has the large scale ownership of land come into being through the workings of economic forces in the market. It is the result of military and political effort. Founded by violence, it has been upheld by violence and that alone. As soon as the latifundia are drawn into the sphere of market transactions they begin to crumble, until at last they disappear completely.


The Question of Efficiency in the Enclosures. Apologists for the Enclosures in England argue that they were necessary for the introduction of efficient new agricultural techniques like improved crop rotation, the use of clover to improve wasteland, and the wintering of livestock.

p 35

According to subsequent critics of Chambers and Mingay, pro-Enclosure writers of the eighteenth century greatly exaggerated the extent of misgovernment and presented a deliberately one-sided picture out of self-interest; and modern writers like Mingay swallowed it because it was exactly what they wanted to hear.

For example, J.M. Neeson presents evidence that cottagers didn’t “graze the commons bare”: “[t]hey were unlikely to overstock their rights, they might not even stock them fully.”148 She also presents numerous examples of effective commons management from manorial records. Far from overrunning the commons or grazing them bare, in most places commoners regulated the commoning of livestock by strictly stinting their commons—restricting the amount of stock which each commoner might graze. Neeson refers to many cases in which village juries introduced stints and carefully enforced them. Even in villages where commons were unstinted, common rights were not unlimited. The stocking, rather, was limited by “the common rights immemorially attached to land or cottage or residency: the original, unabated level of stocking.”149

On the other hand, the rich land-grabbing interests—e.g. “[f]armers who could afford to buy up cottages in order to engross their rights”—were typically owners of large flocks and herds who “might overstock, certainly they would stock the full stint…… et al……2 Although pro-Enclosure writers took such overstocking as evidence of mismanagement of the commons, in fact it was a side-effect of Enclosure itself.1

[goes on with same for animals/diseases.. and for letting land rest]

p 38

The peasant communes, on their own initiative, introduced crop rotation and dug drainage works in hundreds of villages in the provinces around Moscow, and built thousands of dams for ponds and dug many hundreds of deep wells in the dry steppe country.1

Recall, in regard to all the examples above of progressive action by peasant communes, Kropotkin’s observation that they were most likely to take place in areas where peasants were least crushed by exploitation. And then consider the fact that all these heroic efforts at self-improvement come from a time when the peasantry still lived under heavy taxation to indemnify their former owners for the lands given the peasants at the time of the liberation of the serfs. Bear in mind that these people lived a generation or less after most of the peasant majority of Russia had been illiterate serfs in a state of nearslavery. Now imagine what things they might have accomplished had they lived free of that yoke in previous centuries, and held their land free from the exaction of tribute by the state and the landed aristocracy.

exactly.. we have no idea..

let’s do this firstfree art-ists.

for (blank)’s sake

Seen in this light, all the arguments that “the peasants were better off” or “it was necessary for progress” seem as shameful as the old arguments for the White Man’s Burden.

schooling the world ness

I suspect those who dismiss traditional peasant property rights as an atavistic barrier to progress are close kin to the consequentialists who argue that technological progress would have been impossible had not the peasants been evicted from the land and driven into the factories like beasts, or that the state must promote progress and increase the tax base by seizing inefficiently used property and giving it to favored business enterprises.

W. E. Tate’s description of the “benefits” envisioned for the poor by Enclosure advocates is very much on the mark: *The deserving poor would find small plots in severalty, or small pasture closes, more useful than scattered scraps in the open fields, and vague grazing rights. Certainly they would be no worse off without the largely illusory advantages of the common, and the very real temptations to idleness which its presence entailed. The undeserving poor, especially the insubordinate squatters, living in riotous squalor in their tumbledown hovels on the common, would prosper morally and economically if they were compelled to do regular work for an employer.168

thinking..*iwan baan … self-organizing ness

There’s also more than a little implicit collectivism in the complaint, in J.M. Neeson’s words, that “[c]ommoners stood in the way of national economic growth.” 169 It reminds me of a comment by some neoconservative talking head on Fox News at the outset of the Iraq War in 2003, who boasted of American cowboy capitalism’s superiority to a European model that provided shorter workweeks and six-week vacations. “Maybe Americans,” he said, “prefer to work longer hours and take less vacation, so we can afford all those aircraft carriers.” …

p 39

Missing from all the discussion of “increased efficiency” is any consideration of qui bono. Coase’s argument that it doesn’t matter who owns a resource, because it will wind up in the hands of the most efficient user, has always struck me as nonsensical. It matters a great deal to the person who was robbed. Such arguments remind me a great deal of arguments for eminent domain, by which land will be put to its “most productive use.” But since—as the Austrians never tire of asserting elsewhere— utility is subjective, what is “efficient” is very much in the eyes of a potential user of the land.


Critics of the “inefficiency” of the commons ignore the value of independence and self-sufficiency, the possession of sources of subsistence that could not be taken away at someone else’s whim.

When critics of commons weighed the value of common right they did so in their own terms, the terms of the market. They talked about wage labour and the efficient use of resources. But commoners lived off the shared use of land. To some extent they lived *outside the market.

exactly *where we need to be

They lived in part on the invisible earnings of grazing and gathering. Much of this was inconceivable to critics, either because they did not look or because they did not want to see. In their eyes commoners were lazy, insubordinate and poor. But when historians come to assess these assessments we have to understand that none of these conditions, except poverty, is a measure of the inadequacy of a standard of living. Even poverty, in the case of commoners, may have been in the eye of the beholder: commoners did not think themselves poor.