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[ox-en] Re: Commons - their historical role and possible futures

Hi Stefan, all,

Stefan Merten wrote:
The creation of the doubly free wage worker was a historical process that
accompanied and enabled the emergence of capitalism (described by Marx in
his chapter(s) on the ~"so-called primitive accumulation"
<> in
Capital I [~German original
<>]). One aspect of this
process was the liberation of slaves/serfs (introducing the legal
possibility to sell your labor power); the other aspect was the "~enclosure
of the commons <>," the privatization
of land and other resources which had formerly belonged to all (introducing
the factual necessity to sell your labor power). Both these aspects had to
come together to create the specific status of the "doubly free wage
worker"--which nowadays is so widespread that is seems "natural" to us,
though it isn't.

What you describe here is what is called the "tragedy of the commons"
since the respective article from 1969(?).

Nope (though it could indeed be called the true "tragedy of the
commons"). Hardin's article
<> actually referred to
the misconception that commons will necessarily suffer from overuse and
hence collapse. But Hardin's confused the commons (which are always
governed by social rules and agreements) with a totally unregulated no-man's
land and the commoners with commodity producers who don't talk to each
other and individually produce for selling on a market. Starting from the
wrong assumptions, he had to necessarily arrive at wrong conclusions.

On the other hand I doubt that the commons played such a big economic
role as you seem to mean. When I think of the history of Germany for
instances regions can be distinguished by how the land of a farmer was
inherited to his offspring: There were regions where it was
distributed among all sons and regions where all land was given to the
oldest son [#]_. And AFAICS this land which has been inherited this
way was the economical basis of the family.

There were wide variations across Europe. The commons-based "open field
system" <> was dominant in
England and Scotland as well as in other European contries/regions, and the
subsequent "enclosure of the commons" described by Marx occurred there.

The German system was originally also commons-based. Here, Friedrich Engels'
text "The Mark"
<> (German
original: "Die Mark" <>) is of

Two fundamental facts, that arose spontaneously, govern the primitive
history of all, or of almost all, nations: the grouping of the people
according to kindred, and common property in the soil. And this was the case
with the Germans....

In Caesar’s time a great part at least of the Germans, the Suevi, to wit,
who had not yet got any fixed settlement, cultivated their fields in common.
From analogy with other peoples we may take it that this was carried on in
such a way that the individual gentes, each including a number of nearly
related families, cultivated in common the land apportioned to them, which
was changed from year to year, and divided the products among the families.
But after the Suevi, about the beginnning of our era, had settled down in
their new domains, this soon ceased. At all events, Tacitus (150 years after
Caesar) only mentions the tilling of the soil by individual families. But
the land to be tilled only belonged to these for a year. Every year it was
divided up anew and redistributed. [That's exactly the "open field
system" mentioned above.]

Apparently, in some areas this communal regime dominated until the 19-th

How this was done is still to be seen at the present time on the Moselle and
in the Hochwald, on the so-called “Gehöferschaften.” There the whole of the
land under cultivation, arable and meadows, not annually it is true, but
every three, six, nine or twelve years, is thrown together and parcelled out
into a number of “Gewanne,” or areas, according to situation and the quality
of the soil. Each Gewann is again divided into as many equal parts, long,
narrow strips, as there are claimants in the association. These are shared
by lot among the members, so that every member receives an equal portion in
each Gewann. At the present time the shares have become unequal by divisions
among heirs, sales, etc. ; but the old full share still furnishes the unit
that determines the half, or quarter, or one-eighth shares. The uncultivated
land, forest and pasture land, is still a common possession for common use.

The same primitive arrangement obtained until the beginning of this century
in the so-called assignments by lot (Loosgüter) of the Rhein palatinate in
Bavaria, whose arable land has since been turned into the private property
of individuals. The Gehöferschaften also find it more and more to their
interest to let the periodical redivision become obsolete and to turn the
changing ownership into settled private property. Thus most of them, if not
all, have died out in the last forty years and given place to villages with
peasant proprietors using the forests and pasture laud in common....

While in others it was transformed into a private property regime as early
as the 5-th or 6-th century:

But, second, conquest led the Germans on to Roman territory, where, for
centuries, the soil had been private property (the unlimited property of
Roman law), and where the small number of conquerors could not possibly
altogether do away with a form of holding so deeply rooted.

Still, even where that had happened, important elements of the commons-based
regime prevailed:

The association had only transferred their fields to individuals with a view
to their being used as arable and meadow land, and with that view alone.
Beyond that the individual owner had no right. Treasures found in the earth,
if they lay deeper than the ploughshare goes, did not, therefore, originally
belong to him, but to the community. It was the same thing with digging for
ores, and the like. All these rights were, later on, stolen by the princes
and landlords for their own use.

So I'm not sure whether it is historically correct to think that the
enclosure of the commons were *the* second big thing in the beginnings
of capitalism. For instance in Scotland for poor families from the
highlands working in the emerging textile industry was simply an
alternative to staying on the land which was not very fertile anyway.
They need not be deprived of their land for this.

In theory, yes, but in practice I don't think it was such a pieceful
process. When you look at the historical accounts, I doubt you'll find much
evidence of a peaceful and voluntary choice. Marx, for example, describes
not only the enclosure of the commons, but also recounts very colorfully how
much violence was necessary until the would-be worked would subsume to the
working conditions of early capitalism. Apparently, these conditions weren't
such that anybody (at that time) would accept them voluntarily.

Loosing the right needs not necessarily end up in a dependency. You
could think of transformative law which forbids working for money
favoring Selbstentfaltung / peer production instead. Just an idea...

Well, I doubt it. If selbstentfaltung is indeed a viable alternative, then
why should a prohibition be necessary? On the other hand, if
selbstentfaltung is not a option, than all a prohibition could achieve would
be to drive paid work underground.

I'll later reply to the rest of your mail...

Best regards

|-------- Dr. Christian Siefkes --------- christian ---------
|   Homepage:   |   Blog:
|   Better Bayesian Analysis:           |   Peer Production Everywhere:
|            |
|------------------------------------------ OpenPGP Key ID: 0x346452D8 --
Productivity ought to mean achieving more in an hour of work, but all to
often it has come to mean extracting more for an hour of pay... managers
dream of attaining new productivity levels through the simple mechanism of
unpaid overtime. They divide whatever work is done in a week by forty
hours, not by the eighty or ninety hours that a worker actually put in.
  That's not exactly productivity--it's more like fraud--but it's the state
of the art for many American managers.
        -- Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister, Peopleware

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