Monday, November 14, 2011

Against Private Landed Property

In the first place, we might look at the origin of the word "property," to see what exactly it is we might be talking about. The Latin word "proprietas" is a translation of the Greek word "idioma," which means "special character," or "peculiarity." And, of course, in Modern English we have the words "idiom," which means a particular usage of language, and the word "idiot," which originally means a person who is private and fails in his duty to take part in the political life of the Greek city state.

The Latin noun "proprietas" itself comes from the proposition "pro" meaning "for" and the noun "privo" meaning "individual." The phrase "pro privo" then meaning "for the individual" or "belonging or relating to the person or thing in question." From this idea, we have, for example, our proper name - the name that is proper to us.

So, I think we need to start with the most basic question, or the most general question, before we can go on to talking about what is proper to any particular individual - such as their proper name.

The first question this is: What is proper to the human being, as a human being? In other words, what is special to human beings that is not special to other creatures or to inanimate things? In philosophical terms, this is asking the question: What is the "specific difference" that sets mankind apart from all that is not of mankind? What is the essence of mankind?

Marx, in his Philosophic and Economic Manuscripts of 1844, makes it clear that he believes that there is some essence or special characteristic or "specific difference," that sets the human race apart from the rest of the animal kingdom. And not just the fact that we are more intelligent. In other words, there is something that is proper to humanity. Now, this would hardly have been an unusual idea in 1844. Christianity, for example, has always said that we are special because we have a soul. (The Greeks believed that every living creature had a soul, but that the human soul was the most developed.) But, Marx, as a materialist, could not depend on the concept of a metaphysical soul. He had to find some other specific difference, if he wanted to set man apart. And not only set man apart, but say that there is some essence that is proper to mankind in every era. Some essence that defines humanity.

Marx claims that there is one special characteristic, in every era, be it Primitive Communism, Feudalism, Capitalism or Communism (or any other possibility) that sets man apart. That characteristic is what Marx terms "free conscious activity." The word "activity" covers all types of labour, including thinking or physical labour. But what makes this activity "free?" What does Marx even mean by "free?" Marx realized that in the human race, labour \ activity is not connected to any specific task. Capitalism had proved this to be the case. Labour is abstracted from any particular purpose - hence the term "abstract labour" that Marx often uses. Most animals carry out their activity according to instinct. (I say most, as it may well be that some of the higher animals have some level of freedom from instinct.) They gather berries, or hunt, because they are genetically programmed to do so. And, for most of human history, if you asked any person why he or she did what they did, they would have been amazed at such a question. The peasant worked the land, the carpenter made tables etc., because that was their position in life. They were born to it.

But, capitalism changed all that. The peasants were driven off the land, and were forced to sell their labour, as a "thing," on the open market. No longer did they do what they were born to do - but only what the capitalist would pay them to do. As Marx puts it in Das Kapital, the peasant had become "Vogel frei," or Bird Free. He was free as a bird, and just as without land. Labour then was no longer connected to any specific job. Labour was something that humans did, and could be applied to any task.

But, labour as a free force, does not entirely set mankind apart. It may be that the higher animals also do things that are not instinctually programmed or not tied to any specific task. Something more is needed. And that is consciousness. Human beings are capable of being conscious that their labour is free of instinct or specific task, and may make conscious decisions in regard to that labour \ activity. We may, if we wish, spend huge amounts of labour on things that seem to have no logic whatsoever. Indeed, in capitalism, we usually do.

However, this is not to say that actual human beings, at all times, really are conscious that they can make decisions about their labour. In Feudalism, I think its clear that they weren't. Many people in Capitalism have been sucked into treadmills of consumer culture that blank out all consciousness. Decades go by, and people look back and ask themselves: What the hell was I doing? And they are lucky ones. Probably most don't even get as far as asking that question.

But, for all that, Marx claims that the essence of human kind, what is proper to human kind, in every era, and separates us as a species, is our potential for Free Conscious Activity.

This is a very interesting idea, in several respects. Marx is, in effect, defining an entity, i.e. mankind, with reference to something that for periods of even thousands of years, may not be manifested in reality at all - may remain virtual. For example, we said that Free Conscious Activity was probably not generally manifest during the Feudal period. Even kings just did what kings were supposed to do. And, of course, peasants seemed to have no possibility of free choice in their labour at all - particularly as serfs.

Be that as it may, Marx is saying that this virtual human being, this human being of Free Conscious Activity, always set the human being apart.

And, I think Marx has good reason for saying so. Every so often, this virtual human being would crash into reality. Take Sparticus. He said no. He led a revolt against the powers that be. He preferred to die a free man than live a slave. Socrates is another example. His labour was of the mind. But, he set it free of the traditional requirements of his day. And, for that, they forced him to drink hemlock.

It is in these moments of rebellion against imposed order that the human essence breaks through. Without these moments of rebellion, there would be no humanity.

I think then, we can say that the form of society that best allows Free Conscious Activity is the best form of society for mankind, since this would be the form of society that least alienates man from his essence.

Marx openly admits that it is capitalism that, of all forms of society hitherto known to man, that makes labour free of instinct or purpose. Does that mean that capitalism is the best form of society?

Marx, in answering this question, looks to Aristotle. In the introduction to the Grundrisse, Marx refers to Aristotle's concept of the Zoon Politikon - the political animal. Marx writes: "The human being is in the literal sense a Zoon Politikon, not merely a social animal, but an animal that can only individuate itself in society."

Marx, following Aristotle, is saying that the human essence is only realized within a community. Our ideas of the world are given to us from the language our community has given us (and this is the reason why the loss of language is such a tragedy to any nation - when we lose our language, we lose an essential part of our humanity, we lose our community.) Marx points out that all human labour is social labour, as human labour is only carried out through the language of our community. The scientist working alone in the lab is carrying out social labour.

If this is the case, then we must suspect that a form of society that claims that social labour should be appropriated as private capital is not be the best form of society for human beings.

If we take Free Conscious Activity to be the hallmark of humanity, then we are clearly defining ourselves in relation to our activity.

Kant's famous advice to the world on how best to live was to always treat human beings, including yourself, as an end and never a means to an end. That means never to exploit other people as a way to get money or fame or whatever, and, indeed, never to exploit yourself either.

Hegel and Marx hold that the human individual is what he or she does. The person\subject is not inside the human being, ready made and always the same no matter what that human being does. No, the person is always in the process of being created - by his or her actions.

So, is it not true that if you sell your labour as a means to an end (to get wages), that you are selling yourself, and treating yourself as a means to an end? After all, you spend most of your waking day getting ready to go to work, going to work, working, coming home from work, and then being too exhausted to do anything else after work.

If work is to be regarded as a means to an end, i.e. wages, then the people who do that work are also a means to an end.

And this holds for all types of human labour\activity. If we are not in the process of self actualisation in our everyday lives, then we are becoming alienated from ourselves, and becoming a pawn in someone else's game.

And what is that end that the person must be? What is it to treat yourself as an end and not a means to an end? Hegel points out that:

"Mind is only what it does, and its act is to make itself the object of its own consciousness."

Hegel explains this concept in terms of a carpenter making a table. He put his heart and soul into that work, like an artist, and he makes a table that is an expression of himself. When he looked at that table he can see before him a physical manifestation of his own mind. The table had become, for that moment, the mind of the carpenter physically before him as he consciously regards and appreciates it.

Slavishly toiling our lives away for luxury commodities or simply for the means of survival, can hardly be described as Free Conscious Activity. There is nothing free about slaving just to eat and have a roof over our head, and there is certainly nothing conscious about working our lives away for commodities that brainwashing advertising says we must have. Such a life is no different from the lives of the animal kingdom - in many respects, its far worse.

So, we see that at the root of Marx's thought is that idea that we are not just living machines, that can be programmed in any way that seems the most "efficient" - as, unfortunately, much of Cognitive Psychology tries to claim, and as, of course, capitalists would like to believe.

Marx fully accepts that we are subject to the mode of production in which we live - capitalism in our case - and that capitalism determines the form of our interpersonal relationships (as Cognitive Psychology also recognises.) As we saw above, Marx fully accepts that we are a social animal, and that what we are, at any given time, determined by our interpersonal relationships. This being the case, Marx would seem to be agreeing with Cognitive Science that we are just what the society we live in programs us to be.

But, Marx is not saying this. Marx is positing a virtual human being. A virtual essence of humanity, that is always implicit - even when it is not generally manifest in any given society. This virtual human being is the human being who carries out Free Conscious Activity. In other words, the person who consciously chooses to do what he\she does, and always treats him\her self as an end, never a means to an end.

Needless to say, capitalism could not exist in a world where human beings consciously choose to do what they do, and treated themselves as ends.

In Marx's view, inhuman modes of production prevent or distort the expression of human essence, i.e. Free Conscious Activity, and properly human modes of production facilitate its flourishing.

Its clear from the above, the argument is now turning towards a concept that has been central to German philosophy, in a line of thinkers, including Fichte, Hegel, Feuerbach and Marx himself, and that is the Dialectic of Recognition.

Hegel's Master \ Slave Dialectic is probably the version of this concept that most people will be aware of. The argument runs something like this:

The Master looks at the Slave, and fully expects to have his humanity recognised in the eyes of the Slave. But, since the Master cannot (by virtue of being a Master) fully recognise the humanity of the Slave, then the reflection of his humanity that he receives from the slave must be defective and unsatisfactory - since, in the Master's mind, that reflection is not coming from a being that could adequately reflect it, i.e. another human being.

The Slave looks at the Master and sees a human being before him, but a human being that is determined not to recognise or reflect his humanity back to him. In the Master's eyes, the Slave sees nothing but fear, contempt and hatred.

So, in a society of Masters and Slaves, humanity is blocked. Hegel says that in such a society, the Slave is actually the more human, since he is able to look in the Masters eyes and see a human being - but since that human refuses to reflect his humanity back to him, the relation, or dialectic is defective. The Slave's humanity is also diminished.

Marx continues in this line of thought, and in his ├ľkonomische Studien, he writes:

Suppose we had produced in a human manner. Then each of us would have, in his production, doubly affirmed himself and the other. I would have:

1) Objectivised, in my production, my individuality and its peculiarity and, thus, in my activity enjoyed an individual expression of my life. Also, in looking at the object of my activity (i.e. the product of my work) have had the individual pleasure of realising that my personality was objective, visible to the senses and thus a power raised beyond all doubt.

2) In your enjoyment or use of my product, I would have had the pure enjoyment of realising that I had both satisfied a human need by my work, and also objectivised the human essence, and, therefore, fashioned, for another human being, the object that met his need.

3) I would have been for you the mediator between you and the species, and thus been acknowledged and felt by you as a completion of your own essence and a necessary part of yourself, and have thus realised that I am confirmed both in your thought and in your love.

4) In my expression of my life, I would have fashioned my own essence, my human, my communal essence. In that case, our products would be like so many mirrors, out of which our essence shone. My work would be a free expression of my life.

Later in the same text, Marx writes:

”Thus in work, the peculiarity of my life would have been affirmed, since it is my individual life. Work would, then, have been genuine, active, property.”

What could this concept of "genuine active property" mean? What would the opposite to that concept be - ungenuine passive property? Well, that would be a good description of labour in the capitalist system. As Workers, we passively sell our labour, and passively do what whoever buys our labour tells us to do. You can hardly get more passive than that. And, of course, the capitalist system does treat labour as property. We are told that we are all capitalists, since we have property, i.e. our labour, and that we can sell this property for whatever money we can get for it. But, Marx also regards labour as "property," in the sense that labour \ activity is proper to the human being. We cannot be human without it. If that is the case, how can we sell what makes us human? In this sense, selling our labour for money is ungenuine property, it is property that negates what is proper to the human being.

For example. If I am a plumber, and a farmer with private landed property calls me to fix a pipe on his private land, then I must sell him my labour for a price. I have turned what should have been my "genuine active property" into ungenuine passive property. I do this labour because I need money - not because I am part of the functioning of all of society in general, and, thus, of that farm in particular. Only if that land is nationalised, and I fix the pipes on it as a act of social labour - given that those pipes and that land belong to me and to all my comrades - social labour that improves the lives of myself and all my comrades - can my labour flourish as genuine active property.

I think we can say, without serious contradiction, that if labour is proper to the human being, then so is the material on which to carry out labour, i.e. the earth. At one time, this would have seemed an obvious thing to say. But, now that every corner of the earth has been fenced in or enclosed as private property, and those who have done the fencing have been elevated to the position of Masters, we don't hear the obvious stated very much.

For all that, it seems clear to me that Mother Earth is proper to her children, i.e. to every man, woman and child, and, beyond that, to every living creature on the earth.

If we take the example of the farmer and the plumber above, the farmer must look in the eyes of the plumber as one who has taken, as private property, what is the rightful property of all - including the plumber. Will there not be a certain shame, and thus hatred, in the eyes of the farmer, as he turns the living labour of the plumber into a sellable "thing." How could such a farmer look in the eyes of the plumber, and clearly reflect his humanity back to him? Or if the farmer does look in the eyes of the landless plumber without shame, can this be anything other than a lack of consciousness? And how can we have our humanity reflected back to us from the eyes of the unconscious?

A system of interpersonal relations, which engenders fear, shame, hatred, envy and lack of consciousness, as private landed property does, can only lead to a system of violence. This system of violence is manifested, on one hand, in the increased police and surveillance regimes, and on the other, in the increased turning of hatred against one's self in the form of addictions, destructive behaviour and massively increasing suicide figures. As Freud would have put it, the Death Drive becomes separated from Eros, and a regime of isolation and the breaking of bonds becomes the norm.

Instead of human bonding, we get aggressive individualism and private greed. Every man is condemned to being an island. And, talking about farmers, it is no accident that so many farmers never marry. The fear of loosing half the land in a divorce case overcomes the natural human need for love and companionship.

Private property in land cuts man off from the earth, and cuts man off from his fellow man. His living labour, which should be the expression of his humanity, becomes a dead "thing" to be bought and sold at the market price. His awareness of nature withers away. Even those who work directly on the land now regard it merely as an instrument of profit, and have no second thoughts about abusing it with chemicals, GM crops, etc. It's no wonder that young people today seem to care about nothing. Their parents have, in effect, reared them to believe that the very earth on which they stand is of no interest - except as an instrument of profit. A corrupt government could build a motorway through the most sacred place in Ireland, Tara, and hardly anyone cared at all.

In effect, the Dialectic of Recognition has been replaced by the Dialectic of Having. Instead of seeing our worth in the eyes of others, we see it only in the "things" that we have - including bits of land. Instead of giving our love to our brothers and sisters, we give it to those things that help us dominate others, i.e. all forms of capital, (including the earth itself, now reduced to the level of capital.)

Instead of being what we do, we now become what we have.

And since all we can have are things, we have become as dead as the things we own.

And, of course, we rear our children in this diseased way of thinking - particular children that we expect to inherit our ill gotten gains and keep the family name above the rest of humanity.


Conservatives will point to nature for the answer to this question. They will present the dog who pisses on a lamp post, marking out his territory. Our laws of private landed property, they will claim, are nothing but this genetic coding codified into law. To oppose private property is to oppose nature herself, they will claim.

Well, this argument is weak, in at least two points:

1) Human genetic coding hasn’t changed to any significant degree in the last 100,000 years. And for most of that period, the human race lived the lives of hunter gatherers, and showed no need for private landed property at all. A the very most, a group would claim usage over a territory, for as long as the group was able to use it. When it could no longer use it, it moved on. Even today, there are peoples who show no desire to hold land as private property. This being the case, it seems that there really is no private property gene.
2) An animal marking out his territory is structurally completely different to private landed property. An animal marks out territory to let rivals know that this territory is in use, and will be defended by the marker, for as long as the marker has the strength to defend it. The minute a stronger animal comes along, or the minute that animal leaves the territory, that mark no longer has any validity or effect. This is in complete contrast to the concept of private property. A deed of property is valid regardless of use. It is not the claimant himself who defends the claim, but the armed power of a state. Private landed property is always a function of a state power. And the deed remains valid, even after the death of the owner. It clear that private property has nothing whatsoever to do with nature or genetics, but of social relations only.

But, it is clear that there is a deeply ingrained desire in many human beings to own land. We are told that the Irish have a particular love of private property. As it happens, this is completely false. Ireland is about 18th place in Europe for home ownership, and 86% of Irish land is owned by about 4% of the population. In reality, it seems the average Irish person has only an average, or even less then average love of owning land. It’s that 4% that we really need to wonder about.

So, regardless of who actually has this love of land ownership, we would be foolish to think we don’t have to account for this love \ desire.

We saw above that Marx recognised that human labour is abstract in nature, i.e. it is not instinctually determined or tied to any specific task. The human being can spend his or her labour on any and every activity possible.

It was Freud’s greatest discovery – even greater than his work on the unconscious, which had been anticipated by many before him, including to a very high degree Nietzsche – that not only is human labour abstract, but human desire is equally abstract. Our sexual and other drives are not instinctually determined. In his Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, 1905, Freud describes the infant as “polymorphously perverse.” In other words, the infant will get sexual pleasure from any and every part of its body. He or she must be trained to direct his desire towards the genitals and towards sexual reproduction. This is in complete contrast to most of the animal kingdom, where sexuality is strictly determined, by instinct, towards reproduction.

So, now we have three great phenomena which mark out the human essence:

1) Abstract Labour
2) Abstract Desire
3) Consciousness

Not having our desire fixed by nature is a huge benefit to human freedom, but, as Deleuze and Guattari point out in their book, Anti-Oedipus, the down side of having a free floating desire is that it is very easily captured – and that’s what the capitalist system does very well. A captured desire is no longer a free desire.

But, it would be nonsense to suggest that capitalism is exceptional in its capture of human desire. Indeed, Deleuze and Guattari claim that the capture of desire is one of the primary functions of all hitherto known human societies. They point out that in hunter-gatherer societies, what a person is supposed to desire is literally tattooed or branded onto the skin of each member of the tribe. They call this system of Primitive Communism a system of cruelty, as many of the rituals of manhood, womanhood, marriage and birth are rituals involving great amounts of pain. In such a “primitive” society, the means of life are always close to hand. Human desire, unmoderated, will fix itself directly on the means of life – as animals do. The social will become impossible – as will the properly human, which is always social. Deleuze and Guattari claim that primitive societes use large doses of ritual pain to break this direct connection with the means of life. A bride’s womb is literally marked with the function of producing children for one particular alliance of families. A warrior or a hunters body is branded with the functions he must carry out. Nobody in such a society would ever think of asking who they are – it is literally cut into their bodies. I think it is no accident, that as Capitalism breaks down, we are seeing a huge increase in people getting tattoos. Capitalism is no longer able to tell them who and what they are. Indeed, capitalism must not tell them, as capitalism needs them to be whatever and whoever is most profitable for the capitalist at any given time – and this identity must be constantly wiped out and remade every few years, so as to keep a new line of commodities churning off the conveyer belt.

So, within the hunter-gatherer community, belonging to the tribe, and carrying out the ascribed function given to you, was considered the most desirable thing to do. Your whole desire was contained within the functioning of the group. Personal freedom was, of course, out of the question. Such a concept would be totally alien. Every child was the child of the group. Incest was not wanting to sleep with your mother – all the women in the tribe were your mother. Incest was wanting to consume for yourself what you had produced. Indeed, in the 20th century, there were still tribes which forbade a hunter from eating his own kill. Exogamy was merely a special case of the taboo on incest. As you didn’t selfishly consume the food you produced, you didn’t selfishly enjoy the children you had produced. Such a society did not need police or prisons. The greatest and most lethal proscription was exclusion from the tribe. Once a person had been excluded, his whole personality had been taken from him, and, not only that, but his chances of survival became very poor.

The coming of tillage brought a whole new from of society – at least, after a time. Fixed communities of farmers offered a huge opportunity for a new form of beast in the world – the despot. And with the despot, came a new form of writing. Instead of having your existence written on your body, now your existence was written down in the ledger of the despot. You still knew who you were. There was no question about that – you were the vassal of the despot \ god. And the despot always claimed to be the descendant of a god. God’s representative on earth. Now, instead of having your desire contained by the tribe and its rituals, your desire was directed to this despot god. You owed everything to this king. The land you worked on was the land of the same lord who owned you. You were part of that land. Such a despot needed an organised religion to glorify himself – and to collect all the dues owed to the god. Desire had now been freed from the local rituals of the tribe – only to be captured by the state religion of the despot. And with the despot came money. The despot didn’t care much for chickens and wheat. He wanted his due in gold and silver. So, now the threat was no longer being excluded from the tribe – but not having enough gold to pay the despots taxes and rents. Sudden death by execution became the daily possibility that hung over every man and woman. You literally owed your life to the despot \ god, and he could take it away any time he pleased. Incest also changed its function. Instead of being a general taboo. Now incest became general. But, exclusively for the despot. The king was the son of the god, and the father of all his vassels. Instead of everyone belonging to separate tribes and families, all related to the earth, now everyone was equally related to the despot, and so related to each other. For the first time in history, the masses come into being. Each individual is separately related to the despot, and so is totally undifferentiated from every other individual. That’s not to say that brothers and sisters were now free to sleep together if they wanted to. Far from it. Only the lord or king was allowed this privilege. This was made manifest in ancient Egypt, were only a sister of the Pharaoh was deemed worthy to be his bride. But, in the Feudal era, it manifested itself in the Droit du Seigneur, the right of the Feudal lord to take the virginity of every bride on his estate (remember that every one of his vassels are considered his children.)

Now, instead of the taboo on sexual relations between family members being an after effect of the general rule on not enjoying privately what you have produced yourself, in other words, instead of exogamy being a positive rule to keep sexual and economic production social, the ban on incest becomes entirely negative. In other words, since incest is the prerogative of the lord, we are all supposed to envy this privilege, and incest is supposed to be what we all really want. Religion then steps in to stop us doing what we are all supposed to really want to do – sleep with our mothers and sisters.

And then capitalism changed everything. You no longer knew who you were. In fact, you were nobody. You just had something – labour. And you could sell that labour to whoever would buy it. You didn’t matter personally to the employer, and he didn’t matter personally to you. Gone were the days of having a tribe, or a lord, or an ancestral homeland. You moved to wherever you could sell your labour – be that on the other side of the planet. Moving around like this, all previous extended family and tribal ties were destroyed. The family became the nuclear family. Instead of the child having a multitude of mothers and fathers, it now only had one mother and one father – who took on an exaggerated role in the life of the child. No longer was the child’s desire spread across a multitude of personalities in the extended family and tribe, but was now obsessively focused on one couple, or one person of that couple. The era of the Oedipus Complex was born, and incest really was all in the family. In such an enclosed space, the father took on the role of the despot (now called a boss), and the mother gave the only physical pleasure a child could expect to get. Breaking the child out of its “natural” incestuous tie to its mother, and getting him to accept the social order of the father \ surrogate boss, seemed to be the main purpose of child rearing and socialisation.

(It will be clear from the above account, that the nuclear family is a reflexion, in miniture, of the social order of capital – and not the origin of the capitalist order, as conservatives would have it. In other words, the father is the reflexion of the king – not the king the bigger version of the father.)

The “deal” that the Oedipux Complex offers the child, as Freud and Lacan have pointed out, is that Being is exchanged for Having. (And we remember that Marx had recognised this dynamic in society sixty years before Freud did.)

Instead of Being in direct communion with the mother, the child is offered Having instead - social positon, wealth and a woman of his own, outside his parents family.

Incest has, in capitalism, become totally confused and displaced. It is pure life and the means of life that the child wants – but the bourgeois nuclear family reduces all that to the body of the mother – and then tells the child its unhealthy to want the mother like that. Now falsely convinced that it’s his mother that he really wants – but cannot have, the child is offered “things” as a replacement. Things that can never fill the hole, because it was life the child wanted – and things are dead. But, sadly, for the rest of his or her life, that individual will try to accumulate things – including bits of land – as a replacement for life.

The desire to own land is the extreme level of this displaced incestuous desire. It is a return to doing precisely what the incest taboo had originally prohibited – private enjoyment of your own production. The mother’s body is directly possessed and enjoyed in effigy – in the body of the land. All other claims to this body are rejected. The landowner, as selfish, incestuous, infant, will have what he thought he always wanted. And the social world can go to hell (but not completely – as, infant like, the landowner still wants his free milk, i.e. state subsidies.)


I quote:
In Chapter 5 of his 2nd Treatise of Government, John Locke makes an extremely important argument concerning the origin of property rights. His argument has 4 main premises. First, Locke begins by assuming that the Earth is originally held in common by all men. Second, Locke says that, though he has no property in a pre-human all-natural world, man does have sole ownership of property in his own person to which no one else has any claim. Further, the activity of labor falls into this category of property in man's person. Third, Locke believes that mixing one's personal property with un-owned or natural substances improves, or at least alters, the substance and "annexes" an owned piece of the laborer to that substance. It is also an implicit premise, from the conclusion which Locke draws, that he believes that the act of mixing personal property with natural substances removes the raw substance from its natural state, and, thus, from the field of potential objects which other men can use or appropriate or own.

From all of this Locke deduces that labor leads to the creation of property. Labor upon raw substances improves their use-value, or, at the very least, takes them out of the state in which nature originally provides them, and, because labor is something which the laborer owns, and because that labor is mixed with the raw substance, the laborer comes to own the fruits of his labor. Furthermore, due to Locke's first premise, the laborer must not take however much he wants or can, but only enough so that there is "enough and as good" left for everyone else. This is because the Earth is held in common by all men, so all deserve an original fair share or, at least, fair chance at a share, of it.

Read more:


We have seen above, that is is illegitimate to consider human labour as private property. It is only legitimate to consider human labour as social activity. That being the case, Locke’s argument above is rendered a paralogism, or a misconception arising from faulty reasoning.

Quite apart from any definition of labour, Locke’s argument is also a formal fallacy of the type:

X + Y = Y

Where X is not equal to zero

In other words, Locke is claiming that if there is land X, and private property Y, in
the form of labour, is added to it, then the total becomes private property Y.

This is the same as arguing that if there is a hydrogen atom X in the universe, and a helium atom is added to it, the result is a helium atom.

This, of course, is nonsense.

Locke, would, of course, come up against another problem. For example, if there is land held in common between two people, and one of them erects a fence and claims the lands as his private property – just because he has added labour to it, how could that be legitimate? Would that mean that private property would never have a secure basis – as all anyone would have to do is go into a field or a factory, do some labour in it, and it would automatically become their private property.

Locke tries to solve this problem by use of an argument which has become known as the Lockean Proviso.

The Lockean Proviso
On each of Locke’s accounts of the origin of private property rights, unowned property can only be acquired subject to the Lockean proviso. This proviso is an ‘enough and as good’ clause on original acquisition, stating that we can only appropriate unowned property if we leave enough and as good for others.
Where resources are scarce, according to this proviso, I cannot legitimately stake a claim to something by annexing my labour to it. Neither can I make it mine by enhancing its value. If the resource is necessary for the continued well-being of others, then the fact that I was the one who developed or improved the resource does not give me exclusive rights over it. My entitlement to reward for my labour is overridden by the entitlement of others to that which is necessary for their survival. On Locke’s view, people have a right to charity from others’ plenty.

In other words, I may fense in a commons – only if I give, in the form of charity or wages, at least as much to those who have lost out because of my claim of private property.

This argument is of vital importance, as it is the main argument used by Right Wing elements everywhere. They claim that private property in the means of production leads to the population in general, including those who have now been dispossessed , having a higher material standard of living. They point to the experience of the USSR as practical support for this claim.

Given our discussion of Free Conscious Activity above, the flaw in this argument is obvious. By taking that land as private property, even if I give those who have been dispossessed at least, or more than the material wealth they had, I have still not given them what they once had, i.e. the ability to carry out Free Conscious Labour. I have turned them into wage slaves. Even if they are highly paid wage-slaves, they are still wage slaves. Their ability to create their own world has now been taken from them, and their labour has been turned into a dead sellable thing.

Another common argument used to justify private property in the means of production is known as the Tragedy of the Commons:

The Tragedy of the Commons

The tragedy of the commons is a term coined by scientist Garrett Hardin in 1968 describing what can happen in groups when individuals act in their own best self interests and ignore what’s best for the whole group. A group of herdsmen shared a communal pasture, so the story goes, but some realized that if they increased their own herd, it would greatly benefit them. However, increasing your herd without regard to the resources available also brings unintentional tragedy — in the form of the destruction of the common grazing area.


Again, this is an extremely common argument used by neo-liberals particularly, when arguing for the privatization of lands in the Third World.

The jist of the argument is that only a private landowner will be motivated to look after the land. Those who do not privately own it, will use it to exhaustion, and then just leave it.

However, it seems that this argument was more of a thought experiment on the part of Hardin than an argument based on any kind of empirical data. Indeed, he didn’t give one single example of his theory in operation.

Empirical data refutes this argument completely. Feeny et al, in their 1990 paper “The Tragedy of the Commons: Twenty Two Years Later,” Human Ecology, Vol 18. and E. Ostrom in “Handbook of Agricultural Economics,” 2002., give extensive impirical data, showing that communities are well able to limit use of common land in a fair and efficient form. They show that, far from improving the situation, in the Third World, and elsewhere, the privatization of land has led to private farmers pulluting rivers with chemicals and waste, as the social controls which once prevented such behavior have been broken down by privatization.

Indeed, Fredrick Engles had already refuted this argument in the 19th century, by his study of the German “Mark” system, in his “Socialism, Utopian and Scientific,” 1892.

Another argument that is often used is that a free market in land leads to inefficent farmers being driven out of farming, and the land put into the hands of the most efficient farmers. This argument, like the Tragedy of the Commons, is very common, and always made without the slightest regard to empirical data. This argument is, in fact, so false, that even the World Bank, in its 2003 report, Land Policies for Growth and Poverty Reduction, has called for restrictions on the ability of farmers to sell land in the Third World. The report notes that far from a free market leading to land coming into the ownership of efficient farmers, land is, instead used as an inflation safe means of storing value by wealthy speculators and others, who have no interest in farming whatsoever. Land prices increase far beyond the value that its possible production could justify, and efficient farmers are driven out of the market. Of course, this phenomenon is equally found in the West – not least in Ireland. But, in places like Ireland, subsidies have made efficiency irrelevant anyway, and have totally divorced land values from yields.

To finish, I would like to direct my arguments onto Ireland specifically. We see that farmers now get two thirds of their income from hand outs paid for by the urban worker. So its clear that the current structure of farming is uneconomical and can only be sustained by putting a massive burden on urban workers. Farm collectivisation has a bad name, but, in reality, this is what the EU has being trying to do for a long time, i.e. to push out the small and middle sized farmer in favour of the large ranch. This system puts incredible and unmerited wealth in the private hands of the rancher. Larry Goodman, for example, collects a single hand out every year of half a million euro - just for owning so much land. It makes much more sense to run these large farms/ranches as state farms, with workers doing a 40 hour shift, like any other worker. As I say, all Irish farms are massively subsidised already by the taxpayer. Even if the state farms were no more profitable, or even a good bit less profitable, it would still mean a massive saving for the population in general, as land for roads, schools, homes, hospitals, etc. would already be in state hands, so no addition fee would have to be paid. This would make an enormous change to the very structure of Irish society, as increases in productivity in the workforce would no longer be converted into higher land prices - as happened over the last ten years, and during all times of prosperity over the last several hundred years. Instead of increased productivity being swallowed up by land price inflation, it could instead be put into building up a native Irish industry that would lessen our junky like dependence on the multi-nationals. This retardation of Irish industry that is a real cost of leaving the land in the hands of about 4% of the population.

Private property in the land of Ireland has never worked for the Irish people. Since the privatizing of the clan lands by the English conquerors, it has only brought us famine and emigration and class domination – and, now, state bankruptsy and dependency on the IMF.

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