Graphic Witness: Hugo Gellert
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Hugo Gellert: Karl Marx' 'Capital' in Lithographs

The expropriation whereby the countryfolk were divorced from the land [3/4]

PRIMARY ACCUMULATION: The expropriation whereby the countryfolk were divorced from the land

While the place of the independent yeoman was taken by tenants-at-will (small farmers subject to one year's notice, a servile crowd dependent upon the arbitrary whims of their landlords), a systematic seizure of communal landed property helped, side by side with the theft of the State domains, to swell the size of those great farms which, in the eighteenth century, were called "capital farms" or "merchant farms," and to "set the countryfolk at liberty" as a proletariat for the uses of industry.

Nevertheless, the eighteenth century was not yet prepared to accept as wholeheartedly as did the nineteenth, the idea that in such a system national wealth must be based upon the poverty of the people. For this reason we find in the economic literature of the day a vigorous polemic against the "enclosure of commons". . . .

Price speaks of "a multitude of little proprietors and tenants who maintain themselves and families by the produce of the ground they occupy, by sheep kept on a common, by poultry, hogs, etc., and who therefore will have little occasion to purchase any of the means of subsistence." Such are the "little farmers" to which he refers in the next quotation.

"When this land gets into the hands of a few great farmers, the consequence must be that the little farmers will be converted into a body of men who earn their subsistence by working for others, and who will be under a necessity of going to market for all they want. . . .There will, perhaps, be more labor, because there will be more compulsion to it. . . .Towns and manufacturers will increase, because more will be driven to them in quest of places and employment. . . .

In fact the usurpation of the common lands and the accompanying revolution in agriculture had so disastrous an effect upon the agricultural laborers that, as Eden himself tells us, between 1765 and 1780 their wages began to fall below the minimum necessary for subsistence, so that a supplement had to be given them in the form of Poor Law relief." Their wages, he writes, "were not more than enough for the absolute necessaries of life". . . .

In the nineteenth century the mere memory of the connection between the landworkers and communal property had, of course, faded away. To say nothing of more recent times, did the countryfolk ever get a farthing's worth of compensation for the 3,511,770 acres of common land stolen from them between 1801 and 1831, and, in due form of law, presented by the landlords to the landlords?

The last great act of expropriation, the last stage in the divorce of the agricultural population from the soil, has taken the form of what is called the clearing of estates, that is to say, the sweeping of men off them. All the English methods hitherto considered culminated in this "clearing". . . .

What the "clearing of estates" really signifies can be fully realized only by a study of the promised land of modern romantic literature, the Highlands of Scotland. There the process is distinguished by its systematic character, by the grand scale on which it is carried out. Whereas in Ireland the landlords have gone so far as to sweep away several villages at a time, in Scotland areas as large as German principalities are dealt with at one blow.

Another special characteristic of the "clearing of estates" in Scotland is constituted by the peculiar form of property under which the embezzled lands used to be held.