Wednesday, April 19, 2006

stromberg on land theft

As I mentioned in a previous post, I plan on blogging about a few of the things I've read from my recent KoPubCo order. I'm currently reading the one and only issue of The Agorist Quarterly, and the essay from Joseph Stromberg has captured my interest. Titled "English Enclosures and Soviet Collectivization: Two Instances of an Anti-Peasant Mode of Development", this Stromberg essay compares those two instances of land theft and comes to a conclusion that certainly wouldn't be welcomed by those committed to one or another variation of corporatism.

Stromberg's analysis complements the analysis of people like Kevin Carson and Karl Marx by coming to the conclusion that the English enclosures were a result of political coercion benefitting a privledged minority. This essay also provides the additional service of comparing the English enclosures to not only the Soviet collectivization of land, but also to the Latin American latifundismo, or feudal land monopolies that still exist to this day. All of these coercive actions had adverse effects on the peasantries of each respective country.

I'd like to provide a few excerpts of the essay in order to give y'all a taste of Stromberg's analysis and provide further online content dealing with the issue of land theft. Rather than start with the primary two examples, I'll start off with the portion of the essay providing an interlude between the two primary examples of land theft. Upon giving a brief synopsis of the elitist politcal structure that maintains the unjust and exploitative Latin American system, Stromberg had this to say about the problems associated with the system:
According to Ernst Feder, the concentration of good land in the hands of a very small minority creates gross inefficiency, waste, mismanagement, and low productivity on Latin America's latifundia. '[F]orcefully shut off from the market mechanism,' the peasants respond by displaying self-hatred and unambitious behavior which is then taken to prove their inherent stupidity. Built in disincentives dicourage the peasants, who gain nothing from harder work. Far from reflecting economies of scale arrived at in free markets, the politically based latifundia are so over-expanded that often as much as one third of the work force is required to boss the other demoralized two thirds. Hence, the great estates resemble nothing so much as islands of socialist 'calculational chaos' unable to operate at optimum economic rationality. In contrast, Feder argues that poor people are actually capable of great economic rationality and capital accumulation. To the extent that a small sector of family farms exists in Latin America, it is here that one finds land-intensive and productive farming as opposed to the better capitalized estate sector. Given the economic irrationalities of the quasifeudal sector and the destitution of peasants who could be productive, Feder supports land reform both on the grounds of simple justice and economic progress. Like Feder, the sociologist Stanislav Andreski takes a critical view of the chief structural realities of Latin American society. He believes that most of the problems in those countries stem from a inherited pattern of political parasitism. Interestingly, Andreski derives his conception of parasitism from the Traite de Legislation (1826), the major work of the neglected French sociologist Charles Comte, whose importance as a classical liberal theorist is only now coming to be appreciated. Parasitism, by severing work from reward, is a necessarily strong barrier to social progress.

Stromberg later states that:
Although conditions vary from country to country, high tariffs, state loans, the licensing-and-bribery syndrome, government contracts, and even tax-farming (in Peru) contribute to the popular view that all governments are 'merely bands of thieves.' In Mexico, where state intervention is most extensive, pay-offs are naturally highest.
If there is one good thing that has come out of all this, it is the growing view amongst the people living down there that all governments are "merely bands of thieves". Indeed, the primary difference between governments and mafias is that the latter doesn't resort to flag-waving and the abduction of children for the purpose of molding their minds into a form that believes in the legitimacy and neccessity of said mafia while dutifully bowing down to authority. There are very few differences beyond that.

Stromberg's treatment of the English enclosures involves the same type of stuff that I had been reading from elsewhere, followed by this conclusion:
Given the role of political power in the process of enclosure, it does not seem unfair to view enclosure as collectivization of agriculture for the benefit of a narrow class. Whether or not it was the only way to increase agricultural efficiency or whether it did increase it to the degree often supposed are probably open questions. Folke Dovring writes that the enclosures 'depended primarily on the de facto power of the landlord class.' This naturally raises the question of whether or not England did not - at least in the agrarian sphere - follow a path closer to the 'Prussian road' to capitalism than is usually believed.
Indeed, market forces had nothing to do with the primitive accumulation of land and wealth that is often defended by so-called market proponents. Then again, many of these people are only being consistent in the defense of a few "exceptional individuals" and their institutions rather than liberty itself, let alone the workers who so badly need liberty as opposed to the various brands of collectivism that serve to keep them down. If that means a defense of massive land theft, so be it.

Moving on to the example of Soviet collectivization, Stromberg begins by explaining the situation prior to Stalin's takeover of the Communist Party, including a description of the "left" and "right" positions within the Party. Neither Trotsky nor Bukharin (who favored a more free market direction for the economy) gained power however, and here's Stromberg's explanation of what did happen:
Unfortunately for both sides, Stalin gradually eased himself into control of the Party and state and purged them all. Once firmly in control, he adopted most of the Left's economic program, sending cadres of armed Party members into the countryside to divide the peasants and push them into collective farms as called for by ideology and interest. With all kinds of violence and dislocation necessary, the prosperous peasants, the kulaks, were eliminated as a class, many of them physically. With their much-feared leaders eliminated by the Stalinst Terror, the peasants had little choice but to acquiesce in this bureaucratic enclosure movement. Only after Stalin's death could any debate on the direction of Soviet economic policy, however mild, reemerge. The Soviet state itself had become the new landlord. It seems clear enough that the "right" program was viable. Certainly, it did not entail the level of violence, death, and economic destruction required to carry through the Trotsky-Stalin model. But just as in the case of the English enclosures, political power decided the event, not necessarily in the interests of the peasants - short or long run. Perhaps the two cases, though they differ considerably, will shed light on some persistent fallacies concerning peasants, agriculture and development (it might be too much to ask for justice, too).

Stromberg concludes the essay by lamenting the role of these two examples and their proponents in the promotion of large-scale agriculture and the inaccurate dismissal of the small-scale alternative. He also ponders the conceivability of alternative routes being taken in both England and Russia, concluding that the routes that were chosen did not have to be chosen. However, the political class cares not for justice or free markets, which is why corporatists and their "left" counterparts chose to collectivize, centralize, and rely on their fellow "exceptional individuals" to run things, all other considerations dismissed.

One of the interesting things about this comparison is that it adds to the criticism of corporate state capitalism promoted by left-libertarians that likens nominally private institutions to the bureaucratic collectivism of "communist" states. Of course, if we consider the leftist equation of the Soviet Union with state capitalism, we're left with viewing the ideological rift of the Cold War as being between two varying and competing versions of state capitalism - one that was entirely collectivist and one that was (and still is) pseudo-individualist in nature. Libertarian communists rightfully reject the former system while free market libertarians reject (or at least should reject) the latter.

There is much that I have left out, so consider visiting KoPubCo and purchasing a copy of The Agorist Quarterly before it sells out.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This post is fascinating. Your last paragraph about the not-so-hard-to-believe link between corporatism/state capitalism (or just capitalism?) and beauracratic collectivism reminds me of something I read recently in A. James Gregor's "The Faces of Janus", a book that surveys fascist and communist states in practice:

"It was most curious because, even before the close of the Maoist period, the Maoist theory of fascism had turned on itself. This theory represented little more than a distorted mirror image of the system created by the Chinese Communist Party. So obvious was the fact that, three months before Mao's death in 1976, a revolutionary Red Guard, Chen Erjin, produced a singularly doleful assessment of socialism in China. Chen, an avowed Marxist, concluded that Maoism itself was a variant of European fascism.

"[Says Chen] Those who administer state property become a 'new class'. This newly emergent class - 'the beauracratic-monopoly priveleged class' - arrogates to itself 'the twin powers of political leadership and economic control'...That a small minority concentrates all coercive power in its hands, while controlling the hignly organized means of social production, results in the creation of a hierarchical system potentially more despotic than the state monopoly capitalism of which it is an analog."

With regard to Latifundismo, many libertarians/conservatives complain that Hugo Chavez is violating private property rights left and right (no pun), when in fact he is haphazardly undoing some of the false claims to property that foreign companies have taken advantage of. Not exactly a step forward, sure, but not the step backward many think it is - at least as far as property rights recognition goes.


2:07 AM  
Blogger Sheldon Richman said...

Excellent post. Thanks! We need much more learned writing on this subject.

8:01 AM  
Blogger Sheldon Richman said...

Another thought: we need to get better at explaining this issue to people. Ironically, the markets elements in our society make the job harder. Homeownership is widespread and the living standard at all levels has improved amazingly over 200 years. This makes it tougher for us to 1) explain how deep-seated government intervention has been and 2) what the bad effects have been.

8:23 AM  
Blogger freeman said...

Dain & Sheldon - Thanks for the kind words!

Dain - Thanks for mentioning the A. James Gregor book. I may have to add it to my "toread" list.

One book that is already on that list that may interest you is James Burnham's The Managerial Revolution. Karl Hess referred to that book a number of times.

Sheldon - Explaining this issue is indeed something that we need to work on. Roderick Long made a good point in his recent Rothbard Memorial lecture concerning how people view the term capitalism. So many people view the status quo as being free market based, even with whatever interventions that exist on the surface and are recognized by all. Speaking as a former statist leftie, I'm well aware of the common perception of our system as being "free market" based since I used to hold it myself.

This is something that I'll have to spend more time thinking about. Simply working to expose the illusion of corporatism as being free market based isn't going to be enough, although it is certainly important.

8:29 PM  
Blogger Sheldon Richman said...

freeman, I've linked to your blog from Free Association.

8:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm pleased to announce that the Stromberg article is now online, with more Agorist Quarterly articles to follow.

7:31 PM  
Blogger freeman said...

Thanks Roderick!

3:28 PM  

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