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leberwurst proletariat

Tag: dispossession

Theft Is Property! The Recursive Logic of Dispossession


by Robert Nichols (2017) [PDF]

This article offers a preliminary critical-historical reconstruction of the concept of dispossession. Part I examines its role in eighteenth- and nineteenth- century struggles against European feudal land tenure. Drawing upon Marx’s critique of French anarchism in particular, I identify a persistent limitation at the heart of the concept. Since dispossession presupposes prior possession, recourse to it appears conservative and tends to reinforce the very proprietary and commoditized models of social relations that radical critics generally seek to undermine. Part II turns to use of the term in Indigenous struggles against colonization, both in order to better grasp the stakes of the above problematic and suggest a way beyond it. Through a reconstruction of arguments by Indigenous scholars and activists, I seek to show the coherence and novelty of their formulation by suggesting that dispossession has come to name a unique historical process, one in which property is generated under conditions that require divestment and alienation from those who appear, only retroactively, as its original owners. In this way, theft and property are related in a recursive, rather than strictly unilinear, manner. Part III provides a specific historical example in the form of nineteenth-century US property law concerning squatters and homesteaders.

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Federici vs. Marx (Gilles Dauvé)

“rough magic I here abjure”

Shakespeare,The Tempest, 1610

Caliban & the Witch is of undeniable interest for our understanding of social movements at the critical juncture between medieval and modern times, of the advent of capitalism, its sexual dimension, the treatment of women and the conversion of female and male bodies into a work-machine, among other things. But the book also sets forth a vision of past and present which is as questionable as the political perspective that this vision entails. (1)

How capitalism came about according to Silvia Federici

Federeci claims to be writing “against Marxist orthodoxy” (p.6), and Caliban & the Witch is commonly read as a complement (or for some readers, as an alternative) to Marx’s Capital, especially Part VIII. Federici writes:

“ (..) my description of primitive accumulation includes a set of historical phenomena that are absent in Marx, and yet have been extremely important for capitalist accumulation. They include : 1) the development of a new sexual division of labour subjugating women’s labour and women’s reproductive function to the reproduction of the work-force; 2) the construction of a new patriarchal order, based upon the exclusion of women from waged-work and their subordination to men; 3) the mechanization of the proletarian body and its transformation, in the case of women, into a machine for the production of new workers.” (p. 11)

So we expect to read what was missing in the accepted master narrative, especially as history suffers from a long tradition of writing women off. The question is, where does a counter-hegemonic history lead us? In Federici’s case, the author is not merely filling in gaps: her analysis of primitive accumulation amounts to nothing less than a conception of capitalism not just different from Marx’s but indeed opposed to it.

In order to understand the birth of capitalism, she emphasises the specific oppression that social groups, women in particular, were subjected to. That is what she is targeting, and her approach prioritises certain factors and downplays others.

The question is, what tipped the historical scales ?

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