Rosa Luxemburg
The Accumulation of Capital

Section Three
The Historical Conditions of Accumulation

Chapter 27
The Struggle Against Natural Economy

CAPITALISM arises and develops historically amidst a non-capitalist society. In Western Europe it is found at first in a feudal environment from which it in fact sprang the system of bondage in rural areas and the guild system in the towns – and later, after having swallowed up the feudal system, it exists mainly in an environment of peasants and artisans, that is to say in a system of simple commodity production both in agriculture and trade. European capitalism is further surrounded by vast territories of non-European civilisation ranging over all levels of development, from the primitive communist hordes of nomad herdsmen, hunters and gatherers to commodity production by peasants and artisans. This is the setting for the accumulation of capital.

We must distinguish three phases: the struggle of capital against natural economy, the struggle against commodity economy, and the competitive struggle of capital on the international stage for the remaining conditions of accumulation.

The existence and development of capitalism requires an environment of non-capitalist forms of production, but not every one of these forms will serve its ends. Capitalism needs non-capitalist social strata as a market for its surplus value, as a source of supply for its means of production and as a reservoir of labour power for its wage system. For all these purposes, forms of production based upon a natural economy are of no use to capital. In all social organisations where natural economy prevails, where there are primitive peasant communities with common ownership of the land, a feudal system of bondage or anything of this nature, economic organisation is essentially in response to the internal demand; and therefore there is no demand, or very little, for foreign goods, and also, as a rule, no surplus production, or at least no urgent need to dispose of surplus products. What is most important, however, is that, in any natural economy, production only goes on because both means of production and labour power are bound in one form or another. The communist peasant community no less than the feudal corvée farm and similar institutions maintain their economic organisation by subjecting the labour power, and the most important means of production, the land, to the rule of law and custom. A natural economy thus confronts the requirements of capitalism at every turn with rigid barriers. Capitalism must therefore always and everywhere fight a battle of annihilation against every historical form of natural economy that it encounters, whether this is slave economy, feudalism, primitive communism, or patriarchal peasant economy. The principal methods in this struggle are political force (revolution, war), oppressive taxation by the state, and cheap goods; they are partly applied simultaneously, and partly they succeed and complement one another. In Europe, force assumed revolutionary forms in the fight against feudalism (this is the ultimate explanation of the bourgeois revolutions in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries); in the non-European countries, where it fights more primitive social organisations, it assumes the forms of colonial policy. These methods, together with the systems of taxation applied in such cases, and commercial relations also, particularly with primitive communities, form an affiance in which political power and economic factors go hand in hand.

In detail, capital in its struggle against societies with a natural economy pursues the following ends:

  1. To gain immediate possession of important sources of productive forces such as land, game in primeval forests, minerals, precious stones and ores, products of exotic flora such as rubber, etc.
  2. To ‘liberate’ labour power and to coerce it into service.
  3. To introduce a commodity economy.
  4. To separate trade and agriculture.

At the time of primitive accumulation, i.e. at the end of the Middle Ages, when the history of capitalism in Europe began, and right into the nineteenth century, dispossessing the peasants in England and on the Continent was the most striking weapon in the large-scale transformation of means of production and labour power into capital. Yet capital in power performs the same task even to-day, and on an even more important scale – by modern colonial policy. It is an illusion to hope that capitalism will ever be content with the means of production which it can acquire by way of commodity exchange. In this respect already, capital is faced with difficulties because vast tracts of the globe’s surface are in the possession of social organisations that have no desire for commodity exchange or cannot, because of the entire social structure and the forms of ownership, offer for sale the productive forces in which capital is primarily interested. The most important of these productive forces is of course the land, its hidden mineral treasure, and its meadows, woods and water, and further the flocks of the primitive shepherd tribes. If capital were here to rely on the process of slow internal disintegration, it might take centuries. To wait patiently until the most important means of production could be alienated by trading in consequence of this process were tantamount to renouncing the productive forces of those territories altogether. Hence derives the vital necessity for capitalism in its relations with colonial countries to appropriate the most important means of production. Since the primitive associations of the natives are the strongest protection for their social organisations and for their material bases of existence, capital must begin by planning for the systematic destruction and annihilation of all the non-capitalist social units which obstruct its development. With that we have passed beyond the stage of primitive accumulation; this process is still going on. Each new colonial expansion is accompanied, as a matter of course, by a relentless battle of capital against the social and economic ties of the natives, who are also forcibly robbed of their means of production and labour power. Any hope to restrict the accumulation of capital exclusively to ‘peaceful competition’, i.e. to regular commodity exchange such as takes place between capitalist producer-countries, rests on the pious belief that capital can accumulate without mediation of the productive forces and without the demand of more primitive organisations, and that it can rely upon the slow internal process of a disintegrating natural economy. Accumulation, with its spasmodic expansion, can no more wait for, and be content with, a natural internal disintegration of non-capitalist formations and their transition to commodity economy, than it can wait for, and be content with, the natural increase of the working population. Force is the only solution open to capital; the accumulation of capital, seen as an historical process, employs force as a permanent weapon, not only at its genesis, but further on down to the present day. From the point of view of the primitive societies involved, it is a matter of life or death; for them there can be no other attitude than opposition and fight to the finish – complete exhaustion and extinction. Hence permanent occupation of the colonies by the military, native risings and punitive expeditions are the order of the day for any colonial regime. The method of violence, then, is the immediate consequence of the clash between capitalism and the organisations of a natural economy which would restrict accumulation. Their means of production and their labour power no less than their demand for surplus products is necessary to capitalism. Yet the latter is fully determined to undermine their independence as social units, in order to gain possession of their means of production and labour power and to convert them into commodity buyers. This method is the most profitable and gets the quickest results, and so it is also the most expedient for capital. In fact, it is invariably accompanied by a growing militarism whose importance for accumulation will be demonstrated below in another connection. British policy in India and French policy in Algeria are the classical examples of the application of these methods by capitalism.

The ancient economic organisations of the Indians – the communist village community – had been preserved in their various forms throughout thousands of years, in spite of all the political disturbances during their long history. In the sixth century B.C. the Persians invaded the Indus basin and subjected part of the country. Two centuries later the Greeks entered and left behind them colonies, founded by Alexander on the pattern of a completely alien civilisation. Then the savage Scythians invaded the country, and for centuries India remained under Arab rule. Later, the Afghans swooped down from the Iran mountains, until they, too, were expelled by the ruthless onslaught of Tartar hordes. The Mongols’ path was marked by terror and destruction, by the massacre of entire villages – the peaceful countryside with the tender shoots of rice made crimson with blood. And still the Indian village community survived. For none of the successive Mahometan conquerors had ultimately violated the internal social life of the peasant masses and its traditional structure. They only set up their own governors in the provinces to supervise military organisation and to collect taxes from the population. All conquerors pursued the aim of dominating and exploiting the country, but none was interested in robbing the people of their productive forces and in destroying their social organisation. In the Moghul Empire, the peasant had to pay his annual tribute in kind to the foreign ruler, but he could live undisturbed in his village and could cultivate his rice on his sholgura as his father had done before him. Then came the British – and the blight of capitalist civilisation succeeded in disrupting the entire social organisation of the people; it achieved in a short time what thousands of years, what the sword of the Nogaians, had failed to accomplish. The ultimate purpose of British capital was to possess itself of the very basis of existence of the Indian community: the land.

This end was served above all by the fiction, always popular with European colonisers, that all the land of a colony belongs to the political ruler. In retrospect, the British endowed the Moghul and his governors with private ownership of the whole of India, in order to ‘legalise’ their succession. Economic experts of the highest repute, such as James Mill, duly supported this fiction with ‘scientific’ arguments, so in particular with the famous conclusion given below.(1)

As early as 1793, the British in Bengal gave landed property to all the zemindars (Mahometan tax collectors) or hereditary market superintendents they had found in their district so as to win native support for the campaign against the peasant masses. Later they adopted the same policy for their new conquests in the Agram province, in Oudh, and in the Central Provinces. Turbulent peasant risings followed in their wake, in the course of which tax collectors were frequently driven out. In the resulting confusion and anarchy British capitalists successfully appropriated a considerable portion of the land.

The burden of taxation, moreover, was so ruthlessly increased that it swallowed up nearly all the fruits of the people’s labour. This went to such an extreme in the Delhi and Allahabad districts that, according to the official evidence of the British tax authorities in 1854, the peasants found it convenient to lease or pledge their shares in land for the bare amount of the tax levied. Under the auspices of this taxation, usury came to the Indian village, to stay and eat up the social organisation from within like a canker.(2) In order to accelerate this process, the British passed a law that flew in the face of every tradition and justice known to the village community: compulsory alienation of village land for tax arrears. In vain did the old family associations try to protect themselves by options on their hereditary land and that of their kindred. There was no stopping the rot. Every day another plot of land fell under the hammer; individual members withdrew from the family unit, and the peasants got into debt and lost their land.

The British, with their wonted colonial stratagems, tried to make it appear as if their power policy, which had in fact undermined the traditional forms of landownership and brought about the collapse of the Hindu peasant economy, had been dictated by the need to protect the peasants against native oppression and exploitation and served to safeguard their own interests.(3) Britain artificially created a landed aristocracy at the expense of the ancient property-rights of the peasant communities, and then proceeded to ‘protect’ the peasants against these alleged oppressors, and to bring this illegally usurped land into the possession of British capitalists.

Thus large estates developed in India in a short time, while over large areas the peasants in their masses were turned into impoverished small tenants with a short-term lease.

Lastly, one more striking fact shows the typically capitalist method of colonisation. The British were the first conquerors of India who showed gross indifference to public utilities. Arabs, Afghans and Mongols had organised and maintained magnificent works of canalisation in India, they had given the country a network of roads, spanned the rivers with bridges and seen to the sinking of wells. Timur or Tamerlane, the founder of the Mongol dynasty in India, had a care for the cultivation of the soil, for irrigation, for the safety of the roads and the provision of food for travellers.(4) The primitive Indian Rajahs, the Afghan or Mongol conquerors, at any rate, in spite of occasional cruelty against individuals, made their mark with the marvellous constructions we can find to-day at every step and which seem to be the work of a giant race. ‘The (East India) Company which ruled India until 1858 did not make one spring accessible, did not sink a single well, nor build a bridge for the benefit of the Indians.’(5)

Another witness, the Englishman James Wilson, says:

‘In the Madras Province, no-one can help being impressed by the magnificent ancient irrigation systems, traces of which have been preserved until our time. Locks and weirs dam the rivers into great lakes, from which canals distribute the water for an area of 60 or 70 miles around. On the large rivers, there are 30 to 40 of such weirs ... The rain water from the mountains was collected in artificial ponds, many of which still remain and boast circumferences of between 15 and 25 miles. Nearly all these gigantic constructions were completed before the year 1750. During the war between the Company and the Mongol rulers – and, be it said, during the entire period of our rule in India – they have sadly decayed.’(6)

No wonder! British capital had no object in giving the Indian communities economic support or helping them to survive. Quite the reverse, it aimed to destroy them and to deprive them of their productive forces. The unbridled greed, the acquisitive instinct of accumulation must by its very nature take every advantage of the ‘conditions of the market’ and can have no thought for the morrow. It is incapable of seeing far enough to recognise the value of the economic monuments of an older civilisation. (Recently British engineers in Egypt feverishly tried to discover traces of an ancient irrigation system rather like the one a stupid lack of Vision had allowed to decay in India when they were charged with damming the Nile on a grand scale in furtherance of capitalist enterprise.) Not until 1867 was England able to appreciate the results of her noble efforts in this respect. In the terrible famine of that year a million people were killed in the Orissa district alone; and Parliament was shocked into investigating the causes of the emergency. The British government has now introduced administrative measures in an attempt to save the peasant from usury. The Punjab Alienation Act of 1900 made it illegal to sell or mortgage peasant lands to persons other than of the peasant caste, though exceptions can be made in individual cases, subject to the tax collector’s approval.(7) Having deliberately disrupted the protecting ties of the ancient Hindu social associations, after having nurtured a system of usury where nothing is thought of a 15 per cent charge of interest, the British now entrust the ruined Indian peasant to the tender care of the Exchequer and its officials, under the ‘protection’, that is to say, of those draining him of his livelihood.

Next to tormented British India, Algeria under French rule claims pride of place in the annals of capitalist colonisation. When the French conquered Algeria, ancient social and economic institutions prevailed among the Arab-Kabyle population. These had been preserved until the nineteenth century, and in spite of the long and turbulent history of the country they survive in part even to the present day.

Private property may have existed no doubt in the towns, among the Moors and Jews, among merchants, artisans and usurers. Large rural areas may have been seized by the State under Turkish suzerainty – yet nearly half of the productive land is jointly held by Arab and Kabyle tribes who still keep up the ancient patriarchal customs. Many Arab families led the same kind of nomad life in the nineteenth century as they had done since time immemorial, an existence that appears restless and irregular only to the superficial observer, but one that is in fact strictly regulated and extremely monotonous. In summer they were wont, man, woman and child, to take their herds and tents and migrate to the sea-swept shores of the Tell district; and in the winter they would move back again to the protective warmth of the desert. They travelled along definite routes, and the summer and winter stations were fixed for every tribe and family. The fields of those Arabs who had settled on the land were in most cases the joint property of the clans, and the great Kabyle family associations also lived according to old traditional rules under the patriarchal guidance of their elected heads.

The women would take turns for household duties; a matriarch, again elected by the family, being in complete charge of the clan’s domestic affairs, or else the women taking turns of duty. This organisation of the Kabyle clans on the fringe of the African desert bears a startling resemblance to that of the famous Southern Slavonic Zadruga – not only the fields but all the tools, weapons and monies, all that the members acquire or need for their work, are communal property of the clan. Personal property is confined to one suit of clothing, and in the case of a woman to the dresses and ornaments of her dowry. More valuable attire and jewels, however, are considered common property, and individuals were allowed to use them only if the whole family approved. If the clan was not too numerous, meals were taken at a common table; the women took it in turns to cook, but the eldest were entrusted with the dishing out. If a family circle was too large, the head of the family would each month ration out strictly proportionate quantities of uncooked food to the individual families who then prepared them. These communities were bound together by close ties of kinship, mutual assistance and equality, and a patriarch would implore his sons on his deathbed to remain faithful to the family.(8)

These social relations were already seriously impaired by the rule of the Turks, established in Algeria in the sixteenth century. Yet the Turkish exchequer had by no means confiscated all the land. That is a legend invented by the French at a much later date. Indeed, only a European mind is capable of such a flight of fancy which is contrary to the entire economic foundation of Islam both in theory and practice. In truth, the facts were quite different. The Turks did not touch the communal fields of the village communities. They merely confiscated a great part of uncultivated land from the clans and converted it into crown land under Turkish local administrators (Beyliks). The state worked these lands in part with native labour, and in part they were leased out on rent or against payment in kind. Further the Turks took advantage of every revolt of the subjected families and of every disturbance in the country to add to their possessions by large-scale confiscation of land, either for military establishments or for public auction, when most of it went to Turkish or other usurers. To escape from the burden of taxation and confiscation, many peasants placed themselves under the protection of the Church, just as they had done in medieval Germany. Hence considerable areas became Church property. All these changes finally resulted in the following distribution of Algerian land at the time of the French conquest: crown lands occupied nearly 3,750,000 acres, and a further 7,500,000 acres of uncultivated land as common property of All the Faithful (Bled-el-Islam). 7,500,000 acres had been privately owned by the Berbers since Roman times, and under Turkish rule a further 3,750,000 acres had come into private ownership, a mere 12,500,000 acres remaining communal property of individual Arab clans. In the Sahara, some of the 7,500,000 acres fertile land near the Sahara Oases was communally owned by the clans and some belonged to private owners. The remaining 57,500,000,000 acres were mainly waste land.

With their conquest of Algeria, the French made a great ado about their work of civilisation, since the country, having shaken off the Turkish yoke at the beginning of the eighteenth century, was harbouring the pirates who infested the Mediterranean and trafficked in Christian slaves. Spain and the North American Union in particular, themselves at that time slave traders on no mean scale, declared relentless war on this Moslem iniquity. France, in the very throes of the Great Revolution, proclaimed a crusade against Algerian anarchy. Her subjection of that country was carried through under the slogans of ‘combating slavery’ and ‘instituting orderly and civilised conditions’. Yet practice was soon to show what was at the bottom of it all. It is common knowledge that in the forty years following the subjection of Algeria, no European state suffered so many changes in its political system as France: the restoration of the monarchy was followed by the July Revolution and the reign of the ‘Citizen King’, and this was succeeded by the February Revolution, the Second Republic, the Second Empire, and finally, after the disaster of 1870, by the Third Republic. In turn, the aristocracy, high finance, petty bourgeoisie and the large middle classes in general gained political ascendancy. Yet French policy in Algeria remained undeflected by this succession of events; it pursued a single aim from beginning to end; at the fringe of the African desert, it demonstrated plainly that all the political revolutions in nineteenth-century France centred in a single basic interest: the rule of a capitalist bourgeoisie and its institutions of ownership.

‘The bill submitted for your consideration’, said Deputy Humbert on June 30, 1873, in the Session of the National Assembly as spokesman for the Commission for Regulating Agrarian Conditions in Algeria, ‘is but the crowning touch to an edifice well-founded on a whole series of ordinances, edicts, laws and decrees of the Senate which together and severally have as the same object: the establishment of private property among the Arabs.’

In spite of the ups and downs of internal French Politics, French colonial policy persevered for fifty years in its systematic and deliberate efforts to destroy and disrupt communal property. It served two distinct purposes: The break-up of communal property was primarily intended to smash the social power of the Arab family associations and to quell their stubborn resistance against the French yoke, in the course of which there were innumerable risings so that, in spite of France’s military superiority, the country was in a continual state of war.(9) Secondly, communal property had to be disrupted in order to gain the economic assets of the conquered country; the Arabs, that is to say, had to be deprived of the land they had owned for a thousand years, so that French capitalists could get it. Once again the fiction we know so well, that under Moslem law all land belongs to the ruler, was brought into play. Just as the English had done in British India, so Louis Philippe’s governors in Algeria declared the existence of communal property owned by the clan to be ‘impossible’. This fiction served as an excuse to claim for the state most of the uncultivated areas, and especially the commons, woods and meadows, and to use them for purposes of colonisation. A complete system of settlement developed, the so-called cantonments which settled French colonists on the clan land and herded the tribes into a small area. Under the decrees of 1830, 1831, 1840, 1844, 1845 and 1846 these thefts of Arab family land were legalised. Yet this system of settlement did not actually further colonisation; it only bred wild speculation and usury. In most instances the Arabs managed to buy back the land that had been taken from them, although they were thus incurring heavy debts. French methods of oppressive taxation had the same tendency, in particular the law of June 16, 1851, proclaiming all forests to be state property, which robbed the natives of 6,000,000 acres of pasture and brushwood, and took away the prime essential for animal husbandry. This spate of laws, ordinances and regulations wrought havoc with the ownership of land in the country. Under the prevailing condition of feverish speculation in land, many natives sold their estates to the French in the hope of ultimately recovering them. Quite often they sold the same plot to two or three buyers at a time, and what is more, it was quite often inalienable family land and did not even belong to them. A company of speculators from Rouen, e.g., believed that they had bought 50,000 acres, but in fact they had only acquired a disputed title to 3,425 acres. There followed an infinite number of lawsuits in which the French courts supported on principle all partitions and claims of the buyers. In these uncertain conditions, speculation, usury and anarchy were rife. But although the introduction of French colonists in large numbers among the Arab population had aimed at securing support for the French government, this scheme failed miserably. Thus, under the Second Empire, French policy tried another tack. The government, with its European lack of vision, had stubbornly denied the existence of communal property for thirty years, but it had learned better at last. By a single stroke of the pen, joint family property was officially recognised and condemned to be broken up. This is the double significance of the decree of the Senate dated April 22, 1864. General Allard declared in the Senate:

‘The government does not lose sight of the fact that the general aim of its policy is to weaken the influence of the tribal chieftains and to dissolve the family associations. By this means, it will sweep away the last remnants of feudalism [sic!] defended by the opponents of the government bill ... The surest method of accelerating the process of dissolving the family associations will be to institute private property and to settle European colonists among the Arab families.’(10)

The law of 1863 created special Commissions, for cutting up the landed estates, consisting of the Chairman, either a Brigadier-General or Colonel, one sous-préfet, one representative of the Arab military authorities and an official bailiff. These natural experts on African economics and social conditions were faced with the threefold task, first of determining the precise boundaries of the great family estates, secondly to distribute, the ‘estates’ of each clan among its various branches, and finally to break up this family land into separate private allotments. This expedition of the Brigadiers into the interior of Africa duly took place. The Commissions proceeded to their destinations. They were to combine the office of judge in all land disputes with that of surveyor and land distributor, the final decision resting with the Governor-General of Algeria. Ten years’ valiant efforts by the Commissions yielded the following result: between 1863 and 1873, of 700 hereditary estates, 400 were shared out among the branches of each clan, and the foundations for future inequalities, between great landed estates and small allotments were thus laid. One family, in fact, might receive between 25 and 10 acres, while another might get as much as 250 or even 450 acres, depending on the size of the estate and the number of collaterals, within the clan. Partition, however, stopped at that point. Arab customs presented unsurmountable difficulties to a further division of family land. In spite of Colonels and Brigadiers, French policy had again failed in its object to create private property for transfer to the French.

But the Third Republic, an undisguised regime of the bourgeoisie, had the courage and the cynicism to go straight for its goal and to attack the problem from the other end, disdaining the preliminaries of the Second Empire. In 1873, the National Assembly worked out a law with the avowed intention immediately to split up the entire estates of all the 700 Arab clans, and forcibly to institute private property in the shortest possible time. Desperate conditions in the colony were the pretext for this measure. It had taken the great Indian famine of 1866 to awaken the British public to the marvellous exploits of British colonial policy and to call for a parliamentary investigation; and similarly, Europe was alarmed at the end of the sixties by the crying needs of Algeria where more than forty years of French rule culminated in wide-spread famine and a disastrous mortality rate among the Arabs. A commission of inquiry was set up to recommend new legislation with which to bless the Arabs: it was unanimously resolved that there was only one lifebuoy for them – the institution of private property; that alone could save the Arab from destitution, since he would then always be able to sell or mortgage his land. It was decided therefore, that the only means of alleviating the distress of the Arabs, deeply involved in debts as they were because of the French land robberies and oppressive taxation, was to deliver them completely into the hands of the usurers. This farce was expounded in all seriousness before the National Assembly and was accepted with equal gravity by that worthy body. The ‘victors’ of the Paris Commune flaunted their brazenness.

In the National Assembly, two arguments in particular served to support the new law: those in favour of the bill emphasised over and over again that the Arabs themselves urgently desired the introduction of private property. And so they did, or rather the Algerian land speculators and usurers did, since they were vitally interested in ‘liberating’ their victims from the protection of the family ties. As long as Moslem law prevailed in Algeria, hereditary clan and family lands were inalienable, which laid insuperable difficulties in the way of anyone who wished to mortgage his land. The law of 1863 had merely made a breach in these obstacles, and the issue now at stake was their complete abolition so as to give a free hand to the usurers. The second argument was ‘scientific’, part of the same intellectual equipment from which that worthy, James Mill, had drawn for his abstruse conclusions regarding Indian relations of ownership: English classical economics. Thoroughly versed in their masters’ teachings, the disciples of Smith and Ricardo impressively declaimed that private property is indispensable for the prevention of famines in Algeria, for more intensive and better cultivation of the land, since obviously no one would be prepared to invest capital or intensive labour in a piece of land which does not belong to him and whose produce is not his own to enjoy. But the facts spoke a different language. They proved that the French speculators employed the private property they had created in Algeria for anything but the more intensive and improved cultivation of the soil. In 1873, 1,000,000 acres were French property. But the capitalist companies, the Algerian and Setif Company which owned 300,000 acres, did not cultivate the land at all but leased it to the natives who tilled it in the traditional manner, nor were 25 per cent of the other French owners engaged in agriculture. It was simply impossible to conjure up capitalist investments and intensive agriculture overnight, just as capitalist conditions in general could not be created out of nothing. They existed only in the imagination of profit-seeking French speculators, and in the benighted doctrinaire visions of their scientific economists. The essential point, shorn of all pretexts and flourishes which seem to justify the law of 1873, was simply the desire to deprive the Arabs of their land, their livelihood. And although these arguments had worn threadbare and were evidently insincere, this law which was to put paid to the Algerian population and their material prosperity, was passed unanimously on July 26, 1873.

But even this master-stroke soon proved a failure. The policy of the Third Republic miscarried because of the difficulties in substituting at one stroke bourgeois private property for the ancient clan communism, just as the policy of the Second Empire had come to grief over the same issue. In 1890, when the law of July 26, 1873, supplemented by a second law on April 28, 1887, had been in force for seventeen years, 14,000,000 francs had been spent on dealing with 40,000,000 acres. It was estimated that the process would not be completed before 1950 and would require a further 60,000,000 francs. And still abolition of clan communism, the ultimate purpose, had not been accomplished. What had really been attained was all too evident: reckless speculation in land, thriving usury and the economic ruin of the natives.

Since it had been impossible to institute private property by force, a new experiment was undertaken. The laws of 1873 and 1887 had been condemned by a commission appointed for their revision by the Algerian government in 1890. It was another seven years before the legislators on the Seine made the effort to consider reforms for the ruined country. The new decree of the Senate refrained in principle from instituting private property by compulsion or administrative measures. The laws of February 2, 1897, and the edict of the Governor-General of Algeria (March 3, 1898) both provided chiefly for the introduction of private property following a voluntary application by the prospective purchaser or owner.(11) But there were clauses to permit a single owner, without the consent of the others, to claim private property; further, such a ‘voluntary’ application can be extorted at any convenient moment if the owner is in debt and the usurer exerts pressure. And so the new law left the doors wide open for French and native capitalists further to disrupt and exploit the hereditary and clan lands.

Of recent years, this mutilation of Algeria which had been going on for eight decades meets with even less opposition, since the Arabs, surrounded as they are by French capital following the subjection of Tunisia (1881) and the recent conquest of Morocco, have been rendered more and more helpless. The latest result of the French regime in Algeria is an Arab exodus into Turkey.(12)

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(1) Mill, in his History of British India, substantiates the thesis that under primitive conditions the land belongs always and everywhere to the sovereign, on evidence collected at random and quite indiscriminately from the most varied sources (Mungo Park, Herodotus, Volney, Acosta, Gardilasso de in Vega, Abbé Grosier, Barrow, Diodorus, Strabo and others). Applying this thesis to India, he goes on to say: ‘From these facts only one conclusion can be drawn, that the property of the soil resided in the sovereign; or if it did not reside in him, it will be impossible to show to whom it belonged’ (James Mill, History of British India (4th edition, 1840), vol.i, p.311). Mill’s editor, H.H. Wilson who, as Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University, was thoroughly versed in the legal relations of Ancient India, gives an interesting commentary to this classical deduction. Already in his preface he characterises the author as a partisan who has juggled with the whole history of British India in order to justify the theories of Mr. Bentham and who, with this end, has used the most dubious means for his portrait of the Hindus which in no way resembles the original and almost outrages humanity. He appends the following footnote to our quotation: ‘The greater part of the text and of the notes here is wholly irrelevant. The illustrations drawn from the Mahometan practice, supposing them to be correct, have nothing to do with the laws and rights of the Hindus. They are not, however, even accurate and Mr. Mill’s guides have misled him.’ Wilson then contests outright the theory of the sovereign’s right of ownership in land, especially with reference to India. (Ibid., p.305, footnote.) Henry Maine, too, is of the opinion that the British attempted to derive their claim to Indian land from the Mahometans in the first place, and he recognises this claim to be completely unjustified. ‘The assumption which the English first made was one which they inherited from their Mahometan predecessors. It was that all the soil belonged in absolute property to the sovereign, and that all private property in land existed by his sufferance. The Mahometan theory and the corresponding Mahometan practice had put out of sight the ancient view of the sovereign’s rights which, though it assigned to him a far larger share of the produce of the land than any Western ruler has ever claimed, yet in nowise denied the existence of private property in land’ (Village Communities in the East and West, 5th edition, vol.ii, 1890, p.104). Maxim Kovalevski, on the other hand, has proved thoroughly that this alleged ‘Mahometan theory and practice’ is an exclusively British legend. (Cf. his excellent study, written in Russian, On the Causes, the Development and the Consequences of the Disintegration of Communal Ownership of Land, Moscow 1879, part i.) Incidentally, British experts and their French colleagues at the time of writing maintain an analogous legend about China, for example, asserting that all the land there had been the Emperor’s property. (Cf. the refutation of this legend by Dr. O. Franke, Die Rechtsverhältnisse am Grundeigentum in China, 1903.)

(2) ‘The partitions of inheritances and execution for debt levied on land are destroying the communities – this is the formula heard nowadays everywhere in India’ (Henry Maine, op. cit., p.113).

(3) This view of British colonial policy, expounded e.g. by Lord Roberts of Kandahar (for many years a representative of British power in India) is typical. He can give no other explanation for the Sepoy Mutiny than mere ‘misunderstandings’ of the paternal intentions of the British rulers.

‘... the alleged unfairness of what was known in India as the land settlement, under which system the right and title of each landholder to his property was examined, and the amount of revenue to be paid by him to the paramount Power, as owner of the soil, was regulated ... as peace and order were established, the system of land revenue, which had been enforced in an extremely oppressive and corrupt manner under successive Native Rulers and dynasties, had to be investigated and revised. With this object in view, surveys were made, and inquiries instituted into the rights of ownership and occupancy, the result being that in many cases it was found that families of position and influence had either appropriated the property of their humbler neighbours, or evaded an assessment proportionate to the value of their estates. Although these inquiries were carried out: with the best intentions, they were extremely distasteful to the higher classes, while they failed to conciliate the masses. The ruling families deeply resented our endeavours to introduce an equitable determination of rights and assessment of land revenue ... On the other hand, although the agricultural population greatly benefited by our rule, they could not realise the benevolent intentions of a Government which tried to elevate their position and improve their prospects’ (Forty One Years in India, London 1905, p.233).

(4) In his Maxims on Government (translated from the Persian into English in 1783), Timur says:

‘And I commanded that they should build places of worship, and monasteries in every city; and that they should erect structures for the reception of travellers on the high roads, and that they should make bridges across the rivers.

‘And I commanded that the ruined bridges should be repaired; and that bridges should be constructed over the rivulets, and over the rivers; and that on the roads, at the distance of one stage from each other, Kauruwansarai should be erected; and that guards and watchmen should be stationed on the road, and that in every Kauruwansarai people should be appointed to reside ...

‘And I ordained, whoever undertook the cultivation of waste lands, or built an aqueduct, or made a canal, or planted a grove, or restored to culture a deserted district, that in the first year nothing should be taken from him, and that in the second year, whatever the subject voluntarily offered should be received, and that in the third year, duties should be collected according to the regulation’ (James Mill, op. cit., vol.ii, pp.498).

(5) Count Warren, De l’État moral de la population indigène. Quoted by Kovalevski, op. cit., p.164.

(6) Historical and Descriptive Account of British India from the most remote period to the conclusion of the Afghan war by Hugh Murray, James Wilson, Greville, Professor Jameson, William Wallace and Captain Dalrymple (Edinburgh, 4th edition, 1843), vol.ii, p.427. Quoted by Kovalevski, op. cit.

(7) Victor v. Leyden, Agrarverfassung und Grundsteuer in Britisch Ostindien, Jahrb f. Ges., Verw. u. Volksw., vol.xxxvi, no.4, p.1855.

(8) ‘When dying, the father of the family nearly always advises his children to live in unity, according to the example of their elders. This is his last exhortation, his dearest wish’ (A. Hanotaux et A. Letournaux, La Kabylie et les Coûtumes Kabyles, vol.ii, 1873, Droit Civil, pp.468-73). The authors, by the way, appraised this impressive description of communism in the clan with this peculiar sentence:

‘Within the industrious fold of the family association, all are united in a common purpose, all work for the general interest – but no one gives up his freedom or renounces his hereditary rights. In no other nation does the organisation approach so closely to equality, being yet so far removed from communism.’

(9) ‘We must lose no time in dissolving the family associations, since they are the lever of all opposition against our rule’ (Deputy Didier in the National Assembly of 1851).

(10) Quoted by Kovalevski, op. cit., p.217. Since the Great Revolution, of course, it had become the fashion in France to dub all opposition to the government an open or covert defence of feudalism.

(11) G. Anton, Neuere Agrarpolitik in Algerien und Tunesien, Jahrb f. Gesetzgebung, Verwaltung und Volkswirtschaft (1900), pp.1341ff.

(12) On June 20, 1912, M. Albin Rozet, on behalf of the Commission for the Reform of the ‘Indigenat’ (Administrative Justice) in Algeria, stated in his speech to the French Chamber of Deputies that thousands of Algerians were migrating from the Setif district, and that 1,200 natives had emigrated from Tlemcen during the last year, their destination being Syria. One immigrant wrote from his new home: ‘I have now settled in Damascus and am perfectly happy. There are many Algerians here in Syria who, like me, have emigrated. The government has given us land and facilities to cultivate it.’ The Algerian government combats this exodus – by denying passports to prospective emigrants. (Cf. Journal Officiel, June 21, 1912, pp.1594ff.)

Last updated on: 12.12.2008