Enclosure, inequality and the tediousness of Malthusianism

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This is a very short entry, but should provide food for thought about the misleading rhetoric derived from Malthusian thought, when put in the context of enclosure and the consequent extreme inequalities. Be warned, the following quotes from E. P. Thompson’s  “The making of the English working class” document what must have been a tremendous trauma:

“[We] should remember that the spirit of agricultural improvement in the 18th century was impelled less by altruistic desires to banish ugly wastes or – as the tedious phrase goes – to “feed a growing population” than by the desire for fatter rent-rools and larger profits” (Thompson 1963/1966: 217).

“The arguments of the enclosure propagandists were commonly phrased in terms of higher rental values and higher yield per acre. In village after village, enclosure destroyed the … subsistence economy of the poor – the cow or geese, fuel from the commons, gleanings, and all the rest. The cottager without legal proof of rights was rarely compensated. The cottager who was able to establish his claim was left with a parcel of land inadequate for subsistence and a disproportionate share of the very high enclosure costs: (Thompson 1963/1966: 217)

“For example, in the enclosure of Barton-on-Humber, where attention was paid to common rights, we find that out of nearly 6,000 acres, 63% (3,733 acres) was divided between three people, while fifty-one people were awarded between one and three acres: or, broken down another way, ten owners accounted for 81% of the land enclosed, while the reamining 19% was divided between 116 people. The average rental value of the arable land enclosed rose in five years (1794-9) from 6s. 6d. To 20s. an acre; and average rentals in the parish were more than trebled” (Thompson 1963/1966: 217; my italics)

That resistance fomented, riots broke out and uprisings were attempted repeatedly throughout the realm is hardly of surprise. Neither is it very surprising that consequently the systematic repression intensified and society became very polarised. “The profession of a soldier was held to be dishonourable” (Thompson 1963/1966: 81), the police was instituted as a preventative force of control and survelliance, deterrence and threat – although “[r]esistance to an effective police force continued well into the 19th century (ibid.) – and a very wide range of new “thanatocratic” laws to manage the effects of enclosure – vagrancy, poverty, despair, homelessness, hunger – were enacted. These processes have been covered in Peter Linebaugh’s “The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century (Linebaugh 2003/2006; particularly 42-73). In very brief, these draconian laws to keep the poor in check well define what capitalist democracy looks like:

“The year 1661 saw the promulgation of the first slave code in English history, enacting that human beings become “real chattels” … Also in 1661 the thirty-six Articles of War were promulgated … twenty-two of which provide the death penalty … Besdies that thanatocratic code, discipline in the navy was maintained by “customs of the sea” [including]: the spead eagle, ducking, mastheading, keelhauling, marrying the gunner’s daughter, and the cat-of-nine-tails. In addition to the slave codes, the military codes and the Irish penal code, the criminal code with its “new” capital offences formed the characteristics of this era of substantive British law” (Linebaugh 2003/2006: 53).

Welcome to capitalist democracy – this is what its roots look like!

Business as Usual: Biomass Power Grab by The Gene Giants

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This is a joint News Release by Biofuelwatch / ETC Group / Greenpeace.


Montreal- July 21 2009 — As hundreds of delegates gathered for the Sixth Annual Conference on Industrial Biotechnology and Bioprocessing at Palais des congrès in Old Montreal, a group of NGOs held an early morning press conference across the street. Greenpeace, ETC Group and Biofuelwatch joined forces to warn that the “green” energy of the biotech industry was mostly hype, that governments should not add to their already generous subsidies of the industry and that the feedstock on which it is all based – so called “biomass” – is neither plentiful nor easily converted into renewable chemicals, plastics and fuels.

Jim Thomas, a researcher from ETC Group, charged that behind the thin, green veneer of clean energy and renewable plastics, Big Bio is, in fact, engaged in a huge industrial power grab: “The Gene Giants’ control over the smallest components of life such as DNA has now become much more rapid and sophisticated with billions of dollars being invested in new technologies such as metagenomics and synthetic biology. Twenty-five percent of the world’s so-called biomass has already been commodified. Now industry is going after the remaining seventy-five percent. The quest for greater quantities of plant cellulose – the most abundant organic material on earth – will make nature reserves and marginal lands more commercially valuable than ever before. Three years ago, NGOs warned that the demand for corn ethanol would lead to higher food prices and hunger. We were right. And today we’re warning that this massive biomass-grab will bring about similarly devastating consequences for people – especially in the Third World, because that is where these companies will look when there’s no more feedstock closer to home.”

Rachel Smolker from UK-based Biofuelwatch challenged the companies present at the BIO Conference to ask themselves a fundamental question: “Is there enough biomass out there for the all the purposes being envisaged? The answer is a resounding no.” She cited targets and figures for biomass-use being used by governments and industry to prove the point: The U.S. has adopted a target of 36 billion gallons of biofuels per year by 2022, claiming there is 1.3 billion tons of available biomass. Yet by some analyses, this would require mowing down 80% of the available biomass from agricultural, forest and grass lands! And this is just one target. The U.S. air force has set itself a goal of replacing 25% of its fuel demand with biofuels, and commercial aviation is following suit. The chemicals industry has set a target of replacing 10% of its feedstocks with biomass as well. Meanwhile, policy measures intended to support the development of renewable energy (electricity and heat) are largely (about 70 percent of subsidies) translating into co-firing of biomass with coal and other biomass technologies. These combined targets are entirely unsustainable, especially in light of the need to feed a growing population, declining ecosystems and soil and water degradation.

Eric Darier, Director of Greenpeace Quebec, urged governments and private investors to approach the BIO lobby with great caution and to resist blindly jumping on the “innovation bandwagon:” “We need to support and apply the precautionary principle as recognized in international law and conduct vigorous and independent life cycle analyses before declaring any technology ‘green.’” Darier denounced the lack of public participation in debates over biotech and questioned our ability to ensure independent scientific expertise to properly check industry’s claims. “This will require a full strategic assessment of each technology as it is being developed. If not, we shall be left to clean up the mess decades from now, just as we are doing with toxic chemicals and pesticides today.”

The three speakers are available for media interviews.

Eric Darier, Greenpeace Quebec
+1 514 605-6497

Jim Thomas, ETC Group
+1 613 261-8580

Rachel Smolker, Biofuelwatch
+1 802 735-7794

Reflecting on “Hope in Common”, by David Graeber

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This is a very nice and informative piece of writing. Not in need of an ideology or a reference to the right -ism, the message is ever so stronger. Colonos do, however, have a few reservations, but let’s save them for later and for now just enjoy Graeber’s musings on our current predicaments:

Hope in Common, by David Graeber

We seem to have reached an impasse. Capitalism as we know it appears to be coming apart. But as financial institutions stagger and crumble, there is no obvious alternative. Organized resistance appears scattered and incoherent; the global justice movement a shadow of its former self. There is good reason to believe that, in a generation or so, capitalism will no longer exist: for the simple reason that it’s impossible to maintain an engine of perpetual growth forever on a finite planet. Faced with the prospect, the knee-jerk reaction—even of “progressives”—is, often, fear, to cling to capitalism because they simply can’t imagine an alternative that wouldn’t be even worse.

The first question we should be asking is: How did this happen? Is it normal for human beings to be unable to imagine what a better world would even be like?

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Can ayahuasca heal the crisis of capitalism?

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Ayahuasca is going global“, said a prominent psychedelic researcher recently, and it is also going mainstream as part of journeying across the planet. In the Californian TV series “Weeds” the leading act, Marie-Louise Parker’s character, Nancy Botwin, drinks ayahuasca under rather suspect circumstances with the leader of a drug-, guns- and human- trafficking Mexican mafia, who is also the mayor of Tijuana for added comic value. The ceremony is led by a young shaman who is told by the spirit of the medicinal brew not to give it to Nancy; she is not ready for it, so to speak, but he uses the words “I should not give it to her” and the gangster boss says “that’s alright, I’ll give it to her then”. Not off to a good start, but then again what do those shamans know about what a mobster’s girlfriend needs?

Watch the ayahuasca sequence here:

There are various issues at play here. Firstly, the most obvious one of the slightly forced drinking where the strong male insists that the little girl drinks despite warnings by the learned practitioner. That, however, is not so bad, – perhaps he knew better..

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