Contrived Connections of Capital

Steven L. Foster | Social Economics | Analysis | April 24th, 2018

Unpastoral Limps

I made a couple of connections while taking an early morning bike ride along tree-lined, deeply rutted and pot-marked, dirt access lanes leading me through expanses of flooded checkered rice fields, sprouting green and dotted with white heron. One connection was a barbed-wire fence newly stung and anchored by poured concrete posts rising higher than the older bamboo barriers tied to trees along the pathway designating ownership over parcels of land.

The other was an old man in a not-too-distant wooded area emerging from his tiny platformed shack constructed from corrugated sheet metal, rough-hewn wood planks, and bamboo. Remnants of a wood fire in an arched ground level mud oven smoldered. Chickens were scampering about with dogs barking-once I became sighted, and a couple of penned-up pigs grunting near a small vegetable garden. The abode was likely his year-round home, and not a makeshift shelter built in shaded areas for temporary field laborers escaping the tropical sun.

Clad in grimy clothing, he listed to his left, severely limping (I too have limps), and slowly trudging toward a beat-up grimy motorcycle with side-car. He nodded towards me in acknowledgement while calming his dogs as he hoisted a bundle of wood kindling taken from the side-car. The old man's likely working as a tenant farmer hired by the land owner who constructed the new barbed wire fencing. Less than 14 percent of the farmers in the largely agrarian country where I reside own the land they work, even though less than three decades ago 44 percent were small land-owning farmers.

Triggered by the fence and seeing the farmer-representing to me an arduous life of poverty and toil for someone so old, I briefly thought: All three of us are commodities.

A contrived connection? Yes. But, not by me. We were intentionally made commodities and had little choice in the matter. After all, who wants to be merely a commodity unless you're branded as a wealthy superstar, luring others "to be like Mike," Madonna, or Rihanna? Especially, since I believe far more intrinsic connections exist between the three of us-whether we know it or not.

In what follows, I'll briefly explore the broad historical processes in how the land, the old man, and I received our assigned roles in the socially constructed capitalist global market. Retired (also with little choice in the matter) after nearly five decades of working, I've had time reflecting on my life in a society designed to turn as much as it can into commodities where my value resided largely in making someone else profits.

Let me first clarify what is meant by commodity and the processes of commodification.

Marx's analysis of a commodity basically stresses a thing's exchange value, quite different than the use an item possesses. For instance: A new case-hardened steel axe may have higher value to the tenant farmer when gathering fire wood than his old axe. That steel axe doesn't have much use value for someone living in a Chicago high-rise building. However, a hardware store owner in selling it (she lives in a high-rise) changes the nature of value the axe possesses. It becomes valuable for the profit it makes by buying the axe at a low price, then selling it at a high price beyond initial costs of purchase and overhead. The axe is now a commodity to the store owner.

Selling everything it can as commodities is essential to capitalism. That's how profits are made. The higher the degree of profit, the more valued a commodity becomes, often outstripping its worth as a useable item.

Take as an example a sturdy handbag and an elegant Gucci satchel. Both perform similar tasks by carrying things and may even require similar material. But, the Gucci sells at a significantly higher price, very likely making much more profit, and therefore, retaining higher commodity value when sold. Not surprisingly, you don't want to harm a costly satchel by carrying potentially leaky groceries in it. Just as you'd not want to take a grocery carrying handbag-maybe stained from previously seeping fresh fruit that got squashed, to a stylishly sophisticated restaurant. You pull out the Gucci for such an occasion and not carry much in it so there'd be no conspicuous bulges breaking its lines complimenting the sleekness of your evening wear.

Economic historian Karl Polanyi noted from his study of capitalist history (modern western history): the commodification of land, labor, and money was necessary for capitalism to work as a social system (see The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time, Beacon Press edition, 2001). Without a capitalist market built around these three forms of commodities, we have something other than capitalism. He also suggested that commodifying these things stretches the seams of our social makeup where vital connections to our environments and the people in them breaks down.

We'll look at a broad history of how land and then labor changed into commodities that fueled my initial lament connecting me, the fenced land, and the (other) old man.

(I'm connecting large historical dots with thick lines in keeping with the essay's scope.)

Something Called Nature: Dominated and Sold

Modern humans have hypothetically labelled things in the world not made by us as part of nature. A tree is natural. The wood from it making a press board book shelf isn't. It's made by a human culture. The cultural worlds of people somehow became separated from a "natural" world comprised of nonhuman things: wild forests and jungles, oceans and reefs, and all the animals and strange stuff in them we study and use for our purposes. We moderns think of ourselves as minds living in bodies that we steer and engineer like a space craft from another world fashioned from material that's alien to the aliens.

Thinking and living like that's true provides us an illusion of our transcendence from a non-living world of atoms and what they combine to make, just waiting for us to give them meaning. People with minds give minds to mindless matter found in nature. Nice of us.

It's an unfounded modern concept. Our current sciences are showing the separation between nature and culture is patently artificial, a mere abstraction created by people in the past considering themselves scientific; yet, unaware of their specifically historical conditioning and the perspectival limits of knowledge saddling our finitude as humans. Examples of current scientific inquiry blurring distinctions are: quantum physics-with theories of massless (or nearly so) "fields" forming the primary essence of an organically connected universe (very likely one of many universes); molecular biology informed by this (meta)physics suggesting particles can be in two places at once that's important for respiration and nutrient absorption; sciences pursuing theories around consciousness finding it in more than just smart animals-like the self-awareness of tree communities; neurosciences questioning the existence of a unique self that's separated from "outside" experiences forming an individual; anthropology studying human cultures and still asking: what are humans and their societies-really?, etc.

But, this "Great Divide" between nature and culture persists. That's because the "Divide" has been, and continues to be, useful. (For analysis of the Divide see Bruno Latour: We've Never Been Modern, Harvard University Press, 1993, and, Beyond Nature and Culture, by Philippe Descola, University of Chicago Press, 2013. I've taken current science references from a plethora of sources).

The nature part of the Divide is seen by modernity as a thing to be subdued. The Christians of the 16th century and 17th centuries took the biblical mandate from Genesis-subduing God's creation of a natural order, in a way very different than a Hebraic understanding of the passage. The myth of humans subduing and having dominion over nature was likely viewed by the authors of Genesis as caring for and nurturing a creation as one of its creatures placed on earth as a divine vassal, totems of God's cherishing presence (humanity in the image of God). The European religious understanding shifted the meaning to what the father of the scientific method- Francis Bacon (1561-1626), proposed. Nobly concerned as he was with the plight of humans struggling against uncertainties in a natural world, his search for scientific knowledge was for bringing nature under utter control of people. Now, subduing the earth means exercising dominating power over it in a constantly raging battle to conquer it as something other than us.

It's important to recognize this understanding between us and nature when considering how land became a commodity in the capitalist world. Using land productively for profit as an individual owner sees fit, with the land passed along to other individuals through sale or inheritance as a commodity, became like a religion in the west vehemently protected by law.

To be civilized, however rich and ancient your historical traditions, you must adopt the modern capitalist understanding regarding land. The primary meaning of "the rule of law and order" is the protection of private property and the absolute rights of an individual owner over that property, especially land. This is a very modern understanding, legally codified as recently as the later part of the 19th century, though theoretically formulated by John Locke two centuries before then. If you're one of those societies resisting 'the rule of law," you're automatically thrust into being from the natural world and not of culture, or at minimum, in a nebulous area in between the two (Latour); and therefore, less human and in need of civilizing.

Land use for myriads of cultures throughout human history was not for individual exploitation, but, for communities to take what was necessary for their cultural existence, replenishing the resources when able, or moving on when unable-allowing the land to recover and revitalize itself over time. The heads of communities-both women and men, provided land allotments based on specific family needs. Larger families got more land for their sustenance. Most often, there was redistribution of pooled resources ensuring needs be met for those unable, or under-able, to care for themselves. Reciprocity was the basis of economic practices and not individual gain central to commodity exchange-now nearly a universal feature in our global capitalist cultures. In some societies, leadership was chosen based on their capacities to give away the material excesses they accumulated through war or other means and ways.

Yes, there were resource wars over land and its contents. Tribal boundaries existed designating areas used by specific communities and infringement on these territories could amount to conflict, especially in times of scarcity. However, treaties were made allowing other groups certain access rights as needed, and inter-tribal marriages brought communities together effecting allocations of combined resources.

In sum, the singularly individual ownership of land for most our globe's cultures was a totally outlandish concept.

Of course, land was controlled. Under empires, it many have fallen under the jurisdiction of individual rulers and the religions supporting them. Though, what control primarily meant was exacting tribute over populations on the dominated land, payments often in the form of produce from it. There wasn't ownership of a thing called "private property." The subsistence needs of the populous garnered from land were granted by those in authority; that's if a dominating leader wanted to remain in power. When populations were denied land access, they violently rebelled jeopardizing a ruler's position.

In ancient Greece, private ownership for the sake of individual commercial exploitation occurred as prominent men transacted with other city-states and cultures through trade networks. But, land was still provided to non-slaves by law. Of course, tribute/taxation and other services were required for a ruler's protection.

Absolute ownership by an individual becomes legally granted under Roman law, statutes passed in the Republic by the elite landed classes. It was a break with tradition. Again, land was provided as a cultural practice to plebeians-classes of commoners. Access to land was vital to Roman self-understanding since citizen farmers served in the army when called upon with payment for military service often coming through land grants. House-holding networks were central to the Roman economy with redistribution of booty from the conquered supplementing the basic house-hold units.

After the break-up of the Roman empire, access to land for all classes of people during the middle ages followed centuries of socially engrained custom. This was the right of the commons (common land use).

The lowest of peasant groupings in the constructed social hierarchy-villeins, were able to maintain subsistence from the land: growing food, using materials for housing, raising livestock, and making things needed for essential living which was also traded for other needed items based on local markets controlled by social custom. The villeins maintained about 13 acres in their modest farms, holding between 40-50 percent of all the arable land according to geographer Gary Fields ( Enclosure: Palestinian Landscapes in a Historical Mirror, University of California Press, 2017, kindle location 821). In 1300 CE, nearly 50 percent of farming in England was on the commons (Fields). Landed nobility exacted tribute consuming most surpluses and would also demand services from villeins that could change like the weather.

Life was not easy. However, the deeply felt pride of self-sufficiency was part of the social fabric. Fields reveals that villeins, even though legally land insecure, still had recourse through manor courts protecting rights to the land based on custom. They were able to procure more holdings of land left fallow after the Black Plague depleted the population. Copyhold practices became a legal process in the 15th century where land occupied by villeins could be passed on to family if fines were paid to nobility.

They, like freeholding farmers, were vested in the land they worked, upgrading and maintaining both their individual lots and common fields worked by the community. It was a unique balance between individual farms and collective agrarian practices on the commons (Fields). Peasant farmers along with the manor courts ensured individuals would not dominate the commons and regulated grazing, crop rotation, and land regeneration ensuring individual farmers would preserve their lots for the benefit of the community and its future. Agricultural innovations boosting productivity were implemented well before the modern technological revolutions occurred.

All was to change by the dawning of the 16th century as England nobility, driven by a number of factors, most notably-commercial greed as mercantile capitalism was on the rise, began a long march of physically enclosing the land under their control. It was, as Fields states, "a long-term project of improving land by 'making private property' on the English landscape. This transformation represents a decisive moment in the long-standing lineage of reallocations in property rights, in which groups with territorial ambitions gained control of land owned or used by others." The result was "…eradicating common field farming and remaking a landscape that once boasted a large inventory of land used as a collective resource (loc 759)."

Very importantly, Fields points out that enclosing the land-using fences, barriers, and roads to designate individualized private property, not only meant inclusive control over it and all that it contains; but, exclusion of others. Even access passages leading to other areas of land that still held common use were denied. Boggs and forested areas were closed off from common use making hunting, food foraging, even fire wood-gathering, illegal to all except the owner. A whole way of life existing for centuries was slowly, yet systematically, dismantled as agrarian societies throughout England, Europe, and then the world lost vital access to land.

The rationale was improvement of land for commercial ends that would bolster integration of a national economy trading increasingly on a global scale. Whether turning grain producing fields into pasture or using it for monocrop growth in order to maximize exports outside of region or country, the goals were profits for elite landholders. Larger estates dominated the English landscape. The villeins, the most precarious members of society, were the first to be affected as peasant residents were expelled. Smaller holdings (yeoman farmers and copyhold villeins) were bought out or outright ousted with the rationale being "efficiency" (read-maximizing profits) in using land. What happened was an all-out assault on common field agriculture. And after the enclosing processes, whether noticeable efficiency in greater productive capacity over the long haul was really achieved or not-other than increased profits, is still a matter of debate among agricultural historians. Over grazing and soil exhaustion through large scale monocrop production had detrimental effects decades after initial increases in produce occurred over the short term because of so called improvements.

Land is now fully a commodity; a thing to be personally possessed and valued for its profitability as an investment. All others are excluded from using this commodity.

Importantly, land enclosures caused unrelenting social upheaval. It was the primary impetus for the institution of wage labor on a mass scale.

Behold! A Labor Market Is Birthed

It's always remarkable just how actions become supported by theoretical 'reason' after events have already occurred. John Locke, a founding thinker regarding land use and any "natural law" surrounding it, systematized what constituted proper land management while the English were slaughtering Indigenous peoples and taking their lands for decades prior to his ruminations. He served as a colonial bureaucrat overseeing the process in the Americas. Adam Smith, father of the "science" of modern economics, theorizer of free markets and worshipped by adorning capitalists in following generations, saw all people in history acting like his local butcher; that is, humans as essentially bartering, trucking, and trading beings driven by individual self-interest looking for personal gain. However, as Polanyi suggests, "…the alleged propensity of man to barter, truck, and exchange is almost entirely apocryphal (pg. 46)." Like the dichotomy between nature and culture, Smith's reductive speculations concerning human motivation is more useful than fundamentally truthful.

This was a necessary understanding of what constitutes the human for transforming society into capitalist culture. Polanyi notes, "The transformation implies a change in the motive of action on the part of the members of society; for the motive of subsistence that of gain must be substituted. All transactions are turned into money transactions (pg. 43)." Subsistence labor on the land must be displaced in capitalist society, workers now becoming wage earners.

The cultural change of the 19th century where, according to Polanyi, full-fledged capitalist culture occurred, was set-up in the 16 th and 17th centuries. As stated above, enclosures increasingly eliminated peasant copyholds, making remaining villeins at-will tenants, meaning they could be removed from the land at the whim of the owners without legal recourse and protections. Rents levied on leases of land and housing increased significantly over this period of time.

It wasn't that peasants didn't rebel against nobility's reneging on responsibilities as reactions were found in the high medieval period and continuing. Enclosing barriers were destroyed. Major rebellions, in Norfolk with Kett's Rebellion (1549), to the revolt at Midlands (1607) "would mark numerous protests against specific enclosures well into the eighteenth century (Fields, loc 770)." Violent crackdowns by local magistrates and state authorities met the insurgences. It was also a time of heightened religious persecutions in support of elites, including the church "inquisitions" of heretics and other evil-doers from among the lower-class rabble who were upsetting burgeoning commercial successes and calling into question questionable practices.

Incidents of poaching were on the rise throughout the long period. Capital punishments also increased, especially following armed poaching by masked raiders in the 18th century, not infrequently sending an offending party to the gallows for stealing a goose. Law enforcement groups were organized by gentry and the idyllic rural countryside was laced with precarity and the thievery and violence that accompanies it. Poaching only increased during the 19th century in spite of harsh laws inflicting weighty penalties.

After the Glorious Revolution in 1688, the merchant classes and large land owners winning the day in controlling English monarchal power, the enclosure processes began to hit full stride, not stopping until the beginning of the 20th century. With the triumph of the capitalist classes came an onslaught of parliamentary actions that assaulted the traditions of law protecting rights of common land use, passage and access rights, collective farming, and tenant occupancy rights.

How did the once landed peasantry survive other than by illegal means?

The newly un-landed hired themselves out to large land owners for wages. Wage labor became a necessity if peasantry was to survive.

A degree of wage labor did exist prior to the enclosures. Landless folks unable to fully support themselves from farming would hire out to a manor lord, as well as to yeomen farmers who held larger plots, and even to a cohort of villeins who gained more copyhold land access. There were also local and increasingly regional cottage industries making needed items for use by local communities. However, wage labor was not a typical form of sustaining life. Society largely frowned it. Even if self-sufficient peasants were themselves poor, they were independently self-supporting. The social mores around idleness were severe to say the least. A chronically offending vagabond (unemployed, unauthorized traveler between parishes), or an able-bodied beggar, could be put to death.

Unemployment, or underemployment-pauperism, as never before seen was now a regular feature of the countryside. Enclosures were a key feature propelling this, although it must be granted that other processes were also at work. There were instabilities in commodity prices making for fluctuations in available work, especially after an increasingly nationalized and globalized mercantile capitalist markets spread.

During this time of upheaval, merchant groups were procuring charters for expanding once local cottage industries into manufacturing settlements, towns making commodities for sale to a larger region and on the growing international markets that would include supplying finished goods to colonial populations abroad. Un-landed peasants supplied them with workers. The towns grew into manufacturing cities with a workforce no longer restricted to manors and feudal life under a lord as of 1795. With the Industrial Revolution in full swing, the industrial cities were fostering the inhumane conditions that Charles Dickens spoke about in the early 19 th century and Upton Sinclair in the early 20th century. Historical social research has confirmed their insights into urban squalor as the countryside was emptied of its hungry inhabitants needing wage labor for survival and travelling wherever work could be found.

And very usefully, the power of the parish craft guilds was broken. Previous to the privatizing of land as a commodity, guilds through the manor courts had authority controlling production: how many producers of given items in a geographic location averting undue competition, prices of goods and services with minimal standards of living specific to professions, as well as product quality-including worker training in all aspects of production, social support for the infirmed, etc. When agrarian society was dismantled, so was the cultural power of the guilds helping control individualistic merchant greed and manorial excesses. Meager wages now bought necessities with money and no longer through locally defined economics based on reciprocity and social convention. Now, "…all incomes must derive from the sale of something or other, and whatever the actual source of a person's income, it must be regarded as resulting from sale. No less is implied in the simple term 'market system' (Polanyi, pg. 43)." A national labor market being birthed in England was coming to full force.

Under the growing labor market income systematically fell short in meeting basic sustenance. Pauperism was becoming rampant. Previously, wages under the guilds were designed to be adequate for a worker to sustain his family appropriate to life's social stations (not everyone was to have the same standard of living). Not now. The roles of women changed along with the men, as their labor responsibilities in the mass-producing industries of factory towns were formed replacing those of the cottage. Hiring out as domestic servants took women away from the fields. Men, women and children, in making ends meet, were forced to work long, arduously monotonous hours of hard and dangerous factory labor. They were re-socialized into labor's divisions imposed from the outside-theorized in Smith's production of pins for maximizing profits, and not as workers who once made end products through all stages of manufacture.

The new labor force was disciplined and punished (M. Foucault) into new cultural configurations radically different than the centuries long traditions that formed them, traditions that were based on the cycles of nature and the harvest. Now lives were reflected in the factory and the inhuman drudgery it imposed. It was socially fracturing contributing to alcoholism, domestic abuse, petty thievery, and the ills and disease that infested their new environs.

Was there social relief for an enlarged population in distress? There was.

Beginning in 1494 and continuing through 1547 and beyond, laws were formed distinguishing between the deserving and undeserving poor. Those deemed deserving had recourse to support in special living arrangements-poor houses, with orphans and children of single mothers living with the elderly and those unable work-the infirmed. Those undeserving served under harsh workhouses that only grew harsher as time went on. But, as the feudal social system continued breaking down, more vagabondage, begging, and unemployment occurred growing the populations of the work-houses and debtors prisons.

The later part of Queen Elizabeth I's reign witnessed Poor Laws enacted, the 1601 laws codifying the previously established legislations and harsh penalties surrounding begging and undocumented travel between locales, and more systematically defined what was meant by being poor. It also provided relief for the pauperism plaguing the crown's subjects. These laws were administered at the local parish levels with lots of disparity between the parishes- who gets and how much assistance was given. The funding was also local through compulsory taxation rates on land, pressuring mostly smaller landholders and business people, not the elite whose personal wealth was exempted from the tax. Keeping costs down was a big motivation. Population movement to parishes better off and with better benefits was restricted with stark limits placed on travelling without appropriate permits in the mid-17th century.

The Speenhamland System, enacted around the same time of nationally "freeing" peasants for travel between parishes (1795) so they could find work, suggested an allowance system based on the price of bread and family size since grain prices were increasing primarily due to England's part in fighting the French revolutionaries, then the Napoleonic Wars, and subpar harvests. It was intended to supplement the cries of low wage earners for a "right to live," something wage rates did not afford. The system was a failure on many accounts.

Speenhamland, though national, was administered unevenly on the local level, and mostly in rural areas where peasant unrest was an ever-present reality. Little assistance went to the newly urbanized populations who also needed it. It became too easy for a worker not to work, or to not produce on a level of one's reasonable capacity, since there was a guaranteed income, even though survival on it was dismal. This was demoralizing and degenerating to long social traditions of self-sufficiency and the benefits work provided for families and their cohesion. Being "on the dole" was too similar to the social stigma attached to the work and poorhouses even though the system paid benefits 'outdoor' with recipients not having to live in one of the houses of disrepute if receiving assistance. The local taxation pressure placed on the smaller landholding and manufacturing employers made for deep animosity between those receiving benefits and those supporting the system.

The taxation levels only grew because of an important central flaw to a well-meaning system. There was never any pressure for raising wage rates. Quite the contrary. Employers lowered the wage rates as much as they could, knowing the system would make up the difference. Further, commodity prices remained high since public money was provided based on the price of buying bread. It also made what jobs were available more unstable when profits levels fluctuated and an employer could ready eliminate positions knowing workers would retain a basic income regardless. When it became clearer that the program hurt capitalist production in the long run, important public opinion decried the Speenhamland system, again-a program well intentioned, but, poorly conceived. Though costly to those paying the funding rates, it mostly hurt and dispirited the intended recipients-the working poor.

Prominent public policy figures and theorizers, such as Edmund Burke, Jeremy Bentham, David Ricardo, and Thomas Malthus railed against the relief. Foremost, the lack of a "free" self-regulating market for labor was being jettisoned by Speenhamland. Ricardo suggested that wages would "naturally" stabilize at a basic survival level. Malthus felt 'right to live' wages would only encourage the poor to reproduce beyond the capacity of the land to sustain human life and starvation was a natural phenomenon for necessary population control. For him, the poor only waste any wage surplus in the ale house. (The Reverend Malthus appears an avatar for some of our current forms of (un)Christianity.) In the end, the old Poor Laws under Speenhamland were repealed and new Poor Laws enacted in 1834, cruelly sharpening the conditions of relief and removing outdoor assistance, making all who received support live in the workhouse, separating family members and deleting any dignity to life in a place worse than the poorest of working people's conditions.

At bottom, under the new Poor Laws, being poor was declared a moral character deficiency.

Polanyi indicates when the new Poor Laws of 1834 were implemented, a completely commodified labor market was born, the last of his three processes of commodification necessary for shaping capitalist society. Removed from subsistence sources and the land supporting agrarian communities, people were now left for a labor market to decide wage payments, hunger motivating a workforce to take whatever wages were offered them.

Yet, ironically, capitalism created its own critics and chief nemeses in a phenomenon labelled the proletariat.

Retorts and Exports

Though we've engaged an English commodification history, the process didn't stop within those borders. Other like-minded countries of Europe quickly followed the economic path the English elite trod, they too transforming their agrarian societies, such as: the 16th century independent Netherlands, France, Germany, late-comer Russia, along with a number of others joining the capitalist profits parade. However, it wasn't as if it was smooth sailing in socially transforming cultures into capitalist societies.

Retorts of seething revolutionary rumblings burst into action in the revolts of 1830, widespread throughout Europe, where demands were made for greater public participation through parliaments forming their country's direction and placing limits on monarchies. Even more unsettling to the system run by ruling elites were the revolts of 1848 (the People's Spring) involving a large part of western Europe that demanded greater democratic voice in national affairs. It didn't stop there as the Paris Commune shook all of Europe's profit-oriented leaders when coalitions of workers, craftsmen and artisans declared Paris independent from the French monarchy and showed the world that the rabble was very capable of self-governance outside the existing capitalist culture foisted upon them. They had to be utterly crushed to prevent others from undergoing the same machinations. And, brutally, in 1871 the French army-with the aid of the Prussians who had just signed a peace treaty with a defeated France, along with the political support of the rest of capitalist Europe, did just that. An alternative to capitalism was decapitated.

It's important to recognize that capitalism demands removing any ability for people sustaining themselves through other alternatives. This is an obvious lesson modern English history taught us when the population was removed from self-sustenance via land privatization while having a wage system thrust upon them. Capitalists also implemented minimal programs when necessary to thwart revolt against the system. The remedies of the Poor Laws were most active in areas bordering on revolution.

Capitalist leadership learned that making the labor market more humane through safer workplaces and providing some benefits to workers-like Bismarck's reforms in the later part of the 19th century, would ensure the system could continue operating. However, any reforms were still in the context of a system that had already commodified land and working people destroying any existing forms of collective self-sufficiency. When reforms impede the profit-making roles commodified land and labor possess, the impediments are removed, just like the Poor Laws were banished and harsher rules implemented.

This historical fact is very apparent today. The systemic pressures to remove the welfare side of state responsibilities to its citizens-obligations demanded and won through generations of workers fighting (and dying) for greater security, respect, and dignity, demanding the "right to live," have never been greater. Witness roll-backs of wage gains throughout the world, cut-backs of public safety nets under austerity as capitalists assume less responsibilities funding public programs, privatizations of public services through selloffs and private/public "partnerships," including national parks to roadways, from bridges to postal services (postal-England); even retirement programs (Chile), and fully public funded health-care services are being transformed into profit making endeavors.

I emphasize, it's not about neoliberal capitalist ideology versus a good capitalism where a paternal state will protect its people from the system's excesses. The socially destructive aspects of commodifying life have been apparent from capitalism's mercantile origins regardless of the liberal-electoral forms undertaken in the 19th and 20 th centuries that attempted to mitigate capital.

Stronger state interventions attempting to train an untrainable and individually greedy capitalism may have helped over the very recent historically anomaly-capital's golden age after the Second World War, but, not over modern history's long duration. Just as remedies were applied to social ills created by the enclosures and labor market, the modern state-intrinsically wed to capitalism, will suspend its paternalistic role whenever so demanded by capital. And under severe systemic threats, capital and its nation/state merge into a totalitarian state-run economy and society, taking fascist forms as seen following the World War I, and during the Great Depression after the 1929 market crash, and is now seen again, if under 21st century circumstances.

The same commodification processes of land and labor, and everything else it can, continue in various stages throughout the globalized world. It's the metastatic legacy of imperialism. This is where my fenced land and limping old man come in.

Consolidation of land into the hands of a few - now fueled by major corporations and investment firms (witness the voracious corporate land grabs in the food insecure areas of Africa and other parts of the world) dominate the remaining vestiges of a natural world ripe in generating profits while feeding populations of consumers. The mass migrations over the last few decades have forcibly expelled innumerable populations in a developing world from their ancient sustaining lands into cities where wage labor now provides their sustenance. Giant agribusinesses force feed existing agrarian societies with land exhausting technologies when they've been very capable of feeding themselves apart from global commodity markets while sustaining their land (unless disasters caused by global warming or profit-driven wars befall them.) Just like the brief history outlined in this essay, the globe is undergoing the necessary processes of social transformation needed to make capitalism supreme, regardless of any preexisting cultural structures.

Cultures founded on capitalism are irreformable. Mitigating reforms attempting to save societies, that's taken many generations to achieve, are being dismantled within far less time than a single generation. And answers don't mean trying to reassemble pre-capitalist pasts. These are long gone with social aspects that should be gone. Potential futures are bleak should capital remain dominant.

It will take visions of a flourishing future without capitalism from a new generation of the systemically dispossessed and disgruntled, dreams looking past the present, while recognizing how this moment came to pass by critically engaging history, and then saying no longer. Local ways will be found for working around the current system, and then networking of local successes into regional and more global alliances building new futures (local change cannot stand alone). Whatever alternatives will take place, they must not include making all things into commodities if life on the planet, as we know it, prevails.

The old man likely limps from his hard labors. A limp of mine from my past labors is now exposed.