Thursday, 13 August 2009

Land clearances

Reading a history of collective joy, I realise that my projects meet at root. The forces that drove us away from contact with the land also drove us away from play. All the things I instinctively hunger for are things that were part of normal life before the advent of contemporary capitalism as the dominant social and economic order.

Christianity was the first attack on wild and free community revelleries, singing, dancing, play and games. Capitalism was the second:

The explanation offered by Max Weber in the late nineteenth century and richly expanded on by the historians E.P. Thompson and Christopher Hill in the late twentieth is that the repression of festivities was, in a sense, a by-product of the emergence of capitalism. The middle classes had to learn to calculate, save, and 'defer gratification'; the lower classes had to be transformed into a disciplined, factory-ready, working class – meaning far fewer holidays and the new necessity of showing up for work sober and on time, six days a week. Peasants had worked hard too, of course, but in seasonally determined bursts; the new industrialism required ceaseless labour, all year round.” p100

The same capitalism that drove the laughter from the streets also drove the people from the land.

History tells us that in the process of industrial development, people move from rural areas to cities to find work. It makes it sound like it's voluntary. In my case, it was. I moved from Suffolk to London, via University and a bit of travelling, because work and life here is much more interesting.

But historically, the process was driven by the sword, according to McIntosh. Violence drove crofters from the land. Because, he says, we were too happy to work hard for industrial owners if we all had our own plot.

Some revealing quotes in Soil and Soul, p94:
Quote from 1815, Patrick Sellar, a lawyer:

"Lord and Lady Stafford were pleased humanely, to order a new arrangement of this Country. That the interior should be possessed by Cheviot [sheep] Shepherds and the people brought down to the coast and placed there in lots under the size of three arable acres, sufficient for the maintenance of an industrious family, but pinched enough to cause them turn their attention to the fishing [i.e. waged labour]. I presume to say that the proprietors humanely ordered this arrangement, because it surely was a most benevolent action, to put these barbarous hordes into a position where they could better associate together, apply to industry, educate their children, and advance in civilisation."

1912, Kenya - Lord Delamere:
"If... every native is to be a landholder of a sufficient area on which to establish himself, then the question of obtaining a satisfactory labour supply will never be settled."

1960, J.L. Sadie in the Economic Journal:
"Economic development of an underdeveloped people by themselves is not compatible with the maintenance of thier traditional customs and mores. A break with the latter is prerequsite to economic progress. What is needed is a revolution in the totality of social, cultural and religious institutions and habits, and thus in their psychological attitude, their philosophy and way of life. What is, therefore, required amounts in reality to social disorganisation. 
Unhappiness and discontentment in the sense of wanting more than is obtainable at any moment is to be generated. The suffering and dislocation that may be caused in the process may be objectionable, but it appears to be the price that has to be paid for economic development: the condition of economic progress."

No comments:

Post a Comment