Capital, land, expropriation

Marx relates the expropriation of the agricultural population from land to the beginning of the capitalist process. In this process free farmers were removed from their areas, where they helped each other and cultivated their own food, to become proletariat having to sell their workforce to the landlord. Marx noted that this process was note dissociated from a mindset that envisioned capital accumulation through the impoverishment of the proletariat. According to him, “What the capitalist system demanded was … a degraded and almost servile condition of the mass of the people, the transformation of them into mercenaries, and of their means of labour into capital” (Marx, 1887, p. 512). Ergo, the Glorious Revolution (1688) was, in fact, a large-scale misappropriation (truly an act of a theft) of the land by the recent landlord/capitalist envisioning only the surplus-value.

Their main argument was that fragmentation, freedom, and collectivism was detaining “progress” and growth of the nation. The bourgeois capitalists envisioned an operation that promotes “free trade in land, to extending the domain of modern agriculture on the large farm-system, and to increase their supply of the free agricultural proletarians ready to hand” (Marx, 1887, p. 512). Marx also noted that “all this happened without the slightest observation of legal etiquette” (p. 512). It was an act of violence against the law practice by individuals that want profit from not only the communal land but also over the recently formed “idle” landless workers. They acted against the law until the process becomes naturalized as a common practice, which in turn could be transformed into a set of laws. That is, ultimately, the law became an instrument of the theft.

Once understood as shared spaces for production of common good, landlords granted themselves the Commons as a private property which they have inherent from the feudal lords. But how this could happen? There was a state and a legislation in place should that prevent such atrocity. Neither through a democratic or republican process nor wars or God’s will. Marx noted that only a coup d’etat could do this transformation. Ergo, the expropriation was an illegal act.

The same logic continues to be true in the 21st century. Naomi Klein, in her book “The Shock Doctrine” (2007), shows that similar instruments were, and still are, used by neoliberalism to expropriate the poor, and even the State, understood as the collective of commonalities, from their properties. The right of property, be a land, an object, a process, or immaterial objects (concepts, stories) is, therefore, first and foremost a way to increase the monopoly and promote capital surplus. The consequences of this act and an imperative ingredient for its success is to difficult access to the property and the means of production in order to create a contingent of cheap labour that will work to generate a surplus to the landlord — inequality is imperative. As cited by Marx (1887), Dr. price summary the situation:

this land gets into the hands of a few great farmers, the consequence must be that the little farmers” (earlier designated by him “a multitude of little proprietors and tenants, who maintain themselves and families by the produce of the ground they occupy by sheep kept on a common, by poultry, hogs, &c., and who therefore have little occasion to purchase any of the means of subsistence”) “will be converted into a body of men who earn their subsistence by working for others, and who will be under a necessity of going to market for all they want…. There will, perhaps, be more labour, because there will be more compulsion to it…. Towns and manufactures will increase, because more will be driven to them in quest of places and employment. (p. 513-514)

This, for Marx (1887), is the starting point of Capitalism: “The stoical peace of mind with which the political economist regards the most shameless violation of the ‘sacred rights of property’ and the grossest acts of violence to persons” (p. 514).


Marx, K. (1887). “Expropriation of the Agricultural Population From the Land” in Capital A critique of political economy. (F. Engels, Ed., S. Moore & E. Aveling, Trans.) (Vol. 1). Moscow, USSR: Progress Publishers.