Compulsion and the Creation of a Working Class

The brutal process of separating people from their means of providing for themselves, known as primitive accumulation, caused enormous hard- ships for the common people. This same primitive accumulation pro- vided a basis for capitalist development. Joan Thirsk, one of the most knowledgeable historians of early British agriculture, describes above the nature of some of the harshest social and personal transformations associ- ated with the enclosures.


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Some people denounced this expropriation. Marx echoed their sentiment, charging: ‘‘The expropriation of the direct producers was accomplished by means of the most merciless barbarianism, and under the stimulus of the most infamous, the most sordid, the most petty and the most odious of passions.’’

Formally, this dispossession was perfectly legal. After all, the peasants did not have property rights in the narrow sense. They only had traditional rights. As markets evolved, first land-hungry gentry and later the bourgeoisie used the state to create a legal structure to abrogate these traditional rights.