Sunday, May 31, 2015

The one about the primitive accumulation of capital and the Irishman out for a walk.

Sean O'Torain.

I was born on a small farm in Ireland. I was taught that our few fields had always been our few fields. But then I grew up. And when I did I put away"childish things." One of these was believing everything I was told. A friend of mine went on the Internet and found that my family had only been on these few fields since the early 1800's. Then I got my DNA tested and found I was 29% Scandinavian. (The river by our fields was tidal so probably the Vikings had made a few trips.)

Then with the help of the uprising of the working class in the Bogside in Derry in 1968, and the Black revolt in the US in the 1960's, and the general strike and occupations in France in 1968, I became a revolutionary socialist. With this began my conscious search for an understanding of history. Not only or even mainly my own history, I was not much interested in this, but into the history of the human species. But the best way to get there I found was to merge my family's history with the history of the people of the world.

As I did a bit of reading I came across the term "primitive accumulation of capital." With it the name of Karl Marx. Up to that I thought capital was money. In my innocence if I even thought of the word capital I thought I had a some when I cycled into the village on a Saturday night with a few schillings on my pocket to spend on fish and chips and play the juke box and trying to talk up the young women. But wee Marx straightened me out.

The few schillings in my pocket was not capital. It was just spending money. I did not have any capital. My family had a wee bit of capital in the shape of their few fields. If I toed the political and religious line I might, as the only son get it, but at the moment what I had in my pocket was a few schillings earned from working for local farmers and relatives, it was spending money, not capital.

Slowly a glimmering of a nuance of a half understanding began to take shape. Those few fields must have come from somewhere. My family could not have lived on them since the Neanderthals dominated Europe. So what had happened? Somebody must have enclosed those few fields and told my family they were theirs. Or my family must have taken the few fields and told whoever was on them before to clear off that they were theirs now.

Then I found out about the clans. Old formations of people in Ireland where the people in these formations lived to some extent collectively and shared the land and resources. But then an outside force arrived. It was militarily more powerful, numerically greater. It came to steal and to plunder the timber, the food, the products of the country's soils. It carted these off in its boats or enclosed the land and carted off what was grown on these lands. It also seized the population and made them work for just about nothing in Ireland or in its stolen lands across the sea. The wealth of the country was seized, the products of the peoples which they were not allowed to consume were seized, in this way, this outside force accumulated its capital. This outside force, the British ruling class, slaughtered and massacred their way through Ireland and accumulated its capital. It added this to the wealth it had plundered from the peasantry and landlord class in its own country and with this accumulated a massive capital.

This was not spending money like I had in my pocket cycling to the village on Saturday night. They had their spending money alright. They spent it on their palaces, servants and high living standards. But their capital was different, it was what they had over and above their spending money. This they used to finance expeditions to plunder and slaughter their way around the world and steal everything that was not nailed down. This they used to employ or enslave the working people whom they had thrown off their land and they forced these to produce more wealth for them, more capital for them. I was learning this was how the system worked.

I was to learn a few other things also. This system under which we lived had accumulated its capital by mass slaughter, murder, slavery and torture. It came to power with blood dripping from every tooth and claw to paraphrase Marx. This system had no moral authority. It was a system of extreme cruelty. This is the system under which we live today, capitalism, a system of the most extreme barbarity which is destroying life on earth as we know it. I was learning. And I was against this system.

But there was more to come. What about my family's few fields? How had we got our few fields?
When a minority rules a majority, like the minority capitalist class rules the majority working class, it  has a problem. It is much smaller than the class it rules and exploits. So what does it do. It divides in order to rule. Religion, race, gender, income level, property levels, all are brought into play to divide the majority and keep them fighting amongst themselves. This was where my family's few fields came in. As part of the minority Protestant population of Ireland they were selected to be given a few fields in return for which they would support British rule in Ireland. In return for this British rule would back them against the mainly Catholic majority on whose land they lived. I did not like it. Screw it. I concluded. I was not going along with it. So I became a revolutionary socialist.

But back to the title of this short article"The Irishman out for a walk." Working people are not stupid, they know what is going on much better than is appreciated. this is often expressed in stories, yarns and anecdotes, in these great truths are often revealed. This Irishman was out for a walk one day and he took a short cut across some fields. He was confronted by another man. "These are my fields. What are you doing on my fields?" The walker asked the man: "How did you get these fields?" The man said:"My father gave them to me." The walker asked the man:"Where did the get them?" The man said:"His father gave them to him." (Note there was no women mentioned at all) This conversation went on with the walker asking again and again where did the man get the fields and the man saying his father gave them to him. Eventually the owner of the fields came to the end of his family's history of ownership and said:"Well my great great great great grandfather, he fought for them." The walker responded:"Okay then I will fight you for them." Needless to say the owner did not take up the offer.

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