Yeomanry in the New World

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Sep 10 13:10:29 MDT 2003

The other day Anthony asked me about some references to yeomanry as a 
precapitalist social formation in the USA. While I could have mentioned 
some left-academic sources, probably the best thing would be to cite 
somebody whose text is online and who is also not what I would call an 
academic, despite having a doctorate in Philosophy.


We have seen that the expropriation of the mass of the people from the 
soil forms the basis of the capitalist mode of production. The essence 
of a free colony, on the contrary, consists in this — that the bulk of 
the soil is still public property, and every settler on it therefore can 
turn part of it into his private property and individual means of 
production, without hindering the later settlers in the same 
operation.[10] This is the secret both of the prosperity of the colonies 
and of their inveterate vice — opposition to the establishment of 
capital. "Where land is very cheap and all men are free, where every one 
who so pleases can easily obtain a piece of land for himself, not only 
is labor very dear, as respects the laborer's share of the produce, but 
the difficulty is to obtain combined labor at any price." [11]

As in the colonies the separation of the laborer from the conditions of 
labor and their root, the soil, does not exist, or only sporadically, or 
on too limited a scale, so neither does the separation of agriculture 
from industry exist, not the destruction of the household industry of 
the peasantry. Whence then is to come the internal market for capital? 
"No part of the population of America is exclusively agricultural, 
excepting slaves and their employers who combine capital and labor in 
particular works. Free Americans, who cultivate the soil, follow many 
other occupations. Some portion of the furniture and tools which they 
use is commonly made by themselves. They frequently build their own 
houses, and carry to market, at whatever distance, the produce of their 
own industry. They are spinners and weavers; they make soap and candles, 
as well as, in many cases, shoes and clothes for their own use. In 
America the cultivation of land is often the secondary pursuit of a 
blacksmith, a miller or a shopkeeper." [12] With such queer people as 
these, where is the "field of abstinence" for the capitalists?


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