The Dispossessed

Karl Marx's Debates on Wood Theft and the Right of the Poor

2021
Author:

Daniel Bensaïd
Translated by Robert Nichols

The Dispossessed

Excavating Marx’s early writings to rethink the rights of the poor and the idea of the commons in an era of unprecedented privatization


Daniel Bensaïd examines Marx’s early writings to establish a new framework for addressing the rights of the poor, the idea of the commons, and private property as a social institution. In addition to Bensaïd’s prescient work of political philosophy, The Dispossessed includes new translations of Marx’s original “theft of wood” articles and an introduction by Robert Nichols lucidly contextualizing the essays.

The politics of dispossession are everywhere. Troubling developments in intellectual property, genomics, and biotechnology are undermining established concepts of property, while land appropriation and ecological crises reconfigure basic institutions of ownership. In The Dispossessed, Daniel Bensaïd examines Karl Marx’s early writings to establish a new framework for addressing the rights of the poor, the idea of the commons, and private property as a social institution.

In his series of articles from 1842–43 about Rhineland parliamentary debates over the privatization of public lands and criminalization of poverty under the rubric of the “theft of wood,” Marx identified broader anxieties about customary law, property rights, and capitalist efforts to privatize the commons. Bensaïd studies these writings to interrogate how dispossession continues to function today as a key modality of power. Brilliantly tacking between past and present, The Dispossessed discloses continuity and rupture in our relationships to property and, through that, to one another.

In addition to Bensaïd’s prescient work of political philosophy, The Dispossessed includes new translations of Marx’s original “theft of wood” articles and an introductory essay by Robert Nichols that lucidly contextualizes the essays.

The Dispossessed

Daniel Bensaïd (1946–2010) was a philosopher who taught at the University of Paris VIII. He wrote books on Marxism, Walter Benjamin, the May ’ 68 uprisings, and Joan of Arc.



Robert Nichols is associate professor of political theory at the University of Minnesota, former research fellow at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and author of Theft Is Property! Dispossession and Critical Theory.
The Dispossessed

Contents


Crisis and Kleptocracy: Bensaïd for Our Times


Robert Nichols


Notes on Translation


The Dispossessed: Karl Marx, the Wood Thieves, and the Right of the Poor


I. The Law on the Theft of Wood and the Rights of the Poor


“Rural Pauperism” and “Forest Malfeasance”—Hybrid and Uncertain Property—Market versus Popular Economy


II. A Social War of Properties


The Right of Necessity versus the Right of Property—“Property Is Theft!”—Possession and Property—Theft or Exploitation


III. The Customary Rights of the Poor to the Communal Goods of Humanity


The Privatization of Knowledge—The Privatization of Life—The Common Good and the Freely Given—Inappropriable Goods—Individual and Private Property—The Age of Access?—Enforcing Rights (against Existence)—Who Will Win?


Proceedings of the Sixth Rhine Province Assembly, Third Article: Debates on the Law Concerning the Theft of Wood


Karl Marx


Selected Works by Daniel Bensaïd


Notes


Index