Most nations in Asia, Latin America, and Africa experienced some form of “land reform” in the 20th century. But what is land reform? In her book, The Long Land War: The Global Struggle for Occupancy Rights, Professor Jo Guldi approaches the problem from the point of view of Britain’s disintegrating empire. She makes the case that land reform movements originated as an argument about reparations for the experience of colonization, and that they were championed by a set of leading administrators within British empire and in UN agencies at the beginning of the postwar period.
Using methods from the history of technology, she sets out to explain how international governments, national governments, market evangelists, and grassroots movements advanced their own solutions for realizing the redistribution of land. Her conclusions lead her to revisit the question of how states were changing in the twentieth century — and to extend our history of property ownership over the longue durée.
Recorded on March 8, 2023, this talk was co-sponsored by Social Science Matrix, the Berkeley Economy and Society Initiative (BESI), and the Network for a New Political Economy (N2PE).
About the Speaker
Jo Guldi, professor of history and practicing data scientist at Southern Methodist University, is author of four books: Roads to Power: Britain Invents the Infrastructure State (Harvard 2012), The History Manifesto (Cambridge 2014), The Long Land War: The Global Struggle for Occupancy Rights (Yale 2022), and The Dangerous Art of Text Mining (Cambridge forthcoming). Her historical work ranges from archival studies in nation-building, state formation, and the use of technology by experts. She has also been a pioneer in the field of text mining for historical research, where statistical and machine-learning approaches are hybridized with historical modes of inquiry to produce new knowledge. Her publications on digital methods include “The Distinctiveness of Different Eras,” American Historical Review (August 2022) and “The Official Mind’s View of Empire, in Miniature: Quantifying World Geography in Hansard’s Parliamentary Debates,” Journal of World History 32, no. 2 (June 2021): 345–70. She is a former junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows.
“The Long Land War,” Jo Guldi, Southern Methodist University
[MARION FOURCADE] All right. Hello, everybody. Welcome to Social Science Matrix And to actually this is the first event, formally public event, organized by the Berkeley Economy and Society Initiative directed by Paul Pearson right here. So we’re very excited about that.
So today we are delighted to welcome Professor Jo Guldi from Southern Methodist University. She [INAUDIBLE] focus of history and practicing data scientist. She will discuss her book, The Long Land War– The Global Struggle for Occupancy Rights, which approaches the question of land reform from the point of view of Britain’s disintegrating empire.
Professor Guldi is the author of four books. The first one published, by Harvard in 2012, is Roads to Power– Britain Invents the Infrastructure State. In 2014, published by Cambridge, The History Manifesto. And then The Long Land War, published just last year by Yale University Press. And forthcoming is The Dangerous Art of Text Mining.
So you can see that the historical work, her historical work, ranges from archival studies by nation building, state formation, and the use of technology by experts and by historians. So she’s been a real pioneer also in the field of text mining for historical research.
So I’ll just mention a few upcoming events at Matrix. And the first one is actually the one at 4:00 PM today also by Professor Guldi, so where she will present a talk cosponsored by the Department of History and the Berkeley D-Lab and, of course, Social Science Matrix. And that talk is titled, Towards the Practice of Text Mining to Understand Change over Historical Time. So join us today at 4:00 PM.
And then next week on March 15, we will be having a Matrix on point panel entitled Myths and Misinformation, which brings together perspective from across the social sciences on the question of the spread of untruths and misinformation. And finally I’ll just mention, on March 23, we’ll have Phil Gorski from Yale University to present his recent book, The Flag and the Cross– White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy.
So without further ado, welcome, Jo, and–
Thank you so much.
[JO GULDI] Thank you so much, Marion. I’m going to switch the slides. OK, thank you so much, Marianne. Thank you to the center, to Paul Pearson, for inviting me. It’s such a privilege to be with you in Berkeley and such a joy. This is where I did my PhD with the gentleman in the back. It’s an honor to be back.
This is my traveling copy. So I’m going to pass it around in case you would like to see. I am a funny kind of historian. I spend half of my time in archives doing normal historian archival things. And then I spend half of my time with computers, thinking about how the new techniques of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and statistics can help historians to read more books than they would have read and make conclusions on a different scale or a different sort of conclusion.
In general, times being what they are, the latter kind of talk fills up the room every time because there’s so many data science majors and so many data science faculty. This work is not irrelevant to the present, land climate change or not, irrelevant issues. So I’m really grateful to everyone who’s made time to show up for this conversation.
The two I’ve been– so just to add on to Marion’s advertisement for the afternoon event, there will be no data in there. There’s a really simple table at one point. It wasn’t generated with a computer. It’s simple edition. [LAUGHS]
If you want to see computers, come back at 4:00. This is actual history. You can leave now if you want, but I’m really glad to those of you who aren’t leaving. Thank you. OK.
So I’d like to talk to you today about the historiographical questions that I wanted to engage in this book, The Long Land War, which came out in May. It’s a monograph on global land redistribution and occupancy rights, the right not to be displaced. The book represents the first attempt by a historian in something like half a century to reckon with the narrative of the episode sometimes referred to as land reform or agrarian reform along with a larger set of land use, land governance issues that include freedom from eviction, rent control, everything that looks like a right to housing, which I classify as a land issue, which is a sort of retro thing because in the United States we have departments of urban studies.
And then we have urban planning and rural land use. And those are understood as fundamentally different kinds of issues. Housing issues are not land issues to the views of many people in North America. I’m going to erase that difference in order to get us back in sync with an earlier time in the evolution of modern land use history.
Land reform, as I understand it, originated as an anticolonial movement for reparations. It was the first modern reparations movement– reparations in land. And the first ideas about a postcolonial reparations appeared in the 19th century in the course of anticolonial movement associated with the British Empire, specifically in Ireland. And I’ll returned to Ireland in a moment.
The rationale was that only by reversing the sins of empire, the confiscations associated with race-based exclusions on owning or inheriting property, was it possible to create an inclusive and therefore viable economy in the former colonies of Britain. In the 20th century, independent colonial movements across Latin America, Africa, and Asia took this British model, a land court reallocating who owns the property, usually with compensation, in new directions. Those movements effectively redistributed millions of acres across the face of the globe from the hands of hacienda and landlord systems where property was in the hands of the few, the rich, the money, the elite, and everyone else is a tenant paying rent, to systems of broadcast ownership by small farmers and householders.
It is hard to overstate the economic and political consequences of land reform for the 20th century. The World Bank offered– authored a report in 2008 maybe that argued that across all national and ideological traditions in nations where land reform had appeared, the Gini coefficient went down, meaning that it was– that however rich the nation might be, more people were able to participate in economic growth when that occurred. Revolutions and land reform touched almost every nation in the Global South, and those nations were all– but those movements were also intertwined with housing movements, anti-eviction movements, and intellectual currents about land use governance across the Global North.
Now land reform is a massively-challenging subject for a historian to take on. This will not be the final book on land reform by any stretch of the imagination. The global span is intractable. Temporal scale adds the advantage of being able to watch institutions rise, converge, and vanish. But it also amplifies the nature of the undertaking.
So I’d love to tell you about that work, about how I hoped that the digital would support longer time spans and more global comparisons, how the digital failed, and what I’d love to do with the digital. Bracket that. There’s a blog coming out on the Royal Historical Society website later this month. I’m not going to talk to you about it. I’m not going to tell you about the archives in Rome, New Delhi, Sussex, and Wisconsin that helped me get a handle on international currents, comparisons, and social movements.
I’d like to tell you about social theory. I’d like to tell you about what it’s like to reckon with the kind of theoretical orientation that allows a historian to engage Charles Tilly’s call for vast comparisons.
So the theoretical questions that allowed me to wrangle with an era of land reform were these. First, a history of the state told in terms of practices, borrowing techniques from the history of science, and crucially about the role of information in institutional infrastructures that reinforce certain ideas of collective and private ownership. Secondly, an approach to global history that is transnational, global, and transtemporal, which is based on excavating connections between land reform movements and intellectual traditions in different places. And finally, an investigation into the legal status of property and how it changed in the 20th century, which challenges received definitions of property, which was conceived as a universal law, an unchanging good that was discovered alongside the law of gravity in the 17th century and never changed again.
My argument is going to be big changes happen. I’m going to tell you what I think they are. So let’s dive in with the question of what is the state in the 20th century.
I wanted to ask questions about new forms of governance that came into being in this era, which ranged across several categories, including international initiatives, including attempts from the United Nations to plan a global extension service modeled on the American New Deal to support farmers, wherever they might be, and extending to concomitant attempts to map global land use around the world with the thinking that maps like the one in the upper right hand corner would provide member nations like India with the rationale to make sure that if I gave every seat in this room your own acre of land, I wouldn’t give Professor Pearson the loam and Marianne the rock and say, well, they’re equal because they’re one acre. And then Marianne wouldn’t be able to farm anything because all she has is rock, not viable soil. So we need a land use map.
Some historians like Stephen Masike have seen this map as a tool of imperialism just because it’s a big, international map at scale. I see it as a request coming from the postcolonial nations themselves for support, for information infrastructure, that allows them to make their own decisions and to affect postcolonial reforms. So the international actors are a new part of the story, not something that we see in the 19th century domain of European colonization.
What’s new in the 20th century includes new theoretical approaches to the problem of postcoloniality from the social sciences, as social scientists, some of them from nations like India, applied themselves to developing a theory of economic growth suited to nations composed primarily of peasants and small farmers. Their logic included often reversing Malthusian theories that cast population density as an impediment to growth, and arguing, as with this chart in the lower right-hand corner, that the density of farm population could be a resource up to a certain point for allowing more growth, more economic production overall as small farmers became small entrepreneurs, producing bucket factories and hoe factories on their former farm with the multitude of children that they had.
The actors include national initiatives, of course, including contemporary conversations in the US and the UK about extending state welfare to public housing, but also national initiatives in Tanzania, India, and elsewhere about disseminating land to the people, land to the tiller. And these initiatives– national, theoretical, international– are joined by nonprofits, activist nonprofits, like the Ford and Rockefeller Foundation and libertarian think tanks, which I’ll reference in a moment. And finally, there are social movements– social movements that include peasant protest movements, communist and worker movements, student protests, identity movements, pushing for housing and reparation and land. We’ll hear more about them in a second.
One thread that stands out about these actors is the degree to which land and housing movements were interrelated. Theories from Georgist economics, theories about self-built housing movements from anarchists like Colin Ward trickled across the borders of the urban and the rural, the Global North and the Global South. So I’m going to be trying to make some of those connections with you. It’s a long book. There are a lot of those connections. I’m just going to show you a smattering of splinters right now.
The competition of ideas and interests resulted in numerous showdowns. This was, as my title proclaimed, an era of war, a struggle to disseminate the land sometimes punctuated by bloody coups and famines, sometimes by less violent protests, which by the end of my period, 1974, had serious consequences that included the collapse of movements for the national redistribution of land and the replacement of that ideology on a national– international level by free market mechanisms coordinated at the World Bank. And I’ll give you my explanation for when and how that happened.
I came to argue for the emergence of land use governance alongside unions and inflation as one of the paradigmatic sites of ungovernability in the 1970s. Land use policies failed to provide enough housing, but the land use bureaucracies that had been established in the developed and developing world, once abolished, were replaced by free market laws that replaced state bureaucracy but likewise also failed to provide sufficient housing, resulting in new challenges to social equity.
If we ask about what’s historically new about this moment, another feature that stands out as this, a diversifying cast of actors. Unlike in the 19th and 20th century stories about the rise of bureaucracies in the imperial context, when we look at this 20th century story, we’re talking about national initiatives regulating housing access, operating in a world where those national actors have to interface with international actors and sometimes compete against nonprofits that assume state-like powers. All of these entities are using the techniques of gathering information and disseminating information that had been forged in the crucible of 19th century empire.
So let’s descend into a little bit more detail. Let’s take one of the international units that consumed my research– international actors at the level of the United Nations. When the UN was founded, it coordinated an international movement to protect rights of occupancy in the developed and underdeveloped world.
This was nowhere more clear and more relevant to land and housing issues than at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations with its motto, fiat pannus– let there be bread. The FAO, rhymes with cow or now. That’s how the Italians say it. So it’s how the FAO employees say it. So it’s how I say it. The FAO was the UN’s first independent agency, founded in Quebec City in 1945 and later headquartered in Rome.
In the 1940s and ’50s the FAO housed many individuals working with an undisguised anticolonial agenda to advocate for restoring land rights to farmers in the developing world. In 1945, many of the founding designers of programs look to postcolonial struggles in Ireland, Mexico, and India as an omen of things to come. Peasants around the world are organizing, demanding their land rights back. New institutions are coming into being, like land courts which are charged with compensating landlords, buying out their land, and redistributing the land to the peasants to create a nation of owner occupiers.
One of the believers, firm believers, in this agenda is a former nutrition expert, John Boyd Orr, recipient of the Nobel Prize, the Nobel Prize in peace, founder of the FAO. In 1953, he published his manifesto for what this movement was about, The White man’s Dilemma, in which he made strong a strong argument that Europe had incurred a moral debt to its former colonies.
He explained the FAO’s mission in part by arguing that developed nations would have to fund the development of their former colonies, and that only through the creation of broad economic opportunities could the past be repaired. The redistribution of colonized land around the world was necessary to avert an era of endless cycles of violence.
Now the collective bibliographies, the group bibliographies, by which I sketch out what’s happening at the FAO in my first– in chapters two and three underscored that Orr’s beliefs about this were not unique. Reviewing the founders and the first ranks of leaders and consultants associated with the FAO, I found the granddaughter of a Fenian radical exiled from Britain for his involvement with dynamite plots to get the land back to the Irish peasant. She was committed to postcolonial rebellion everywhere and was an architect of the Kindertransport, literally seizing Jewish children from the mouth of the Holocaust and transporting them to Canada, to safety, the best kind of settler colonialism. Best kind? Yeah.
I found other activists that included the son of a suffragette hunger striker committed to food for colonized subjects through control of their own territory. I found the economist husband of novelist, Pearl S. Buck who himself had attempted to orchestrate a New Deal for China, which forms a large part of the plot of the prize-winning novel, The Good Earth. I found early director generals touring India and explicitly meeting with postcolonial economists, committed to the idea of economic growth at the bottom of the economic pyramid through the principle of land redistribution.
The FAO is unlike many of the other branches of the United Nations that have been associated with a new cultural imperialism. The FAO then today, as when it was founded, was essentially a postcolonial institution typified by south-south advising. Today, economists from Lebanon are sent to advise Algeria about what its water and agricultural problems.
And that was a matrix of south-south, intentional south-south, advising, using the expertise of India to advise around South Asia, using Indigenous PhDs, Indigenous economic knowledge, native economic knowledge, to create a postcolonial well of expertise to push back against other kinds of expertise coming from American universities. Recovering the radicalism of the FAO’s founding, plumbing the FAO archives for their tortured correspondence with peasants and landowners on both sides of the business of land redistribution allowed me a shortcut through a multitude of highly diverse, very differentiated national disputes and, to a sense, about how international governance was intervening in a world of former empires, trying to create a new era where participatory economics might have a chance to come into play.
Let’s examine a different part of this new range of actors involved in land governance. Let’s look at one of the nonprofits that took an active role in urban land issues in the Global North.
In the UK, a think tank called the Institute of Economic Affairs was formed by Arthur Seldon. Envious of the fervor of left-leaning youth for Fabian socialism, he dreamed of making a similar movement to take– to back the market and the small state inspired by the philosophy of F.A. Hayek. The IEA rushed into action in 1965, compiling pamphlets, imagining a free market world where even public libraries would charge for their services.
After 1968, as a housing crisis began to rock London accompanied by massive student protests advocating a universal right to housing, the IEA switched its pamphlet campaign to information about what the market could do for housing. And they had an information-collecting kind of census of land use problems as part of their strategy. IEA leaders began to write letters to executives in the construction and real estate industries, asking those executives to help them compile a compendium of evidence that state restrictions on building were choking the building of housing with red tape, that NIMBYism was at the root of limiting housing.
If that was true, then they could call for the deregulation of land use, the abolition of the land use in public housing, bureaucracy. So they compiled evidence, case by case. And they began to compile this in new pamphlets about the coming regime of free market housing.
Then the IEA leaders began to reach out to recruit and groom promising new political candidates, among them a young Margaret Thatcher. Elected as prime minister in 1979, Thatcher’s– one of Thatcher’s first acts would be to sell off public housing to the highest bidder.
Now one of the ways that international actors like the FAO and nonprofits like the IEA could compete with nation states and traditional parties was through their use and orchestration of information. The FAO collected and distributed bibliographies and soil maps of the world, like this one, tools that allowed postcolonial nation states to enact relatively efficient land redistribution programs backed by international studies in soil science, agriculture, and economics. The IAEA staged letter-writing, information-collection, and pamphlet-dissemination programs to create a groundswell contesting normative ideas of land use bureaucracy as the solution for a housing crisis.
Both essentially copied the activity of nations and empires in the 19th century, instrumenting the collection and dissemination of information to promote a homogeneous space united by information flows. I theorize the term information infrastructure to investigate the many information-organization schemes launched in parallel with land-redistribution initiatives and to think about the consequences of information in the service of multiple ideologies.
But one of the features of these information infrastructures was that they served a variety of different ideologies. The ideology of information had– it had an international face with the FAO. It had a libertarian face with the IEA. It even had a more radical face among social movements at the same time as these other initiatives were being pressed forward, and this radical phase pushed in a very different direction from those visible at the level of international government or the UK nonprofits.
So we’re looking at what are known as participatory maps– maps drawn by hand– by taking into account the testimony of maybe 500 individuals. In the 1970s, British Marxist geographers had begun to experiment with new kinds of surveying suited to documenting local property rights in their diversity. Participatory maps first emerged as many-to-many maps to document the so-called hunting lines of the Beaver and Cree tribes in Canada.
And we’re seeing the hunting lines map from Hugh Brody’s Maps and Dreams, the publication in 1977. Each of these loops corresponds to one family. The idea is that these are hunting lines that constitute a nonoverlapping property right.
This is where our family hunts. Your family hunts over there in the next ridge. You can do other things with the land, but only we are allowed our hunting line. By drawing them and showing that the hunting lines were mostly nonoverlapping, the Beaver and Cree people were able to argue in court that they had an occupancy right to their territory and therefore defeat mineral and lumber interest claims to use the land as part of a public domain.
The Beaver and Cree map launches an era of participatory mapmaking in global development which is still ongoing, nowadays through GIS and handheld devices. But this is still something that we would learn about in a global development program like the ones at Cornell and Sussex.
By the 1980s, these maps had begun to spread across the developing world, creating copycat movements. For example, in the 1980s, participatory map movements occur in– are appearing in India, being used to document the occupancy rights of so-called pavement dwellers– we would call them the homeless– on the streets of Bombay. Alongside the techniques of many-to-many mapping spread the possibility of a more diverse set of property claims adjudicated not by colonial courts but by independent and decolonized national court systems on the basis of data collected by the people themselves.
Looking at information infrastructures suggests a fundamentally new model of how 20th century states differ from earlier ones. Information infrastructures, I want to suggest, differed in scale, point of organization, and ambition from those information infrastructures of 19th century empire, whether the state inspection of factories and slaughterhouses or the colonial census. It was only in the 20th century that information infrastructures, such as alternative mapping programs, could be launched outside of the nation state with participatory maps as a symbol of the power of village by village across the south, localities village by village across the south, to make their own intervention into property law.
So we get a very different picture of what maps mean in the 20th century. If we start with the abundance of different kinds of maps and actors on an international scale being used to adjudicate these land use issues, and then ask, what is the ideological meaning, how many people are involved with these maps, how is this different from the 19th century, than if we start with a theory of the map, expertise, and scale a la Foucault. In short, this is a very– this is the inverse of the picture of 20th century authority that has been given to us by writers like Timothy Mitchell.
Neither the FAO maps nor the Cree maps were imperial homogenizing forces. They were countervailing information structures leveraged in the context of a struggle for control over land by the people in the future reversing the sense of colonialism. The era of modern information infrastructure meant a new field of war over political economy where ideologues of the free market and Indian villagers actively contested the decisions of state bureaucrats by assembling their own data.
So much for conclusions about the state, theorizing the state. Let’s move on to global history. The new actors that I’ve been describing set to work to map land and lobby for a particular political approach to land management in the context of a global movement to redistribute land loosely connected by social movements and intellectual crosscurrents, which was my task to reconstruct, as a global movement initiated by peasants and workers, accompanied by intellectual and political movements that theorized alternative economic projects.
This movement dates from the late 19th century when simultaneous struggles over land ownership in Ireland and India rocked British empire and introduced drastic new measures, for example, the introduction of rent control and the state-sponsored buyout of landlords in Ireland. So the long land war began with the revolt of colonized populations. In Ireland, the National Land League staged mass marches, counted evictions, and invented the boycott.
In Mexico, peasants hid their property titles under floorboards and swarmed to form armies, revolting against the hacienda system. Their rights would be enshrined in a new system of Iquitos, protecting Indigenous rights and common village lands. In India, Gandhi and his followers led rent strikes and staged a 10-year pilgrimage in the name of voluntary land turnover from landlords to peasants.
Interconnections between local movements suggest the advantage of viewing these interconnected movements as global, recognizing a variety of commonalities between global land struggles associated with each other. In Britain, India, Mexico, the United States, across Asia, Africa, and Latin America, movements for occupancy rights struggled to define land not as a private commodity to be bought and sold but as a special kind of property– a property whose value was defined by inhabitation. Many of these movements won.
They passed legislation in Bengal, Kerala, and Mexico that defined land as a collective resource for food and housing. And these movements had in common their postcolonial origins. In each case, as in the cases of land reform movements in other parts of the world, in each of the cases listed here, postcolonial experience was informed by a series of common struggles– protesting for land redistribution, the broadening of access to housing, for control over rent, and for security against eviction and displacement.
And the movement wasn’t as limited to the Global South as this list would proclaim. Even in New York City and London, rent-control measures endorse the rights of working-class citizens to live and thrive, free from fear of eviction and displacement.
So as I’m laying it out, lumping together diverse movements, rural and urban, Global North and South, communist and capitalist disrupts, many received histories which provide the turning points for the 20th century. The reason that I’m doing this is that I believe that studying British empire provides a thread running through each of these confrontations. 1881 in Ireland was the world’s first modern land law that constituted for rent control and land reform.
India was promised land reform in 1886. And the failure of Britain to provide land reform for Bengal precipitates the fight for land reform and the struggle up to independence in 1945 when it takes a different form. The British inexperience in Ireland with consciously looked to as the pattern for land reform in Egypt.
Conversations about Indigenous land rights and reparations marked ongoing, longer struggles in Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. So the Commonwealth countries are deeply rooted in a 20th century struggle about the nature of land and its governance. Britain itself was promised land reform in 1911, including a rent control during the first World War, and promised homes fit for heroes, returning veterans. A housing crisis marked British policy from 1945, through the Thatcher years, and persists to this day.
Meanwhile, British intellectuals were deeply embedded in conversations about international land reform, especially through the FAO and the United Nations where, as we’ve seen, many of the stories of the original founders and administrators, their architecture, was composed with the expectation of a decomposing British empire in which Indian postcolonial economics was newly relevant. So we would expect that tracing British connections across this disintegrating empire would explain global patterns that might be otherwise overlooked when the emphasis is on Bretton Woods and American empire, and the narrative is about Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines.
We can tell that story, too. It shows up from time to time in the book. But I’m not going to take time to examine those cases here because the organizational principle that casts new light is thinking about British empire disintegrating.
To investigate the connections between these conversations, let’s look at a few cases of global interconnectivity. And let’s start with India and the US via the Indian mystic and social reformer, Vinoba Bhave. When we first encounter him, Vinoba is burning his proof of graduation, his high school diploma, in the family stove, having explained to his mother that he was going to dedicate his life to the service of humanity. He had just heard about Gandhi, and he would dedicate his life to becoming Gandhi’s major apostle and successor.
In the American context, we often think of Gandhi as the author of the Salt March in 1930, the author of nonviolent political tactics. But in India, he’s equally remembered for events a decade previous to the Salt March when he was leading rent strikes patterned off of the Irish example in the Champaran district alongside future prime ministers and presidents of India.
Land reform had been promised to Bengal in 1885, 1886, just ahead of Ireland. And it was expected with independence as one of the first fruits of the Indian Resistance Movement. At that point, in 1945, land reform was passed, but a Brahmanical supreme court struck down Indian land reform measures, referring land reform to the individual states.
At that moment of regrouping, many Indians believed that land reform was essential to a path out of poverty that would raise the many alongside the few. After Gandhi’s assassination in 1948, Vinoba Bhave became the individual who personally symbolized this hope of an egalitarian, charitable, and nonviolent reversal of the land thefts associated with British empire. Walking hundreds of miles across the continent, Vinoba asked landowners in India to consider pledging a proportion of their land to the landless families of the district.
Believing that spontaneous community self-organization was more important than any infrastructure he himself could provide, Vinoba refused to provide any accounting whatsoever of these land pledges. And one result was that 10 times as many acres were pledged as were actually turned over. His followers included a large number of European and American youth who recorded and published their experiences for Western audience.
And some of these attempt– returned home and attempted to instantiate a similar ethic around land use and land management back at home. So a primary example is the civil rights activist, Robert Swan, who joined Vinoba’s ashram, and then brought the idea of land-banking back to North America, to the American South, in an attempt to set up African-American communities in Georgia free from the threat of rising rent. And so this is an argument about the origins of the modern land trust which is of relevance to conservation movements, social movements, and movements today. This is how the land trust movement gets planted in North America.
Ideas about an economy where housing was valued above the commodification of land was re-echoed in the squatters movements of New York and London in the 1960s and 1970s. And Vinoba’s case remained a frequent referent, circulating in these communities as proof that anarchist principles of land as a human right could be enacted, anchoring the possibility of a noncapitalist relationship to land persisting within a dominant ethos of capitalism.
Some of the most compelling cases of international connections happened around the edges of Britain’s former empire, as in this case. But consider some further afield cases, as in events in New Mexico in the United States. Consider the story of Tierra Amarilla.
Here, the property rates of Indigenous and Latino majority were sacrosanct, in theory, since the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which had validated Spanish crown grants to Native peoples and Indig– and Latino peoples alike. By the 20th century, an Anglo sheriff and county administration were turning a blind eye as Anglo ranchers started moving their barbed wire fences, trespassing into Indigenous and Latino territory. The Latino community complained. The Indigenous community complained. The sheriff did nothing.
In 1963, local Indigenous and Latino leaders began to form a resistance movement, the Alianza Federal de Mercedes, led by Reies Lopez Tijerina pictured here. They started by erecting placards bearing the face of Emilio Zapata and the slogan, tierra o muerte, which many American historians have wrongly suggested was the slogan of the Mexican Liberal Party. The slogan of the Mexican Liberal Party associated with the Mexican Civil War, the Mexican Revolution, is tierra y libertad, land and liberty.
Land or death is really important. The slogan in New Mexico, in fact, echoed a contemporary Latino land movement elsewhere, the one in Peru represented by the Marxist leader, Hugo Blanco. After 1961, Blanco had orchestrated one of the most consequential Indigenous protest movements in Latin America for land rights.
He led the Quechua people to occupy the fields of local haciendas, putting up one-night houses, putting up tents, literally occupying the land and refusing to leave. They occupied the streets of Cusco in protests, claiming their ancestral rights to land. In 1963, Blanco was sentenced to death.
In the proceedings in the courtroom, he led the packed ranks of Quechua people who had showed up in his defense in the chant, tierra o muerte, tierra o muerte, land or death, until the courtroom had to be shut down in the chaos. The death penalty was dropped. The sentence was changed to 25 years in prison.
Back in Tierra Amarilla, Latinos began resisting land theft through armed confrontation. In 1967, Tijerina led one group, kidnapping the local sheriff, departing for the hills before exchanging gunfire with local troops. The events in New Mexico ran in parallel to other contemporary US identity movements that claimed land rights, including James Forman’s Black Manifesto of 1969, which called for 200 million in federal payments to reverse the loss of farmland by Blacks.
Also contemporary was the Indigenous occupation of Alcatraz and [INAUDIBLE] in upstate New York in 1969 into ’71. I think what we learn from the contemporaneity of these movements and the ties to international movements is that these are not one-off ethnic studies movements in the United States. They are deeply aware that there are Indigenous land reformations being enacted in other parts of the globe, and they want in. They just want what other people are getting.
These events kick off a counter-reaction in the US enshrined by a number of bestselling books that warned about growing population overwhelming the economy and the Earth’s carrying capacity. Of these the most consequential was William and Elizabeth Paddock’s bestselling We Don’t Know How in 1973, which explicitly denounced land reform as a fool’s errand driven by the growing demands of ethnic groups at home and abroad, dooming any economic improvement schemes whatsoever. These theories would converge in a new report at the World Bank in 1974 that essentially eradicated the FAO’s control over its own budget, denouncing land reform, and proclaiming a new era of free market politics.
Henceforth, there would be no more land ceilings, no limits on how big farms were, only land floors. This is the policy instrument that inaugurates the era of the Green Revolution and therefore reverses the successes of land reform in most of /
Meanwhile, Hugo Blanco had become a celebrity in London. His testimony and manifesto, Land or Death, was republished by activist committees. There were protests outside the Peruvian embassy. And the story of the Quechua occupations sparked the revival of student-led squats to protest the crisis of housing, demanding that the UK government take action to create a world where housing was regarded as a human right for all.
I’m going to skip the international– the transtemporal and intellectual connections because in the interest of time and head straight to what this tells us about property Traditional narratives of property have been dominated by a history of single ownership– owner proprietorship as if property were a law of nature, like gravity, that was promoted around the world by British colonialism, thus giving birth to the era of capitalism.
Thanks to decades of historical scholarship, we now know that this picture is incomplete. Scholars such as Sujit Sivasundaram and Alan Grier among many others have persuaded us that none of the spaces to which Europeans applied property law were empty, and indeed that most people had highly specific and differentiated notions of nonexclusive, overlapping property rights, sometimes holding territory in common for specific purposes. A literature on the history of Commonwealth nations has emphasized the story of land grabs, seizure, and homogenization where the European map is the instrument of dominance.
Now, despite this research for the era of European empire, histories of property rights in the 20th century have remained largely governed by the earlier model. Modernization, expertise, and commodification remain the themes of many accounts of global development. So we can read Daniel Immerwahr, Ethan Kapstein treating US land reform in Taiwan, the Philippines, and Korea as an instance of pacification through individual proprietorship, or Tori Olson and Amy Offner on Mexican land reform under American influence, where peasants are turned into proprietors who conceive of citizenship in terms of single owner proprietorship. The logic is usually that single owner proprietorship is an instrument of pacification and American empire of homogenization and capitalization.
And this is– there’s something to this account. But I think when we look at the larger picture of the disintegration of British empire, we get a very different portrait of the meaning of land reform. And it’s also possible that American policies were noticeably lagging behind UN policies and policies promoted in other parts of the world, a global trend. So any account focusing on American empire therefore risks losing track of the wider and longer picture.
So it’s worth considering looking at this chart of land reform movements as a whole and charting the longer– and asking what it means to chart the longer arc of time. This timeline of land reform begins with 1881, the date of the first rent control and land reform in Ireland. And it persists through the 1970s when land reform is effectively dismantled by the World Bank.
The long part of the land long land war is therefore a distinctive era of the 20th century. It extends across two world wars and the Bretton Woods conference which are standard landmarks of periodization for the American empire story.
A major feature of land reform viewed as a period, I would argue, is that it was marked by an expanding array of repertoires for understanding what property is and for conceiving of property in common. These are driven largely by postcolonial debates. But the evidence is most visible in shifts across the social sciences, including in my own field of history.
Across the social sciences, reacting to postcolonial land movements, researchers began responding to social movements by investigating the validity of traditional claims to land in ways that challenged European conventions of single owner, masculine proprietorship as the unique model for property over time. So social historians like EP Thompson argued for the significance of customs in common and peasant access to land in centuries past in Europe. Meanwhile, the economist and agricultural scientist, Esther Boserup contributed research into women’s property rights in traditional cultures in Africa, showing how those had been dismantled and challenged under European empire.
Elsewhere, at the University of Indiana, Elinor and Vincent Ostrom began a workshop on political economy that began to compile case studies from around the world, documenting the diversity of property systems, starting with the Swiss Grazing Commons and going on to document Spanish and Arabic irrigation systems that treated water like a common good, as well as fishing and timber commons around the world. Ostrom’s findings about common property systems would earn her a Nobel Prize in economics in 2009.
The work of these social scientists highlights the plausibility of multiple systems of property rights, not just of land but also of water, not merely for men but also for women. They highlight that property could be tended, maintained, even improved when had held as a collective good, administered on behalf of the many. Now, by conceiving of property as constituted by a broadening diversity of actors, we have the opportunity to compare ideological approaches in a new light.
The long 20th century can be conceived of as a moment when new social movements were galvanized around land use. And that includes single owner proprietorship versions like those in Ireland as well as certain kinds of communist policies both in Ireland and in the Chinese model of the family farm, early Chinese land reform, early Russian land reform, before forced collectivization.
Reforms center on the figure of the rent-paying peasant and their exploitation. In this sense, a longer story around British empire upends the Cold War narrative in which Russia and China are conceived of as a distinctive, fundamental break with European liberalism. In this case, they completely continuous.
The communist land redistributions then show up as having much more in common with other revolutions than previously thought. They also show up as being– I’m sorry the arrow should be pointing to Russia and China because we’re talking about that right now. The Russia and China models then show up in this account as the most effective– the most effective in terms of land redistributed until the forced collectivization and redistributions which result in massive famines. But these are not primarily linked to the initial single owner land reforms.
So it’s useful to notice what historians of China and Russia have long understood, that the communist land reforms are not singular in kind and nature but are composed of multiple stages of intervention, including the family farm movement which was extremely productive, minimally violent, and which looks very much in conception like the mirror image of Ireland. Comparing the movements in aggregate also underwrites some surprising conclusions, including the fact that the purely voluntary redistribution movements merit more notice than they have been given in political science texts that foreground aggregate comparisons between capitalist and communist models.
So what throws a wrench in that categorical, binary structure is the voluntary movement in India associated with Vinoba Bhave and the derivative campaigns like Operation Bargain in Bahar in the 1970s. Totally voluntary land reform. The state is barely involved. Landowners are just gifting land to landless peoples for the sake of a more inclusive economy.
They stand out as among the most successful of land reform movements. Voluntary land reform with two million acres distributed redistributes more than the first phase of the Mexican Revolution. It’s serious land reform.
Vinoba’s entirely voluntary land reform thus presents a corrective to histories of property rights that foreground a struggle between command and control redistribution on the model of Mao or Stalin against private property on the model of Anglo-American law. Its far more diverse. The spectrum is really important.
So where I think this drives us is this. The categories of 20th century land reform were fissile, not fixed. The moment of land reform was an era of expansive experimentation with the means of persuading individuals to part with their property or to recategorize property in the name of a wider spirit of egalitarianism. Broad, new redefinitions of property, including the possibility of legal recognition for reparations for Indigenous or collective tenure, for housing and agriculture as human rights, appear in the 20th century and expand, motivated, in part, by social science’s ongoing engagement with social movements.
These expansive definitions of property are constituted via new technologies and social practices. And these, together, constitute a major movement within government and beyond government on the international playing field.
So let me wrap up and ask, why does this matter for history? What is the big takeaway for histories of the 20th century? I believe that what emerges from an aggregate view of the struggles over property in the 20th century across various forms of governance is an inter– is a portrait of an age of land redistribution, much as we speak of an age of revolutions.
This is a very different perspective from the one in political science where there’s been a comparative approach centered around Cold War categories, the numbers of acres, and beneficiaries. It’s also very different than accounts that focus on American empire as a zone of expertise exploitation and single owner proprietorship, which characterizes the expansion of American empire as totally unprecedented but also simultaneously just repeating what British empire did in the 19th century.
What I find is that this age is generally marked by an evolving debate over what property is, about the multiplicity of types of ownership that can constitute property, and the possibility of ownership of land and water as commons. It’s marked by an expanding set of nonstate actors, including international actors, nonprofits, and social movements, many of them competing with the state and against– competing against each other through their implementation of information infrastructures. Who wins the pamphlet war wins. Who collects the– who disseminates the most maps wins in court. Who wins is not going to be determined fundamentally by the nation state but by these information infrastructures and their reach on a global level.
So these are my conclusions about the era of land reform. Thank you so much for your time. Thank you for staying through the conversation. I very much look forward to your questions. So shall we proceed to the Q&A? OK, thank you.
[PAUL PIERSON] That was really great. Thanks. I guess the question I want to start with is about the decision to think of housing and housing rights as a sort of subcategory of land reform, and I– because I tend to think of them as different. And so I was trying to think, as we were going along, about what the advantages and disadvantages of grouping them together are.
So I was just thinking, so I think of the conflicts over housing as being very closely connected to urbanization, as being a much more urban issue and much more about consumption– that housing is a consumption good, whereas land is a for production. And so I thought it was really interesting to group them together. I’d just be interested to hear a little more of you’re thinking about that.
[JO GULDI] Yeah, thanks for that question. It’s a really good question. So it’s absolutely true. If you read Matt Desmond’s, Evicted, he’s not talking about the eviction of rural families. If you take an urban studies course, you’re going to be talking about housing movements, and you’ll never mention housing– rural housing problems. It’s assumed today that rent is a nonissue in rural places.
But in order to understand the three months during which the protesting farmers shut down New Delhi last year, they were protesting laws which extended the reach of corporations into protected rural lands, resulting in rising taxes and rent. So around the Global South, these eviction land ownership and housing questions are tightly bound up with agricultural land use. I think our division of categories dates from the moment of the so-called urban crisis of America and the postwar world which, is when the first American studies programs of urban studies were constituted.
But. Interestingly, the first rent controls emerge in a rural context. So I’ve been talking about the land law of Ireland, 1881. Land law of Ireland, 1881, is the first rent control in history, and it’s a rural action. It’s a rural action because the practice of rent-racking, of raising the rent every year, has resulted in an eviction regime which is way less– there’s way less eviction than what was happening during the Irish famine when there’s a mass exodus. But it’s raised the Specter of a new famine, a new regime of evictions.
And so Irish peasants began literally counting the evictions as part of the activities of the National Land League, and then they take that to court. And then, ultimately, this new court is set into place, and the new court has the power to fix your rent. You have to apply to the courts, show up with documents, saying what you’ve done with the piece of property. And it’s very much bound up with the question of Gaelic Indigenous law against British single owner proprietorship.
And there’s been enough of a social science conversation in 19th century Britain that that becomes the issue. So the rent control is about keeping Irish peasants in their houses in the countryside. Also agricultural production. They’re also all happen to be farmers. But it’s the status of the homestead that launches these movements.
Copycat movements begin to emerge in Edinburgh and London in the decades that follow. And Ireland becomes the site for a new theory of an egalitarian politics of housing coined by Californian, Henry George, who was married to an Irish-American immigrant who we met over there in San Francisco. So that’s the in a nutshell version of the longer rural background to housing as an urban right.
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] I had the same question. I write about council housing. So I’m so curious. My question, then, to follow on from that is, you talk about different kinds of tenure. There’s own your own occupation. There’s collective rights of various kinds. There’s security of tenure for just one person. I mean, there’s a lot of different forms of land use, including versus land for housing, an apartment, a farm. All of those are very different.
And I think– I also think about, say, the Australian case, the Native Title that was handed down by the Australian high court in 1991 or the judgment that spawned Native Title. That kind of land reform and redistribution is very different from the New Zealand version of the Treaty of Waitangi, for example. And so I’m wondering how you sort of deal– obviously, I’ll have to read the book– how you deal with [LAUGHS] all of these different forms because I can see the movements being the same. But it feels like the goals and the forms of tenure are quite different. And how do they all work together?
[JO GULDI] Yes, yes, how the whole thing works. Well, I tried to do this in– tried to sketch out the variety of land regimes in the really big picture in the introduction. The introduction starts off with the most ancient regulations that we have on governing land use which are Daoist documents. And then very quickly it runs through Marx and picks up the recent literature on British empire and Treaty of Waitangi and settler colonialism.
But settler colonialism isn’t the only version of property seizure in British empire. There are also high taxation regimes typical of most parts of India, and the Zamindari System where we’re just going to fix the property settlements, in 1793. And so they’re extractive regimes which have the effect of eviction and limiting opportunities for growth, but they’re based in property law. They’re based in the matrix of how the land is managed.
And then there’s outright expropriation, like White people coming in and saying, now, I own this. And that’s behind the Mau Mau rebellion and many other parts of British empire. So we have these conflicts, and they’re seen as equivalent by anticolonial movements starting in the 1880s because the Irish example and the war in Bengal push to such a degree that even Americans like Henry George can’t ignore it. They’re starting to see that there’s a global connection and that theorizing the land might be the basis for some understanding of the harm done by empire.
So that’s the contemporary conclusion, that the commodification of land has constituted a kind of harm. And the plausibility of that is what encourages Aurobindo to meet with Irish rent strike leaders in London in the 1880s and 1890s which is how we think the rent strike makes it to India and how these copycat types of social movements get started moving around the world. And this story allows for alternative traditions because obviously I’m telling the story of the disintegration of British empire. But many of the events that I trace are happening in former Spanish empire, former French empire.
There are land struggles that are particular, and I stage a very particular types of landownership which are complex in all of those regions. And that’s exactly what the challenge is of telling a global transtemporal story about land reform. So for individual cases, I try to be very exact about what’s happening.
And then this is why the conclusion’s about what happens to property is essentially a diversification. And the social science literature is incredibly helpful because you can see anthropologists, sociologists starting to reckon with historians, starting to reckon with describing the multiplicity of land ownership patterns and institutions like this one starting in the 1960s and 1970s, where if you look at the dissertation title catalog, it’s literally like every single dissertation coming out of Wisconsin, Berkeley, Cornell has land somewhere in the title. It’s land in the property ownership system of the Iquitos or land in the European peasant commons, but it’s all land, all the time until about 1982.
Yeah, and then it collapses. It changes. It’s a fascinating portrait of global development as a market driver of a certain kind of theory, which is then perceived as being rural and not related to the market in an era of neoliberalism.
[AUDIENCE MEMBER] This is really fascinating. So if I’m understanding this correctly, you are arguing that these anticolonial movements are not just challenging the distribution of land. But they’re also challenging the very concept of property in the colonial regime.
But at the same time, they are sometimes working through the institutions of the colonial regime. They;re using their maps or the legacy courts or whatever. So I just wanted to ask if you could kind of give us your thoughts on the tension between those two, and maybe whether different strategies have different outcomes in terms of working with the system and working against it?
[JO GULDI] Thanks. I love that question. So one of the things, fun things, about STS approaches is that the same tool can mean different things to different people. So when I was writing about the road system in 18th century Britain, the roads serve one purpose for the friends of Adam Smith who want to unite a nation and opportunities for trade. And then they’re used for very different purposes by working class members of the early trade unions, the Methodists and other radical groups, who start to organize over the roads, starting with the Wesleyan Methodists and the circuit riders. So they’re starting their own national purposes.
So I started thinking about maps in the same way. Maps showed up in my first book as just the instrument of the state for [INAUDIBLE], right? They’re used by this– [LAUGHS] the civil engineers’ maps mean taxation. And this is the story of the cadastral map as told by Roger Kain, and it’s probably mostly accurate until at least 1880.
The map, wherever you see it, the stories are all a map-maker is sent by the king into the remote hills of the Ardeche. And then he’s killed by the local peasants because they mean– they know that the surveyor’s instrument means that their tax taxes are about to go up. Yeah, so the surveyor has to die.
And that’s what resistance looks like. Resistance [LAUGHS] means literally killing the surveyor and taking away his instruments. No possibility of the map. And that’s the story of the blank spaces on the map. That’s the James C. Scott story. It’s true. It’s true until– the historian’s question is when? When is it true until?
So what’s not in this book is the prequel. The prequel. [LAUGHS] Originally The Long Land War was going to be much longer. It hit 1,000 pages. My readers were like, for god’s sake, Jo. So it got cut in half.
So forthcoming is the first half of The Long Land War in which I tell the story of Irish peasants in the 1880s, and their– what they start doing with maps and counting eviction. They start counter-mapping. They start counter-mapping in a fairly primitive way, but there are radical anticolonial surveyors associated with the movement in Ireland.
And that’s one of the reasons that this fundamentally new institution, the Land Court, can do its work, is that somebody has thought through all of the technicalities of what it needs to record. And essentially they do a labor theory of value in space. That’s what they figure out how to do.
So you can’t read that in the book now, but it’s coming. I promise. It’s really juicy. That was the motivation to start looking in the 20th century for the evolution of mapping from below.
There was a thin literature in this already. Denis Cosgrove, the great UCLA geographer, was already writing about this in the 1990s. He was thinking about participatory mapping movements in land use, in early socialism in the 1930s, where they’re going to map all– ask all of the children of Britain to map all of the best places for playgrounds. They’re going to ask unemployed people to map all of the best places to go to look for a job. And they’re going to disseminate– they’re going to re-engineer the welfare state, so it can be by the many, in the service of the money.
That was how I found my way to the archives of Sussex and the archives of participatory research in Asia, which are mind-blowing. Because from the 1970s– 1960s and 1970s, the followers of Paolo Freire, in all of these postcolonial countries, start taking airplanes to hang out with each other in the Caribbean and Yugoslavia and in India. And they start exchanging techniques for how to organi– first it’s how to organize literacy.
And then it goes through these stages– how to organize a participatory meeting, how to organize participatory research. And then they figure out the map. They figure out participatory mapping. And that’s when they perfected and turned it into a model where they can describe it in a flyer, and other people can do that.
That happens between 1972 and 1982. There are some conferences at the University of Sussex where they’re flying in postcolonial organizers. It then shows up in the Appalachians. It shows up in Thailand. It shows up in India. And John Gaventa from– who’s now running the University of Sussex, but is then at the Highlander Center in the Appalachias, conducting a rent survey of miners gets invited to Tamil Nadu to meet with Chania factory workers.
It’s so intensively global and so social, urban, rural, whatever. But it’s about this method, the counter-mapping, the potential of using technology against itself. My article version goes into this in much more detail and talks about the possibility of cooptation of the many-to-many map, which I think happened via the World Bank, again, in the 1990s.
Despite some good intentions by some people, the World Bank, they just didn’t understand the nature of participatory politics. They threw a lot of money at it. It didn’t work. Participatory mapping is now alive and well in a technological format in Silicon Valley promoted by Google’s social arms.
How to read counter-mapping strategies when they’re actually participatory in counter-mapping and when they’re not appropriated is a really interesting, knotty question. But reading those early organizers, they have a lot to say about it, so worthy of study.
[JULIA SIZEK] There’s a question from online. So I’m going to give anonymous attendee an opportunity to say some words. So this person says, thank you for this talk. Your work makes a point about the international discourse of land redistribution as part of a postcolonial movement and as a call for reparations.
I think that the agrarian underpinnings of reparations for formerly enslaved Black folks in the US and calls for 40 acres and a mule in Sherman’s Field, order number 15. Can you speak towards how Black land redistributive reparations relates to your work? And then there’s another follow-up question, which is concerning reparations. How do we deal with conflicts between the US’s theft of Indigenous lands and Black reparative calls for land redistribution when the land itself was transformed into property and stolen not from Black subjectivity but from indigeneity?
[JO GULDI] So two really good questions sort of about different things. One of them is a historical question about the chronology, as I take it, the chronology of activism for reparations for African-Americans. So the 40 acres and the mule story is really fascinating to follow through these international debates because it becomes abundantly clear that everyone else in the 1960s and 1970s has heard about this. They’ve heard about the claims for African-American reparations, and it makes sense to them.
They’re doing their own reparations to repair the sins of enslavement and land seizure and punitive taxation under colonization. Why shouldn’t the descendants of American slaves also get some form of reparations? So even in textbooks on land use published in the 1970s and 1980s by faculty at the University of Wisconsin, they are lobbying for African-American land reparations and describing this as the natural fulfillment of the land to the tiller movement that started, in their view, with Taiwan, the Philippines, Japan with an American vision of peaceful transitions to home ownership for all, instantiated by the American GI Bill and mortgages and middle class home ownership. Obviously, African-American reparations would be part of that.
So it’s so clear that the people who were part of this conversation, even in America but also overseas, see this as inevitable, just totally inevitable. The only way I– so then that raises the question, how do you make sense of it not happening and going away? James Forman writes his manifesto. If I’m right, and all the social scientists think that this makes sense– not all of them but significant social scientists are saying, this makes sense– how does it go away?
And so my explanation I gave in miniature, but it’s– the Paddocks are symptomatic of a response from a certain kind of natural scientist who believes that overpopulation and what is called then the crisis of rising expectations is at the root of ungovernability, at the root of a climate crisis, at the root of a food crisis, at the root of a housing crisis, that essentially these other people are asking for too much stuff. And they have to be stopped, or the planet itself is not going to be able to sustain this.
You hear echoes of this all the time in climate debates. And so I think it’s useful to say, ah, I have seen that before. They have data. There is other data to support family farming being a sustainable economics, being able to imagine a future. That debate has happened on this campus over the future of development as well.
There was a second part of that question. Julia, I might need you to help me.
About indigeneity. OK, so this is a fascinating question. So in a settler colonial country like North America in which you had Indigenous land, and then you had enslaved people forced to farm land that had once been Indigenous, what does land reform mean? If land reform in Ireland meant turning the clock back to before the 17th century confiscations of Irish land by Cromwell’s army, what does it mean to turn the land– turn the clock back?
So I think one of the things that’s important is that, in most of the land reform movements, at least outside of communist countries, if there’s a land reform, it takes the form of an ownership transfer. And the ownership transfer is typically of a parcel of land. But the parcel of land can be converted into cash.
Sometimes this is raised as an objection to land reform isn’t the kind of social engineering that we’d hoped. We gave all of these parcels of land to Mexican peasants. And a week later, they sold them to a real estate developer and moved to the city.
So some people think, oh, so, therefore, it doesn’t work. Well, on the other hand, that’s why the Gini coefficient moved, because you had a massive transfer of wealth. So it’s possible that reparations would take the form of land transfer when land transfer is the most meaningful, symbolic value. So for example, transferring land to local, Indigenous populations whose descendants are nearby, restoring those land rights, restoring governance and the ability to police and to own.
And it’s also possible that for– reacting to structural racism and the suffering of enslaved people, reparations project would take the form of cash payments rather than land transfer. It doesn’t all have to be the same. We don’t have to eradicate our cities or transfer all of the land.
And often in the land reform movements that follow the Irish example, we see this kind of equivalency of– what needs to happen is a movement of capital, not a total reversal. So the Irish landlords are compensated. They’re paid out. They take their cash from their manor house in the West of Ireland, and they usually move someplace, like maybe California. And they invest in another industry.
So instead of investing in farming and being a landlord, collecting rents, they’re now going to invest in real estate or in a shoe factory or in a tech factory. They go elsewhere, and they do something else with the capital. And that’s one of the nice things in land reform and in capitalist models, that it can co-exist with other kinds of investment. You don’t have to correct for– repairing the sins of the past doesn’t have to take the form of an idealized land management strategy.
That’s very narrow. We have a multiplicity of demands on land. Lots of people need housing. Lots of people need factories. You can make these adjustments, and it adjusts the shape of society as a whole.
[MAROIN FOURCADE] But unfortunately, we are already passed our time. So maybe, Jo, you can answer questions separately. But that concludes the formal part of the program. Thank you so much, Jo. [INAUDIBLE]
Thank you very much again. Thank you so much for being here.