The Dispossessed: Karl Marx’s Debates on Wood Theft and the Right of the Poor (Paperback)
Excavating Marx’s early writings to rethink the rights of the poor and the idea of the commons in an era of unprecedented privatization
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.
About the Author
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.
"In 1842, the young Karl Marx analyzed the consequences of capitalist rural enclosures in Rhineland. Today, patent rights, biotechnologies, and different forms of intellectual property, Daniel Bensaïd convincingly argues, are means of dispossession of human beings exactly as the land enclosures of almost two centuries ago had been a crucial moment in the process of the accumulation of capital. Far from being ‘neutral’ or ‘natural,’ market society was—and still remains—built as a planned dispossession. This is a timely and highly original essay by a towering figure of French critical thought."—Enzo Traverso, author of Left-Wing Melancholia: Marxism, History, and Memory
"Within a single volume, this book makes available to English-language readers for the first time not only fresh translations of Marx’s ‘wood theft articles’ but also Daniel Bensaïd’s lucid and incisive commentary on these pieces. Bensaïd’s short book brings the Marx articles alive for contemporary audiences and demonstrates their enduring relevance for longstanding debates about law, property, and rights."—Samuel A. Chambers, Johns Hopkins University
"Bensaïd’s essay, as contextualized in this volume by Nichols, successfully pushes, especially those of a Marxist orientation, to make the idea of dispossession more central to their theoretical and practical work."—Marx & Philosophy