The great waves of European expansion that began in 1492 were characterized by fundamental ideological and material transformations in people’s relations to land. In his Second Treatise of Government (1689) the English philosopher John Locke, who owned plantations in both Ireland and the American colonies, wrote, “He who appropriates land to himself by his labor does not lessen but increase the common stock of mankind” (Locke 1988, 293). Later in the Treatise, Locke explicitly references the Native Americans as an example of people who, appearing to him to do no labor, consequently fail to develop the Earth according to god’s plan and therefore can stake no legitimate claim of ownership to the land on which they live. Locke’s argument was central to the creation of private property and, more broadly, to the process of enclosure of communal lands that unfolded in the British Isles and in England’s far-flung colonies in the centuries before and after Locke wrote. Marx called this “primitive accumulation,” a process through which people were separated from their land and their means of production. Fundamental to the birth of capitalism, this history was “written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire” (Marx 1976...

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