For a Radical Politics of Land

Introduction

Social relations of domination and exploitation among people are inextricably bound up with relations between humans and the non-human world. Building a new society based on equality, autonomy and reciprocity among people will entail a radical change in our relationship to other living beings and the world at large.

Against social territoriality

As radicals we must insist that land should never and nowhere be property, individual or collective, in any sense of the term. The social right to use land, within the limits of our respect for the non-human world, should be distributed justly and equally among all human beings on Earth. This social right to use land should be of a piece with a social duty to care for it.

No group or individual should have the right to claim a certain territory as off limits to anyone else. Everyone should be able to move around freely and settle, for a short or a long time, wherever they please, within the limits set by our respect for the non-human.

Natural resources that occur only in a few locations should, if their exploitation can be justified at all, be shared equally with everyone else on the planet. In a classless society beyond gender, race and nation, conflicts over space, water or the use of resources should be resolvable through open-ended negotiations.

Ideologies of land

Against this vision and these ideas stand not only the realities of today’s patriarchal capitalist imperialism, but also racist, national, ethnic and religious claims that there are unchanging, transhistorical groups of people that carry certain natural and inborn traits, and that these peoples, races or nations are tied to certain territories by natural, unbreakable ties, and that certain territories have been given to certain “peoples” or “nations” by God or the gods, etc.

Relationship to the land

Cultures can have very long memories, relationships with the land can be strong, attachments can run deep. These connections and attachments must be honoured. But it is also true that people can move around, forget and let go of their old homes and make new ones, connect and become deeply attached to, and very knowledgeable about, a new environment in the space of just a few generations.

Rights to land

We reject the notion that nomads and hunter-gatherers have a lesser right to their territories than people that “work the land”, or that horticulturalists have less right to the land they inhabit than people practicing supposedly “more advanced” forms of agriculture. We deem especially abhorrent the notion developed by 17th century Europeans, that people who “develop” land in a way that increases its market value, have more right to such land than people who do not.

Social justice and territoriality

But neither do we admire pre-colonial African and American societies that did not have land ownership but instead organised exploitation through direct control over and ownership of labouring bodies. In fact we oppose all forms of social order that exist on this planet, their modes of social reproduction and territoriality.

No region of this earth should ever be recognised as authentically “belonging” to some ethnic group, in any sense of the term, whether they are the descendants of people who happened to come there first (such as the aboriginal people of Australia, Melanesia and Polynesia and Native Americans) or the descendants of people who came there as part of one of the many waves of violent conquest that constitute much of human history.

This is not to say that descendants of victims of colonial dispossession and slavery should not demand justice, that people should not remember, mourn, attempt to heal some of the trauma, demand social recognition and material redress. On the contrary. But we believe that to achieve true historical justice all relations of social domination (of class, race, gender…) must be dismantled. And in our view this entails putting an end to all forms of land ownership and territoriality.

Colonialism

What’s wrong with colonialism is not that regions that were inhabited by some group first now are settled by other people from some faraway place. There is nothing wrong with long distance migration and cultural mixing per se. There are no pristine, authentic, unchanging cultures that need protecting from cultural hybridization. What’s wrong with colonialism is the violence and coercion that have driven and determined migration and cultural mixing.

The problem is that colonisation takes away the land that people depend on for their livelihood and their sense of belonging. It reduces the social status of colonised people and exposes them to humiliation and exploitation.

Colonisation is never the only problem. Very few colonised societies were classless and none, we venture, were gender-egalitarian. Many were structured by caste, ethnicity and (something akin to) race. These forms of domination and exploitation were transformed and built upon by colonialism.

Anti-imperialism

Consequently, an anti-imperialism that is not also anti-feudal, anti-capitalist, feminist and anti-racist is useless. Worse than useless, actually, because it enables the blending of radical and reactionary thought and is a potential entry point for reactionary ideas and values into radical movements.

Global solidarity

Building a new global society based on equality, autonomy and reciprocity entails that our primary identification must be as a human animal and part of this world. Our solidarity must be global, our roots everywhere. As radicals we must insist on the necessity and possibility of integrating regional and particular attachments and identifications into global networks of solidarity.