Why You’ve Never Heard of a Charter as Important as the Magna Carta | naked capitalism
It is scarcely surprising that the political Right want to ignore the Charter. It is about the economic rights of the property-less, limiting private property rights and rolling back the enclosure of land, returning vast expanses to the commons. It was remarkably subversive Sadly, whereas every school child is taught about the Magna Carta, few hear of the Charter.
Yet for hundreds of years the Charter led the Magna Carta. It had to be read out in every church in England four times a year. It inspired struggles against enclosure and the plunder of the commons by the monarchy, aristocracy and emerging capitalist class, famously influencing the Diggers and Levellers in the 17th century, and protests against enclosure in the 18th and 19th.
The Charter achieved a reversal, and forced the monarchy to recognise the right of free men and women to pursue their livelihoods in forests. The notion of forest was much broader than it is today, and included villages and areas with few trees, such as Dartmoor and Exmoor. The forest was where commoners lived and worked collaboratively.
The Charter has 17 articles, which assert the eternal right of free men and women to work on their own volition in ways that would yield all elements of subsistence on the commons, including such basics as the right to pick fruit, the right to gather wood for buildings and other purposes, the right to dig and use clay for utensils and housing, the right to pasture animals, the right to fish, the right to take peat for fuel, the right to water, and even the right to take honey.
The Charter should be regarded as one of the most radical in our history, since it asserted the right of commoners to obtain raw materials and the means of production, and gave specific meaning to the right to work.
Over the centuries, the ethos of the Charter has been under constant attack. The Tudors were the most egregious, with Henry VIII confiscating ten million acres and disbursing them to favourites, the descendants of whom still possess hundreds of thousands of acres. The enclosure act of 1845 was another mass landgrab, mocking the pretensions of private property rights. Between 1760 and 1870, over 4,000 acts of Parliament, instituted by a landowning elite, confiscated seven million acres of commons. It is no exaggeration to say that the land ownership structure of Britain today is the result of organised theft.
#Communs #Charte_des_forêts #Angleterre