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The return of Pierre Proudhon

Property rights, crime, and the rules of law

Esther Kingston-Mann

This essay in comparative history considers how governing elites and rural publics have interpreted rules of law and criminal behavior in times of radical tenure transformation. During the twentieth century, Russians experienced three state-sponsored attempts at property rights revolution: firstly, the pre-1917 Stolypin Reforms to privatize the ubiquitous peasant communes, secondly, Stalin’s 1930s campaign to forcibly collectivized peasant communes, and thirdly, the 1990s ‘shock therapy’ reforms to replace Soviet collectivism with wholesale privatization. In each case, adherents of the pre-existing property systems were excluded from the decision-making process that established the new one. Russia’s historical experience is viewed in light of the contested emergence of private property regimes during England’s enclosure movement, and during the nineteenth-century Euro- pean settler appropriation of American Indian land as private property—with African-born plantation workers also later claimed as private property. In some cases, resistance was viewed as criminal; in others, it was punishable as treason.