THE POOR MAN HAD NO CHANCE: FORMATION OF A LANDLESS AGRARIAN SEMIPROLETARIAT
Before an area can be incorporated into the network of world-capitalist processes, one of the major stumbling blocks that must be overcome is the lack of available labor. Following the expansion of capitalism into peripheral areas, scarce productive resources are monopolized by local elites and absentee capitalists. Subsequently, land serves as the critical mechanism for anchoring labor relations between landholders and propertyless families. Because control over land, the primary factor of production, is denied to them, a sizeable segment of the rural population is transformed into a surplus of landless laborers. Never fully integrated into the local economy as independent producers and never completely proletarianized into wage occupations, much of the rural population is economically "marginalized." These rural workers neither own the means of production nor are they remunerated for their labor on a reliable or equitable basis. "They are at once more desperate and more mobile than the permanently employed, however much the latter are exploited." Such semiproletarians "are indeed the 'wretched of the earth.'"1
Nineteenth-century capitalist agriculture created demands for laborers from several types of farm owners. Workers were recruited by middling households for whom farming was secondary to other occupations; by wealthy "gentleman farmers" who spent their time in commerce or their professions; by middling and large commercial farmers producing surpluses for the market; by women farmers who could afford to hire workers; and by families for whom wage labor was a substitute for family labor until children were old enough to work in the fields. Except for the rare subsistence producer, nearly every farmer required short-term day laborers for planting and harvesting.