The Economic History Review

Reconsidering peasant communes in the Levant, c. 1850s–1940s†

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Published online: August 5, 2020DOI: 10.1111/ehr.13003

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The unfounded belief that there was a peasant commune in the Levant very similar to the Russian mir, and that it was inefficient, precluded historians from understanding the true role of the institution of mushāʿ in this region. The mushāʿ land title represented the attachment of a particular community to specific plots of land. In this context, ‘community’ often meant nuclear and extended families in suprahouseholds, as well as the entire village. People in these communities tended to derive income from land according to recognized arrangements such as mutual use of grazing lands, and joint or individual cultivation with or without land repartition among cultivators. The comparison with mir was relevant only for one form of the institution, namely, repartitioned mushāʿ. Redistribution or repartition varied according to specific ‘factors of production’ or to informal and formal property rights. It did not prove less efficient than the reformed, individualized system of land management, and was possibly more effective in resisting laws that allowed the seizure of lands that had not been cultivated for three years. All forms of mushāʿ required greater communal mutual support and responsibility, which significantly reduced risks in times of crisis.