Review: STOP, THIEF! The Commons, Enclosures, and Resistance

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Amazon Page
Amazon Page

Peter Linebaugh

5.0 out of 5 stars David Bollier's Review is Better, This Is My Attempt, April 21, 2014

I was very impressed by David Bollier's review of this book at his web site (look for < “Stop, Thief!” – Peter Linebaugh's New Collection of Essays > and am encouraging him to port that excellent review here to Amazon. Indeed, after working my way through the book myself, I consider myself unable to do proper justice to this deep work that integrates history, poetry, political economy, anthropology, and sociology among other disciplines. Hence I hope others will write substantive summary reviews and I again recommend Bollier's review above.

Three thoughts keep recurring as I went through this book of original current essays and presentations:

01 Holy Cow. This guy is DEEP and BROAD in terms of arcane as well as popular sources, delving down into little known poems, essays, public statements, etcetera. This book is the one book version of the Durant's Story of Civilization applied to one topic, the commons.

02 Holy Cow. This is what my top political science professor was trying to explain when I was in college in 1970-1974 – yes, a half century ago — and I was just not smart enough, patient enough, to appreciate it.

03 Holy Cow. This book is not just subversive, it does a magnificent job of head slapping every politician, economists, talking head, and other pretender who presumes to talk about public welfare without for one instant understanding that wages are a form of slavery and disconnection of humanity from everything else. Lionel Tiger makes related points in The Manufacture of Evil: Ethics, Evolution and the Industrial System but this book — if you focus and do not get lost in the poetry and minutia of exemplar citation — beats the commons versus capitalism drum along every possible note on the musical scale.

Among my high-level notes:

01 Capitalism is a “free rider” on the backs of industrial labor, women, slaves, & the indigenous, to which I would add prisoners and youth.

02 Labor has suffered the trauma of refugees (this is my interpretation, not something the author mentions) but in a manner more persistent, slow, wicked, and utlimately tortorous. I've taken an interest in social trauma recently, see for example my review of The Politics of Haunting and Memory in International Relations (Interventions). If I take one thing only from this book, apart from the reality that we have created a massive majority of the dispossessed, it is that their voices have been silenced, their souls crushed, their spirits blown away. While the author focuses on the world of the one billion “rich,” of course this applies to the five billion poor.

03 Political economy should be about the economy of, by, and for We the People rather than about the management of all by the political class on behalf of the ownership class (the 1%). This book provides substance that none of the Occupy books do, including Noam Chomsky's otherwise excellent Occupy: Reflections on Class War, Rebellion and Solidarity (Occupied Media Pamphlet Series).

04 The book is at its most base a deeply personalized history of enclosures as crimes against humanity, and those who dissented in the English, French, Russian, and German languages.

05 The author raises questions I had not properly considered before, such as “What is a coercive relationship?” “What is the true cost of accepting a wage and foregoing all other forms of compensation?”

06 Thomas Jefferson falls hard in this book — for the first time I am forced to see Jefferson as a land grabber, a leader in both assuming debt on behalf of citizens and imposing debt on the Indians, and as one of the first to genocide Indians in many different ways direct and indirect. It was not until I read this book that I understood that enclosing a commons is the first step in genocide against a people whose entire soul is wrapped up — righteiously and correctly — in protecting the freedom of the land as the foundation for their own freedom.

07 This book has driven me to recognize the emerging literature in governance, complexity, and resilience. While I have understood, aided in part by books such as 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, that our indigenous forebearers were vastly wiser than we are today about bottom-up consensus decisions that take the long view (“seventh generation thinking”) it is this book that turns me on to Elinor Ostrom's Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions). It is also this book that frames Thomas Paine and his works — including his obscure underappreciated works such as Agrarian Justice — and offers me a sweeping view of seminar works from the 1700's that were not really known to me before now.

I have many small notes across the book but will end with 3 notes, 3 quotes, and 3 books recommended by the author (among many others also cited).

3 notes:

+ Crime is a control concept. The criminalization of the commons is a form of coercion and an invention of rights that did not exist for the few.

+ Common rights and access have historically been one of the most important foundations for resilience in the face of catastrophic challenges.

+ The five gates of Marxism include Extension (of the working day or season), Fractionation (divide and conquer), Mechanization (displace and deprive), Accumulation (of unpaid labor), and Expropriation (of land and value outright).


QUOTE (60): Dr. Georg Mayr, for instance, one of the first academic statisticians of criminology and the Zollverein, discovered that the more difficult it is to gain a livelihood in a lawful manner, the more crimes against property will be committed.

QUOTE (77): The system of capitalism begins to collapse when labor power expresses itself as the power of the people and attacks the machines of its degradation and resumes responsibility for earth.

QUOTE (95): Lasting happiness is unobtainable as long as incentives to avarice and ambition are available to the few.

On this latter note, I cannot help but observe that “the state” is the primary means by which the 1% criminalize and contain the 99%. I am about to review Gregory Sams' The State Is Out of Date: We Can Do It Better and expect there will be logical connectivity to this book. For myself, I see the state and the mega-industrial approach as easily creating 50% or more waste across every function from agriculture to energy to health to the military — at the same time that it makes it easier for the 1% to profit from waste while abusing the 99%.

3 books:

All That We Share: How to Save the Economy, the Environment, the Internet, Democracy, Our Communities and Everything Else that Belongs to All of Us

Silent Theft: The Private Plunder of Our Common Wealth

Recovering the Commons: Democracy, Place, and Global Justice

I put the book down certain I am a commoner, not a communist, and equally certain — this was new to me — that I am not a Libertarian and that we must all be very wary of Libertarians for they lack the ethics of the commons in their rush to celebrate individuality at any cost. Put in stark US political terms, this book makes it clear the two party Republican-Democratic tyranny (one bird, two wings, same crap) are the enablers of the 1% that are the thieves in chief, and that none of the political parties, with the possible exception of the Green Party that is accredited and the Working Families Party that is not, are remotely conscious of the terms of reference this book sets forth.

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