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Stop, Thief! : The Commons, Enclosures, And Resistance (Spectre) [Paperback]

Peter Linebaugh

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Book Description

14 Feb 2014 Spectre
In this tour de force, celebrated historian Peter Linebaugh takes aim at the thieves of land, the polluters of the seas, the ravagers of the forests, the despoilers of rivers and the removers of mountaintops. Scarcely a society has existed that has not had commoning at its heart. These essays kindle the embers of memory to ignite our future commons. From Thomas Paine to the Luddites, from Karl Marx to the practical dreamer William Morris, to the 20th-century communist historian E.P. Thompson, Linebaugh brings to life the vital commonist tradition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring, illuminating historical essays about enclosures of the commons 28 May 2014
By David A. Bollier - Published on
It is always refreshing to read Peter Linebaugh’s writings on the commons because he brings such rich historical perspectives to bear, revealing the commons as both strangely alien and utterly familiar. With the added kick that the commoning he describes actually happened, Linebaugh’s journeys into the commons leave readers outraged at enclosures of long ago and inspired to protect today's endangered commons.

This was my response, in any case, after reading Linebaugh’s latest book, Stop, Thief! The Commons, Enclosures and Resistance, which is a collection of fifteen chapters on many different aspects of the commons, mostly from history. The book starts out on a contemporary note by introducing “some principles of the commons” followed by “a primer on the commons and commoning” and a chapter on urban commoning. For readers new to Linebaugh, he is an historian at the University of Toledo, in Ohio, and the author of such memorable books as The Magna Carta Manifesto and The London Hanged.

Stop, Thief! is organized around a series of thematic sections that collect previously published essays and writings by Linebaugh. One section focuses on Karl Marx (“Charles Marks,” as he was recorded in British census records) and another on British enclosures and commoners (Luddites; William Morris; the Magna Carta; “enclosures from the bottom up”). A third section focuses on American commons (Thomas Paine; communism and commons) before concluding with three chapters on First Nations and commons.

This sampler reflects Linebaugh’s eclectic passions as a historian. They are united by the overarching themes of commoning, enclosure and resistance, as the subtitle puts it. This framework makes for some unanticipated historical excursions, such as the chapter on the theft of forest products and abolition of forest rights in 19th century Germany, which made quite an impression on Karl Marx. Another chapter – Linebaugh’s foreword to E.P. Thompson’s book on William Morris – situates Morris as a communist, artist, prophet and revolutionary.

Some of the historical explorations journey into areas that are frankly obscure to me, so I don't always appreciate the fuller context and circumstances. But this is part of the pleasure and fun -- to be introduced to new areas of commons history. Linebaugh describes a host of historical commons that have receded into the mists of history:

“the Irish knowledge commons, the agrarian commons of the Nile, the open fields of England enclosed by Acts of Parliament, the Mississippi Delta commons, the Creek-Chickasaw-Cherokee commons, the llaneros and pardos of Venezeula, the Mexican communidades de los naturales, the eloquently expressed nut-and-berry commons of the Great Lakes, the customs of the sikep villagers of Java, the subsistence commons of Welsh gardeners, the commons of the street along the urban waterfront, the lascars crammed in dark spaces far from home, and the Guyanese slaves building commons and community….”

I only wish that some of these passing references had been elaborated upon; they conjure up exotic lost worlds unto themselves.

It is fitting that the concluding chapter explores the “invisibility of the commons” – our problem now, as then. Linebaugh notes how such astute minds as George Orwell, William Wordsworth and C.L.R. James failed to see the commons as commons in their times. Since then, scholarship has helped to illuminate the importance of customary rights, of grazing commons, and of indigenous commons, notes Linebaugh. “What is gained from seeing them as commoning?” he asks. “An answer arises in the universality of expropriation, and a remedy to these crimes must be found therefore in reparation for what has been lost and taken.”
12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars David Bollier's Review is Better, This Is My Attempt 21 April 2014
By Robert David STEELE Vivas - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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.
5 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Important concept, disappointing presentation 4 May 2014
By Katherine Forrest - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This appears to be an unedited collection of essays and commentary on various historic events related to the persistence of the concept of a commons, which antedates moves to enclose (privatize) property. Resistance to enclosure has occurred, and continues to occur, in many ways. While there is valuable historical information in this book, it's a struggle to find it due to the lack of organization.

The notion of the commons--the recognition and importance of that which we all share, and our responsibility for protecting it--is not just something that many individuals have acted out in their daily lives. It is also a fundamental value of contemporary political progressives [...] I was particularly disappointed by Linebaugh's book, because the idea of the Commons is such a timely one, impacting people around the world.
0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars 2 July 2014
By Unknown - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
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