Peter Linebaugh’s book is an essential guide to how land belonging to all has been stolen by capitalist depredation, says DEREK WALL
Stop, Thief! The Commons, Enclosures And Resistance by Peter Linebaugh (PM Press, £15.99)
PETER LINEBAUGH is one of the best living Marxist historians who, in detailed but bracing books like The London Hanged and The Magna Carta Manifesto, has illuminated both British and world histories as tales of closely fought class struggle.
He is best known for his work on “the commons” — the common land which was stolen in Britain, as Marx noted, to make way for the capitalist system.
Capitalism requires that we are separated from the means of production, including land, so that we are forced to work for others to survive.
Linebaugh notes that “commons” was one of Marx’s key concerns and, despite all the mystification, a world held in common is both possible and vital to liberate humanity and protect ecosystems.
Stop, Thief! gets its title from the Industrial Workers of the World speakers who would shout: “Stop, thief!” to get the attention of passers-by attention before launching into soap-box speeches on the need to replace capitalism with a system of workers’ control.
That imaginative title encapsulates a book which is perhaps the best introduction to both the commons and Linebaugh’s wider work, containing as it does classic essays including The Essential Karl Marx, The Theft Of Wood and Working-Class Composition, originally published in the 1970s.
From critical terminology to the principles of the commons to a useful list of additional books on the commons, including Elinor Ostrom’s work, it provides a good guide to all aspects of common-pool property as an alternative to purely private ownership.
The book is divided into sections including ones on Britain, the US and First Nations and I was particularly struck by the passage on “Charles Marks,” the English name Marx bestowed on himself for census purposes when residing in Britain.
While many readers might differ in their views on Linebaugh’s autonomist take on communism, all on the left will be delighted by his essay Frau Gertrude Kugelmann And The Five Gates of Marxism, a charming and beautiful account, right down to Marx’s visit to the pawn shop to raise the funds to travel to Germany to publish the first edition of Capital volume one.
The essay shows the clear feminist strain in Marx’s thought, the five gates referring to five ways in which Marx’s seminal work can be made accessible to all readers, especially workers.
Throughout the book Linebaugh is clear that capitalism is based on the theft of the commons and we need class struggle to apprehend the thieves. Charlie Marks would have drunk to that.