Stop the thief!


We are losing our subsistence – and with it the ground under our feet – to the privileged and powerful. People all over the world are cheated out of pensions, houses, universities and farmland; they cry, "Stop thief!", think about the "commons" and become communally active. But what are the commons? From the obscurity of centuries past, the modern meaning of the term "commons" is just beginning to dawn again. In the following small glossary, I highlight – in content, not alphabetical order – some aspects of the commons and commoning (common creating care use).

Potlatch, the buffet of what is brought, solidarity agriculture (CSA), the kitchen – the deepest expression of commons-based care benefits has to do with food. The free place at the table and the principle of hospitality are inseparable from human community. The common meal is a central aspect of any religion: our daily bread. On joyless ships, food was mere "ration," on joyful ones, the sailors' "commons".

Public health maintenance and free access to sports facilities, accident and illness prevention, and medical care are sorely needed. A "hospital" was once an inn where guests, strangers and travelers were welcomed. In the practice of the hospital embodied hospitality, hospitality. Salus publica populi Romani Quiritium – short: Salus – was the goddess of the well-being of the Roman citizens and their state. Meanwhile, this once revered goddess has been gagged by hospital, pharmaceutical and insurance companies. In earlier times, medicine was not the private property of pharmaceutical giants, but in communal forests.

Living space
Squats, house communities, living communities, dormitories, slums or homeless settlements are by no means utopian ideas, but they meet real needs, spring from direct action, are authentic examples of symbiotic togetherness, animate inanimate zones and are expressions of cooperation.

Giving birth, nurturing, neighborliness and love are the beginnings of all social life. The historic commons were not dominated by men, but often put the needs of women and children first. It was not just about "needs"; decision-making and other responsibilities were also in the hands of women – from the slums of industrialization to the matriarchal tribal societies of the Iroquois to African village communities.

Knowledge treasure
Commons grow without copyright: "He who receives an idea from me thereby increases his knowledge without diminishing mine, just as he who lights his candle to mine thereby receives light without exposing me to darkness" (Thomas Jefferson). Talking, chatting, singing, rapping with each other used to be the Internet of the people. Common sense grows out of the network of family and neighborly relations. But we do need a gathering place! How about the local school? On the barricades against the extinguishing of the light!

In the "Oxford English Dictionary" there are four to five pages full of definitions of the word common ("common", "together"); the first one reads: "belonging equally to several". Some of our most important words, with their respective social, political, and spiritual echoes and historical contexts, derive from the commons, or. to the "common," such as "commonality," "community," "communal," "communality," "communion". Etymologically, commons are derivatives of the Latin parents com, "together," and munis, "obligation". The concept of the commons exists in many languages around the world: in Andean culture the key word is allyus, in Mexican ejido.
Sometimes, however, the word "commons" is deceptive, used with a forked tongue, and turned into the exact opposite, for example, when talking about a privatized housing development (gated community) or a privatized market (shopping mall), which pretend to be communal, but in fact exclude all those who do not have the necessary dough!

Working class
Some say the precariat has replaced the proletariat. This simply means that life has become more insecure, more uncertain, more precarious for us – the common, common people. Whether we are old or young, poor or barely scraping by, the institutions that once had our backs are increasingly disappearing, and their names are degenerating into swear words like "welfare" or "social assistance.". As Hurricane Katrina or the real estate and banking crises have shown, neither governments nor corporations are able to alleviate such emergencies. As disaster follows disaster, we are increasingly thrown back on our own resources and must dig deeper. In times of need, we need the former commons – if we still remember them – as well as the new ones created by spontaneous communal creation. We should not forget that the workers are the real "work-givers".

The commons denotes neither just resources nor just people, but always an interaction of the two. The commons are not merely "common pool resources" nor are they merely "the people". They are not things, but relationships. In medieval Europe, the forests, hills, coasts, and estuaries were the places where commons-creating foresters, shepherds, fishermen, and reed cutters cared for the land. These were called "commoners" or "commons," and were communally connected across communal boundaries with other commoners, while the self-serving giants – the ruling lords and ladies – bullied the common people and advanced the enclosure of the commons. It is in this tension that our nature has been shaped and molded – the landscapes that surround us as well as our human nature.

Often, the commons becomes visible only through its absence: the neighborhood without sidewalks, the dried-up fountain, the commons field, the fresh and clean air – gone! Someone has taken what we had taken for granted and made it their own. Stop! Stop the thief!

The commons are outside the state apparatus. Commons generate their own form of security. Relationships are regulated here less by police force than by usage, habit and socialization – anyone who has ever organized a round of street soccer in the neighborhood knows the principle. In English history, politics began as a process of negotiation between Lords and Commoners. That's why England has a House of Lords and a House of Commons to this day.

Law and order
As a rule, commons are not designated and preserved by laws, but by traditions and customs. Customs are local, they are preserved in memory, and elders are the keepers of the collective memory. Some examples from Africa and Latin America show that traditions can also be a cover for patriarchal privileges. That's why I respect customs but don't romanticize them.

The commons are often outside the logics of buying, selling and commodity management; they are where life happens face to face. The commons is not the same as an economy of the gift or a potlatch. No, not everything is free – but, yes, everything can be shared. The commons are an expression of reciprocity, mutuality. Commons economics is not based on that of Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized triad of evils: militarism, racism and consumerism. By the way, the so-called industrial revolution does not bear its name rightly; quite the opposite: In England, mechanization was a counter-revolutionary movement, and what it produced – besides dirt and soot – was the exact opposite of industriousness and industry: misery for the workers and idleness for the rulers. What a fraudulent label!

The good Samaritan. "By divine right, all things are common to all," say the Franciscans. The Christian New Testament tells of early Christian community of goods: "All things were common to them"." Haitian novelist and voodoo connoisseur Marie Chauvet wrote, "Someone touched the calabash tree, my God! … Someone touched the calabash tree … Someone touched the calabash tree. You knock down all the trees and leave the earth defenseless. Watch as she walks along, baring her teeth thirsting for revenge."

The commons are old, and they are everywhere: from Iraq to Indiana, from Afghanistan to Arizona, they can be found in the traditions of indigenous cultures and in a variety of modern variations. History is not a linear or stepwise progress process. Often developments have overlapped, reversed, leapt, without ever quite breaking off. Below the radar of the official historiography, there have always been many communities of common creation. And anyway: progress of what and for whom?

Excerpts from: Stop, Thief! The Commons, Enclosures, and Resistance, Oakland: PM Press, 2014. © Peter Linebaugh 2014. Translated from American English by Matthias Fersterer.

Oya in the ear
This article is also available as a radio play.

Peter Linebaugh (76) researches, teaches, and publishes as a radical historian in the fields of British and Irish history, labor movement history, history of the commons, and colonialism. As a "child of the Empire", as he calls himself self-critically, he attended schools and universities in the US states of New York and Pennsylvania, in Washington D.C., London, Warwick, Bonn and Karachi. Linebaugh is the author of numerous historical works. Available in German translation: "Die vielkopfige Hydra" (2001/2008) about mutiny, piracy and slavery in transatlantic colonial history. The strongest response to date has been to his book "The Magna Carta Manifesto" (2008), a historical study with strong contemporary relevance on the rights of the commons enshrined in the "Magna Carta" (1215) and the "Charter of the Forest" (1217). Robin D. G. Kelley, a professor of postcolonial studies, called Linebaugh "the most important contemporary historian," and the U.S. weekly "The Nation" praised "the most important and poetic book on civil liberties of the year. Most recently published the essay volume "Stop, Thief!" (2014) and "The Incomplete, True, Authentic, and Wonderful History of May Day" (2016) about the history of the 1. Corn as a day of work. Linebaugh is a regular contributor to the online magazine Counterpunch. He lives with his wife in Ann Arbor in the US state of Michigan.

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