Peter Linebaugh, Stop Thief: The Commons, Enclosures and Resistance.

Author:Parker, Martin
Position:Book review

Peter Linebaugh, Stop Thief: The Commons, Enclosures and Resistance Oakland, CA: PM Press, 2014, 336pp; ISBN 9781604867473.

According to Peter Linebaugh, if a radical speaker wanted to get attention in the hurly burly of a street, one tactic was to shout 'stop thief!' loudly and repeatedly until a crowd gathered and began to pay attention. In this megaphone of a book, we are reminded just how much thieving has been going on, and for how long. In its dense series of interconnected essays, most published elsewhere but definitely benefitting from their collection here, the theme of enclosures and commons is repeated in different places and times until we can be in no doubt that the argument is a general one. Thieves have been stealing our stuff for a long while now, and it's time to start noticing and doing something about it.

We don't need to run through the general features of the commons argument here, but it's worth making one point clear. For Linebaugh, commoning is a relationship (p 18), and 'the commons' is something produced by that relationship. It's important to bear that in mind when reading these essays, because otherwise we would easily end up in a series of unhelpful dichotomies. For example, the wide open spaces of the country ended by the confinements of the city; the field replaced by the factory; and freedom by institutions. Though Linebaugh is often enough a romantic when it comes to wild flowers and long walks, he knows that 'the city itself must be commonized' (p 40).

The essays here touch on topics which will be familiar to those who know Peter Linebaugh's work--crime, Marx, history, romanticism, slavery, women in men's clothing and vice versa--a list of all the ways in which the word 'common' becomes a slur in the English language. This books adds Godzilla, cowboys, witches and the importance of rest 'because earth, air, water and fire, formerly common, are utterly exhausted by the world's privatizers who call their exploitation "business". But business is the opposite of rest.' (p 135)

It's a tremendous book...

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