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Once Looting was the Pay of Imperial Soldiers

Loo! Loo! Lulu! Loot!

by PETER LINEBAUGH

The New York Times on Saturday may write that Bush made "his first on-the-ground look at the desperation that has gripped the region for the last five days" but they also say he made his tour in a helicopter. He was frightened, and never actually got down to earth except when he left at the airport tarmac if you want to call that "earth". At one time it was part of one of the planet’s greatest alluvial systems. Bush with his beady bee-bee eyes had himself a look-see out the window which they call an "on-the-ground look".

In Zora Neale Hurston’s great flood novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, the people become a chorus to the events of the mighty. "It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. The sun and the bossman were gone, so the skins felt powerful and human. They passed nations through their mouths. They sat in judgment." This helps explain why Bush could not visit the Convention Center or the Superdome. Tens of thousands sit in judgment.

The history of New Orleans is a history of class war; and class war brings out the actualities in the potential of communism: the thirsty do not ask permission to take a drink, nor the hungry food. Is it the new society? Of course not. But it could be; this is self-activity. The ruling class does all it can to prevent it from happening.

But what about the "looting"? Yes, precisely. Massive media and ideological and legal resources are concentrated on the point, the fears of the ruling class, its guilty self-knowledge for all the commodity capital flowing down the river from the granary of the Midwest, from the one-time factories of the Great Lakes. All down the river and out to sea, past the dockers, the Black Indians, past the slaves and cotton pickers, the prisoners at Angola, the Cajuns, the maroons, and creole, and back again, now as surplus value, as finance capital.

The"loot"? Etymologically, it’s a Hindu word with a Sanskrit root, and it signified what was taken from an enemy in war, such as the clothing (‘clobber’) of the dead. Rudyard Kipling knew all about it, singing to his comrades, the soldiers of imperial India.

If you’ve ever stole a pheasant-egg be’ind the keeper’s back,
If you’ve ever snigged the washin’ from the line,
If you’ve ever crammed a gander in your bloomin’ ‘aversack,
You will understand this little song o’mine.
But the service rules are ‘ard, an’ from such we are debarred,
For the same with English morals does not suit.
Why they call a man a robber if ‘e stuffs ‘is marchin’ clobber
Withh the -
Loo! Loo! Lulu! Lulu! Loo! Loo! Loot! Loot! Loot!
Ow, the loot!
Bloomin’ loot!
That’s the thing to make the boys git up an’ shoot!
It’s the same with dogs an’ men,
If you’d make ‘em come again
Clap ‘em forward with a Loo! Loo! Lulu! Loot!
Whoopee! Tear ‘im puppy! Loo! Loo! Lulu! Loot! Loot! Loot!

Yes, at one time loot was the soldier’s pay, it was part of the wage deal. A generation ago a huge amount of international scholarship was devoted to this process, how criminalization is essential to a) the formation of the wage, and b) the creation of a terrorized, divided proletariat. "English morals" boiled down to little food and worse commons all under the gallows tree. Nowadays loot is nothing less than the surplus value of the capitalist class in a deadly class war, fearful for its surplus in whatever form, commodity, money, production, real estate, futures, assets, development.

In New Orleans when they asked for bread they were given a stone. It’s an old story. Lafcadio Hearn was a great nineteenth century creolist, journalist, story-teller, student of Japan, and inhabitant of New Orleans where he was assistant editor for the Item, a readable journal of reform. "Were there Communists in Antiquity?" was the question for its readers on August 23, 1878, only a few years following the Paris Commune. Evidently a correspondent of a rival paper in endeavoring to prove the nuisance of "tramps" in antiquity, made a complete mess of both Greek and Latin philology, and Lafcadio Hearn patiently set them right before moving on to answer the question of the day.

Yes, he concluded, there were communists. "The rich were killed or exiled; their lands and goods shared among the poor. At Megara every wealthy man in the city was exiled ­ a punishment which antique society rendered almost equal to death ­ and their goods confiscated. At Samos two hundred wealthy citizens were killed, four hundred exiled, and their wealth distributed among the poor. At Syracuse the same thing occurred. So also at Messina." This is the justice that Bush could not risk by standing on the ground. Lafcadio Hearn, a man who could pass within the races, continued his account of classical communism and its grim lesson for his era, as he thought.

"At Miletus, the children of the rich men, who had fled the city, were taken by the rioters and trampled to death by trained oxen. Subsequently the rich party, prevailing after a savage context, revenged itself by seizing the children of the poor, plastering their bodies with pitch, and burning them alive. Yet in those days the hatred of the poor classes against the rich was hardly greater than it is today. At that era the war between the rich and poor invariably terminated in a loss of liberty for the former. The efforts of communism had only a temporary success, and their ultimate result was the establishment of a despotism at once merciless and all-powerful. A violent outbreak of communism in this republic might lead to a change in government which would leave the riotous classes everything to regret."

Is it not the case that in our era the situation is the reverse of that described in antiquity by Lafcadio Hearn? Our tyrants are despotic privatizers; popular commoning must follow them. True, ours are not the riotous classes yet. Nor have we trained oxen to trample the rich. After the Superdome none can now say that the rich have not plastered our bodies with pitch. We have seen the tyrants tremble, the public relations stutter, the leader of the House expresses urbanocide, and the leader of their class peers out the window jaw twitching in premonition of the Loo! Loo! Lulu! Loot! "Just send cash," he says.

PETER LINEBAUGH teaches history at the University of Toledo. He is the author of two of CounterPunch’s favorite books, The London Hanged and (with Marcus Rediker) The Many-Headed Hydra: the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. His essay on the history of May Day is included in Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: plineba@yahoo.com


CLARIFICATION

ALEXANDER COCKBURN, JEFFREY ST CLAIR, BECKY GRANT AND THE INSTITUTE FOR THE ADVANCEMENT OF JOURNALISTIC CLARITY, COUNTERPUNCH

We published an article entitled "A Saudiless Arabia" by Wayne Madsen dated October 22, 2002 (the "Article"), on the website of the Institute for the Advancement of Journalistic Clarity, CounterPunch, www.counterpunch.org (the "Website").

Although it was not our intention, counsel for Mohammed Hussein Al Amoudi has advised us the Article suggests, or could be read as suggesting, that Mr Al Amoudi has funded, supported, or is in some way associated with, the terrorist activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist network.

We do not have any evidence connecting Mr Al Amoudi with terrorism.

As a result of an exchange of communications with Mr Al Amoudi’s lawyers, we have removed the Article from the Website.

We are pleased to clarify the position.

August 17, 2005