Annual Fundraising Appeal
Over the course of 21 years, we’ve published many unflattering stories about Henry Kissinger. We’ve recounted his involvement in the Chilean coup and the illegal bombings of Cambodia and Laos; his hidden role in the Kent State massacre and the genocide in East Timor; his noxious influence peddling in DC and craven work for dictators and repressive regimes around the world. We’ve questioned his ethics, his morals and his intelligence. We’ve called for him to be arrested and tried for war crimes. But nothing we’ve ever published pissed off HK quite like this sequence of photos taken at a conference in Brazil, which appeared in one of the early print editions of CounterPunch.
100716HenryKissingerNosePicking
The publication of those photos, and the story that went with them, 20 years ago earned CounterPunch a global audience in the pre-web days and helped make our reputation as a fearless journal willing to take the fight to the forces of darkness without flinching. Now our future is entirely in your hands. Please donate.

Day11

Yes, these are dire political times. Many who optimistically hoped for real change have spent nearly five years under the cold downpour of political reality. Here at CounterPunch we’ve always aimed to tell it like it is, without illusions or despair. That’s why so many of you have found a refuge at CounterPunch and made us your homepage. You tell us that you love CounterPunch because the quality of the writing you find here in the original articles we offer every day and because we never flinch under fire. We appreciate the support and are prepared for the fierce battles to come.

Unlike other outfits, we don’t hit you up for money every month … or even every quarter. We ask only once a year. But when we ask, we mean it.

CounterPunch’s website is supported almost entirely by subscribers to the print edition of our magazine. We aren’t on the receiving end of six-figure grants from big foundations. George Soros doesn’t have us on retainer. We don’t sell tickets on cruise liners. We don’t clog our site with deceptive corporate ads.

The continued existence of CounterPunch depends solely on the support and dedication of our readers. We know there are a lot of you. We get thousands of emails from you every day. Our website receives millions of hits and nearly 100,000 readers each day. And we don’t charge you a dime.

Please, use our brand new secure shopping cart to make a tax-deductible donation to CounterPunch today or purchase a subscription our monthly magazine and a gift sub for someone or one of our explosive  books, including the ground-breaking Killing Trayvons. Show a little affection for subversion: consider an automated monthly donation. (We accept checks, credit cards, PayPal and cold-hard cash….)
cp-store

or use
pp1

To contribute by phone you can call Becky or Deva toll free at: 1-800-840-3683

Thank you for your support,

Jeffrey, Joshua, Becky, Deva, and Nathaniel

CounterPunch
 PO Box 228, Petrolia, CA 95558

My UT Swan Song

How Did We Get Here (University Hall) at this Point of Time (the “Anthropocene”)?

by PETER LINEBAUGH

linebaugh1With his head in the clouds the author says farewell to the University of Toledo and its history department which was removed from Tucker Hall (over his right shoulder) to University Hall  (the tower) in January 2014 [1]

These reflections originate in rage.

True, I have accepted the wisdom of A.A. that righteous anger is better left to others, like Dylan Thomas who rages against the dying of the light, or like William Blake’s tigers of wrath.  Still, I must put into words what I feel and the causes of those feelings.

I was going to say don’t worry, but in light of my conclusion, which recommends revolution by the workers of the world, I can’t advise that because success is by no means sure.  There’s plenty to worry about but not me having a fit!

My rage is not the kind that can be mollified by a pill or therapy. The Oxford English Dictionary gives one of the meanings of “rage” as poetic or prophetic enthusiasm.

You know the second edition of the Oxford English Dictionary contains more than 2,400,000 quotations from literature and conversation to illustrate the meanings of words. Under each word these quotations are arranged chronologically.  Thus you get a history of every word’s meanings and how it changes.  The OED, was first titled the New English Dictionary on Historical Principles (1884-1928).

The preface explains “though it deals primarily with words, it is virtually an encyclopedic treasury of information about things.” English language[s] are great sources of historical evidence.  I’ll come back to OED at the end of my lecture.

But now, back to rage. It presented itself as self-willed isolation as I tried to blend into the institution.  The rage is dull, even numb as if it could not recognize itself. There is something slavish about it.  I’ve been here twenty years.  Twenty years a slave?  The judgment seems excessively harsh but consider:

I used to walk from Tucker Hall to University Hall every spring just as the magnolias were blooming to talk to the Dean.  I had to beg for summer teaching.  I needed the money for the August mortgage.  Every Dean said sorry can’t help.  One, in an embarrassing intrusion into my private life, advised that I do my budgeting better, another with hard-headed, neo-liberal, realism said that I should go on the “job market” to get a better offer.

These slights are part of a whole and the whole consists of devaluation.  In rank I am the worst paid member of the faculty.

In 1997 I brought two artists over from England, equally brilliant as poets, dramatists, and musicians, to perform a play about James Aitken.  Have you heard of him?  In 1776 on behalf of American liberty he set fire to the rope-walks in the Portsmouth, England, dockyards. The Americans won independence because of the inferiority of English ships. Literally he carried the torch of liberty.

No one came to the play.

Something was wrong, we weren’t working together, people forgot what revolution is about, even their own.

The University found my department sexist, or deficient in its number and treatment of women.  I agreed and said so.  Some of the men in the department wanted to argue with me.  But what would you think if you were mocked at a departmental meeting for requesting that the gentlemen using the common bathrooms first raise the seat?

Rage is related to shame, I can tell you.

The historians have been reduced from more than twenty tenured or tenure-track positions when I joined in 1994 to now two tenured in 2014.  The College of Liberal Arts has been abolished.

The OED has been removed from the ground floor of the library where I could quickly check something before class.  Carlsson library has been stripped of about half its books.  Actually they don’t say stripped.  One library worker called it “a culling”.  Their word of choice was “weeding”.  This happened around the time, 2011, that the billionaire, Bloomberg, cleared out the 5,000 volumes of the People’s Library of Zuccotti Park by scooping them up in sanitation trucks in the dark of night and dumping the books into the Hudson River.  Bloomberg called it “cleaning.”

Weeding, culling, cleaning:  at least it wasn’t burning.  Here’s Heinrich Heine writing in 1821,

…wo man Bücher verbrennt

Verbrennt man

Auch am Ende Menschen

“Where people start by burning books they end up by burning people.”  No, the ovens haven’t been fired up yet, but devaluation by other means is rampant and spreading

If you are a scholar or a teacher this is an expropriation. More teaching, fewer books.  This is what Marx meant when he said workers become proletarians when they lose the means of production.  While some professors still flatter themselves that we are not proles, we live now in a kind of scholarly PTSD.

Last week the library closed because the sewers backed up.  I couldn’t have chosen a better metaphor for my retirement if I’d tried.

Remember John Milton (Areopagitica 1644):  “Books are not absolutely dead things …. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous dragon’s teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men.”

This was a working-class university, “for Toledo’s working boys and girls,” as Adul Alkalimat discovered in the language of one of the early university charters.  The university in the U.S.A. has become a debt machine; it mediates the transfer of a trillion dollars from students to banks and consigns the students to a life-time of indentured servitude.

To sum up.  We have lost faculty, we have lost our college, we have lost our building, we have lost books, and we have lost our value; we have been devalued.  I mentioned this to the public librarian in Ypsilanti, and she reminded me, “Peter, this is the story of every working-class person.”

Precisely.

UT has become a business university, or a corporate university, in its values, in its personnel, in its hierarchies, and in its finances.  The rage originates not just in twenty years of teaching at the University of Toledo.  The rage has been smoldering for over fifty years of teaching in U.S. academia.

In 1970 I was at the University of Warwick, U.K., which was beholden to the auto business of its environs.   E.P. Thompson, the historian of the working class, called it a business university and asked, “Is it inevitable that the university will be reduced to the function of providing, with increasingly authoritarian efficiency, pre-packed intellectual commodities which meet the requirement of management? Or can we transform it into a centre of free discussion, and action, tolerating and even encouraging ‘subversive’ thought and activity for a dynamic renewal of the whole society within which it operates?”[2]

The cause of the rage is general. It is directed against capitalism and imperialism.  The unbelievable betrayals that began as anger against specific offences such as Jim Crow and the Vietnam War have only grown into a vast hidden rage.  The black power and third world uprising; the explosion in the auto plants; the abolition of patriarchy, but not the end of the glass ceiling.  By equality we meant equality of conditions not equality of opportunity because opportunity is for opportunists.  What is the human race if not equality?

The rage arises from the enormous prison gulag-leviathan that squats over the country in an obscene and hypocritical extension of the old slave regime.  Six million are under correctional supervision.  Six times as much money is spent on prisons as on education.

The corporate university is joined at the hip to the military.  The spirit of the one is to question authority; but the spirit of the other is to obey it.

Even the military presence is privatized:  The soldiers and veterans are honored by corporations who no longer guise themselves as the “public” or the “country”.  Just look at the sponsoring names on the memorial between U Hall and the Field House!

Why is there not a single public bench, not to mention a building, a statue, or a portrait of Scott and Helen Nearing?  Nearing was brought in by Tucker (among others) as Dean of the college.  He opposed the war in 1917; he started a women’s studies program, until the combined forces of the Chamber of Commerce, the Catholic Church, and the
stopthiefBureau of Investigation fired him.  What a disgrace!

Now it is worse.  The planet suffers, the air is going, the waters are going.  The planet’s lands have become a sewer, its waters a sink. Now, it means beryllium under the children’s playground; it means plastic bottles clog up the Pacific Ocean; suffocating algae blooms in the lakes; it means choking CO2 in the sky.  The “sixth extinction” is upon us.

The rage came out of silence.  It came from self-repression. The rage fills me with loathing; it affects the psyche; it affects the family.  It was caused by the failure to bring about a revolution for a new society, a working class revolution against capitalism and imperialism.    What could these terms mean? Are they just rhetoric?  This is the rage.

This is my last chance at UT to explain, to say my piece.

How did we get here, University Hall?

Radicalism, or getting to the root, begins with two propositions:  first, history from below or working-class history, and second, the notion that working-class revolution is bound to happen once you gain historical consciousness.  I shall try to work out these propositions by considering our building, University Hall.  (Investigation puts the rage to work.)

1.  University Hall & History from Below

Let us read Bertolt Brecht’s poem, “A Worker Reads History.”

Who built the seven gates of Thebes?

The books are filled with names of kings.

Was it the kings who hauled the craggy blocks of stone?

And Babylon, so many times destroyed.

Who built the city up each time?

In which of Lima’s houses,

That city glittering with gold, lived those who built it?

In the evening when the Chinese wall was finished

Where did the masons go?

Imperial Rome 
is full of arcs of triumph.

Who reared them up?

Over whom did the Caesars triumph?

Byzantium lives in song.

Were all her dwellings palaces?

And even in Atlantis of the legend

The night the seas rushed in,

The drowning men still bellowed for their slaves.

Young Alexander conquered India.
  He alone?

Caesar beat the Gauls.
  Was there not even a cook in his army?

 

Phillip of Spain wept as his fleet
 was sunk and destroyed.

Were there no other tears?

Frederick the Greek triumphed in the Seven Years War.

Who triumphed with him?

 

Each page a victory

At whose expense the victory ball?

Every ten years a great man,

Who paid the piper?

 

So many particulars.

So many questions.

 

Our “particular” is University Hall and our “question” is who hauled its craggy blocks of stone?

The stones which compose our buildings are Wisconsin Lannon stone with Indiana limestone trim. Downstairs in the vestibule a plaque exclaims that 50,000 tons of stone make the building. We read in Frank Hickerson’s Tower Builders: The Centennial Story of the University of Toledo (1972), p. 196-7, that it was carried in one hundred railway cars.  There is not a word about those who quarried the 50,000 tons or hauled the hundred carloads.  The building took 400 men eleven months to complete in 1931.  Who were they?  Do we know the name of even one?

The Lannon quarries, a few miles north of Milwaukee, started in the 1830s with pick and crow bar.  Lannon stone used to be mainly used for paving and curbs.   It is still used for structural backfill, rip-rap for drainage swales, concrete aggregates, &c. The quarry men were immigrants from Italy and Poland.

Men worked ten hour days, six day weeks, at 10 cents an hour for unskilled, and two bits to a half dollar for skilled work.  They had to pay for their own gloves however.  One store sold gloves.  And the work was so rough that they wore out a pair a day.  The women scavenged for the used timbers of wood frames which boxed or crated the stone in the railway cars.  They needed it for fuel.  The communities struggled to obtain garden plots, and permission to keep a pig.[3]

linebaugh2

These craggy blocks of stone are in the style of  ‘university  gothic’

The workers died young of silicosis.  They fought back, meeting in the morning at the grindstone to sharpen their tools.  The constitution of their union pledged to overthrow capitalism.[4]

Many of Vermont quarrymen were anarchists. Luigi Galleani (1861-1931) worked with the quarrymen of Barre, Vermont. He hid there and published his newspaper advocating direct violent action against tyrants and oppressors. Luigi Galleani believed in propaganda by the deed. His 1905 booklet, La Salute è in voi! (“health is in you”) contained bomb-making instructions.

One of his followers was Mario Buda who is thought to have exploded a bomb at the Milwaukee police station in 1917 killing nine.  Were there Italian anarchists working the Lannon quarries? Among the 400 men who put the stones on top of each other with such intelligence had some come across Galleani’s newspaper, Cronaca Sovversiva or “Subversive Chronicle”?  At one time there were 5,000 subscribers to this newspaper.  It is difficult to believe that there were not any subscribers in Lannon or Toledo.  Suppose a dozen years after the Milwaukee bombing you’re picking and blasting, and wearing out gloves in the Lannon quarry, surely you would have heard about it.

Galleani was deported in 1919 and Mussolini put him in prison back in Italy where he could sing “La Dynamite” all he wanted.  He died at the age of 70 in 1931 the year when University Hall, this building was opened.

Anarchist dynamiters were nothing compared to government or business dynamiters.  For instance, take Sir John Fox Burgoyne’s classic A Treatise on the Blasting and Quarrying of Stone still in print at Galleani’s time.  He was a British explosives expert, an army engineer who had fought in the Napoleonic Wars, in the Peninsular War (Spain and Portugal) and in New Orleans (1812). In addition to knowledge of America, he directed engineering in Crimea, Ireland, and India. He helped to create an empire by blasting the earth! On page one he writes reminiscent of Brecht,  “The history of the art would oblige us to extend our retrospect to a very early date, to call to mind the structural wonders … of Thebes.”  It is doubtful he would know the names of those hauling the craggy blocks of stone.

The general did not wield hand tools unless you consider the swagger stick a tool.  The wedge, the mallet, the hammer, the auger, the chisel, and the jumper (that’s the big auger to drill the hole to lay the charge before it’s tamped).  His knowledge depended on the workers.  He quotes one, “apply your match to which set fire and run as fast as you can.”

So the anarchist helps us see that workers make history.  Literally they construct the world around us. But not as they please.  They have done so through stages of historical development.

2.  University Hall & the Niagara Escarpment

Geologically, the rocks of Lannon are the hardest type of limestone.  They are called dolostone, or Niagara dolomite.  It is very dense, 160 lbs. to the cubic foot.  This provides its resistance to abrasion and its compressive strength.  It gives to U Hall its durability and distinction.

Lannon stone is part of the great Niagara escarpment.  The Genesee River in Rochester, N.Y., falls three times over this escarpment in raging falls against which the salmon annually run in a furious struggle.  The Niagara River flows over it at the famous falls.  The escarpment runs north through Ontario on the southern border of Lake Huron, then over northern Michigan, and down the western shore of Lake Michigan on eastern Wisconsin.  It is about one thousand miles in length and it was formed some 400 million years ago.

The dolomite limestone of U Hall was created during the Silurian Period of the Paleozoic Era when a warm shallow sea existed here. 400 million years ago the Niagara dolomite was formed from accumulated sediments of the ancient sea. These sediments are made up of calcium and magnesium carbonate which came from the decomposing algae, shells and skeletons of sea life. The stones of University Hall under the influences of weight, heat, and time were made from earlier life forms, such as brachiopods, cephalopods, crinoids, and corals.

linebaugh3 Each stone is unique and individually placed to form an unpatterned bearing wall.  John Ruskin asked us to contemplate the strength of the mason in lifting and the intelligence in the placement of each stone.

 It took about a million years to form the escarpment during the Silurian Period.  Indeed it had been the shoreline of a tropical sea during the preceding Ordovician Period. John McPhee tells us what both the industrious and the idle student owe to that Ordovician gunk on the bottom of the shallow waters because it came to form the material of the blackboards of American public schools and the true flatness of the surfaces on the tables in your local pool hall.[5]  Study and play!

The Ordovician extinction was the second largest of the five major extinction events in Earth’s history in terms of percentage of genera that went extinct and second largest in the overall loss of biota. The cause of extinction appears to have been the movement of Gondwana (the former continent) into the south polar region. This led to global cooling, glaciation and consequent sea-level fall.

It was a Wisconsin professor, ecologist, farmer, and naturalist, Aldo Leopold, wrote of the cry of the wolf, “It is an outburst of wild defiant sorrow, and of contempt for all the adversities of the world.”[6] If you shoot the wolf to extinction, he showed, then the deer herd grows without limit and soon devours the forest undergrowth.  The soil erodes and runs off to the sea, carried miles by rivers which deposit it as silt in the delta. All from the cry of the wolf, his example of the web of life.  He called it thinking like a mountain.  We call it the trophic cascade.

“There is as yet no ethic dealing with man’s relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it.”  I guess Leopold meant ethics in contrast to economics.  The ethics-economics dualism, like the history-nature dualism, is a relatively recent structure of thought originating with 17th century capitalism.

The Silurian Period was identified by Sir Roderick Murchison and he named it after a Celtic people of south Wales, the Silures.  That was in 1835 about when William Lannon arrived at the place that bears his name in Wisconsin. In 1879 Sir Charles Lapworth identified the Ordovician Period and named it after a Celtic tribe of north Wales, the Ordovices.  These Celtic tribes resisted the Roman occupation of the first century of our common era.

3.  Stages of History

The narrative of Progress was once also the narrative of Revolution.  Marx’s stages were primitive communism, ancient slavery, medieval feudalism, then capitalism. The idea that history develops through well-defined, particular stages arose in the 18th century Enlightenment when historians got their stadial notions from the geologists (lithostratification) who in turn learned from the coal miners  (back to the workers).  Then, as now, it was the fossils of sea creatures found on dry land or high ground that convinced people that the earth once had other configurations of oceans and continents.

The stages of human history had to do with the modes of production, or how the material basis of life was achieved. They were hunting & gathering, domesticated animals, agriculture, and trade & manufactures.  In the 18th century they had no idea of extinctions.  At the time of the French Revolution Cuvier taught geological catastrophism, to be followed by Lyell and Darwin who taught evolutionism.

Have I failed to describe “the real state of things,” which is how Karl Marx defined communism!  “Communism is for us not a state of affairs which is to be established, an ideal to which reality [will] have to adjust itself.  We call communism the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.”[7] It is not pie-in-the-sky.  Look around you, Marx is saying.  The self-activity of the proletariat will provide you with your answer.  You find it in the myriad of contemporary commons’s whose social contract reads:

To each according to their needs,

From each according to their ability. 

Marx gave us the base and superstructure.  The foundation was laid of technology, work, or economics, then came the family, property, and the state, followed by religion, philosophy, and manners.  But language is there throughout, base and superstructure. I hoped to find how the material basis and the ideological superstructure were mutually constituted.  Remember, the dictionary is an historical guide to words and things. I go to the Oxford English Dictionary to understand lexicography, semantics, discourse, philology, linguistics, as though they were tree rings.

To Vico philology was close to etymology, history, speech, and institutions.  He had an idea of the “etymologicon”.  He believed, for example, that “lex,” the Latin word for law, had an origin in the early name for acorns back in the hunting and gathering stage, which in the agricultural stage became a cognate for words meaning water and vegetables, and then after the invention of writing, it came to mean words, then with the formation of the state, it came to mean law.  Not exactly ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny but certainly etymology recapitulating stadialism.

The revolutionary believes another world is possible.  Those without property in the means of subsistence will get us there.  That was the thought of Karl Marx.  The class has not yet lived up to its world-historical task. How is it going to do this?  By trial and error of course.

If Blake wrote truly in the proverbs of hell that “the tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction,” then that truth can be placed in an historical continuum of the tiger’s wild, sublime resistance on the one hand and on the other the domestication of animals in the pastoral stage of history.  Blake teaches that the stages are coeval.  In other words, the trials and errors are there for us to find.

4.  Extinction or Revolution?

The Anthropocene is upon us and with it the sixth mass extinction of life.

Various are the definitions.  The term suggests a new geological epoch replacing the Holocene, as an epoch in the history of life on earth. Mike Davis says it is characterized as “the emergence of urban-industrial society as a geological force.”  Zalasiewicz says it signals the human impact on the biological, physical, and chemical processes of the Earth.  Its causes include chemical perturbations (carbon, nitrogen), reduxed taxa, species destruction, acidification of oceans, landscape transformation, ozone depletion, &c.[8] The Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London (founded in 1807) adjudicates geological time-scales and is presently considering the “Anthropocene.”

“Rage, rage against the dying of the light” wailed Dylan Thomas.  The Welsh bard referred to his death, but he might as well have referred to the last extinction dimming the world as dust filled the atmosphere.  Twilight at noon.

The Anthropocene is a recent, technical term to refer – so it is proposed – which refers to our geological epoch, which is a subdivision of our geological period, the Quatenary, which is a subdivision of our geological era, the Cenozoic.  These are nesting chronological elements. It makes it possible to compare this extinction with previous ones.

The first great extinction of life occurred at the end of the Ordovician Period and beginning of the Silurian Period, some 445 million years ago.  The Ordovician radiation refers to an explosion of marine life forms, 85% of which were extinguished, perhaps owing to glaciation caused by the withdrawal of CO2 from the atmosphere, itself the result of the first land-based life forms, mosses.[9]  This “event” transpired in two pulses over a million years!

Capital’s science nowadays tells us we are amid a sixth extinction accompanying the Anthropocene.   But something is amiss with this, time-wise.  The Anthropocene is a chronological category pertaining to the epoch, but the first extinction pertains to the period.   It’s a like comparing something that takes a few seconds to something that takes a decade or more.

There is a more serious problem.  The “Anthropocene”  conceals the classes; it takes a species approach.[10]  Man or Woman becomes homo sapiens, a species without a history. Why study history at all if it’s all just ‘human nature’ or a tale told by an idiot? Same with the term “Humanity:” it hides the foul fiend. These terms reduce history to biology.

There are different classes of people, the working class and the ruling class:  the class which rules and the class which is ruled; the class which owns and the class which owns nothing; the class which is rich and the class which is poor.  We must approach the classes by history not by a totally external “nature.”

Do not make the mistake of blaming the miners for global warming just because they dig the coal.  It is their bosses who send them into the underground.  Without bosses, on their own, the Welsh miners loved jazz, they led the fight for universal health care, they fought Fascism in Spain, and their choirs were second to none.

When was the “Anthropocene” supposed to have started?  Its scientific proponents propose 1800:  “We thus suggest that the year AD 1800 could reasonably be chosen as the beginning of the Anthropocene.”[11]  Even the critic of the concept who prefers “Capitalocene” also finds that 1800 might be an appropriate starting point.

Capital, as an economic system, lines up those who control the means of life against those who do not, accomplishing this division by means of an assortment of instrumentalities that may be summarized as force, money, and bad ideas.  The “capitalocene” is an ugly word which compels us to see the human conflict at the root of historical change.   As human agency brought us to this point, it might relieve us of it too, not by the extinction of homo sapiens but by the abolition of capitalism.  Human agency works through history and that history is one of conflict:  Who? whom?

“It is not the light that we need, but the fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder.  We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake,” said Frederick Douglass as written in powerful graffiti on the walls of the Field House (built also of Lannon stone).

No, I didn’t have the time as the deans suggested “to go on the market.”  Instead I sowed seeds of scholarship up and down as dragon’s teeth.  I published The London Hanged, The Many-Headed Hydra (with Marcus Rediker), The Magna Carta Manifesto, and Stop, Thief!  No dean, no provost, no president, no vice-president, no member of the board of trustees ever mentioned them.  Colleagues in the history department respected the work and supported it.  The first book helped to put capital punishment on the academic agenda.  The second helped put the “Atlantic world” on the map.  The third about law and the commons is still sinking in.  Now it is time to revisit revolution.  May the dragon’s teeth spring up as activists.

It so happens that it is also time for me to revisit my first lecture at the University of Toledo on Edward Despard, a revolutionary, beheaded in 1803.  I have been wondering about 1803 for twenty years. Why is it imperative to know what happened in 1803?[12]  OK, that was the year Ohio became a state but I have in mind additional events.

In our era the factory, the prison, the plantation, and patriarchy are the historical institutions of exploitation.  They had major boosts in 1803.[13]  The expansion of fossil fuel extraction, the thermodynamics of the heat engine, the statutory criminalization of abortion, the expropriation of the agrarian commons, the slaves’ victory in Haitian independence, the slaves’ defeat in the Louisiana purchase, the underground of the English craftspeople, the extinction of independent Ireland, and war, War, WAR!

We can see the wars as between England representing God, King, and Property and France representing Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity, or we can see them globally as an expansion of capitalist relations, or the introduction of “business as usual” to the Ohio valley, the Great Lakes, Mexico, Venezuela, India, Afghanistan, Cape Town, &c., &c.  It goes back to 1803.

But what about the working class?

Twenty years ago my lecture on the revolutionaries, Edward and Catherine Despard, saw them not in the exclusive context of the making of the English working class but as Irish and African-American workers as well.  I was unable to get in their heads, or to describe the historical experiences that this meant because my “information about things” was confined to the OED! Language politics destroys the vernacular, it obliterates memory, it extinguishes collective identity.

I omitted the Irish language, I omitted cant, and both are omitted from the OED.  I needed therefore an Irish dictionary and a thieves’ dictionary.  Danny Cassidy supplied the one with a lexicography from below showing how the Irish language, while severely diminished in Ireland, secretly survived in America as slang!  The other was actually gathered in 1800-1803 by James Hardy Vaux, an educated thief, in the same prison where Despard had suffered.[14]  These two sources help to repair the deficiencies of the OED, and consequently may expand our understanding of class composition at the commencement of the Anthropocene.

One helps us to understand the role of immigrants, especially those with experience against empires, the other provides a light to the underclass or precarious workers, especially those experienced in commoning.  These are divisions within the working-class. According to my U Hall riff the ‘working class’ is that historical power, that force of creation, that hidden factor of economics which when sufficiently gathered unto itself may bring to birth a new society, a new epoch, a new period, and a new era.

Under capitalist control universities are dying as commons of knowledge, as sites of social regeneration, even as places to read a book.  My emotions are clear, even if much thinking and investigation remains to be done.  Bitterness availeth us not, it belongs with the stones of the past and their tears.  Rage however does not belong there.

I want to indicate biological, chemical, magnetic powers that belong with history.  The discussion of the anthropocene, if nothing else, helps us to see that our metaphors are signs of the times.  The cry of the wolf called a previous generation to the web of life.  Before that, the abolition of slavery was accompanied by thunder, whirlwind, fire, and earthquake.  In 1803 tigers of wrath walked the forest recognizing neither the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London nor the Industrial Revolution.

So, to conclude.

Having said my piece, my swan song, I am ready to contribute to this task with the construction workers, the immigrants, the prisoners, the cooks, the nurses, students, gardeners, teachers, and farmers.  Roger Tory Peterson, the birder and inventor of field guides, says that the swan, Cygnus olor, does not sing but merely honks, grunts, and occasionally hisses.[15]  Æsop, the slave and teller of animal fables, says that the swan, who had been caught by mistake instead of the goose, began to sing as a prelude to its own demise. His voice was recognized and the song saved his life.  Let that be the case with this swan-song or swan-honk:  let the sober vow be recognized again, to unite with the workers of the world.  We have the World to gain, the Earth to recuperate.

Peter Linebaugh taught history at the University of Toledo. His books included: The London Hanged,(with Marcus Rediker) The Many-Headed Hydra: the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic and Magna Carta Manifesto. His essay on the history of May Day is included in Serpents in the Garden. His latest book is Stop Thief! The Commons, Enclosures and Resistance.  He can be reached at:plineba@yahoo.com

Notes.


[1] Photo credits to Riley Linebaugh

[2] E.P. Thompson, Warwick University Ltd. (1970, 2014)

[3] Ruth Schmidt, “Lannon and its Quarries” in Fred Keller (ed.), Lannon History: Village of Lannon Golden Jubilee 1930-1980 (1980)

[4] Bernie Saunders, “Vermont Labor Agitator,” Labor History (March 1974).  For this and other help I am grateful to two generous scholars of the University of Milwaukee, Dr. Rachel Buff and Professor Michael Gordon.

[5] John McPhee, The Annals of a Former World (1999)

[6] See A Sand County Almanac: and Sketches Here and There (New York: Oxford University Press,1949), p. 129

[7] The German Ideology, p. 48

[8] Mike Davis, “Who Will build the Ark?” New Left Review 61 (January-February 2010), p. 30. Jan Zalasiewicz et al, “Stratigraphy of the Anthropocene,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (2011), volume 369, p. 1050.

[9] Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History (New York: Henry Holt, 2014), chapter five.  My own thinking about the “anthropocene” and this extinction began with a remarkable discussion at a Retort gathering in Berkeley, California, in 2014.

[10] Jason W. Moore, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene & the Myth of Industrialization,” three parts, online.

[11] Will Steffen, Jacques Grinevald, Paul Crutzen, and John McNeill, “The Anthropocene: Conceptual and Historical Perspectives,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (2011), volume 369, P. 849.  See also Jan Zalasiewicz et al, “Stratigraphy of the Anthropocene,” ibid., p. 1050.

[12] One of the disciplinary deformations of the historian is a fondness for dates which in my case has almost reached the stage of an involuntary tic.  What delight I felt upon learning that dolomite or the dolostone is named after the French geologist Déodat de Dolomieu, born 1750, died 1801, the year after the Anthropocene commenced and Despard was released from prison!   Napoleon appointed him Inspector of Mines.

[13] See “The City and the Commons” in Stop, Thief! The Commons, Enclosures, and Resistance (Oakland, California: PM Press, 2014).

[14] Daniel Cassidy, How the Irish Invented Slang: The Secret Language of the Crossroads (Petrolia, California: CounterPunch, 2007), and Noel McLachlan (ed.), The Memoirs of James Hardy Vaux, Including his Vocabulary of the Flash Language (London: Heineman, 1964)

[15] Roger Tory Peterson, A Field Guide to Birds (2001), p. 49.