• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal


Is it time for our Spring fundraiser already? If you enjoy what we offer, and have the means, please consider donating. The sooner we reach our modest goal, the faster we can get back to business as (un)usual. Please, stay safe and we’ll see you down the road.

Ferguson – Fukushima – Financial Crisis

Water Street Common,Ypsilanti, Michigan.

In Ferguson Michael Brown a young man, age eighteen, was shot eight times while he walked down the middle of the street.  That is indubitable.  Here’s a spin on it.  The earth, including the street, is “the common treasury of mankind” as the Diggers and Gerrard Winstanley said in 1649.  As a moment in the sun Michael Brown walked down the middle of the street in youthful glory.

Whose streets?  Our streets.

Michael Brown wore a cap; it was red.  That is true and backed up by evidence available to all.  Here’s a spin on that.  Since Roman times the red cap has been the cap of liberty, the sign of the manumitted slave.  You see the cap on the first coinage of the USA.  It was the cap of liberté, égalité, and fraternité during the French Revolution.  It is on the Haitian flag.

I do not say that Michael Brown was a Jacobin revolutionary or a Digger of the commons.  Those are interpretations of the significance of his assassination.  I read them as signs of the times.

I thought of Ferguson and Fukushima and the Financial Crisis as several big branches of the capitalist system but it’s hard to see how they are connected.  That’s why we call it a system. There is a big suck from Ferguson to Fukushima to Wall Street.  The “convenience store” is but a tiny particle in that suck of “the fruits of earth” from the Ninety-Nine to the One Per Cent.  As an historian I find that it’s sometimes easier to understand the mutual re-inforcements of disparate elements in rendering
stopthiefprofit, interest, rent to the great possessioners or the One Per Cent by returning to the origins of those elements.

The structures of racial slavery (Ferguson), the steam engine (Fukushima), and the enclosures (Financial Crisis) did not actually originate in 1802 but that is one of the years when people tried to put a stop to them.  And that is a date when each attained a virulence, or a maturity, exceeding anything that had gone before.  Slavery, Enclosure, and the Machine became deep structures of modernity.  In England where capitalism was born there were more Enclosure Acts that year than ever before.  Communities lost common lands and traditional wherewithal.  Families lost homes.  Boys and girls were sent to new types of capitalist enclosures, the factories and the prisons.  A humble commoner wrote,

Inclosure came and trampled on the grave

Of labor’s rights and left the poor a slave.

That year the steam engine, already powering the wheels and motions of the cotton factories, was put to work driving a horseless carriage and then powering a locomotive on rails.  Automobilism was imagined and the age of coal commenced with a new type of thermodynamic energy which drove the machine which transformed human labor which drove slaves to cotton fields, orphans to cotton factories, men and women to despair.  It took from the underground the energy of millions of years ago, and like Beelzebub or Lucifer, put this heat into the mechanics of “dark Satanic mills.”  A quantitative expansion of human life and a qualitative degradation of human creativity was the melancholy result.  To call the consequences of these structures the “anthropocene” is to ignore human agency and the struggles for roads not taken.

This system was built upon the ancestral labors of trans Atlantic African slavery which metamorphed from the unbelievable cruelties of the plantation to the sweet cup of tea or the comforting addiction of the tobacco.  The production and trade of these drugs provided the investment capital for the ports, coal-mines, textile factories, and merchant ships of globalization.  More slaves were shipped that year in British slavers than ever before.

As the first modern proletariat the slaves’ resistance culminated in 1802 with mutinies in the West Indies, a numerous series of plots and conspiracies of the southern state of the USA, and a massive riot and incendiary destruction of the first capital of the independent mainland country, York, Pa. in 1803. Gabriel Prosser planned a revolt of thousands of Virginia slaves in 1800.  He and thirty-five others were hanged for the attempt. The southern states militarized their regime as a result of the numerous plots, conspiracies, incendiarism, and jail-breaks of 1802, while by 1803 the northern states abolished slavery for fear of such troubles.

The war of extermination against the slaves led by Napoleon and silently supported by Great Britain failed, and Haiti became independent and free at the end of 1803.  Yes, the price (the Louisiana Purchase) was the expansion of slavery across the continental mainland including what is now Ferguson.

This was the year of the red cap of liberty.   This was a year of casualties:  Toussaint L’Ouverture in Haiti, Edward Marcus Despard in England, Robert Emmet in Ireland.  It was a year of the commons when Thomas Spence called for The Restoration of Society to its Natural State.  Land belonged to all equally.

After the death of Travon Martin and the release of George Zimmerman the historian Robin D.G. Kelley asked us to be clear: “the Trayvon Martins of the world never had that right [to stand their ground] because the ‘ground’ was never considered theirs to stand on….  The point is that justice was always going to elude Trayvon Martin, not because the system failed, but because it worked. Martin died and Zimmerman walked because our entire political and legal foundations were built on an ideology of settler colonialism — an ideology in which the protection of white property rights was always sacrosanct; predators and threats to those privileges were almost always black, brown, and red; and where the very purpose of police power was to discipline, monitor, and contain populations rendered a threat to white property and privilege.”

The militarization of police is part of the system.  War is part of the system, the ‘health of the state’.  As Tom Paine recognized, war abroad is necessary for peace at home.  The structures of the heat engine, the enclosures, and slavery are hammered deep into place through the banging clamor of war and its terrible carnage of blood and fire.  The emotional environment is insecurity, fear, anxiety, despair. Chopping off the head of Louis XVI (1793) or Charles I (1649) did more harm than good.  We must change this whole system.

Hands up!  Don’t shoot!

Peter Linebaugh teaches 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




More articles by:

Peter Linebaugh is the author of The London HangedThe Many-Headed Hydra: the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (with Marcus Rediker) and Magna Carta Manifesto. Linebaugh’s latest book is Red Round Globe Hot Burning. He can be reached at: plineba@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
May 29, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Tim Wise
Protest, Uprisings, and Race War
Nick Pemberton
White Supremacy is the Virus; Police are the Vector
T.J. Coles
What’s NATO Up to These Days? Provoking Russia, Draining Healthcare Budgets and Protecting Its Own from COVID
Benjamin Dangl
Bibles at the Barricades: How the Right Seized Power in Bolivia
Kevin Alexander Gray - Jeffrey St. Clair - JoAnn Wypijewski
There is No Peace: an Incitement to Justice
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Few Good Sadists
Jeff Mackler
The Plague of Racist Cop Murders: Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and the COVID-19 Pandemic
Joshua Frank
In Search of a Lost Socialism
Charles Pierson
Who are the “Wrong Hands” in Yemen?
Andrew Levine
Trump Is Unbeatable in the Race to the Bottom and So Is the GOP
David Schultz
Trump isn’t the Pope and This Ain’t the Middle Ages
Ramzy Baroud
Political Ambiguity or a Doomsday Weapon: Why Abbas Abandoned Oslo
Pam Martens - Russ Martens
A Growing Wave of Bankruptcies Threatens U.S. Recovery
Joseph Natoli
Conditions Close at Hand
N.D. Jayaprakash
No Lessons Learned From Bhopal: the Toxic Chemical Leak at LG Polymers India 
Ron Jacobs
The Odyssey of Elias Demetracopoulos
J.P. Linstroth
Arundhati Roy on Indian Migrant-Worker Oppression and India’s Fateful COVID Crisis
Melvin Goodman
Goodness Gracious, David Ignatius!!
Roger Harris
Blaming the COVID-19 Pandemic on Too Many Humans:  a Critique of Overpopulation Ideology
Sonali Kolhatkar
For America’s Wealthiest, the Pandemic is a Time to Profit
Prabir Purkayastha
U.S. Declares a Vaccine War on the World
David Rosen
Coronavirus and the Telecom Crisis
Paul Buhle
Why Does W.E.B. Du Bois Matter Today?
Mike Bader
The Only Way to Save Grizzlies: Connect Their Habitats
Dave Lindorff
Pandemic Crisis and Recession Can Spark a Fight for Real Change in the US
Nyla Ali Khan
The Sociopolitical and Historical Context That Shaped Kashmiri Women Like My Grandmother in the 1940s
Louis Proyect
Does Neo-Feudalism Define Our Current Epoch?
Ralph Nader
S. David Freeman: Seven Decades of Participating in Power for All of Us
Norman Solomon
Amy Klobuchar, Minneapolis Police and Her VP Quest
Maria Paez Victor
Venezuela in the 2020 Pandemic
Ron Mitchell
Defending Our Public Lands: One Man’s Legacy
Nomi Prins 
The Great Depression, Coronavirus Style: Crashes, Then and Now
Richard C. Gross
About That City on A Hill
Kathleen Wallace
An Oath for Hypocrites
Eve Ottenberg
Common Preservation or Extinction?
Graham Peebles
Air Pollution Mental Illness and Covid-19
Unearned Income for All
Evan Jones
The Machine Stops
Nicky Reid
Proudhon v. Facebook: A Mutualist Solution to Cyber Tyranny
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
What is a “Native” Plant in a Changing World?
Shailly Gupta Barnes
Why are Our Leaders Still Putting Their Faith in the Rich?
John Kendall Hawkins
In Search of the Chosŏn People of Lost Korea
Jill Richardson
Tens of Millions of Are Out of Work, Why on Earth is Trump Trying to Cut Food Aid?
Susan Block
Incel Terrorism
David Yearsley
Plague Music