US Capitalism Was Born in the Destruction of the Commons

Source: Truthout

So writes [feminist] Silvia Federici. But how can we get there from here? The practice of commoning, and the idea that we might hold and manage land and assets together in common, holds a lot of appeal these days. To help us think forward as we do on this show, we have two world-renowned experts on commoning in the house. Federici’s latest book is Re-enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of the Commons. Its foreword is written by historian and “Laura Flanders Show” regular, Peter Linebaugh, who is the author of, among other classics, The Magna Carta Manifesto. In this interview, Federici and Linebaugh discuss the history of the commons and how we might apply some of the ideas central to commoning to rebuilding our communities.

Laura Flanders: Let’s talk about the role of the commons in American history. I spent some time during election season in Appalachia and heard a lot about the Appalachian commons, about which I knew very little. It’s often told, the story of the commons, as if it was in just medieval England, but that’s not the case. Peter, you’ve looked at this history. What’s American about it?

Peter Linebaugh: What’s American about it is, unlike Europe, American capitalism was born in destruction of the commons. In Europe, we used to be taught European capitalism was born on the destruction of feudalism. Actually, as we go further, we see that this destruction of the commons is all over. But in Appalachia in particular, this has been a zone of freedom, and the latest to be privatized with the mountain top removals. The destruction of mountains and the removals of rivers have produced the opposite in ideological terms. That is, this was the zone that elected JFK, if you remember, in 1960. This is where poverty was discovered. What’s actually happening in Appalachia are communities, over many generations, that have been multiethnic, Native American, African American, runaway slaves; it’s freedom land. It’s no accident that John Brown centered the struggle for abolition in Appalachia, in the mountains.

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