Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Frightful Hobgoblin stalks throughout Europe

Peter Linebaugh, my favourite radical historian, gave a talk last night at Goldsmiths on 'The Invisibility of the Commons'. Linebaugh's best known books - The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century and The Many-Headed Hydra: the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (which he wrote with Marcus Rediker) - are essential background reading for understanding the history of Deptford as a key point on the Atlantic network of ships, sailors and slaves. Paul Gilroy - whose excellent Black Atlantic is also a key text in this respect - was in the audience and contributed to the discussion.

Linebaugh's current concern, as outlined in his new book The Magna Carta Manifesto, is with the history of the commons, and the ongoing struggle to defend and even extend collective access to the means of susbsistence, production and reproduction against enclosure and privatisation.

I liked the way Linebaugh - an American in London for a short visit - managed to weave two New Cross places into his talk. He mentioned the Hobgoblin pub, noting that in the first English version of the Communist Manifesto the opening lines were translated by Helen Macfarlane as "A frightful hobgoblin stalks throughout Europe. We are haunted by a ghost. The ghost of Communism" (later translated as "A spectre is haunting Europe. The spectre of Communism"). Incidentally Helen Macfarlane's 1850 translation appeared in the journal The Red Republican, edited by the Deptford-born radical Chartist George Julian Harney.

He also mentioned the Viva Zapata cafe on Lewisham Way, referring to Zapata's role in the 1910 Mexican revolution - one result of which was Article 27 of the Mexican constitution which provided for ejidos or common land and water. This right was taken away shortly before the 1994 introduction of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the USA, Canada and Mexico - which in turn sparked the 1994 Zapatista uprising.

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