by Peter Linebaugh
CounterPunch, Nov 27, 2004
The new U.S. Attorney General, Alberto Gonzalez, disregarded torture in his infamous, post 9/11 memorandum to Bush: “In my judgment, this new paradigm [the ‘war on terrorism’] renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.”
It might more aptly be applied to Magna Carta, the epitome of quaintness, though Professor Huntington of Harvard tells us in his screed to rid the nation of Hispanic cultural influence that the American creed, its cultural core, is Anglo, “going back to Magna Carta,” which he thinks is somehow Protestant (Magna Carta 1215, Protestant Reformation 1517)! Furthermore, although it is such a quaint part of the Anglo core, it is not even written in English. Its most powerful part is chapter 39:
Nullus liber homo capiatur vel imprisonetur aut disseisietur de libero tenemento suo, vel libertatibus, vel liberis consuetudinibus suis, aut utlagetur, aut exuletur, aut aliquo modo destruatur, nec super eum ibimus, nec super eum mittemus, nisi per legale judicium parium suorum, vel per legem terræ.
Edward Coke provides the classic translation. Edward Coke was to the English Revolution of the 1640s as Rousseau was to the French Revolution or Marx to the Russian Revolution: though recently dead, his ideas caught fire among the leading actors, as did these very phrases: “No freeman shall be taken, or imprisoned, or be disseised of his freehold, or liberties, or free customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any otherwise destroyed; nor will we not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his peers, or by the law of the land.”
We parse the sentence in three parts 1) the subject (no free man) is followed by 2) eight or nine proscribed actions making up the predicate which is then qualified by 3) a climax to the sentence stating two legal principles which provide the exceptions, trial by jury and law of the land. The first part used to be a favorite constitutional chestnut in cold war political science classes, when the professor with pedantic glee explained that a “free man” under feudalism actually meant someone with recognized privileges from the King, such as barons. To be honest, the Marxists weren’t much better, they defined the freeman as a bourgeois. Neither would countenance the serf. Thus, our passage to the middle ages was with a bucket of cold water poured on the warmth of our passions. Not until much later did I learn to read these things for myself, and find that Coke begins his commentary distinctly, “this extends to villeins.”
It’s the second part which has such variety, taking, arresting, imprisoning, exiling, banishing, ruining, destroying, victimizing, and disseiseing. It too contains a huge amount of commentary, legal and otherwise. Habeas corpus, trial by jury, due process of law, and prohibition of torture as principles of law have quaintly stemmed from this statement. It is the last one that concerns us.
In some conservative translations aliquo modo destruatur is rendered “ruined,” or “molested,” or “victimized.” To interpret the prohibition of torture as molestation or ruin or victimizing is to displace the damage away from the body. Coke glosses “any otherwise destroyed” as “That is forejudged of life or limb, disinherited, or put to torture or death.” The expression, “life or limb,” appears elsewhere in the Charter of Liberty, and it makes clear that the destruction which is referred to, is an action on the body, an actual dismemberment, a real mutilation. It is important for us to retain this classic translation – ‘in any way destroyed’ for two reasons. First, it was retained in the Petition of Right (1628) whence chapter 39 was preserved and later perpetuated in the U.S. Constitution (see the 5th and 14th amendments among others), and second it was upon this translation that Edward Coke, and then the Levellers of the English Revolution based their opposition to torture.
History moved on: monarchy, republic, military dictatorship, monarchy again, Jacobites, Whigs, came and went, leaving chapter 39 as a residue which persisted despite the layering sediments of passing imperial forms . In his Commentaries on the Laws (1765-69) William Blackstone declared “the constitution [of England] is an utter stranger to any arbitrary power of killing or maiming the subject without the express warrant of law.” He explains that the words aliquo modo destruatur “include a prohibition not only of killing and maiming, but also of torturing (to which our laws are strangers) and of every oppression by color of an illegal authority.” “Besides those limbs and members that may be necessary to man, in order to defend himself or annoy his enemy,” he begins. Does this “man” not use his limbs to fry an egg or caress a cheek? Is his subjectivity pure aggression? Nevertheless, he continues, “the rest of his person or body is also entitled by the same natural right to security from the corporal insults of menaces, assaults, beating, and wounding; though such insults amount not to destruction of life or member.”
Well, so much for Magna Carta’s venerable 39th chapter whose quaintness I hope I have established by means of Latin, grammar, and old authorities. But not only is the matter of torture said to be quaint, it’s context is curious.
On 19 September 2003 Paul Bremer promulgated Order 39, a “capitalist dream,” according to The Economist. Two hundred state companies would be privatized, foreign firms can retain 100% ownership of Iraqi banks, mines, and factories, and 100% of the profits can be removed from Iraq. This was the charter of privatization public companies became private, contracts were private, and all was up for sale. Order 39 promoted both privatization and globalization because foreign companies were now permitted to buy and invest in Iraq companies, repatriating 100% of their profits. The moment of invasion and occupation was accompanied by putting Iraq up for sale. The brutal actions designed to ‘free a sovereign country’ submitted it forthwith to the ravages of globalization. It is not the corruption that is the principle of exploitation; it is the policy of expropriation.
The neo-liberal project, or capitalism unrestrained, or the universal application of buying and selling was established in Iraq by Order 39. At the same time Abu Ghraib prisoners were degraded, abused, and tortured in violation of Chapter 39 of Magna Carta. The coincidence is curious, and it becomes curiouser. The Structural Adjustment Policies of the International Monetary Fund, or SAPs, were the principle instrument by which global capital enforced neo-liberalism on exploited nations. At the same time the Pentagon’s secret man-hunting and torturing outfit was also called an SAP, or, special-access program, responsible for out-sourcing victims to torture chambers in Singapore, Thailand, and Pakistan (Hersh, p.16). Indeed, I remember during the full hey day of JFK in 1961, my father, the U.S. Embassy political counselor, returning home for lunch, pale and aghast, from a tour of the Karachi police headquarters. At the table he was unable to swallow food, barely able even to speak, but willing at least to tell us the truth of what had passed before his eyes. This must explain surely why they make up these absurd euphemisms, as they could not stomach the tortures otherwise. (A Bureau of Imperial Nomenclature?)
Why does torture accompany economic development or primitive accumulation? What is the relationship between the violation of Chapter 39 and the promulgation of Order 39? This is another way of expressing the relation between the tortures conducted at the Abu Ghraib prison and the project of neo-liberal economic policy. Why is the violation fundamental legal principle, the integrity of the body, necessary to the policy of oil extraction, modernization, and free marketing?
In 1994 the U.S.A. ratified the UN Convention Against Torture that barred torture and other “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” In Guantánamo Bay prison six hundred prisoners kept in steel-mesh cages reminiscent of the cages which uppity women used to be put in to during the European Renaissance. In general however, an impression of complacency is formed from reading over the various American manuals of torture techniques that the CIA, the School of the Americas, &c., employ because they seem to avoid such devices, like cages, in the technology of torture. The birch, the whipping post, the strappado, the scold’s bridle, the branks, the muzzle, the gag, the ducking stool, the cackstool, the branding iron, the finger pillory, treadmill the neck and wrist pillory, the thew, the kidcote, thumbscrews, gibbet, are some of the torture instruments of Renaissance England for disciplining women.
Decades of research in university psychology departments and lavish CIA hand-outs have produced the “psychological torture.” General Miller in Guantánamo used sleep deprivation, exposure to cold, placing prisoners in stress positions for agonizing lengths of time. This however was only to take a leaf out of the four-and-a-half centuries-old classic, The Discovery of Witches (1647) by Matthew Hopkins, the Witch-Finder General. He used swimming (cold water ordeal), watching (forced to sit on stool for long period under observation), and walking (deprived of sleep for long periods) as well as pricking (using a needle to probe the perineum) as a means of interrogating suspects and finding witches. He was personally responsible for the death of scores of women between 1645-6, including nineteen at one mass hanging. Parliament disallowed his method of ‘swimming’ the witch, or ‘throwing a trussed-up woman into a pond to see if she sank.’ But Parliament permitted the others: starvation, sleep deprivation, walking the accused up and down until her feet blistered and mind wandered, solitary confinement, and prolonged sitting in a single position in order to produce utter exhaustion, or, euphemistically, ‘stress.’
There is a tension in English history between the practice of torture and its prohibition. Legal critics in the middle ages, such as the fishmonger Andrew Horn, recalled that Alfred the Great “hanged Osketil [a judge], for that he judged Culling to death [who] was taken and tortured until he confessed a mortal sin, and this he did to be quit of further torture; and Osketil judged him to death on his confession made to the coroner.” Centuries later Coke said, “there is no law to warrant tortures in this land, nor can they be justified by any prescription ,” and Blackstone called the rack “an engine of state, not of law” Now, it must be said, as we learn from Professor Langbein (an authority which the Harvard torture booster, Alan Dershowitz, depends on) that Edward Coke, like Francis Bacon or Isaac Newton, himself participated in the torture of suspects. Evidence that Blackstone did as well has yet to come to light, and though we doubt that it shall, would we be so surprised if it did?
The English will say they abhor and prohibit torture yet practice it widely, especially in colonies. In 1804 proceedings began against the former governor of Trinidad, Picton, who hung a young woman by her thumbs, when the prosecution asserted “I shall not cite many authorities to prove that torture is in itself absolutely illegal and that it has ever been held so by the law of this country.” I learn from the researches of Anupama Rao of Barnard College that the English in India applied torture to suspects indirectly, that is to say, they required other Indians to do it.
In American history the contradiction is similar: at one pole, the 8th amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, while at the other pole, the application of torture to Indians and of torture to slaves was systematic. Joan Dayan, the brilliant historian of Haiti, writes an article in The Boston Review called “Cruel and Unusual” on the demise of the Eighth Amendment. The Abu Ghraib tortures were prepared for by White House and Pentagon lawyers. The “Working Group Report on Detainee Interrogations in the Global War on Terrorism” refers to the U.S. Supreme Court cases concerning prison which have changed the meaning of the 8th amendment. It used to be that it focused on the severity, deprivation, hurt, of the prisoner’s person. Under eroding decisions by the Rehnquist court it came to focus on the intention, motivation, and good faith of the prison keepers. Most astonishing was a Defense Department analysis of March 2002 which concluded that the President was authorized to use torture as long as he could “negate a showing of specific intent by showing that he had acted in good faith” (Hersh, 18).
Joan Dayan quotes Justice Clarence Thomas whose grammar gives him away, “A use of force that causes only insignificant harm to a prisoner may be immoral, it may be torturous, it may be criminal, and it may even be remediable under other provisions of the Federal Constitution, but it is not ‘cruel and unusual punishment.'” Here the question is begged, the ‘torturous’ is compatible with ‘insignificant harm.’ Dayan shows that the irrational inversion of the meaning of the 8th amendment looks forward to the Abu Ghraib tortures but the apparent ease with which it has been accepted is explicable only within a deeper historical context, namely, the slave codes developed by the French in the Caribbean (then copied by John Locke and brought to Carolina whence they spread to the other mainland American colonies) which removed or degraded the humanity of the slave as a person with legal standing.
The unspoken assumption is that prisoners are not persons. Justice Brennan in Furman v. Georgia (1972) signalled the significance of the 8th amendment as forbidding the treatment of “members of the human race as nonhumans.” A category is created of the stigmatized, the dehumanized, and, as it is essential to add, the demonized. The category of the nonhuman in American history begins as the category of the slave, Caliban. But free-born Caliban, as we remember from The Tempest, had a mother, Sycorax. She was herbalist, a shaman, she was African born in Algiers, she had powers over trees, the birds, the weather, “one so strong that could control the moon, make flows and ebbs.” We must, therefore, lengthen the beginnings of the torture regime beyond the slave regime to include, so to speak, its parent, the degradation of women, as one of the deep structures of capitalism.
The continuity of the attempt to make some of us nonhumans is established by the tortures in our monstrous prison system. Marilyn Buck is serving an eighty-year prison sentence at Federal Corrections Institution at Dublin on charges of helping Assata Shakur escape, on conspiring to destroy government property, and otherwise as bringing down the imperial temple. In prison she is muzzled from direct anti-racist, anti-imperialist, anti-sexist expressions, therefore she resorts to the poetic license. She has had to become a poet for reasons of state (the same thing happened to Milton). “Without imagination there is little daring to confront the old,” she concludes. Wild Poppies is a CD of a poetry jam on her behalf by scores of poetical voices – South African, Puerto Rican, AfricanAmerican, Palestinian, and native American reciting her poems (and theirs).
Here is testimony on both sides of the prison walls on some meanings of torture in the U.S.A. today. She writes accusingly in a poem called “The Tortured,”
“Indifferent citizens don’t care to look behind prisoner masks;
The tortured would stare back askant.”
She has been behind the mask, yet looks at us with humanity and knowledge. She has a long poem called “Revelation” against the Puritanical strain of American imperialism. It refers to a cauterized memory:
“do you encounter the touch of the torch on the skin?”
“they singe the air with sanctimony,
light bonfires beneath the feet of non-conformity.”
She refers to a rarely mentioned, still-silenced, profound trauma on this civilization the burning of the witches.
Published the same month, April 2004, that Fallujah first turned back the American onslaught and that the photographs of American tortures in Abu Ghraib prison were displayed to the world, Silvia Federici’s book, Caliban and the Witch, although describing a time and place remote from the lawless atrocities in Mesopotamia, being as it is a study of the witch-hunt, of medieval heretical movements, and of European mechanical and materialist philosophy from the ‘Age of Reason,’ nevertheless, it is essential for understanding either. At the same time, the paradox of the hideous pun of the Structural Adjustment Program and the Special Access Program as the SAP, or the grotesque contradiction found between chapter 39 of Magna Carta and order 39 of the Iraq occupation are explicated.
Nothing can so clearly help us understand the torture and the project of neo-liberalism as this, for Federici describes a foundational process creating the structural conditions for the existence of capitalism. This is the fundamental relationship of capitalist accumulation, or (as it is called in decades of technical literature) ‘primitive accumulation.’ This mystery perplexed (however coyly) Adam Smith. It was the ‘original sin’ of the political economists, and for Karl Marx it was written in “letters of blood and fire.”
The birth of the proletariat required war against women. This was the witch-hunt when tens of thousands of women in Europe were tortured and burnt at the stake, in massive state-sponsored terror against the European peasantry destroying communal relations and communal property. It was coeval with the enclosures of the land, the destruction of popular culture, the genocide in the New World, and the start of the African slave trade. The 16th century price inflation, the 17th century crisis, the centralized state, the transition to capitalism, the Age of Reason come to life, if the blood-curdling cries at the stake, the crackling of kindling as the faggots suddenly catch fire, the clanging of iron shackles of the imprisoned vagabonds, or the spine-shivering abstractions of the mechanical philosophies can indeed be called “life.”
Federici explains why the age of plunder required the patriarchy of the wage. Gender became not only a biological condition or cultural reality but a determining specification of class relations. The devaluation of reproductive labor inevitably devalues its product, labor power. The burning of the witches and the vivisection of the body enforced a new sexual pact, the conjuratio of unpaid labor. It was essential to capitalist work-discipline. This is what Marx called the alienation of the body, what Max Weber called the reform of the body, what Norman O. Brown called the repression of the body, and what Foucault calls the discipline of the body. Yet, these social theorists of deep modernization overlooked the witch-hunt!
The historic demonization of women is on the face of page after page in profuse and magnificent illustration. The book contains many and beautiful illustrations, such as Vegetable Man, the Land of Cockaigne, the Fountain of Youth, and the Witch’s Herbary. It contains powerful images, many are woodcuts (one of the first uses of the printing press). One shows witches conjuring a rain shower, others show a 15th century brothel, Dürer’s depiction of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the common land, Jacques Callot’s Horrors of War, Dürer’s woman’s bath-house, The Parliament of Women, and the Anabaptist’s communistic sharing of goods.
If one image from Abu Ghraib gave us a crucifixion, another as surely gave us a pyramid: these fundamental forms of graphic design, known to every art student. Hans Grien’s Witches Sabbath (1510) or the title page of Andreas Vasalius’ De Humani Corporis Fabrica (1543). All its magic has gone: the human body has become a factory, or a mechanism of circulating blood, connecting tissues, little cells, obedient to commands of science. The mechanical body is depicted: to crown all, the hideous gathering in a Corinthian-style rotunda of the Renaissance mob of bourgeois at the anatomical theater where a pregnant woman’s corpse lies naked in the middle, on a table, her womb gashed open as the assembly leers, gazes, peers, points, spies, shoves, elbows each other, scrutinizes, assesses.
Product of intense debates within the international women’s movement, with a perspective on European history made possible by three years’ residence in the mid-80s in Nigeria where a campaign of miscogyny accompanied the attack on communal lands under the direction of the ‘structural adjustment plan’ enabled her to understand the adjusting structures of European capitalism at its violent beginnings. Drawing on the non-conformity of British social history, on the lucid periodization of French scholarship, on Mediterranean openness to Asia and Africa, on the cultural endurance of indigenous people of the Americas, on the power of the women of west Africa, her scope is authentic and broad, from the Saracens in the east to the Incas in the west, with Europe in the north and the Caribbean in the south. Its zones of interest are west Africa, England, France, Germany, Mediterranean, Yucatan, Oaxaca, eastern Europe, and the Caribbean. The global perspective is one of a multiplicity of locales: not an envisioned totality but a manifold of villages, neighborhoods, common lands.
In the neo-liberal era of postmodern shadows the proletariat is written out of history, so the labors of the historian must recover even its existential substance. Thus, reproduction and the gender specification of the class relationship, is fully and historically argued. Stating horrifying truths of terrorism Silvia Federici has written a book truly of our times. Written in an uncompromising prose, addressed to scholars, young people of the anti-globalization movement, accessible to students, interesting to scholars, challenging to the intellectual. It engages in up-front arguments with radical feminists, Marxist socialists, as well as academic Foucauldians.
Neither compromising nor condescending, her book expresses an unfailing generosity of spirit and the dignity of a planetary scholar. As a passionate work of memory recovered, it is an anvil. As a lucid exposition of terror against the human body, it is a hammer. Brought together, they may be used to forge humanity’s agenda.
It is a book of remembrance of a trauma burned into the body of Europe leaving a scar of loss comparable to those once caused by famine, slaughter, and enslavement. Caliban is proletarian, drawing water and fetching wood, his mother was a witch. Prospero calls him a thing of darkness. If so, what is she? The whiting out from the page of history inevitably leaves behind such a darkness. Prospero acknowledged Caliban (“this thing of darkness I acknowlege mine”) in contrast to Bush, Cheney, Rumfield, Condeelza-Rice, and the other pipsqueaks and bull-roarers in that chain of command some of whose links are described by Seymour Herst.
The women of medieval Europe played a major role in the heretical movements; the women of medieval Europe found gender integration in the cooperative labors of the commons which, indeed, depended on them. A true women’s movement in the popular culture was happily described by Chaucer which often urst out in peasant revolt. John Ball repeated “now is the time” and the serfs confidently announced “we’ll have our will in the woods, the waters, and the meadows.” Thomas Müntzer, the communist leader of the German Peasant’s Revolt of 1525, said simply, “all the world needs a jolt.” This initiated the vicious period when the body was transformed from a repository of knowledge, wisdom, magic, and power to a work-machine requiring both terror and philosophy. The body under the terror of Rationalism is vivisected under a new sexual pact, the conjuratio of unpaid labor. The maid, the prostitute, and the housewife became the exclusive labors of women, replacing the healer, the craftsperson, the heretic, the herbalist, the sage, the commoner, the old, the naturalist, the obeah woman, the single, the ill-reputed, the freely-spoken, the finder of lost property, the lusty or ‘free woman,’ the obeah, the midwife.
Land expropriations, the lengthening of social distance, the breakdown of collective relations, all the metaphysical underpinnings of social order, the class struggle reduced to the ‘evil eye,’ sexuality reduced to the functional production of labor power, contraception, abortion were outlawed by the Bull of Innocent VIII (1484), the obliteration of the enchanted world where the stars and the herbs were connected in correspondences that were friendly, if occult, where luck, the unknown, and accident impeded the progress of “scientific rationalization,” anatomy, vivisection, destruction, expropriation, exploitation.
She writes “just as enclosures expropriated the peasantry from the communal land, so the witch-hunt expropriated women from their bodies, which were thus ‘liberated’ from any impediment preventing them to function as machines for the production of labor.”
Were there any exceptions? Did the sons, brothers, uncles, fathers, did the men of the community come to the defense of the women? Sadly, shamefully, there is but a single exception to the otherwise universal answer: in 1609 when the Basque fishermen of St. Jean de Luz heard that the women were being stripped and stabbed for witches, they cut short their Atlantic cod campaign and sailed back home and taking clubs in hand they liberated a convoy of witches being carted to the stake.
What we learn is the systematic, protracted, and global practice of torture. It is systematic in the sense that in the past church and state conspired to exercise it while state theorists developed philosophy for it, such as Jean Bodin (“We must spread terror among some by punishing many”), René Descartes (“I am not this body”), and Thomas Hobbes (“for the laws of nature, as justice, equity, mercy, and, in sum, doing to others as we would be done to, of themselves, without the terror of some power to cause them to be observed, are contrary to our natural passions”). It was protracted in the sense that it was not shock therapy based on the blitzkrieg, or sudden ‘structural adjustment plan,’ but an intermittent campaign of approximately two centuries which ebbed or flowed with prices. It was coeval with the European Renaissance, high and low, north and south. Finally, it was global in the sense that the degradation of women accomplished by means of terror of the body belonged to the same epoch as the genocide of indigenous people in America and the commencement of the African slave trade. “It was here that the scientific use of torture was born, for blood and torture were necessary to ‘breed an animal’ capable of regular, homogeneous, and uniform behavior, indelibly marked with the memory of the new rules.”
Such beginnings are never completed. This is why “the sanctity of marriage” was a decisive electoral issue and the tortures of Abu Ghraib were not. The policing of the woman’s body and the torturing of labor-power: two means of creating labor power. The neo-liberal project requires a policy of social reproduction. The body becomes a site of resistance as shown by the “naked protests” of the women of the Niger river delta in the summer of 2003 which virtually stopped the flow of petroleum.
Capitalist work-discipline requires the mechanistic philosophy, it requires the enclosures and mapping of the world from the neighborhood to the GPS, it requires the tick tick ticking of the clock, the squared-out grid of the calendar of our days; it prohibits nakedness and public bathing; it forbids games of chance and games on the open field; it requires a belief in work, an ideology of work, a creed in work, and salvation through work. Labor power becomes self-managed. From signifying a work-stoppage, the phrase ‘cakes and ale’ became the gateway to consumerism. “We can see that the human body and not the steam engine, and not even the clock, was the first machine developed by capitalism.” The acquisitive, pure, trained, punctual, chaste, producing, and consuming body the “free owner” of “labor power” – to Marx appears as a gift of nature. Bechtel, Halliburton, and their contracted employees know otherwise. Shock therapy is applied to Iraq.
Historians of torture as practiced in England have limited their conception of it to a method of discovery, or of examination of witnesses; they call it ‘interrogation under duress.’ This however misconstrues its function which is not a misguided methodology of investigation; it is part of a policy to terrorize and to create a new type of human being. It is inherent in both the project of expropriation and the process of exploitation. From the marsh Arabs and the desert tribes: modern labor power is created by war, religion, and torture. Migration, diaspora, criminalization, pauperization result. The infliction of pain continues in several disciplining contexts: army, navy, imperial, Ireland, man and wife, parent and child, teacher and pupil, master and servant well into the 20th century.
We cannot describe a ‘moment of torture’ that is exclusive to the expropriations of the period of primitive accumulation which then disappears that when exploitation is routinized in the factory, because the factory itself is a habitat of pain, sleeplessness, and stress. The expansion of the scutching mills in Ireland with the development of the linen industry took women, sons and daughters of small farmers and fed them into the rollers of these mills. At one mill (out of 1,800) in Kildinan, near Cork, between 1852 and 1856 six fatal accidents and sixty mutilations. Dr White, surgeon for factories at Downpatrick, found a vast sacrifice of life and limb, “in many cases a quarter of the body is torn from the trunk” Dr. Simon in England wrote, “The life of myriads of workmen and workwomen is now uselessly tortured and shortened by the never-ending physical suffering that their mere occupation begets.” Every part of the globe now has these stories. In Toledo, Ohio, we remember Larry Fuentes, mangled to death by a robot at the Daimler-Chrysler plant in May 2000.
The theme of globalization is immediately paired with a second theme of violent terror. Marx exemplified the relationship in chapter 31. The changing scale of rewards paid by Massachusetts for the scalps of Indians is at the beginning of the chapter and the “Herod-like slaughter of the innocents” at the end with an extensive quotation from John Fielden’s Curse of the Factory System (1836) about the cruelty, flogging, and torture of children conducted by the factory masters of the industrial Lancashire. Fielden notes that murder and tortures of the factory occur in “the beautiful and romantic valleys of Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, and Lancashire.”
Marx returns to a dominant figure in his history, the trope of sanguinary exploitation, or blood. Inspired by the writing of T.J. Dunning, a trade union activist among the bookbinders, Marx observes that capital comes into the world “dripping from head to toe from every pore, with blood and dirt.” The dripping’s name now is Fallujah. The mutilation of the human body and the globalization of commerce are two sides of capitalism, empire and torture.
The regime prevailing in the U.S.A. is lawless, cruel, and inhuman, and though it will plead that its atrocities are ‘accidents,’ or that they should be exculpated having been motivated in ‘good faith,’ such excuses scarcely scratch the surface of its crimes, because its deepest purposes and strategic goals are the very primitive accumulation and endless dominion which characterized its beginnings in the Age of Plunder. ‘Structural adjustment’ and ‘special access’ are but new names for an old crime. That they were encouraged by order 39 must remind us of chapter 39 of the Charter of Liberty which must be dusted off from the shelf in the cabinet of quaint curios and become once again one of the politically potent potions for Sycorax and Iraq.
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. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org