The Dance of the Green and the Red

I have a review posted today on Gods&Radicals of Peter Linebaugh’s new collection of essays, “The Incomplete, True, Authentic, and Wonderful History of May Day:”


The Incomplete, True, Authentic and Wonderful History of May Day is a collection of 11 essays, each written about and for May Day (and, as he cheerfully notes in the introductory essay, sometimes written ‘the night before’ the occasion) which dance and weave into each other like the ribbons of a maypole.

Linebaugh doesn’t tell history in lines, and that’s a good thing. Linear history is the story of the machine-age, the mechanistic world of the factory and the skyscraper, the narrative of progress and the line-up to the gas chambers. Such a history wheels along, unstoppable along iron tracks past the present. Through its windows we might catch a glimpse of the ‘great men’ of earlier times, the generals and warlords, men of religion, men of industry, men of science, if, that is, the black smudge of coal and petrol smoke does not obscure our view.

If Pagan Anti-Capitalism has living elders, Peter Linebaugh is certainly one of them, along with Silvia Federici. Her book, Caliban & The Witch is still perhaps the most profound history of Witchcraft, and it should surprise no one that they know each other and have worked together through the Midnight Notes Collective.

Neither of them declare themselves to be Pagan, yet both have opened up more space for Pagans to understand the historical processes which make self-declared Paganism even necessary. Moreso, both have done what no Pagan writer has done, which is to situate the witch and Pagan into a historical context without relying on flimsy narratives of continuity, attempting to downplay the political implications of Paganism,  or borrowing extensively from the Nationalist projects of European Fascists.

Linebaugh, particularly, covers the section of history otherwise glossed-over (if even mentioned at all) in which all the shoots of modern Paganism sprung from the earth. That same historical period, of course, saw the birth of Capitalism, the modern Nation State, and all the significant tools of Authority and exploitation which skew all our current notions of the past.

To write that review, I found myself re-reading The Communist Manifesto to find the quote regarding “the history of class struggles,” and for some reason I’d completely forgotten about Engle’s footnote which starts that review. Engels qualifies the statement with the word ‘written,’ and introduces long before modern anthropologists the notion that civilisation creates class, rather than being an essential part of human relations.

In fact, it’s precisely the Marxist tendency to see class as human-created rather than innate that riles so many conservatives, Liberals, Fascists, and even Democratic Socialists. It’s also, of course, what pissed off so many Christian clergy in the 1800’s. If hierarchy, class, and Authority are not natural or biological features of the world, than all relations of obedience and submission can be challenged. The Church and its priests, the State and its functionaries, the Capitalist and his managers all have to find different excuses for why they deserve to be above and the rest of us below.

Which, as Peter Linebaugh shows us, the Pagan thread of May Day (what he calls “The Green”) already resisted all that, and only resisted it more, the more the would-be rulers tried to enforce their doctrines of hard-work. Unfortunately, as we know, that enforcement was often through violence, the ritual slaughter of miners, witches, factory workers, and slaves.

But May Day approaches again. It’s never been taken away from us. And there’ve never been more people noticing the connections between Paganism and Anti-Capitalism then there are now, and never more people writing about it. Even those who write fiercely against those connections know something’s changed, some realisation no longer buried behind timidity or obscured Authoritarian desires.

It’s a beautiful time to be alive.