J is for Jubilee

Lesson I: Jubilee is heard

In 1791 the call of conch shells heralded the start of a slave uprising in the French colony of Saint-Domingue. Twelve years later these Haitian revolutionaries declared independence. They had liberated themselves.

Lesson II: Jubilee is about liberation

In the United States, the Emancipation Proclamation came into effective on 1 January 1863. It’s known as the Day of Jubilee. “We are all liberated by this proclamation ... It is a mighty event for the bondman, but it is a still mightier event for the nation at large.”

Juneteenth commemorates the emancipation of all those who had been enslaved. It is also known as Freedom Day or Jubilee Day.

Lesson III: Jubilee is about land

Denounce the enclosure and privatisation of land.

Celebrate the expropriation of the expropriators.

In Newcastle, in 1771, commoners resisted the enclosure (privatisation) of their Town Moor. They tore down the landlord’s fences and his house – and drove away his cattle. They won.

Local radical Thomas Spence called their day of victory their jubilee. Newcastle’s Town Moor remains an urban commons to this day.

Lesson IV: Jubilee is about the cancellation of debts

The world is awash with debt. We are drowning in it. Debt servitude is stifling human creativity and undermining our wellbeing.

Growing our way out of debt would require more work and more plunder. It’s not a viable option. Even many conservatives now accept that debt cancellation – a Debt Jubilee – is necessary. It is – for us and for our planet.

Lesson V: Jubilee is a time of fallow

Plunder of the soil, of the forests, of the oceans and of other natural wealth continues apace. Our planet the Earth needs a Sabbath more than ever.

Lesson VI: Jubilee is a time of no work

Long working hours – waged and unwaged. Stress. Anxiety. Stress. Anxiety. Stress. Anxiety.

Overwork is literally killing us. In Japan there is even a word for it.

[Karōshi (Japanese) = ‘death from overwork’]

We need to escape the planetary work machine. We need a Sabbath as much as the planet does.

Lesson VII: Jubilee is realistic but we must make it ourselves. Its time is now

Every ruling class, in every period, has asserted that Jubilee is unrealistic. The ruling class seeks to redefine Jubilee’s meaning – making it a celebration of sovereign power and its continuity.

Our freedom must be seized. Our liberty must be self-made. At every point in history, it has been. We have made it so!

“We are not to be saved by the captain, but by the crew.”

“Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.”


This film is inspired by and draws heavily on Peter Linebaugh’s article ‘Jubilating – Or, How the Atlantic Working Class Used the Biblical Jubilee Against Capitalism, with Some Success’, in Midnight Notes’ New Enclosures (1990​).

The quotation in Lesson II (“We are all liberated by this proclamation...”) and the first quotation in Lesson VII (“We are not to be saved by the captain...”) are from Frederick Douglass. The second quotation in Lesson VII (“Who would be free...”) is from Lord Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and was frequently quoted by Douglass. The mural that appears in Lesson II is in Belfast, a city Douglas spend some time in during his tour of the British Isles between 1845 and 1847.

Newcastle radical Thomas Spence wrote a song to commemorate the Town Moor victory, ‘The Jubilee Hymn; Or A Song to be Sung at the Commencement of the Millennium, If Not Sooner’. Spence suggested his hymn be sung to the tune of God Save the King, which, according to historian Peter Linebaugh, might have its origins in a German beer-drinking tune. The first verse is sung here by Commoners Choir. Thanks to them and, especially, to Boff Whalley, who engineered it.

Hark! how the trumpets sound

Proclaims the land around

The Jubilee!

Tells all the poor oppress’d,

No more they shall be cess’d,

Nor landlords more molest

Their property

Spence also struck the coins that appear in Lesson VI (‘reclining shepherd’) and Lesson VII (‘After the Revolution’). You can read more about ‘Thomas Spence’s Freedom Coins’ in Peter Linebaugh’s chapter in Commoning with George Caffentzis and Silvia Federici.

The video clip in Lesson V (‘Jubilee is a time of fallow’) is from Environmental Justice Foundation’s ‘Save the Bees’.

On the stultifying effects of anxiety and how we might overcome it, see the Institute of Precarious Consciousness’s 2014 article ‘We are all very anxious’ (https://www.weareplanc.org/blog/we-ar...​).