Post a Comment. I have been devouring it ever since. Written in it inspires and completes many of the trajectories I have tried to touch on in my essay on gothic capitalism, the horror of accumulation and the commodification of humanity. Below are some reviews and background on the Many Headed Hydra and other works of its activist authors ; Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker. I would be remiss in not thanking Sam Wagar for having told me about this excellent book, which one writer compared to E.
Atlantic History as it is now called is the history of the under class the lumpen german for 'rags' or ragged proletariat, those without a trade, and of course slaves.
It is a history of those who built the British and American empires by the sweat of their brow, the hewers of wood and drawers of water, the perennial dispossed. This "motely crew" that became pirates, antinominal rebels, and revolutionaries against industrial capitalism. This paradigm is contested by establishment historians, and thus falls under the rubric of 'revisionist' history, which unfortunately has been besmirched by those who use the term to justify their anti-semitic conspiracy theories. Authentic revisionst history, or historical deconstruction began with Marx, and we call it historical materialism.
Thompson expanded that to include the study of the culture of the working class and proletariat, and there is a difference between these two. For the working class are former craftsmen or artisans who become part of the factory system that evolves out of artisanal production and manufacturing.
The proletariat are the landless propertyless class of workers and peasants forced by enclosures into the city to find work and shelter. That 'proletarianization' is continuing today, as it did in 16th and 17th Century Britain and North America, in the newly industrializing countries of the Third World, China, India etc. It is the crisis of the metropolis versus the privatized countryside, and in fact as I write in Global Labour in the Age of Empire , it is privatization that is currently the project of global capitalism which is mistakenly called; 'globalization'.
Rediker and Linebaugh agree with this permise, as they discuss in the British move to enclose the Fens, swampland, that was held in common, those 'drawers of water' in the 17th century were replaced with privately owned water works. Linebaugh has written other works on the dispossed in London, and Rediker has written on Pirate culture. Both also focus on the economic importance of enclosure, the stealing of the common lands for use as private property, and slavery; the indentured servitude of the poor as well as Africans, in the birthpangs of capitalism.
I have some refernces and links to these works as well below. Marcus Rediker has an excellent web site which includes excerpts from Hydra and several of his other books, it includes the synopsis below, as well as a sample Chapter.
It also includes further articles on revisionist proletarian history and his univeristy course work on Atlantic History. The Many Headed Hydra Synopsis Long before the American Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man, a motley crew of sailors, slaves, pirates, laborers, market women, and indentured servants had ideas about freedom and equality that would forever change history.
The Many Headed-Hydra recounts their stories in a sweeping history of the role of the dispossessed in the making of the modern world. When an unprecedented expansion of trade and colonization in the early seventeenth century launched the first global economy, a vast, diverse, and landless workforce was born. These workers crossed national, ethnic, and racial boundaries, as they circulated around the Atlantic world on trade ships and slave ships, from England to Virginia, from Africa to Barbados, and from the Americas back to Europe.
Marshaling an impressive range of original research from archives in the Americas and Europe, the authors show how ordinary working people led dozens of rebellions on both sides of the North Atlantic. The rulers of the day called the multiethnic rebels a "hydra" and brutally suppressed their risings, yet some of their ideas fueled the age of revolution. Others, hidden from history and recovered here, have much to teach us about our common humanit y.
Harry Cleaver author of Reading Capital Politcally , itself an excellent text on the politics of the revolt from below, and other "Autonomous Marxist" works has the introduction and samples of chapters on the American proletarian revolts, of Many Headed Hydra in PDF. In the paper edition, this article appears on page s Like that book, The Many-Headed Hydra is eloquent, unconventional in its sources and angle of vision, and "history from below"—it emphasizes the large historical significance of the sensibilities and conduct of ordinary people. But where Thompson described the world of British workers during the Industrial Revolution, and explored the formation of the English working class as a self-conscious political actor, this history is oceanic rather than national in scope—it is the story of the making of an Atlantic proletariat.
Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker are so steeped in their subject matter that they spot patterns and links that others would not notice. They evoke the bygone mentalities of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Atlantic, in ways that transport us to a world that is quite strange—yet with startling premonitions of current globalization.
In his last work, Customs in Common , Thompson suggested that pre-industrial capitalism could illuminate aspects of the post-industrial era. The Many-Headed Hydra , without lapsing into anachronism, bears out this claim. Here is a passage from Linebaugh and Rediker's conclusion: … witnessed the consolidation and stabilization of Atlantic capitalism through the maritime state, a financial and nautical system designed to acquire and operate Atlantic markets. The sailing ship—the characteristic machine of this period of globalization—combined features of the factory and the prison.
In opposition, pirates built an autonomous, democratic, multiracial social order at sea, but this alternative way of life endangered the slave trade and was exterminated. A wave of rebellion ripped through the slave societies of the Americas in the s, culminating in a multiethnic insurrectionary plot by workers in New York in Both its dignity and its many indignities rarely feature in public discourse. In a matter of decades the nation has been virtually deindustrialised. Leisure is sovereign. Docks, where for centuries so many people toiled and lived, are in most British cities merely places to go to for a drink and to eyeball the luxury riverside apartments opposite.
The authors chart the process by which powerless and dispossessed peoples - commoners, felons, religious radicals, pirates, urban labourers, soldiers, sailors, and African slaves - were, from the early 15th to the 17th centuries, marshalled into serving the cause of colonial expansion. A common metaphor, used by philosophers such as Francis Bacon, was the need for Hercules regal authority, imperial rule, mercantile self-interest to "strangle the Hydra of misrule".
Hydra, in this context, refers to anyone - lippy prole and conscientious objector alike - who stood in the way of profit. A central chapter of the book is concerned with what came to be known as the New York Conspiracy. In March , radicals set fire to New York. Fort George, the prime military fortification in British America, was reduced to ashes.
Soon, other metropolitan landmarks were torched. These were no random conflagrations. Lying on the west side of Manhattan, Fort George was a site of huge strategic importance for the Atlantic trade and a nodal point of the Britain-Africa-Americas triangle.
Slaves and slave products were imported there. It was also populated by a swarm of people whose labours underwrote the city's wealth, but who themselves were wholly despised. These "outcasts of the nations of the earth", as the authorities called them, feasted and caroused in wharf taverns. Practising a form of proto-communism, they allowed the poor to eat for free. Some, such as John Gwin, a black American slave who had a child by a young Irish prostitute, gleefully hopped the colour line. What bound them together was their desire to overthrow the system that made these pleasures so hard-won.
They hailed from all corners of the globe: Africans from the Gold Coast of West Africa who, before being shipped across to America, had served as local soldiers; Irish men and women who had taken to the oceans after the famine of , and who were eager to take revenge on the Protestant English; Spanish-American sailors, skilled in both seamanship and fighting, who had been captured and enslaved by the British Navy.
Social and political instability was not confined to the east coast.
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Throughout the s and s revolts had been springing up all across the Americas. Men who had either witnessed or helped to foment rebellion across the world were to play a large part in the New York Conspiracy. Men such as "Will", who in was involved in a slave revolt on Danish St John, in which black rebels seized control of the island's military installation.
He was captured and sold first to a planter in Antigua and then to a trader in New York, where he passed on to dock-workers the seditious lesson he had picked up over the years. In the years from Elizabeth I to the accession of Victoria, the preferred symbol for the British ruling class was Hercules, symbol of order and progress.
Conversely, the urban proletariat - labourers, indentured servants, soldiers, sailors, African slaves, the criminal classes and groups such as religious radicals and pirates - were regarded as the heads of the hydra slain by Hercules. Yet for the authors of this fine "history from below", they are the true heroes of a centuries-long class war. America is the key. The New World was a garbage tip to which the "dangerous classes" could be consigned. Peter Linebaugh and Markus Rediker do not shrink from a recital of the gruesome forms of punishment practiced at sea.
On the other hand, the maritime world of the Americas and beyond gave the dispossessed the chance to sample unheard-of liberties. Living among the savages as a way out of the nightmare of "civilisation" had a long history, culminating in the Bounty mutiny. The authors' main thesis is simple. Beginning with the fears expressed by that arch-reactionary Francis Bacon, progressing through the Putney debates and Cromwell's suppression of the Levellers and the Diggers at the same time as his atrocities in Ireland , the authors arrive at the 18th century, where they are acknowledged experts.
We are shown the many heads of the hydra, and the acts of revolt, resistance and rebellion to which class tensions led. There are fascinating sections on the proletarian rebellion in Naples in , the similar rising in New York in , Tacky's slave revolt in , and the Irish rebel Edward Despard's conspiracy to assassinate George III and seize both the Tower of London and the Bank of England. Battle raged over the enclosure of commons, working methods in plantations and factories, discipline on ships and, in general, the attempt to convert large portions of mankind into hewers of wood and drawers of water.
The most significant phase of the struggle came from to , when Atlantic capitalism stabilised "the maritime state" - a financial and nautical system designed to operate Atlantic markets. The sailing ship - the engine of globalisation - was therefore half-ship and half-factory.
To those below deck it was jail with the added risk of being drowned, as Dr Johnson defined shipboard life. The chief resistance to the maritime state came from pirates. Their short-lived seaborne supremacy for a while blocked the notorious "middle passage" of the slave trade between Africa and America. This prevented capital accumulation, was a "fetter" on capitalism and - obviously - had to be destroyed.
Africa - North ; Islam ; Hunwick, John. Europe ; Unfree Labour ; Corrigan, Philip Instead, then, of all men having the same right to liberty and equality, as is claimed by those who hold that they are all born free and equal, [declared Calhoun from the floor of the U. Early English Jamaica without Pirates. By June , the Union Army controlled all of the Confederacy and had liberated all of the designated slaves. By country or region. Septentrionalis , 28 June UTC.
The sections on piracy are perhaps the best parts in a generally splendid book. But even more seminal for historical research are the many vistas Linebaugh and Rediker open up in the history of blacks, women, the United Irishmen, the "Left" in the American War of Independence, and religious millenarianism. Strikingly, the authors write from the heart as well as the brain. Having established that the years after were a kind of general Thermidorean reaction in the Anglo-American world, they point to as an annus horribilis - when the revolts of Despard, Robert Emmet and Toussaint l'Ouverture all came to grief.
In elegiac mood, they conclude: "These men were peaks of the Atlantic mountains, whose principles of freedom, of humanity and of justice belonged to a single range. Documenting the changing nature of public executions in eighteenth century London, a central theme of the book was to explain why more and more people were being hanged during this period for crimes against private property: many of these 'crimes' had earlier been deemed customary rights.