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33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Empire Begins, October 12, 2003
This review is from: The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic (Paperback)
In 1741 at Hughson's, a waterfront tavern in New York City, a motley crew of men and women, members of what Linebaugh and Rediker call the Atlantic proletariat planned a rebellion against the New York ruling class. They included among others radical Irishmen and women, Africans slaves, the wretched refuse created by the enclosure of the commons, the plantation system and the slave trade. The rebellion was uncovered by the authorities, its leaders were tried convicted, lynched or broken on the wheel, or sent off to slave in plantations in the West Indies. Newspaper accounts of the time described vast crowds gathering from all over New York and elsewhere to view a peculiar, emblematic and perhaps even prophetic phenomenon. The lynched bodies of two leaders of the rebellion, Hughson, an Irishman, and John Gwin, an African, were left to rot as a warning. In death, the white's body turned black, and the black's turned white

According to the authors, this resistance in New York was not unusual. It was just one of many, many rebellions and uprisings in the Atlantic colonies by what the authors call the "hydrarchy," appropriating Francis Bacon's scurrilous metaphor of the many-headed hydra which he borrowed from the myth of Hercules and used to characterize dispossessed and extirpated peasantry of the Atlantic, a characterization used thereafter by the ruling class to describe those whom they enslaved to the exigencies of capitalism. As the authors say in their conclusion on pages 327-328: "In the preceding pages, we have examined the Herculean process of globalization and the challenges posed to it by the many headed hydra. We can periodize the almost two and a half centuries covered here by naming the successive and characteristic sites of struggle: the commons, the plantation, the ship and the factory. In the years 1600-1640, when capitalism began in England and spread through trade and colonization around the Atlantic, systems of terror and sailing ships helped to expropriated the commoners of Africa, Ireland, England, Barbados and Virginia and set them to work as hewers of wood and drawers of water."
The authors go on to say that in the second phase, 1640-1680, "the hydra reared against English capitalism, first by revolution in the metropolis, then by servile war in the colonies. Antinomians organized themselves to raise of a New Jerusalem against the wicked Babylon in order to put into practice the biblical precept that God is no respecter of persons. Their defeat deepened the subjection of women and opened the way to transoceanic slavery in Ireland, Jamaica, and West Africa. Dispersed to American plantations, the radicals were defeated a second time in Barbados and Virginia, enabling the ruling class to secure the plantation as a foundation of the new economic order."
They describe the third phase in 1680-1760 as the "consolidation and stabilization of Atlantic capitalism through the maritime state, a financial and nautical system designed to acquire and operate Atlantic markets." They note it was "the sailing ship -- the characteristic machine of this period of globalization -- combined features of the factory and the prison." Consider in this regard the famous 'tryworks" chapter in Moby Dick. They go on to say "�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." They note that connected with this counterrevolution from above, "a wave of rebellion ripped through the slave societies of the Americas in the 1730s, culminating in a multiethnic insurrectionary plot by workers in New York in 1741."
The final phase of their history tells the story of how the "motley crew" with Tacky's Revolt in Jamaica and a series of uprisings throughout the hemisphere created "breakthroughs in human praxis--the Rights of Mankind, the strike, the higher-law doctrine--that would eventually help to abolish impressment and plantation slavery." He suggests these rebellions also helped to produce the American Revolution, which, they claim, "ended in reaction as the Founding Fathers used race, nation and citizenship to discipline, divide and exclude the very sailors and slaves who had initiated and propelled the revolutionary movement."
After reading this eye-opening leftist history, the polyglot streets of New York, indeed of any port city on the Atlantic, suddenly make a lot more sense. Caught up in the brutal, enslaving machine of capitalism starting in the 1600s, the Atlantic and (and eventually) Pacific proletariat fought back against this deadly system of terror, enslavement and extirpation. And it clearly appears, with the assistance of this people's history of the American colonies, that the sons and daugthers of the hydrarchy are caught up now in just the latest model of Blake's dark, satanic mills, trapped and impressed into the vast, destructive combine of the corporate hegemon.
Too programmatically left wing in its somewhat idealizing potrayal of the rabble as a motley crowd who sought freedom from their enconomic enslavement, who practiced democracy and rebellion in reaction to the vicious disciplinary system of the ruling class? Perhaps, but not as tidy as those histories told from the top down which use the fumigated version of the historical record to tell those grand and increasingly obtuse stories of the birth of freedom, equality and opportunity for all.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jul 14, 2012 10:21:11 AM PDT
We could extend Reddiker and Linebaugh's thesis into the 20th century to mean, the only kind of a negro worth looking at would be a protest-oriented person. Get on line on Lenox Ave. or be cast out. This oppressive (fascist) reading of American history obscures too many people who deserve a hearing but never turned out with the mob.

Posted on Aug 5, 2013 6:33:42 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 5, 2013 6:44:23 PM PDT
Marcus Welby says:
I was perplexed by this book and turned off by the heavily leftist bent of the authors. They are really more like English teachers than historians as they search for socialist/communist themes in what is a more basic economic framework. That said, I must admit that my extensive reading over the years had not found mention of many of the revolts and uprisings they detail in their well documented work. I guess in balance I have heard too many Marxist ideas forced into too many discussions to really value this work of literary criticism. I do commend them on their research, but their slavish use of Marxist analysis is so overwhelming that I wonder just what they are teaching in their college positions. I also wonder if what I am reading in this book wouldn't be so much more interesting with out the political spin.
I stopped listening to academic Marxists a long time ago and after a couple chapters of what could have been a great story I remembered exactly why. Everything has to be shoehorned into the great overbearing Marxist dialectic. The whole process just gets nauseating after awhile.

Their book is timely since we have yet another attempt at establishing a Marxist dystopia right here in the US with our recently re-elected Chief Executive and his radical Government.
God save us from these fools.
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