I had just finished my article on Goth Capitalism when my special book order for The Many Headed Hydra arrived. I have been devouring it ever since. Written in 2001 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.P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class.
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. E.P. 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 humanity.
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. Harry Cleaver Excerpts including Intr0duction in PDF
Reviewed by Michael Guasco, Department of History, Davidson College.
Published by H-Atlantic (June, 2003)
The Many-Headed Hydra : The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic
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Review: The Many-Headed Hydra
An article from Do or Die Issue 10. In the paper edition, this article appears on page(s) 322-329.
Bookshelf Review: The Many Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic
DEMOCRATIC PIRATES The History of Decapitating Commoners by Nicolas Veroli
Canadian Journal of History, Dec 2001
History from below decks [The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic]
Northeastern Naturalist, 2001 by St Hilaire, L
The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic
Lumpen-Proletarians of the Atlantic World, Unite!
Review by Graham Russell Hodges
New York Review of Books 'The Many-Headed Hydra': An Exchange By Marcus Rediker, Peter Linebaugh, Reply by David Brion Davis
A ship of fools - Review New Statesman, Sept 3, 2001 by Stephen Howe
Review by Robin Blackburn
This book can be read as both an homage to, and correction of, E. P. Thompson's famous study The Making of the English Working Class (1964). 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.
As it happens, Linebaugh and Thompson both contributed to Albion's Fatal Tree, a collection devoted to the still topical issue of capital punishment, and its meanings for the wider society, while Thompson wrote a glowing review of Rediker's Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, a study of eighteenth-century mariners. Yet The Many-Headed Hydra also challenges some of Thompson's Anglocentric assumptions. While Thompson was attuned to French influences and had respect for the "old Jakes" (English Jacobins), his work paid little attention to the leavening effect of Irish and transatlantic influences and connections. Thus the remarkable figures of Olaudah Equiano, the African (or African American) anti-slavery campaigner, or Robert Wedderburn, son of a Jamaican slave and a leader of the Spencean socialists in early nineteenth-century London, made only fleeting appearances in Thompson's work, but are allotted chapters here. Thompson did give space to the activities of the Irish Revolutionary Colonel Edward Despard, but he did not mention his conflicts with English proprietors in the Caribbean nor weigh the significance of his marriage to Catherine, his Afro-Caribbean wife. In Thompson, the anti-slavery movement was represented by William Wilberforce, a persecutor of Jacobins; its more radical proponents, such as Thomas Clarkson, were not discussed.
The "hidden history" that Linebaugh and Rediker refer to in their subtitle links the radical sects of England's seventeenth-century Civil War to the later emergence of the nineteenth-century labor and anti-slavery movements, a theme which builds on the suggestion of another British Marxist historian. (The Many-Headed Hydra is dedicated to Christopher and Bridget Hill, and it is from the former that the idea is taken.) In about four hundred pages, The Many-Headed Hydra covers two hundred years of history on both sides of the Atlantic. The account combines provocative and sweeping generalization with intimate individual examples of the resistance and solidarity that grew in the wake of the growth of oceanic commerce and the rise of the maritime state.
The book opens with the real-life story of an expedition that wrecked on Bermuda and prompted Shakespeare's Tempest, though Linebaugh and Rediker use the story to highlight the rebelliousness of the crew and colonists. Then they describe the evictions and hangings that were visited on the common people by the new breed of English capitalist landlord and merchant as they sought to enclose land, establish plantations, and secure "hewers of wood and drawers of water." The third chapter supplies a close reading of the tantalizing scraps of evidence available concerning the life and beliefs of "a Blackymore Maide Named Francis" who died a Baptist in Bristol in the Civil War period, and of what was meant by those, like Francis, who declared that "God was no respecter of faces." The fourth chapter is devoted to the implications of the Putney debates—the remarkable 1647 political arguments in the General Council of Cromwell's New Model Army—and explores the maritime background of Colonel Thomas Rainborough, who enunciated democratic principles at that assembly. The fifth chapter argues that the ocean-going sailing vessels of the epoch were cradle of a picaresque proletariat—mariners, rovers, and dock-workers who evolved their own distinctive traditions of struggle and solidarity, ranging from the rough-and-ready egalitarianism and democracy of the pirate crew to the practice of striking (that is, lowering the sails of the ship). The sixth chapter establishes links between a slave conspiracy in Antigua and a 1741 plot to seize power in New York hatched by John Gwin, "a fellow of suspicious character"; Negro Peg, "a notorious prostitute"; and a "motley crew" of disreputable Irish, blacks, Dutch, and other "outcasts of the nations of the earth."
The succeeding chapter on "the motley crew in the American Revolution" argues that the revolutionary radicalism of the mariners and dockworkers made a vital contribution to the ideology of the struggle for independence. For example, they prompted the young Samuel Adams to move from the rhetoric of the "rights of Englishmen" to the more universal idiom of the "rights of man." More generally, it was within the mixed, waterfront milieu that anti-slavery ideas first gained support and then influenced at least some of the Patriots. The book concludes with chapters that trace the return across the Atlantic of revolutionary aspirations as exemplified in the lives of Edward and Catherine Despard, Robert Wedderburn, and William Blake. Vignettes full of surprising detail are interspersed with bold claims for the transcontinental spirit of revolution and virtuoso exercises in parsing the sometimes-obscure rhetoric of millennial enthusiasts.
The Many-Headed Hydra repeatedly puts familiar landmarks in a new light by showing how they reflect mercantile and Atlantic constellations of class, ideology, and power. It is interesting to be reminded that among the 39 Articles that provided the Church of England's founding principles, one permitted the state to punish Christians by death (Article 37), and another insisted "the riches and goods of Christians are not in common as touching the right, title and possession of the same, as certain Anabaptists do falsely boast" (Article 38). And the sketch of the plan of the book I have offered above fails to do justice to many learned and fascinating digressions—for example, on the adventures of Prince Rupert of the Rhine, or on the Masaniello revolt in Naples, and the ways that each illuminates the making of the maritime state and the emergence of its "hydra-headed" proletarian antagonist.
Some will say that Linebaugh and Rediker have taken hold of some venerable bones of Marxist analysis and made them sing by means of a postmodern voodoo philosophy. The authors skillfully deploy scripture, song, and poetry to give the reader a salty taste of the distinctive cultures of their "many-headed" and motley crew. But do they not romanticize? We are told that Colonel Rainborough's father, William, rescued 339 European prisoners from enslavement in North Africa and that Rainborough himself wore on his finger a signet ring bearing a Moor's head. This emboldens the authors to hail Rainborough as a champion of anti-slavery. Maybe he was. But opposition to European enslavement in Morocco and the sporting of Moor's Heads were not at all unusual in seventeenth-century England, and did not, unfortunately, betoken general opposition to slavery or an entirely favorable view of the Moor. The authors are not wrong to see in piracy opposition to the pretensions of the maritime state. But they overdo it when they flatly announce: "Pirates were class-conscious and justice-seeking, taking revenge against merchant captains who tyrannized the common seaman and against royal authorities who upheld their prerogatives to do so." Unfortunately pirates were also quite capable of trading slaves and slaughtering innocents. In fairness, I should add that there are limits to the authors' idealization of pirates: they do not endorse an improbable recent claim that buccaneers were champions of sexual enlightenment.
Nevertheless Linebaugh and Rediker are always on the lookout for rainbow coalitions of the oppressed. This does not usually lead them to gloss over inconsistencies, such as Tom Paine's fear of a union of insurgent slaves and Indians. But it does allow them to insist that Bacon's Rebellion in Virginia in 1676 was "really two quite separate uprisings," one aimed at mounting an Indian-fighting expedition and the other a challenge to the royal power that led to the freeing of servants and slaves. (Nevertheless these "quite separate" movements were both initiated by Nathaniel Bacon, and the one flowed into the other.) The authors register the scope given to the rulers to foster racial perceptions, but they are too inclined to see a spontaneous union of the oppressed and excluded waiting to emerge. They do not balance their vivid accounts of life on board ship or on the wharves with attention to the very different worlds of the slave plantation or Native American village.
I find welcome, and often persuasive, the authors' insistence that ethnic identities were often labile in this period and that the experience of a common fate aboard ship could create powerful bonds of solidarity. But I have the impression that the authors do not fully take the measure of popular complicity in the new Atlantic order, with its flood of affordable luxuries like tobacco, sugar, indigo, cacao, and so forth. Their account of the shipwreck in Bermuda does not explain how the leader of the expedition managed to restore control when the island offered land for the taking and ready means of subsistence. Shakespeare's sympathies may well have been regrettable, but his account in the Tempest of the way that plebian rebels could be sidetracked by dangling finery in front of them may not have been simply hostile caricature. Caliban is shown as possessed of better judgement when he urges his co-conspirators to shun the proffered apparel.
Here is a passage from Linebaugh and Rediker's conclusion:
… 1680-1760 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 1730s, culminating in a multiethnic insurrectionary plot by workers in New York in 1741.
The observation concerning the sailing ship is arresting and novel, that concerning the maritime state more conventional, and the concluding flourish rhetorical. The plot of 1741 is revealed by the book to have been of broad and heartening scope. Yet it was a failure. Defeats have an undeniable pathos, yet they should not on that ground command more attention than victories.
The quoted passage continues: "In 1760-1835, the motley crew launched the age of revolution in the Atlantic, beginning with Tacky's Revolt in Jamaica and continuing in a series of uprisings throughout the hemisphere." Yet Tacky's Revolt, if scrutinized, was limited by the fact that its leaders gave it a pronouncedly Akan character, something unappealing to those from other backgrounds. During the revolt the English overseer Thomas Thistlewood took the calculated risk of arming the slaves on his plantation, and it paid off. While "history from below" has had a hugely positive impact on the writing of history, it misleads if it fails to see that power—including the power of the high and mighty—invariably rests on substructures, and distributions of load, down below on terra firma. The "continuing series of uprisings" were to have different characteristics as they mingled with such various clusters of ideas as Patriotism, Jacobinism, Free Masonry, and abolitionism, often championed by middle-class or even aristocratic revolutionaries. Indeed, it was often the campaigns and quarrels of the middling or "better sort" that gave the "motley crew" its chance. In any full account, they should receive more attention than Linebaugh and Rediker are willing to bestow upon them.
The publishers compare this book with Paul Gilroy's deservedly influential The Black Atlantic, and they are right. But the hidden Atlantic history recounted here is overwhelmingly English-speaking. The great slave uprising in Saint Domingue in 1791, the difficult alliance between black and white Jacobins in 1793, the ending of slavery in the French colonies in 1794, and the defense of this liberation against its attempted reversal by Napoleon take place off-stage. The story of the Haitian revolution has often been told, so the omission is understandable. But the role of sailors in Saint Domingue still needs to be illuminated. Moreover, following the establishment of Haiti, the wider Caribbean of the 1810s was to witness a new wave of piracy and privateering that fed into a revolt that, with the help of President Pétion, would destroy the power of Spain on the mainland. The wider Caribbean witnessed the true culmination of the heroic and fateful struggles of the picaresque proletariat so powerfully delineated by Linebaugh and Rediker.
The Many-Headed Hydra is a major work and a turning point in the new Atlantic history. It gives back to mariners their central role in the unmaking of colonialism and slavery in the Age of Revolution. And it powerfully reminds us that we owe many of the most important political ideas, such as a world without slavery, not to philosophers, still less statesmen, but to the everyday struggles of working people. •
Revolution at the docks
Sukhdev Sandhu on the slaves and radicals at the heart of Empire in The Many-Headed Hydra by Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh
Saturday January 27, 2001
The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic
Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh
352pp, Verso, £20.31
Buy it at a discount at BOL
Who now remembers labour? 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 older world of docks and quays is the territory of Marcus Rediker and Peter Linebaugh's magnificent study, The Many-Headed Hydra . 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 1741, 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 1728, 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. Throughout the 1730s and 1740s 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 1733 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.
The sea monster that spawned liberty
The Many-Headed Hydra: the hidden history of the revolutionary Atlantic by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker (Verso, £20)
By Frank McLynn
Published : 24 January 2001
In all eras, political élites have appropriated symbols from classical myth to legitimise their own oligarchy. In the 250 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. Yet an élite that used the axe and the noose to maintain social control on land had to use even more bloody expedients on board ship. 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. The discovery of sea routes to the Americas and East Indies marked a new stage in history, making it more important for the élite to keep the dispossessed classes and expropriated nations - factory workers, plantation slaves, sailors on the one hand; the Irish, Africans and West Indians on the other - under tighter control. Beginning with the fears expressed by that arch-reactionary Francis Bacon, progressing through the 1647 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 1647, the similar rising in New York in 1741, Tacky's slave revolt in 1760, and the Irish rebel Edward Despard's 1802 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 1680 to 1760, 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 (1670-1730) 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.
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 1780 were a kind of general Thermidorean reaction in the Anglo-American world, they point to 1802 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."
The reviewer's book 'Villa and Zapata' is published by Cape
© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.
Capital & Class, Spring 2003 by Roberts, John Michael
The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic
Verso, London and New York, 2000, pp. 433
ISBN 1-85984-798-6 (hbk) 19:00
Reviewed by John Michael Roberts
In 1991 Penguin published a book called The London Hanged. 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. Drawing upon a wealth of primary documentary evidence the book rediscovered the lost voices of those about to be 'launched into eternity' in London and, at the same time, rediscovered a particular manifestation of proletarian struggle against early capitalist forms of exploitation. The author of this tremendous historical exploration was an ex-student of E. P. Thompson's named Peter Linebaugh. With Marcus Rediker, an established historian in his own right with an equally impressive number of books to his credit, Linebaugh has extended this tradition of Marxist history writing to focus upon the (extra)ordinary struggles of those who found themselves labouring for the first global economy across the Atlantic in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Linebaugh and Rediker begin their marvellous book by first explaining the meaning of the term 'many-headed hydra'. Derived originally from one of numerous Ancient Greek myths, the many-headed hydra was symbolic of disorder and resistance to the centralising force of Hercules. For the Greeks and Romans Hercules' quest to rid the world of the hydra was symptomatic of their respective ambitions of 'the clearing of land, the draining of swamps, and of the development of agriculture, as well as the domestication of livestock, and establishment of commerce, and the introduction of technology' (p. 2). To slay the hydra meant for the ruling classes to slay all of that which stood in the way of their imperial ambitions. Given this, it is perhaps unsurprising that the hydra myth was to become a potent ideology for generations of elite thinkers and practitioners. Nowhere is this clearer than with bourgeois ideologues during the period covered by the book. Linebaugh and Rediker note how a whole spectrum of social thinkers appropriated the hydra myth and gave it a new form to justify 'the violence of the ruling classes, helping them to build a new order of conquest and expropriation, of gallows and executions, of plantations, ships, and factories' (p. 6). In short, insist Linebaugh and Rediker, the hydra myth gave these thinkers 'a hypothesis' about the vast social changes wrought by the multiple connections of global commodity capitalism.
Linebaugh and Rediker begin their story proper by focusing upon the 1609 voyage of the Sea-Venture, a ninety-eightfoot, three hundred ton vessel sailing from Plymouth to England's first new world colony in Virginia. With the original intention of lending assistance to the new plantation owned by the Virginia Company of London, the Sea-Venture never reached her destination and instead ended up wrecked in Bermuda due to a hurricane. While on Bermuda a division emerged between the sailors who wanted to enjoy a communal life on the island and those who wanted to continue the commercial journey to Virginia. Several rebellions were mounted by sailors against the dominance of the Virginia Company and by recounting these rebellions Linebaugh and Rediker set up a narrative for the rest of the book: 'a story about uprooting and movement of peoples, the making and deployment of "hands". It is a story about exploitation and resistance to exploitation... It is a story about cooperation among different kinds of people for contrasting purposes of profit and survival' (p. 14).
From this starting point Linebaugh and Rediker take us, the reader, through a list of lost histories. We learn, for instance, that the 'hewers and the drawers of water' (those whose labour cleared woodland and drained fens for enclosures) also built vast ports for global trade. In addition this labouring class supported land and sea communities through their efforts at chopping and gathering materials and pumping water. In an era when wood and water were the basics for survival on long sea journeys such labour was integral for a nascent global capitalist economy. We learn how the ideas of the Ranters, Levellers and the Diggers filtered into the common-sense of this labouring class. And far from being a white and male preoccupation, Linebaugh and Rediker demonstrate through the example of a black seventeenth-century female servant named Francis that revolutionary ideas seized those from different genders and from different races. By focusing upon Francis, Linebaugh and Rediker show how notions of freedom were mixed with a religious discourse intermingled with a discourse heralding the destruction of the global condition of commodity capitalism (Babylon) and the creation a new order by global (slave) labour (a New Jerusalem). We learn how the maritime state was an integral moment in the development of the first wave of global capitalism and how its efforts were hampered through the democratic practices of pirate ships. We learn about the role of militant crews in keeping alive the spirit of a radical liberty during the American Revolution. We learn about those dispossessed Irish in England who were executed for their 'conspiracies' for justice. And, finally, we learn about uprisings by slaves against their brutal existence.
In short, Linebaugh and Rediker have given us a breathtaking account of the historical foundations of globalisation and, as such, go beyond many of the superficial narratives by contemporary commentators of capital's worldwide dominance. By working within the best traditions of Marxist history writing, the authors have presented a truly phenomenal expos& of capitalism whilst demonstrating the humanity that capital must face in its global plunder of value. One not to be missed.
Copyright Conference of Socialist Economists Spring 2003
Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved.
ATLANTIC HISTORY AND THE SLAVE TRADE
The New York Review of Books
Volume 48, Number 11 · July 5, 2001
Slavery—White, Black, Muslim, Christian
By David Brion Davis
The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners, and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic
by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker
Beacon, 433 pp., $30.00
Abolitionists Abroad: American Blacks and the Making of Modern West Africa
by Lamin Sanneh
Harvard University Press, 291 pp., $29.95
The origins of African slavery in the New World cannot be understood without some knowledge of the millennium of warfare between Christians and Muslims that took place in the Mediterranean and Atlantic and the piracy and kidnapping that went along with it. In 1627 pirates from the Barbary Coast of North Africa raided distant Iceland and enslaved nearly four hundred astonished residents. In 1617 Muslim pirates, having long enslaved Christians along the coasts of Spain, France, Italy, and even Ireland, captured 1,200 men and women in Portuguese Madeira. Down to the 1640s, there were many more English slaves in Muslim North Africa than African slaves under English control in the Caribbean. Indeed, a 1624 parliamentary proclamation estimated that the Barbary states held at least 1,500 English slaves, mostly sailors captured in the Mediterranean or Atlantic.
THE BIG BUSINESS OF SLAVERY
By Steven Flanders, Reply by David Brion Davis
In response to A Big Business* (June 11, 1998)
To the Editors:
David Brion Davis, in his wide-ranging account of the "Big Business" of slavery [NYR, June 11, 1998], is led by one of the authors under review to address the claims-rather tired in the 1990s-that the industrial revolution rested upon slavery and the slave trade. We are offered the perspectives that slavery's horrific "discipline" contributed to the industrial revolution not only by providing profits for investment but by establishing "the evolution of industrial discipline and principles of capitalist rationalization."
This seems a stretch. Professor Davis would have done well to include a more plausible and very old account of the economic impact of slavery in nineteenth-century America: that its impact was negative, corrupting of the spirit of enterprise, and demonstrably destructive of the masters as well as of the slaves. Making the best of the meager research materials available to him in addition to his own observations, Alexis de Tocqueville achieved before 1830 a remarkably compelling demonstration that slavery made everybody worse off.
In the Democracy in America chapter on "The Present and Probable Future Condition of the Three Races that Inhabit the Territory of the United States," de Tocqueville made the valley of the Ohio into a sort of controlled experiment on the economic impact of slavery. "Upon the left bank of the Ohio labor is confounded with the idea of slavery, while on the right bank it is identified with that of prosperity and improvement...." "Upon the left bank of the stream the population is sparse; from time to time one descries a troop of slaves loitering in half-desert fields; the primeval forest reappears at every turn; society seems to be asleep...." "From the right bank, on the contrary, a confused hum is heard, which proclaims afar the presence of industry; the fields are covered with abundant harvest; the elegance of the dwellings announces the taste and activity of the laborers, and man appears to be in the enjoyment of that wealth and enjoyment which is the reward of labor."
Remarkably, our most prescient foreign booster was able also to bring to bear useful population and economic data to demonstrate that Ohio was more attractive to immigrants and more economically successful than Kentucky, notwithstanding a bit of a head start for the latter. And he adds that "the activity of Ohio is not confined to individuals, but the undertakings of the state are surprisingly great: a canal has been established between Lake Erie and the Ohio...."
Professor Davis's otherwise scholarly contribution needed this perspective.
Pelham, New York
David Brion Davis replies:
In Slavery and Human Progress (Oxford University Press, 1984), I not only discuss Tocqueville's comparison of the northern and southern banks of the Ohio River but show that he had been thoroughly prepared to make such observations by Joel Poinsett, Josiah Quincy, John Quincy Adams, and especially Joseph Story. I also point out that Lord Durham, who traveled along the Canadian-American border in 1838, used almost identical imagery to contrast the "activity and bustle" of the American side with the "waste and desolate" of the "unenterprising" Canadians. Clearly slavery could not account for Canada's seeming backwardness, nor can northern Kentucky give us insight into the extraordinary economic growth of the antebellum South.
Before generalizing about the economics of American slavery, I respectfully suggest that Mr. Flanders consult more recent sources than Tocqueville (whose work on America was published in 1835 and 1840, not "before 1830"), such as Without Consent or Contract: The Rise and Fall of American Slavery (Norton, 1989), by Robert William Fogel, who in 1993 won the Nobel Prize in Economic Science. While there is still some controversy over relatively minor issues, there can be no doubt that Fogel, Stanley L. Engerman, and their many students have demolished the myths about slavery that Steven Flanders describes.
THE LUMPEN PROLETARIAT
Letter The New York Review of Books
'THE LONDON HANGED'
By Peter Linebaugh, Reply by Keith Thomas
In response to How Britain Made It* (November 19, 1992)
To the Editors:
Sir Keith objects to my argument in The London Hanged [NYR, November 19] that the gallows were central to the labor discipline of capitalism, because more people were hanged in pre-industrial than industrial England. But are industrialization and capitalism the same thing? There was plenty of capitalism before the factory and the steam engine. This was axiomatic to an earlier generation of historians such as Paul Mantoux and R.H. Tawney, and behind them to Karl Marx. First, they explained that capitalism existed in the domestic mode of production and in the manufacture stage, called now proto-industrialization. Second, we must add, in the factories of west Africa and in the machinery of the Caribbean sugar mills it becomes clear that the power of English capital to command labor long preceded industrialization.
To read his characterizations of The London Hanged as "careless in detail," "frequently careless with names and references," "worryingly unreliable" causes me grief. Four times Sir Keith generalizes, and three times he provides no evidence at all. Coming as it does from an historian known for his voluminous citation of examples, I note that he finds only a single instance, and he gets that one wrong. It is the case of the unhappy John Masland.
"There are many omissions which have the effect of putting the accused in a more favorable light and their prosecutors in a harsher one," he charges. He criticizes me for informing the reader that Masland was an unemployed sailor while omitting that he "was hanged for rape and had been guilty of child abuse, infecting his own daughter with a venereal disease." It is true I do not bring this up. Sir Keith finds Masland guilty on reading the Ordinary's Account of the Malefactors Executed at Tyburn. Had Sir Keith read Masland's trial perhaps he would not have been so quick to judgment. At the trial, on three different occasions Masland said, "I am as innocent as an Angel." Was he? Opinions varied then, and they may vary now. In any event, it was not my business to try him again. Why does Sir Keith?
But I cannot leave the matter there. Sir Keith does some omitting of his own. In fact I do not write about Masland merely that he was unemployed. I write of his employment: "John Masland was a man who had spent most of his working life in the Guinea trade, and he looked it. A hatchet scar across his face was the result of a mutiny and shipboard slave rebellion." I should not have thought that this was to slant the evidence in favor of the accused. Does Sir Keith? If so, what exactly is it about the slave trade that is favorable? It seems that Masland had a relation, a merchant in the City, involved in this trade. He was apprehended at the hanging of another sailor of the slave trade.
Does Sir Keith assume that it is more favorable to be a sailor in the slave trade than to abuse his homeless daughter? Does he think it more favorable to suppress violently a slave rebellion than to befoul his family with venereal disease? Why compare them? Surely, it is not a question of what is favorable or harsh in the case. This is simple-minded moralism. The question is understanding a violent syndrome, fueled by alcoholism, of huge profit to City merchants, of lasting consequence to three continents, and producing sick and diseased men whose cruelty has been a violent scourge to those weaker. Owing to its methodology The London Hanged can avoid such moralizing which it leaves to magistrates, jurors, the Ordinaries, and Oxford dons. Moralizing, whether it is pity or condemnation, has a way of putting an end to investigation.
Sir Keith admits that his knowledge of the Ordinary's Accounts is casual, but he is wrong to imply that mine is. I have collected them for modern scholarship, and I have evaluated them as a source of historical knowledge in "The Ordinary of. Newgate and His Account" in J.S. Cockbur (ed.), Crime in England 1550–1800 (Princeton 1977). Sir Keith accepts the Ordinary's language, a discourse based upon the triumph of private property. It is not that I challenge this, but that, as an historian, I bring forth evidence that the propertyless challenged it, and they were criminalized for doing so.
Sir Keith is an eminent historian of the 16th and 17th centuries, but his touch is unsure in the 18th century. Jack Sheppard was not a highwayman, as he writes, but a burglar. He writes of "Tyburn prison" and there was no such place. In confusing Tyburn, the site of hangings until 1783, with Newgate prison, three miles away, he omits the municipal salience of the procession of the condemned across the town. What on earth does he mean by "unofficial perquisites"? There is a complex argument here that Sir Keith is only partly familiar with. It is notorious how weak Marx is on the subject, at least in his chapter on wages in Capital. And why does Sir Keith speak of "the poor" so? It is a gentry-made locution.
Finally, may I say that in comparing my book with Linda Colley's, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707–1837, Sir Keith misses an opportunity to explore the relationship between the Nation and the gallows? Whose Britain was it and to whom was it Great? These are the unanswered questions of this review.
Keith Thomas replies:
I am sorry that Mr. Linebaugh has been upset by my review of The London Hanged. I tried to give a fair and honest impression of a book which seemed to me stimulating and often original, but sometimes perverse in argument and careless in detail. I must, though, plead guilty at once to two of his charges. Jack Sheppard was, of course, a burglar; it was Dick Turpin, mentioned in the same sentence, who was the highwayman. I am afraid that the description got transposed in the typing. "Tyburn prison" was not my term, but an editorial insertion into my text. I am sure that my knowledge of the eighteenth century leaves a lot to be desired, but I am not as ignorant as that.
Otherwise, I think that Mr. Linebaugh protests too much. I see nothing wrong with the expression "unofficial perquisites" to indicate appropriations which the workers made as if of right, but which employers refused to recognize, or with "the poor" as an objective description of a large segment of the eighteenth-century population. As for John Masland, I would not presume to judge his guilt or innocence. I merely noted that he was convicted of a sexual crime which Mr. Linebaugh chose not to mention, but which surely helped to determine Masland's fate.
Mr. Linebaugh asks, rather masochistically, for more evidence of his carelessness with details. Let me confine myself to cases in which his text omits or misrenders passages in the Ordinary of Newgate's Account in such a way as to put the accused in a more favourable light. My copy of The London Hanged is heavily annotated with examples which I excluded from my review out of consideration for your readers. For instance, I did not think that they would want to know that James Appleton was hanged for stealing not just three wigs, but also two suits, six guineas, and other goods (p. 130); that Mary Cut-and-Come-Again was hanged not merely for stealing an apron worth 6d, but also for assaulting a woman on the highway and putting her in fear, and for stealing an apron worth 3/-, a shift worth 12d, and a mob cap (p. 145); that Sarah Allen did not suffocate her infant in the workhouse, but threw the baby out of a window in Holborn and was sent to the workhouse when arrested, and that she was not forced to leave her job when she became pregnant (p. 148); that William Brown was not "cast off" his lands in Wiltshire, but spent beyond his income and had to give up his lease (p. 185); that the dowry brought by the wife of George Robins was £300 not £30 (p. 185); that the reason for John Tarlton's unemployment was that he had idled his time and taken up with "loose women" (p. 254); that John Lancaster did not make the remark attributed to him (p. 258); that James Buquois was not out of work, but had a job as a bricklayer's assistant and fell into bad company (p. 258); that John Ross was a house-breaker not a highway robber, and did not have a wife and three children (pp. 258–259); that Patrick Bourn (not Brown) was hanged for stealing a watch worth £3 and money, not just his employer's spurs (p. 295); that Patrick Hayes was hanged not merely for stealing keys and spectacles, but for letting in thieves to rob his mistress's house and assault her and her maid (p. 295); that William Bruce stole money as well as a wig and a silk handkerchief (p. 295); and that only one of these people appears in Mr. Linebaugh's index.
I could prolong this tedious list, though I have checked only a tiny portion of Mr. Linebaugh's book. If he really wants more examples of this sort of thing he can easily compile them for himself by comparing his text against the sources on which it is based.
I should stress that none of this detracts from the larger intellectual interest of Mr. Linebaugh's book, which is considerable. Historians will continue to discuss the many important general issues which he raises and they will look with fresh eyes at the material he has unearthed. But authors who put forward controversial arguments are well advised to follow the ancient advice (given by another Oxford don, I am afraid) that they should always verify their references.