What is class consciousness, and can the concept be applied too broadly or ahistorically? Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker blur distinctions “between free, self-employed, unfree, and sub-proletarian workers” (236) in order to illustrate moments of transatlantic resistance to nascent capitalism and colonization. These moments – the people who incited them – comprised the mythic hydra that seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British elites feared. Class consciousness is invoked as actionable – defined by instances of “mutiny,” “rebellion,” and “opposition.” As such, reviewers simultaneously laud Linebaugh and Rediker for drawing connections across a vast geographic and chronological scope and fault them for flattening the nuances of these contexts to fit into an overarching Marxist narrative.
In The American Historical Review, Kathleen J. Higgins finds that the “unifying task” (1529) of the authors renders sailors “the vectors of strikes, urban revolts, slave revolts, and revolution throughout the Atlantic world” (1530) while linking “geographically dispersed events as the New York Conspiracy of 1741, the Maroon Wars in Jamaica and Suriname, the Stamp Act Riots, and the Boston Massacre" (1530). However, she does not comment on the role, range and means of movement for specific populations. In other words, in what ways can Linebaugh and Rediker confidently assert influence and causation across time and place? Patterns and parallels are different from chains of events – indeed, how is this measured or assumed by historians?