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Beginning with the Haitian Revolution, Scott Henkel lays out a literary history of direct democracy in the Americas. Much research considers direct democracy as a form of organization fit for worker cooperatives or political movements. Henkel reinterprets it as a type of collective power, based on the massive slave revolt in Haiti. In the representations of slaves, women, and workers, Henkel traces a history of power through the literatures of the Americas during the long nineteenth century.
Thinking about democracy as a type of power presents a challenge to common, often bureaucratic and limited interpretations of the term and opens an alternative archive, which Henkel argues includes C. L. R. James's The Black Jacobins, Walt Whitman's Democratic Vistas, Lucy Parsons's speeches advocating for the eight-hour workday, B. Traven's novels of the Mexican Revolution, and Marie Vieux Chauvet's novella about Haitian dictatorship.
Henkel asserts that each writer recognized this power and represented its physical manifestation as a swarm. This metaphor bears a complicated history, often describing a group, a movement, or a community. Indeed it conveys multiplicity and complexity, a collective power. This metaphor's many uses illustrate Henkel's main concerns, the problems of democracy, slavery, and labor, the dynamics of racial repression and resistance, and the issues of power which run throughout the Americas.
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