[OPE-L:2695] Re: slaves and value

From: Patrick L. Mason (pmason@garnet.acns.fsu.edu)
Date: Mon Apr 03 2000 - 16:38:00 EDT

[ show plain text ]


You make some valid points here. I accept the "rigid sequence of modes of
production" argument either. I think it's a useful brief historical
description of Europe, but not necessarily the rest of the world.

It was precisely the development of wage labor for white (European) workers
that contributed to enslavement of Africans and the genocide against native
people in North and South America. Thomas Jefferson was acutely aware of
this. From the perspective new world European capital there was a "labor
shortage" and a "land shortage."

These resources were intimately connected to the development of a
capitalist market for labor power and the prevailence of so much "free"
land in the Americas. Wages in North America were very high because the
abundance of allowed for non-capitalist agriculture, that is, subsistence
farming (along hunting and fishing) as a mechanism of earning a living for
so many Europeans who would otherwise had to work as wage laborers. The
same person in European who would have been a landless urban dweller or a
serf could engage in subsistance agriculture in America. So, money wages in
the colonies were higher than money wages in European.

The first solution to this shortage of labor power were attempts at
enslaving Europeans or making them indentured workers. The ethos of a
libertarian society combined with the fact that not too many folks could be
induced to leave Europe to slaves or indentured servants condemn this
solution to failure. Enslaving the native people wouldn't work because they
were not resistance to European deseases and they knew the land too well.
Africans were perfect for enslavement, that is, for providing the final
solution for the emerging capitalism's labor shortage. Africans were
resistant to European deseases, they didn't know the terrain and hence
couldn't easily escape, and could be transformed into "the other" because
of their different physical features. Enslavement held down the labor cost
to the bear minimum. So, the enslavement of the Africans allowed for the
large scale production and international commodification of sugar, cotton,
and tobacco - along with shipping, ship building, international banking and

Jefferson well understood the relationship between capitalism, racism, and
slavery. For example, he strongly discouraged marriage between Africans and
Europeans, because this would endanger the labor supply by creating
multiracial children. At the same time, Jefferson sought to solve the "land
shortage" by encouraging marriage between Europeans and Indigenous people.
Jefferson wanted to destroy native American culture because most of the
indigeneous people didnot commoditize land. Barring assimilation, Jefferson
thought relocation and extermination were appropriate remedies to the "land
shortage" issue.

Liberatarianism, the individualist philosophy behind capitalist economists,
was never opposed to slavery. Libertarians were often deeply racist and
adamant proponents of enslaving Africans. They were against the enslavement
of Europeans.

Finally, the relationship between capitalism, slavery, and the development
of American racism are easily traced in the legal and economic history of
Virginia from 1607 to 1700. American slavery and racial categories were
joint products of capitalist development.

peace, plm

At 04:02 AM 4/2/00 EDT, you wrote:
>I largely agree with Rakesh, but not with the following:
>'Plantation slavery was not a mode of production that immediately preceded
>capitalism as was feudalism. It was rescued from history and given new
>content in order to allow capitalists to overcome the population problem
>that haunted early capitalism.'
>(a) Rakesh seems to accept the rigid sequence of modes of production of the
>'Preface'. I see contingency there, not necessity.
>(b) Population problem? Problem for whom?
>Slavery seems to me to be a contingent response to a specific historical
>problem, how to rip off the land through mineral extraction (in Spanish
>America and Brazil), or how to extract maximum surplus value using basic
>technologies through agricultural exports to other regions of the country or
>the world (Brazil, Spanish America, Caribbean, US). The historical
>with European slavery is largely irrelevant, *except* that 'tradition' was
>used to legitimise the imposition of slavery upon natives and Africans in
>early modern times.

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Sun Apr 30 2000 - 19:59:42 EDT