[OPE-L:2707] RE: slaves and value

From: P.J.Wells@open.ac.uk
Date: Tue Apr 04 2000 - 12:51:22 EDT

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One or two posts in this thread have raised, directly or otherwise, the
question of the social basis of the Civil War.

On one side it has been asked "if southern slavery was such a poor method of
exploitation, why did the northern capitalists have to fight a war to
extirpate it?" to which has been posed the counter-question "if slavery was
such a good method of exploitation, why didn't the Northern capitalists
adopt it themselves?"

I don't doubt that questions like these are relevant at some level of
analysis, but prompted by Patrick M.'s #2695:

> 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 following point -- -- seems worth considering.

The *immediate* cause of the war was whether slavery could be extended to
new territories of the U.S.: since, as has been pointed out, the normal
capitalist part of the U.S. economy faced labour shortages, it hardly seems
likely that Northern capital was concerned at the prospect of having its
field of action constrained (by having the Southern system take root in the

Isn't it arguable that the reason for the Northern population's tenacity in
the war (and for the support for the North in the West) was the desire of
existing and would-be subsistence farmers (and of wage workers) to keep the
frontier open, in a way that it clearly wouldn't have been had slavery
become widespread there?

In other words, there was an anti-capitalist (in a sense) aspect to popular
support for the War in the North.

Viewed from this angle, the Civil War would be an expression of the relative
*weakness* of Northern capital (vis-a-vis workers and farmers) at least as
much as of its putative strength vis-a-vis the South.


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