Re: [OPE] Further evidence RE: Marx, slavery and the South

From: Jurriaan Bendien <>
Date: Fri Feb 18 2011 - 17:51:24 EST

The reference I think is to Genovese, The Political Economy of Slavery
(Revised edition, Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 1989 p. 91f).

There is more recent birdshit research, though. For the history of the
Pacific Guano Company, see:

“The First Green Revolution: Debt Peonage and the Making of the Nitrogen
Fertilizer Trade, 1840-1930” by Edward D. Melillo, Amherst College:

"Guano extraction and nitrate mining were grueling, un-mechanized jobs
located in austere environments. Convincing subsistence farmers to abandon
their agrarian lifestyles and submit to new regimes of capitalist work
discipline was an especially vexing task for corporations that demanded
regimented production schedules without seasonal relief. Instead, employers
turned to debt peonage as a solution to the quandary of labor conscription
in a geopolitical context where slavery was increasingly outlawed. A more
thorough investigation of the relationship between new forms of servitude
that emerged in the Age of Abolition and the concurrent development of a
worldwide fertilizer trade reveals that the changing nature of work is
inextricably intertwined with the work of changing nature."

The guano joke was also used by Marx himself, see Cap. Vol. 1 (Penguin ed.),
p. 348, last paragraph. A NYT article stated:

"More than gold was to California, diamonds to Brazil and the Cape, or silks
to France, commercial fertilizers are to the South. There is nothing to
inspire the poet or fire the imagination of the romancer in so gross and
vulgar an article as superphosphate of lime, ammoniated or non-ammoniated."
(New York Times, 11 October 1881).

On the concentration of slave ownership, via wikipedia I gleaned this

The 1860 US census reported that in the South, a third of households owned
slaves; and half the Confederate soldiers lived in slave-owning households.
However, the owners of 200 slaves or more, representing a small fraction of
1% of all US slaveholders, together owned an estimated 20–30% (800,000 to
1,200,000 slaves) out of the grand total of 4 million slaves in the US in
1860. The largest slaveholder was Joshua John Ward, of Georgetown Carolina,
who in 1850 held 1,092 slaves, and whose heirs in 1860 held 1,130 or 1,131
slaves – he was dubbed "the king of the rice planters" (see ).

According to Gavin Wright ("Economic democracy and the concentration of
agricultural wealth in the Cotton South 1850-1860", in: Agricultural
History, vol. 44, 1970, pp. 63-85), the top decile of households in the
Cotton South during the 1850s owned about half of all the asset wealth in
this region. This estimate is cited in James A. Henretta, The origins of
American capitalism: Collected Essays. Northeastern Uni Press, 1991, p. 82
note 15. (Google books).

How about cotton prices? "Prices rose sharply in 1849 and 1850 but dropped
in 1851, though not as low as previously. Throughout the remainder of the
1850s prices rose. (...) By 1860, cotton ruled the South, which annually
exported two-thirds of the world supply of the "white gold." Cotton ruled
the West and Midwest because each year these sections sold $30 million worth
of food supplies to Southern cotton producers. Cotton ruled the Northeast
because the domestic textile industry there produced $100 million worth of
cloth each year. In addition, the North sold to the cotton-growing South
more than $150 million worth of manufactured goods every year, and Northern
ships transported cotton and cotton products worldwide."

Rosa Luxemburg stated (In: What is Economics? Pioneer Publishers 1954,
reprinted as Young Socialist Publication 1968, section IV, p. 39) "The
collosal expansion of the slave trade and of slave labour in the South of
the North American Union engendered a crusade of the Northern States against
these un-Christian abominations." Luxemburg described how the effect of
civil war on cotton production reverberated around the world, affecting the
cotton and textile industry everywhere.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Paul Cockshott" <>
To: "Outline on Political Economy mailing list" <>
Sent: Friday, February 18, 2011 9:41 PM
Subject: Re: [OPE] Further evidence RE: Marx, slavery and the South

Dredging my memory 30 years back, I can not remember who argued this,
whether it was Genovese or somebody else perhaps Hindess and Hirst, that the
soil exhaustion was overcome by the import of Chilean Guano.

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Received on Fri Feb 18 17:52:25 2011

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