Re: [OPE] Necessity for expansion of Southern slavery: The Economist, Dec. 24, 1859 and cited by Marx

From: Jurriaan Bendien <>
Date: Sat Feb 19 2011 - 13:10:25 EST

It has never been very clear to me how much, and what exactly, Marx truly believed of the "economics of slavery" discourse such as it existed after the Abolition Act.

One possible interpretation is, that Marx was satirizing the views of the political economists, and himself believed that the "economical" arguments about a necessary relationship between the land area for cultivation, population density and the supply of slaves were, for the most part, a convenient "rationalizing ideology" - the real substance of the issue being that the slavocracy could maintain its political and economic position, only by strengthening it - i.e. by expanding its sphere of influence vis-a-vis the growing economic power of the North.

On the one hand, the market for cotton was expanding strongly, creating extra demand for slave labor, while on the other hand the transatlantic slave trade was now under attack from the British navy. Consequently, the future of US slavery depended largely on a successful supply of slaves from within the States - yet a large chunk of the supply was outside the deep South.

I agree it is not a trivial issue, since a central component of Marx's critique of bourgeois society was clearly that the wages system is a "system of slavery":

"... the system of wage labor is a system of slavery, and indeed of a slavery which becomes more severe in proportion as the social productive forces of labor develop, whether the worker receives better or worse payment."

There can be no doubt that Marx was indeed influenced in his appraisals by press reports, as well as by his own correspondence with US residents or other printed material, but it is not clear to me that Marx simply accepted the arguments of The Economist verbatim or uncritically. That is, various different arguments could be provided for why the geographic expansion of the slave system was necessary for its survival.


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Received on Sat Feb 19 13:11:28 2011

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