Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 8, 2018

Charles Post’s palm-leaf hat

Filed under: slavery,transition debate — louisproyect @ 9:37 pm

Charles Post wearing a palm-leaf hat from the Museum of Social Property Relations collection in Bangor, Maine

Largely as a result of the ferocious debate taking place between the New Historians of Capitalism (NHC) and their detractors such as Alan Olmstead, Paul Rohde and Gavin Wright (whom Charles Post relies upon in his recent Catalyst critique of the NHC), I have decided to dive back into the controversies. Hopefully, I will find time to read the 3 seminal works by Walter Johnson, Sven Beckert and Edward Baptist that get the most attention—both positive and negative—but decided to revisit Charles Post’s analysis first. Even though the NHC seem oblivious to his writings (as he is to mine), it would be useful to have a fresh look at his “The American Road to Capitalism”. In the past, I focused mainly on the sections of the book dealing with the South since it was home to the cotton plantations that he viewed rather amorphously as “pre-capitalist”, a big-tent kind of term that could include the Inuit of Admiral Byrd’s time as well as Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. This time I read the sections of the book that deal with the North that Post identifies as the birthplace of American capitalism just as Robert Brenner identified the English countryside.

Post has a tunnel vision of history that is similar to the one that Blaut described in his critique of Brenner:

This point of view is basic diffusionism: autonomous development at the center, diffusion of development to the periphery. It is also tunnel history: a form of tunnel-vision which tries to explain the rise of capitalism, and the rise of Europe, by looking only at prior European facts, looking, as it were, down the European tunnel of time, ignoring the history of the world outside of Europe both as cause of change within Europe and as the site of historically efficacious change in its own right.

Basically, Post’s diffusionism rests on the same kind of premise, namely that capitalism originated in places like New England, the Ohio valley, etc. and then diffused into the rest of the USA after the Civil War. When I began writing about the “transition debate”, I focused on the large farms that Brenner considered the hothouse of capitalism—mostly prompted by Richard Seymour’s defense of Political Marxism, a temporary episode for him fortunately. It now dawns on me that the plucky, freedom-loving farmers of the North play the same role that tenant farmers of 16th century England played in the Brenner thesis.

As I worked my way through Post’s book, I came across a paragraph that stopped me dead in my tracks:

Additional evidence for increasing market-dependence in the early nineteenth century comes from Thomas Dublin’s work on capitalist rural ‘out- work’ in environs of Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire. Farm-households in this region responded to the new competitive requirements of land-ownership by increasing the production of non-agricultural commodities. Before 1820, better-off farm-households utilised female and child-labour to produce cloth at home for sale on the market. After 1820, local merchants paid poorer farm-women and children to fabricate palm-leaf hats in their homes, which the merchants then sold to farmers and planters in the west and the south.

Palm-leaf hats? Are you fucking kidding me? In 1860, 60 percent of the value of American exports came from cotton and Post is honing in on palm-leaf hats as a sign that the capitalist embryo was growing? Say what? The palm-leaf hats make two other appearances:

Wealthier households began to specialise in the production of agricultural commodities such as wheat, meat, dairy and eggs; while poorer households began to provide labour-power to local merchants who were organising capitalist ‘outwork’-production of buttons, palm-leaf hats and other manufactured goods.

And once again:

While the merchants in palm- leaf hat-manufacture operated autonomously, organising a self-contained production-process carried out entirely in rural households; those in button-, shoe-, boot- and other capitalist domestic manufacture were often partners of manufacturers, who organised a centralised labour-process in a small workshop and ‘put out’ parts of the production-process to workers in the countryside.

So, if the South was exporting cotton to England that was used to fuel the industrial revolution, it mattered less than the god-damned palm-leaf hats? Why? Because the people making them were being paid a wage while the men and women picking cotton were not? Does any of this make sense?

While it may be a couple of months before I get around to the 3 NHC books alluded to above, I decided to download the new book “Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development” co-edited by Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman since a couple of the articles were relevant to the question of the exclusivity of Northern capitalism. A Kindle version of the book is $15.12 and well worth it if you are interested in these questions. I only shelled out the dough for it because it had been checked out of the Columbia library.

Post’s argument is that once the farms of the north ceased being “yeoman” (producing goods mostly for household consumption with any surplus sold in the market) and became capitalist, this led to an explosion of innovation, especially in farm machinery. In contrast, the “non-capitalist” plantations just ambled along content to use slaves. I would imagine that most people would look at Cyrus McCormick’s reaper as the product of such competition. In the chapter titled “An International Harvest: the Second Slavery, the Virginia-Brazil Connections, and the Development of the McCormick Reaper”, University of Georgia historian Daniel Rood reveals that the machine was actually invented on a slave plantation in Virginia. Imagine that!

In the 30 years before the Civil War, Brazil became the number one export market for American wheat flour and no city in the USA produced more wheat flour than Richmond, Virginia.

Furthermore, despite being a slave state, technical innovation in Virginia was equal to any “free” state in the North. Since wheat production was lucrative, land tended to be bought from small proprietors and turned into vast plantations that had the capitalization to innovate. Planters experimented with new techniques as well as coercing field hands. In other words, they were both keen on improving output both through invention and the whip. They used five-field rotation, imported guano (bat shit) from Latin America for fertilization, marling (another kind of fertilizer) and looked to Edmund Ruffin for guidance. Known as America’s best-known advocate of agricultural improvement (a term found liberally in Brennerite literature), Ruffin was a Virginia planter who marketed upwards of 5,000 bushels of wheat a year.

In addition to improvements in wheat production, Virginia became a prime venue for iron production using the latest methods. All this helped to spawn McCormick’s experiments on the Walnut Grove plantation. Below is a reenactment of the earliest attempt at creating a reaper on Walnut Grove, with one of McCormick’s slaves trailing behind the machine.

Besides being the birthplace of the reaper, Virginia’s wheat plantations were also keen on using the most advanced techniques to separate the wheat from the chaff. Slaves carried wheat to either a horse or steam-engine powered fan that did the job. While the norm in the South was to have livestock walk across the wheat to thresh the grain like barefoot Italian peasants stomping grapes to make wine, Richmond was anxious to keep the process as clean as possible to keep the Brazilian purchasers happy. Therefore, there was a heavy investment in mechanization to keep the wheat away from human contact.

Once McCormick had perfected his reaper, he relocated to Chicago and formed International Harvester, which is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of farm equipment today. Despite its location in a bastion of the abolitionist north, its roots were in a slave state thus demonstrating that tunnel vision is ill-suited to understanding the rise of capitalism in the USA.

As a symbol of Yankee independence and abolitionist zeal, New England was likely a place to pose the question of “What Have We to Do With Slavery” in the pre-civil war era. In a chapter written by University of Pittsburgh historian Eric Kimball with this title and the subtitle “New England and the Slave Economies of the West Indies”, you find further evidence of the futility of separating the north and the south in a non-dialectical fashion.

Kimball takes a close look at the interdependence of New England and the sugar-producing slave-based colonies of the Caribbean. Evoking the triangular trade of slaves, sugar and rum I learned about in high school, he expands upon these commodities and counts fish, livestock, timber and slaves as those shipped to places like Jamaica from New England.

It was such trade that allowed New Englanders to pay off debts to England during the colonial era. New England was deeply involved in the slave trade as well. Of the 139,000 Africans kidnapped from their homeland aboard New England ships, nearly 80 percent were on ships launched from Rhode Island. Many Rhode Islanders, including the Brown family whose slave-based fortune helped launch the prestigious university, were implicated in a slave trade that lasted over 200 years. Perhaps the “take-off” in manufacturing in the north should take these facts into account, even if it goes against the grain of Political Marxism.

Between 1709 and 1807, Rhode Islanders exported 11 million gallons of rum to Africa, all of which were produced by more than 20 distilleries. To the north, Massachusetts imported even more molasses from the West Indies to turn into rum. Thus, as Kimball points out, “New Englanders were converting slave-produced raw materials into valuable export commodities long before the construction of cotton textile mills during the antebellum period.”

Even larger than the slave trade was export of goods essential to the functioning of plantations such as whale oil for lamps. What else would have brought Ahab to risk his life except for the profits that could have been made? In a very real sense, the lights that those lamps produced helped to illuminate the labor processes of slave plantations in the Caribbean.

You also had to factor in the wealth that was produced from cod fishing, a key industry in New England. The dried, salted cod became “the meat of all the slaves in all the West Indians” according to George Walker, a British member of parliament in the 18th century. If the slaves ate cod, their masters feasted on livestock exported from New England. The governor of the colony of Connecticut stated that “Those vessels that go from hence to the French and Dutch Plantations…carry horses, cattle, sheep, hogs, provisions, and lumber.” On their return, they brought with them “molasses, cocoa, cotton and some sugar.”

There was also a vast amount of lumber shipped southward. Between 1768 and 1772, more than 160 million feet of pine board were exported to the Caribbean colonies from New England. Carrying all these commodities required an immense merchant fleet and thus fed into the shipbuilding industry that New England was noted for. Even if Charles Post chooses to sweep these connections under the rug, the power elite in New England of antebellum times readily admitted them as Kimball points out:

Indeed, contemporaries were well aware of the importance of this trade, and in 1818 Adam Seybert, a Pennsylvania congressman, provided an extremely useful description of it. In 1818, Seybert concluded that “we not only supplied the demand in our markets, but also furnished a considerable portion of Europe with the valuable productions of the Colonies of France, Spain, and Holland. The surplus re-exported produced a general activity in the sea ports of the United States.” He further noted that “without the intercourse with the colonies and the countries above enumerated, we should not have been able to extend our trade in the Europeans markets; in consequence of it we carried rich cargoes to the ports of France, Holland, Spain, Germany, and Italy.” This element, Seybert concluded, was critical: “it was from the profits of that trade, that we discharged our enormous debts in England.” Seybert estimated that a profit rate of $50 per ton in this branch of trade between 1795 to 1801 was “a moderate allowance” and that “intelligent merchants calculated it as high as 70 dollars per ton, on voyages of every description.

Ironically, the best introduction to this perspective can be found in Forbes, a magazine that portrayed itself as a “capitalist tool” in the 1960s. In a review of “Slavery’s Capitalism” titled “The Clear Connection Between Slavery And American Capitalism“, Dina Gerdeman asks Sven Beckert why historians made slavery out to be only a “southern problem”. I don’t know if she was referring to Charles Post but it sure sounds like it. Beckert replied:

This is an excellent question, and indeed, as you note, quite puzzling. It is puzzling for three reasons: For one, into the early years of the 19th century, slavery was a national institution, and while slavery was never as predominate a system of labor in the North as it was in the South, it was still important.

Second, there were a vast number of very obvious economic links between the slave plantations of the southern states and enterprises as well as other institutions in the northern states: Just think of all these New York and Boston merchants who traded in slave-grown goods. Or the textile industrialists of New England who processed vast quantities of slave-grown cotton. Or the bankers who financed the expansion of the plantation complex.

And third, both the abolitionists as well as pro-slavery advocates talked over and over about the deep links between the southern slave economy and the national economy.

Why did these insights get lost? I think the main reason is ideological and political. For a long time after the Civil War, the nation really did not want to be reminded of either the war or the institution that lay at its root—slavery. A country that saw itself as uniquely invested in human freedom had a hard time coming to terms with the centuries’ long history of enslaving so many of its people.

When slavery became more important to our historical memory, especially in the wake of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, the work of reconciling the history of freedom and the history of enslavement involved quarantining the history of slavery to one section of the nation only. That allowed for doing two things simultaneously: It allowed for the belated acknowledgement of the importance, barbarity, and longevity of slavery in the United States. But it also allowed for a continued telling of the story of freedom, since the national story could be told as one in which one section of the United States, the North, fought hard to overcome the retrograde, coercive, and inhumane system of slavery in the other section.

Of course, this story is not completely wrong. Yet what it effectively did was to insulate the national story from the problem of slavery. A focus on the economic links generated around slavery, the story that our book charts, brings the story of enslavement squarely back into the center of the national history as a whole. And this is where it belongs.

April 2, 2018

The dialectical relationship between the steam-engine and slavery

Filed under: slavery,transition debate — louisproyect @ 9:15 pm

James Watt’s steam-engine

In Historical Materialism (2013, 21.1), there’s a 53-page article by Andreas Malm titled “The Origins of Fossil Capital: From Water to Steam in the British Cotton Industry” that presents the same arguments found in his 2016 book “Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming”. In a nutshell, his main idea is that when England adopted coal-powered steam engines to run the machinery used to spin cotton into yarn, it was a decision that eventually led to the general usage of fossil fuel in manufacturing and thus climate change.

At first blush, this seems counter-intuitive since burning coal was more costly than the water wheel. After all, once you built one, the water was free while it cost money to pay the wages of miners who went into the ground to dig it up as well as the railroad trains that delivered it to the factory. Malm writes:

In 1786, the brothers Robinson erected the first rotative steam engine to drive machinery for spinning cotton in their Papplewick factory on the River Leen. But they soon became disappointed. In a complaint that would long haunt steam power, the brothers faulted the engine for excessively high fuel costs: coal commanded a price of up to 12 shillings, to be measured against the free running water of the Leen. Instead of pursuing steam further, they fell back on the natural supply of the river, augmented it with reservoirs, and continued to spin by water.’

Not only was the water-wheel cheaper, it was more powerful. James Watt’s steam engines typically were rated at 60 horsepower while the largest water-powered mills were 5 times more powerful. Furthermore, they were less prone to mechanical breakdown.

For the industrialists, the advantage of coal was that it could allow factories to be built anywhere there was abundant labor. Since rivers did not necessarily flow through heavily populated areas, it meant that hiring workers was more difficult. John McCullough, a leading bourgeois economist of the period put it this way: “But the invention of the steam-engine has relieved us from the necessity of building factories in inconvenient situations merely for the sake of a waterfall. It has allowed them to be placed in the centre of a population trained to industrious habit.”

Malm describes the hiring process that was so onerous to the profit-seeking class:

Recruitment and maintenance of a labour-force were the defining problems of the factory colony. When a manufacturer came across a powerful stream passing through a valley or around a river peninsula, chances were slim that he also hit upon a local population predisposed to factory labour: the opportunity to come and work at machines for long, regular hours, herded together under one roof and strictly supervised by a manager, appeared repugnant to most, and particularly in rural areas. Colonisers following in the steps of Arkwright frequently encountered implacable aversion to factory discipline among whatever farmers or independent artisans they could find. Instead, the majority of the operatives had to be imported from towns such as London, Manchester, Liverpool and Nottingham, requiring steady advertisement in the press as well as attractive cottages behind leafy trees, allotment gardens, milk-cows, sick- clubs and other perks to persuade the workers to come, and to stay.

Another problem was the occasional unreliability of water streams. When a river froze over, production stopped. Or in periods of drought, the water would be inadequate to rotate the mill. On the other hand, steam engines did not rely on such exigencies. A supply of coal could be depended on. Brought together, steam power, machinery and an ample supply of workers could ramp up the production that was necessary for British textiles to dominate the world markets. Showing his contempt for the bosses of yesteryear, Malm writes: “A perfectly docile, ductile, tractable labourer: the wettest dream of employers come true. Here were the reasons to glorify ‘the creator of six or eight million labourers, among whom the law will never have to suppress either combination or rioting’, in the words of François Arago, author of the first major biography of Watt.”

In some reviews, Malm’s valuable insights are linked to Political Marxism. For example, in the ISR, Bill Crane provides some background on the book:

Even such a pioneering and innovative study as Fossil Capital has its weak points. It is based on Malm’s doctoral dissertation, and its erudition in one specific area of social science can be difficult for readers (like myself) who do not share his background. Similarly, Malm draws deeply on several different schools of Marxist thought, including Robert Brenner and Ellen Wood’s historical interpretation of the rise of capitalism in England, the structuralist Marxism of Louis Althusser, and Henri Lefebvre’s work on capitalism’s production of space.

Meanwhile, Michael Robbins’s review in BookForum (behind a paywall) sums up the book’s argument about as succinctly as can be imagined as well as making the Political Marxism connection:

Malm is the author of Fossil Capital (2016), the best book written about the origins of global warming. Drawing on currents of political Marxism, Malm showed that British capitalists turned from hydropower to industrial coal-fired steam power in response to class struggle rather than, as mainstream views have it, because coal proved a cheaper or more efficient energy source. What steam power enabled was cheaper and more efficient control of labor. It also, as we now know, empowered capitalists to change the climate of the planet by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (a process later exacerbated by petroleum-based industry).

Ironically, despite Malm’s connection to the Brenner school of Marxism, I find the connection between slavery and coal-based production compellingly obvious. If coal could make labor exploitation possible on an uninterrupted basis, so could slavery. Keep in mind the troubles that the American bourgeoisie had putting people to work in the fertile fields of the south.

American Indians were impossible to keep captive because they knew escape routes and native villages that would shelter them. Furthermore, Indians were still powerful enough militarily in the 1700s and early to mid-1800s to make subduing them anything but a cakewalk. Before slavery, indentured servitude was used to provide labor for tobacco, sugar and other cash crops before the demand for cotton soared. While an indentured servant was certainly capable of picking cotton, the contract was based on a fixed length so that eventually he or she could find other work or become yeoman farmers.

Slavery solved that problem just as steam power solved the labor supply problem in England. What difference does it make if one form of labor was based on a wage and the other by repression? The goal was to produce commodities, after all.

That is something that Karl Marx makes clear in V. 1 of Capital:

But as soon as peoples whose production still moves within the lower forms of slave-labour, the corvée, etc. are drawn into a world market dominated by the capitalist mode of production, whereby the sale of their products for export develops into their principal interest, the civilized horrors of over-work are grafted onto the barbaric horrors of slavery, serfdom etc. But in proportion as the export of cotton became of vital interest to those [southern] states [of the American Union], the over-working of the Negro, and sometimes the consumption of his life in seven years of labour, became a factor in a calculated and calculating system. It was no longer a question of obtaining from him a certain quantity of useful products, but rather of the production of surplus-value itself.

 

March 31, 2018

Thoughts on John Clegg’s “Capitalism and Slavery”

Filed under: slavery,transition debate — louisproyect @ 8:41 pm

John Clegg

Like Charles Post’s article in the latest Catalyst (behind a paywall), John Clegg’s “Capitalism and Slavery” that appeared in the Fall 2015  Critical Historical Studies criticizes the New Historians of Capitalism aka NHC (Edward Baptist, Walter Johnson, Sven Beckert, et al) from the standpoint of Political Marxism. However, unlike Post, Clegg maintains that slavery was capitalist, thus distancing himself from the more rigid schemas of Post and others in this camp. For Post, anything except free wage labor is “pre-capitalist”, a category that arguably begins with hunting and gathering societies and continues until the 15th century when purely contingent—or even “random” as Post put it–events led to the introduction of lease farming in England, which was the seed that led to the industrial revolution, Amazon.com and all the rest. As such, it might be considered in the same light as the asteroid that hit the Gulf of Mexico 66 millions of years ago. If the asteroid had missed Earth, we might be seeing Tyrannosaurus rex rather than Jeff Bezos running Amazon.

Both Post and Clegg fault the NHC for not being interested in defining capitalism, which is the hallmark of the Political Marxists no matter that Marx spent little time trying to define it himself. He was much more dedicated to explaining how the system took root and how it functions. And when he does refer to the origins of the system, he has quite a different outlook than Post’s: “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production.” If anybody can find a reference from Post, Brenner, Chibber or any other Political Marxist to this sentence or the chapter of Capital in which it appears, I will donate $100 to their favorite leftist cause.

The purpose of Clegg’s article is to expand on his initial definition of it as a system based on “widespread and systematic market dependence” that includes the plantations of the old South. This view puts him in league with Sidney Mintz, James Blaut and even the NHC. Whether it is consistent with the Political Marxism he has absorbed in the NYU Sociology Department is another question entirely. For the more orthodox Brennerites, when human beings are forced to “freely” sell their labor power in the marketplace in order to survive, this satisfies one of the key requirements for capitalism. However, for Clegg the ability of slave-owners, and more specifically the need, to compete with each other for the price of slaves or the goods they produce for the marketplace qualifies them as capitalist property relations:

It is true that markets didn’t allocate slave labor within the plantation, but neither do they allocate wage labor within factories. Insofar as it is capable of being either hired or purchased slave labor is like any other capitalist commodity. The presence of a specialized class of slave traders in the antebellum South ensured that slave markets were exceptionally liquid. Evidence of their allocative efficiency can be found in the estimated net transfer, from 1820 to 1860, of more than half a million slaves from the less productive plantations of the Old South to the more productive plantations in the New South via the domestic slave trade alone.

In a footnote tied to this excerpt, Clegg states: “It is his failure to recognize the liquidity of slave labor markets that leads Charles Post to argue that slaves could not be expelled from the labor process, giving planters no incentive to introduce labor-saving technical change.”

Clegg is not satisfied with the implicit definition of capitalism in the NHC literature, which revolves around profit-seeking and commodification. It is not so much that their hazy definition is incorrect. It is more that they evasively refuse to cast it in concrete. In some sense this is certainly true. I have the three main texts of the NHC but you can search in vain for references to Karl Marx or Marxism in the index.

He recommends to his readers and implicitly to the NHC authors who come across his article that they look into Robert Brenner, whose “conception of capitalism as generalized market dependence may provide the theoretical framing that is largely missing in these works.” He goes on to explain that plantation owners had to compete with each other on the world market and thus find ways to cut costs, either through labor-saving machinery or through the violent enforcement of labor discipline that is recounted in Edward Baptist’s “The Half Has Never Been Told”.

I will pass over Clegg’s critique of some of the arguments made by the NHC since they do not touch upon the question of whether slavery is capitalism or not—the focus of this article—and proceed to the final section titled “The Problem of Origins” that addresses where, when and how capitalism began. (I should add that since I have not read the three main texts of the NHC’ers, I’d be making a fool of myself if I did.)

For Marx, its origin was simply put as “The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population”. So now what does Clegg think?

He starts off by revisiting the Eric Williams classic that actually never argued that slavery was capitalist. His thesis (literally speaking since the book was adapted from his PhD dissertation) was that slavery was necessary for the take-off of British capitalism but in itself was an earlier mode of production. However, Clegg argues against this, even citing Sven Beckert himself who made the case that British textile mills survived even after the Civil War cut off supplies from the South. He also questions whether the North was dependent on the plantation system, citing data that cotton represented only 6 percent of GDP from 1800 to 1860.

In my view this is the kind of tunnel vision that makes Political Marxism so inadequate. Rather than focusing on plantation cotton and British textile mills, it makes much more sense to analyze the origins of capitalism as the outcome of a multiplicity of factors including the impact of the Ottoman Empire as I pointed out in my review of Alexander Anievas and Kerem Nisancioglu’s “How the West Came to Rule: the Geopolitical Origins of Capitalism”. Ottoman hegemony in the Mediterranean had consequences that ultimately made the “agrarian capitalism” hailed by Brenner and Wood possible, although it was never acknowledged in their scholarship. Put succinctly, the English benefited from Pax Ottomana while the Italian city-states were shut out. This meant that the nascent textile industry had easy access to wool, cotton, silk and mohair from the East. Furthermore, England’s isolation from the intra-feudal warfare of continental Europe allowed it to invest far less capital in the military. So pronounced was the “peacetime” dividend that by the 1550s Spain had seven times as men in arms than England. And none of this would have been possible without the open door the Ottomans provided.

In the final analysis, understanding how capitalism came to pass requires a much broader scope than that is found in both the Political Marxist literature as well as that of the NHC. At least the NHC historians don’t put themselves forward as experts on its origins, only as men and women intelligent enough to understand that slaves were workers producing commodities even if their labor was coerced just as was the case for the hundreds of years preceding the American civil war, from the tin mines of Bolivia to the sugar plantations of Jamaica.

Near to its conclusion, Clegg makes an observation that is most welcome:

In a capitalist order of fully specified property rights, it is wage labor rather than slave labor that is the anomaly. Far from being a precapitalist holdover, enforceable labor contracts would be the dream of many an employer. Today, indenture and debt peonage are legally restricted in most countries, not because employers found free labor to be in their enlightened self-interest but because workers refused to accept a condition approximating slavery. Commenting on a French slave code, Marx once wrote that “this subject one must study in detail to see what the bourgeois makes of himself and of the worker when he can model the world ac- cording to his own image without any interference.” (emphasis added)

He is totally right. It is wage labor that is the anomaly. In a future post, I will try to show this is particularly true of commercial farming that has been most resistant to the idea of a free market when it comes to boss and bossed relations. Just look at how chocolate is produced and you’ll understand what I am driving at.

Frankly, I sometimes wonder if Clegg pays homage to Robert Brenner despite putting forward such distinctly anti-Brennerite ideas just for professional exigency. Is it possible that kowtowing to Political Marxism is a necessity in the NYU Sociology Department because the two big shots who might be sitting on Clegg’s dissertation committee or influencing it are fanatical Brennerites like former Department chair Jeff Goodwin and Vivek Chibber who was so devoted to this academic cult that he had the balls to heckle me at a Historical Materialism conference when I challenged it during a Q&A.

 

March 24, 2018

Capitalism and slavery

Filed under: slavery,transition debate — louisproyect @ 8:40 pm

Read the book here

Fifteen years ago I began writing a series of articles about capitalism and slavery to answer Charles Post’s July 2003 Journal of Agrarian Change article titled “Plantation Slavery and Economic Development in the Antebellum Southern United States” that applied the Brenner thesis to the “peculiar institution” and its abolition. In essence, Post argues that slavery in the south was “pre-capitalist”, a term I always found rather noncommittal since it failed to make a distinction between a slave economy based on commodity-production—such as the American south—and those that were associated with a tributary society like the Ottoman Empire. There is a huge difference obviously between Janissary slaves who were highly privileged military elites and those men and women kidnapped from Africa and forced to produce cotton for the textile mills of capitalist England.

Post has basically been self-plagiarizing the article ever since and has made a studied effort to pretend I do not exist, except to make snarky references to me on FB. I was treated rudely by his good buddy Vivek Chibber at an HM conference a few years ago. One wonders if these two high priests of Marxism ever had a regular job like mine working in a cubicle whether they would have written a single article about anything at all.

Chibber and Post belong to an academic cult called “Political Marxism” around Robert Brenner and the late Ellen Meiksins Wood that has a beachhead in the NYU Sociology Department. It is there that you get trained to write articles arguing that colonialism and slavery had little to do with the rise of capitalism even though that’s specifically what Marx wrote in chapter 31 of V. 1 of Capital. If having faith in Political Marxism separates you from the ideologically impure, what can one make of Post’s recent polemic against Chibber’s defense of market socialism in Jacobin? If the Brenner thesis is a vaccine against revisionism, Chibber must have been injected with a placebo.

For many years, the Brenner thesis was virtually hegemonic in the academy, with support from many professors having no connection to Marxism. My good friend, the late Jim Blaut, explained why there was such readiness to accept it:

This point of view is basic diffusionism: autonomous development at the center, diffusion of development to the periphery. It is also tunnel history: a form of tunnel-vision which tries to explain the rise of capitalism, and the rise of Europe, by looking only at prior European facts, looking, as it were, down the European tunnel of time, ignoring the history of the world outside of Europe both as cause of change within Europe and as the site of historically efficacious change in its own right (Blaut, 1989). The Euro-Marxists — as I will call the socialists of this tradition — accept this view, and so they are diffusionists. To this extent, they agree with their mainstream colleagues about the rise of Europe, of capitalism, of modernization, of industrialization, of democracy: basically all of it is European.

Euro-Marxism went into eclipse during the period when liberation movements were decolonizing most of the world. In this period, the idea that the colonial or Third World has been, and is, unimportant in social development was not popular among Marxists. After the end of the Vietnam War, however, this point of view became again popular, and indeed became the Marxism most widely professed in European and American universities. Today we witness the curious phenomenon that Euro-Marxists are quoted with approval by anti-Marxist scholars, who can use them to show that “real” Marxist scholarship supports some of the same doctrines, theoretical and practical, that conservatives do.

Jim never wrote much about American slavery in his books and articles but he certainly did in Internet mailing lists like PEN-L where support for the Brenner thesis ran deep. Even before I ran into Jim on Marxmail, I would have found arguments like Post’s questionable at best because like many 60s radicals I had read Eric Williams’s “Capitalism and Slavery”, based on his doctoral dissertation, that was mandatory reading whatever your ideology, especially for Trotskyists. In Kent Worcester’s biography of CLR James, we learn that the Trotskyist theorist served as a tutor to Williams at Oxford. It seems that James read both drafts of Williams’s dissertation and had a significant role in formulating the book’s primary thesis, namely that sugar plantations, rum and slavery trade helped to catapult Great Britain into world domination at the expense of the African peoples in the Diaspora. Without the underdevelopment of Jamaica, Trinidad, etc., capitalist development in Great Britain would not have had the supercharged character that it did.

In 2013 and 2014, three books came out that rested firmly on the foundations of Eric Williams’s “Capitalism and Slavery”:

  • Walter Johnson, River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom (Cambridge: Belknap, 2013)
  • Edward Baptist, The Half That Has Never Been Told: The Making of American Capitalism (New York: Basic, 2014)
  • Sven Beckert, Empire of Cotton: A Global History (New York: Knopf, 2014).

As expected, Post wrote an attack on what has now become known as the New Historians of Capitalism (NHC) school for not having a proper understanding of capitalism. In a preface to an article in Catalyst, part of the Bhaskar Sunkara publishing empire, Post wrote:

The New Historians of Capitalism (NHC) claim that their refusal to “define” capitalism is a historical and theoretical virtue. In reality, NHC do have a concept of capitalism — a system of trade, finance and extra-economic coercion and dispossession. Unfortunately, these social processes have existed trans-historically.

If you’ve read the founding document of Political Marxism, Robert Brenner’s 1977 NLR article “The Origins of Capitalist Development: a critique of Neo-Smithian Marxism”, this will sound familiar. The Brennerites have a rather narrow definition of capitalism, one based on the premise that it involves free wage labor producing commodities on the basis of relative surplus value—in other words, using machinery rather than ratcheting up the work-day hours to produce absolute surplus value, especially through coercion. Strictly speaking on this basis, there was no capitalism anywhere in the world in the mid-1800s except in England and the American north. Not even in France or Germany.

Unfortunately, I could not justify spending $60 to take out a Catalyst subscription to read Post’s article that is behind a paywall but in lieu of that, you can join me in reading NYU Sociology Department dissertation student John Clegg’s “Capitalism and Slavery” on ResearchGate. Like Post, Clegg faults the three historians for not having a coherent account of capitalism. To be fair to Clegg, he differs from Post in defining slavery as capitalist because of its “widespread and systematic market dependence.” Oddly enough, Clegg’s understanding is based on an idiosyncratic version of the Brenner thesis:

In this essay I argue that Robert Brenner’s conception of capitalism as generalized market dependence may provide the theoretical framing that is largely missing in these works.10 Brenner points out that while markets have existed in all known societies, only in capitalism are productive agents dependent on the market for their survival. This is because producers in capitalist societies have no direct (nonmarket) access to the means of production, including their own means of subsistence, and must therefore sell to survive. Since prices will be determined by the interaction of many producers in the market, producers in capitalist societies are compelled not only to sell but also to produce at a competitive cost.

Well, maybe so but if two people swearing by the Brenner thesis can come up with a definition of slavery totally opposed to each other’s, you really have to wonder if the theory itself is problematic especially since Brenner’s 1977 article was emphatic:

To state the case schematically: ‘production for profit via exchange’ will have the systematic effect of accumulation and the development of the productive forces only when it expresses certain specific social relations of production, namely a system of free wage labour, where labour power is a commodity. (emphasis added)

For Post and Clegg, the NHC represents a challenge to their understanding of Marxism even if they can’t seem quite able to agree with each other on the finer points of the Brenner thesis.

But only recently did I discover that Johnson, Baptist and Beckert are also fending off attacks from other quarters having little connection to Marxism. It doesn’t surprise me that they never bothered to answer Post or Clegg since having Talmudic debates over Marxist theory would have little appeal. I sometimes wonder why I bother myself.

I had run across a link somewhere, probably on FB but I can’t be sure, to a recording of a panel discussion on “Free and Unfree Labor: The Political Economy of Capitalism, Share-Cropping, and Slavery” chaired by Robert Brenner in the UCLA Center for Social Theory and Comparative History. Unfortunately, it cuts off in the middle of a presentation by Columbia professor Suresh Naidu who is working on a book about these questions and even before John Clegg had a chance to weigh in. But I was able to hear the entire talk by Gavin Wright, a 74-year old Stanford professor who has written a number of books and articles on these questions as well but none in recent years until the NHC cropped up.

Wright comes at the slavery and capitalism from two contradictory angles. He begins by stating that Eric Williams was correct in attributing the rise of British capitalism to slavery but then changes gears to attack Johnson, Baptist and Beckert for overemphasizing the importance of slavery. I know that consistency is the hobgoblin of petty minds but really..,

Much of Wright’s attack is based on an article written by Alan L. Olmstead and Paul W. Rhode titled “Cotton, Slavery, and the New History of Capitalism”, which is particularly focused on the work of Edward Baptist who is particularly reviled by the non-Marxist critics of NHC.

Basic to Baptist’s research is the notion that it was torture that accounts for an increase in productivity on cotton plantations. Olmstead and Rhode, who are economists rather than historians, claim that it was a new variety of seeds that was key. They write, “Baptist ignored the well-documented argument that picking rates had increased in large part due to a succession of improved cotton varieties.” In other words, it was technological advances rather than the whip that worked.

In trying to get a handle on Olmstead and Rhode’s approach, I discovered that they co-authored a book in 2008 titled “Creating Abundance: Biological Innovation and American Agricultural Development” that sounds like it might have subsidized by Monsanto given the blurb on Amazon:

This book demonstrates that American agricultural development was far more dynamic than generally portrayed. In the two centuries before World War II, a stream of biological innovations revolutionized the crop and livestock sectors, increasing both land and labor productivity. Biological innovations were essential for the movement of agriculture onto new lands with more extreme climates, for maintaining production in the face of evolving threats from pests, and for the creation of the modern livestock sector. These innovations established the foundation for the subsequent Green and Genetic Revolutions. The book challenges the misconceptions that, before the advent of hybrid corn, American farmers single-mindedly invested in laborsaving mechanical technologies and that biological technologies were static.

In addition, they co-authored an article titled “Biological Innovation and Productivity Growth in the Antebellum Cotton Economy” for Dec. 2008 Journal of Economic History that even finds the same kind of entrepreneurial innovation in a region viewed as a “precapitalist” sinkhole by Charles Post:

The achievements of antebellum southern cotton breeders surpassed those of northern wheat breeders. Our findings shed light on these advances in cotton breeding, as well as the movements in slave, cotton, and land prices; the factors responsible for the growth of cotton output and the spread of cotton cultivation; the sources of the differences in regional production and productivity between the Old and New South; as well as the conventional static comparisons of plantation and non-plantation efficiency.

I’ll close with a passage from a very useful article on the debate by Marc Parry that appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education titled “Shackles and Dollars”, which is behind a paywall (contact me at lnp3@panix.com for the entire article.)

Much criticism of Baptist and others originates within the subfield of economic history. These are scholars, trained mostly in economics, who bring a social-science perspective to studying historical economic behavior. That means testing hypotheses against data. It means quantitative analysis. And it means counterfactual thinking. When historians claim slavery was essential to the Industrial Revolution, as Beckert and Baptist both do, to economists that implies it would not have happened in slavery’s absence. If scholars feel uncomfortable making that statement, “than they should think harder about the initial claim,” Hilt says. Economic historians have thought very hard about the slave economy for decades. They believe slavery was profitable. But they also believe the institutions created to sustain it harmed the South’s long-term development.

As they see it, the problem with the new slavery books stems in part from how the discipline of history has developed. In the ’60s and ’70s, historians and economists battled over economic history. But as historians turned toward culture, and economists became more quantitative, economic history increasingly became just a subfield of economics. For a variety of reasons, including the 2008 crisis, historians are turning their attention back to financial matters. But they “did not build up their tools in order to understand the material world,” says Rhode. “And they carry along certain ideological positions which they hold fervently and are not willing to test.” Historians, he says, “can’t be making stuff up.”

Not surprisingly, Rhode’s targets see things differently. Start with Baptist. He ended up pulling out of the Dartmouth debate, blaming scheduling problems, so he was not on stage to rebut Olmstead’s wand-waving. Reached by phone, however, he does so aggressively. Baptist sees a basic flaw in Olmstead and Rhode’s research — a problem that points to the methodological gulf dividing historians and economists.

Economists are ‘so obsessed with detail that they don’t really confront the broader dynamics of the interpretations.’ It comes down to seeds. Olmstead and Rhode say that cotton picking got more efficient because of improved varieties of Upland cotton. They reach that conclusion in part by comparing the growth in Upland cotton to the lack of growth in Sea Island cotton. The problem, Baptist says, is that comparison assumes there was no real difference in the labor systems used to produce those crops. But there was. As Baptist writes in a blog post responding to Olmstead and Rhode, historians have shown that Sea Island planters assigned slaves a “task,” or a specific amount of work they had to get done each day. Task accomplished, they could go home. The quantity of work demanded under the task system did not change much prior to emancipation, he says, partly because those slave communities resisted increased labor demands.

To Baptist, the root problem with Olmstead and Rhode’s work is reductionism. The economists are bent on stripping causality down to one variable (seeds), assuming away things they have no business discarding (different systems of labor). They also falsely suppose that economic actors will always look at a situation and identify the most efficient way of achieving their goals. So, by this logic, planters in 1800 understood everything about extracting labor that they understood in 1860. But that’s antithetical to how many historians think, Baptist says. Historians believe causality is complex and cultural frameworks are in constant flux. By 1860, planters may have formed different ideas about what they should be trying to get out of laborers.

Baptist calls Olmstead and Rhode “profoundly naïve” about the plantation records that anchor their research. “These are not documents that were generated to test seeds,” he says. “They are documents that were generated to measure labor. And to measure labor that was being extracted by force. And to measure labor that we know, from dozens and dozens of different testimonies by people who survived it, was generated by the threat of being whipped for not picking enough cotton.”

When economists gripe about historians retreating from economics, historians offer a counternarrative: “The problem is the economists left history for statistical model building,” says Eric Foner, a historian of 19th-century America at Columbia University. “History for them is just a source of numbers, a source of data to throw into their equations.” Foner considers counterfactuals absurd. A historian’s job is not to speculate about alternative universes, he says. It’s to figure out what happened and why. And, in the history that actually took place, cotton was extremely important in the Industrial Revolution.

Some economists who attack the new slavery studies are “champion nitpickers,” adds Foner, who has praised Baptist’s book in The New York Times and who taught Beckert at Columbia. “They’re barking up the wrong tree. They’re so obsessed with detail that they don’t really confront the broader dynamics of the interpretations. Yes, I’m sure there are good, legitimate criticisms of the handling of economic data. But in some ways I think it’s almost irrelevant to the fundamental thrust of these works.”

December 29, 2017

The Fearless Benjamin Lay

Filed under: Counterpunch,religion,slavery — louisproyect @ 3:13 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, DECEMBER 29, 2017


A decade ago I reviewed “Amazing Grace”, a hagiographic biopic about William Wilberforce, the parliamentary opponent of the slave trade in Great Britain. Since I am far more interested in a film’s politics than tracking shots, I saw it as an opportunity to cut Wilberforce down to size:

The film was meant to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the passing of the bill that banned the slave trade in the British Empire, an event that constitutes the climactic scene.

What it does not make clear is that the bill did not abolish slavery itself, which would persist in Jamaica and other British colonies for another 30 years. When younger and more militant abolitionists pressed Wilberforce to enter legislation to that effect, he replied that because of the effect “which long continuance of abject slavery produces on the human mind…I look to the improvement of their minds, and to the diffusion among them of those domestic charities which will render them more fit, than I fear they now are, to bear emancipation.” In other words, the slaves were not ready for their freedom.

If my goal was to cut Wilberforce down to size, this article seeks to demonstrate that Benjamin Lay, a working-class hunchback dwarf born 72 years before, was a giant when it came to abolitionism. Unlike Wilberforce, Lay was a radical who demanded that the Quaker elite free their slaves and take a principled stand against slavery when the peculiar institution was far more in the interests of a rising empire than during Wilberforce’s years in Parliament when free trade was being adopted during the rise of economic liberalism.

Continue reading

February 6, 2016

Capitalism, slavery and the search for definitions

Filed under: slavery,transition debate — louisproyect @ 8:16 pm

I finally got around to reading John Clegg’s article “Capitalism and Slavery” that appeared in the Fall 2015, Critical Historical Studies. Like practically all such articles dealing with Political Marxism except for those that appear occasionally in the ISO’s International Socialist Review, it is behind a paywall. I had heard that the article defended the idea that the slave-owners of the Deep South were capitalists while at the same time it defended the Brenner thesis that capitalism began in the British countryside. To put it mildly, this is about as unusual a combination of positions as can be imagined given that the Political Marxism catechism sees slavery = precapitalist as sacrosanct.

I first heard Clegg speak at a HM conference last April where he argued that chattel slavery was a form of exploitation consistent with Marx’s value theory. For Clegg, the chief difference between a wageworker and a slave was that the class relationship was based in the first instance on a contract between the buyer and seller of labor power but not in the second. Aside from that, there is really no difference since both types of labor are being exploited in order to produce commodities for sale on the capitalist marketplace for a profit.

The brunt of the article was a critique of three of the most noted historians writing in the Eric Williams tradition–Edward Baptist, Sven Beckert and Walter Johnson—for failing to provide a definition of capitalism in their various books. Although I have not read any of their books from cover to cover, I did find it interesting that when I went to the index I could find hardly any pages devoted to a theorization of capitalism. Clegg writes:

The problem is not that they lack the “correct” definition of capitalism. The problem is that by dodging the problem of definition altogether they fail to provide a coherent account of capitalist slavery. One doesn’t need to believe in such a thing as “pure” capitalism in order to recognize that modern capitalist societies have certain core features in common. Nor does one have to be a structuralist to see that capitalism lends itself to systematic analysis. Yet these authors fail to explain how the various features of the antebellum economy that they identify form part of a coherent capitalist system.

In this essay I argue that Robert Brenner’s conception of capitalism as generalized market dependence may provide the theoretical framing that is largely missing in these works. Brenner points out that while markets have existed in all known societies, only in capitalism are productive agents dependent on the market for their survival. This is because producers in capitalist societies have no direct (nonmarket) access to the means of production, including their own means of subsistence, and must therefore sell to survive. Since prices will be determined by the interaction of many producers in the market, producers in capitalist societies are compelled not only to sell but also to produce at a competitive cost.

So there you have it. A rejection of one core belief of Political Marxism while embracing another. That’s something you don’t see every day.

In his exegesis of the three historians, Clegg places them in the legacy of Fogel and Engerman’s “Time on the Cross”. This was a book that argued for the capitalistic logic of slave plantations where profit governed every calculation, even more so than in northern factories. While Fogel and Engerman made some useful arguments supported by extensive documentation, they went overboard and argued that productivity breakthroughs in the south led to improvements in the lives of slaves to the point of making them materially privileged in comparison to many wage workers.

Against these two stood Eugene Genovese who claimed that the plantation owners had much more in common with feudal lords, a point made essentially by Brenner and Charles Post. It is obviously wrong. In his own way, Genovese shared Fogel and Engerman’s dubious support for the idea of slave owner beneficence. For them, it flowed from their commitment to the idea that a happy worker was a productive worker, while for Genovese it was much more of a function of precapitalist paternalism of the sort that allowed serfs to have more than a hundred days of religious holidays per year.

While nominally in the Fogel and Engerman camp, the three historians considered by Clegg all subscribe to the notion that it was violence that increased productivity on the plantation—not adroit management or time and labor-saving technologies. This is something Clegg regards as exaggerated:

The point is not that violence was an ineffective means of extracting surplus labor from slaves. If the whip hadn’t worked, it wouldn’t have been so widely used. Baptist and Johnson are right to emphasize, against the neoclassical assumptions of Fogel and Engerman, that market competition most likely increased rather than moderated slave owner violence. The point is rather that slave owners subject to a competitive constraint can always be expected to use violence to whatever extent it is profitable. They will use violence to extract the maximum output when cotton yields and pickability are low, and they will continue to use violence to extract the even larger output when yields and pickability rise due to changing soils and seeds. Thus it is implausible that increased violence alone could account for a fourfold increase in productivity from 1805 to 1860. For it would suggest that market-dependent slave owners in 1805 were either too ignorant or too kind to take advantage of a relatively simple way to make a lot of money.

Up till this point, there’s not much for me to disagree with. I would only add that I would tend to hold off final judgement on the three historians until I have had a chance to read their books from beginning to end. My suspicion is that I will take a somewhat different tack than both Clegg and the others. Isn’t it the case that social control is not just a function of violence but the threat of violence? People were obedient in Nazi Germany because the threat of violence was omnipresent. The same thing was likely true in the Deep South.

Clegg has a section in his article titled “The Problem of Origins” that I dare say is problematic. It is there that he calls upon the Brenner thesis to “fix” what was wrong in the three historians, namely their belief that without American slavery there would be no British capitalism. In other words, they were wrong to either explicitly or implicitly base themselves on Eric Williams. While no doubt accepting the possibility that cotton from the south was a key and necessary raw material for the textile industry, Clegg argues that it is impossible to prove that British capitalism or that of the northern states was “dependent’ on it.

I will reserve judgement on this until I have had a chance to evaluate Clegg’s claim that “while cotton represented a large share of US exports, exports were a small share of the antebellum US economy, averaging 6 percent of GDP from 1800–1860.” To my knowledge GDP data does not exist prior to 1870 but maybe Clegg has a better handle on this.

What I am more qualified to render an opinion on is the echt Brennerite claim that “The Spanish, Portuguese, and French often had richer colonies, but none experienced either large scale industrialization or an industrial revolution.” By now you should be familiar with the idea that it was only Britain that had made a transition to capitalism so the plunder of gold and silver, the slave trade, the genocide against the Indians, etc. was “squandered” everywhere except England.

To a large extent, Clegg’s flawed thinking on this is a function of relying simultaneously on both Brenner and Wallerstein, who seem to serve as ideological boundaries for his understanding of the origins of capitalism. Despite their furious debates over the years, both scholars accepted that capitalism began in England as a consequence of contradictions internal to feudalism. Once it was established there, it diffused outwards but for Wallerstein was utterly reliant on colonization for its ability to become hegemonic.

Political Marxism and world systems theory both have a Eurocentric outlook although in Wallerstein’s case it was meliorated by his steadfast engagement with those who existed on its periphery—the “people without history” as Hegel put it.

Missing from Clegg’s analysis is the place of England within an ensemble of class relations existing inter-societally vis-a-vis the Mongols, the Ottomans, the Chinese and the Indians. As a ‘backward” country on their periphery, England was able to leapfrog over them through a series of policies that exploited its geographical position, its military superiority, its access to New World bullion and other factors identified in Anievas and Nisancioglu’s “How the West Came to Rule”. None of this is reflected in the traditional axis of the debate as constituted by Brenner on one hand and the dependency theorists on the other.

However, the biggest problem for me is Clegg’s use of the term capitalism firstly as an adjective to describe a particular country like England and secondly the usefulness of the term in conventional social science terms, which he seems to employ unfortunately.

Referring to another scholar’s problem with the new historians’ avoidance of a definition for capitalism, Clegg writes: “It is true that terminological debates can have a pedantic tone, and it is unlikely they will be resolved anytime soon. However, if the new field is to last, it cannot avoid the question of definition.”

This leads us to the interesting question of whether Marx ever defined the term himself. In fact if you do a search on it on MIA, you will find not a single attempt to do so. Mostly you see him grappling with the problem of defining capital, such as in “Wage Labor and Capital”: “Capital consists of raw materials, instruments of labour, and means of subsistence of all kinds, which are employed in producing new raw materials, new instruments, and new means of subsistence. All these components of capital are created by labour, products of labour, accumulated labour. Accumulated labour that serves as a means to new production is capital.”

Sometimes Marx refers to “the capitalist system” but without taking any particular pains to clarify what that means. Usually it is something like this: “The capitalist system presupposes the complete separation of the labourers from all property in the means by which they can realize their labour”, something just about everybody can agree with.

However, the problem arises when you try to use such terms both as a social science type definition and as a historical term for the simple reason that when capitalism is coming into being (to put it in Hegelian terms), it has only a relative “separation of the labourers from all property” as the presence of a dominantly self-husbanding peasantry in late 18th century France would indicate. Was France capitalist at this point or was it feudal? I suppose the only way to answer that is like Faye Dunaway answering Jack Nicholson in “Chinatown”. “Who was she?” “She was my daughter”. Slap. “She was my sister”. Slap. “All right. She was my daughter. She was my sister”. Aaah!

Was there any way to answer this question of defining capitalism in the early stages other than how Trotsky answered the question of whether the USSR was socialist? I don’t think so. The sooner the Brennerites begin to use the same kind of language with respect to early modern European economic history, the better off we will all be.

To define the Soviet regime as transitional, or intermediate, means to abandon such finished social categories as capitalism (and therewith “state capitalism”) and also socialism. But besides being completely inadequate in itself, such a definition is capable of producing the mistaken idea that from the present Soviet regime only a transition to socialism is possible. In reality a backslide to capitalism is wholly possible. A more complete definition will of necessity be complicated and ponderous.

The Soviet Union is a contradictory society halfway between capitalism and socialism, in which: (a) the productive forces are still far from adequate to give the state property a socialist character; (b) the tendency toward primitive accumulation created by want breaks out through innumerable pores of the planned economy; (c) norms of distribution preserving a bourgeois character lie at the basis of a new differentiation of society; (d) the economic growth, while slowly bettering the situation of the toilers, promotes a swift formation of privileged strata; (e) exploiting the social antagonisms, a bureaucracy has converted itself into an uncontrolled caste alien to socialism; (f) the social revolution, betrayed by the ruling party, still exists in property relations and in the consciousness of the toiling masses; (g) a further development of the accumulating contradictions can as well lead to socialism as back to capitalism; (h) on the road to capitalism the counterrevolution would have to break the resistance of the workers; (i) on the road to socialism the workers would have to overthrow the bureaucracy. In the last analysis, the question will be decided by a struggle of living social forces, both on the national and the world arena.

Doctrinaires will doubtless not be satisfied with this hypothetical definition. They would like categorical formulae: yes – yes, and no – no. Sociological problems would certainly be simpler, if social phenomena had always a finished character. There is nothing more dangerous, however, than to throw out of reality, for the sake of logical completeness, elements which today violate your scheme and tomorrow may wholly overturn it. In our analysis, we have above all avoided doing violence to dynamic social formations which have had no precedent and have no analogies. The scientific task, as well as the political, is not to give a finished definition to an unfinished process, but to follow all its stages, separate its progressive from its reactionary tendencies, expose their mutual relations, foresee possible variants of development, and find in this foresight a basis for action.

The Revolution Betrayed, 1936 (https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1936/revbet/ch09.htm#ch09-3)

April 27, 2015

Capitalism, slavery and primitive accumulation

Filed under: slavery,transition debate — louisproyect @ 6:44 pm

The inspiration for Political Marxism?

On Saturday morning I attended a panel discussion on Mike Zmolek’s newly published “Rethinking the Industrial Revolution” at the Historical Materialism conference held at NYU. This is a 1000-page work based on his dissertation that he began 20 years ago on the suggestion of his adviser George Comninel that the Brenner thesis should be extended forward historically to account for the industrial revolution. While I am sure that the book has a lot of interesting research based on a cursory glance at the dissertation in Proquest, my reaction is to wonder why the Political Marxism tendency, to which Comninel and Zmolek belong, has so little interest in another kind of extension, namely geographical. How in the world can you continue to ignore economic and social developments in the colonial world in the period of early modernity? In some ways it reminds me of that famous New Yorker cartoon where you see a map of the USA in which all the states recede in size increasingly as you move westward from Manhattan with California finally the size of a postage stamp. Substitute the British Isles for Manhattan and you get the Political Marxism perspective.

In the Q&A, Jim Creegan, a Marxmail subscriber and occasional contributor to Weekly Worker, raised a question about merchant capital. He thought that the role of state monopolies such as the East India Company was a major factor in the transition to capitalism in England and wondered why it was given short shrift in Political Marxism scholarship.

Charles Post, who is a Political Marxist and was a discussant in this panel, gave a reply to Creegan that I found quite startling. He informed him that this was an interpretation based on an understanding of “primitive accumulation” that belonged to Early Marx, before he became a full-fledged Marxist. It was the one that could be found in the German Ideology and Communist Manifesto and that was still in the shadow of Adam Smith—a Smithian Marxism so to speak. It was only after Marx had become “clear”, to use the Scientology term, in his later years of the Grundrisse and Capital that the real “primitive accumulation” emerged, one in which social property relations was the lynchpin rather than errant notions of buckets of booty from the colonies, slavery and all that other stuff got mixed in. In this interpretation, it was the enclosure acts, etc. that define primitive accumulation rather than the overseas accumulation of silver, etc.

While I thought I was pretty familiar with Marx’s writings, I had no idea that he wrote about primitive accumulation in German Ideology or the Communist Manifesto, even errantly, so as soon as I got home from the conference I checked it out. Now the last thing on earth that I could possibly be accused of is reading Charles Post’s mind but I have a feeling that he might have been referring to Marx’s emphasis on the role of commerce and the town in the late middle ages. For example, he writes in the German Ideology: “The immediate consequence of the division of labour between the various towns was the rise of manufactures, branches of production which had outgrown the guild-system. Manufactures first flourished, in Italy and later in Flanders, under the historical premise of commerce with foreign nations.” But this, of course, has no connection to Creegan’s question.

Probably the definitive take on primitive accumulation comes from Ellen Meiksins Wood, a leading doyen of the Political Marxism tendency. She limits it strictly to changes in the British countryside and regards any loot wrested from Latin America, Africa or Asia simply as fuel to the fire that was burning in Merrie Olde England:

The essence of Marx’s critique of “the so-called primitive accumulation” (and people too often miss the significance of the phrase “so-called”) is that no amount of accumulation, whether from outright theft, from imperialism, from commercial profit, or even from the exploitation of labour for commercial profit, by itself constitutes capital, nor will it produce capitalism. The specific precondition of capitalism is a transformation of social property relations that generates capitalist “laws of motion”: the imperatives of competition and profit-maximization, a compulsion to reinvest surpluses, and a systematic and relentless need to improve labour-productivity and develop the forces of production.

The critical transformation of social property relations, in Marx’s account, took place in the English countryside, with the expropriation of the direct producers. In the new agrarian relations, landlords increasingly derived rents from the commercial profits of capitalist tenants, while many small producers were dispossessed and became wage labourers. Marx regards this rural transformation as the real “primitive accumulation” not because it created a critical mass of wealth but because these social property relations generated new economic imperatives, especially the compulsions of competition, a systematic need to develop the productive forces, leading to new laws of motion such as the world had never seen before.

“Origins of Capitalism”, pp. 36-37

Furthermore, if Wood had been in attendance at this panel, she would have sharply rebuked Creegan for giving any credence to the idea that merchant capital was an important precursor to the full development of capitalist property relations. In “Empire of Capital”, she described the East India Company as “non-capitalist” and an impediment to economic growth even though in its early stages it helped the British textile industry grow by suppressing India’s advantage.

Unfortunately, by reducing the East India Company’s role in this matter to a sentence or two, Wood succumbs to the New Yorker Magazine cartoon version of history. It would behoove her or any other Political Marxist to pay heed to what R. Palme Dutt wrote in “India Today” back in 1949:

Immediately after, the great series of inventions, such as spinning-jenny and the steam engine, began in Europe which initiated the Industrial Revolution. The development of the age of inventions depended, not simply on “some special and unaccountable burst of inventive genius,” as the leading authority on English industrial history, W. Cunningham, writes in his Growth of English Industry and Commerce in Modern Times, but on the accumulation of a sufficient body of capital as the indispensable condition to make possible the large-scale outlay for their utilisation. Previous inventions of Kay’s fly-shuttle in 1733 and Wyatt’s roller-spinning machine in 1738 came to naught because they couldn’t be used for lack of capital. It was the plunder of India that thus set into motion one of the greatest revolutions of history – the Industrial Revolution. In his Law of Civilization and Decay, the American writer, Brooke Adams describes how it happened:

The influx of the Indian treasure, by adding considerably to the nation’s cash capital, not only increased its stock of energy, but added much to its flexibility and the rapidity of its movement. Very soon after Plassey, the Bengal plunder began to arrive in London, and the effect appears to have been instantaneous; for all the authorities agree that the ‘industrial revolution,’ the event which has divided the nineteenth century from all antecedent time, began with the year 1760. Prior to 1760, according to Bains, the machinery used for spinning cotton in Lancashire was almost as simple as in India; while about 1750 the English iron industry was in full decline because of the destruction of forests for fuel. At that time four-fifths of the iron used in the kingdom came from Sweden.

Plassey was fought in 1757, and probably nothing has ever equalled in rapidity of the change which followed. In 1760 the flying shuttle appeared, and coal began to replace wood in smelting. In 1764 Hargreaves invented the spinning jenny, in 1776 Crompton contrived the mule, in 1785 Cartwright patented the powerloom, and, chief of all, in 1768 Watt matured the steam engine, the most perfect of all vents of centralising energy. But though these machines served as outlets for the accelerating movement of the time, they did not cause that acceleration. In themselves inventions are passive, many of the most important having lain dormant for centuries, waiting for a sufficient store of force to have accumulated to set them working. That store must always take the shape of money, and money not hoarded, but in motion. Before the influx of the Indian treasure, and the expansion of credit which followed, no force sufficient for this purpose existed; and had Watt lived fifty years earlier, he and his invention must have perished together. Possibly since the world began, no investment has ever yielded the profit reaped from the Indian plunder…

The spoliation of India was thus the hidden source of capital accumulation which played an all-important role in helping to make possible the industrial revolution in England. Once the industrial capital was established in England, it needed markets to sells its products to. It was again India which was forced, to absorb these goods to enable the industrial revolution in England to sustain itself. India had to be de-industrialized in order to achieve this. After the victory of English industrial capital over its mercantile capital, India’s textile industry was destroyed leading to the destruction of its urban economy and the subsequent overcrowding in the villages and pushing India hundreds of years behind in its economic development.

Of course, Dutt was a leader of the Communist Party of India and as such might be susceptible to the sort of errant thinking that left the early Karl Marx beneath Charles Post’s exacting standards but surely we can accept the word of the Master himself in his mature phase. While the entire chapter 20 of V.3 of Capital (“Historical Facts about Merchant’s Capital”) would be edifying, it is essential to see how Marx viewed it in terms of the “transition” debate:

There is no doubt — and it is precisely this fact which has led to wholly erroneous conceptions — that in the 16th and 17th centuries the great revolutions, which took place in commerce with the geographical discoveries and speeded the development of merchant’s capital, constitute one of the principal elements in furthering the transition from feudal to capitalist mode of production. The sudden expansion of the world-market, the multiplication of circulating commodities, the competitive zeal of the European nations to possess themselves of the products of Asia and the treasures of America, and the colonial system — all contributed materially toward destroying the feudal fetters on production.

In other words, James Creegan was saying exactly the same thing that Karl Marx was saying, something that the Political Marxists can’t get into their thick skulls. In fact, in the chapter on the Genesis of the Industrial Capitalist in V. 1 of Capital, he doesn’t mention the enclosure acts at all. Instead he cites the East India Company, the slave trade, the extermination of the American Indian and all those other things that recede from the Anglocentric perspective of Post, Wood, Brenner, incorporated:

The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signalised the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre. It begins with the revolt of the Netherlands from Spain, assumes giant dimensions in England’s Anti-Jacobin War, and is still going on in the opium wars against China, &c.

In a very real sense, the debate that the Political Marxists have begun is not so much with people like the late James Blaut, Henry Heller, or Neil Davidson. It is with Karl Marx himself. As long as people have access to Capital, the last word on these questions according to his gatekeeper Charles Post, they will consider these words and realize that they are at odds with those who speak in his name as paragons of orthodoxy. A little less “orthodoxy” and a bit more modesty is in order.

On Sunday morning I heard presentations by John Clegg and Robin Blackburn in a panel on “Slavery in the Age of Capital” that were also important contributions to the ongoing debate over the “transition” question.

For those of you who have been keeping up with this debate, you are probably aware that Charles Post tried to apply the Brenner thesis to the American Civil War viewing slavery as a “precapitalist” institution that the northern bourgeoisie sought to destroy in order to carry out a bourgeois revolution, even if that concept is strictly verboten in Political Marxism circles. Once again, Karl Marx had a completely different take on the relationship of slavery to capitalism:

Direct slavery is as much the pivot upon which our present-day industrialism turns as are machinery, credit, etc. Without slavery there would be no cotton, without cotton there would be no modern industry. It is slavery which has given value to the colonies, it is the colonies which have created world trade, and world trade is the necessary condition for large-scale machine industry. Consequently, prior to the slave trade, the colonies sent very few products to the Old World, and did not noticeably change the face of the world. Slavery is therefore an economic category of paramount importance. Without slavery, North America, the most progressive nation, would he transformed into a patriarchal country. Only wipe North America off the map and you will get anarchy, the complete decay of trade and modern civilisation. But to do away with slavery would be to wipe America off the map.

Letter from Marx to Pavel Vasilyevich Annenkov, 1846

John Clegg not only would agree with this assessment. He goes even further and uses Karl Marx’s categories to defend the proposition that slaves produced surplus value. In other words, the chief difference between a wageworker and a slave was that the class relationship was based in the first instance on a contract between the buyer and seller of labor power but not in the second. Aside from that, there is really no difference since both types of labor is being exploited in order to produce commodities for sale on the capitalist marketplace for a profit.

Clegg has co-authored an article with Duncan Foley, the chair of the economics department at the New School Graduate Faculty and a highly respected Marxist scholar, which has been submitted to the Cambridge Economic History Review and that his talk was drawn from. I will not try to recapitulate it since it is quite complex but will instead refer you to a presentation he has given on it in the past: http://wearemany.org/a/2013/04/slavery-and-capitalism

What I can offer as well is Duncan Foley’s views on slavery and capitalism as they appeared on Gerry Levy’s OPE-List back in 2000:

It always seemed to me that slaves in the New World were very closely tied to the commodity-producing system. Certainly in the U.S. the main motive for holding slaves was to produce export crops like tobacco and cotton. The labor of the slaves added value to the inputs, like wage labor, and presumably more value than the value equivalent of their subsistence. (I suspect quite a bit of the subsistence was produced on the plantations.) Thus there was a potential surplus value in the employment of slaves.

Full: http://ricardo.ecn.wfu.edu/~cottrell/OPE/archive/0004/0110.html

Blackburn’s talk was focused on a discussion of some of the new research on slavery and capitalism that is found in books by Sven Beckert, Edward Baptist and Walter Johnson that he generally agreed with despite his concerns that they err on the side of drawing too much of an equation between wage labor and slavery.

Although I had tended to associate him largely with the Brenner thesis in the past, he made it clear that he was critical of Political Marxism and described Robert Brenner as having a long term problem with primitive accumulation, no doubt of the kind that involves the East India and company.

He was also very much in agreement with the basic thesis of Sven Beckert’s “Empire of Cotton”, namely that this commodity was instrumental to the growth of capitalism in Britain and, moreover, its colonial aspirations. When the British textile industry began to take off, it fueled the slave trade in the United States. As he put it, there can be different interpretations of whether slavery led to capitalism but no one could possibly disagree with the idea that the growth of capitalism led to the growth of slavery in the 19th century, a clear rebuttal of the idea that the two mode of production were inimical to each other. It may be the case that they would eventually come to blows but in the early stages, they were joined at the hip. Just as was the case in India, “extra-economic” coercion can often serve as a handmaiden to market relations even if some Marxists don’t get it.

April 10, 2015

Slave Rebellions on the Open Seas

Filed under: Counterpunch,slavery — louisproyect @ 4:27 pm
Slave Rebellions on the Open Seas

The Black Struggle Against Slavery

by LOUIS PROYECT

Greg Grandin’s “The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom and Deception in the New World” and Marcus Rediker’s “The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom” share both subject matter—slave rebellions on the open seas—and an unabashed commitment to the Black freedom struggle. Beyond the fortuitous combination of topic and political passion, however, the greatest reward for any reader is how both authors make history come alive. Despite their remoteness in time and place, the stories they tell have an obvious affinity for the Black struggle today as a new civil rights struggle takes shape to secure the final victory sought by ancestors Babo and Cinque.

“The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom and Deception in the New World” is an exploration of the events that inspired Herman Melville’s “Benito Cereno”, an 1855 novella about the ruse orchestrated by slaves fifty years earlier to convince Captain Amasa Delano, a distant relative of FDR, that their vessel remained under their ex-master’s sway. This excerpt from Melville should give you a flavor of this droll and macabre tale:

Three black boys, with two Spanish boys, were sitting together on the hatches, scraping a rude wooden platter, in which some scanty mess had recently been cooked. Suddenly, one of the black boys, enraged at a word dropped by one of his white companions, seized a knife, and though called to forbear by one of the oakum-pickers, struck the lad over the head, inflicting a gash from which blood flowed.

In amazement, Captain Delano inquired what this meant. To which the pale Benito dully muttered, that it was merely the sport of the lad.

“Pretty serious sport, truly,” rejoined Captain Delano. “Had such a thing happened on board the Bachelor’s Delight, instant punishment would have followed.”

At these words the Spaniard turned upon the American one of his sudden, staring, half-lunatic looks; then, relapsing into his torpor, answered, “Doubtless, doubtless, Senor.”

If Grandin’s history is a fitting counterpart to Melville’s fiction, a work of high culture for the ages, we can see “The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom” as a necessary corrective to Stephen Spielberg’s pop culture film that like his “Lincoln” told a tale of paternalistic white intervention when the real history would have revealed something much more like self-emancipation.

read full article

December 11, 2014

Slavery and Capitalism

Filed under: slavery,transition debate — louisproyect @ 3:38 pm

A passage from this extraordinary book:

Slavery, as the historian Lorenzo Greene wrote half a century ago and many scholars, such as Harvard’s Sven Beckert and Brown’s Seth Rockman, are today confirming, “formed the very basis of the economic life of New England: about it revolved, and on it depended, most of her other industries.” The expansion of slave labor in the South and into the West was still years away, but slavery as it then existed in the southern states was already an important source of northern profit, as was the already exploding slave trade in the Caribbean and South America. Banks capitalized the slave trade and insurance companies underwrote it. Covering slave voyages helped start Rhode Island’s insurance industry, while in Connecticut some of the first policies written by Aetna were on slaves’ lives. In turn, profits made from loans and insurance policies were plowed into other northern businesses. Fathers who “made their fortunes outfitting ships for distant voyages” left their money to sons who “built factories, chartered banks, incorporated canal and railroad enterprises, invested in government securities, and speculated in new financial instruments” and donated to build libraries, lecture halls, universities, and botanical gardens.

The use of slave labor in the North was ending by the time Amasa was building his Perseverance, but throughout New England there were merchant families and port towns—Salem, Newport, Providence, Portsmouth, and New London among them—that thrived on the trade. Many of the millions of gallons of rum distilled annually in Massachusetts a Rhode Island were used to obtain slaves, who were then brought to the West Indies and traded for sugar and molasses, which were boiled to make more rum to be used to acquire more slaves. Other New Englanders benefited indirectly, building the slave ships, weaving the “negro cloth” and cobbling the shoes to dress slaves, or catching and salting the fish used to feed them in the southern states and Caribbean islands. Haiti’s plantations purchased 63 percent of their dried fish and 80 percent of their pickled fish from New England. In Massachusetts alone, David Brion Davis writes, the “West Indian trade employed some ten thousand seamen, to say nothing of the workers who built, outfitted, and supplied the ships.”

 

December 4, 2014

When slaves were paid wages

Filed under: slavery,transition debate — louisproyect @ 10:01 am

(This is an excerpt from Greg Grandin’s beautifully written and mind-blowing “The Empire of Necessity”, a book that digs into the history that Herman Melville fictionalized in “Benito Cereno”. I had a suspicion from what I had read that the book would address the slavery-as-capitalism debate that is part of the broader debate around the Brenner thesis. The excerpt focuses on the role of slavery in Latin America, where it became instrumental in the development of capitalism on the continent but even more interestingly a particular form of the “peculiar institution” where slaves were paid wages.)

Slavery was the motor of Spanish America’s market revolution, though not exactly in the same way it was in plantation zones of the Caribbean, coastal Brazil, or, later, the U.S. South. As in those areas, Africans and African-descendant peoples might be used to produce commercial exports for Europe, mining gold, for instance, diving for pearls in the Caribbean and the Pacific, drying hides, or cutting cane.” But a large number, per-haps even most, of Africans arriving under the new “free trade in blacks” system were put to work creating goods traded among the colonies.

Enslaved Africans and African Americans slaughtered cattle and sheared wool on the pampas of Argentina, spun cotton and wove clothing in textile workshops in Mexico City, and planted coffee in the mountains outside of Bogota. They fermented grapes for wine at the foot of the Andes and boiled Peruvian sugar to make candy. In Guayaquil, Ecuador, enslaved shipwrights built cargo vessels that were used to carry Chilean wheat to Lima markets. Throughout the thriving cities of mainland Spanish America, slaves worked, often for wages, as laborers, bakers, brickmakers, liverymen, cobblers, carpenters, tanners, smiths, rag pickers, cooks, and servants. Others, like Montevideo’s doleful itinerants, took to the streets, peddling goods they either made themselves or sold on commission.

It wasn’t just their labor that spurred the commercialization of society. The driving of more and more slaves inland, across the continent, the opening up of new slave roads and the expansion of old ones, tied hinterland markets together and created local circuits of finance and trade. Enslaved peoples were at one and the same time investments (purchased and then rented out as laborers), credit (used to secure loans), property, commodities, and capital, making them an odd mix of abstract and concrete value. Collateral for loans and items for speculation, slaves were also objects of nostalgia, mementos of a fixed but fading aristocratic world even as they served as the coin of a new commercialized one. Slaves literally made money: working in Lima’s mint, they trampled quicksilver into ore with their bare feet, pressing toxic mercury into their bloodstream in order to amalgamate the silver used for coins. And they were money, at least in a way. It wasn’t so much that the value of indi-vidual slaves was standardized in relation to currency. Slaves were the standard: when appraisers calculated the value of any given hacienda, slaves usually accounted for over half its worth, much more valuable than inanimate capital goods like tools and millworks.

The world was changing fast, old lines of rank and status were blurring, and slaves, along with livestock and land, often appeared to be the last substantial things. Slaves didn’t just create wealth: as items of conspicuous consumption for a rising merchant class, they displayed wealth. And since some slaves in Spanish America, especially those in cities like Montevideo and Buenos Aires, were paid wages, they were also consumers, spending their money on items that arrived in ships with other slaves or maybe even, in a few instances, with themselves.12

Endnote 12. My understanding of the importance of slavery to South America’s market revolution is indebted to Adelman’s Sovereignty and Revolution. The deregulation the slave trade was a central component in Spain’s efforts to adapt the colonial system to the “pressures of ramped-up inter-imperial competition.” But, according to Adelman, unlike the large-scale, export-focused plantations found in the U.S. South and the Caribbean, slavery in South America linked together “ever more diverse and decentralized commercial hubs” throughout the whole of the continent. “It could be argued,” Adelman writes, “drawing on Ira Berlin, that South America’s expanding hinterlands were slave societies (not simply societies with slaves) where slaves were central to productive processes. Plantations existed, but they were embedded in more diversified social systems,” with smaller establishments and hybrid forms of wage and coerced labor. “Slavery helped support rapidly commercialized, relatively diffused and adaptive production in the South American hinterlands integrated by the flow of merchant capital. And as it did so, it helped colonies become increasingly autonomous economically and socially, from metropolitan Spanish and Portuguese command.” In other words, what became American freedom—independence from Spain—was made possible by American slavery (p. 59). Such an approach opens up new ways to compare U.S. and Spanish American slavery and allows for consideration of the economic importance of slavery without reproducing old debates about whether slavery was capitalist or compatible with capitalism. In the United States, historians have recently returned to an older scholarly tradition emphasizing the importance of slavery to the making of modern capitalism examining slavery not just as a system of labor or a generator of profit but as a driver of finance capital and real estate speculation, as well as looking at how plantations served as organizational models for “innovative business practices that would come to typify modern management,” as Harvard’s Sven Beckert and Brown’s Seth Rockman write, in “How Slavery Led to Modern Capitalism,” in Bloomberg, January 24, 2012 (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-01-24/how-slavery-led-to-modern-capitalism-echoes.html). See also Beckert and Rockman’s forthcoming edited collection “Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development,” to be published by University of Pennsylvania Press, as well as earlier work, including Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1944, and Sidney Mintz, Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, New York: Viking, 1985; Sidney Mintz, “Slavery and Emergent Capitalism,” in Slavery in the New World, ed. Laura Foner and Eugene D. Genovese, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1969. See also Walter Johnson’s recent River of Dark Dreams: Slavery and Empire in the Cotton Kingdom, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013.

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