Forwarded from Anthony (Brenner)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Nov 6 07:06:24 MST 2000

>However, if the indegenous peoples of America had thrown the Europeans into
>the Atlantic, I think that that development might well have occurred anyway.
>I do not think that the superiority of European technology and social
>organization was the reason they didn't either.
>I think the deadliness of European microbes did the trick, in Mexico as
>well as in Massachussets.
>The reason the British couldn't really depopulate all of Ireland - despite
>their efforts - was because the Irish already had thousands of years
>experience with the same microbes. And that goes for Asia and Africa too.

Jim Blaut, "Colonizer's Model of the World":

There were several immediate reasons why American civilizations succumbed,
but one of these is of paramount importance and probably constitutes a
sufficient cause in and of itself. This is the massive depopulation caused
by the pandemics of Eastern Hemisphere diseases that were introduced to
America by Europeans. A second factor was the considerable advantage
Europeans held in military technology, but this advantage has to be kept in
perspective. The technological gap was not so great that it could by itself
bring military victory—after the initial battles—against American armies
that were vastly larger and would sooner or later have adopted the enemy’s
technology. America is a vast territory, and in 1492 it had a very large
population, numbering at least 50 million people and conceivably as many as
200 million, a goodly proportion of these people. living in state-organized
societies with significant military capability. Military technology tends,
historically, to diffuse from one camp to the opposing camp in a relatively
short time. Moreover, the superiority of the Spaniards’ primitive guns was
not really very great when compared with the Americans’ bows and arrows. I
think it is, therefore, certain that the tide would have turned against the
Europeans had the matter been merely one of military capability. There
would have been no conquest, or the conquest would have embraced only a
limited territory, and certainly would not have swept south as far as the
great civilizations of the central Andes. The point is that history went in
a different direction because of the incredibly severe and incredibly rapid
impact of introduced diseases. Resistance collapsed because the Americans
were dying in epidemics even before the battles were joined. Probably 90%
of the population of central Mexico was wiped out during the sixteenth
century; the majority of these deaths occurred early enough to assist the
political conquest. Parallel processes took place in other parts of the
hemisphere, especially where there were major concentrations of population,
these in most cases being areas of state organization and high
civilization. Perhaps three-quarters of the entire population of America
was wiped out during that century.: Millions died in battle with the
Spaniards and Portuguese and in forced labor centers such as the mines of
Mexico and Peru, but much greater numbers died in epidemics, and this was
the reason that resistance to the. conquest was rapidly overcome in most

Both the susceptibility of American populations to Eastern Hemisphere
diseases and the lower level of military technology among Hemisphere
peoples can be explained in fairly straightforward cultural evolutionary
terms, although evidence bearing on the matter is partly indirect. The
Western Hemisphere was not occupied by humans until very late in the
Paleolithic period; there is dispute about the first arrivals, but most
scholars do not believe that the Americas were occupied before 30,000 B.P.
The first immigrants did not possess agriculture. The earliest migrations
preceded the Agricultural Revolution in the Eastern Hemisphere; in
addition, the source area for the migrations, northeastern Siberia, is
generally too cold for agriculture, even for present-day agriculture, and
we would not expect to find that these cultures were experimenting with
incipient agriculture 20,000 years or so ago although some low-latitude
cultures were doing so. Migrants to America were paleolithic hunters,
gatherers, fishers, and shellfishers. They came in small numbers,
apparently in a widely spaced series of relatively small population
movements, and spread throughout both North and South America. Only after
some millennia had passed was the stock of resources for hunting, fishing,
gathering, and shellfishing under any significant pressure from humans. One
assumes that population growth was slow but—this is of course
speculative—that population growth eventually did reach the point where
conditions were favorable to an Agricultural Revolution. In the Eastern
Hemisphere the Agricultural Revolution seems to have occurred (as a
qualitative change) roughly 10,000—12,000 years ago. In the Western
Hemisphere that point may have been reached about 4,000 years later.
Thereafter, cultural evolution in the Western Hemisphere proceeded along
lines somewhat parallel to those of Eastern Hemisphere evolution: the
development of agricultural societies, of monumental ceremonial centers,
science, writing, cities, feudal class structures, and mercantile trade. It
seems, indeed, that the Western Hemisphere societies were Closing the gap.
But in 1492, military technology in the most advanced and powerful states
was still well behind that of Eastern Hemisphere states. Metal was just
coming into use in this arena, and guns had not been invented. Hence the
superiority of Cortés’s armies over Moctezuma’s and Pizarro’s over the
Incas’. (When Cortés arrived at Tenochtitlán the Aztecs were already dying
in great numbers from European diseases which, apparently, had been carried
by American traders from Cuba to Mexico. Likewise, the Incas apparently
were succumbing to these diseases before Pizarro arrived.

Louis Proyect
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