Chattel Slavery, Colonialism, & Capitalism

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Tue Nov 7 09:38:21 MST 2000

>>> furuhashi.1 at 11/06/00 07:06PM >>>
Let's consider two propositions:

A.  Chattel slavery and colonialism in themselves caused the
_emergence_ of capitalist social relations with their M-C-M' dynamic
(hence we can and must explain capitalism as the necessary result of
chattel slavery and colonialism).

B.  Capitalism would not have _developed_ without chattel slavery and

The proposition A is not the same as the proposition B.  One can hold
B to be true while denying A.  Significantly, Eric Williams never
argues for the proposition A, since his argument is that profits from
the triangular trade & slave labor were among the main sources of
wealth converted into industrial capital fostering _the Industrial
Revolution_, the growth of which eventually caused the abolition of
West Indian slavery (as you can see from _Capitalism & Slavery_ as
well as the Russell R Menard article I posted a while ago).


CB: As you phrase it, A is sort of colonialism and slavery as sufficient conditions
for capitalism. B is sort of c and s as "but for" or necessary  causes or conditions
for capitalism.

Your B type statement can be made for both slavery and colonialism AND English
countryside inclosure-class relations internal to England/Europe factors. Both were
"but for" causes. Neither was sufficient causes.

But as dialecticians we must attend to reciprocal causes. Capitalist accumulation also
caused or was a necessary condition for capitalist colonialism and slavery.

The word "necessary" is perhaps ambiguous with two opposite meanings here. In modus
ponens in logic, implication, p implies q, q is a necessary condition of p, and p is a
suffcient condition of q. If p then q; not q not p.

So, if capitalism implies capitalist accumulation and capitalist accumulation implies
chattel slavery and colonialism, then chattel slavery and colonialism are necessary
conditions of capitalist accumulation.

Marx in his chapter "The Historical Tendency of Capitalist Accumulation say that
capitalist accumulation leads to slavery ( no quotes or other indications that he
doesn't mean literal or chattel slavery).  This would make slavery a necessary
condition of capitalist accumulation ( M-C-M').

(Marx's general argument there can be extended to explain oppressed labor forms in
conjunction with wage-labor forms today. This is the rational/relevant kernel of this
whole debate.)

But "necessary" can have a sort of opposite sense, as in a "but for" cause, as you use
it above in the sense that but for slavery and colonialism , no emergence of
capitalist social relations and M-C-M'.

By the way , here you a merging capitalist social relations and M-C-M', and I believe
in the sense that capitalist social relations are wage-labor relations, no ? If so,
what of M-C-M' emerging from bourgeois class struggles with the feudal manor ruling
class ( not English peasants and removal from the land) in other words an accumulation
competition with the feudal lords ( and ladies ?) ?

I agree with the thesis that the industrial phase of capitalism brought the
dialectical contradiction between the wage-labor and slave-labor component parts of
the capitalist system to a crisis, and resolution in the negation of the slave-labor
component.  But in the manufacturing phase of capitalism, before the industrial phase,
the slave mode was the relative superexploiting sector, the supercharged source of
accumulation relative to the manufacturing/wage-labor sector.


Lou seems to think that unless we argue for the proposition A, we'll
end up agreeing with Eugene Genovese, Ernest Laclau, Bill Warren,
etc. & proposing the modernization theory as the solution to the
problem of the maldevelopment of the Third World.  I don't think so!


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