Feedback from Mark M. Smith

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Oct 19 12:36:00 MDT 2000

>>> Louis Proyect <lnp3 at> 10/19/00 01:53PM >>>
Professor Smith, I picked up "Debating Slavery" at lunch today and also
glanced at some books by Oakes, Fogel, and Engerman in the library.
Although they seem proponents of the slavery as capitalism thesis, they
don't seem to operating in the Marxist tradition as you seem to concur
with. Although I am new to the American slavery field, I am interested in
these questions as they relate to the Brenner debate and its connections to
Laclau and Genovese. What I am looking for, and see your book as an
extremely useful roadmap to, is a Marxist answer to Genovese on  the
question of the "precapitalist" character of the American slavocracy. Could
you recommend some titles? I would be very appreciative.

Louis Proyect
AIS, Columbia University

Hi Louis:

You are quite correct--Fogel and Engerman, Oakes and others are certainly
not consciously operating in the Marxian tradition.  They--Oakes in
particular--borrow from Marx in several ways but are empahtically not
adherents--hence my argument for theoretical conversation.  Luraghi is
perhaps the most obviously Marxian; Genovese's early work is too.  Forgive
me if I recommend my own work but Mastered by the Clock uses Marx's notion
of sporadic capitalism and his often overlooked references to the
articulation between modes of production to argue that, in fact, one can
use Marxian methodology to free us from the artificial binary in which
Marxists see the South as precapitalist and non-Marxists don't.  Luraghi
knows his Marxism extraordinarily well but, like a good many Americanists,
operates within unnecessarily constricting (and quite artificial)
epistemological Marxist boundaries.  Marx's work certainly shows the
primacy of free wage labor as constituting the essence of capitalism but
his insight that modes of production (obviously) articulate allow us access
to instances (ie time-discipline) when elements of capitalism (outside of
free wage labor) intrude into other productive modes and, in fact, serve to
bolster the prevailing forms of economic and social relations of that
earlier relationship.  That is pretty much what I argue in Mastered by the
Clock.  Perhaps a quicker wage for you to see the thrust of my argument
would be to look at my Am. Hist. Rev. article on "Old South Time in
Comparative Perspective" (Dec.1996) which shows that wage labor, while
important, does not prove utterly definitive in our efforts to characterize
what we mean by a slave and wage labor mode of production.

I hope you find this helpful and I'm glad you see some worth in the
concluding (and necessarily brief) remarks in Debating Slavery.  Good luck
with your project--it is something that interests me greatly.  Feel free to
stay in touch.


Mark M. Smith
Associate Professor
Department of History
University of South Carolina
Columbia, SC 29208
Phone: 803-777-6362
Fax: 803-777-4494
email: mark-smith at

Louis Proyect
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