Debating slavery: Mark's discussion

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Fri Oct 20 12:58:01 MDT 2000


I forwarded some of the posts to Mark Solomon. Here is a brief , undigested response
from him.




Just a very quick, undigested response to this interesting dialogue with Lou

First, an attempt was made to conjoin Jewish concentration camp slave labor
with slavery in the US. It was done in what I consider a vile, racist (and
unintentionally anti-Semitic) book by Stanley Elkins, "Slavery: A Problem in
American Institutional and Intellectual Life" published in 1959 (and
interestingly, with an introduction by Nathan Glazer). Elkins sought to
"explain" the "docile," "child-like" and "Sambo" behavior of slaves by
comparing their conditions with the total oppressiveness of concentration
camps which allegedly engendered a fawning, nearly infantile dependence by
inmates upon guards and the whole brutal camp structure. Elkins tries to have
it both ways by denying resistance and rebellion AND then claiming that
failure to rebel was due to unspeakably horrible circumstances and total
subjugation which produced a culture of dependency illustrated by every
racist stereotype to come down the pike since the 15th century. By linking
alleged slave behavior to the alleged behavior of Jewish camp inmates, he
tries to universalize the issue and thus disguise his acceptance of racist
perceptions of slaves. It's a kind of 'leftist" variant of the Fogel-Engerman
thesis which locates slave "adjustment" in their alleged adoption of a
Protestant Ethic under as a quasi-feudal system of mutual obligations.

To create some kind of overarching tension or conflict between Genovese and
Fogel-Engerman is absurd. In social terms, they were all at the University of
Rochester at the same time, and developed their work in a kind of symbiosis.
Genovese's psedo-Gramscian efforts to deny slave rebellion by positing a
holistic hegemonic slave culture is simply a manipulation of different
categories to arrive at essentially the same conclusions as Fogel-Engerman.

Marx made it abundantly clear that slavery was the fundamental source for the
primitive accumulation of capital which was the mandatory life blood of
nascent capitalism. While the internal class dynamics and culture of
plantation slavery were different from mercantile capitalism and even more
different from emerging industrial capitalism, both systems of class rule and
surplus value extraction were tied together by a virtual umbilical cord. We
know today that various social and economic structures which maintain strands
of slavery, feudalism, and even primitive communism cannot escape the tyranny
of global capitalism. So--I'm for a dialectical approach which acknowledges
structural and cultural distinctiveness in slavery, but also grasps its
inseparable (and contradictory) relationship with capitalism.

For what it's worth, feel free to share this with Lou.


More information about the Marxism mailing list