Debating slavery: Marx's discussion

Austin, Andrew austina at
Sun Oct 22 17:17:37 MDT 2000

Charles wrote that emancipation represented "abolition of one of the main
private property forms in the U.S. system, private property in human beings.
This is what gives it, in Marxist terms, a revolutionary character. It was a
fundamental change in the property relations."

Slaves were generally conceived as chattel. Chattel is simply a moveable
form of property. Other examples of chattel are draught animals and cattle.
After the US civil war slave-owners were dispossessed of some of their
chattel. Suppose that an amendment to the US Constitution forbid the private
ownership of cattle, would this constitute a social revolution?

Another contributor to the list denied that slave-labor in the US was
capitalist production. Peasant-labor and slave-labor are as much capitalist
production as anything when they produce surplus-value and are organized in
a capitalist market. We need to make the historical record clear: racialized
slave-labor was not co-opted by capitalism, but was set up by capitalists
during the colonization of North America.

Andrew Austin
Green Bay, WI

More information about the Marxism mailing list