Debating slavery: Marx's discussion

Borba100 at Borba100 at
Mon Oct 23 01:01:22 MDT 2000

In a message dated 10/22/2000 7:19:11 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
austina at writes:

 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?

The writer glibly says the "slaves were conceived as chatel" (i.e, human
beings were owned) as if  this is no big deal and rather horrifyingly ends up
"Suppose that an amendment to the US Constitution forbid the private
ownership of cattle, would this constitute a social revolution?".

The "Slaves were" not only "conceived as chattel": they WERE chattel and they
were DEALT WITH as chattel. The worst off "wage slave" is king compared to
the person who is owned. And  this was of course recognized by slaves in
Roman times and slaves in the US, both of whom died in rebellions the purpose
of which was to achieve "wage slavery."  Minor points like: taking children
from parents at will and selling them 500 miles (or 1500 miles) away;
whipping rebellious "workers" to death without even the appearance of legal
restraint; rape of anyone of any age at any time without possibility of
redress, starvation as punishment or as amusement or by error or ti increase
profit, complete deprivation of medical care, having no say of any kind over
one's cultural expressions, humiliation of parents in front of children,
including the most extreme forms, etc.  The inclusion of this, the  most
regressive form of ownership and social relations in the sorry history of
humanity (slavery) into the then most advanced social form (capitalism) was
the contradiction inherent in the US and it exploded into violence precisely
because the slave owners tried - NEEDED FOR THE SURVIVAL OF THEIR SOCIAL
SYSTEM - to export slavery to any part of the union: secession was an
aggressive, not a defensive act, as Marx pointed out and as became obvious to
even racist northerners during the course of the war.

This was just as much a social revolution as the French Revolution, which
also did not create utopia. Perhaps it was a more extreme social revolution
than the  French.  Like the French revolution it included a (longer than the
French) period of extreme egalitarianism (Radical Reconstruction) before
(like the French) it lapsed into ugly capitalism, and in the case of the US,
fierce racism as well.  But in that period, radical reconstruction, the
former slaves showed how ordinary working people can overcome racial barriers
and run society.

Of course Black people in the south were treated terribly after
reconstruction; in the north too.  But THEY WERE NOT OWNED.  Being owned is
like being in Auchswitz - just as bad.  Is  being in Auchswitz the same as
being a ("free") Polish Jew because both have their labor exploited?

After the civil war,  Black people could migrate to various states without
being chased by owners because they didn't HAVE owners; that is a very very
big change indeed.  If the South had won, the US would have become a slave
society - that was the issue.


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