Don't Misread Gramsci! (was Re: Debating slavery: Marx'sdiscussion)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Mon Oct 23 02:21:28 MDT 2000

>I am amazed that people are so eager to get their backs up over a Gramscian
>analysis of order under slavery when the Gramscian analysis provides the
>best explanation for why workers do not rise up against capitalism. Have
>that many people forgotten that the majority in the capitalist core are
>today exploited and oppressed in the wage-labor system and that they appear
>to consent to this, even African-Americans? It seems to me to be an
>unremarkable fact that systems of domination rarely rest on coercion alone.
>Is it even possible that a large-scale social system could rest solely on
>coercion? This is not to say that slaves did not resist their bondage in a
>variety of ways. Sabotage, work slowdowns and stoppages, maroon colonies,
>open rebellions, and the like show us that slaves were aware of their
>condition and disapproved. But overall, the slave system was not a chaotic
>system rife with rebellion. Our obligation is not to react to this fact
>ideologically and condemn those who observe it, but to carefully and
>thoroughly explain this fact. I can tell you that the answer is not found in
>a simplistic and exclusive coercion versus consensus dichotomy.
>Finally, I am not responsible for conservatives co-opting features of
>Gramscian analysis to wax nostalgic over slavery and Jim Crow.
>Andrew Austin
>Green Bay, WI

Andy seems to misread Gramsci in the same way that Justin & Genovese
do.  Here's what I wrote on Gramsci's concepts of consent and

*****   Date: Fri, 13 Oct 2000 21:38:13 -0400
To: lbo-talk at
From: Yoshie Furuhashi <furuhashi.1 at>
Subject: Re: Genovese

>The relation of capitalism to American slavery is complicated. Slavery was
>connected to the development of global capitalism, to be sure. The cotton and
>tobacco the slaves raised were commodities sold in the US and world market,
>and were worked up by wage labor proper outside the slave states. But insofar
>as the Southern mode of production did not rest mainly on wage labor, it
>canot be described as fully capitalist. The slaves were themselves
>commodities; their labor was not. But Charles knows this, and nothing in our
>disagreement rests on it. --jks

How can commodities "consent" in the Gramscian sense?  Isn't the
essence of modern capitalist slavery -- unlike wage labor -- the
absence of "consent," whether one theorizes "consent" a la Gramsci or
social contract theorists?  (BTW, do you think that so-called
"comfort women" -- women _forced_ to serve Japanese soldiers sexually
-- "consented" in the Gramscian sense?  It would be so _grotesque_ to
stretch Gramsci's theory of "hegemony" to include rape!)

Gramsci wrote: "The 'spontaneous' consent given by the great masses
of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by
the dominant fundamental group [ie, through their intellectuals who
act as their agents or deputies]; this consent is 'historically'
caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence) which the dominant
group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of
production" (12).  In modern capitalist slavery, "consent" was never
"spontaneous"; nor were slaves "intellectually led" by the hegemonic
class's organic intellectuals because of their "prestige."

Gramsci's notion of "consent" makes sense only _within_ his theory of
"leadership" (or "hegemony"): "The methodological criterion on which
our own study must be based is the following: that the supremacy of a
social group manifests itself in two ways, as 'domination' and as
'intellectual and moral leadership'.  A social group dominates
antagonistic groups, which it tends to 'liquidate', or to subjugate
perhaps even by armed force; it leads kindred and allied groups.  A
social group can, and indeed must, already exercise 'leadership'
before winning governmental power (this indeed is one of the
principal conditions for the winning of such power); it subsequently
becomes dominant when it exercises power, but even if it holds it
firmly in its grasp, it must continue to 'lead' as well" (57-8).
Slaves were never slave owners' "kindred and allied groups" who
"consented" to their rule; nor did slave owners exercise
"intellectual and moral leadership" over slaves.  Slave owners _did_
"lead" _non-slave-owning whites_ in the South (as well as a
significant number of Northern whites), and with their "consent" and
support, they dominated & subjugated slaves by armed force; and in
the course of importing & using up slaves as commodities, especially
in the early days of Negro slavery, they "liquidated" an appalling
number of enslaved Africans: "between 10 and 16 million Africans were
forcibly transported across the Atlantic between 1500 and 1900.  But
this figure grossly understates the actual number of Africans
enslaved, killed, or displaced as a result of the slave trade. At
least 2 million Africans--10 to 15 percent--died during the infamous
'Middle Passage' across the Atlantic.  Another 15 to 30 percent died
during the march to or confinement along the coast.  Altogether,
then, for every 100 slaves who reached the New World, another 40 had
died in Africa or during the Middle Passage" (at

Yoshie   *****


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