Roman proletarians and Southern "white trash"

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Mon Oct 30 18:11:43 MST 2000


>  > >John Ashworth analyzes the slave owners in the >South in a way akin to
>>  >>  >your analysis of the "anti-bourgeois ruling class" >who "avoid,"
>>  >>  >rather than "promote," accumulation at home & who >fail to modernize
>>  >>  >the productive forces:
>>  >As for the antebellum South & the Civil War, >perhaps John Ashworth is
>>  >following Eirc Williams' & other classical Marxists' >argument:
>Well *perhaps*. When I have a chance to read John Ashworth in details, I will
>have a look at the bibliography to see if there is a reference to
>Eric Williams.
>If there is, I would like to see the context of Ashworth's discussion on
>Williams..  Given the quote you cited, he seems to be classifying
>slave economy
>in the South as pre-capitalist (ie anti-bourgeois class "failing to modernize
>productive forces").

I'll save your time & say that there is no reference to Eric Williams
in _Slavery, Capitalism, and Politics in the Antebellum Republic_ by
John Ashworth.  He (being a Marxist) has references to Marx & Lenin,
however, and I don't think Marx & Lenin disagreed with Eric Williams

For better or worse, Williams has a classic Marxist's penchant for an
argument that directly draws upon the idea of the forces of
production (e.g., the Industrial Revolution) coming into
contradiction with the relations of production & other social
relations (e.g., slave labor, the mercantile system): "As the new
productive power of 1833 destroyed the relations of mother country
and colonies which had existed sixty years before, so the
incomparably greater productive power of today will ultimately
destroy any relations which stand in its way.  This does not
invalidate the urgency and validity of arguments for democracy, for
freedom now or for freedom after the war" (Eric Williams, _Capitalism
and Slavery_, Chapel Hill: U. of North Carolina P, 1994 [originally
published in 1944], p. 210).  Ashworth is, in contrast to Williams,
much more circumspect about the type of argument based upon the idea
of contradiction between forces and relations of production, though I
think he does indirectly draw upon it.

>If slavery was such unproductive and slave owners were
>such anti-bourgeois, the British capitalist class would have no desire of
>maintaining slavery there (at least for a while)

By "there" you mean the American South?  On this point, Williams
highlights the irony of it all (capitalists are blind to the
consequences of their own handiwork):

*****   British capitalism had destroyed West Indian slavery, but it
continued to thrive on Brazillian, Cuban and American slavery.  But
West Indian monopoly had gone for ever.  In the Civil War the British
government nearly recognized the Confederacy.  By a supreme irony it
was left for the West Indian, Gladstone, to remind an audience in
Newcastle that the American Civil War had "perhaps become the most
purposeless of all great civil wars that have ever been waged," and
that "there is no doubt that Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the
South have made an army; they are making, it appears, a navy; and
they have made what is more than either, they have made a nation."
(Eric Williams,  _Capitalism and Slavery_, Chapel Hill: U. of North
Carolina P, 1994 [originally published in 1944], p. 176-7)   *****

Have you ever read Eric Williams?


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