Marx, Slavery, & Economic Backwardness

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Mon Oct 30 19:32:27 MST 2000

Marx argues that while slavery facilitated so-called primitive
accumulation, eventually it became an *economically backward*
institution, necessarily dependent upon extensive increase of new
territories with a naturally fertile soil, *not* upon
capital-intensive cultivation.  It goes without saying that slavery
doomed the American South to economic backwardness through the
preference for plantations over growth of manufacturing; & the need
for racism at the expense of social modernization.

*****   Karl Marx

The North American Civil War

...London, October 20, 1861

For months the leading weekly and daily papers of the London press
have been reiterating the same litany on the American Civil War.
While they insult the free states of the North, they anxiously defend
themselves against the suspicion of sympathising with the slave
states of the South.  In fact, they continually write two articles:
one article, in which they attack the North, and another article, in
which they excuse their attacks on the North.

In essence the extenuating arguments read: The war between the North
and South is a tariff war.  The war is, further, not for any
principle, does not touch the question of slavery and in fact turns
on Northern lust for sovereignty.  Finally, even if justice is on the
side of the North, does it not remain a vain endeavour to want to
subjugate eight million Anglo-Saxons by force!  Would not separation
of the South release the North from all connection with Negro slavery
and ensure for it, with its twenty million inhabitants and its vast
territory, a higher, hitherto scarcely dreamt-of, development?
Accordingly, must not the North welcome secession as a happy event,
instead of wanting to overrule it by a bloody and futile civil war?...

...The cultivation of the southern export articles, cotton, tobacco,
sugar , etc., carried on by slaves, is only remunerative as long as
it is conducted with large gangs of slaves, on a mass scale and on
wide expanses of a naturally fertile soil, which requires only simple
labour.  _Intensive cultivation, which depends less on fertility of
the soil than on investment of capital, intelligence and energy of
labour, is contrary to the nature of slavery._  Hence the rapid
transformation of states like Maryland and Virginia, which formerly
employed slaves on the production of export articles, into states
which raise slaves to export them into the deep South.  Even in South
Carolina, where the slaves form four-sevenths of the population, the
cultivation of cotton has been almost completely stationary for years
due to the exhaustion of the soil.  Indeed, by force of circumstances
South Carolina has already been transformed in part into a
slave-raising state, since it already sells slaves to the sum of four
million dollars yearly to the states of the extreme South and
South-west.  As soon as this point is reached, the acquisition of new
Territories becomes necessary, so that one section of the
slaveholders with their slaves may occupy new fertile lands and that
a new market for slave-raising, therefore for the sale of slaves, may
be created for the remaining section.  It is, for example,
indubitable that without the acquisition of Louisiana, Missouri and
Arkansas by the United States, slavery in Virginia and Maryland would
have been wiped out long ago.  In the Secessionist Congress at
Montgomery, Senator Toombs, one of the spokesmen of the South,
strikingly formulated the economic law that commands the constant
expansion of the territory of slavery.  "In fifteen years," said he,
"without a great increase in slave territory, either the slaves must
be permitted to flee from the whites, or the whites must flee from
the slaves."...

...Finally, the number of actual slaveholders in the South of the
Union does not amount to more than three hundred thousand, a narrow
oligarchy that is confronted with many millions of so-called poor
whites, whose numbers have been constantly growing through
concentration of landed property and whose condition is only to be
compared with that of the Roman plebeians in the period of Rome's
extreme decline.  Only by acquisition and the prospect of acquisition
of new Territories, as well as by filibustering expeditions, is it
possible to square the interests of these poor whites with those of
the slaveholders, to give their restless thirst for action a harmless
direction and to tame them with the prospect of one day becoming
slaveholders themselves.

A strict confinement of slavery within its old terrain, therefore,
was bound according to economic law to lead to its gradual
effacement, in the political sphere to annihilate the hegemony that
the slave states exercised through the Senate, and finally to expose
the slaveholding oligarchy within its own states to threatening
perils from the poor whites.  In accordance with the principle that
any further extension of slave Territories was to be prohibited by
law, the Republicans therefore attacked the rule of the slaveholders
at its root.  The Republican election victory was accordingly bound
to lead to open struggle between North and South.  And this election
victory, as already mentioned, was itself conditioned by the split in
the Democratic camp....

The whole movement was and is based, as one sees, on the slave
question.  Not in the sense of whether the slaves within the existing
slave states should be emancipated outright or not, but whether the
twenty million free men of the North should submit any longer to an
oligarchy of three hundred thousand slaveholders; whether the vast
Territories of the republic should be nurseries for free states or
for slavery; finally, whether the national policy of the Union should
take armed spreading of slavery in Mexico, Central and South America
as its device....   *****


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