Colonial plunder and the rise of capitalism/2nd excerpt

Thu Jul 3 13:47:36 MDT 2003

Part 2b

We Anglo-American revolutionaries owe a terrible debt to history. We know why
and how the historical facts militated against a clear comprehension of the
"Negro Question" - that is the social, economic and political content of the
motion of the African American people.  Until the late 1920s, the Anglo American
proletariat was formed primarily from the importation of German, Irish,
Italian and Slavic workers.

Trading companies colonized the United States. There were never any concrete
feudal economic relations in our country, only certain feudal-like social and
economic forms in which capitalist slavery evolved. The institution of slavery
was an economic category of importance to the emergence of the world market
and involved more than just the slave as laborer. The slave trade may not sound
like a profitable business today but it was and this business created the
contours of the world market. New world slavery has to be understood in the
context of the dynamic transformation in the form of wealth previously mentioned.
Slaves were as good as gold and the black in captivity became a prized
possession. The slave trade itself drove forth the development and emergence of the
credit system, new form of financing enterprises and trading companies as well
as the industry of insurance.

What had been a more than less patriarchal form of slavery in America was
being rapidly transformed. Patriarchal form is a sociological description or
rather houses social intercourse expressing a certain economic logic. Patriarchal
form - as a system of production, means that the laboring process is geared to
the production of use-value or things for direct consumption and not
exchange. Marx is brilliant when stating, "The discovery of gold and silver in
America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the aboriginal
population, the beginning of the conquest and looting of the East Indies, the
turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of black-skins, signal
the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production."

It is virtually impossible to understand how and why the working class in
America evolved as it did without understanding the institution of slavery and
its distinct economic content.

Let us begin at the beginning with Marx.

"In the second type of colonies - plantations- where commercial speculation
figure from the start and production is intended for the world market, the
capitalist mode of production exist, although only in a formal sense, since the
slavery of Negroes precludes free wage laborers, which is the basis of
capitalist production. But the business in which slaves are used is conducted by
capitalist (italicized capitalist in original)."  (Theory of Surplus Value Volume

Further Marx says,

"Where the capitalist outlook prevails, as on American plantations, this
entire surplus value is regarded as profit . . ."  (Capital Volume 3 page 804.)

What is peculiar in "American" development is our specific capitalist

Here at one blow, Marx clearly sets forth the character of capitalist slavery
in North America. Marx says:

"It is however, clear that in any given economic formation of society, where
not the exchange value but the use value of the product predominated, the
surplus labor will be limited by a given set of wants, which may be greater or
less, and that here no boundless thirst for surplus labor arises from the nature
of production itself. Hence in antiquity, overwork become horrible only when
the object is to obtain exchange value in its specific independent money-form;
in the production of gold and silver. Compulsory working to death is here the
recognized form of over-work." (Capital Volume 1).

Marx further explains why slavery in America was a peculiar form of

"But as soon as people, whose production still moves within the lower form of
slave labor, corvee labor, etc. art drawn into the whirlpool of an
international market dominated by the capitalist mode of production, the sale of their
products for export becoming the principle interest, the civilized horrors of
overwork are grafted on the barbaric horrors of slaver, serfdom, etc. Hence the
Negro labor in the Southern states of the American Union preserved something
of a patriarchal character, so long as production was chiefly directed to
immediate consumption. But in proportion as the export of cotton become of vital
interest to these states, the over working of the Negro and sometimes the using
up of his life in seven years labor becomes a factor in a calculated and
calculating system."  (Capital Volume 1)

America was founded by trading companies that granted individuals - such as
George Washington, tracts of land equal to the size of entire states. There
were no feudal economic relations in America and slavery not only distorted
everything America was supposed to stand for and against, but would condition how
the working class was to be formed. Here is the peculiarity of American

Marx does not set the American slave system in the South within the
historical time frame of the primitive accumulation of capital, which most certainly
involves the landing of Europeans in the Americas, transformation of form of
wealth and the slave trade. Marx is describing not the primitive accumulation of
capital but capital reproduction - the value producing system whose shape is
made manifest as bourgeois property relations.

The Northern states, manufacturing the necessities for the slave states, grew
as an appendage to the South. As America grew, the North entered into an
economic revolution from manufacturing to industry. This happened only in the
North. In Europe, the shift to industry caused great dislocation and tremendous
struggle between the towns (the bourgeoisie) and the countryside (feudalist). A
major part of this dislocation was caused by the outflow of serfs into the
towns as they were removed from the land. In America, all this was avoided - in
the main, by importing the industrial workers from Europe. The native-born
American was family farmers and stayed as such for another century. The economic
and social revolution in the North proceeded quite smoothly - compared with
Europe, and caused not world changing social upheaval. This relatively peaceful
transition from pre-industrial to industrial formations has no parallel.

The development of giant industrial enterprises and a new concentration of
money did call into question the political dictatorship of the agricultural
South. Industry, more productive than manufacture, cause the North to break its
economic dependence upon and come into political contradiction with the South.
The events that would lead to the irresistible conflict called the American
Civil War began to unfold.

Marxism in America has had a difficult time owing to our peculiar development
and peculiar composition. There is no "Negro Question" in Germany or Poland,
so it is only natural that these immigrant workers - many of them
revolutionary, would understand social evolution in America couched in the framework
thinking of their native lands. There is no way to understand the profound economic
logic of American history and the current composition of the working class
without understanding the economic logic of what in the past has been called the
Negro Question. Any serious inquiry into American history will show that the
control, manipulation and exploitation of the African American was at the
heart of every major and most of the minor decisions of state prior to the Civil
War, and a good many of them afterwards.

For a number of ideological and political reasons the American colonies
resisted African slavery, preferring to populate the new world with European
indentured servants. In the Caribbean, the plantations and slave system was being
fine-tuned. There, unheard of wealth and fortunes were accumulated on the basis
of the most reckless expenditure of human life known to history. A good
portion of the colonies economic intercourse was servicing the slave system of the
Caribbean. The colonies were never disconnected from African slavery. As the
capitalist system evolved from the slave trade and the Caribbean plantations,
capitalism - bourgeois property relations, became firmly planted in the colonies
and slavery was the historic consequence. Every colony had slavery, and none
of the colonies, north or south could have accumulated and economically moved
forward without the brutal working to death of the slave.

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