Forward from Anthony--Reply to Les

dms dmschanoes at
Fri Jul 11 19:47:44 MDT 2003


Just a short note in reply to Les and others on the relation of slavery
to tropical and semitropical climates, (The answer is in the middle of
the post)and a little bit about primitve accumulation of capital.

Chattel slavery as practiced from around the 15th century until the end
of the 19th century, became a major social-economic factor in response
to two factors: the formation of a world 'mass' market for some
agricultural commodities - particularly sugar, but also rice, tobacco,
indigo, etc. - and a 'shortage of labor' (defined not not as the absence
of people, but as the absence of people willing to work for low wages on
sugar plantations - the details of those particular labor shortages are
worth discussin and have to do witht he European conquests of Africa and
the Americas, and to a lesser extent of Asia.)

Those mass market crops were tropical.

But chattel slavery did not spread in a massive way to temperate climate
crops - like wheat, barley, apples, pears, wine, etc. Even though those
were also mass market crops and could be grown on very large expanses of
land. The closest thing to chattel slavery that did in fact develop in
colder climates appeared in Eastern Europe in the second coming of
serfdom - especially East Prussia and in Russia. But serfs there were
tied to the land (unlike chatel slaves who could be bought and sold
seperately from land), and were not easily bought and sold seperate
fromt he land they were tied to. The enserfment of Eastern European
peasants, was in response to the same two pressures that brought about
the rise of tropical chattel slavery: mass amrket crops (in the
prussiana nd Russsian cases, wheat - and a labor shortage.)

Chattel slavery did make important inroads into non-tropical climates in
Europe and the United States, but never became the dominant social
relation in agriculture, or industry, although it may have been in
household domestic se4rvitiude.

The main rieason it did not become a more important social relation in
colder areas was the fact that the slave owner had to maintain the slave
all year round, even during the winter when agricutural work,
construction work, most fishing, and many other activities completely
stopped or were severely curtailed. The slave owner still ahd to feed,
clothe, and keep alive his valuable property.

This could be a major expense.

It was simply cheaper to hire wage workers for short periods of time -
e.g. the harvest, or for planting, - and then lay them off. No expenses
to be paid during the off season.

I think there is a great danger in making arguments about social development
based on the "natural conditions" of labor.  The difficulty is that the
explanations already assume a developed scale for measuring productivity,
profitablility; assume a knowledge of the connections of climate and crops;
assume that the formation of the particular mode of production was in
response to nature, or the demands of the world market upon nature, rather
than the pre-existing social relations of production.

 To say that the plantation/slave system developed in response to the
blessings of a tropical climate is in fact to miss the evolution of the
plantation/slave system itself within those climates; it misses the fact
that the plantation/slave system developed quite well in non-tropical
climates where the issues of shelter, clothing, heat were dealt with, or
not, based on the economics of slavery; and it misses the fact that the
plantation systems have functioned without slavery as part of capital's
universe of accumulation.

It might be more fruitful to look at the patterns of land distribution
within specific historical periods in specific geopgraphic areas-- in the
Caribbean in the Spanish colonies, extensive expropriations and assignments
of land were afforded the church, the conquistadors, the colonists in order
to induce settlement.  Working the land, something the colonists were loathe
to do, was something else again, and that something else was the destruction
of the Taino, Arawak, Carib peoples, and then, in desperation the shipment
of slaves years after the slave trade had been in existence, exporting
slaves to Europe.  If I remember correctly the first slave ship arrives in
the Caribbean 1510?, some 65 years or so after the first consignment of
African slaves is landed in Portugal.

I think it would be helpful to look at the pattern of land distribution in
the US colonies, and again the "characteristics" of the settlers, which were
truly different between North and South, with the North getting a good dose
of the "Cromwellians," and the South the pretenders to landed oligarchy.  I
have just been able to track down the census data for 1790,1810,
1830,40,50,60, so I have to go back and look at agricultural holdings to see
if the size of the holdings varies significantly by state.

However, the main point is that in the US the formation of the
slave/plantation economy is not a function of tropical climate and the issue
of clothing and sheltering slaves was resolved in all climates by working
the slaves to death.  The statistics on slave death rates in Brazil are
about the worst.

Regarding slavery in the US and primitive accumulation-- despite many
disagreements, I think MP has hit it right on the head: slavery in the US
was not primitive accumulation, it was part of the system of capitalist
reproduction.  Clearly, the program for Reconstsruction after the war shows
that as its goal is not to separate the African-American from the land, but
to attach the former slaves to the land as farmers, individual proprietors
with collective power in order to shatter the Southern structures.  The fact
that capital pulls back from this mission, restores the Southern landed
oligarchs, indicates just how deeply dependent capital had become on the
security of large landed property, how threatened it was by free black
labor, how the progress of capitalist reproduction could be measured in the
strength of archaic forms of property.


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