(fwd from Rakesh Bhandari) Sequestering" Resources-- the South and the North

Les Schaffer schaffer at optonline.net
Tue Jul 15 14:34:29 MDT 2003


I wish you had responded to my post directly. It seems that you
included a reply in an answer to another query. I may well miss these
indirect responses, and would appreciate your replying directly in
the future if you wish to reply at all. Thanks.
Unfortunately my reply will be off the cuff as I am rushing out the
door. Perhaps more later.

Wheat was grown in antebellum free and slave states (say the VA
Piedmont). However--and this seems to be your point--only in those
states where profit opportunities were favorable but slavery was
prohibited did powerful pressures build to solve the peak labor
problem through mechanization. Gavin Wright has made this point--are
you relying on him?  As Wright emphasizes, Cyrus McCormick abandoned
the Virginia market after 1845 and moved his reaper business
permanently to Chicago, where it prospered in the wheat boom of the
1850s. Your point seems to be Wright's: in free states mechanization
allowed family farmers to avoid the risks and hassles of dealing with
unreliable non-family labor, and thus enabled them to expand the scale
of their farming operations in a sustainable manner.

I am guessing this is also the point made by Charles Post in a recent
Journal of Agrarian Change to which my library unfortunately does not

The functionalist, GA Cohen-like explanation which you seem to have
given for the North's victory in the Civil War--Northern, free wage
labor agriculture formed a deeper market for the nascent industrial
sector and thus better encouraged the development of the productive
forces--does not establish that capitalism could have, did and can
only develop on the basis of free wage labor or that slave and
otherwise formally unfree labor has at all times and in all branches
and in all areas limited the potentialities of capitalist development
the realization of which potentialities the use of free wage labor
would have otherwise allowed.

I am just not convinced that there were the same possibilities for
solving peak and other labor problems through mechanization in the
case of all crops.  You have not proven that the slave form of
exploitation rather than the crop itself (say cotton or sugar
harvesting) or then extant restricted technical possibilities proved
the most important barrier to heavy mechanization in those farming
activities in which the South specialized. Moreover, economies of
scale can and did derive from the use of slave gang labor in the
production of certain crops (cotton, tobacco, sugar); slave gang labor
also reduces great losses from what would otherwise be the great
turnover of labor.

Though I am far from convinved that the opening of the West as a
deeper market for Northern industrialists is why the North went to war
with the South--is this what you are saying?--I'll agree that northern
manufactuers may have wanted the expansion of family-centered, free
wage labor-based wheat farming over slave plantation agriculture in
the American West. But that does not prove that Northern
industrialists were hindered or fettered by the continued use of
formally unfree proletarian labor in the harvesting of cotton or sugar
harvesting or banana farming (in which the use of formally unfree
child labor is rampant even today) or mining or myriad other
activities (say timber farming in Brazil today). The Northern
industrialists continued to stand on the pedestal of directly forced
labor elsewhere in the world capitalist sytem which recedes from view
given USA- or nation-state-centric blinders.  At any rate, even mining
and agriculture in the American Southwest hardly proceeded on the
basis of formally free wage labor (see Evelyn Nakano Glenn on debt
bondage, payment by scrips, contract labor, impressment of vagabonds,
etc. in her chapter on Anglos and Mexicans in the Southwest in Unequal

One gets in trouble with Wallerstein bashing; he's not the Anti-Marx,
you know. Perhaps he wildly overestimated the capitalist nature of the
Polish second serfdom, but that does not he mean got everything wrong
or that capitalism is inherently incompatible at all time and all
places with formally unfree labor (New World plantation slavery was
much more integrated on the output and input side with the world
market than early modern Polish agriculture, as Blackburn points
out). Moreover, note Ellen Wood's concession to Robert Albritton that
the early English agrarian proletariat in no way appromixated an
idealized free wage labor force.

At any rate, you don't seem to have yet established the intrinsic
connections between capitalism, industrialism and free wage labor.  Of
course you may not be attempting to establish said connections, but
then I am unclear as to what your thesis is.


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