Forwarded from Anthony (part 3 on American history)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed Sep 17 09:57:09 MDT 2003

This is the third in a series of posts aimed at discussing issues related
tot he history and political economy of the USA and Canada. The First two
posts were

Subject: Forwarded from Anthony (US history, etc.) From: Louis Proyect
<lnp3 at> Date: Mon, 15 Sep 2003 08:21:04 -0400

Subject: Forwarded from Anthony (primitive accumulation, etc.) From: Louis
Proyect <lnp3 at> Date: Mon, 15 Sep 2003 12:22:03 -0400 Back to the
15th century.

Pre-Colombian native American societies were not 'primitive' societies,
though European eyes and minds saw them that way. What was true at the time
of the arrival of Europeans in the Americas was that A) Indigenous American
societies did not have a long history of class societies, and most were in
fact not class societies. B) Indigenous societies had not developed or
appropriated all of the same technologies as European societies C) Many,
possibly most, indigenous societies were not yet agricultural.

But, they had developed all kinds of knowledge which did not exist in
Europe, Asia, or Africa. Some of the native American cultures were very
complex societies, including some which had not formed class social relations.

The key difference between Native societies north of Mexico and European
societies was simply population density. (Population density around
Tenochitlan was probably greater than European population density, even in
and around London, at the time of Cortes, but the small pox epidemic
unleashed by the arrival of the Europeans destroyed most or all of that
advantage before Cortes arrived in the valley of Mexico.)

Why do I say this?

Because in the clash of cultures which occurred in the Americas two factors
counted: first was simply whether or not Native American society could
survive the onslaught of old world microbes, second could they win a
protracted war against European invader/settler armies. The key factor on
both counts was numbers. Numbers of people to survive epidemics, numbers of
survivors who could fight wars afterwards.

Numbers was the key because technology is transferable. And military
technology from the 16th to the 19th century meant firearms. All that the
Indians had to do to equalize the battlefield was get some guns, and the
Europeans - market driven as they were fast becoming - were willing to sell
anything that could be sold to anyone.

Small in numbers to begin with, tribal societies debilitated by large
population losses resulting from epidemics caused by European microbes,
could not quickly or easily replace those killed and injured in warfare. On
the other hand, the European invaders kept pouring in larger and larger
numbers of armed immigrants.

 From 1607 to 1750 the population of the British colonies in North America
increased from 0 to somewhere between 2,000,000 and 3,000,000 invaders.
Estimates of the Native American population north of Mexico vary all over
the map, but higher end estimates hover around 25,000,000 - spread from the
Rio Grande to Alaska in 1600 - and steadily, and rapidly declining.

In other words, in the key zones of military conflict, starting on the
Atlantic seaboard and moving west to and over the Appalachian ridge, the
advantage of numbers was overwhelmingly on the side of the European
invaders almost from the beginning.

That numerical disadvantage of indigenous only grew, grew until the days of

The next post will go back to the issue of 'modes of production'.

All the best, Anthony

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