[Marxism] Pomeranz - another point

James Zarichny zarichny at yahoo.com
Tue Oct 11 05:23:34 MDT 2005

Charles Brown wrote: “It still is the case that in
order to even consider chattel slavery as one of the
options for dealing with the unstable labor population
means that chattel slavery has to be part of your
cultural thinking, your ideology. There were no slaves
in England, and hadn't been for hundreds of years. So,
the idea of slavery was not based on something
actually existing in England at the time. It seems
plausible that the idea of using slavery to fill the
labor shortage comes in part from the cultural memory
of the earlier slave societies. “ 

My response:
The question comes up of what in the cultural thinking
of the Spaniards led them to opt for slavery.

In the study group in which I participated a long time
ago  (1958-1959) we discussed this question.  In the
scholarly literature that was available at that time,
the consensus was that the people who lived in the
tropical regions near the Atlantic were agricultural
when the Europeans encountered them.  That part of
Africa had developed a class society based on slavery
in which slaves were sold.  

Within ten years of the discovery of America, the
Spaniards realized they could make a fortune by
growing sugar cane in the New World.  Europe was too
cold for sugar cane and labor was desperately needed
in the New World.  In Africa, some of the aristocracy
sold some of their slaves to the Spaniards..  There
was no cultural thinking, no legacy of ancient Greece
or Rome, just a normal business deal.  Unfortunately,
I was not able to keep up with the literature over the
past half century, and I wonder I this is still the
historians view.  

Naturally, the Catholic Church in Rome had to be
consulted.  The Vatican ruled that slavery was OK
because it would put the slaves in contact with
Christians who could convert them and give them a
chance to enter heaven after they died.  The Vatican
ruled that the Spaniards, by giving the slaves a
chance for eternal salvation, were doing the slaves a

The English encountered slavery much later than the
Spaniards and  developed it in a much more greedy
brutal form.  Their reaction was to raise the question
of whether the Africans had a soul. Their very
humanity was questioned.  It was out of this
discussion that the white race was invented.
        Jim Zarichny

Yahoo! Mail - PC Magazine Editors' Choice 2005 

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