[Marxism] Interesting feedback on Screening Slavery

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 23 05:53:50 MST 2013

I just read through this article at Counterpunch.

I wish the full version of “Queimada” were available in English.  I 
first saw this film about 20 years ago, and it really set the hook in 
me.  It's also a good military history film, showing "hard" 
counterinsurgency methods in action.

About “Quilombo”.  First, thanks.  I had never heard of this film until 
I read your piece.

Second, you pose the question: "Your first reaction to “Quilombo” is to 
question whether such a scenario could apply to the United States since 
we never saw a Palmares, or did we?".

I first ran across mention of escaped slave communities in the Americas 
in Charles Mann's "1493".  I don't recall off hand whether he mentions 
Palmares by name, but he certainly validates it by type. These popped up 
*frequently*; some of them still exist as suburbs of modern Brazilian 
cities!   He also discusses the geography of the phenomenon.

Once these people had successfully escaped and had broken contact with 
their pursuers, the local geography, namely tropical rain forest, worked 
very strongly in their favor.  This is literally trackless; if you do 
not actually live there, the chances you're going to find a small-town 
sized community that's even a few miles distant, within a 
administratively stipulated span of time (months) are too small to see, 
unless they actively want to be found.  If they don't, *navigation* 
becomes a very high bar indeed.

If you actually find the place, you then face the chore of reducing it 
by military force.  Thanks to the tropical diseases that were also 
imported during the colonization process, you'd really be better off of 
you *don't* try to import European troops to do this; most of them will 
be dead with a year at most.  Assuming they don't mutiny when they learn 
their orders are taking them to the West Indies; that used to happen 
too.  Along with officers simply resigning their commissions.

Your local militias aren't very skilled at infantry warfare?  Tough 
luck, you're still better off using them than you are sending to 
Portugal for help.  Even if they don't know which end of a musket to 
point where.  Since they've lived in the colony from infancy, they're 
probably somewhat resistant to malaria and immune to yellow fever (a 
virus, so if you survive one bout, you're immune for life).  Portuguese 
troops, on the other hand .... pretty much the only thing they're ever 
going to conquer is their own graves.  J.R. McNeill wrote whole book 
exploring this issue: "Mosquito Empires".  I heartily recommend it if 
you have not already read it.

Bottom line: everywhere you look in Brazil and the Caribbean shore of 
South America, particularly along the northern coasts (infamous 
pestholes, the French revolutionaries called Guyana the "dry 
guillotine") and the Amazon Basin, you see asymmetries, and quite a few 
of these favor the escaped slaves.

In North America, not so much.  Tropical diseases, yes, particularly 
south of the Mason-Dixon line.  But tropical rain forest, curst little. 
  And, of course, the antebellum South developed effective *local* 
militaries.  These included effective light cavalry after 1844.  The 
effective military basis of repression was *local*, so the diseases 
acted on a more level immunological playing field. The resulting 
military balance was so grossly unfavorable to the slaves that they 
never really stood a reasonable chance.


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