[Marxism] Slavery and capitalism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Dec 11 08:39:46 MST 2014

 From Greg Grandin's "Empire of Necessity":

Slavery, as the historian Lorenzo Greene wrote half a century ago and 
many scholars, such as Harvard's Sven Beckert and Brown's Seth Rockman, 
are today confirming, "formed the very basis of the economic life of New 
England: about it revolved, and on it depended, most of her other 
industries." The expansion of slave labor in the South and into the West 
was still years away, but slavery as it then existed in the southern 
states was already an important source of northern profit, as was the 
already exploding slave trade in the Caribbean and South America. Banks 
capitalized the slave trade and insurance companies underwrote it. 
Covering slave voyages helped start Rhode Island's insurance industry, 
while in Connecticut some of the first policies written by Aetna were on 
slaves' lives. In turn, profits made from loans and insurance policies 
were plowed into other northern businesses. Fathers who "made their 
fortunes outfitting ships for distant voyages" left their money to sons 
who "built factories, chartered banks, incorporated canal and railroad 
enterprises, invested in government securities, and speculated in new 
financial instruments" and donated to build libraries, lecture halls, 
universities, and botanical gardens.

The use of slave labor in the North was ending by the time Amasa was 
building his Perseverance, but throughout New England there were 
merchant families and port towns—Salem, Newport, Providence, Portsmouth, 
and New London among them—that thrived on the trade. Many of the 
millions of gallons of rum distilled annually in Massachusetts a Rhode 
Island were used to obtain slaves, who were then brought to the West 
Indies and traded for sugar and molasses, which were boiled to make more 
rum to be used to acquire more slaves. Other New Englanders benefited 
indirectly, building the slave ships, weaving the "negro cloth” and 
cobbling the shoes to dress slaves, or catching and salting the fish 
used to feed them in the southern states and Caribbean islands. Haiti’s 
plantations purchased 63 percent of their dried fish and 80 percent of 
their pickled fish from New England. In Massachusetts alone, David Brion 
Davis writes, the "West Indian trade employed some ten thousand seamen, 
to say nothing of the workers who built, outfitted, and supplied the ships."

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