[Marxism] Fwd: Slavery and Capitalism - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Ralph Johansen mdriscollrj at charter.net
Sat Dec 13 17:09:02 MST 2014

Mark Lause wrote

American slavery was always integral to American capitalism. If you 
could unpack that four-line second sentence, I might have a more 
involved reaction. It's not a question of what's preferable in the sense 
of analyzing a system but of explaning what that system was. Even when 
you look at slavery close up, it was often something that smudged into 
wage labor.

A capitalist could make money by owning a little factory in Baltimore, 
investing in a ship, and owning a plantation in the Maryland 
countryside. That makes him . . . a capitalist, right?

On the second sentence, which reads:

"The essential point is that a system which is by its nature an openly 
despotic form of reproduction resting on ownership and unrestrained 
political exploitation of slaves is incompatible with capitalism, where 
the producers are also consumers and where therefore this would create 
enormous complications in the core of this system of reproduction; and 
therefore, "wage-slavery" is preferable as the preponderant form, and 
especially in the metropolitan areas. (Again I am indebted to Meszaros 
for calling this to my attention.)"

As I see it, the reason that Meszaros says that a slave-holding regime 
is incompatible with accumulation of capital (over any sustained period) 
is that this system is predicated for feasible reproduction of capital 
on the reciprocity between the worker's dual role as wage-earner 
producing product and the consumer purchasing product - a role that 
slavery cannot fulfill.

Let me ask: capitalism has in its history incorporated, sometimes 
existed alongside and always subordinated to itself many other modes of 
production and reproduction, still does, including the vestiges of 
feudalism and many other mercantile, tributary, landholding and enforced 
servitude systems, all over the place. Isn't this part of primitive 
accumulation, of processes enabling at length capital settling into 
generation of surplus-value through the imposition of wage-labor?

This is somewhat aside but still relevant: I remember that while in 
Kenya I learned how the British, needing the product of the farms of the 
Kikuyu in the rich loam in the foothills of Mount Kenya and elsewhere 
for the sustenance of the enterprises arising in Nairobi and Mombasa, 
and the tea and coffee plantations along the shores of Lake Victoria, 
imposed a hut tax on the farmers, which in order to pay required that 
the Kikuyu generate a cash surplus and thereby enter into the cash nexus 
and ultimately into the wage-labor regime emanating from the 
metropolitan area. The surplus was initially generated by primitive 
accumulation. It soon developed into a capitalist regime based on 
wage-labor. Isn't slave-holding primitive accumulation in a sense much 
the same?

Do you have an example where the capitalist system has been able to 
sustain its reproduction while maintaining any of these other systems in 
a preponderant role? That is, can capitalism rely primarily on other 
than wage labor for any length of time (however wage-labor may be 
reinforced by extra-economic means temporarily, maybe as under the 
various authoritarian and fascist regimes that have inevitably arisen) - 
and still be able to reproduce capital and function effectively as a 
"consumer society" based on the reciprocal (dialectical?) relationship 
between the wage-earner and the products of wage-derived production, and 
I repeat, over a sustained period?

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