[Marxism] Tomgram: Greg Grandin, The Reparations of History, Paid and Unpaid | TomDispatch

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Feb 25 04:25:51 MST 2014

(Like the N+1 article I posted the other day (a review of Walter 
Johnson's "Soul by Soul", this article by Greg Grandin validates Eric 
Williams's "Capitalism and Slavery" and falsifies Charles Post's 
Brennerite interpretation of American slavery.)

Starting in the 1770s, Spain began to deregulate the slave trade, hoping 
to establish what merchants, not mincing any words, called a “free trade 
in blacks.” Decades before slavery exploded in the United States 
(following the War of 1812 with Great Britain), the slave population 
increased dramatically in Spanish America. Enslaved Africans and African 
Americans slaughtered cattle and sheared wool on the pampas of 
Argentina, spun cotton and wove clothing in textile workshops in Mexico 
City, and planted coffee in the mountains outside Bogotá. They fermented 
grapes for wine at the foot of the Andes and boiled Peruvian sugar to 
make candy. In Guayaquil, Ecuador, enslaved shipwrights built cargo 
vessels that were used for carrying more slaves from Africa to 
Montevideo. Throughout the thriving cities of mainland Spanish America, 
slaves worked, often for wages, as laborers, bakers, brick makers, 
liverymen, cobblers, carpenters, tanners, smiths, rag pickers, cooks, 
and servants.

It wasn’t just their labor that spurred the commercialization of 
society. The driving of more and more slaves inland and across the 
continent, the opening up of new slave routes and the expansion of old 
ones, tied hinterland markets together and created local circuits of 
finance and trade. Enslaved peoples were investments (purchased and then 
rented out as laborers), credit (used to secure loans), property, 
commodities, and capital, making them an odd mix of abstract and 
concrete value. Collateral for loans and items for speculation, slaves 
were also objects of nostalgia, mementos of a fading aristocratic world 
even as they served as the coin for the creation of a new commercialized 

Slaves literally made money: working in Lima’s mint, they trampled 
quicksilver into ore with their bare feet, pressing toxic mercury into 
their bloodstream in order to amalgamate the silver used for coins. And 
they were money -- at least in a way. It wasn’t that the value of 
individual slaves was standardized in relation to currency, but that 
slaves were quite literally the standard.  When appraisers calculated 
the value of any given hacienda, or estate, slaves usually accounted for 
over half of its worth; they were, that is, much more valuable than 
inanimate capital goods like tools and millworks


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