[Marxism] Legacies of the Slave Past in the Post-Slave Present

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Oct 2 14:25:32 MDT 2015

Today I had the very great pleasure to attend a couple of sessions at a 
conference on slavery and capitalism held at Columbia. Yesterday it met 
at the CUNY Grad Center.

It gave me the opportunity to meet FB friend Richard Drayton, who is 
writing a book on the role of the Caribbean islands in the origins of 
capitalism. I also met Sven Beckert, the author of "Empire of Cotton", 
who gave a presentation on capitalism and slavery. During the discussion 
period after his talk, Robin Blackburn and Eric Foner made very 
substantive contributions. Here is overview of the conference:


Several years ago, Catherine Hall, Nick Draper, and Keith McClelland 
launched a project at University College, London, on the “Legacies of 
British Slave Ownership.” The project sought to document the impact of 
slave ownership on the formation of modern Britain. Phase one involved 
building a searchable, publicly accessible, database containing the 
identity of all slave-owners in the British Caribbean, Mauritius, and 
the Cape at the time of slave abolition in 1833. The recently published 
book, Legacies of British Slave-Ownership: Colonial Slavery and the 
Formation of Victorian Britain (2014), is a collaborative work based on 
this phase. In phase two the researchers are now inquiring into the 
structure and significance of slave ownership in the British Caribbean 
between 1763 and 1833.

This is a timely and enormously instructive research project, with wide 
implications for rethinking the present of past slaving and slave 
societies. It is timely inasmuch as it converges with the re-emergence 
of serious scholarly and public discussion (in the Caribbean, Brazil, 
and the United States) about the long aftermaths of New World slavery in 
terms of the question of the repair of that historical injustice. It is 
instructive partly because it demonstrates the possibility of detailing 
the scale of value placed on slaves at the time of abolition, but also 
because, in excavating the pathways of capitalist financial interests in 
slavery (both state and private) it points to possible ways of 
articulating a contemporary counter-veiling reparatory claim—a material 
claim about justice for the descendants of the enslaved.


I was told that the talks will soon be available online, which is great 
news. Speaking from the heart, I am deeply gratified that this 
reconnection with the Eric Williams/CLR James tradition is being made.

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