[Marxism] Fwd: Expanding the Slaveocracy | Jacobin
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed Mar 22 07:44:35 MDT 2017
Q: One of the cottage industries in the historical profession right now
is studying the relationship between capitalism and American slavery.
This is an old discussion; it goes way, way back. Karl Marx said things
That’s not exactly the subject of your book, but I’m wondering how you
think your study, which is a study of slaveowners and their vision of
America as a great power in the world, fits into the ongoing debates
about slavery and capitalism nowadays?
A: The book joins a whole series of works that explore the slave South
in a transnational sense. That’s another fashionable aspect:
reemphasizing the dynamism and brutality of antebellum slavery. A lot of
previous scholars — for instance, Robert Fogel and Stanley Engerman —
made the argument that slavery was capitalistic because slaves had the
Protestant work ethic and were well-treated and so on.
The direction of modern scholarship also emphasizes slavery as a
foundational element in global capitalism and American capitalism, but
precisely in the opposite direction. Its brutality, for someone like Ed
Baptist or Walter Johnson, is the source of its dynamism.
I think it’s right to put my book in conversation with those books. In a
way, though, my arguments are more modest about the place of slavery in
global capitalism. I’m not so interested in the deep historiographical
terms — asking “was slavery capitalist?” — but how slaveholders
understood this institution, and how their understanding shaped the
political decisions that led to the Civil War, or in some sense shaped
To an extent much greater than a lot of scholars have realized, they
really did see slavery not simply as the kind of paternal, organically
constructed institution that provided security from the tumult of modern
life or wage labor society — but also as an incredibly dynamic,
world-making, productive institution that was very compatible with the
I don’t want to swallow their arguments whole cloth, because I think
that they were wrong in a lot of important ways. But I think we need to
take seriously what they believed about the institution.
More information about the Marxism