[Marxism] Factory Made – The New Inquiry

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Apr 12 08:57:03 MDT 2018

BY the middle of the 19th century, political economists agreed that 
slavery was archaic as well as brutal, unprofitable as well as 
unconscionable. They were inspired by an idea of “the market,” an 
idealized economic space governed by natural laws as immutable as 
entropy or gravity. The market treasured the right to freely sell one’s 
labor; the market abhorred slavery. But on the eve of the war of the 
rebellion in the United States, Southern slave owners argued that 
slavery was the future. In the industrial areas of the northern United 
States and western Europe, battles for fair wages and better conditions 
had been contests over the definition of “freedom” within the strictly 
regulated and heavily capitalized confines of factory work. “Wage 
slavery” was the opposite of a good working-class job. And yet, although 
most enslaved African Americans did agricultural labor, tobacco 
processing plants in the Upper South, iron foundries in Alabama, and a 
wide range of other industries employed more and more unfree people.

In 1851, De Bow’s Review, a leading journal of the slave-owning class, 
published a lengthy essay on the “Future of the South” that set out a 
plan to accelerate this marriage of industrialization and slavery. 
Cotton, the essay noted, was Britain’s most important manufacturing 
sector, the cornerstone of the most advanced industrial economy on 
earth. Cheap cotton cloth had become a staple across Europe and the 
Americas. Easy to clean, easy to replace, more comfortable than wool, 
and much cheaper than silk, it had made life easier for millions. The 
essay posited that although the factories that turned raw cotton into 
finished cloth relied on free labor, the raw material itself had “bound 
the fortunes of American slaves so firmly to human progress, that 
civilization itself may almost be said to depend” upon the preservation 
of slavery. The essay acknowledged that the Atlantic and the Mason-Dixon 
separated the slave power from the mills of Manchester and 
Massachusetts. However, mechanization seemed to promise a dramatic 
reduction in the number of people required for agricultural labor, 
freeing up an enslaved industrial workforce. As cotton refineries and 
cloth factories sprouted in the South, the entire Mississippi Valley 
would become a giant factory and New Orleans would become Liverpool, 
“communicating by the father of waters with that vast region which is to 
be the Manchester of the world.”

full: https://thenewinquiry.com/factory-made/

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