[Marxism] Fwd: LSU Press :: Books - Slavery and American Economic Development

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Mar 16 08:53:47 MDT 2018

Just checked the approach of Gavin Wright, one of the people who spoke 
on the slavery/capitalism panel discussion just forwarded:


Wright draws a distinction between slavery as a form of work 
organization (the aspect that has dominated historical debates) and 
slavery as a set of property rights. Slaves could be purchased and 
carried to any location where slavery was legal; they could be assigned 
to any task regardless of gender or age; the could be punished for 
disobedience, with no effective recourse to the law; they could be 
accumulated as a form of wealth; they could be sold or bequeathed. 
Wright argues that slave-based commerce was central to the 
eighteenth-century rise of the Atlantic economy, not because slave 
plantations were superior as a method of organizing production, but 
because slaves could be put to work on sugar plantations that could not 
have attracted free labor on economically viable terms.


This is very interesting since it overlaps with Andreas Malm's point 
about coal replacing watermills in the early stages of the industrial 
revolution. Slavery was introduced because it was the only way of 
commodifying cotton. The use of free labor would have been just as much 
of an obstacle as watermills were in England. Malm's point is that coal 
allowed factories to be built where there was no rivers or streams. This 
meant that free labor could be exploited more efficiently. Slavery and 
free labor complemented each other in the Empire of Cotton.

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