Jim Farmelant farmelantj at
Sat Oct 14 04:34:38 PDT 2000

On Fri, 13 Oct 2000 22:33:20 EDT JKSCHW at writes:
> In a message dated 10/13/00 9:43:43 PM Eastern Daylight Time,
> furuhashi.1 at writes:
> I said:
> << The slaves were themselves
> >commodities; their labor was not. But Charles knows this, and
> nothing in our
> >disagreement rests on it. --jks
> Yoshie asks:
> > How can commodities "consent" in the Gramscian sense? Isn't the
> essence of modern capitalist slavery -- unlike wage labor -- the
> absence of "consent," whether one theorizes "consent" a la Gramsci
> or
> social contract theorists?
> Any oppressed group can "consent" in the Gramscian sense (which
> confers no
> legitimacy on the order to which they consent) if its members accept
> the
> conditions of their domination, internalize, at least partly, the
> values that
> make them subordinate, and generally acquiese to their life
> circumstances.
> The fact that the slaves were themselves bought and sold doesn't
> mean that
> they could not thus "consent." So I reject the proposition that
> slavery means
> absence of any sort of consent. In fact, slave societies, which have
> been the
> norm in human history, have been stable for millenia precisely
> because they
> succeeded in enforcing consent.

I wonder though isn't Justin here perhaps confusing slavery as it existed within the American South with the slave societies of antiquity. It seems to me that there were some significant differences between American slavery and ancient slavery. Among them was the fact that in societies like ancient Rome, manumission of saves was common, slaves did possess certain recognized legal rights which were enforceable in the courts. And the kinds of people who were slaves was much more varied. Since most slaves in antiquity were either people who had been taken captive during wars (or the descendents of such captives), there were many slaves who were of privileged origins. Ancient Rome for instance had many educated slaves who were used to man much of the administrative bureaucracies for instance. Under the Empire, there were even strata of privileged slaves who held top positions in the administration and were often significant property owners in their own (owning among other things their own slaves).

I think it may well make sense to apply Gramsci's concept of consent to the analysis of ancient slavery but it seems to me that this concept is of far less utility in analyzing American slavery where naked coercion played a much greater role in.

>Any class society that forfeits all
> consent
> and comes to rest purely on force rapidly becomes unstable.

I am not so sure that American slavery as an institution wasn't inherently unstable. I think Yoshie makes an important point that it was the consent of non-slaveholding whites rather than the consent of the slaves themselves that was the crucial factor in sustaining slavery as an institution n the antebellum South.

Jim F.

> --jks

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