Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Sat Oct 14 12:39:55 PDT 2000

James Farmelant posted:

>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.

Exactamente. I'm rather baffled by Justin's apparent inability to get this point. That American slave owners' ideology was paternalistic & sometimes anti-capitalist, as Genovese correctly argues (though Genovese overstates, in my view, anti-capitalist components of slave owners' ideology), doesn't mean that the social formation in question was in reality paternalistic in the style of pre-modern class societies with serfs or slaves, much less that slaves themselves "spontaneously" consented to the ideology of paternalism in the Gramscian sense of consent.

> >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.

At the very beginning of the American importation of Africans, statuses of white indentured servants & African bondsmen differed very little, and non-slave-owning whites whose status was comparable to enslaved Africans, I believe, did not suffer from modern racism, certainly not to the extent that they would later. It is only _through the process_ in which chattel slavery as such got invented and consolidated that non-slave-owning whites' consent was won by the ruling classes of capitalists and slave owners. It took some time before the proletariat from England, Scotland, France, etc. came to think of themselves as white and therefore to believe -- incorrectly -- that they had the same interests as slave-owning & capitalist whites. Hegemony is a question of process and hence inherently unstable. For instance, if the French or the Spanish, instead of the British, had conquered the whole of North America and made it their colony, we would not have had the one-drop rule; hell, in the event of the French conquest, North American slaves could have emancipated themselves together with slaves in Haiti (1791-1803), for the French would have had to acquiesce to the emancipation of blacks under the duress of the Anti-Jacobin War!

Even after chattel slavery got consolidated, depending on local relations of production, slaves' own conceptions of themselves, masters, non-slave-owning whites, etc. differed widely. Further, chattel slavery in the American South, from its very birth, was a subordinate mode of production under the ether of the dominant mode of production that originated in England -- recall Robert Brenner here, or Marx himself: "Under all forms of society there is a certain industry which predominates over all the rest and whose condition therefore determines the rank and influence of all the rest. It is the universal light with which all other colours are tinged and by whose peculiarity they are modified. It is a special ether which determines the specific gravity of everything that appears in it (_Grundrisse_, 356). The ether of capitalism shaped slave owners, non-slave-owning whites, and slaves -- their work, lives, & ideas -- in North America, despite the fact that the local relation of production was not based upon wage labor. Otherwise, how could Thomas Jefferson -- a slave owner -- be a man of the Enlightenment???

Now, listen to C. L. R. James: "Negro slavery was more or less patriarchal _so long as consumption was directed to immediate local needs_. But in proportion as the export of cotton became of interest to the United States, patriarchal slavery was, in the words of Marx, 'drawn into the whirlpool of an international market dominated by the capitalistic mode of production.' The structure of production relations was thereby altered. By 1860 there were over 2,000 plantations each with over a hundred slaves. Division of labor increased. Slaves began to perform skilled labor, were hired out for wages. _Slave production took on more and more the character of social labor_. The slave revolts that began in 1800 were therefore of an entirely different character from those of the seventeenth and eighteenth century" (emphasis mine, C. L. R. James, Ch. 14 "Stalinism and Negro History," _C. L. R. James and Revolutionary Marxism_, eds. Scott McLemee & Paul Le Blanc, NJ: Humanities Press, 1994, p. 190).

Frederick Douglass understood how white workers' _consent to the rule of capitalists & slave owners as well as resistance to competition_ created their own peculiar racism, which differed from slave traders', owners', & drivers' racism:

***** In a few weeks after I went to Baltimore, Master Hugh hired me to Mr. William Gardner, an extensive ship-builder, on Fell's Point. I was put there to learn how to calk....

This was my school for eight months; and I might have remained there longer, but for a most horrid fight I had with four of the white apprentices, in which my left eye was nearly knocked out, and I was horribly mangled in other respects. The facts in the case were these: Until a very little while after I went there, white and black ship-carpenters worked side by side, and no one seemed to see any impropriety in it. All hands seemed to be very well satisfied. Many of the black carpenters were freemen. Things seemed to be going on very well. All at once, the white carpenters knocked off, and said they would not work with free colored workmen. Their reason for this, as alleged, was, that if free colored carpenters were encouraged, they would soon take the trade into their own hands, and poor white men would be thrown out of employment. They therefore felt called upon at once to put a stop to it. And, taking advantage of Mr. Gardner's necessities [of building two large man-of-war brigs, professedly for the Mexican government, to be launched in the July of that year, and in the event of failure to deliver the brigs on time, Mr. Gardner was to lose a considerable sum, according to Douglass], they broke off, swearing they would work no longer, unless he would discharge his black carpenters. Now, though this did not extend to me in form, it did reach me in fact. My fellow-apprentices very soon began to feel it degrading to them to work with me. They began to put on airs, and talk about the "n-words" taking the country, saying we all ought to be killed; and, being encouraged by the journeymen, they commenced making my condition as hard as they could, by hectoring me around, and sometimes striking me. I, of course, kept the vow I made after the fight with Mr. Covey, and struck back again, regardless of consequences; and while I kept them from combining, I succeeded very well; for I could whip the whole of them, taking them separately. They, however, at length combined, and came upon me, armed with sticks, stones, and heavy handspikes....It was impossible to stand my hand against so many. All this took place in sight of no less than fifty white ship-carpenters, and not one interposed a friendly word; but some cried, "Kill the damned n-word! Kill him! Kill him! He struck a white person." I found my only chance for life was in flight. (Frederick Douglass, "Narratives of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself," _The Oxford Frederick Douglass Reader_, NY: Oxford UP, 1996, p. 81) *****

And what of Douglass himself? Did he consent to the rule of the masters? Did he consent to paternalism?

***** In the course of one year from the time I left Mr. Gardner's, I was able to command the highest wages given to the most experienced calkers. I was now of some importance to my master. I was bringing him from six to seven dollars per week. I sometimes brought him nine dollars per week: my wages were a dollar and a half a day. After learning how to calk, I sought my own employment, made my own contracts, and collected the money which I earned. My pathway became much more smooth than before; my condition was now much more comfortable. When I could get no calking to do, I did nothing. During these leisure times, those old notions about freedom would steal over me again. When in Mr. Gardner's employment, I was kept in such a perpetual whirl of excitement, I could think of nothing, scarcely, but my life; and in thinking of my life, I almost forgot my liberty. I have observed this in my experience of slavery, -- that whenever my condition was improved, instead of its increasing my contentment, it only increased my desire to be free, and set me to thinking of plans to gain my freedom....

I was now getting, as I have said, one dollar and fifty cents per day. I contracted for it; I earned it; it was paid to me; it was rightfully my own; yet, upon each returning Saturday night, I was compelled to deliver every cent of that money to Master Hugh. And why? Not because he earned it, -- not because he had any hand in earning it, -- not because I owed it to him, -- nor because he possessed the slightest shadow of a right to it; _but solely because he had the power to compel me to give it up. The right of the grim-visaged pirate upon the high seas is exactly the same_. (emphasis mine, Douglass, p. 83) *****

In other words, slaves may have consented to _capitalism_ but not to _slavery_. They saw the difference and preferred the former to the latter; that they could not always act on this preference -- because of overwork which did not allow slaves to think of anything other than survival, of the power of the hegemonic block of white capitalists, white slave owners, & white artisans, workers, & small-holders who feared competition posed by free blacks, of prohibition of literacy & free assembly which made extensive propaganda work nearly impossible, divisions of labor that separated skilled slaves from mere field hands, etc. -- _in no way_ signifies that slaves "spontaneously" consented to the hegemony of slave owners because of their moral and intellectual prestige.


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