LeoCasey at LeoCasey at
Mon Oct 16 08:00:10 PDT 2000

CB writes: << The mark of capitalism is when the market is the predominant economic form. The market was the predominant form in the era of U.S. slavery. >>

Hardly so. The defining feature of capitalism is a market in wage labor, which leads in classical Marxist theory to the essential contradiction between the class of wage labor and the class of capital. This clearly requires "free" wage labor -- labor which is neither enslaved nor owed, in a relationship of vassalage, to a feudal lord. The fact that there was a world market, centered on industrial economies which were predominantly capitalist (Great Britain, US North, parts of Western Europe) does not make every economy in the world capitalist. It would be a good idea to read _Capital_ on this issue, and not just cite it.

<< Or lectures by Herbert Aptheker on the slavocracy as the ruling class of U.S. capitalism in the decades before the Civil War. >>

At the very best, the slaveowning class was a "ruling class" in the slave states. The notion that they constituted the "ruling class" in the North, which also happened to be the dominant and far more dynamic economic region of the country, is so absurd as to be laughable. Even vulgar "economism" would not make such a claim.

<< Also, slavery along with colonialism were the chief momenta of the primitive accumulation of capitalism. Modern slavery was a without which not for capitalism. >>

Again, the fact that modern slavery existed in the context of an emerging world market dominated by capitalist economies does not make it capitalist. There is a rather substantial school of Marxist historiography which looks at the articulation of different modes of production in the period of emerging capitalism. The classic work here, which I already cited, was Laclau's critique of the work of Ander Gundre Frank which was reproduced in his _Ideology and Politics in Marxist Theory_. To the extent to which radical analyses of the economic development of the periphery have used Marxist categories in the last 25 years, they have all spoken specifically of the articulation of capitalist and pre- or non-capitalist modes of production.

There is no reputable radical or Marxist historian of new world slavery that I have found in the rather substantial literature who would make the claim that such slavery was capitalist -- this is hardly a position unique to Genovese. There are some works by economic historians in a distinctly neo-classical vein (the much criticized work of Fogel and Engerman, _Time on the Cross_, comes to mind) which come much closer to that position, but that is based on their completely disregard for the centrality of the form of labor to the nature of the economy. But as for Marxist and radical historians and students of slavery -- not only Genovese, but also Eric Foner, David Brion Davis, Ira Berlin, Harold Woodson, Barbara Fields, Winthrop Jordan, Herbet Guttman, Jacqueline Jones, John Hope Franklin, etc. -- I know of not one who would make the claim that American slavery was capitalist in nature. In fact, the consensus is that the "sharecropping" system which replaced slavery was still not a capitalist economy as commonly understood.

Leo Casey United Federation of Teachers 260 Park Avenue South New York, New York 10010-7272 (212-598-6869)

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has, and it never will. If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightening. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its waters. -- Frederick Douglass --

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