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Commentary :: War and Militarism
for July 4th-singing John Lennon-against blind patriotism
03 Jul 2014
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american_way.jpg
The American Way
Hi peaceful people,
For all of you who can't get into the blind
patriotism of July 4th and the wars it causes,
my cover of the many covered song "Imagine":
http://soundclick.com/share.cfm?id=12845039

Some relevant quotes:
Ben Franklin-"there has never been a good war or
a bad peace".
Thomas Jefferson-"when the people fear the government,
there is tyranny-when the government fears the people,
there is liberty".
British philosopher Samuel Johnson, 1775-"patriotism is the last refuge
of a scoundrel".
let's all celebrate freedom from war
and social injustice- the real freedom,
Michael Borkson
Boston, Mass.(the birthplace of the revolution)
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What to the slave is the Fourth of July?
04 Jul 2014
Frederick_Douglass_portrait-a.jpg
( Rochester Ladies' Anti-Slavery Society on July 5, 1852 )

Fellow citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here today? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and natural justice, embodies in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful. For who is there so cold, that a nation's sympathy could not warm him? Who so obdurate and dead to the claims of gratitude, that would not thankfully acknowledge such priceless benefits? Who so stolid and selfish, that would not give his voice to swell the hallelujahs of a nation's jubilee, when the chains of servitude had been torn from his limbs? I am not that man. In a case like that, the dumb might eloquently speak, and the "lame man leap as an hart."

But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me.

This Fourth July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak today?

Fellow citizens, above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wail of millions!--whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, today, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them. If I do forget, if I do not faithfully remember those bleeding children of sorrow this day, "may my right hand forget her cunning, and may my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!" To forget them, to pass lightly over their wrongs, and to chime in with the popular theme, would be treason most scandalous and shocking, and would make me a reproach before God and the world.

My subject, then, fellow citizens, is American slavery. I shall see this day and its popular characteristics from the slave's point of view. Standing there, identified with the American bondman, making his wrongs mine, I do not hesitate to declare, with all my soul, that the character and conduct of this nation never looked blacker to me than on this Fourth of July!

Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future. Standing with God and the crushed and bleeding slave on this occasion, I will, in the name of humanity which is outraged, in the name of liberty which is fettered, in the name of the Constitution and Bible which are disregarded and trampled upon, dare to call in question and to denounce, with all the emphasis I can command, everything that serves to perpetuate slavery--the great sin and shame of America!

"I will not equivocate; I will not excuse"; I will use the severest language I can command; and yet not one word shall escape me that any man, whose judgment is not blinded by prejudice, or who is not at heart a slaveholder, shall not confess to be right and just.

But I fancy I hear some of my audience say, it is just in this circumstance that you and your brother abolitionists fail to make a favorable impression on the public mind. Would you argue more, and denounce less, would you persuade more, and rebuke less, your cause would be much more likely to succeed.

But, I submit, where all is plain there is nothing to be argued. What point in the anti-slavery creed would you have me argue? On what branch of the subject do the people of this country need light? Must I undertake to prove that the slave is a man? That point is conceded already. Nobody doubts it. The slaveholders themselves acknowledge it in the enactment of laws for their government. They acknowledge it when they punish disobedience on the part of the slave. There are 72 crimes in the state of Virginia, which, if committed by a black man (no matter how ignorant he be), subject him to the punishment of death; while only two of the same crimes will subject a white man to the like punishment.

What is this but the acknowledgment that the slave is a moral, intellectual and responsible being? The manhood of the slave is conceded. It is admitted in the fact that Southern statute books are covered with enactments forbidding, under severe fines and penalties, the teaching of the slave to read or to write.

When you can point to any such laws, in reference to the beasts of the field, then I may consent to argue the manhood of the slave. When the dogs in your streets, when the fowls of the air, when the cattle on your hills, when the fish of the sea, and the reptiles that crawl, shall be unable to distinguish the slave from a brute, then will I argue with you that the slave is a man!

For the present, it is enough to affirm the equal manhood of the Negro race. Is it not astonishing that, while we are plowing, planting, and reaping, using all kinds of mechanical tools, erecting houses, constructing bridges, building ships, working in metals of brass, iron, copper, silver and gold; that, while we are reading, writing and ciphering, acting as clerks, merchants and secretaries, having among us lawyers, doctors, ministers, poets, authors, editors, orators and teachers; that, while we are engaged in all manner of enterprises common to other men, digging gold in California, capturing the whale in the Pacific, feeding sheep and cattle on the hillside, living, moving, acting, thinking, planning, living in families as husbands, wives and children, and, above all, confessing and worshipping the Christian's God, and looking hopefully for life and immortality beyond the grave, we are called upon to prove that we are men!

Would you have me argue that man is entitled to liberty? That he is the rightful owner of his own body? You have already declared it. Must I argue the wrongfulness of slavery?...To do so, would be to make myself ridiculous, and to offer an insult to your understanding. There is not a man beneath the canopy of heaven who does not know that slavery is wrong for him.

What, am I to argue that it is wrong to make men brutes, to rob them of their liberty, to work them without wages, to keep them ignorant of their relations to their fellow men, to beat them with sticks, to flay their flesh with the lash, to load their limbs with irons, to hunt them with dogs, to sell them at auction, to sunder their families, to knock out their teeth, to burn their flesh, to starve them into obedience and submission to their masters? Must I argue that a system thus marked with blood, and stained with pollution, is wrong? No! I will not. I have better employments for my time and strength than such arguments would imply.

What, then, remains to be argued? Is it that slavery is not divine; that God did not establish it; that our doctors of divinity are mistaken? There is blasphemy in the thought. That which is inhuman cannot be divine! Who can reason on such a proposition? They that can, may; I cannot. The time for such argument is passed.

At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. Oh! Had I the ability, and could reach the nation's ear, I would today pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.

What to the American slave is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy--a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.

Go where you may, search where you will, roam through all the monarchies and despotisms of the Old World, travel through South America, search out every abuse, and when you have found the last, lay your facts by the side of the everyday practices of this nation, and you will say with me that, for revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.

Fellow citizens, the murderous traffic [the slave trade] is today in active operation in this boasted republic. In the solitude of my spirit, I see clouds of dust raised on the highways of the South; I see the bleeding footsteps; I hear the doleful wail of fettered humanity, on the way to the slave markets, where the victims are to be sold like horses, sheep, and swine, knocked off to the highest bidder. There I see the tenderest ties ruthlessly broken, to gratify the lust, caprice and rapacity of the buyers and sellers of men. My soul sickens at the sight.

Fellow citizens! The existence of slavery in this country brands your republicanism as a sham, your humanity as a base pretence, and your Christianity as a lie. It destroys your moral power abroad; it corrupts your politicians at home. It saps the foundation of religion; it makes your name a hissing, and a byword to a mocking earth. It is the antagonistic force in your government, the only thing that seriously disturbs and endangers your Union. It fetters your progress; it is the enemy of improvement, the deadly foe of education; it fosters pride; it breeds insolence; it promotes vice; it shelters crime; it is a curse to the earth that supports it; and yet, you cling to it, as if it were the sheet anchor of all your hopes.

Oh be warned! Be warned! A horrible reptile is coiled up in your nation's bosom; the venomous creature is nursing at the tender breast of your youthful republic; for the love of God, tear away, and fling from you the hideous monster, and let the weight of twenty millions crush and destroy it forever!
Equality and the Fourth of July
05 Jul 2014
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4 July 2014

The Fourth of July celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, signed by representatives of the 13 colonies to proclaim their separation from the King of Great Britain on this day, 238 years ago.

The Declaration of Independence marked a major turning point in history, not only for the people of what would become the United States of America, but for the entire world. In announcing their irrevocable break from the British monarchy, the founders sought to realize in practice the great progressive conceptions of the Enlightenment.

Equality was central to the principles proclaimed in the summer of 1776. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” the document sets out in its second paragraph, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Commenting on the radicalism of the American Revolution, historian Gordon Wood has noted, “Equality was in fact the most radical and most powerful ideological force let loose in the Revolution,” which had an appeal “far more potent than any of the revolutionaries realized” and “tore through American society and culture with awesome power.” The notion of equality became deeply embedded in the consciousness of the people, with reverberations that continue to the present day.

That the Revolution in the New World posed a danger to aristocratic privilege and arbitrary power everywhere was understood very clearly by those who led it and by those who opposed it. The War of Independence, Marx would later note, sounded the tocsin for the French Revolution and all the great democratic revolutions of that era.

The American Revolution was a bourgeois democratic revolution. Neither it nor those who led it could transcend the social conditions of the day. As such, the historical event could not live up to the ideals that its greatest proponents laid out. Nevertheless, the American Revolution—and, in particular, the Declaration of Independence—resonated in every subsequent progressive episode in American history. Indeed, it was to “the proposition that all men are created equal” that Abraham Lincoln would refer four score and seven years later when he delivered his famous address on the battlefield at Gettysburg, in the midst of the Civil War to abolish the barbaric institution of slavery—the Second American Revolution.

The social, political and cultural state of present-day America makes a mockery of the principles that are recalled and celebrated on July 4.

Inequality is the defining feature of American life. The aristocratic principle has been reborn. If the current rulers could, they would reestablish titles and ranks of nobility, the official proclamations of privilege—and no doubt there are some who are already conspiring to do so.

The cancer of inequality infects every ruling national institution—the White House, led by a president who has become, solely on the basis of his political career, a multi-millionaire; the Congress, which is populated by scores of multi-millionaires; and the Supreme Court, in which eight of the nine justices are multi-millionaires. In short, all three branches of the federal government are controlled by individuals who are themselves part of the richest 1 percent of American society.

And then there is the media, in which those who dish out the propaganda that serves the interests of the state and the corporate-financial elite are paid millions of dollars annually for their faithful service.

The American aristocracy has grown rich largely through financial fraud. Six years ago, it sparked a global economic crisis through its manic speculation. Yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average surpassed 17,000 for the first time in its 118-year history. The financial traders celebrated the comments of Fed Chairman Janet Yellen, who proclaimed on Wednesday that the spigots funneling cash into the markets would remain open. The orgy of excess comes on top of social devastation and decline for the vast majority of the population. The words used by the great Tom Paine to describe the aristocracy on the eve of the French Revolution of 1789 (which was inspired by the American example) come to mind: “They pity the plumage and forget the dying bird.”

The aristocratic principle is present in every aspect of American policy. Globally, it finds expression in unrelenting militarism, a criminal foreign policy based on plunder and conquest. With increasingly reckless abandon, the American ruling class has launched a series of wars, leaving disaster and chaos in its wake. More than ten years after the invasion of Iraq laid waste to one of the most advanced societies in the Middle East, US troops, drones and military aircraft are once again heading back—even as the Obama administration stokes war with Russia over Ukraine and China over energy-rich regions in the South Pacific.

High levels of social inequality are incompatible with democracy. This is demonstrated in the unprecedented assault on the democratic principles that flowed from the Declaration of Independence and were embodied in the Bill of Rights, such as due process, freedom of speech and the press, the prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, the separation of church and state.

Whatever remains of democratic institutions are threatened by a colossal military-intelligence-police apparatus. Within the ruling establishment, the most basic democratic conceptions no longer exist. The president proclaims the right to assassinate American citizens without due process, and this does not produce any serious objection from within the state apparatus. Nearly 2 million Americans languish in prisons.

Today, the massive growth of social inequality is the focus of increasing public attention. There are vague, insubstantial and insincere calls for “something” to be done, while some among the wealthy speak nervously of “pitchforks” on the horizon. But these “somethings” amount to nothing. In all the official discussions of social inequality, there is virtually no mention of the fundamental cause of inequality: capitalism.

The fact is that nothing can be or will be done within the framework of the existing political and economic system to reverse the ever-more extreme concentration of wealth in the United States.

The fight for social equality today requires the conscious struggle to put an end to capitalism and establish a socialist system based on public ownership, under the democratic control of the working class, of the banks and large corporations. In carrying out this task, it is the international working class that is the true inheritor of the egalitarian ideals and revolutionary traditions of the Fourth of July.

Joseph Kishore
July 4th
09 Jul 2014
iphone.jpg
A good friend of mine who introduced me to reddit about a year ago was visiting me in NJ this weekend. On a semi-whim we decided to go to Boston for the weekend for the 4th of July.

After an adventurous 48hours I can tell you I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the sites, partaking in the local cuisine, and hanging out with a new Boston transplant who helped us feel at home.

Best part of the trip was finding out my friend from college who lives in Boston is a redditor (a hot female one at that) after she tried to explain to myself an our other friend what reddit is.

So all in all, thanks to Bostonians local and transplant as the people there were very hospitable in all manner of speaking. So again, thank you.

TL;DR: Fun trip to Boston included lots of good times....and there are in fact, very attractive, female redditors in Boston.

http://www.reddit.com/r/boston/comments/eox6y/visited_boston_for_the_fir/
Re: for July 4th-singing John Lennon-against blind patriotism
10 Jul 2014
From The Pen Of Frank Jackman

ON THE 4TH OF JULY -HONOR SAMUEL ADAMS, JAMES OTIS, THOMAS PAINE, THE SONS OF LIBERTY AND THE WINTER SOLDIERS OF VALLEY FORGE.

REMEMBER THE LESSONS OF THIS EARLY STRUGGLE FOR NATIONAL SELF-DETERMINATION- YOU CANNOT WIN IF YOU DO NOT FIGHT.

FORGET DONKEYS, ELEPHANTS AND GREENS- BUILD A WORKERS PARTY!


As we approach the 238th Anniversary of the American Revolution militants should honor the valiant fighters for freedom, many not prominently remembered today, such as Samuel Adams, James Otis and Tom Paine who kept the pressure on those other more moderate revolutionary politicians such as Washington and John Adams who at times were willing to compromise with the British Empire short of victory. We should also remember the valiant but mainly nameless Sons of Liberty who lit the spark of rebellion. And the later Winter Soldiers of Valley Forge who held out under extreme duress in order to insure eventual victory. Anyone can be a sunshine patriot; we desperately need militants in the tradition of the winter soldiers. No revolution can succeed without such fighters.


The 4th of July today is covered with so much banal ceremony, flag- waving, unthinking sunshine patriotism and hubris it is hard to see the forest for the trees to the days when, as Lincoln stated, during that other great progressive action of this country’s history- the Great Civil War of 1861-65- that this country was the last, best hope for civilization. Note this well- those men and women who rebelled against the king from Washington on down were big men and women out to do a big job. And they did it. A quick look at the political landscape today makes one thing clear. This country has no such men or women among its leaders today-not even close.


Rereading the Declaration of Independence today, a classic statement of Enlightenment values, and such documents as the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution demonstrates that these men and women were, hesitantly and in a fumbling manner to be sure, taking on some big issues in the scheme of human development. Today what do we see- half-hearted withdrawal programs to end the quagmire borne of hubris in Iraq, amendments against same sex marriage, amendments against flag-burning, the race to the bottom of the international wage scale bringing misery to working people, serious attempts to create a theocracy based on Christian fundamentalism, creation of a fortress against immigration in a nation of immigrants, among other things. In short, the negation of that spirit that Lincoln talked about. Today, the militants who fought the American Revolution would probably be in some Guantanamo-like cages. DEFEND THE ENLIGHTENMENT!


In earlier times this writer had been rather blasé about the American Revolution tending to either ignore its lessons or putting it well below another revolution- The Great French Revolution, also celebrated in July- in the pantheon of revolutionary history. However, this is flat-out wrong. We cannot let those more interested in holiday oratory than drawing the real lessons of the American Revolution appropriate what is the property of every militant today. Make no mistake, however, the energy of that long ago revolution has burned itself out and other forces-militants and their allies- and other political creeds-the fight for a workers party and a workers government leading to socialism- have to take its place as the standard-bearer for human progress. That task has been on the historical agenda for a long time and continues to be our task today. Yes, we love this country. No, we do not love this form of government. Forward.


Note- To learn more about the history of the American Revolution and the foundation of the Republic any books by Gordon S. Wood on the subject are a good place to start. Garry Wills in his book Inventing America also has some insights worth reading.


**************

commentary that will more than detail the reasons that while we respect and learn from the lessons of the American revolution we do not celebrate the holiday associated with that revolution.


Workers Vanguard No. 942

11 September 2009

Slavery and the Origins of American Capitalism



We print below, in slightly edited form, a presentation by Jacob Zorn to a Spartacist League educational in New York on 30 March 2008, the first of several classes on black history and the development of the American labor movement.


This is not going to be a history class of everything that happened from 1492 to 1860; the material is too immense. I want to focus on the salient political points for this period, and also to try to set up the next class, on the Civil War. We are historical materialists, and as such we say that black oppression—and we say this often in WV—is not just a bunch of bad ideas but has a material, that is to say, a historical and class, basis. What I want to do in the class is explain the origins of this material basis. In the second class and in subsequent classes, this will be developed further. These are the three things I specifically want to drive home:


1. How slavery in the Americas was central to the development of capitalism, both on an international level and also here in the United States.


2. How elements of the contemporary black question, including the very concept of race, have their roots in the system of slavery.


3. How throughout every step of the development of the United States up through 1860 slavery was integral, from the colonial period, through the American war of independence, to the Constitution, and then culminating in the struggle that led up to the Civil War.


Marx and Primitive Capitalist Accumulation


I want to begin with what Marx calls the primitive accumulation of capital, which was discussed in one of the readings for this class, in the first volume of Capital. Marx has a very powerful quote in there: “In actual history, it is notorious that conquest, enslavement, robbery, murder, briefly force, play the great part.” And that’s kind of a summary of what I’m going to be talking about: enslavement, robbery and murder.


I’m not going to go over much of the European background, although it’s worth reviewing our pamphlet, Enlightenment Rationalism and the Origins of Marxism (1998), and also some of the articles we’ve written on the English Civil War, in addition to the Capital reading. Marx talks about the bloody origins of capitalism, and one of the key events was the enclosure acts that threw the peasantry off the land in England and Scotland in order to kind of kick-start capitalism. As Marx describes, in Europe this resulted both in a class that owned the means of production (because land became necessary as a means of production, for wool and other things) and also a class that owned nothing but its labor power. One result, necessary for the British colonization of North America, is that it created a large surplus of people in England who were subject to incredibly harsh punishment for very small crimes and for whom even colonial Virginia looked like a good escape.


Marx also talks about how the conquest of America, both North and South America and the Caribbean, was also key in the development of world capitalism. A key element of this was the dispossession of the indigenous population, a dispossession that was extremely violent and genocidal. If you want a taste of what this was like, you should read the writings of a Spanish priest by the name of Bartolomé de las Casas, which go into a lot of the gratuitous violence: about 95 percent of the pre-Colombian indigenous population was killed, perhaps 90 million people. But this early Spanish colonization, which was largely based on extracting gold and silver, fueled the development not only of Spanish but also of Dutch and English capitalism.


In North America, primitive capitalist accumulation meant not only dispossessing the indigenous population of the land, but also finding somebody to do the work, since in North America the English really didn’t use the Indians as a labor force. A comrade brought to my attention a really good article in WV No. 581 (30 July 1993), “Genocide ‘Made in USA’,” that shows how the destruction of millions of people was key in the building of the American nation and the laying of the basis for the development of North American capitalism, and how it left a birthmark of racism on American capitalism from the get-go. But fundamentally the colonists in North America had the opposite problem from what the ruling class in Britain had: that is, there was an abundance of land but a shortage of people to work on it.


I want to make the point that a lot of the history of the Americas, especially here in the United States, tends to be focused on North America. But in the early years of colonization, the most desired area of the Americas was really the Caribbean, and it was much later that North America was colonized—and not only by the English: there were Spanish outposts (for example, St. Augustine, Florida, is the longest continuously settled city founded by Europeans in the current U.S.); there was French fur trading in Quebec and plantation agriculture in Louisiana; and also obviously the Dutch in New Jersey and New York, as well as the British in Virginia. There was a lot of competition among these different European powers, and we’ll look especially at the rivalry of the Dutch and the English in terms of mercantilism.


Capitalism and Slavery


The readings talk about “chattel slavery.” So what exactly is a chattel slave? It’s not a concept that is used much today. “Chattel” means personal property. It’s related to the word “cattle.” And that is what slaves were: they were legally property that was sold and sometimes killed.


In the abstract, capitalism and slavery are fundamentally counterposed systems. One is based on free labor, and the other, on slave labor. Many of the advocates of capitalism opposed chattel slavery not only because they thought it was morally wrong, but also because they thought it was retrogressive. In The Wealth of Nations (1776), Adam Smith wrote: “From the experience of all ages and nations, I believe, that the work done by freemen comes cheaper in the end than that performed by slaves” and “Whatever work he does beyond what is sufficient to purchase his own maintenance can be squeezed out of him by violence only, and not by any interest of his own.”


Likewise, Alexander Hamilton, about whom we will be talking in a bit, said that slavery “relaxes the sinews of industry, clips the wings of commerce, and introduces misery and indigence in every shape” (quoted in James Oliver Horton, “Alexander Hamilton: Slavery and Race in a Revolutionary Generation,” New-York Journal of American History [Spring 2004]). The piece that comrades read from Eugene Genovese, “The Slave South: An Interpretation,” in The Political Economy of Slavery (1965) shows how, as a system, slavery was not capitalist; the slavocracy in the American South had its own productive system, its own values—or, to use Genovese’s phrase, its own “civilization”—that derived from this non-bourgeois system. Slavery was fundamentally different from capitalism.


However, capitalism did not evolve in the abstract, but in the concrete, and slavery was fundamental to this development. Even though the slave system itself was not capitalist, slavery was central to the development of capitalism, both in the U.S. and internationally. Slavery was also a very profitable “industry”—for lack of a better term—in its own right, and international and American capitalists are indelibly stained with slavery.


Slavery, of course, is not only a precapitalist, but also a prefeudal system of production. There is a brilliant book by Karl Kautsky called the Foundations of Christianity (1908) that, among other things, analyzes the importance of slavery in ancient Rome. Many of the elements of slavery in America are actually discussed by Kautsky in his treatment of plantation or mining slavery in Rome. He distinguishes, for example, between slavery for domestic use and slavery for profit, or commodity slavery. Obviously, commodity production in ancient Rome did not reach the level that it does under capitalism, but he made the point that when slaves make commodities that are then sold for the profit of their masters, the masters increase the exploitation of the slaves, which can only be done through immense oppression and brutality. Kautsky describes in detail a lot of the very brutal nature of Roman slavery, and he traces the decline of Rome to the contradictions in its slave system. For our purposes, one of the key elements, however, that is missing in Kautsky’s piece is race. This is not an accident, because, as we’ll see, Roman slavery was not a racial form of slavery.


With the destruction of the centralized Roman state in West Europe and the development of feudalism, slavery largely died out in medieval Europe. In 1086, for example, about 10 percent of the English population were slaves, but slavery was not central to medieval society. It was still practiced in the Mediterranean and parts of the Arab world, but in West Europe, feudalism was the dominant system, with serfdom the main productive form of labor.


The development of the English colonies in the Americas was concurrent with the development of capitalism in Britain—it was going on at the same time as the English Civil War, and there were various political intrigues over whom the colonies would support; there are cities in the United States named after both King Charles I and Cromwell, for example. Yet, the contradiction is that the rise of capitalism was accompanied with a new rise of slavery. Particularly in the English case, this was accompanied by the creation of the world sugar market. Eating sugar is not based on slavery, but the creation of the sugar market was.


I want to make some points about the development of slavery in the Americas. The first is that there is a prehistory: before the Spanish arrived in America, the Portuguese had begun using slave labor on plantations in their island colonies off Africa, such as Madeira and the Azores. By 1452, the Pope had given the Portuguese the right to trade slaves, and in 1479 the Spanish crown gave Portugal a monopoly over the slave trade. By 1502, there is evidence of black slaves in the Spanish colony of Santo Domingo


—that is to say 130 years before the English planters really began using slaves in the Caribbean and almost 200 years before slavery became entrenched in what would become the United States, in Virginia.


Slavery was crucial in almost every European colony throughout the Americas, and from the 16th century through the mid 19th century between 10 and 12 million Africans were “traded” as slaves. And it was extremely violent: depending on what century you’re looking at, between 10 and 40 percent of the slaves died in transit. Ninety-five percent of these African slaves ended up in either the Caribbean or Latin America. North America received a relatively small fraction of all the African slaves, and this would have important ramifications on how slavery developed here.


Although the first slaves arrived in Virginia in 1619, for most of the 17th century the dominant labor system in Virginia was indentured servitude, which was a really nasty and brutal system. If it weren’t for the slave system that came after, we would probably label indentured servitude one of the most brutal systems known. Indentured servants agreed to work for a period of years, usually between five and seven, in exchange for transportation to America. They might be promised land at the end of their terms.


But to begin with, many indentured servants did not live to the end of their terms of service. While they were servants, they were subjected to extremely harsh discipline and punishment. They could be whipped, they could be beaten, they could be sold for the duration of their terms of service. They worked a lot harder than English peasants worked, and a lot of what we think of as unique to slavery was also present in various ways in indentured servitude. Many servants ran away.


By the mid-to-late 1600s, from the point of view of the planters, there developed several problems with indentured servitude. Servants were living longer. (Incidentally, one of the reasons that they began to live longer is that they began to drink more alcohol and not drink polluted water.) This meant that there began to develop a layer of unruly and dissatisfied ex-indentured servants, making Virginia more and more unstable. The danger of this was highlighted in 1676 with Bacon’s Rebellion, when poor whites, mostly former indentured servants, and blacks united against the colonial government—in this case, to demand that the colonial government, among other things, drive out the Indians. But at the same time, fewer and fewer Europeans were willing to come to America as servants, partly because England was developing economically and partly because news got around England of what servitude was like, and it did not seem so attractive as it might have before.


So the fact that servants were living longer at the end of the 17th century made slavery (which was for life) more attractive, from the point of view of the planters, than servitude (which was usually for less than a decade). The planters in Virginia began to import slaves in larger and larger numbers. By the first decade of the 18th century, Virginia had been transformed from a society in which slaves were present into a society in which slavery was the central productive relationship, a slave society. This was not the only slave society in the Americas, but it was quite different from the slave societies in the Caribbean or Brazil.


When I was preparing this class, comrade Foster raised the interesting question: why did it take a revolution—the Civil War—to get rid of slavery in the United States, whereas in many other countries (not all of them, Haiti also obviously had a revolution) it did not take a revolution to get rid of slavery. There are various reasons, but one is that in the American South there were more slaveowners, many owning relatively few slaves, so that slavery was much more entrenched in colonial society and in later U.S. society. But importantly, from the point of view of the planters, slavery not only offered a source of labor, but also it offered a source of social stability, because with slavery came what veteran American Trotskyist Richard S. Fraser calls the concept of race.


http://markinbookreview.blogspot.com/
July 4th
13 Jul 2014
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The tide comes in; the tide goes out.