Sunday, April 22, 2007

Jamestown; The Birth of Capitalism

Without Atlantic Trade, capitalism would not have flourished, it might have remained isolated in Britain.

Where Did Capitalism Come From?

America was founded as a capitalist colony, made up of indentured servants later to be replaced with a slave economy, evolving into the dominant capitalist nation four hundred years later with a new slave economy based on the wage slavery of migrant workers.

The youth who were used to colonize Jamestown were artisans and farmers displaced off the land by the end of the commons. They were indentured servants, not freemen.

Whittenburg Q&A: Who settled Jamestown?

James Whittenburg, associate professor of history and chair of the Lyon Gardiner Tyler Department of History, is a constant visitor to Jamestown. We asked him to help us understand who the first settlers were, what their motivations were and to tell us about the significance of new discoveries at James Fort led by alumnus William Kelso. He told us …

Whittenburg: I was once interviewed at some length by a reporter who ended up asking, “OK, just give me your bottom line as to what the earliest colonists were really like.” To which I said, “Think worst sort of ‘Animal House’ fraternity,” and that’s all that the reporter quoted. The first colonists—104 men and boys—were young. Initially, they were entirely male. … And there was continual turnover. Of the 104 men and boys who arrived in May 1607, only 38 or 40 were alive when the next supply arrived the following January. During the “starving time” in the winter of 1609-1610, the population went down from about 250 people to only about 60. …

W&M News: What were their motivations?

Whittenburg: Trade was at the core of it. What was happening in England was the development of corporations in which entrepreneurs would invest in companies that traded goods all over the world. There actually were two Virginia Companies, one that funded Jamestown and one that established an outpost in Maine in 1607 that failed within a year. Both companies were joint stock companies. Religion was also a major part of it. The Protestant vs. Catholic element was a key factor. The Spanish Catholics were seen by Protestant Englishmen as the overlords of the New World, and the English had the idea that they were going to free the New World from the yoke of Catholic oppression. Nationalism also was a part of it, along with the military element. One thing that is not a part of it is tobacco. Tobacco was known in England. The Spanish already were exporting it back to Europe, and there was a market for it there. However, in 1607 the English at Jamestown had no plans for it as a cash crop. By the 1620s, however, tobacco was driving the Virginia economy.

Making Furniture in Preindustrial America: The Social Economy of Newtown and Woodbury, Connecticut. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. xiii + 295 pp. Illustrations, appendixes, notes, glossary, notes on sources and methods, index. $45.00. Early Americans lived, we increasingly believe, amidst a "consumer revolution." Efforts to explore consumer behavior in the early modern economy have given the study of material culture, particularly household objects--how they were made, how they were used, their multiple meanings, their ownership and accumulation--new importance, and focused inquiry on the artifact collections at places such as Colonial Williamsburg, the Winterthur Museum, and Historic Deerfield. Concern with the consumer revolution has led, as well, to exciting new work--one thinks of Ann Smart Martin's studies of ceramics and pewterware, Adrienne Hood's and Marla R. Miller's on the clothing trade, and now Edward S. Cooke Jr.'s carefully wrought investigation of joiners, the furniture they made, and the neighbors to whom they sold it. ^1 The current exploration of this consumer revolution builds upon a generation of community studies, on material culture studies, and on the work of historical archaeologists. It is Cooke's greatest strength that he has mastered the literature and investigatory traditions of several fields and used them to his advantage. Cooke's study unfolds as a comparison between 1760 and 1820 of two southwestern Connecticut towns, Newtown and Woodbury, situated along the Housatonic River.

Strange Fruit of American Democracy

Both before and after the Revolutionary War, America was a slave-hungry system. In its European form, the nation emerged from scratch, with no prior feudal history or communal traditions, a product of British capital ventures. As British colonists found no gold like the Spaniards did in the Americas, they turned to agriculture. From the Indians they learned to grow tobacco as a profitable crop, but planting and harvesting required intense physical labor. For their sturdiness, vulnerability, and cheap price, the colonists favored Africans over Native American Indians and English laborers for the task.

The first Africans arrived on the North American continent in August 1619, a year before Pilgrims landed the Mayflower on the shores of Massachusetts and decades before the British slave trade began in New England. Exchanged for food, twenty blacks stepped off a Dutch slavery ship to become the first generation of African-Americans. Joining a society not yet lacerated by slavery and racism, they worked as indentured servants to British elites. As such, their status was equal to poor white servants, and servants of either race could gain freedom after their tenure. Like whites, blacks owned property, married, and voted in an integrated society.

This benign situation changed dramatically in the 1660s as ever-more Africans were brought to the colonies to meet the growing need for plantation labor. As slavery became crucial to capitalist expansion and plantation economies organized around tobacco, sugar, and cotton, British colonists constructed racist ideologies to legitimate the violent subjugation of those equal to them in the eyes of God and the principles of natural law. Having survived the shock of capture and wretchedness of their journey, African men, women, and children were auctioned, branded, and sold to white slave owners who grew rich from trading, breeding, and exploiting their bodies. With no consideration of blood ties or emotional bonds, black families were broken apart. Stripped of rights, dignity, and human status, these African citizens and their millions of American descendents were brutalized in the most vicious slavery system on the planet, one whose ugly legacy continues to dominate and poison the US.

One of the longest running of these debates has been over slavery, especially its abolition and its contribution to the wealth of England, which, as the film of Mansfield Park shows, is an issue on which many liberals still feel the need to declare themselves. In the eighteenth century, English merchant ships were the principal transporters of slaves from Africa to the New World, and slave labor on English sugar plantations in the West Indies made fortunes for their absentee owners at home. Yet parliament put an end to this business by banning the transportation of slaves in 1807 and outlawing the ownership of slaves in 1833. Until the 1940s, the consensus among historians was that slavery was ended because of the strength of religious feeling and humanitarianism, expressed through the abolitionist movement of William Wilberforce and his Evangelical Christian followers. However, in a widely celebrated counterthesis, Eric Williams attacked this moral explanation and substituted an economic rationale. In 1938, Williams had been the first student from the West Indies to earn a doctorate at Oxford University. However, instead of undergoing the civilizing process anticipated by those colonial officials who had arranged his tuition, Williams discovered Marxism at Oxford. Returning to Trinidad, he revised his D.Phil thesis and published it as Capitalism and Slavery (1944), arguing that slavery was only abolished because, after more than a century of cropping, the monoculture of sugar cane had exhausted the soil of the West Indian islands, and the estates had become unprofitable. Prohibiting the transport of slaves would prevent French expansion on other islands in the region while the British transferred their plantations to Asia. Moreover, while attacking the traditional explanation for abolition, Williams constructed an even more audacious moral case of his own about the place of slavery in the English economy. The profits from the transport and sale of slaves, he argued, made a substantial contribution to financing the industrial revolution in Britain. Hence, all those subsequent generations of Europeans who have enjoyed the standards of living provided by industrialism have done so from capital accumulated on the backs of black slave labor.

As two of the contributors to these volumes, P. J. Cain and A. G. Hopkins, argued in their persuasive work British Imperialism (1993), after the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, England became the first country to develop a modern financial and banking system. The City of London then set out to become the financier to the world, providing short-term credit for trade and long-term credit for investment. Within a century, Britain also underwent the industrial revolution, which gave it a surplus of low-cost, factory-manufactured goods for which it sought world markets. As the leading force in finance and manufacturing, and as the dominant European naval and military power, Britain had every reason to expand across the globe and few to prevent it doing so. From the vantage point of hindsight we can now see that the principal artefact it exported to the world was not “civilization,” as many thought at the time, but modernization. In terms of economics, this meant the systems of finance, transportation, and manufacturing that Britain had developed at home. Rather than a form of plunder that depleted the economies that came under its influence, British imperialism injected many of the institutions of modernization into the territories it controlled.

In those countries where British culture and legal systems already held sway, such as the United States, Canada, and Australia, modernization was a comparatively painless process. In others, like India and the Middle East, the political, cultural, and legal systems remained relatively impervious to British influence. As A. G. Hopkins points out in volume V, the latter countries had their own internal dynamics that governed the direction and the pace of their evolution. They were not susceptible to Western brands of social engineering. However, while imperialism might not have dramatically transformed their culture, it could and usually did lead to the modernization of their financial and technological infrastructure. And no matter how hard some historians of these latter regions try, they can no longer argue that these changes were essentially for the worst. For instance, in volume III, D. A. Washbrook, who writes about India between 1818 and 1860, does his best to portray the downside of the equation. Early in this period, he writes, British control led to short-term economic depression and long-term economic backwardness as the factory manufactures of England undermined India’s former export markets and as deficits in British-controlled Indian trade with China led to a contraction of the money supply. By the end of his period, however, Washbrook acknowledges the evidence for the many positive results of the investments made by British financiers in railways, ports, and factories, which gave Indian products world markets, which led to long-term economic growth and some short-term economic booms in the second-half of the century, and which also augmented the resources of the unmodernized agrarian sector of the economy.

The Anti-Slavery Campaign in Africa

Following the victory of the Union forces in the American Civil War, the Atlantic slave trade dried up, leaving the North-Eastern African trade the exception. British pressure on the Viceroy of Egypt intensified. In 1865, Lord Russell instructed Sir Henry Bulwer, the General Consul, that he should impress "upon the Viceroy the deep interest of Her Majesty's Government in the suppression of the slave trade . . . and . . . state that they will be happy at all times to cooperate with his Highness as far as it may be in their powers to do so in any measures having for their object the putting to a stop of this inhuman traffic."2

Inhumanity, however, was by no means Britain's overriding concern. But presenting British policy in the humanitarian clothes of the Anti-Slavery Campaign had several advantages for Britain. First it won support at home for an aggressive African policy. Second it extended British influence through the extension of Egyptian control over slave-trading Africa. And third it allowed Britain to regulate Egypt's status in relation to "civilisation," thereby dominating Egypt, too.

In the first instance the Anti-Slavery Policy was a response to the difficulties faced by European traders in the Sudan where native slave-traders controlled trade and the local authority in Khartoum. Most had sold out to their Arab agents and withdrawn under the threat of rising violence around Bahr al-Jabal and Bahr al-Gazal.3

Black Marxism: The Making of the Black Radical Tradition

Black Marxism is far more ambitious than its modest title implies, for what Cedric Robinson has written extends well beyond the history of the Black Left or Black radical movements. Combining political theory, history, philosophy, cultural analysis, and biography, among other things, Robinson literally rewrites the history of the rise of the West from ancient times to the mid-twentieth century, tracing the roots of Black radical thought to a shared epistemology among diverse African people and providing a withering critique of Western Marxism and its inability to comprehend either the racial character of capitalism and the civilization in which it was born or mass movements outside Europe. At the very least, Black Marxism challenges our "common sense" about the history of modernity, nationalism, capitalism, radical ideology, the origins of Western racism, and the worldwide Left from the 1848 revolutions to the present.

Perhaps more than any other book, Black Marxism shifts the center of radical thought and revolution from Europe to the so-called "periphery"--to the colonial territories, marginalized colored people of the metropolitan centers of capital, and those Frantz Fanon identified as the "wretched of the earth." And it makes a persuasive case that the radical thought and practice which emerged in these sites of colonial and racial capitalist exploitation were produced by cultural logics and epistemologies of the oppressed as well as the specific racial and cultural forms of domination. Thus Robinson not only decenters Marxist history and historiography but also what one might call the "eye of the storm."

Yet for all of Robinson's decentering, he begins his story in Europe. While this might seem odd for a book primarily concerned with African people, it becomes clear very quickly why he must begin there, if only to remove the analytical cataracts from our eyes. This book is, after all, a critique of Western Marxism and its failure to understand the conditions and movements of Black people in Africa and the Diaspora. Robinson not only exposes the limits of historical materialism as a way of understanding Black experience but also reveals that the roots of Western racism took hold in European civilization well before the dawn of capitalism. Thus, several years before the recent explosion in "whiteness studies," Robinson proposed the idea that the racialization of the proletariat and the invention of whiteness began within Europe itself, long before Europe's modern encounter with African and New World labor. Such insights give the "Dark Ages" new meaning. Despite the almost axiomatic tendency in European historiography to speak of early modern working classes in national terms--English, French, and so forth--Robinson argues that the "lower orders" usually were comprised of immigrant workers from territories outside the nations in which they worked. These immigrant workers were placed at the bottom of a racial hierarchy. The Slavs and the Irish, for example, were among Europe's first "niggers," and what appears before us in nineteenth-century U.S. history as their struggle to achieve whiteness is merely the tip of an iceberg several centuries old. [1]

Robinson not only finds racialism firmly rooted in premodern European civilization but locates the origins of capitalism there as well. Building on the work of the Black radical sociologist Oliver Cromwell Cox, Robinson directly challenges the Marxist idea that capitalism was a revolutionary negation of feudalism. [2] Instead, Robinson explains, capitalism emerged within the feudal order and grew in fits and starts, flowering in the cultural soil of the West--most notably in the racialism that has come to characterize European society. Capitalism and racism, in other words, did not break from the old order but rather evolved from it to produce a modern world system of "racial capitalism" dependent on slavery, violence, imperialism, and genocide. So Robinson not only begins in Europe; he also chips away at many of the claims and assertions central to European historiography, particularly of the Marxist and liberal varieties. For instance, Robinson's discussion of the Irish working class enables him to expose the myth of a "universal" proletariat: just as the Irish were products of popular traditions borne and bred under colonialism, the "English" working class of the colonizing British Isles was formed by Anglo-Saxon chauvinism, a racial ideology shared across class lines that allowed the English bourgeoisie to rationalize low wages and mistreatment for the Irish. This particular form of English racialism was not invented by the ruling class to divide and conquer (though it did succeed in that respect); rather, it was there at the outset, shaping the process of proletarianization and the formation of working-class consciousness. Finally, in this living feudal order, socialism was born as an alternative bourgeois strategy to combat social inequality. Directly challenging Marx himself, Robinson declares: "Socialist critiques of society were attempts to further the bourgeois revolutions against feudalism." [3]

There is yet another reason for Robinson to begin in the heart of the West. It was there--not Africa--that the "Negro" was first manufactured. This was no easy task, as Robinson reminds us, since the invention of the Negro--and by extension the fabrication of whiteness and all the policing of racial boundaries that came with it--required "immense expenditures of psychic and intellectual energies of the West" (4). Indeed, a group of European scholars expended enormous energy rewriting of the history of the ancient world. Anticipating Martin Bernal's Black Athena: The Afroasiatic Roots of Classical Civilization, Vol. I (1987) and building on the pioneering scholarship of Cheikh Anta Diop, George G. M. James, and Frank Snowden, Robinson exposes the efforts of European thinkers to disavow the interdependence between ancient Greece and North Africa. This generation of "enlightened" European scholars worked hard to wipe out the cultural and intellectual contributions of Egypt and Nubia from European history, to whiten the West in order to maintain the purity of the "European" race. They also stripped all of Africa of any semblance of "civilization," using the printed page to eradicate African history and thus reduce a whole continent and its progeny to little more than beasts of burden or brutish heathens. Although efforts to reconnect the ancient West with North Africa have recently come under a new wave of attacks by scholars like Mary Lefkowitz, Robinson shows why these connections and the debates surrounding them are so important. [4] It is not a question of "superiority" or the "theft" of ideas or even a matter of proving that Africans were "civilized." Rather, Black Marxism reminds us again today, as it did sixteen years ago, that the exorcising of the Black Mediterranean is about the fabrication of Europe as a discrete, racially pure entity solely responsible for modernity, on the one hand, and the fabrication of the Negro, on the other. In this respect, Robinson's intervention parallels that of Edward Said's Orientalism, which argues that the European study of and romance with the "East" was primarily about constructing the Occident. [5]

Specters of the Atlantic: Finance Capital, Slavery, and the Philosophy of History By Ian
Baucom. Durham: Duke University Press, 2005. x + 387 pp. Index, notes. Cloth, $84.95;
paper, $23.95. ISBN: cloth, 0-822-33558-1; paper, 0-822-33596-4.

Even in the context of the sordid history of the Atlantic slave trade, the decision of the
captain of the British slave ship Zong in September 1781 to toss more than one hundred
live slaves overboard aroused controversy. The owners of the Zong subsequently sought
full compensation for the slaves from their insurers, who in turn insisted that the claims
were fraudulent because there had been no justification for the mass drowning. During
the legal wrangling, culpability for the murder of 133 slaves was not at issue; rather, the
liability of the insurers was in question. Outside the courtroom, a nascent abolitionist
movement charged that the captain’s cavalier destruction of human life typified the
routine barbarism inherent in the trade in human chattel.

Of particular interest to readers of the Business History Review is the significance
that Baucom attaches to the Zong in the history of finance capital. It may be tempting to
conclude that the Zong case was notorious because it established that slaves were
commodities no different from lumber, glassware, or any other exchange good. But the
author insists that the legal principle that slaves were chattel was already well established
by 1781.

Nevertheless, the case was a signal event in the history of the slave trade and the modern history of property, because it affirmed that slaves were not only commodities but also “commodities which have become at some or other time the subjects of insurance.” What is at issue here, according to Baucom, is not just the extension of commodity capitalism into the “domain of the human,” but also the “colonization of human subjectivity by finance capital.” The assumption that slaves were the bearers of “an utterly dematerialized, utterly speculative, and utterly transactable, enforceable, and recuperable pecuniary value,” the author contends, was a signal manifestation of the late eighteenth- century revolution of finance capital (pp. 138–39). The point here is that, once slaves were insured, their identities as human individuals (with unique desires, purposes, and wills) were erased. The victims of the Zong, in short, had vanished as individuals long before they were thrown into the Atlantic. For this to happen, value had to be divorced from commodity form and replaced by imaginary, mobile, deracinated forms of property. Baucom goes further, contending that the case of the Zong constitutes a “catastrophically exemplary event” in the arrival of modernity. It marks the “inauguration of a long twentieth century underwritten by the development of an Atlantic cycle of capital accumulation,” during which stock, credit, and insurance became essential mediums of exchange and “aesthetic modes, epistemological innovations, subject effects, and value forms” derived from “theoretical realism” enabled and sustained “a culture of speculation” (p. 167).


The Truth Shall Set Ye Free

Abolishing Slavery In Canada

History of Slavery

1666 The Creation Of The World

The Era Of The Common Man

The Many Headed Hydra


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