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excerpt from Hegel, Haiti and Universal History

November 14, 2010
tags: , ,

1 . Haiti and the Creation of Europe

Slavery in Europe

COULD SLAVERY HAVE taken root in the colonizing metropoles of
Europe? The answer to this question was contested rather than assured.
What made colonial slavery modern was its capitalist form,
extracting maximum value by exhausting both land and labor to fill
an insatiable consumer demand created by the addictive products
themselves (tobacco , sugar, coffee, rum) . Forged out of the most current
economic forces, why would the plantation system not become the
dominant form of industrial labor in Europe as well as the colonies?
The fact that today we find it difficult to imagine a Manchester textile
revolution powered by the labor of Mrican, Irish, and English
slaves , or a form of capitalism not synonymous with “free” labor, or
economic modernization as anything but the invention of the (white)
nations of the West, attests to the effective limits placed on our historical
imaginations by the boundary concepts of race, nation, and modern
progress that were constructed in large part to close offthese  possible
alternatives .
“There is no inherent reason that slavery should be incompatible
with the ideal of a functional or utilitarian state,” writes David
Brion Davis, as he describes for the British case the interconnections
among Caribbean slavery, the abolitionist movement, capitalist class
interests , and the ambiguous triumph of free labor, stressing the
contingency of these elements’ historical coalescence . ! Enslavement
of Europeans was far from a shocking idea in the seventeenth and
early eighteenth centuries when , as a workforce, the primary issue
in evaluating slavery was maintaining social order rather than maximizing
profits. D omestic slavery was endorsed by Thomas Hobbes ,
John Locke , a n d Samuel Pufendorf as a salutary solution t o the
problem of providing social discipline for the growing numbers of
so-called “masterless men”-idlers , criminals, vagabonds , and paupers
. Penal slave labor was common. Indentured servitude was an established
means of supplying workers for the colonies, their bodies
sold and their labor exploited with the same callousness and cruelty
as slaves.
But the mid-eighteenth century saw a quite sudden shift : ” [B]y
the 1760s , even the most ardent proponents of social utility refrained
from recommending slauery as the most suitable condition
for England’s poor.” The reason for increasing misgivings was an
awareness of the reality of New World slavery, as the slave population
in the colonies mushroomed and production boomed. Because the
cruelty of the system was not only appalling but at the same time
clearly effective as a technique of labor discipline, its implications
could not be ignored. The slave labor system on the New World
plantations bore “a surface resemblance , to say the least,” to the experiments
of British industrialists, and the innovations of production
described by Adam Smith . Although later historians would
argue that capitalist modernization was incompatible with the inefficiencies
of slave labor, the issue then and, in fact, always , is not
only how to exploit labor most efficiently, but how to compel the laborers
to comply.

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