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Tue Oct 12, 2021, 10:31 AM

A Really Good Read from The Nation: The Politician-Scholar Eric Williams and the tangled history of

capitalism and slavery.
By Gerald Horne
https://www.thenation.com/article/society/eric-williams-capitalism-slavery/

Despite his humble origins, the studious and disciplined Williams won a prized academic scholarship at the age of 11, putting him on track to become a “coloured Englishman,” he noted ruefully. His arrival at Oxford in 1931—again on a scholarship—seemingly confirmed this future. There he mingled in a progressive milieu that included the founder of modern Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, and the self-exiled African American socialist Paul Robeson. It was at Oxford that Williams wrote “The Economic Aspect of the Abolition of the West Indian Slave Trade and Slavery,” which was later transformed into the book at hand. In both works, but in the book more decisively, Williams punctured the then-reigning notion that abolitionism had been driven by humanitarianism—an idea that conveniently kept Europeans and Euro-Americans at the core of this epochal development. Instead Williams stressed African agency and resistance, which in turn drove London’s financial calculations. He accomplished this monumental task in less than 200 pages of text, making the response that followed even more noteworthy. Extraordinarily, entire volumes have been devoted to weighing his conclusions in this one book.

It would not be an exaggeration, then, to say that when Williams published Capitalism and Slavery in 1944, it ignited a firestorm of applause and fury alike. His late biographer, Colin Palmer, observed that “reviewers of African descent uniformly praised the work, while those who claimed European heritage were much less enthusiastic and more divided in their reception.” One well-known scholar of the latter persuasion assailed the “Negro nationalism” that Williams espoused in it. Nonetheless, Capitalism and Slavery has become arguably the most academically influential work on slavery written to date. It has sold tens of thousands of copies—with no end in sight—and has been translated into numerous European languages as well as Japanese and Korean. The book continues to inform debates on the extent to which capitalism was shaped by the enslavement of Africans, not to mention the extent to which these enslaved workers struck the first—and most decisive—blow against their inhumane bondage.

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Reply A Really Good Read from The Nation: The Politician-Scholar Eric Williams and the tangled history of (Original post)
malaise Oct 12 OP
empedocles Oct 12 #1
Klaralven Oct 12 #2
malaise Oct 12 #4
BeckyDem Oct 12 #3
crickets Oct 12 #5

Response to malaise (Original post)

Tue Oct 12, 2021, 11:00 AM

1. 'Politician-Scholar' - like that

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Response to malaise (Original post)

Tue Oct 12, 2021, 11:44 AM

2. Interesting, but why didn't slavery result in a similar capitalism in Portugal

Brazil was the destination of the largest number of African slaves. Despite revolts and significant manumission during the first half of the 19th century, slavery was only abolished in 1888.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_in_Brazil

I think that slavery has mainly to do with the need for agricultural labor. When large areas or arable land were seized from hunter-gatherer populations, the rapid development required large amounts of labor. This is most economically obtained by capturing indigenous slaves and importing African slaves.

However, once the population increases and more local labor becomes available for temporary employment, it becomes uneconomical to tie up capital by investing in slaves. The key is that the local population has to increase to the point where it has to work for the landowners in order to eat.

The latter situation was prevalent in central and eastern Europe, where the landowning nobility employed serfs. Serfs were not owned, but they were bound to the land which the nobility owned. They were obliged to eke out their own subsistence on small plots while working a few days a week on the nobles land and enterprises. Since there were so many serfs, and anyone who owned land also got the attached serfs, serfs had no market value.

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Response to Klaralven (Reply #2)

Tue Oct 12, 2021, 12:44 PM

4. I don't know

Someone should do a comparative analysis.
What I know is that Eric Williams was spot on

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Response to malaise (Original post)

Tue Oct 12, 2021, 12:09 PM

3. This is excellent, thank you.

The book has three central theses that have captured the attention of generations of readers and historians. The first was Williams’s almost offhand assertion that slavery had produced racism, not vice versa: “Slavery was not born of racism,” he contended, but “rather, racism was the consequence of slavery.”

To begin with, “unfree labor in the New World was brown, white, black and yellow; Catholic, Protestant and pagan,” with various circumstances combining to promote the use of enslaved African labor.

For example, “escape was easy for the white servant; less easy for the Negro,” who was “conspicuous by his color and features”—and, Williams added, “the Negro slave was cheaper.” But it was in North America most dramatically that slavery became encoded with “race” and thus, through its contorted rationalizations, ended up producing a new culture of racism.

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Response to malaise (Original post)

Tue Oct 12, 2021, 07:36 PM

5. K&R for visibility.

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