An article on slavery and capitalism in Chronicle of Higher Education might be apt to quote in view of today’s protests against racist police shootings.
The gist of the article is that capitalism’s ability…
“to industrialize rested at first entirely on the control of expropriated lands and enslaved labor in the Americas. It was able to escape the constraints on its own resources—no cotton, after all, was grown in Europe—because of its increasing and often violent domination of global trade networks, along with the control of huge territories in the Americas. For the first 80 years of modern industry, the only significant quantities of raw cotton entering European markets were produced by slaves—and not from the vastly larger cotton harvests of China or India.
The writer continues:
“…big arguments about the West’s superior economic performance, and build these arguments upon an account of the West’s allegedly superior institutions like private-property rights, lean government, and the rule of law, we need to remember that the world Westerners forged was equally characterized by exactly the opposite: vast confiscation of land and labor, huge state intervention in the form of colonialism, and the rule of violence and coercion. And we also need to qualify the fairy tale we like to tell about capitalism and free labor. Global capitalism is characterized by a whole variety of labor regimes, one of which, a crucial one, was slavery.”
Let us also remember that racist ideas promoted slavery: the idea that certain groups of people with different languages, skin color, cultures and/or dress were inferior and deserved to be enslaved, murdered, raped, and treated like beasts of burden with no rights whatsoever. Thus, many white folks in the South who were not rich willingly acted as slave-drivers and slave-catchers, and later as fierce fighters for the Confederacy.
Later on, after the end of slavery in the US, racist ideas often prevented white workers in both the North and South from uniting with their more-oppressed black or brown-skinned brothers and sisters to fight for better conditions for all. White workers in California engaged in what can only be called racist pogroms against workers from China or Japan. What could we say about the anti-immigrant movement we see right now?
I claim that even though we have made some real progress since the days of Jim Crow, those same racist ideas are clearly still at work, as you can see by looking at the racist comments on-line about the police murders of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and so many others.
Partly as a result, we still don’t have a sensible, national health care system that takes care of every sick person, and our educational system is a hotbed of inequality, reflecting the vast inequalities in wealth. Let us remember the adage: ‘Behind every great fortune is a great crime.’ In fact, as the CHE article points out, many of our largest corporate enterprises got their fortune in the slave trade in one way or another.
Just as it took an enormous amount of struggle, in fact a civil war, to end legal slavery in the US, it took another large movement to end the semi-legal slavery of Jim Crow. It will take a large struggle to rid this land of the undue influence of the oligarchs. One important factor in that struggle will be to convince white working people that racism serves to divide them from their black and brown brothers and sisters …