Wednesday, August 15, 2012

On Racial Slavery's Capitalistic Contradiction

On Racial Slavery's Capitalistic Contradiction: In 1965, historian Eugene D. Genovese published The Political Economy of Slavery, which uncovered a deep contradiction at the heart of American racial slavery. For the most part, this contradiction entailed the idea of racial slavery as a capitalistic institution. It contrasted the quasi-aristocratic, Southern slave-holding planter class with the emerging laissez-faire spirit of the industrializing American economy. The persistence of Southern slave ownership, which ran counter to liberating aspects (wage labor, cheap housing, etc.) of American industrialization, was central to antebellum conflicts between the North and South. And as Genovese stated, "The essential features of Southern particularity, as well as of Southern backwardness, can be traced [almost exclusively] to the relationship of master to slave." Such a relationship, with its paternalistic dependencies, inhibited the growth of a capitalist market where independent industrialists and merchants would have otherwise flourished. For if antebellum Southern "planters were losing their economic and political cold war with Northern capitalism," then it was the South's failure "to develop sufficient industry" that offered the most plausible explanation.

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