The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, and Capitalism in 17th Century North America and the Caribbean
August 24, 2018
WN: I wrote the following in introduction to a book similar in its findings about 19th-century American capitalism to 17th-century colonial capitalism, entitled The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism:
There is someone of my acquaintance who rails against the US Black community for its violence of Black on Black, while almost completely downplaying police violence against Blacks. He also rails against them for their poverty: they just are not enterprising, and therefore deserve their state, end of story. (He, a Canadian, says similarly about native Americans and Aboriginal Canadians.)
This is a very common view amongst Whites on both sides of the border. It is unfounded, fundamental bigotry and racism. It is also extremely elitist. He, a white middle-class male, has by contrast had life handed to him on a silver platter. His head-start on life is akin to something like beginning at the 40 km mark of a marathon race, and wondering why all the others who began at kilometer zero don’t come close to competing with him, or arrive at the finish line so hopelessly late, not to mention exhausted. It must be “their fault”…
Besides what is excerpted below about current comparisons between the average US Black and White families, is this article that shows it would take 228 years for the average US Black family to reach the current level of net worth as the average US White family.
The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, by Edward E. Baptist, connects the dots meticulously between the rise to world dominance of American Capitalism, and slavery as single most driving engine, that, in Trump’s ridiculous notion “made America great”. The review (an excerpt below with a link) makes us aware of the overwhelming horror (America’s “greatness ” alright!) committed against Blacks over generations. White America cashed in on that horror, slavery being the single most contributing phenomenon to White America’s obscenely ill-gotten wealth. This is why it is almost impossible for the vast majority of Blacks to rise above the trauma effects of that horror to this day, let alone catch up economically. In response, one could shout from the housetops: BLACK LIVES MATTER!
Yet, as George Keenan said, America’s vast wealth, built for generations on the backs of slaves, is precisely what it aims to keep the rest of the world from ever catching up to:
In 1948, George Keennan, State Department Director of policy planning, noted that the United States then possessed “about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population.” The challenge facing U.S. policy makers, he believed, was “to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security.” [1. PPS 23, “Review of Current Trends, U.S. Foreign Policy” (February 24, 1948).] The overarching aim of American statecraft in other words, was to sustain the uniquely favorable situation to which the United States had ascended by the end of World War II. It’s hard to imagine a statement of purpose more succinct, cogent, and to the point.
Judged by this standard, the stewards of U.S. foreign policy down to the present day have done more than passably well… (America’s War For the Greater Middle East: A Military History, New York, Random House, 2016, p. 358)
And, as sociologists Charles Derber and Yale Magrass point out, the United States is the ultimate bully nation whose system of what they call “militarized capitalism”, derivative from the horror of slavery, voraciously still seeks to suck the wealth from all other peoples and nations, in the end no differently from what it did to slaves in a bygone era:
Every society has a particular economic order, political structure, and culture that become part of what we mean by a “system.” In America, the system is militarized capitalism, and it extends its dominion throughout the United States, across the globe, and into the planetary environment. It is a system primed to create pervasive bullying that affects adults, children, and all species [35. Andrew Bacevich, The New American Militarism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), and Noam Chomsky, Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance (New York: Holt, 2004). It is also a system perfected throughout the American reign of terror perpetrated against slaves.]. Militarized capitalism is most fully developed in the United States, which is one of the reasons why we focus on our own society. By looking both at America’s history and its current function, we see how a bully nation can flourish, gaining enormous power and wealth as well as moral legitimacy.
Militarized capitalism is just one system of unequal power that can create a bully nation, but since America is the most powerful country in the world and promotes its system as a model for the world, it deserves our attention. Yet as we see when we discuss the military and militarism, we cannot think of bullying at a purely national level, for bullying operates as a foundation of the American global order [36. See Noam Chomsky and Robert McChesney, Profit over People: Neoliberalism and Global Order, (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2011). See also Charles Derber, People before Profit (New York: Picador, 2003), and Derber and Magrass, Morality Wars [: How Empires, the Born Again, and the Politically Correct Do Evil in the Name of Good] (New York: Routledge, 2010), esp. chap. 3 on the US exercise of global imperial power.] (Bully Nation: How the American Establishment Creates a Bullying Society, Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2016, pp. 24 & 25.)
What can one say, living downstream in the West as beneficiaries of a centuries-long capitalist system that brutally destroyed others the world over not only who stood in the way (direct inversion of any naïve notion of a noble “white man’s burden”), but of multiplied millions — as many a 11 million Africans — enslaved to pave the way to the obscene wealth creation in Europe and North America. As the article highlighted below expresses:[The author Gerald] Horne’s take on Cromwell is much more accurate. In overthrowing the crown, he helped to foster the growth of slavery and colonialism. While many historians have pointed out the scorched earth attack on Ireland carried out by Cromwell’s Roundheads, The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism shines a light on the depravities visited on African slaves who were never entitled to “whiteness”. This was a gift to the Irish in a world where race would replace religion as a dividing line between the blessed and the damned.
“Race would replace religion as a dividing line between the blessed and the damned.” My acquaintance — you may check other instances where I mention a personal “acquaintance” as a foil — alluded to above will have none of this. He thereby unwittingly in fact joins with the damned in his profoundly hateful bigotry and failure to read history — and the world today — aright, thereby siding with the demons including Trump his hero, and a vast enclave of white “deplorables” — see footnote 2 — (and their Uncle Toms such as Barack Obama) who happily as beneficiaries “take up the white man’s abject brutality” — pace/paraphrasing Kipling) and perpetuate Western colonial/Empire capitalism’s horror story to this day.
I had high hopes for Gerald Horne’s The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, and Capitalism in 17th Century North America and the Caribbean for a couple of reasons. It might help me develop a deeper understanding of the genocidal tendencies of Dutch and British colonialism I reviewed in a CounterPunch article about the ethnic cleansing of Munsee Indians from New York State in the 17thcentury. While Horne’s history is focused on slavery, there are frequent allusions to what he calls the “indigenes” or native peoples. Just as importantly, I expected it to be in line with his provocatively titled “The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America”1that was a timely debunking of our Founding Father myths. Turning the clock back a century, this time around Horne zeros in on the Glorious Revolution of 1688 that was glorious only to the slave-trading merchants of England and their colonial cohorts. For the indigenes or slaves who were victimized throughout the 17thcentury, there was no glory in being shot down by a musket.
My hopes were not only met, they were exceeded. Horne has written both a scholarly treatment enriched by primary sources excavated from archives three hundred years old but also a fierce polemic that hearkens back to those of CLR James and WEB Dubois. The end notes of “The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism” support some astonishing insights into the social reality of the emerging “revolutionary” North America. For example, in the penultimate chapter titled “The ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688” (scare quotes were never more appropriate), Horne refers to a French Protestant exile remarking in 1687 that “there is not a house in Boston however small be its means that has not one or two” enslaved Africans, and even some that have five or six. The endnote reveals that this report originated in Box 19 of the Daniel Parrish Slavery Transcripts in the New York Historical Society. There are hundreds of such notations in Horne’s book, which attest to his perseverance in making the cruelty of the 17thcentury palpable. To paraphrase Thomas Edison, scholarship is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. Buckets of sweat were probably accumulated in countless libraries and museums in the years it took to put together this groundbreaking text.
Under Cromwell, England engaged in one war after another to dislodge the Spanish and Dutch from the Caribbean. If Barbados and Jamaica evoke ocean cruise commercials today, these islands were sources of capital in the 17th century, especially through the sugar plantations that had a symbiotic relationship to English colonies in the north. Like cotton’s role in the industrial revolution a hundred years later, sugar was essential to the mercantile capitalism of the 17th century. In the Cromwellian era, lasting from 1640 to 1660, British ships poured into the ports of Barbados and Jamaica to deliver slaves while the sugar cane they harvested was being turned into the commodities, including rum, so marketable in Boston, New York, and London.
To exploit the riches of the sugar colonies and the slave trade that made it possible, a trading monopoly called (without any irony) the Royal Adventurers of England was formed. As the East India Company was to the plunder of Asia, so was this intended to pick Africa apart like a vulture. Despite the Roundhead “revolution” against the Crown, royalist merchants were eager to rely on Cromwell’s military to dispose of Dutch and Spanish rivals in the Caribbean.
After Cromwell’s death, the monarchy was restored and fully committed to the mercantile capitalist agenda of the politicians it had once considered mortal enemies. In a partnership with the Royal Adventurers, King Charles II promised thirty acres to any aspiring colonist to help “settle” Barbados and Jamaica—a promise that was never kept to freed slaves in the South two hundred years later. New Englanders flocked to Barbados and Jamaica to take advantage of the offer. Between the two islands, Jamaica was much more attractive since Barbados had been wracked by slave uprisings small and large for decades. Some whites fled Barbados for the more tightly garrisoned Jamaica while others went to the mainland, especially South Carolina.
South Carolina epitomized the contradictions of the 17th century in which exemplars of the capitalist democratic republic regarded slavery as a property right won through Cromwell’s “revolution”. The Royal Adventurers of England had been transformed into the Royal African Company that retained its worst features. It was led by the Duke of York, whose name was bequeathed to the island called New Amsterdam seized from the Dutch earlier in the century. Among the chief investors in this trade monopoly was John Locke who served as the secretary to the board of governors in South Carolina.
From 1688, conflicts grew between the British slave-owners in Parliament and their counterparts in the New World until 1776 erupted. The slave traders in the colonies resented the power of the Royal African Company to dictate the terms of trade. These “free traders” were for open markets even if the commodity being bought and sold was unfree. In his characteristically biting prose, Horne describes the hardly glorious stakes being fought over:
Both sides could agree on the importance of enslaving Africans and the prosperity (for some) thereby generated; they just quarreled about who should be in control. One London propagandist in 1687 was gloating about the “growing greatness” of “distant colonies”; these territories had “already arrived” at a stature “so considerable” that it could easily “attract the emulation of the Neighbouring potentates. The “Golden Peru,” the pacesetter by some measures, was “hardly affording so great a treasure to the Catholick Crown, as these most flourishing plantations”—Barbados and Jamaica particularly—“produce to the Crown of England.”
That is, London had taken Jamaica in 1655 at a time when sugar began to boom, meaning a need for more Africans. By 1672 the Royal African Company had been organized to fill the breach, but in the following decade it was seen as inadequate to the task at hand. This meant deregulation of this hateful business, which meant reducing the powers of the Crown, which dominated the RAC. This blatant power and money grab by merchants was then dressed in the finery of liberty and freedom, as the bourgeois revolution was conceived in a crass and crude act of staggering hypocrisy, which nevertheless bamboozled generations to follow, including those who styled themselves as radical.
I am not exactly sure who Horne is referring to as bamboozled radicals but I will state that if you read The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, and Capitalism in 17th Century North America and the Caribbean, you will be guaranteed to treat the term “bourgeois-democratic revolution” with the skepticism it deserves. As we plunge deeper into the netherworld of capitalism in its death throes, it will become clear that the only genuine revolution in human history will be the one we carry out to end class society and create a new one based on genuine respect for all human beings whatever their skin color, gender, sexual preference or ethnicity. The alternative is ruin.
Please click on: The Apocalypse of Settler ColonialismFootnotes
- A description of this book (supplying a critical debunking of the founding myth of the United States of America (Empire) ) reads:
The successful 1776 revolt against British rule in North America has been hailed almost universally as a great step forward for humanity. But the Africans then living in the colonies overwhelmingly sided with the British. In this trailblazing book, Gerald Horne shows that in the prelude to 1776, the abolition of slavery seemed all but inevitable in London, delighting Africans as much as it outraged slaveholders, and sparking the colonial revolt.
Prior to 1776, anti-slavery sentiments were deepening throughout Britain and in the Caribbean, rebellious Africans were in revolt. For European colonists in America, the major threat to their security was a foreign invasion combined with an insurrection of the enslaved. It was a real and threatening possibility that London would impose abolition throughout the colonies—a possibility the founding fathers feared would bring slave rebellions to their shores. To forestall it, they went to war.
The so-called Revolutionary War, Horne writes, was in part a counter-revolution, a conservative movement that the founding fathers fought in order to preserve their right to enslave others. The Counter-Revolution of 1776 brings us to a radical new understanding of the traditional heroic creation myth of the United States.