Unfree Labour

“The preoccupation with the origins of ‘freedom’ and a persistent understanding of market economies as essentially ‘free’ has clouded our perspective of the past. It is time to engage with new explorations on the role of unfree relations, not only in the form of slavery, but in other variations as well. Studying the role of slavery in the Dutch global empire and the presence of slavery in the Dutch Republic is only a modest first step. It is important to critically re-examine the role of coercion in other parts of the history of and explicitly in Europe as well. How did debts, legal and economic force, or other limits to freedom influence migration, labour relations, social strategies, everyday life and politics?…As much of the global history of slavery, these questions are waiting to be explored” (Karwan Fatah-Black and Mattias van Rossum. 2014. “Slavery in a slave-free enclave?: Historical links between the Dutch Republic Empire and slavery, 1580s-1860s.” Werkstatt Geschichte 66-67: 55-73.



What is liberalism? Liberal principles have been asserted as rear-guard, ad hoc defenses of elite privileges under significant assault by absolutist rulers, chartered corporations, and centralized states. Across these rear-guard defense options, one principle grounds liberalism: absolute private property right.

  1. See Losurdo 2011.
  2. Fatah-Black and van Rossum: The States General (1776) “The freedom of the Negro and other slaves, brought here from the State’s colonies to these lands” ordinance stipulated that “the freedom of the citizens of the state, who would lose their property (if slaves were freed), would be damaged more severely than that the upholding of the principle of freedom would be worth… ‘This would be a far graver affront against the birthright and immediate freedom of the inhabitants of this Republic,’” the preamble announced (64).
    1. Roman Law was introduced in 1629 to manage slavery in the Dutch Republic (62).
    2. Creditors’ rights superseded both plantation owners and slaves’ rights (65).


Varieties of domination across space: Why (where) slavery and not wage-wage slavery or genocide?

Premise 1: There are different forms of slavery.

Premise 2: Imperialists rely on genocide where slavers’ freedom cannot be supported by the slavery of the regional population.

What conditions support or attenuate slaver freedom?

  1. Structural explanations:
    1. As slavery contributes to slaver societies’ value accumulation–for example, between 1595 and 1829, slavery contributed around 70 million guilders to the Dutch port cities’ economic profit margins (69), slavers are an economic network. Within this network, slave traders‘ profits are typically “modest” (70), and could be a bottleneck for the development of slavery.
    2. To capture and distribute wealth within an oligarchical metropole, specific commodity chains produced by slavery promote or prevent slavery across locations.
      1. Slavery-promoting commodities: Cotton, sugar, rum, coffee, sexual services, domestic service, diamond mining. See also economic sectors that rely heavily on “volunteer,” “labor of love,” and “intern” labour: education and research, conservation, community and social services,…
      2. Wage slavery commodities: Expansive, alternates with slavery, see above.
      3. Genocide commodities: Commodities requiring total territorial control? Doubtful. Rather than “genocide commodities,” genocide probably is structurally caused by irreconcilable oikoi within a region, and may be indicative of a closer power balance than is present in slavery and wage slavery regions. As they are central in financing slavery commodity production, expanding financial metropoles and capitalization may play a role in spurring oikos rivalry blocs into genocide.
      4. To parse out the distribution of slavery, wage slavery, and genocide, compare commodity production and capitalization histories of high- indigenous population American regions–Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia, the Four Corners, USA, (New Zealand?); and American regions that relied more heavily upon genocide: The Eastern US, extractivist Canadian regions, Argentina, Australia, etc. What is happening with commodity production and capitalization in indigenous-settler mixing zones– “La Malinche” Mexico, (New Zealand?), and Metis Manitoba?
  2. Cultural & social network explanations:
    1. Within this structure described above, relative regional coordination capacity and culture would matter.
      1. In Dutch Asia, slaves came from East Indonesia because the non-Islamic population had low coordination capacity and lacked anti-slavery culture (60). By engaging in internecene war and raiding, supplying slaves to the imperial merchants, Indonesian parochialism made Dutch slave traders’ work easier and profit margins higher.
    2. The trade in slaves was (re-)produced through elite networking. Slaves were taken from merchant elites’ business travels and dislocated around the globe, via elite network gifting, etc (59-60).
      1. Network symbolic capital, distinction (63)–as in modern, inegalitarian, imperial, cosmopolitan immigration/colonial settler societies–incentivizes the separation and relocation of humans as slaves, and by that, produces “trouble” in metropoles.
        1. This trouble had to be regulated with metropole laws that progressively reduced slaves’ freedom further, until at the last owners’ sacred property was threatened by punitive law (65-67).
    3. Slavers could depend on black overseers to use their human capacities to innovate torture, to control slaves on plantations (72).
      1. The Master’s dependency on the humanity of the dehumanized: “Men do not want solely the obedience of women, they want their sentiments. All men, except the most brutish, desire to have in the woman most nearly connected with them not a forced slave but a willing one.” –JS Mill, 1869, “The subjection of women.”
        1. See also Hegel’s critique, “Herrschaft und Knechtschaft” (1807).
      2. The human capacity for unmaking (see Scarry 1985): Using others’ human sentience against them to destroy their material worlds, and in place of their semantic world, promote the imperial voice and order.
      3. The stimulated jump from a state of unsolidaristic, competitive, parochial soveriegnty to a state of subordinate patriarchal intermediary secures the social construction of steep and complex social hierarchy.
        1. According to Federici 1998, patriarchy in complex societies invokes intimate and, by categorical extension, systematic alienation and fear of the target of defection and the defected relation, to realign trust and solidarities to an inegalitarian, socio-spatially dispersed network, an imagined global community of men. This trust realignment permits the transfer of property to and up the hierarchy of men. Alienated on multiple everyday levels, and crippled by fear, non-elites are compelled to reproduce exploitation and appropriation.
          1. Not all communities are responsive to patriarchal co-optation, and it is not structurally advantageous. For example the Basque maintained intra-community solidarity that permitted an autonomous and successful economic development path within capitalism (Federici 1998). Some communities rather are disposed to the protection racket bargain and patriarchal co-option. Why? What are the factors?
            1. As well as Robin (2004), the comparative history of the Scandinavian countries suggests some hypotheses, see Barton (1986). Ask Jonah Olsen about the Basque exception as well.
        2. Once instituted, capitalist law recreates the vertical-solidarity, competitive patriarch.
  3. See Losurdo (2011), Robbie Etheridge, Fatah-Balck and van Rossum.




WWII & the twilight of Western Enlightenment

AT the turn of the 20th century, ruling classes mobilized nation states to struggle for territorial control and economic development, while working classes struggled for emancipation

From the 16th century, the Atlantic ruling class (the ruling class of Britain, the Netherlands, the US, France, and other North Atlantic territories) successfully ascended to world power through a potent combination of capitalist relations and primitive accumulation, including enclosures, global imperialism and colonialism, and slavery. By the turn of the 20th century, both German and Russian networks were left out of this power ascent, stagnant but still latently capacious and entitled. They had long-influential ruling classes managing and intervening in European territories. Where Russia had dwindled from Enlightenment and power influence to supplying mercenary militaries to the ultimately-losing European ruling class repressions of democratic revolts, German society had lost its influential long-time role supplying the educated, princely managerial staff to European monarchies.

Communists overthrew the dissolute Russian monarchy network, and mobilized massive and disruptive economic modernization campaigns across the Soviet Union’s vast Eurasian territory. German territories attempted to correct their over-investment in European aristocracy by reorganizing as a militarized nation-state mobilizing strong managerial and productive capacity. To carve out territory in an already-owned world required warfare. While the Atlantic ruling class has had enormous capacity to absorb other ruling elites, it has not accommodated them, with the exception of the semi-independence concession to Middle East absolutist tyrannies ruling keystone geopolitical and oil extraction territory. When upstart Germany lost WWI, the Atlantic ruling class sought to crush an independent Germany and the German sense of entitlement with the Treaty of Versailles. This vainglorious effort only produced more outraged re-organization in Germany, spawning the fascist campaign to put Germany on the global capitalist map.

Germany’s reactionary, anti-socialist fascism at first was thought to be compatible with the anti-communist Atlantic ruling class order. For seven years, from 1933 to the September 1939 invasion of Poland, the capitalist Atlantic ruling class had agreeable relations and multiple pacts with the pro-capitalist, anti-communist fascist regimes, including Nazi Germany. During this period, the young Soviet Union had been struggling with imperial, fascist Japan, which was invading China.

13 Nation-state Compacts with Fascist Germany


A side product of Britain’s imperial expansion and its opposition to Russia and that country’s power, Polish and other weaker-community nationalisms surged in the 16th century. Russia and Poland then struggled for territorial control, with Russia controlling the territory from the 18th century until Russia’s collapse after WWI. By contrast, the Atlantic ruling class gained further power after WWI, taking control over former Ottoman Empire territory and populations.

In August 1939 Germany made an opportunistic, temporary alliance with the Soviet Union and Slovakia to re-take Poland and divide it. Britain and France had a post-WWI pact that should Poland be invaded, they would regard the invasion as an act of war against the Atlantic ruling class. Polish gold was smuggled out to London and Ottawa. In reclaiming territory, the Soviet Union was again acting independently of the Atlantic ruling order, and so was a categorical enemy. But the geopolitical crisis was a fascist state acting independently of the Atlantic ruling order. In an already-owned world, German economic development intolerably forced both (temporary) capitalist-communist cooperation and a dis-identification between the Atlantic ruling order and capitalism.

While the Atlantic ruling class has remained in fairly-constant geopolitical opposition to Russia (regardless of its government), British sponsorship of Polish and Eastern European national ambitions has been rather more opportunistic than a primary goal. It is the Polish (among other Eastern European buffers) nationality’s perspective that the Western powers “betrayed” their sponsorship agreements in 1939 (inter alia), as the North Atlantic powers allied with the Soviet Union to fight WWII, to stop Germany’s further territorial invasions and expansions. The Soviets ground down the imperial German war machine; and the Soviet Union’s gambit to reduce the Atlantic ruling order’s combined anticommunist and geopolitical opposition was thus soon played out.

British war leader Winston Churchill hoped to simply redirect WWII against the Soviet Union upon Germany’s defeat in April 1945. But British analysts concluded that the Atlantic powers would not be able to defeat and control the Soviet Union’s territory via direct warfare. So, in another “betrayal,” Churchill and Stalin divided up the former Austro-Hungarian borderlands (the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed in WWI), from 1945 until the modern Russian communist experiment was liquidated in 1989 under the co-optative idea, and a patently false and geopolitically-naive expectation, suggesting that simply by dissolving communism to the benefit of oligarchs, Russia would become included and supported as an autonomous capitalist country in the North Atlantic metropole archipelago, much as Germany, Italy, and Japan had been under the redistributive Marshall Plan. But in that North Atlantic, states had since largely been claimed by a financially-liberated, cosmopolitan ruling class, and that class already had a capitalist relationship with the great reserves of Chinese and Indian labor, resources, pollution sinks, and consumers. Nor was it possible for even-oligarchical Russia, with its broader social networks and infrastructure, to be integrated into the Middle East tyrants’ efficient, special relationship with the Atlantic ruling class.

Since then, the Atlantic ruling class has pursued an oppositional relationship with Russia, offering instead the City of London as an increasingly-posh haven for the Russian klepto-collaborators and their booty, the once-public wealth accrued with brains, blood, sweat and tears within the Soviet Union territories. A globally-networked, cosmopolitan ruling class with key bases in North Atlantic financial cities and countries currently enjoys the restoration of its undiluted, unrivaled power, as well as steep and immobile social hierarchy and all its effects. As billions of people are surveilled, policed, incarcerated, militarized, exploited, poisoned, dispossessed, violently disrupted, and dislocated into spectacular migrations, outside of continental Europe, aristocracy and servitude have been restored. Western Enlightenment ideas, culture, and institutions have fallen, but the extraction and slavery infrastructure remains and has been technologically enhanced.

Thus, while there are still states and of course market institutions managing cosmopolitan extractivism and the social reproduction of inegalitarianism, with the eradication of Enlightenment thought and institutions, nation-states have been reorganized as rigid, stagnant Night-watchman states. Nations are reserved for the industrializing countries.

Distinguishing social democracy

Distinguishing social democracy:

Under left-liberal (as opposed to soc dem) regimes, organized labor does not participate in mid- to longer-range socio-economic planning. However, left think tanks can contribute mid- to long-range planning analyses.

Conversely, there are a variety of ways in which business leaders contribute to public policy formation, because business (public and private, but not cooperative) is regarded by the lib-left govt as the engine of growth.

This exclusion of cooperatives from the field of perceived contributors to growth indicates that lib-left govts may also be distinguished from social democratic govts by an assumption that growth is a product of “efficient” social-hierarchy-inflating organizational forms.

In lib-left regimes, labor views its role, and the liberal government views labor’s role as (often obstructive) ballast to economic growth initiatives that are seen as the natural concern of business. That’s labor’s negative role. It’s not a leadership role.

Labor’s positive role in capitalist democracy thus largely devolves to delivering votes to the left-liberal govt, because although the lib-left does not regard labor as a central social or economic policy resource, as opposed to conservative govts the lib-left govt will not actively try to break organized labor and it may implement those modest proposals of labor that do not impede the business-driven growth planning.

Hence, with a range of ruling (capitalist) political perspectives that always preemptively block information from labor (except what little leaks obliquely through the market), we repeatedly sink into crisis cycles–crisis of profit begets > capital deregulation and overmobilization, working class overregulation, demobilization, and dispossession beget > speculative bubbles/primitive accumulation beget > underconsumption crisis begets > further primitive accumulation, repeat. We fixate on the speculative bubbles moment in the midst of all this autistic failure, hoard wealth, and laud ourselves endlessly for being such top-notch managers and philanthropistes.

This is why for Rawlsianism to work, socialist politics and the communist horizon must be more highly valued, and even defended– by liberals.
As far as I know, this seeming impossibility has only been (temporarily) accomplished in Scandinavia and Minnesota. (While Latin America leftists tried to forge a left-lib coalition from scratch, the US destroyed this effort and enforced conservative rule in Latin America, see Greg Grandin.)

In “Right-wing Rawlsianism: A Critique” (forthcoming in Journal of Political Philosophy) Samuel Arnold argues that if liberals agree that agency is the essence of justice, then liberals have to pick which side they are on–because economic democracy fosters more agency than Trickledown provides.

Arnold’s is a clever detonation of a bridge from liberalism to conservatism, using some of the bridge-builders’ own ideal theory tools. (Particularly with respect to Rawls’ difference principle: A liberal justice-maximizing directive to choose the political-economic system that maximizes the least-advantaged group’s expectations for an index of primary goods that include income and wealth, but also status (qua capacity for agency in the workplace and self-respect in society).)

Upon deriving the optimal realization of liberal justice (agency) in workplace democracy, Arnold concludes (p. 32),

Milquetoast liberal egalitarianism is unstable: liberal egalitarianism must move far to the left in order to avoid being jerked far to the right.”

We need to keep heaping on the demonstrations that economic democracy fosters more agency than GDP/GNP tumescence.

For one example, insofar as political-economic systems can be said to have intentions, how plausible is it that capitalism does not intend to support social pathologies (Arnold, p.29)? Studies of primitive accumulation, the WEB DuBois tradition, socialist feminists, Harvey et al have a lot to say about how capitalism “intends to” (is built and maintained to) and does depend upon and support social pathologies. This approach apprehends the connection between economic (eg. workplace) tyranny and racism, sexism, colonialism, etc., for a powerpunch assertion that inequality is both fundamental to capitalism (even if it is shifted around across some social groups, over time and space) and fatally (from the perspective of justice) undermines agency (power to).

…& on the matter of historical-materialism’s putative incapacity to deal with difference (from a postmodern POV), from Arnold (p. 29):

Patriarchy, discrimination against the weak or the different, pressure to conform, and countless other social practices that prevent people from realizing their full agential potential: how long can these pathologies withstand the countervailing winds of a social democracy, with its democratic workplaces, its flattened division of labor, its robustly egalitarian public institutions?”

Primitive Accumulation, Negative Externalities and Growth

Over the years, Stefano Bartolini has modeled economic growth, showing that whereas most models of economic growth feature accumulation and technical progress as engines of growth, a third engine is needed to ensure self-perpetuating economic growth. History, the theory of Polanyi & Hirsch, and Bartolini’s models suggest that third engine is 2 negative externalities that combine to drive growth: 1) positional externalities, and 2) externalities that reduce social and natural capital.

Pagano 1999 defined a positional good: consumption by an individual of a positive amount of a positional good involves the consumption of an equal negative amount by someone else. Power and status are fundamental positional goods; others include education and housing.  The positional goods/services/externalities theoretical tradition extends from Veblen 1899/1934 and Hirsh 1976. In addition to Bartolini, Robert H. Frank (“Falling Behind”) has continued to explore this tradition as well as Bowles and Park 2002, Schor 1998, and Corneo and Jeanne 2001.

“Industrial revolutions are the paradigmatic example of this (Growth as Substitution) mechanism: they are the most striking processes of labor supply and accumulation increase because they are the most striking processes of social and environmental devastation recorded by economic history” (Stefano Bartolini, “Beyond Accumulation and Technical Progress: Negative Externalities as an Engine of Economic Growth.” 2003: 9).

Williamson 1995, Krugman 1995, and Bartolini et al have shown that the transition to an industrial economy has always been associated with explosive growth in the labor force participation rate.

Such growth-propelling negative externalities are discussed within the Marxist tradition as primitive accumulation. To further explore: The relationship between primitive accumulation and other capitalist strategies of promoting profit-restoring growth to the point of increasing contradiction / social and environmental irrationality.

Bartolini’s growth-model can better explain the failure of conservative economics’ predicted relationship between growth and happiness (Bartolini 2003). Inter alia, political scientist Lane 2000 shows that American growth is not associated with increased happiness.

Capitalism Takes Food from the Poor

Have you ever wondered how it is that capitalism causes malnourishment? Here’s one way.

“The global rush to buy farmland continues, and international investors are focusing on the poorest countries with weak land-rights security…Investor interest in land was triggered by the 2007-08 spike in food prices, and the long-term trends that drive deals are rising commodity prices, population growth, growing consumption and demand for biofuels and timber…The deals in the database amount to 83.2 million hectares (205.6 million acres) of land in developing countries…Most of the investors are private companies, accounting for 442 projects covering 30.3 million hectares, followed by state- owned companies with 172 projects and 11.5 million hectares, based on the data. Investment funds were behind 32 projects covering 3.3 million hectares….

 Governments often sell land already in use by smallholder farmers, according to the (research) group. About 45 percent of deals target cropland or crop-vegetation mosaics, where investors are competing for land with local farming communities, the group reported. ‘Investors are targeting countries with weak land tenure security, although they try to look for countries that at the same time offer relatively high levels of investor protection,’ the Land Matrix group said.”

Look at the Landportal Landmatrix data on capitalism incentivizing investors to steal arable land from the poor, that the moneyed might speculate on the dispossessed’s ensuing starvation.

The How & Why of Privatization Touts

At the Ivies, the students are instructed by only the most high-status, most fail-tastic privatization marketeers (AKA conservative economists) that only the best-funded gentlemen’s networks can float.

How privatization and class warfare is sold to future US leadership: with lies, covering obscene kleptocracy and its further socialized costs.

Note: Larry Summers may have long since lost his royal Harvard throne, but not just because of his sexism (the putative cause) and racist ecological imperialism (There’s that too.), or even just being an evil overlord of the rampant social, economic and environmental mega-destruction that is neoliberalism. Rather, his Harvard departure is likely due to this: Summers decided to use Harvard funds to pay the costs (The US Justice Department fined Shleifer $26.5 million) of Andrei Shleifer’s massive kleptocratic privatization profiteering in post-communist Russia.

Yee-ha! Good ole fancy boys! Creme de la…uh… I’m guessing Summers himself has enjoyed many, many such back-scratching indulgences over the years, and it’s all par for the course for that highly-oiled and polished ruling mafioso. What was that? Did someone mention Goldman Sachs owns the Fed and the US government? You don’t say. Now what were we talking about? Berlusconi?

Harvard University: You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.