Unfree Labour & Mass Killing

“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 Creditors’ rights superseded both plantation owners and slaves’ rights (65).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 regions that relied more heavily upon genocide: financial-manufacturing Eastern US and Canadian regions, Argentina, Australia, etc. What is happening distinctively 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, violent Indonesian parochial competition 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 (just before illegalization of the slave trade) owners’ sacred property was threatened–the law threatened to free any slave who gave herself up to authorities when entering the metropole (65-67).
          1. Capitalism works by unevenly allocating exploitation and appropriation across space, across social categories. Yet over time separating these geographically requires great management effort, including racialization to reproduce exploitable parochial competition, and this differential breaks down when the slave comes to the metropole. The metropole is a value-distribution zone opposed to extraction zones.
            1. Contemporary: Core global metropoles–NYC, SF, Singapore– are even today policed and efficiently cleansed of anyone surplus who is not a wage slave or owner. Non-capitalist populations in metropole space degrade the capitalization-coordinator/accumulator function. Check out geography lit.
    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, “winners v. losers.” 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-Black and van Rossum (2014).

What conditions support or attenuate genocide?

  1. See Straus, Scott. 2007. “Second-generation comparative research on genocide.” World Politics: 476-501. Of the early 21st century efforts to improve on genocide theory, Valentino’s (2004) is the most convincing, least ideologically-motivated, most comparative explanation. He argues that in the modern era, small groups of leaders are ideologically persuaded to choose mass killing (including both genocide and politicide) as an instrumental solution to resource and land acquisition, or to defeat collective resistance. Everyone else just accommodates and enables the political entrepreneurs. Valentino’s theory has the virtue of specifying a central role for rational calculation as well as a lesser role for irrational ideology, both by a small leadership group. In modern/capitalist societies, the popular classes are dominated and socially accountable to elite-ruled networks.
    1. Valentino (2004) identifies two categories of mass killing: a) Dispossessive mass killing, such as where leaders seek to transform/modernize societies across diverse, populated territory; and b) Coercive mass killing, including mass killing in wars and in imperial strategy, where “leaders try to defeat resistance and intimidate future resistance” (485).
      1. Arguably the long colonial genocide in North America is the progressive confluence of both forms of mass killing.
    2. Levene’s (2005) explanation is flawed but offers a couple of insights of value. In his first volume, Genocide in the Age of the Nation State, he argues that genocide is a contingent outcome and more likely when targeted populations resist. He specifies the irrationalism as phobia. However, Levene is an elitist, and his overall argument is that popular irrationalism in late-developer countries causes genocide. To arrive at this explanation, he ignores colonial mass killing. However, the irrationalism of phobia could just as well be imported into Valentino’s theory to specify the elite ideology behind the genocidal path. Semelin suggests that leaders use ideology to transform popular anxieties into fear, and this is affirmed by Federici’s study of the European witch hunts.
    3. Of the comparative genocide theorists, Levene’s second volume alone attempts to survey mass killing in the vast expanse of the pre-modern period. While he is unable to substantively theorize pre-modern mass killing, it exists empirically. The transhistorical abstraction of mass killing explains it as a byproduct of “political development.” So by comparison (following the Marxist technique of comparing a phenomenon’s capitalist form to its transhistorical form), “modern” or capitalist-era mass killing is caused by political development (also), state interest, and to a lesser extent, ideology, or the elite deployment of fear.
    4. Midlarsky’s comparative work (2005) is also flawed but has the virtue of exploring where genocides did not occur: There was not genocide in Cambodia, but politicide. Greeks in the Ottoman Empire and Jews in pre-WWII Poland were not targeted for genocide. Such examples could be used to help explain mass killing. Midlarsky thinks that modern genocides are created in the context of loss: territorial, economic, or population loss in war (486). His theory also helpfully specifies that targeted populations are simultaneously feared as threatening and assessed as vulnerable (486), and he points out that genocide perpetrators have both gotten away with violence before they commit the genocide, and have some international support, such as the Vatican for Nazi Germany and France for the Rwandan genocide (486).
    5. This brings up the point that theorists of genocide have to take political sides. In the early 20th century, the UN defined the problem of mass killing as genocide on the model of the Shoah. That specific context and formulation produces a liberal moral framework and research agenda, which at first produced explanations of genocide that were highly idiosyncratic to the Jewish community’s preexisting frameworks and post-Holocaust political needs (see pp. 480-483), and in the second wave of genocide scholarship, still produced explanations, like Weitz’s (2003), that identified communist revolution as genocide, or like Mann (2005) tended to select genocide cases from amongst the Anglo-American Empire’s late-to-the-party rivals. Less ideological approaches recognize and theorize the mass killings committed across the political and geographic spectrum, including the colonial genocides.
    6. Note that both Mann and Levene think that late capitalist development causes genocide. I don’t agree with this, but I think it’s interesting that sociologist Mann as well as Levene acknowledge the position of Germany relative to the Anglo-American Empire at the start of the 20th century. Idealist explanations for the rise of fascism typically obscure what Hegel had identified in the early 19th century as the intractable problem of an already-owned world–at the individual level, The Right of the Starving Man.
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At stake:

Consider the recent indigenization interventions of Glen Coulthard and Leann Betamosake Simpson. They call for a reclamation and reinvention of indigenous lifeways and associated ways of knowing, and anti-capitalist and anti-colonial refusal, rather than mere Reconciliation and cultural celebration. Their intervention is heroic.

At the same time, even liberal Reconciliation is countered by furtive but insistent protest. If a viable alternative to capitalist extractivism was built in extractivist Canada, a place that exists within the World-system in order to transform nature’s work into capitalist accumulation, would the settler protest switch into mass brutality again? As it is, it’s more like a constant mining or blood-letting. One thinks of the baby moose of the north-eastern U.S. seaboard, drained to death by tens of thousands of ticks. Humans have mass-killed off our rival macro-predators, and the tiny killers, the biomass of bugs, flood into the breach. We sit like Mr. Kurtz amidst the entropy we have created, and we celebrate culture.

Under what conditions does capitalist power organize through its hierarchical network its primary forms of economic- and other warfare, its infinitely-negative judgment–wage slavery, slavery, and genocide?

Research Site

The Equal Justice Initiative’s The Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. For background, see review by Laquer, Thomas. 2018. Lynched for drinking from a white man’s well. The London Review of Books.

The US has killed more than 20 M people in 37 countries since WWII.





Rethink, Rebuild the Cities

“By the early 1980s, when both President Obama and I were in college, the anti-big-government, pro-privatization rhetoric of the Reagan years was catching on, and the entire notion of public spending, let alone spending on large public works projects, was becoming passé.

In many major cities this void was filled by private developers, who began refurbishing parks and old historic quarters. The result was sanitized versions of real cities organized around themed districts, convention centers and sports complexes. Meanwhile the roads, bridges and sewer systems that held these cities together were allowed to disintegrate.

At the same time Europe and Asia began to supplant America as places where visions of the future were being built. The European Union spent decades building one of the most efficient networks of high-speed trains in the world, a railway that has unified the continent while leading to the cultural revival of cities like Brussels and Lille. And environmental standards for new construction were not only encouraged, they became the law — and have been for more than a decade.”

Ouroussoff, Nicolai. 2009. “Reinventing America’s Cities: The Time is Now.” The New York Times, March 25.

Gardening: Do No Harm Coping

Michael Pollan’s “Why Bother?” article is at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/20/magazine/20wwln-lede-t.html?em&ex=1209009600&en=d8cc9200fb79ea20&ei=5087

What would I have to show for trying to do a few things to add less to global warming:

“A sense of personal virtue, you might suggest, somewhat sheepishly. But what good is that when virtue itself is quickly becoming a term of derision? And not just on the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal or on the lips of the vice president, who famously dismissed energy conservation as a “sign of personal virtue.” No, even in the pages of The New York Times and The New Yorker, it seems the epithet “virtuous,” when applied to an act of personal environmental responsibility, may be used only ironically. Tell me: How did it come to pass that virtue — a quality that for most of history has generally been deemed, well, a virtue — became a mark of liberal softheadedness? How peculiar, that doing the right thing by the environment — buying the hybrid, eating like a locavore — should now set you up for the Ed Begley Jr. treatment.

…There are so many stories we can tell ourselves to justify doing nothing, but perhaps the most insidious is that, whatever we do manage to do, it will be too little too late. Climate change is upon us, and it has arrived well ahead of schedule. Scientists’ projections that seemed dire a decade ago turn out to have been unduly optimistic: the warming and the melting is occurring much faster than the models predicted. Now truly terrifying feedback loops threaten to boost the rate of change exponentially, as the shift from white ice to blue water in the Arctic absorbs more sunlight and warming soils everywhere become more biologically active, causing them to release their vast stores of carbon into the air. Have you looked into the eyes of a climate scientist recently? They look really scared.

Whatever we can do as individuals to change the way we live at this suddenly very late date does seem utterly inadequate to the challenge. It’s hard to argue with Michael Specter, in a recent New Yorker piece on carbon footprints, when he says: “Personal choices, no matter how virtuous [N.B.!], cannot do enough. It will also take laws and money.” So it will. Yet it is no less accurate or hardheaded to say that laws and money cannot do enough, either; that it will also take profound changes in the way we live. Why? Because the climate-change crisis is at its very bottom a crisis of lifestyle — of character, even. The Big Problem is nothing more or less than the sum total of countless little everyday choices, most of them made by us (consumer spending represents 70 percent of our economy), and most of the rest of them made in the name of our needs and desires and preferences.

For us to wait for legislation or technology to solve the problem of how we’re living our lives suggests we’re not really serious about changing — something our politicians cannot fail to notice. They will not move until we do. Indeed, to look to leaders and experts, to laws and money and grand schemes, to save us from our predicament represents precisely the sort of thinking — passive, delegated, dependent for solutions on specialists — that helped get us into this mess in the first place. It’s hard to believe that the same sort of thinking could now get us out of it.

For Berry, the deep problem standing behind all the other problems of industrial civilization is “specialization,” which he regards as the “disease of the modern character.” Our society assigns us a tiny number of roles: we’re producers (of one thing) at work, consumers of a great many other things the rest of the time, and then once a year or so we vote as citizens. Virtually all of our needs and desires we delegate to specialists of one kind or another — our meals to agribusiness, health to the doctor, education to the teacher, entertainment to the media, care for the environment to the environmentalist, political action to the politician.

…Of course, what made this sort of specialization possible in the first place was cheap energy. Cheap fossil fuel allows us to pay distant others to process our food for us, to entertain us and to (try to) solve our problems, with the result that there is very little we know how to accomplish for ourselves. Think for a moment of all the things you suddenly need to do for yourself when the power goes out — up to and including entertaining yourself. Think, too, about how a power failure causes your neighbors — your community — to suddenly loom so much larger in your life. Cheap energy allowed us to leapfrog community by making it possible to sell our specialty over great distances as well as summon into our lives the specialties of countless distant others.

Here’s the point: Cheap energy, which gives us climate change, fosters precisely the mentality that makes dealing with climate change in our own lives seem impossibly difficult. Specialists ourselves, we can no longer imagine anyone but an expert, or anything but a new technology or law, solving our problems. Al Gore asks us to change the light bulbs because he probably can’t imagine us doing anything much more challenging, like, say, growing some portion of our own food. We can’t imagine it, either, which is probably why we prefer to cross our fingers and talk about the promise of ethanol and nuclear power — new liquids and electrons to power the same old cars and houses and lives.

The “cheap-energy mind,” as Wendell Berry called it, is the mind that asks, “Why bother?” because it is helpless to imagine — much less attempt — a different sort of life, one less divided, less reliant. Since the cheap-energy mind translates everything into money, its proxy, it prefers to put its faith in market-based solutions — carbon taxes and pollution-trading schemes. If we could just get the incentives right, it believes, the economy will properly value everything that matters and nudge our self-interest down the proper channels. The best we can hope for is a greener version of the old invisible hand. Visible hands it has no use for.

If you do bother, you will set an example for other people. If enough other people bother, each one influencing yet another in a chain reaction of behavioral change, markets for all manner of green products and alternative technologies will prosper and expand. (Just look at the market for hybrid cars.) Consciousness will be raised, perhaps even changed: new moral imperatives and new taboos might take root in the culture. Driving an S.U.V. or eating a 24-ounce steak or illuminating your McMansion like an airport runway at night might come to be regarded as outrages to human conscience. Not having things might become cooler than having them. And those who did change the way they live would acquire the moral standing to demand changes in behavior from others — from other people, other corporations, even other countries.

…Havel himself has suggested that people begin to “conduct themselves as if they were to live on this earth forever and be answerable for its condition one day.” Fair enough, but let me propose a slightly less abstract and daunting wager. The idea is to find one thing to do in your life that doesn’t involve spending or voting, that may or may not virally rock the world but is real and particular (as well as symbolic) and that, come what may, will offer its own rewards.”

Pollan suggests gardening for some of your food. It’s the best idea, I think, a liberal can come up with to address ecological damage.