I’ve been reading the book Slavery in the Circuit of Sugar: Martinique and the World Economy, 1830-1848, by Dale Tomich. More notes later, probly. The book is about capitalism, among other things. Tomich writes that with the growth of capitalism and the changing political balance “previously existing social relations were recast within the new constellation of political and economic forces.” (26.) He adds a bit later that “Colonialism, protected markets, and slave labor did not disappear; they assumed new and diverse relations to the processes reconstituting the world market. They now existed as a part of new and different relations and processes of the world economy and helped to shape the mode and limits of its integration.” (26-27.) That seems pretty much indisputable to me. At the same time, this kind of thing has often frustrated me when brought up in discussions about capitalism and slavery because it has felt like an attempt to rig the game a bit. Saying “well, old forms are retained under capitalism, but rearticulated” can be a way to argue that slavery is an archaic labor form held over from earlier times, which can be a way to argue that slavery is essentially non-capitalist (because a pre-capitalist holdover and maintained under the dominance of capitalism), even if it existed under capitalism. To put it another way, this can be a way to place slavery as conceptually external to capitalism, unlike waged labor which is taken to be conceptually internal to and essential to capitalism. A thought struck me just now though which is why I decided to write this post. Tomich writes that “Colonialism, protected markets, and slave labor did not disappear” as the world market changed, actually they extended in some cases. We could to this list waged labor as well. Waged labor, like those other social relations, pre-existed capitalism. Waged labor too is a pre-capitalist holdover re-articulated under the dominance of capital once the capitalist system gets established.

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