Capitalism and Slavery

The slave production in the Americas and the African slave trade, however, were not merely or even predominantly a transition to capitalism. They were a relatively stable support, a pedestal of superexploitation on which European capitalism stood. There is no contradiction here: slave labour in the colonies made capitalism in Europe possible, and European capital had no interesting in giving it up…The point here is not simply to denounce the irrationality of the bourgeoisie, but to understand how slavery and servitude can be perfectly compatible with capitalist production, as mechanisms that limit the mobility of the labor force and blocks its movements – Hardt & Negri, Empire, pp.122-123

I have a certain fascination with the Marxist IR theory of Hardt & Negri, insofar as tracing the geneaology of the state through the imperial-colonial discourse. Capitalism is fundamentally meant for the free individual in the Lockean sense, that one is rewarded for the fruits of labour. The individual is free to produce whatever goods and services are in demand by whatever means at his disposal and be entitled to the benefits of its profits, exchange, trade, etc. As something Marx is concerned about in his critique of capitalism, it is interesting to note how this dynamic is utterly reversed by imperialism and the imposition of neoliberal policies on developing countries. That is, the means of extraction and production are not owned by the colonies, but by the imperialists. The colonies could only be productive insofar as they imported mass free labour from other countries and reap the maximum profits from such production, as well as justified by a rhetoric of a civilizing mission and a sense of racial/cultural superiority. The worker can as easily be enslaved by his labour as freed by it through the acquisition and tradeoff of goods/services.

In the idea of capitalism itself, the notion of equality of opportunity and outcome are emphasized by Adam Smith, but nothing explicitly dictates a relationship of inferiority or superiority concerning the means of production and the worker. If anything, labour is supposed to be emancipatory because it enables the individual to make a living in the pursuit of his own ends. So how do we revert to a purist form of liberal policies concerning the humane and equal human development of the colonized world? It must primarily be a domestic solution that emulates the United States’ original plan of economic development: protectionism. This enabled the growth and development of the manufacturing sector as a basis for a strong American economy. Once developed, a free market policy allowed for vast amounts of exports and profits. The whole world could have adopted such policies and developed horizontally, but such results were skewed by the overriding narrative of imperialism and a continued policy of neoliberalism.

So what now? There’s nothing wrong with capitalism on paper (ironically the same as communism), but is capitalism forever doomed to be linked with the subjugating exploitative tendencies of imperialist expansion and acquisition? I’d like to think not, that capitalism can return to a purer form if one takes the time to actually read The Wealth of Nations and use neoGramscian theory to dissect and rectify the current systemic problems with capitalism on a macroscale. Since property rights are protected by the state, similarly I think labour rights should be protected by international governmental institutions such as a re-modification the WTO or ILO (as such institutions already permit the reign of  the invisible hand). At the same time, states should take responsibility domestically to ensure the development of their industries through protectionism and resist the imposition of neoliberal policies that are ultimately premature for such entities.

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