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The American Right (or Wrong?): The Rise of Trump and Future of the Republican Party (Part G)
Source of photo: osborneink.com
In Part F one of my ideas this: In our country, the United States of America, it seems to me that capitalism was built right on top of slavery, without anybody having reconsidered the inhumane assumptions and expectations of the previous labor regime. As a result, slavery continues to haunt and distort the functioning of our economic system and political democracy.
One of the factors, I said, getting in the way of reimagining our economic system on a humane basis is our inability, as a nation, to even agree that slavery was a bad thing, an institution whose inhumane conditions and productive goals need to be morally repudiated. In the previous installment I offered, as Exhibit A, a book by historian Thaddeus Russell, A Renegade History Of The United States---specifically his Chapter Two, which is titled "The Freedom of Slavery," which happens to be followed by Chapter Three, "The Slavery of Freedom."
To oversimplify the basic takeaway: Black people had it made under slavery (sarcasm), because the institution shielded them from the real world (sarcasm), where the real victims were free whites who suffered infinitely more than black slaves (sarcasm), because the former worked harder than the latter (according to economic historians, Dr. Russell said, Northern white farmers worked on average four hundred more hours per year than the black slaves) (sarcasm); and free whites were subject to more physical torture than the pampered black slaves (sarcasm).
For those of you just joining this series of essays here: Seriously!
In Part F I also said that there were at least two distinct consequences of constructing American capitalism right atop American slavery in the manner I have suggested: 1) the re-enslavement of black in the South under the convict leasing system (see Blackmon, Douglas A. Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II. Random House, 2008); and 2) what I call the re-enslavement of the white working class (1870s-1930s).
What I'm saying is that the political and economic owners of capital---under the conditions of technically free labor---wanted to go right on producing the same amount of stuff (and profit) that had been produced under slavery. In order to do that they had to bring technical freedom as close to slavery as possible.
Does that make sense?
As regards to what I call the re-enslavement of the white working class in the United States, Dr. Thaddeus Russell put it this way:
"And no group in world history worked more than industrial workers in the nineteenth-century United States. For the unlucky souls who found themselves in the first American factories, the typical workday was fourteen hours, the typical workweek was six days, and putting in more than one hundred hours in a week was not at all uncommon" (1).
I agree with that----for the period of the 1870s to the 1930s!
This period has all the classic Dickensian, "Please, sir, can I have some more?" features of ultra-super exploitation only restrained from out and out enslavement by the thin thread of the narrowest possible letter-of-the-law adherence to the legal prohibition against slavery.
- The "public-private partnership" of violent strike-breaking and suppression of worker dissent was never more intense than in this period. Sometimes private security agencies like Pinkerton Detectives were employed to "discipline" workers---if state or federal troops were not available.
- If you were a white American worker, in the 1870s-1930s, you would count yourself blessed if you were paid in cash. You might have found yourself being paid in company scrip: vouchers redeemable only at company stores, which means these workers were not paid! There is a little item on Wikipedia: It seems that as late as 2008, the Mexican Supreme Court of Justice had to tell Wal-Mart subsidiary Wal-Mart de Mexico to knock it off with the scrip. Wal-Mart de Mexico was paying their employees, in part, with company scrip.
- If you were a white American worker in the 1870s-1930s, particularly if you worked in one of the extractive industries, you might have found yourself living in a "model village" or "company town," under a paternalistic relationship in which your employer would have tried to enforce a paternalistic regime aimed at "control of workers by their employers who sought to force middle-class ideals upon their working class employees" because "[p]aternalism was considered by many nineteenth-century businessmen as a moral responsibility, or often religious obligation, which would advance society whilst furthering their own business intrests" (Wikipedia).
- If you were a female white American worker between the 1870s-1930s, you may have found yourself working in the textile industry under conditions we would easily call Asian sweatshops. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of March 25, 1911 is a notorious event in American labor history and American women's history as well.
- There was not much in the way of childhood during this period. Keeping in mind that one should take everything he reads on the Internet with a grain of salt, I came across an interesting item concerning child labor. It seems that one of the contributing factors to ending child labor in the United States was the Great Depression. Men were so desperate for work, they lowered themselves to accepting children's wages.
Some of you might be wondering: Why do you call the period of the 1870s-1930s the "re-enslavement" of the American white working class?
Because the British-American, or English-American "white" working class had been enslaved once before, in the seventeenth century. At that time they were called indentured servants.
They were slaves. But the only reason we do not call them "slaves," in my opinion, is because of the technicality and loophole of "contracts," which the servants "signed"---as though coercion weren't applied to get those signatures
Anyway, another reason we do not call them slaves is because their servitude was not lifelong and not inheritable. On the other hand, their survivability was so poor, under the onerous conditions they labored under, that a servant was lucky to live past his first year of service; and he was luckier still, to outlive the duration of his contract (usually five to seven years).
Indentured servants were certainly bought and sold like slaves. An announcement in the Virginia Gazette, on March 28, 1771 read like this:
Just arrived at Leedstown, the ship Justitia, with about one Hundred Healthy Servants, Men, Women & Boys... The sale will commence on Tuesday the 2nd of April (2).
Beatings and whippings were common and servant women were raped. In 1671 Governor Berkeley of Virginia reported that in previous years, four or five servants had died of disease after their arrival. Many were poor children gathered up by the hundreds on the streets of many English cities, and sent to Virginia to work (3).
Servants could not marry without permission. They could be separated from their families. Pennsylvania law, in the seventeenth century said that marriage of servants 'without the consent of the Masters... shall be proceeded against as for Adultery, or fornication, and children to be reputed as Bastards' (4).
There were colonial laws to stop excesses against servants; but they were not vigorously enforced. Servants did not participate in juries; and, being without property, did not vote. Strangers ("white" people) had to show passports or certificates to prove that they were free men. Anyone caught without such papers, was presumed to be an escaped servants (5).
Furthermore, agreements were set up among the colonies for the extradition of fugitive servants (6).
According to historian Howard Zinn, more than half of the colonists who came to North America, in the colonial period, came as indentured servants. More than half! They were mostly English in the seventeenth century, and Irish and German in the eighteenth. And as late as 1755, "white" servants still made up ten percent of the population of Maryland (7).
I should say a word about the origins of the indentured servants and their travel conditions.
Historian Howard Zinn wrote this:
"In the 1600s and 1700s, by forced exile, by lures, promises and lies, by kidnapping, by their urgent need to escape the living conditions of the home country, poor people wanting to go to America became commodities of profit for merchants, traders, ship captains, and eventually their masters in America" (8).
Howard Zinn tells us why all this was happening: "In England, the development of commerce and capitalism in the 1500s and 1600s, the enclosing of land for the production of wool, filled the cities with vagrant poor, and from the reign of Elizabeth on, laws were passed to punish them, imprison them in workhouses, or exile them" (9).
Anyway, after signing the indenture contract, in which the immigrant agreed to pay the cost of passage by working for a master for five or seven years, they were often imprisoned until the ship sailed, so they couldn't run away. The voyage to American lasted eight, ten, or twelve weeks, as the servants were "packed into ships with the same fanatic concern for profits that marked the slave ships" (10).
It was like this, says Dr. Zinn: If the weather was bad and the trip took longer than expected, and the servants ran out of food ---- well, they just ran out of food. Tough luck for them! For instance, the sloop, Seaflower left Belfast in 1741. It was at sea for sixteen weeks; and when it arrived in Boston, forty-six of its 106 passengers had died of starvation. Six of these were eaten by the survivors. On another trip, thirty-two children died of hunger and disease and were thrown into the ocean (11).
Question: How did enslaved "blacks" and "whites" get along initially?
Howard Zinn quoted another historian, Edmund Morgan. According to Dr. Morgan here's the deal:
'There are hints that the two despised groups initially saw each other as sharing the same predicament. It was common, for example, for servants and slaves to run away together, steal hogs together, get drunk together. It was not uncommon for them to make love together. In Bacon's Rebellion, one of the last groups to surrender was a mixed band of eighty Negroes and twenty English servants' (12).
Edmund Morgan went on: Master 'initially perceived slaves in much the same way they had always perceived servants... shiftless, irresponsible, unfaithful, ungrateful, dishonest...' And 'if freemen with disappointed hopes should make common cause with slaves of desperate hope, the results might be worse than anything Bacon had done' (13).
Steps had to be taken. And they were.
Edmund Morgan: 'Virginia's ruling class, having proclaimed that all white men were superior to black, went on to offer their social (but white) inferiors a number of benefits previously denied them. In 1705 a law was passed requiring masters to provide white servants whose indenture time was up with ten bushels of corn, thirty shillings, and a gun, white women servants were to get 15 bushels of corn and forty shillings. Also, the newly freed servants were to get 50 acres of land' (14).
What was the result?
Morgan concludes: 'Once the small planter felt less exploited by taxation and began to prosper a little, he became less turbulent, less dangerous, more respectable. He could begin to see his big neighbor not as an extortionist but as a powerful protector of their common interests' (15).
In other words, "whiteness" is born. Racial solidarity is forged to serve the elite, by destroying the class solidarity that had existed among the diverse proletariat, which the elite feared.
We will talk about the consequences of this in Part H. Don't worry: We have not lost sight of our purpose, which is to explain the rise of Trump in American politics. Background history is necessary. But never fear: There will be a payoff!
Thank you for reading!
1. Russell, Thaddeus. A Renegade History Of The United States. Free Press, 2010. 57
2. Zinn, Howard. A People's History Of The United States. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2003. (paperback). 44
5. ibid, 44 & 46
6. ibid, 46
8. ibid, 43
9. ibid, 42
10. ibid, 43
12. ibid, 37
15. ibid, 38