Enslaved African labour : violent racial capitalism

Higginbottom, Andy (2019) Enslaved African labour : violent racial capitalism. In: Ness, Immanuel and Cope, Zac, (eds.) The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Imperialism and Anti-Imperialism. 2nd edition. 2nd ed. Cham, Switzerland : Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9783319912066


This entry reconsiders the relation between early colonial capitalism and European enslavement of Africans. The paper addresses two standard Marxist readings: the first positions slavery as part of the primitive accumulation of capital; the second reading sees capitalism as exclusively the exploitation of ‘free’ wage labour. In contrast, this article argues that colonial plantation slavery as a mode of exploitation within early, mercantile capitalism. This approach extends Marx’s value theory to include slavery as a racialised mode of labour exploitation, an early phase of colonial capitalism with its own especially oppressive characteristics, an early form of racial capitalism. The violent working to death of enslaved Africans on the sugar plantation was a matter of calculation by the slave owner, weighing value produced against the costs of purchase and maintenance. Moreover the cost of slave purchase relied on the supply of Africans seized from their home continent. This approach suggests continuities as well as changes from colonial forms of sugar plantation slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean into the ‘second slavery’ of the nineteenth century. epitomised by cotton plantations in the US South.

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