- Original research
- needed to precede following dl
- 286 pages
- Review Format:
- Predominant :
- Examines the economic contribution of the British traffic in slaves to their Industrial Revolution
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Summary: How the West Indies was won – and then lost.
W hites are avaricious and, therefore, actively‑willing to evade ethical issues in their greed, except in speech. This is the key to successfully‑understanding them.
His doctoral thesis, The Economic Aspects of the Abolition of the Slave Trade and West Indian Slavery (published as Capitalism and Slavery in 1944), was both a direct attack on the idea that moral and humanitarian motives were the key facts in the victory of British abolitionism, and a covert critique of the idea common in the 1930s, emanating in particular from the pen of Oxford Professor Reginald Coupland, that British imperialism was essentially propelled by humanitarian and benevolent impulses.
Williams’ argument owed much to the influence of C L R James, whose The Black Jacobins, also completed in 1938, also offered an economic and geo‑strategic explanation for the rise of British abolitionism.
Williams specialized in the study of the abolition of the slave traffic. In 1944 his book Capitalism and Slavery argued that the British abolition of their Atlantic slave traffic in 1807 was motivated primarily by economics – rather than by altruism or humanitarianism. By extension, so was the emancipation of the slaves in 1833 and the fight against the trading in slaves by other nations. As industrial capitalism and wage labor began to expand, eliminating the competition from slavery became economically‑advantageous.
In addition to Capitalism and Slavery, Williams produced a number of other scholarly works focused on the Caribbean. Of particular significance are two published in the 1960s long after he had abandoned his academic career for public life: British Historians and the West Indies and From Columbus to Castro. The former, based on research done in the 1940s and initially presented at a symposium at Atlanta University, sought to debunk British historiography on the region and to condemn as racist the nineteenth‑ and early twentieth‑century British perspective on the West Indies. Williams was particularly scathing in his description of the nineteenth‑century British intellectual Thomas Carlyle.
This book understands the dependency of White culture on slavery and White supremacy and the endemic nature of the widespread economic benefits to Whites of both in shipbuilding, chains, seaports, commodities (eg, coffee, cotton, indigo & sugar) and the Industrial revolution, as a whole. As well as the White hypocrisy of historical figures like William Pitt the Younger favoring the abolition of the slave traffic (but not of slavery, itself), but only to hurt the economies of France and The Netherlands and hopefully gain Saint‑Domingue as a new colony, in the process.
freedom for the slaves, but not from the colonial demands of Empire nor from their enforced inability to manufacture goods from raw materials they, themselves, have planted, in order to grow the economies of the former slave plantation islands. This kept them as economically dependent on colonialism as Whites are on racism.
Biased White Historians
Where the author really scores is in pointing‑out how important the slave was to his own emancipation – something biased White historians studiously ignore out of racist fellow feeling for slave‑owners and lack of empathy for mere livestock.
Yet there was no reason for slaves to think of themselves in this way. There was a third‑party between slave‑owner and abolitionist, the slaves themselves, also asserting their right to freedom.
To coercion and punishment, the slave responded with indolence, sabotage & revolt: The passive‑resistance that proves the laziness of slaves a Caucasian myth. The Maroons of Jamaica and the Bush Negroes of British Guiana were runaway‑slaves who lived independently in mountains and jungle. They were standing examples to other slaves of what could be accomplished, as was the successful slave revolt in Saint Domingue; leaving the free populations in constant fear of rebellion and death.
Slaves were keenly aware of the political world around them and not as stupid as White historians, singing the praises of Empire, like the slave‑owners, pictured them. As if those Whites who talk of the passing of slavery do so with open regret in their minds. The slaves were always restless and inflamed by their subjugation as the frequency and intensity of slave revolts after 1800 amply testify. Not only the
good treatment would prevent uprisings), it was the institution of slavery, itself, that could never be ameliorated save by manumission. The slaves, themselves, freely admitted this since unsuccessful slave revolts were usually quelled with barbarity; making the kind treatment of slaves a self‑evident oxymoron to the slaves – like telling a woman you will not force her to have sex with you so long as she agrees to have sex with you. The slaves’ battles were usually lost, but their wars were won, since forcing people to work costs more – in the long run – than paying them for their labor.
The slave‑owners pretended that it was not slavery that made slaves yearn for freedom, but abolitionists planting such seeds in the minds of people whom, they claimed, were born to be slaves in perpetuity.
Ultimately, as in Apartheid South Africa, it came down to either emancipation from above (slave‑owner) or emancipation from below (slave). The move from monopoly to laissez‑faire in the British Empire, abolitionism & the slaves, themselves made it inevitable, since the slaves were stimulated to freedom by the very wealth their labor created.
CONCLUSION: Ideas & Principles
- The decisive forces are the developing economic ones.
- The various contending groups of dominant merchants, industrialists & politicians, while keenly‑aware of immediate interests, are for that very reason generally‑blind to the long‑range consequences of their actions, proposals & policies.
- Political and moral ideas can only be seriously‑examined in close relation to economic development.
- A morally bankrupt and outworn interest can exercise an obstructionist and disruptive effect which can only he explained by the powerful economic services it had previously rendered and the entrenchment thereby previously gained.
- The White supremacist ideas built on these interests continue long after the interests have been destroyed, which is all the more mischievous precisely because the interests to which they corresponded no longer exist.
Without a grasp of economics, history is meaningless. These economic changes are usually gradual & imperceptible, but they have an irresistible cumulative effect. People, pursuing their, interests; are rarely aware of the ultimate results of their activity. The commercial capitalism of the eighteenth‑century developed the wealth of Europe by means of slavery and monopoly. But, in so doing, it helped create the industrial capitalism of the nineteenth‑century, which turned round and destroyed the power of commercial capitalism, of slavery & of all its works.
To the large majority of those responsible for British policy, the loss of the American colonies seemed a catastrophe. In reality, as was rapidly seen, it proved to be the beginning of a period of creative wealth and political power for Britain which far exceeded all the achievements of the previous age. From this point‑of‑view, the problem of the freedom of Africa and the Far East from imperialism will, primarily, be decided by the necessities of production. As the new productive power of 1833 destroyed the relations of mother country and colonies which had existed sixty years before, so the incomparably‑greater productive power of today will ultimately destroy any relations which stand in its way. This does not invalidate the urgency and validity of arguments for democracy and freedom.
But that, mutatis mutandis, the arguments have a familiar ring and should be approached with both experience of similar arguments and the privilege of dispassionate investigation into what they actually‑represent.
Politics and morals in the abstract make no sense. We find British statesmen and publicists defending slavery today, abusing slavery tomorrow, defending slavery the day after. Today they are imperialist, the next day anti‑imperialist, and equally pro‑imperialist a generation after. And always with the same vehemence. The defense or attack is always on the high moral or political plane. The thing defended or attacked is always something that you can touch and see, to be measured in pounds sterling or pounds avoirdupois. Even great mass movements, like that against slavery, show a clear affinity and relationship with the rise and development of new commercial interests and the inevitable necessity for the destruction of the old. It is understandable at the time, but historians, writing a hundred years after, have no excuse for continuing to wrap the real interests in confusion.
This helps explain the powerful defense put up by Whites when their time is up. However, in a simplified account such as history always must be, the carefully‑chosen representative, contemporary utterances give a misleading effect of clarity of aim and purpose.