Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 13, No 1 (2017)

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Marx: The Historical Necessity of Slavery & Agriculture

Dana Francisco Miranda


According to a Marxist code of evaluation, slavery seems to be an institution existing as an outdated anachronism, an economic remnant from a past phase in the historical development of man, as yet still present in modern economics as a defect.  Upon further readings, Karl Marx clearly articulates that slavery is an integral part of the existent economic model, i.e. capitalism, both in industry and in agriculture.  The separation of town and country according to a Marxist conception of history however leads to two distinct types of labor being present in capitalism; in agriculture slavery is blatant and honest in appearance, while in industry slavery is now disguised as ‘free’ labor.  More importantly, by looking at Marx’s criticism of direct slavery we are better able to understand his criticisms of free labor, indirect slavery. The primary question of Marxism then becomes: What material condition precipitates the transition of direct slavery to that of indirect ‘metaphorical’ slavery or free labor?  Why did chattel slavery as an economic institution end, and what were the material historical conditions that necessitated the transition from Wall Street to Wall Street? I want to know the fundamental relationship between slavery and capital. This paper then is more fundamentally an exploratory examination on whether or not Marx gives a compelling account for the material end of slavery as well as slavery’s relation to capital.  I thus examined how and why the division of town/country and industry/agriculture marked the differences between these kinds of slavery, and how this material condition then led to direct slavery’s ending as an economic model in agriculture. By navigating the implications of slavery upon agriculture and the development of capital a much deeper analysis begins with questioning the ‘necessity’ of historical developments and the creation of ‘historical necessity’.  In the interstices of history, cause and effect, agricultural slavery and capitalism, are much cloudier then Marx would have us believe.

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