Herrenvolk Capitalism

in Historical Materialism
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Walter Johnson’s River of Dark Dreams is a book on the political economy of the Mississippi basin in the six decades before the American Civil War. The book’s three aims are to show, firstly, the racial, ecological, gender, and economic contradictions inherent within this society; secondly, the mechanisms of power maintaining a slave-holding oligarchy; and finally, its attempts at imperial expansion in the Gulf of Mexico. This book is exceptional as an example of integrating a wide range of poststructuralist approaches within a Marxist framework. Johnson mixes methods to vividly portray the ‘Cotton Kingdom’ as a vital, imperialist and capitalist polity that was in no way in decline, but rather the centre of the global industrial economy. This book is excellent, but flawed for avoiding theoretical issues and because Johnson is unable to prove broad support for private imperialist adventurers (‘filibusters’).

Herrenvolk Capitalism

in Historical Materialism



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Morgan 2014p. 464.


Johnson 1999p. 163.


Edwards 2011p. 42. The most prominent proponents of a capitalist South are Sidney Mintz Orlando Patterson Robert W. Fogel and Stanley L. Engerman and Jairus Banaji. The opposing camp of a non-capitalist South includes David Potter Don Fehrenbacher Eric Foner Eugene Genovese and John Ashworth.


Oakes 2010.


Blackburn 2011p. 109.


Ashworth 2007.


Brenner 1977p. 42.


Burkett 2009p. 12.


Fields 1990p. 100.


Nimtz 2011p. 177.


Blackburn 2011p. 103.


Quoted in Blackburn 2011p. 104.

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