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Charles Post

Abstract

The notion of the labour-aristocracy is one of the oldest Marxian explanations of working-class conservatism and reformism. Despite its continued appeal to scholars and activists on the Left, there is no single, coherent theory of the labour-aristocracy. While all versions argue working-class conservatism and reformism reflects the politics of a privileged layer of workers who share in ‘monopoly’ super-profits, they differ on the sources of those super-profits: national dominance of the world-market in the nineteenth century (Marx and Engels), imperialist investments in the ‘colonial world’/global South (Lenin and Zinoviev), or corporate monopoly in the twentieth century (Elbaum and Seltzer). The existence of a privileged layer of workers who share monopoly super-profits with the capitalist class cannot be empirically verified. This essay presents evidence that British capital’s dominance of key-branches of global capitalist production in the Victorian period, imperialist investment and corporate market-power can not explain wage-differentials among workers globally or nationally, and that relatively well-paid workers have and continue to play a leading rôle in radical and revolutionary working-class organisations and struggles. An alternative explanation of working-class radicalism, reformism, and conservatism will be the subject of a subsequent essay.

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Charles Post

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Plantation slavery in the New World, in particular its relationship to the emergence of capitalism in Europe and North America, has long been a subject of debate and discussion among historians and social scientists. While there are literally thousands of monographs studying various aspects of chattel slavery in the US South, the Caribbean and Brazil, only a handful of works attempt to provide a synthetic account of its rise and decline from the sixteenth through nineteenth centuries. Few scholars, on the Left or Right, have made as profound a contribution to such a history as Robin Blackburn. Blackburn’s latest work, The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation and Human Rights, does not simply summarise and update his earlier work, but extends his analysis to the rise and decline of ‘second slavery’ in nineteenth-century Cuba, Brazil and the US South. The American Crucible provides a multi-causal explanation of the origins and abolition of New World plantation slavery, examining the complex interactions between the rise of capitalism, political crises in the metropolitan countries, the transformation of popular and elite attitudes toward slavery, and the struggles of the slaves themselves. However, Blackburn’s inability to grapple with the specific structure and dynamics of capitalist and slave social-property relations, and their changing historical relationship, weakens key elements of his analysis.

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Charles Post

Abstract

The origins of the US Civil War have long been a central topic of debate among historians, both Marxist and non-Marxist. John Ashworth’s Slavery, Capitalism, and Politics in the Antebellum Republic is a major Marxian contribution to a social interpretation of the US Civil War. However, Ashworth’s claim that the War was the result of sharpening political and ideological – but not social and economic – contradictions and conflicts between slavery and capitalism rests on problematic claims about the rôle of slave-resistance in the dynamics of plantation-slavery, the attitude of Northern manufacturers, artisans, professionals and farmers toward wage-labour, and economic restructuring in the 1840s and 1850s. An alternative social explanation of the US Civil War, rooted in an analysis of the specific path to capitalist social-property relations in the US, locates the War in the growing contradiction between the social requirements of the expanded reproduction of slavery and capitalism in the two decades before the War.

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The American Road to Capitalism

Studies in Class-Structure, Economic Development and Political Conflict, 1620–1877

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Charles Post

Most US historians assume that capitalism either “came in the first ships” or was the inevitable result of the expansion of the market. Unable to analyze the dynamics of specific forms of social labour in the antebellum US, most historians of the US Civil War have privileged autonomous political and ideological factors, ignoring the deep social roots of the conflict. This book applies theoretical insights derived from the debates on the transition to capitalism in Europe to the historical literature on the US to produce a new analysis of the origins of capitalism in the US, and the social roots of the Civil War.

Winner of the Paul Sweezy Marxist Sociology Book Award 2013
Short-listed for the 2011 Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Prize.
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Charles Post

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Daniel Gaido’s The Formative Period of American Capitalism provides a thorough accounting of classical Marxist writing on the history of US capitalism. He combines insights from the classical Marxist and US Trotskyist traditions with an engagement with a selection of recent historical research to produce a provocative interpretation of the origins and rise of capitalism in the US. However, his failure to critically interrogate the classical Marxist and US Trotskyist traditions on the US or engage with the growing historical research on the origins and trajectory of US capitalism weakens his contribution.

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Charles Post

Abstract

Theory as History brings together twelve essays by Jarius Banaji addressing the nature of modes of production, the forms of historical capitalism and the varieties of pre-capitalist modes of production. Problematic formulations concerning the relationship of social-property relations and the laws of motion of different modes of production and his notion of merchant and slave-holding capitalism undermines Banaji’s project of constructing a non-unilinear, non-Eurocentric Marxism.

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Charles Post

The problem of commerce in pre-capitalist societies has been an issue debated among historians, both Marxian and non-Marxian, for over a century. Martha Howell’s book provides new historical data on the economic impact and cultural meaning of commerce in feudal Europe, without, however, addressing key theoretical and interpretive issues.