, 13 tweets, 4 min read Read on Twitter
Thread. This is a response to a conversation on @nhannahjone ‘s timeline a couple of days ago about slavery. She argued that for most of U.S. history, “black people were set completely *outside* of the class structure.”
That slaves, “As non-people, as property, as a tradable commodity, they were classless. Their race meant they had NO class.” Most people on her TL agreed with her. A few were puzzled and skeptical. In another tweet in response to a critic she said:
“Can a table or a mule be part of a class. If so, then, yes, AMerican slaves were part of a class.” The idea that enslaved people were regarded as property is a contradiction on its face, as many scholars have argued. Slaves were commodified for the purpose of exploiting their
labor, marketing them in financial terms, and above all for profit-making. But they were also living and breathing persons, who slaveholders valued for that reason. Slaveholders literally capitalized on their human qualities: their physical skill, their mental acumen,
their sentience—despite racist arguments to the contrary. No tables and or mules could do what they were expected to do, to fell forests, create arable land, cultivate staple crops, manufacture iron, suckle and coddle babies, and reproduce a perpetual human labor force.
Slaveholders also feared their human capacities, especially their ability to rise up, revolt, and destroy them. Violence was the central mechanism of control to prevent any such threats from becoming real. None of these things meant enslaved people were “classless” or existed
outside of the class structure. Because slavery was racially defined does not mean that class was not also operating at the same time. Slaveholders were considered a class. Enslaved people were seen in opposition to them. Marx defined class as a social relation involving conflict
and struggle. This was endemic to slavery. He lists the master and slave relationship among a historically varied set of class relations, although he thought of it as “precapitalist.” But the person who wrote most thoroughly on the topic of slavery as both a class and race
relationship was W. E. B. Du Bois, in Black Reconstruction (1935)--and unlike Marx, he defined slavery within capitalism. Notice the titles for the 1st 3 chapters: “the black worker,” “the white worker,” and “the planter”—all three chapters constitute his analysis of the
major classes of the antebellum South. Chapter 4, is “the general strike,” the apogee of working-class struggle: 4 million slaves seized on the Civil War to stage a slave rebellion. Hence, black people were the architects of their own emancipation. This book has been foundational
for the study of slavery and post-emancipation black life and their place in global history, since the 1960s. For other insights about these issues, I tweeted out articles by Robin Kelley & Walter Johnson in the Boston Review (Jan. 2017) issue on Racial capitalism.
On race, class and Marx see this piece by @KeeangaYamahtta socialistworker.org/2011/01/04/rac…
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