- Slavery and Historical Capitalism during the Nineteenth Century ed. by Dale Tomich
Dale Tomich’s Slavery and Historical Capitalism during the Nineteenth Century builds on his expertise in the field of slavery, capitalism, and world economy, and more specifically on “second slavery.” This concept maintains that the plantation slavery established in the nineteenth century—sugar in western Cuba, coffee in the Brazilian southeast, and cotton in the US South—is distinct from earlier American plantation societies and represents a discretely modern capitalist world system. Gathering prominent scholars of slavery, these essays do address the theme of historical capitalism and plantation slavery. However, all but one are explicitly framed around second slavery as a tool to better understand modern forms of American plantation slavery. Curiously, Tomich and Lexington Books opted to title the book solely in reference to slavery and economic capitalism, without mention of second slavery, because that theme more explicitly frames most chapters.
The first two of five essays, by Robin Blackburn and Dale Tomich, respectively, address broad thematic questions. Blackburn effectively situates the unofficial theme of the collection by asking in his title “Why the Second Slavery”? He identifies commonality among economic institutions across the three regions, such as modern banking and trade, links between profitability and increased levels of violent slave labor extraction, and each plantation region’s ability to thrive following waves of antislavery embodied by abolitionist movements and slave revolts starting in the late eighteenth century. Blackburn also identifies shortcomings with the concept of second slavery, reminding us of important continuities between colonial and modern slavery. He also emphasizes differences— that the importance of sugar and coffee to industrial Europe was measurably different from the role of cotton to the development of European industrialization; beyond cotton, plantations were an effect of capitalism rather than a cause. Tomich’s chapter looks to economic history to theorize the second slavery and is a primarily a critique of the neoclassical economics of new economic history (NEH) as symbolized by Fogel and Engerman’s Time on the Cross (1979). Tomich effectively argues that NEH focused on the slave economy without significant analysis of social domination or slave resistance to quantifiably compare plantation societies with other societies. Tomich asserts that this undermines the NEH as a tool for historians. Without explicitly referring to “the second slavery” outside the title of his chapter, he offers a positive reading of scholars like Castro, Mintz, and Wallerstein to argue that second slavery allows for the recovery of economic history; he argues that rather than formulating “laws of the slave economy” (52), we should examine the broader history of slave economies in the context of temporal, geographic, theoretical, and social history. [End Page 377]
The last three chapters are examples of national historiographies of modern plantation slavery; sugar in Cuba, coffee in Brazil, and cotton in the United States. José Antonio Piqueras’s chapter on Cuba is the most conventional. The essay is framed around how Cuba’s 1959 revolution shaped our understanding of the role of sugar plantations in Cuban history. It is framed by Manuel Moreno Fraginals’s scholarship on slavery, all published after the Cuban Revolution but largely researched earlier. Piqueras critically engages Moreno’s argument—contradicted in later publications—that slave ownership impeded Cuban planters from fully embracing capitalism, leaving them a “castrated, impotent semi-bourgeois” (75). Rather than developing internal Cuban trade and institutions, they invested in international markets. Additionally, he considers how the work of foreign scholars drawn to study Cuba after the revolution (e.g. Herbert Klein, Arthur Corwin, Franklin Knight) shaped the historiography of Cuban slavery. In short, he presents Cuban historiography as following two trends, one focused on fitting Cuban history into a capitalist or Marxist framework and a second social history focused on the human condition and cultural retention of Afro-Cubans; the first a study of slavery, the other the study of slaves. After positively identifying scholars such as Alejandro de la Fuente, Rebecca J. Scott, and Mercedes García whose work linked experiences...