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"A challenge for the political future"–The American Crucible reviewed in the Independent

Andrea D'Cruz28 June 2011

Reviewing The American Crucible in the Independent, Stephen Howe highlights the originality of Robin Blackburn's contribution:

If the thousands of historians who have written about Atlantic slavery and its abolition, only a handful have ever given us a really original perspective on that vast subject. Even fewer have proposed a satisfying, or stimulating, general theory about it, an attempt at explaining the rise, fall and enduring consequences of the entire New World slave system across the centuries and continents. Robin Blackburn is prominent—even pre-eminent—among those few. He has tackled the task in a formidable body of work beginning in the late 1980s; but in a rather idiosyncratic way.

Howe credits this originality to an underlying Marxist framework:

The achievement and originality lie in Blackburn's insistence on the crucial interrelation among slavery, colonialism and capitalism, seeking to map the different modes of production, of colonisation, and of enslavement on to one another. New World slavery was, Blackburn urges, a product—a central, not incidental, one—of the rise of capitalist modernity.

Insisting on the word "capitalist" here is not an empty political gesture, or a vague bow to Blackburn's Marxist background. However much Blackburn's work draws from and debates with a range of theorists and historians, including some conservative ones, he continues to maintain the indispensability of Marx's central insights.

The review also explores the relevance of the book to the present—especially to discourses on democracy and human rights—with Howe concluding that "The American Crucible poses a challenge for the political future as well as a bold reappraisal of the historical past."

Visit the Independent to read the review in full.

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