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The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1492-1800

Tracing European doctrines of race and slavery from medieval times to the early modern epoch.
The Making of New World Slavery argues that independent commerce, geared to burgeoning consumer markets, was the driving force behind the rise of plantation slavery. The baroque state sought—successfully—to feed upon this commerce and—with markedly less success—to regulate slavery and racial relations. To illustrate this thesis, Blackburn examines the deployment of slaves in the colonial possessions of the Portuguese, the Spanish, the Dutch, the English and the French. Plantation slavery is shown to have emerged from the impulses of civil society, not from the strategies of individual states.

Robin Blackburn argues that the organization of slave plantations placed the West on a destructive path to modernity and that greatly preferable alternatives were both proposed and rejected. Finally, he shows that the surge of Atlantic trade, predicated on the murderous toil of the plantations, made a decisive contribution to both the Industrial Revolution and the rise of the West.

Reviews

  • “Blackburn's book has finally drawn the veil which concealed or made mysterious the history and development of modem society.”
  • “A magnificent work of contemporary scholarship.”
  • “Sombre, dark and masterly.”
  • “An exhaustive, powerfully written and compelling book.”
  • “Extremely well-researched and readable.... Highly recommended.”

Blog

  • Forced Labor and Progress

    Published as part of Verso's Haymarket Series in 1996, Alex Lichtenstein's Twice the Work of Free Labor: The Political Economy of Convict Labor in the New South was the first book-length history of the convict-lease and chain gang systems of penal servitude in the Southern United States. Focusing on Georgia in the years between Reconstruction and the Great Depression, Lichtenstein traces the interwoven development of the region's notoriously brutal carceral forms and it's industrial and commercial expansion. "The postbellum history of Georgia's penal system," Lichenstein writes, "offers a clear illustration of how convict labor helped forge the peculiar New South 'Bourbon' political alliance, by accommodating the labor needs of an emerging class of industrialists without eroding the racial domination essential to planters."

    In the text below, the book's epilogue, Lichtenstein expands on his findings in a broader historical consideration of the relation between coerced labor and economic development.
       


    A Georgia road gang in Rockdale County in 1909, shortly after the state abolished convict leasing. (Vanishing Georgia Collection, Georgia Department of Archives and History).

    “There is no document of civilization that is not at the same time a document of barbarism.” –Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History”1

    Diverse forms of forced labor have been found in many societies, under many conditions. Slavery and penal labor both existed in the ancient world. Serfdom shaped much of the character of premodern European social relations, and persisted well into the nineteenth century in Eastern Europe and Russia. As European societies shook off the last vestiges of feudalism, forced labor was carried to the New World, in a vast arc encompassing both the highlands and plantations of the Americas. In colonial Africa as well, European domination brought with it forms of coercive labor new to a continent that had long known indigenous slavery; and labor relations in industrialized South Africa under apartheid were clearly shaped by colonial strategies of labor extraction up until yesterday. Finally, Stalin's Gulag, and the Nazi labor and extermination camps, stand as horrific examples of forced labor in the modern world.

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  • Another University is Possible

    The SOAS students' struggle to decolonise their curriculum is a call to reshape and re-imagine what the university is for and whom the university should serve. 

    The School for Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) was founded by the British state in 1916 to strengthen imperial interests in Asia and Africa. It admitted its first students in 1917, among them colonial administrators, as well as military officers, doctors and missionaries, to instruct them in the languages and cultures of the regions to which they would be posted to govern and rule on behalf of the British Empire. It is in light of the institution’s centenary that SOAS students are seeking to decolonise it. This collective action undertaken by academic staff and students attempts to challenge the university’s “self-image as progressive and diverse” and build a more just and inclusive institution. Some of the aims of decolonisation are reparative: students are demanding the provision of more scholarships for refugees and displaced people, regardless of their immigration status, and more bursaries and grants for working-class students. Linked to the decolonising agenda is also the campaign to end the outsourcing of cleaning staff and for their secure work and pay.

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  • 2016 Deutscher Prize Shortlist Announced

    The shortlist for the 2016 Deutscher Prize has now been announced. The prize has been awarded annually since 1969, to the most innovative work of Marxist scholarship published in that year. Previous winners have included such classics of Marxist writing as G.A. Cohen's Karl Marx’s Theory of History: A Defence, Barbara Taylor's Eve and the New Jerusalem: Socialism and Feminism in the Nineteenth Century, Eric Hobsbawm's The Age of Extremes: A History of the World, 1914-1991, The Brenner Debate, and Robin Blackburn's The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1492-1800



    We've very proud to announce that this year's shortlist contains two books published by Verso in the past year; Andreas Malm's Fossil Capital: The Rise of Steam Power and the Roots of Global Warming, and Tony Norfield's The City: London and the Global Power of Finance

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Other books by Robin Blackburn