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.
While many of us are still reeling from Donald Trump’s unlikely presidential victory in November, best-selling author Naomi Klein argues that it is precisely during times of shock — the disorientation that follows a disastrous event for which we have no preexisting narrative — that we are most vulnerable to interests that would exploit our need for answers. Our first step, Klein contends, is to find our footing, find our narrative, and find the common threads that connect our movements.
The outrage, fear and depression after Trump’s inauguration is palpable everywhere. Trump’s first acts in office, moving to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, signing an anti-abortion Global Gag Rule, and reviving plans to build the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, signal that he will be as dangerous a leader as we expected. The 2.9 million people who marched around the country as part of the Women’s March on Washington on January 21st send an inspiring message that many are galvanized to fight Trump’s hateful policies. But this is the very beginning of what will be a long and painful fight.
We must never give in to despondency and futility, rather we must learn from the revolutionary movements of history and mobilize together against Trump’s regime of oppression.
We present this reading list as a useful starting point for anyone sharing in our overwhelming sense of anger and despair at our present crisis, and anyone looking for hope and inspiration in the resistance movements of the past and the organizing strategies of the present.
Download our free ebook, The Anti-Inauguration: Building Resistance in the Trump Era, here.