Slavery and Capitalism in the U.S.

by Andy Winnick

In August of 1619, the first slave ship bearing slaves arrived Jamestown. That was the beginning of slavery in an English colony in what became the United States (slavery already existed in areas that became part of the U.S. but that were under Spanish control.) The New York Times created Project 1619 in order to (perhaps) begin a thorough discussion of American slavery after 400 years. One of the pieces in the original publication traced the effects of slavery on the form of capitalism that developed in this country. Andy Winnick examines how slavery shaped our capitalism.

It seems to be virtually self evident that the factories, farms, mines and local and state governments pursued the post civil war forms of slavery, via the prison system, both because they are racists and felt comfortable doing so, but even more for the economic gains to be made across the south and elsewhere. When Blacks got to the factories of the industrial north the unions provided some protection in terms of pretty equal wages and benefits, in order to keep the white workers from being displaced, aside from any progressive political inclinations. But the White communities across the nation were all too happy to keep the Blacks in slums, with poor education and a totally racist police and judicial systems. The main area that big banks and business benefited from was the red-lining and urban development games in almost all the urban areas. Then the whole phenomenon of "White Flight" from the cities to the suburbs was a major money maker for a wide variety of businesses and again for the banks. It is why in Europe the inner cities remained far more alive and cultural centers.

Then the almost permanent maintenance of low levels of social services, welfare, healthcare, and education and the attacks on "socialism" were always in large part predicated on antagonism to "those poor folks" which they projected as the Blacks and other "colored" folks, even though the vast majority of the poor were always white. This has certainly been a hall mark of the U.S. since its founding, and especially after the Civil War, when "they" spread all over.

Keep in mind that Wells Fargo and others were fined (trivially to be sure) for the rank discrimination against Blacks and Hispanics during the run up to the great real estate crash of 2007-09. This is not a matter of only historical interest: it is alive and well and making money for banks and others today. Or just the other day the ICE raided poultry factories in Mississippi and elsewhere in the South and Mid-West- lbecause the companies there can no longer get slave or prison labor, now they use undocumented immigrants, again to avoid paying decent wages and to raise profits. This has always been at the core of a major part of the US economic system.

How we could ever talk about "inalienable rights", "equality before the law", "one-person one-vote democracy" while sustaining slavery and rank discrimination was and is one of the most successful and amazing propaganda coups of all time. And then to have kept the truth out of our history books in schools across the U.S. until this day is another.

We never even tried any sort of "denazification" style effort in all these many (200) years to really explore the role of slavery and racism throughout our society since its very beginnings and until today. And if part of the current effort is addressing this, we have folks calling foul and claiming it to be un-American.