Eric Williams Slavery And Capitalism

1009 Words5 Pages
An economic system refers to the set of relationships between people that organizes the labour processes that all societies require, in order to sustain life. During the course of world economic history, several different types of economic systems and societies have existed, including hunter-gathers, patriarchal household production, slavery, and capitalism. Each of these economic systems had its own kind of relationships, and the dynamics of hierarchy, dominance and subordination took varying forms. Who held the power and authority, and what they did with this power was one of the crucial factors that determined the success of that particular economic system. Two economic systems that stood out in economic history, for their own reasons, was…show more content…
The second type of economic system that can be used for such an analysis is that of slavery. In Eric Williams ' work titled “Slavery and Capitalism”, he describes how the development of slavery marked several social and economic changes in society, especially in the nature of social hierarchies and relationships. Sven Beckert, in “The Empire of Cotton”, reiterates Williams ' argument by describing cotton cultivation in America, of which the backbone was slavery. In this economic system, production thrived because of the subordination of the labour force. Slavery was a cost effective method of employing labour. For instance, in the case of America, large quantities of cotton were produced at a cheaper cost, and as a result, were sold in the market for low prices. One of the reasons American cotton was attractive in the market was its low prices, which was a consequence of the employment of slave labour. Here, the social relationships contributed significantly to the economic structure. Slave owners, who more often than not, were also plantation owners or landlords, exerted their dominance over slaves. The relationship between these two groups was one of violent domination. Cotton planters often used violent means to extract maximum possible labour from the slaves. Bodily coercion, and even violent torture of the slaves was practiced, so as to keep them in check, and to obtain as much work per labourer as possible. To quote Beckert, “Coerced labour meant rapid profits.” (Empire of Cotton, Beckert) Often, dissenting or under-performing slaves would be harshly, physically punished in front of other slaves, so as to discourage disobeying the slave owner. This violent domination of labour fulfilled the primary requirement that the planters had to run their cotton plantations successfully: complete control over labour and its mobilization. (Response to Beckert,
Open Document