Born Free

Direct slavery is just as much the pivot of bourgeois industry as machinery, credits, etc. Without slavery, you have no cotton; without cotton you have no modern industry. It is slavery that gave the colonies their value; it is the colonies that created world trade, and it is world trade that is the precondition of large-scale industry. Thus, slavery is an economic category of the greatest importance. Karl Marx, 1847.

In the new anti-imperialist world which began in the forties, emphasis shifted, where empire had to be maintained, from islands to continents, from tropical to temperate climates, from plantations of blacks to settlements of whites. Eric Williams,1946.

No sooner had Paul Sendia invited me to participate in this series, than my thoughts unscrambled to come up with a foundational fiction: ‘South Australia had been born capitalist.’ In challenging that assumption, three streams of my thinking merged.

The first goes back to Ken Dallas and whether Botany Bay began as a Trading Post or a Penal Colony; the second has been an obsession with the origins of capital-within-capitalism since the 2008 implosion in its expanded reproduction; the third spur is the up-hill battle to get soi-disant Marxists to pay attention to Marx’s Capital in its sequin-centennial year of 2017.

Chapter 33 These three backdrops to my choice of foundational fiction come together in Marx’s final chapter, ‘The Modern Theory of Colonisation’, which is amusing, brief, and records the lessons that Wakefield drew from Thomas Peel’s failure on the Swan River in 1829 where the immigrant labourers, upon regaining possession of the productive resource needed to sustain themselves –namely, land –had declined to sell their capacity to add value.3Henceforth, they were free to ‘abstain’ from enriching the would-be capitalist, Mr Peel, who had ‘provided for everything except the export of English relations of production to Swan River!’4

To succeed as a capitalist, Peel needed to ship out not only things but also power relationships to drive the accumulation process. Thomas needed uncle Robert’s Peelers.

Chapter 33 encapsulates the critical analysis that Marx presents throughout his previous 800 pages: Wakefield discovered that, in the colonies, property in money, means of subsistence, machines and other means of production does notes yet stamp a man as a capitalist, if the essential complement to these things is missing: the wage-labourer, the other man, who is compelled to sell himself of his own free will. Without those attributes, Marx adds, ‘capitalist accumulation and the capitalist mode of production are impossible.’5

To make sure that those needs could be met, advocates of Systematic Colonisation proffered a method for reproducing wage-slaves without resort to the violence overt in convictism and chattel-slavery. Other places Among the reasons why no one questions the foundational mode of production in South Australia none is more widespread than the assumption that, since Britain had been capitalist long before 1836,6its white settlement colonies could not be otherwise. This conviction can be called capitalism as cargo, by which the convicts unloaded capitalism along with Governor Phillip’s pre-fabricated house. The failure at the Swan River in 1829 demonstrates its fallaciousness.7

U.S. of Argive the pre-eminence of the United States among today’s corporate warfare imperia, it may come as a surprise to find that dating the triumph of the capitalist mode there remains in contention. Alertness to those debates should reduce the strangeness of asking parallel if never exactly comparable questions about South Australia. In the U.S. case, the disputants take two lines: first, how to deal with the slave South;8secondly, when does the economy move beyond simple commodity production?

Some scholars are content to place the switch as early as the 1790s, relying on an extension of the areas across which goods were traded, despite a scarcity of ready money.9Their opponents highlight the Jacksonian counter-revolution, stressing the demolition of a regime of credit after the 1837 crisis.10In 1867, Marx notes that the U.S. economy ‘must still be considered a European colony.’ In preparing the fourth German edition in 1890, Engels adds that its ‘industry holds second place in the world, without on that account entirely losing its colonial character.’ Marxist Professor of Accounting Rob A. Bryer deduces that simple commodity production held its own into the 1900s.

Humphrey McQueen

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