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UNIT 14: Land and Labor




Transcript of Audio Clip

Patrick Manning, Northeastern University

Slavery rose and fell in Europe from the 15th to the 19th C. In Portugal thousands of slaves were brought mostly from Africa and put to work, ah, on the farms and as artisans in rural Portugal in the 16th Century and the 15th Century.

In Russia, a system of agricultural slavery grew up in the 16th C. and lasted until Peter the Great in about 1720 transformed the slaves to the position of serfs.

The irony, though, is that overall the system of slavery declined in Europe as it expanded in other parts of the world.

Wage labors, free labors, ah, were the system by which industry and agriculture developed in Europe at the time when slave labor and sweatshops and other forms of unfree labor expanded in other parts of the world.

But the wage workers in Europe showed their recognition of the larger system. They would describe their condition as that of "wage slaves."

Peter Winn, Tufts University

For me, Pat, the bottom line of capitalism with its wage slavery is the maximization of profit so I'm not surprised to find that the same era of capitalism that brings free labor to much of Europe spreads coerced labor around the world.

The Portuguese in Brazil, the British in the Caribbean tried other alternatives: Indian labor paid with barter goods or indentured European labor before coming to the conclusion that the labor that a sugar plantation or a sugar mill required were so unbearably hard that only enslaved Africans could with coercion sustain it.

In the Americas, the paradigm of capitalism with coerced labor is the plantation producing a crop of high value for export.

Culturally, this led to the racialization of slavery to justify the massive African slave trade to the Americas.

In the 16th C. scholastics like Hermes Sepulveda revived Aristotle's notion of the natural slave and racialized it to justify the enslavement of non-European peoples.

The counter argument of the humanist fryer Bartholemé de Las Casas was that if the indigenous peoples of the Americas had souls and could understand and embrace the Christian gospel then they were equal in the eyes of God and His Church and were not natural slaves and therefore should not be enslaved.


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