Thursday, February 19, 2009

Chattel slavery and wage slavery

Often there's confusion about the two. Basically, a few people out there have over the years said that chattel slavery was better than wage slavery because the owner had the obligation to feed and clothe slaves and to not have them die. Well, things aren't quite that simple. Chattel slavery and the process of proletarianization both reduced people to the most basic sort of existence possible, with people eaten up by capitalism having in the past and in the present literally nothing except what they need to keep on existing, i.e. food, some sort of shelter, clothing. Despite claims to the contrary, slave owners didn't exactly lavish money on their slaves. Instead, they provided the absolute minimum that they needed to live, the minimum they needed to be clothed, the minimum they needed to have shelter in the form of slave barracks. They didn't really need to prevent slaves from dying if the market for slaves could provide cheap replacements. And of course slaves were whipped, beaten, sold and resold, husband's were separated from wives, children were separated from parents and sold.

It seems that capitalism at its absolute worst has some features common to the treatment of slaves, but besides not going into all the brutality of slavery you can argue that even though there aren't formal obligations to keep people alive, the thing that's supposed to separate chattel slavery from wage slavery, that it's still in the best interest of the capitalists to do it, unless they don't care about working their employees to death.

So chattel slavery still comes out as being much more brutal than wage slavery, but at its worst the sort of Dickensian model of capitalism, something that capitalism tends to want to go to always and that is actually still in place in sweatshops in the third world as well as in migrant labor camps in the U.S., the Dickensian model does share some of its aspects with chattel slavery.

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