Light Reading: "Spectres of the Atlantic"
Since Empire of Necessity came up on the charts, the idea that slavery -- although in opposition to wage labor as a social relation -- was nonetheless essential to the formation of what we know as capitalism and moreover, thrives today, not merely metaphorically, as debt slavery, but actually, in the soccer stadiums of Dubai, the shrimp boats of Thailand, and indentured servitude Silicon Valley. So, Spectre of The Atlantic, by Ian Baucom. The theme of the book is Liverpool, capital of the long twentieth century, in a double hat tip to Walter Benjamin ("Paris, Capital of the Nineteenth Century") and Giovanni Arrighi. As the arcades of Paris were to Benjamin, so the voyage of the slave ship Zong -- whose captain threw his slaves overboard to collect on their insurance money, the subject of a famous painting by J.M. W Turner -- are to Baucom. Baucom's post-modernist (?) prose is very dense, so it took me awhile to find a quote that would show why I wanted to read it. Here it is:
The [paintings of] African heads circling the Liverpool Exchange bear witness to the enormous profitability of a circum-Atlantic trade in commodities, a triangular trade we are accustomed to thinking of almost exclusively as a trade in goods; a trade in textiles and other midlands merchandise on the first vector of exchange, of human property in the passage from Africa to the Caribbean and the Americas, and of rum, sugar, coffee, and tobacco from the far side of the Atlantic back to Britain. There is nothing wrong with this picture. It is an accurate outline representation of the major circuits of the commodity culture that in terms of pure temporal longevity, dominated this as any other cycle of accumulation. What it disregards, however, is something else the the African heads on the Liverpool Exchange at least metaphorically figure: the finance culture that preceeded, enabled, and secured this circuit of cross-Atlantic commodity exchange; the bank, stock, credit, insurance, and loan-driven money forms of value that underwrote this cycle of accumulation, presided over its rise, and, as Arrighi's general model predicts, have returned to dominate what Braudel calls the moment of "autumn."
That is, when a society ceases to accumulate capital from the production of commodities (M-C-M', as we saw in our discussion of wages) and instead accumulates by, as it were, breeding money with itself (M-M'). In other words, the period c. 1975 - 2014 -- which covers my working and adult life, interestingly enough, at least to me -- was our Autumn.
The trade in commodities may be the most tangible form taken by the trans-Atlantic slave trade and the long twentieth century it has bequeathed us, but its conditions of possibility are the speculative, abstract, money-into-money [M-M'] trades that Liverpool, in duplicating London, inherited from the turn-of-the-century financial revolution. And chief among these was the trade in insurance, stocks, bills, and all the variant forms of "paper money" derived from the establishment of a modern, credit-issuing system of banking.
So, isn't that interesting? No banking, no slave trade.
NOTE Obvious 12 points applications: 5. Debt Jubilee, 8. Post Office Bank, and 12 reforms 10: Justice Starts at the Top (that is, with bankster executives.