Saturday, January 31, 2015

‘The Half Has Never Been Told’ Comment Three


IF EVERY AFRICAN AMERICAN, OR EVEN EVERY WORKER, READ THIS BOOK, CAPITALISM WOULD BE SHAKEN TO THE CORE. Continuing my progress through ‘The Half has Never Been Told,’ I’m taken by new revelations exposing ever new layers of lies and distortion we’ve been taught about our history and our economy—and I’m one who is somewhat literate in both. Just consider that most everything you think you know about slavery is a lie. You won’t be far off.

Chapters three and four take the name ‘Hands,’ Right Hands for 3, Left Hands for 4. The author uses these metaphors to make deep points with double meanings.

Think of ‘right hand’ as a seat of power, as in ‘the right hand of God.’ Then think of hands writing bills of sale or letters of credit, or even ‘writs of hand,’ a kind of commercial paper. All these were used in moving living human flesh along the classic cycle of capitalism, M-C-M’, money to capital to greater money. The author dramatically situates this activity in Maspero’s Coffee House and Slave Market in New Orleans, and shows how it came to rival New York and London as a center of growing capitalism rooted in ‘slave labor camps,’ a term he often uses over the softer ‘plantation.’ While they are on Maspero’s auction block, the qualities of a slave might be embellished—a good blacksmith, a good carpenter, but when the bills of sale are written, the are just so many ‘hands’ for the field.

The ‘Left Hand’ of chapter four is more revealing, since most humans, including slaves, are right handed. This chapter exposes many lies, first and foremost that slavery was unproductive compared to free labor. In fact, it was very productive, and wage labor that picked cotton could never match slave labor. Why? Because slave labor was driven by torture. A slave in the Deep South region had a poundage of cotton to pick every day. They were whipped with flesh-tearing bullwhips when they didn’t meet it. (The crack of the whip is the origin of the term, ‘cracker’, by the way.) If a slave met the number, it was then raised higher. So slaves had to force themselves to pick faster, using both hands independently, as in playing the piano, so their left hand became as dexterous as their right, and both became so fast they moved in a blur. It was called the ‘push system.’ Some overseers, tiring of swinging the lash, even invented ‘whipping machines’ they could pedal with less effort and to torture more slaves at the end of every day. This process was used on over one million human beings over many decades, producing enormous profits, making Southern enslavers among the richest people in the world, and driving the growth of the industrial revolution everywhere. Slavery resides in the very inner soul of capitalism. More to come.

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