Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Communist League

Negro National Colonial Question


Everything, including the growth of the Negro Nation, is rooted in the past. Therefore, it is necessary to get a clear perspective and understanding of the past in order to understand the present.

The Negro question as a specific of social motion and class struggle in the United States of North America, is rooted in the type of slave system which developed in the Black Belt. Therefore, it is essential that we understand why Negro slavery in the Black Belt was what it was, in order to understand why the Negro Nation and the Negro liberation struggle exist in their present forms.

A comprehensive study of slavery in the Western Hemisphere would fill volumes of inquiry. Such a study would be beyond our ability or intent. Rather, this section will be limited to a comparison of the two different types of slavery that developed in Brazil and the Black Belt area of the U.S.N.A.; the historical results of these different types will be briefly outlined.

Social systems are transitional and cannot exist in a pure form. In the Black Belt of the U.S.N.A. and in certain areas of Brazil, there arose a latifundist (capitalist) slavery – a slavery that produced for the international market – a slavery that essentially was a commodity producing, brutal, savage form of capitalism. In the border states of the South and in the majority of the slave areas of Brazil, there arose an essentially different form of exploitation – that was patriarchal slavery – a slavery that functioned to serve the needs of the master and his household and produced for the local market. In the main this patriarchal slavery constituted a precapitalist social relation, in so much as capitalist commodity production for an international market was not the main function of this system, as we shall see.

To begin, let’s examine the patriarchal slave form as it developed in Brazil. Gilberto Freyre’s book, The Masters and the Slaves, presents a clear picture of the development of slavery and the role it played in the development of Brazilian society.

First of all, Freyre clearly shows that the Brazilian slaveholder was forced by historical conditions and the circumstances of social life on the plantation, to base slavery on some rationale other than white supremacy. Freyre writes, “Roy Nash in The Conquest of Brazil, states, the fact that the Brazilian colonizer, before exerting an imperial sway over colored races had in his own turn experienced the domination of a dark-skinned people superior to the Hispano-Goths in organization and in technique.” “Under such circumstances”, writes Nash, “it would be deemed an honor for the white to marry or mate with the governing class, the brown man instead of the reverse.”[1] (This paragraph refers to the domination of the Iberian tribes by the dark-skinned Moorish people of North Africa.)

And further:

Meanwhile, it may be stated that the brown-skinned woman was preferred by the Portuguese for the purposes of love, at least for purposes of physical love. With reference to Brazil, as an old saying has it, ’white woman for marriage, mulatto woman for fucking, Negro woman for work.’ Moreover, in our national lyricism, there is no tendency more clearly revealed than one toward a glorification of the mulatto woman, the cabocla or Indian woman, the brown-skinned or brunette type, celebrated for the beauty of her eyes, the whiteness of her teeth, for her wiles and languishments and bewitching ways, far more than are the ’pale virgins’ and the ’blonde damsels’.”[2]

As we will demonstrate later, this relative lack of white supremacy or rigid segregation during the Portuguese conquest and enslavement of the native Indians and Africans was not due to accidents of color in Portuguese history. The absence of this particular social practice was due more to the relative absence of the capitalist content of slavery in Brazil.

What then was the rationale for slavery in Brazil? It was the same as that used in early slavery in the U.S.N.A. That rationale was to bring the heathen Africans to God. Slavery was the only possible way for them to atone for their heathenness.

This is not to imply that the feudalistic and patriarchal slave masters of Brazil were not cruel to their slaves. Freyre reports that many slave bones have been dug up from the basements or gardens of old slave manors. These slaves were executed and buried by their masters despite “strict” Brazilian laws prohibiting the murder or severe torture of slaves. (This law was based on the fact that master and slave alike were of the Catholic faith.)

Not only were the Brazilian slave masters brutal with their slaves it was common for them to treat their own children in a similar if not more sadistic manner than their slaves. Again, Freyre relates that special punishments designed to emphasize pain were frequently administered to children and such things as head rappings and lashings with Grama grass were common disciplinary measures. A graphic example of master brutality to slave and son alike was reported as follows by Freyre:

The Viscount of Suassuna on his estate at Pombal had caused to be buried in the gardens more than one Negro victim of his patriarchal justice. There is nothing surprising about this, for there were those who even had their own sons put to death. One of the patriarchs, Pedro Vieira, by that time a grandfather, upon discovering that his son was having relations with a favorite slave girl, had him slain by an older brother.[3]

In the patriarchal areas of Brazil, unlike the Black Belt region of the U.S.N.A. South, there was no monoculture of any major significance. In other words, there were few vast regions in which only one or two crops were raised primarily for export, as was the case for tobacco, cotton and rice in the U.S.N.A. Black Belt. Today’s extensive Brazilian cotton and sugar cane and coffee plantations did not exist during the development of the slave system in some areas of Brazil. Since Brazilian patriarchal slave society was not organized around commodity production of single “cash” crops, plantation life tended to be a little slower and the slaves were not so tightly segregated or so systematically worked to death as in the U.S.N.A., where the drive for surplus value often killed the average Black Belt slave in less than seven working years.

The reason that a capitalist slavery could not develop to any great extent in Brazil was that Portugal itself was not a developed capitalist country. The reason that Portugal was not a developed capitalist country was, because it was a British protectorate. Portugal was an independent sovereign state, but remained controlled by Britain; “Great Britain has protected Portugal and her colonies in order to fortify her own positions in the fight against her rivals, Spain and France.”[4]

In the history of Brazilian slavery, we see over and over again, the feudal paternalism that suited that specific type of slavery. Freyre points out in his preface, “A widely practiced miscegenation here tended to modify the enormous social distance that otherwise would have been preserved between Big House and tropical forest, between Big House and slave hut. What latifundiary monoculture based upon slavery accomplished in the way of creating an aristocracy, by dividing Brazilian society into two extremes, of gentry and slaves, with a thin and insignificant remnant of free men sandwiched in between, was in good part offset by the social effects of miscegenation. The Indian woman and the Negro woman, in the beginning, and later the mulatto, the cabocla, the quadroon, and the octoroon, becoming domestics, concubines, even the lawful wives of their white masters, exerted a powerful influence for social democracy in Brazil. A considerable portion of the big landed estates was divided among the mestizo sons, legitimate or illegitimate, procreated by those white fathers and tended to break up the feudal allotments and latifundia that were small kingdoms.”[5]

Contrast this with the Yankee slave owner, who whip in hand offered his bastard slave children up for sale to the highest bidder. The Yankee masters’ bourgeois nature wiped away any sentimentality that might have normally shown through considering that to be “sold down the river” meant a short ugly life of maltreatment and overwork that was ended by an untimely death. The answer did not lie in the nationality of the slave owners, but in the specifics of the slave system in each country.

Further Freyre states:

I believe it may be stated that from the point of view of nutrition, that most salutary influence in the Brazilian development has been that of the African Negro, both with respect to the valuable food products that through him have come to us from the land of his origin, and with respect to his own diet, which was better balanced then that of the white man – at least in this country, under slavery. If I make this qualification, it is because the plantation owners in Brazil had their own variety of Taylorism[6], by which they endeavored to obtain from the Negro slave, purchased at a dear price, the maximum of useful effort and not merely a maximum of labor for their money.[7]

Finally, Freyre quotes from the letter of a person who was visiting in Bahia, Brazil to illustrate the “unusual” treatment of slaves under the conditions of patriarchal slavery:

There is here so dominant a passion for keeping Negroes and mulattoes in the house, that once a cria is born, he does not leave the house until death takes him. There are many families that have within doors sixty, seventy or more unnecessary persons. I am here speaking of the city, for in the country, this would not be surprising.”[8]

What were the conditions of slavery in the Black Belt area of the Southern U.S.N.A. compared to those described above? In general, slavery in the Southern region of the U.S.N.A. was justified by the rationale of white supremacy. Strict segregation of field hands was maintained and no “extra house slaves were allowed as they were in Brazil. In addition, Black Belt slave masters had a scientific knowledge (based on statistics published by organized slave owners societies) of just how long a slave would last under given conditions.

Masters used slave labor in a manner calculated to maximize profits. This practice made Black Belt slavery an indescribable horror. There was nothing in Black Belt slavery to compare with the Brazilian slave policy of drawing out “maximum effort”. This policy allowed the slave to earn his freedom under the protection of ecclesiastical as well as secular laws, and to escape much of the abuse that resulted from white supremacist capitalist slavery.

This comparison between capitalist slavery in the Black Belt and patriarchal slavery in Brazil would not be complete without some indication of the life of overwork of the slave on the cotton plantation in the U.S.N.A. One of the best accounts comes from the celebrated work of Soloman Northrup:

During all these hoeings the overseer or driver follows the slaves with a whip, such as has been described. The fastest hoer takes the lead row. He is usually about a rod in advance of his companions. If one of them passes him, he is whipped. If one falls behind or is a moment idle, he is whipped. In fact, the lash is flying from morning until night the whole day long.

The hands are required to be in the cotton field as soon as it is light in the morning, and, with the exception of ten or fifteen minutes, which is given them at noon to swallow their allowance of cold bacon, they are not permitted to be a moment idle until it is too dark to see and when the moon is full they often times labor till the middle of the night.[9]

Karl Marx also described the conditions of slavery in the U.S.N.A. Black Belt:

The slave-owner buys his labourer as he buys his horse. If he loses his slave, he loses capital that can only be restored by new outlay in the slave-mart. But the rice-grounds of Georgia, or the swamps of the Mississippi may be fatally injurious to the human constitution; but the waste of human life which the cultivation of these districts necessitates, is not so great that it cannot be repaired from the teaming preserves of Virginia and Kentucky. Considerations of economy, moreover, which, under a natural system, afford some security for humane treatment by identifying the master’s interest with the slaves, when once trading in slaves is practised, become reasons for racking to the uttermost the toil of the slave; for, when his place can at once be supplied from foreign preserves, the duration of his life becomes a matter of less moment than its productiveness while it lasts. It is accordingly a maxim of slave management, in slave-importing countries, that the most effective economy is that which takes out of the human chattel in the shortest space of time the utmost amount of exertion it is capable of putting forth. It is in tropical culture, where annual profits of often equal for the whole capital of plantations, that Negro life is most recklessly sacrificed.[10]

In this period, Woodson and Wesley report, that in the Cotton Belt, a slave owner would have to purchase five slaves per year for every thirty that he owned in order to maintain the original number. So severe were the working conditions, that the slave women for the most part could not bear children.

The expression “sold down the river” had a dreadful meaning among the slaves in the areas bordering the Black Belt to the North. These areas, especially Virginia and Kentucky were slave breeding areas and farm production was for the local market and conditions in the field were tolerable. Whenever a slave trader from the Black Belt appeared on these farms, there was terror in the slave quarters, for all the slaves knew they could expect a short, hard life “down the river.” In fact the average life expectancy of a slave in the border areas was 55 years. In the Black Belt, the average was only seven years of labor.

Slaves who began to work in the Black Belt fields at the prime age of 17, could be expected to live only seven years after that. Fifteen percent of the slave children died from overwork and maltreatment, before they were nine years old.

Marx further explains slavery under capitalism:

But as soon as people, whose production still moves within the lower forms of slave labour, corvee-labour etc., are drawn into the whirlpool of an international market dominated by the capitalist mode of production, the sale of their products for export becoming their principal interest, the civilized horrors of overwork are grafted on the barbaric horrors of slavery, serfdom etc.. Hence, the Negro labour in the Southern states of the American Union preserved something of a patriarchal character, so long as production was chiefly directed to immediate local consumption. But, in proportion, as the export of cotton became of vital interest to these states, the over working of the Negro and sometimes the using up of his life in 7 years labour, became a factor in a calculated and calculating system.[11]

Here at one blow, Marx clearly sets forth the Character of Anglo-American slavery in North America in distinction to the slavery of other areas in the Americas. Slavery in the Portuguese and Spanish colonies – apart from the overwork in the mines, was a distinctive patriarchal slavery and was never a big factor in the world market. Marx says, “It. is, however, clear that in any given economic formation of society, where not the exchange value but the use value of the product predominated, the surplus-labour will be limited by a given set of wants which may be greater or less, and that here no boundless thirst for surplus-labour arises from the nature of the production itself. Hence in antiquity, overwork becomes horrible only when the object is to obtain exchange value in its specific independent money form; in the production of gold and silver. Compulsory working to death is here the recognized form of overwork.”[12] This was the situation in the mines of Peru, Bolivia etc. While English ships transported the commodities of cotton, sugar etc. – which reflected the commodity-capitalist production and wealth—Spanish ships transported little but gold, silver and precious stones. This is a reflection of Iberian feudalism whose commercial interest was limited to the money form of commodities.

In The Poverty of Philosophy, Marx shows the decisive role of slavery in the U.S.N.A. in the development of capitalism: “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 has given the colonies their values; it is the colonies that have created world trade, and it is world trade that is the pre-condition of large-scale industry. Thus slavery is an economic category of the greatest importance.

Without slavery, North America, the most progressive of countries would be transformed into a patriarchal country. Wipe out North America from the map of the world, and you will have anarchy – the complete decay of modern commerce and civilization. Abolish slavery and you will have wiped America off the map of nations.[13]

Further in Capital. Marx continues, “Whilst the cotton industry introduced child slavery in England, it gave in the United States a stimulus to the transformation of the earlier, more or less patriarchal slavery, into a system of commercial exploitation. In fact, the veiled slavery of the wage workers in Europe needed for its pedestal, slavery pure and simple in the new world.”[14]

It is clear that this “commercial exploitation” of the slave system in the U.S.N.A. developed parallel with the rise of industrial capitalism. At the same time, slavery in the U.S.N.A. was the wellspring of value so necessary for the development of capitalism. This marked slavery in the Black Belt as latifundist-capitalist slavery – in contrast with patriarchal pre-capitalist slavery in most areas of Brazil.

Capitalism is the commodity producing society where human labor itself appears on the market as a commodity. Simply because this labor is sold all at once, does not change the character of the exploitation of that labor. Marx points out:

The process of production, considered on the one hand as the unity of the labour-process and the process of creating value is the production of commodities; considered on the other hand, as the unity of the labour process and the process of producing surplus-value, it is the capitalist process of production, or capitalist production of commodities.[15]

From this scientific point of view, the only possible conclusion is that latifundist slavery in the U.S.N.A. was a form of capitalism, a commodity producing society, where the labor did not appear on the market as free labor. Social systems do not appear in a vacuum and therefore none have appeared in a pure form. It is the petty bourgeois intellectuals’ search for laboratory purity in social systems that has prevented them and through them prevented the revolutionaries from seeing the slavery in the Black Belt as capitalist slavery and therefore, exposing the secret of the genesis of the Negro National Question.[16]

The objective conditions of the production of cotton and tobacco, the constant clearing of the land, the harsh conditions of life of the workers, the frontiers and free land, all demanded un-free labor to feed the whirlpool of international commercial intercourse. The form was slavery the content was capitalism.

At the ending of slavery in Brazil, the patriarchal slave system melted into the capitalist system and the slaves became the Brazilian proletariat. No separate national development based upon the slave population occurred. The feudal patriarchal slavery, because its market was local and exchange value not the sole aim of production, did not allow for the consolidation of the nation. Because “a nation is not merely a historical category, but a historical category belonging to a definite epoch, the epoch of rising capitalism”,[17] there was no need to solidify a market and so the slaves of Brazil never were stabilized by economic cohesion. As Freyre reports; “The slaves’ place was taken by the pariah of the factory, the slave hut was replaced by the slums and the plantation master by the factory owner and absentee capitalist.”[18]

Not so in the U.S.N.A., as Marx pointed out above; the development of the Industrial Revolution in England created an insatiable demand for cotton. This demand of the world market for cotton and other agricultural commodities, led to the development of a monoculture in the U.S.N.A. Black Belt, that demanded the brutal white supremacist concentration, oppression, separation and commercial exploitation of the slaves. These conditions and internal contradictions which were unique to the Black Belt area, laid the foundation for the emergence of the modern Negro Nation.


[1] Freyre, Gilberto, The Masters and the Slaves. Alfred A. Knopf, N.Y., 1956, pp. 11-12

[2] Ibid., p. 22.

[3] Freyre, Gilberto, op. cit., p. 416

[4] Lenin, V.I., Imperialism. The Highest Stage of Capitalism. Foreign Language Press, Peking, 1965, p. 102

[5] Freyre, Gilberto, op. cit., p. 64

[6] Taylorism – After the industrial engineer, Taylor. A system of scientific organization of labor so employed as to do away with any unnecessary motions on the part of the laborer. (See, Leontiev, Political Economy. A Beginner’s Course. Inter. Pub., N.Y., p. 116)

[7] Freyre, Gilberto, op. cit., p. 65

[8] Freyre, Gilberto, op. cit., p. 429

[9] Aptheker, Herbert, A Documentary History of the Negro People in the United States. Citadel Press, N.Y., 1967, p. 248

[10] Marx, Karl, Capital. F.L.P.H., Moscow, 1961, p. 266, (Quoted from Cairnes, ”The Slave Power” pp. 110-111)

[11] Marx Ibid. p. 236.

[12] Marx Ibid. p. 235.

[13] Marx, Karl, ”The Poverty of Philosophy”, Handbook of Marxism. Martin Lawrence Ltd., London, 1935, pp. 356-357.

[14] Marx, Karl, Capital. F.L.P.H., Moscow, 1961, p. 795

[15] Ibid, p. 197

[16] In fact the hiring out of slaves was common practice in the South. ”Almost every railroad in the ante-bellum South was built at least in part by bondsmen; in Georgia they constructed more than a thousand miles of roadbed. In 1858, a Louisiana newspaper concluded: Negro labor is fast taking the place of white labor in the construction of southern railroads.

“Until the 1840’s, the famed Tredegar Iron Company in Richmond used free labor almost exclusively. But in 1842, Joseph R. Anderson, then commercial agent of the company, proposed to employ slaves as a means of cutting labor costs. The board of directors approved of his plan, and within two years Anderson was satisfied with the practicability of the scheme. In 1847, the increasing use of slaves caused the remaining free laborers to go out on strike, until they were threatened with prosecution for forming an illegal combination. After this protest failed, Anderson vowed that he would show his workers that they could not dictate his labor policies: he refused to re-employ any of the strikers. Thereafter, as Anderson noted, Tredegar used ‘almost exclusively slave labor except as the Boss men. This enabled me of course, to compete with other manufacturers. ’” (Stampp, Kenneth M., The Peculiar Institution. Vintage Books, N.Y., 1956, p. 62)

[17] Stalin, Joseph, ”Marxism and the National Question”, Selections from V.I. Lenin and J.V. Stalin on National Colonial Question, Calcutta Book House, Calcutta, 1970.

[18] Freyre, Gilberto, op. cit., p. V in the introduction.