A Brief History of Wage Slavery in the United States

Living in the United States, it has become increasingly clear to me how blatantly ignorant the populace is in regards to the exploitation that they experience on a daily basis. In fact, many reject the very notion of such exploitation as foolish, and continue living their lives in blissful complacency. Thus, it has become my mission to prove the existence of exploitation to the populace, and in doing so increase society’s awareness of its own inherent illnesses. To those of you who are immature and unwilling to learn, so be it. To those brave enough to open their eyes and step out of their assembly line, I commend you. Let us begin with the history of our nation. It is my hope that through the prevalence of wage slavery and exploitation in our past, I can show it’s continuance into our present.

In 1492, the explorer Columbus happened upon Hispaniola in his quest to find a new route to the East Indies and correspondingly to his own fortune. If you were to ask the average elementary student who Columbus was, they would speak of a brave man who endured the difficult voyage across the ocean to discover a new continent. He is commonly seen to be a good man. I am not one to judge a man’s character; however I will present the facts. Judge for yourself. In 1494 there were over 3,060,000 members of the indigenous people known as the Arawaks of Hispaniola. When Columbus arrived, he immediately used his superior weaponry to set the natives to work. For fourteen years the Arawaks were used by Columbus for slave labor; they worked the land, suffered in the mines, and sifted the rivers for gold. Conditions were terrible and the average life span of a miner was estimated to be eight months. By 1508, there were 60,000 Arawaks remaining on the islands of Hispaniola. The others had died; enslaved by the settlers, escape a futile effort. Prior to enslavement, the people of Hispaniola had been prosperous, successful at working the land, and had worked in large communes for the betterment of their own society. They were a peaceful people, at equilibrium with themselves and their surroundings. The European ideas of private property were alien to them. Within fourteen years, the first capitalists of the New World had come seeking profit, and enacted a system that was the quintessence of Capitalist ideals, maximizing profit at the expense of the lower class. Within fourteen years, the lure of profit, longing for high social status, and willingness to stop at nothing to achieve success, resulted in the death of 3,000,000 innocent natives. And so Capitalism arrived in the New World.

The majority of the American population is ignorant of the true story behind Columbus’ voyage to the New World, and the way in which it is repeated constantly in our own society:

“The quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress- is only one aspect of a certain approach to history in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders. It is as if they, like Columbus, deserve universal acceptance, as if they- the founding fathers, Jackson, Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, the leading members of the Supreme Court- represent the nation as a whole. The pretense is that there really is such thing as “the United States”, subject to occasional conflicts and quarrels, but fundamentally a community of people with common interests. It is as if there really is a “national interest” represented in the Constitution, in territorial expansion, in the laws passed by Congress, the decisions of the courts, the development of Capitalism, the culture of education and the mass media.” -Howard Zinn

Capitalist exploitation of the Americas continued on a massive scale for years. Similar fates were enacted upon the natives by Cortes, Pizarro, and the Settlers of Massachusetts and Virginia, among others, all as a means to satisfy their own lust for material wealth. The natives were given the opportunity for little to no retribution. In fact, they continued to be exploited by the settlers whenever possible. John Winthrop, the Governor of Massachusetts held the policy that the Indians had not “subdued” land, and thus had no legal right to it. Through this policy he took the land without guilt, stripping the natives of all they had worked so long to create, and destroying it. To continue expanding, the English pursued a sickening strategy in which they deliberately attacked innocents for the purpose of terrorizing and demoralizing the natives. It was their belief that it had the same effect as battle, and reduced the spillage of English blood:

“Battle is only one way to destroy an enemy’s will to fight. Massacre can accomplish the same and with less risk.” -Captain John Mason

Throughout the struggle between the settlers and the natives, the settlers continued to exploit the natives in the same way as Columbus and with the same results. In Martha’s Vineyard, the native population was 3,000 in 1642, and had been reduced, through persistent exploitation, to 313 by 1764. On Black Island, the native population was reduced from 1,500 to 51 between 1662 and 1774. All for profits, not for freedom.

This struggle is once again shown in our history through the forced subordination of African Americans. It is a commonly held belief that many of the slave masters were not as guilty as it would seem, for they were taught that slavery was the African American’s “natural place”. If this is so, however, how can one explain the methods by with each individual slave was broken down, and the books written regarding the best way to force a “resisting negro” into subordination? How can one explain the clear resistance of the African Americans, both open, and through the subtle methods of undermining their owners at any cost? Yes, it is clear that slavery is in no way natural. Plantation owners knew this. In fact, Kenneth Stampp conceded, “A wise master did not take seriously the belief that Negros were natural-born slaves. He knew better.” Ignoring this vital fact would lead to reduced oppressiveness of the owner and ultimately uprising. Now that it is clear that the position of the plantation owner on slavery was unjustified and known even by the owner to be unnatural, we must seek the motive. After due thought, it becomes strikingly clear. Black subordination and slavery did not occur naturally, but occurred because not enough white settlers came to fill the plantations. Capitalism ascertained that profits must continue, thus the lust for status and money that derives from Capitalism perpetuated slavery. Slavery continued because, as James Madison said, “I can make $257 on each Negro while spending only $12-$13 in keep.” The greed wasn’t even disguised; it was kept on the owner’s sleeve for everyone to see. It was a sign of status, and admired.

As time went on, the white and the black slave united under common conditions and became a serious threat to the slave owner, for there was no way for them to “justify” the continued ownership of a white slave. Laws were created to put African American slaves in a worse place than the white slave, so that contempt was created and no such rebellion occurred. The Capitalist slave owner lost some money, but managed to maintain his business’ profitability. If it can be seen nowhere else, the exploitation of those “inferior” and in the lower class by members of the upper class for profit is clearly shown within American slavery. It can no longer be denied. Greed and cruelty are both byproducts of Capitalism.

Through the actions of our founding fathers, we can see Capitalist ideals of economic inequality and exploitation embedded into our very foundations as a nation. The most incredible quality of the American Revolution was that, in it’s origins, it was a revolution of the American proletariat against BOTH the British and American Bourgeoisie. In 1762, James Otis raged against the American upper class and wrote:

“I am forced to get my living by the labor of my hand; and the sweat of my brow, as most of you are and obliged to go thro’ good report and evil report, for bitter bread, earned under the frowns of some who have no natural or divine right to be above me, and entirely owe their grandeur and honor to grinding the faces of the poor.”

This is comparable to the statements of Karl Marx:

“You reproach us; therefore, with intending to do away with a form of property, the necessary condition for whose existence is the non-existence of any property for the immense majority of society.”

“We by no means intend to abolish this personal appropriation of the products of labor, an appropriation that is made for the maintenance and reproduction of human life, and that leaves no surplus wherewith to command the labor of others. All that we want to do away with is the miserable character of this appropriation, under which the laborer lives merely to increase capital, and is allowed to live only in so far as the interest of the ruling class requires it.”

Ironically, the American Revolution was originally portrayed as a communistic revolution. This is shown in numerous places. In 1763, the Boston Gazette wrote: “A few persons in power [are] promoting political projects for keeping the people poor in order to make them humble.”

After the stamp at of 1765, the people declared: “A War of Plunder of general leveling and taking away the distinction of rich and poor.” This is a clear call for the end of class distinction, a clear call for the end of capitalism.

In 1765, the rising American bourgeoisie faced a problem; the developing American proletariat had focused its anger against not only against the British upper class, but the American upper class as well, threatening their elevated status with a growing class consciousness. The New York Gazette printed, in clear recognition of the concept of wage slavery, “Is it equitable that 99 rather than 999 should suffer for the Extravagance or Grandeur of one, especially when it is considered that men frequently owe their wealth to the impoverishment of their Neighbors?”

By the mid-1776: “Laborers, artisans, and small tradesmen, employing extralegal measures when electoral policies failed, were in clear command of Philadelphia and launched a full-scale attack on wealth and even the rights to acquire unlimited private property.”

In 1776 when elections for committee members to draft the Pennsylvania constitution occurred, the Privates Committee made two statements that expressed the beliefs of their constituency:

“We oppose great and overgrown rich men… they will be too apt to be framing distinctions in society.”

“An enormous proportion of property vested in a few individuals is dangerous to the rights and destructive of the common happiness, of mankind; and therefore every Free State hath a right by its laws to discourage the possession of such property.”

These people wanted economic and social equality, but when the upper class founding fathers wrote the constitution these two things were denied! The lower class, per usual, was completely ignored by the bourgeoisie, those constantly looking out for their own greedy self-interests. Similar situations occurred in other states, and so a serious of violent, premeditated social movements aimed at overthrowing the wealthy business owners and landlords occurred. In the 1740’s the Tenant Riots of New Jersey, in the 1750’s and 1760’s the Tenant Riots of New York, and the Tenant Riots of North East New York occurred, among others. All were repressed. The intentions of the rioters were ignored, and the riots were buried in history. Members of these riots saw their actions as a war between the poor and the rich, the oppressed and the oppressor, the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. This was the class struggle that Karl Max had predicted. A witness of the trial of a riot leader in New York wrote:

“Farmers evicted by the landlords had an equitable Title but could not be defended in the course of law because they were poor and… poor men were always oppressed by the rich.”

In North Carolina between 1766 and 1771 a great movement occurred led by a group called the Regulators. These men were white farmers who rebelled against wealthy landowners and officials. They called themselves “poor Industrious peasants” “laborers” “the wretched poor” and “oppressed by rich and powerful monsters” among other things. The Regulators saw the corruption of North Carolina’s officials “whose highest study is the promotion of their own wealth.”

In 1767, when the largest mobs began to form, the Founding Fathers created a decisive plan. Through campaigns of propaganda and their own influence, they framed the British as the cause of all of the proletariat’s struggles. They framed the British as the ultimate oppressors. When the revolution came about, the Founding Fathers, wealthy land and business owners of America weren’t targeted. The British were.

“Thus were the people insulted by The Sheriff, robbed and plundered… neglected and condemned by the Representatives and abused by the magistracy; obliged to pay Fees regulated only by the Avarice of the officer; obliged to pay a Tax which they believed went to enrich and aggrandize a few, who lorded it over them continually; and from all these Evils they saw no way to escape, for the Men in Power, and Legislation, were the Men whose interest it was to oppress, and make gain of the laborer.” -The Regulators

All of the above prove conclusively that the American Revolution was not followed through with as the people willed, but was tailored by the upper class.

If you, my faithful reader, have gained nothing else from this glimpse at the truth, recognize that wage slavery and class struggle, oppression and greed, are tailored into the very thread of our society. Know, and never forget. For, in the words of Karl Marx:

“The essential conditions for the existence and for the sway of the bourgeois class are the formation and augmentation of capital; the condition for capital is wage-labor. Wage-labor rests exclusively on competition between the laborers. The advance of industry, whose involuntary promoter is the bourgeoisie, replaces the isolation of the laborers, due to competition, by the revolutionary combination, due to association. The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.”

~Written by Ryan C.
~Edited by Glowstick.

Editors note: The original author of this article, Ryan, is not himself a Marxist-Leninist. He is still a bit unsure of where his beliefs fall, previously having been a supporter of capitalism. However, he is beginning to lean more toward Marxism-Leninism with pro-Stalin and pro-Hoxha views and this article is indeed insightful. He is a high ranking member of my schools debate team as well.

This entry was posted in Capitalism, Communism, Current Events, History, Leftism, Philosophy, Politics, Rightism, Society, Theory, United States. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to A Brief History of Wage Slavery in the United States

  1. A Spectator says:

    I would like to say that this article has provided me with insight. I will continue to follow your blog.

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