I am revising a set of statements on slavery made in the drafts of Decoding World History and have deleted the earlier drafts. The issue was absent from WHEE at the time of its appearance. I was not aware of the fact that slavery, in some claims in the literature, arose even in Sumer and/or the Neolithic, albeit as fringe entities. I wasn’t clear on the subject, but who is? and I still maintain the idea that the early pyramids did not arise by slave labor.
Civilization can’t sacrifice people in order to advance. That’s one reason Rome can to a dead end and simply declined for centuries. It was stuck in a cul de sac.
Cynics like to see the pyramids in terms of slavery, but at the start were the result of patriotic drafts of those who belonged in a robust way in Egyptian society. But then that too no doubt became corrupt.
But my point stands that slavery is a blind alley in civilization and is not generated in the macro effect: we know this because we see ‘abolition’ emerge millennia later as an eonic emergent.
Everything we see in civilization should have and could have been the result of free labor.
The social disease of slavery is the result of human tragic character. And its sudden reemergence in modern times in relation to capitalism is another phase of the tragedy. The social disease of slavery destroyed a whole cycle of civilization in antiquity. Sentimental notions of Roman (and Greek) civilization are misplaced.
The point here is more than the question of Sumer: the point is that civilizations can derail into blind alleys and we have lost a whole cycle to that. The massive collisions of war were the only way out, finally. The modern period of abolition is one of the miracles of history until you see its ‘eonic’ context.
And one has to wonder if the phase of capitalism isn’t on its way to a similar kind of outcome. Capitalism is different, to be sure, because it is possible for capitalism to be benign, in theory. But sure enough we can see how capitalism can turn into a disease of civilization, in fact, it is in danger of destroying a whole planet. Why are capitalists unable to restrain themselves and commit historical suicide?
Whatever the case the modern world reacts at once to not just slavery but to a related set of problems in capitalism. Frederick Engels was a capitalist and a compassionate one. It wasn’t necessary for figures like Ayn Rand to deliberately pollute the waters with the creation of a capitalist frankenstein. The source is Adam Smith, but he was no Ayn Rand. He merely noticed that self-interest can have a parodoxical effect. That’s reasonable enough until the whole thesis turns into a demonic obsession of false economic logic.
In any case historical issues (like slavery) can be tricky indeed and the place of slavery in the period of the rise of civilization is that of a tragedy unfolding.
Will the same prove true of capitalism?
So the same story in a variant telling stands for capitalism, next to slavery. Its day of reckoning should come, and soon before its grip on man turns even more malevolent than it is now.