Eric V. Snow



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Being employing capitalists, albeit in agriculture, the English rural elite had the advantage of being able to use much more in the way of positive incentives than the American slaveholders could possibly hope to, even under the task system. The motive for the laborers to work was wages, while that for the slaves inevitably came down to the lash or the fear of it, when the threat to dissolve the recalcitrant bondsman's family was not used. The laborers had to support their families independently, while the slaves, being provided automatically with sustenance regardless of work performance, had far less of a positive, internal motive to work. This difference did narrow considerably towards the end of the Old Poor law, under the Speenhamland and roundsmen systems, because the parish promised to support directly much of a laborer and his or her family's needs through allowances, regardless of any given laborer's work effort. But, as labor productivity began to fall and the poor rates had enormously risen by the 1830s from the 1770s, the English elite reimposed the full power of firing employees by the passage of the New Poor Law and the workhouse test for the able-bodied.564 The power of the chief weapon of work discipline under capitalism, dismissing employees for poor performance with the consequent loss of wages to support themselves, had been restored by the fear of the workhouse, but this tool was simply unavailable to slaveholders by the very nature of the system they had created. Slaveholders could sell recalcitrant slaves, but this was a much more troublesome process than firing an employee, and the mere fact these slaves were being marked as undesirable lowered their sale value, injuring the net worth of their owners. Slaveholders necessarily had to use much more physical force, such as by corporal punishment and occasional killings pour encourager les autres by example, to get their slaves to work than English farmers, who by dismissing their laborers amidst an overstocked parish labor market to face the workhouse, migration, or possible starvation, did not need to employ high levels of violence on the job to create an incentive to them to work. The fundamental difference here lay in how the laborers, as employees paid only as they performed a certain task, had a natural incentive to work, while the slaves, being provided automatically with the necessities of life such as food, shelter, and clothing, had to be compelled to work by their owners. Incentives necessarily remained supplemental in the case of controlling the slaves, such as pay for Sundays and late nights, while these in the form of wages remained the dominating motivator for the farmworkers, who received nothing to sustain themselves if they did not work, except in cases where the Old Poor Law provided them straight relief requiring no work. So even when the laborers were not paid by piecework, there still remained positive incentives to work for their farmer or employing landlord by the mere fact of them being paid for what they did.
These two elites did eventually end up taking different approaches to using knowledge to control their subordinate classes. As discussed above (pp. 107-9) in the section dealing with education, elites can control using sheer ignorance their subordinate class, or they can use skewed knowledge. The slaveholders, without question, used ignorance to control their bondsmen, as shown by their legal war against slaves gaining literacy. While this model did tempt a number of English landholders, in the end they opted to provide education by the state to the laborers. Anyway, they had allowed on a piecemeal basis some laborers to be taught in schools runs by the clergy or other independent schoolmasters. Since the laborers were legally free, and England's Protestant culture placed a premium on learning the Bible, it was difficult to deny them literacy. Besides the content of the curriculum, the school could also teach punctuality and a sense of disciplined time, such as how the Methodist Sunday Schools in York made the first rule for the children to remember was to arrive "a few minutes before half-past nine o'clock."565 While the antebellum South was about as Protestant as England, the dangers of rebellion, forged passes, and general discontent coming from greater intellectual awareness were judged so great that the southern elite willingly junked a key tenet of Protestantism to keep their subordinate class in line. Since the slave's freedom of religion was legally totally dispensable at the choice of his or her owner to begin with, their elite's desire for self-preservation trumped their faith.
How much success did these two elites have at ideological hegemony with their respective subordinate classes? Much of this has to remain unknowable, because the thoughts of average people often were only fortuitously preserved in the documentation now available to us today. Most of what little the subordinate classes in question did say that was preserved is in the public transcript, which the dominant class largely shapes and controls. The social sites where the subordinate class spoke freely among themselves, out of the earshot of their masters or employers, rarely produced any records available today, although the slave narratives and workers' autobiographies are the closest exception to this rule. Another distortion exists when judging how successful these two elites were at hegemony: Because the slaves were under a much more restrictive regime, their mask was typically thicker than that of English laborers. It is hard to imagine, for example, a white slaveholder being subjected to the verbal abuse Hawley experienced while traveling the roads from semi-employed paupers working along them. The slaveholder insulted by slaves would, especially with Southern whites possessing such an overdeveloped sense of defending personal honor against insults, likely alight from his carriage and perform a public whipping on the spot, as Barrow did once, or otherwise report the offense to the slave's master to deal with, with likely similar results.566 The risks to a slave for speaking out was considerably higher than that for a laborer, a point which is dealt with in the section on resistance below: The one could be whipped, sold away from his family, possibly even killed, while the laborer might face loss of job, blacklisting, and self-imposed exile to find more work, perhaps prison in some cases for sedition. Another clouding issue Scott describes was the subordinate class's manipulations of the ruling class's ideology, such as the former instrumentally proclaiming its loyalty to the latter's ideals to get something out of them, while privately denying these ideas among themselves (cf. "rebels in the name of the tsar.")
How Much Success Did These Two Elites Have at Hegemony?
Granted the above disclaimer, what are the indications for these two elites' success at hegemony? In the English case, judging especially from the demands typical of food rioters in time of dearth and the Swing Rioters' minimalistic demands, the paternalistic model appeared to be largely accepted by the laborers at least prior to the French Wars, and at least in part for some time afterwards. The crowds appeared to demand its practical implementation by the elite, not a radical overturning of society in the name of egalitarianism with equal rights and equal property for all. Even with the cloak of anonymity protecting the authors of Swing letters, etc., the English crowds and rioters did not demand the land of the gentry and aristocracy. It took the piling up of offenses over one or two generations, such as enclosure, the decline of service, mass pauperization, underemployment, and unemployment under the Old Poor Law, and (especially) the workhouse tests of the New, before the laborers realized as a class the rural elites as a class were not governing in their interests, and saw the gap grow between paternalistic rhetoric and practical actions that helped them. Contributing to this change was the repudiation of communal paternalistic values of a substantial part of the rural elite in favor of individualism and capitalism under the sway of Malthusianism and Classical economics. As the laborers came to realize over time their social superiors had repudiated paternalism largely practically and even some ideologically, symbolized by the New Poor Law of 1834 and its implementation, full class consciousness began to appear, which was outwardly shown by unionism developing among the farmworkers, especially by the successes of Arch's union in the 1870s. The failure of the elite's hegemonic objectives is demonstrated by the extent class consciousness exists among the subordinate class, which had became plain in the mid-nineteenth century English countryside.
In the case of the slaves, two available historiographical models for hegemony exist.567 One is Fogel and Engerman's concept that bourgeois individualistic slaveholders successfully inculcated bondsmen with the Protestant work ethic. The second, and more persuasive, is Genovese's model of paternalism, of reciprocal duties between the enslavers and the enslaved. Both models, but especially Fogel and Engerman's, are undermined by the centrality of violence and force being used to control the slaves. If Barrow's slaves really did have and practice the Protestant work ethic, why did he have to whip them so often? Why did masters and mistresses almost universally complain about the shamming and deceitful behavior of their human chattels? But Fogel and Engerman's model still has the advantage of identifying the ideology of the typical slaveholder much more accurately than Genovese's. Genovese faces the problem of proving that the bulk of slaveholders, especially the planters of the interior areas of the South away from the Atlantic Seaboard and New Orleans, really had the values of communal paternalism instead of self-seeking, individualistic capitalism. If the elite does not hold certain values, or only holds them very shallowly, as mere rhetoric to deceive the underlings, its ability to inculcate them into latter is either completely destroyed or seriously limited. It is hard to successfully teach values which one does not believe, or live, oneself. While Genovese is aware how the slaves did manipulate their masters and mistresses' ideology for their own purposes, by turning customs into rights, the implications of Scott's model are ominous for his analysis, because the slaves had to wear thicker masks than laborers did because of the importance of violent coercion as a discipline tool under slavery. Because of the much greater brutality of the system, whether through corporal punishment on the job, executions carried out by the judicial system, or hangings by a white mob, or the devastation wrought by manipulating and destroying family bonds in the name of labor discipline and/or profit, it is much harder to believe the slaves would accept the implicit social contract bargain their ruling class had made with them, compared to that between the farmworkers and the English rural elite.
Imagining a young, teenaged English farm servant thinking it is a good deal to have guaranteed food, shelter, and a job for one year in exchange for being at the beck and call of his master, the farmer, much of the waking day, is fairly easy. Believing Sambo would find being permanently bound by an accident of birth to this or that white master, who may whip him mercilessly, or sell his wife, his mother, his children, etc. away from him for any reason, was a good bargain is much less plausible. He could easily see from how his white family, his overseer, the poor whites nearby, and/or free blacks lived, the advantages of liberty as opposed to slavery. The masses of slaves who fled whenever an army hostile to the Southern white elite's interests was nearby during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars are good evidence for this. Doubtless, the paternalistic ideology did make some actual converts among drivers and the domestic servants especially, as well as among the slaves who had been owned by great planters over a period of generations in long settled regions along the Atlantic Seaboard, but it is unlikely it was really accepted in the main by most slaves other than tactically to get something out of the whites and beyond outward behavioral signs of deference, such as not looking the master in the face. Part of the essence of paternalism is for the subordinate class to identify its interests with its master's in a personal way, while the superior maintains social distance to avoid losing respect of the subordinate through "fraternization." It is much easier to imagine English laborers identifying with their farmer or squire, at least before c. 1795, than the typical slave with his master because of the endemic violence and family divisions many masters had to inflict to maintain order or financial solvency, while the English elite avoided employing anywhere as much force, and mostly only manipulated family bonds to the extent a laborer applied for parish relief from a system tied to the workhouse test. In short, communal paternalism becomes a more plausible possibility for the masses to accept ideologically the more the elite respects the privileges/rights of the subordinate class to be protected from criminals and economic insecurity. For the slaves, the costs of their masters and overseers' particular brand of paternalism under slavery was far higher than that required by English farmer of the English farmworker in service, or even the squire and parson in general deference. Although Scott's objections about the masses manipulating the elite's ideology theoretically apply to both the English laborer and American slave's cases equally, there is reason to believe the paternalistic ideology made much greater inroads among the laborers than the slaves in the period prior to the French Wars, and then the English rural elite lost what hegemony they had due to their actions, causing class consciousness to develop in the first three quarters of the nineteenth century.
6. ON RESISTANCE BY A SUBORDINATE CLASS
The Infrapolitics of Daily Life
For any subordinate class, day-to-day resistance, not spectacular revolts or rebellions, dominate their lives. The small victories and defeats of infrapolitics coming from the ongoing struggle between the subordinate class and the dominant class often have a significant bearing on the level of comfort the former has, and so cannot be dismissed as irrelevant. Whether someone, a slave or farmworker, has a stomach full or empty on a given night, based upon the successful or unsuccessful theft of food or poaching of game, is a matter of particular importance to him or her. Such daily struggles often do not receive the journalistic and historiographical ink that spectacular revolts and riots do, but often have more direct bearing on the lives of the subordinate class in question. Indeed, enough little guerrilla attacks on the prerogatives of the dominant class may end up undermining some principal aspect of the way they exploit the subordinate class if the elite does not work to continually enforce it. For example, to the extent poaching (in the case of the English farmworkers) or pilfering from the master's stock (more an American slave issue) becomes so banal and routine from so many violations of the dominant class's laws, then those laws increasingly cease to exist as practical realities. Laws can be destroyed by the death of a thousand cuts due to the subordinate class's exertion of continual pressure, as it probes for weaknesses in the dominant class's strength and will to enforce its prerogatives, unless the latter pushes back just as steadily through surveillance and force. Since the dominant class, at least when unified and not threatened by foreign invaders, normally can win any direct frontal attacks on its prerogatives by the subordinate class, the latter tends to resort to circuitous, covert tactics to gain its ends anyway. In the case of American slaves in particular compared to their Latin American and Caribbean brethren, significant revolts were rare events, especially in the period this work analyzes. Besides the complicated case of the Seminole War, actual insurrection only occurred twice between 1750 and 1865: Turner's in 1831 and that near New Orleans in 1811. The abortive conspiracies of Gabriel Prosser (Virginia, 1800) and Denmark Vesey (South Carolina, 1822) receive lots of attention, but never got off the ground. Similarly, although the Swing Riots of 1830-31 were impressive in their national scope, the English farmworkers simply did not regularly take to making frontal assaults en masse against the rural elite. Because of these considerations, this section emphasizes the day-to-day resistance ("infrapolitics") of the slaves and farmworkers to their respective elites, not the spectacular revolts or riots that made ruling classes quiver in their boots for some short periods of time, but which largely came to nought in the end.568
Analytical Problems with "Day-to-Day Resistance" (Infrapolitics)
After listing some acts typical of it, Genovese rather skeptically views day-to-day resistance thus:
Stealing, lying, dissembling, shirking, murder, infanticide, suicide, arson--qualify at best as prepolitical and at worst as apolitical. . . . [It] generally implied accommodation and made no sense except on the assumption of an accepted status quo the norms of which, as perceived or defined by the slaves, had been violated.
While he admits that seemingly innocuous activities, such as a black preacher's sermon on love and dignity, could serve as groundwork for political action by strengthening the cohesion of the subordinate class against their masters, he denies such activities are directly "political." Fogel and Engerman are similarly skeptical, while using rather different premises. They argue, against Stampp in particular, that characterizing the slaves' behavior as consisting of stealing, lying, dissembling, shirking, etc., effectively concedes the traditional stereotypes of blacks under slavery. The difference merely was it gave these acts a non-racist, non-genetic interpretation, maintaining resistance against their owners caused them:
[Herskovits and Bauer and Bauer] had merely argued that laziness and irresponsibility were really forms of resistance to slavery. Stampp gave this resistance a moral twist. In effect, he attributed to slaves the morality of abolitionists. In doing so he not only gave to those engaged in resistance a political consciousness that Douglass did not find among his fellow bondsmen . . . he simultaneously cast a stain on those who strove to improve themselves within the system. Stampp's second path also led him to concede the truth of Phillips's description of the behavior of blacks, but to argue that it was the system rather than race which was to blame.
Strikingly, they argue that such low intensity types of resistance should be compared to how often these acts were done by free workers, over and above the problems of determining actual motivation and frequency for them.569 So Fogel and Engerman and Genovese all share skepticism about day-to-day resistance. But Fogel and Engerman's disavowals are much stronger because they believe the slaves were imbued with the Protestant work ethic. Although these arguments are made in the context of American black slavery, the same theoretical arguments could be applied to English farmworkers as well, with poaching added to the list of typical acts of resistance, and a lesser emphasis on shirking and theft.
The Continuum of Resistance from Infrapolitics to Organized Insurrection
Against the implied theory of resistance held by Fogel and Engerman and (to a lesser extent) Genovese, the struggle manifested in daily infrapolitics is part of a continuum of resistance which includes revolts, riots, rebellions, strikes, etc. are part of. To focus on the spectacular acts of resistance misses a large part of how a subordinate class opposes the dominant class's demands, especially when the former knows suicidal most frontal attacks against the latter are. Resisting within a particular social system's bounds, often quietly, anonymously, and covertly, does not mean those so involved accept its overall legitimacy or their position as an oppressed group. Instead, this may be the only practical way many members of a subordinate group can strike back at the dominant group, or to simply meet some physical needs the ruling class's laws or customs would prevent. Since the members of a subordinate class may use tactically the ideology of the dominant group to accomplish some immediate goal, records of them spouting elite ideology do not prove they really accept these ideas when offstage, away from the presence of the members of the dominant class. While involving some double-mindedness and dissembling, that hardly proves it did not happen, since the greater the degree of oppression, the thicker the mask subordinate class's members wear, and the more lies it tells to protect itself from the heavier extractions of the dominant class. Genovese's great theme concerning the hegemonic effects of paternalism as an ideology on the slaves, even as they tailored it to suit their own interests, necessarily denies this possibility at some level, even granting his point that greater political awareness--organized class consciousness--is much more clearly manifested by the acts of the minority who attempted to runaway or fight head on against their masters.570
Since the mentality of typical illiterate slaves or farmworkers was generally rather limited due to a lack of education, it is harder for them to imagine themselves abstractly as part of very large group of thousands or millions who need to organize as a group to resist collectively the demands of another group. Instead, they saw themselves and the relatively small number of family members, friends, and members of their group they personally knew as being oppressed by their master or masters in some small local area in very specific ways, such as by a lack of food, whippings, lack of freedom of movement, etc. They knew the concretes through personal and local examples of and about their overall class, but the abstractions largely escaped them, which placed abstract, systematic political consciousness largely beyond them, even as they were surely conscious of generally getting the shaft from some master or farmer when receiving stinted rations, whippings, low wages, long hours, etc. Day-to-day resistance among the slaves, seen in this light, becomes an act performed not against slavery as a social system--even though if asked offstage most slaves likely would have said they wanted to be free--as much as striking back against a particular master or trying to get some more food to survive more easily. To gain some practical advantage within a system of oppression does not mean the oppressed do not object to their overall state of subordination, especially when knowing open, frontal attacks were both futile and self-destructive. However, even granting this point of Scott's does not mean that the members of a subordinate class have a fully developed counter-ideology and political program for opposing the elite's demands, which means Genovese's perspective must be taken seriously. Anderson, although deeply critical of what was drawn from this viewpoint, stated Genovese's position thus: "Resistance, in his terms, presupposes the formation of ideology, organized effort, and political ingenuity. Resistance rests upon sound and conscious mental activity; in other words, it is political brilliance."571 In the case of American slaves, a fully developed class consciousness (one which was acted upon broadly in an organized manner) never came to exist in the South, at least in part because of the greater restrictions placed upon them and the greater watchfulness of their ruling class, while with the farmworkers "political brilliance" nationally came ultimately only in the 1870s with the formation of Arch's union.
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