The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism: The Roots of Slavery, White Supremacy, and Capitalism in Seventeenth-Century North America and the Caribbean

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    Gerald Horne

    Publisher: Monthly Review Press

    Year: 2018

    Format: Paperback

    Size: 280 pages

    ISBN: 9781583676639

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Virtually no part of the modern United States—the economy, education, constitutional law, religious institutions, sports, literature, economics, even protest movements—can be understood without first understanding the slavery and dispossession that laid its foundation. To that end, historian Gerald Horne digs deeply into Europe’s colonization of Africa and the New World, when, from Columbus’s arrival until the Civil War, some 13 million Africans and some 5 million Native Americans were forced to build and cultivate a society extolling “liberty and justice for all.” The seventeenth century was, according to Horne, an era when the roots of slavery, white supremacy, and capitalism became inextricably tangled into a complex history involving war and revolts in Europe, England’s conquest of the Scots and Irish, the development of formidable new weaponry able to ensure Europe’s colonial dominance, the rebel merchants of North America who created “these United States,” and the hordes of Europeans whose newfound opportunities in this “free” land amounted to “combat pay” for their efforts as “white” settlers.

Centering his book on the Eastern Seaboard of North America, the Caribbean, Africa, and what is now Great Britain, Horne provides a deeply researched, harrowing account of the apocalyptic loss and misery that likely has no parallel in human history. This is an essential book that will not allow history to be told by the victors. It is especially needed now, in the age of Trump. For it has never been more vital, Horne writes, “to shed light on the contemporary moment wherein it appears that these malevolent forces have received a new lease on life.”

What People Are Saying

"Gerald Horne returns to the scene of the crimes that birthed the modern world. With cinematic flair, he takes us through what at first may appear to be familiar terrain—slavery, dispossession, settler colonialism, the origins of capitalism—but by extending his analytical lens to the entire globe, he delivers a fresh interpretation of the 17th century. His careful attention to European militarism, technology, national and imperial political dynamics disrupt the now common Anglo North American story of the emergence of whiteness, racial slavery, and class consolidation. Thanks to Horne, what Marx once called the ‘secret of primitive accumulation’ is no longer such a secret." Robin D. G. Kelley, author, Freedom Dreams: The Black Radical Imagination

"This is history as it should be done. Acutely perceptive and solidly documented, lucidly presented and uncompromising in its conclusions, The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism reveals the roots of our present socioeconomic nightmare with a force and clarity unrivaled by anything previously available. Gerald Horne, already a leading voice in forging a counterhegemonic understanding of the ‘empire of liberty’ we now inhabit, has truly surpassed himself. This book simply must be read." Ward Churchill, author, A Little Matter of Genocide

"Gerald Horne strengthens his stature as one of our leading global historians with this ambitious and engaging book. Taking settler colonialism seriously as central to the development of whiteness, he brilliantly situates changes in that tiny part of the 17th century world in what would become the U.S. within far wider worlds of increasingly racialized commodities and cruelties. Among much else Horne demonstrates that colonies were not marginal to capitalism nor to the politics of the colonial powers." David Roedgier, University of Kansas; author, Class, Race, And Marxism

"Drilling down in the 17th Century Atlantic world made by European colonialism through invasions, occupations, ethnic cleansing, and enslavement of Indigenous Peoples of the Americas and Africa, historian Gerald Horne reveals the roots of white nationalism and capitalism, the pillars of the United States political-economy today. This brilliant, concise monograph is a must-read for all who propose to change the social order." Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz, author, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

"One of the preeminent global historians of repression and resistance, Gerald Horne has done it again. The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism follows the “three horsemen” that gave rise to the West: slavery, white supremacy, and capitalism. Horne’s erudite look at this seventeenth-century apocalypse brings together the hemispheric struggles of Black and Indigenous peoples for reparations. He shows that transnational solidarity is the greatest foe of settler colonial domination." Dan Berger, University of Washington; author, Captive Nation: Black Prison Organizing in the Civil Rights Era

"The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism interrogates the roots of white supremacy, enslavement, and racism in the United States. Horne focuses on reconstructing England’s emergence as an empire and the impact of Cromwell’s ‘Glorious Revolution’ on its colonies in the Western Hemisphere in the 17th and early 18th centuries. He notes the ascendancy of the class interests of the ‘surging merchants’ or bourgeoisie in England and their white settler counterparts in the colonies, particularly in North America. The relationship between England’s Caribbean sugar colonies, particularly Jamaica and Barbados, with its settler colonies, is also explored. Horne’s text has relevance for our contemporary political reality and the persistence of settler colonialism ideology, structural racism, and racial capitalism today. His assessment that calls for a ‘massive program of reparations’ from African and Indigenous people to ‘repair immense damage inflicted over centuries’ is provocative and intriguing. The Apocalypse of Setter Colonialism is a must-read for all wishing to understand the historical roots of race oppression in the U.S. today." Akinyele Umoja, Professor and Department Chair, Department of African-American Studies, Georgia State University; author, We Will Shoot Back

"Gerald Horne’s The Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism is a meticulous history of the colonial era, one that opens portals into understanding the power of white nationalism to determine contemporary elections. Horne’s well-researched text maps the evolution of historical cross-class alliances among Europeans and settlers that enabled white voters to consistently choose racial animus over decency. Imperial capitalism, rapacious colonialism, human trade, genocidal wars—all were incubated by the white racism that stabilizes the present order. Apocalypse details how centuries of warfare, greed or need in both the ‘old’ and ‘new’ worlds were resolved by slavery and the spilling of African and Indigenous blood. Despite the efforts of maroonage to stem its rise, a ‘master race’ addicted to a b`ete noire-as-cash crop thrived. Essential reading for those who wish to comprehend how the past led to the violence of the present order, and how best to plot an alternate trajectory." Joy James, Williams College; author, Seeking the Beloved Community: A Feminist Race Reader

"With his typical craft and erudition and the scholarly architecture of his book, Horne may transform common understandings of the historical developments that led to the formation of the British Empire and the US. His short volume reveals how settler colonialism, the emergence of capitalism, the Atlantic slave trade, and the formation of white supremacy grew as interconnected processes within the British imperial system and, subsequently, in the US…. Recommended. All academic levels/libraries." CHOICE

Article by the Author

This article was adapted from the book by the author, and first appeared in the April 2018 issue of Monthly Review.

The years between 1603 and 1714 were perhaps the most decisive in English history. At the onset of the seventeenth century, the sceptered isle was a second-class power, but the Great Britain that emerged by the beginning of the eighteenth century was, in many ways, the planet’s reigning superpower.1 It then passed the baton to its revolting spawn, the United States, which has carried global dominance into the present century.2

There are many reasons for this stunning turnabout. Yet any explanation that elides slavery, colonialism, and the shards of an emerging capitalism, along with their handmaiden—white supremacy—is deficient in explanatory power. From the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries nearly 13 million Africans were brutally snatched from their homelands, enslaved, and forced to toil for the greater good of European and Euro-American powers, London not least. Roughly two to four million Native Americans also were enslaved and traded by European settlers in the Americas, English and Scots not least.

From the advent of Columbus to the end of the nineteenth century, it is possible that five million indigenous Americans were enslaved. This form of slavery coexisted roughly with enslavement of Africans, leading to a catastrophic decline in the population of indigenes. In the Caribbean basin, the Gulf Coast, northern Mexico, and what is now the U.S. Southwest, the decline in population during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was nothing short of catastrophic. Population may have fallen by up to 90 percent through devilish means including warfare, famine, and slavery, all with resultant epidemics. The majority of the enslaved were women and children, an obvious precursor, and trailblazer, for the sex trafficking of today. But for the massive revolt of the indigenous in 1680 in what is now New Mexico, the toll might have been much worse.3

The United States is the inheritor of the munificent crimes of not only London but Madrid, too. When Hernando De Soto crossed what became known as the Mississippi River in the 1530s, he had in tow enslaved indigenes, as he helped to clear the land for what later became comfortable suburbs.4

Though disease spread by these interlopers is often trotted out to explain the spectacular downturn in the fortunes of indigenous Americans, genocide—in virtually every meaning of the term, including volitional acts by invading settlers—is the proximate cause of this towering mountain of cadavers.5 Thus, even when enslaved Africans chose suicide, which they were often forced to do, it would be folly to suggest that enslavers were guiltless.6

But within that broad expanse of centuries, it is the seventeenth that stands out conspicuously as the takeoff for London’s involvement in the nasty business of enslavement, which simultaneously delivered bounteous profits that set the stage for a racializing rationalization of inhumanity, while setting yet another stage for the takeoff of an enhanced capitalism. A recent study revealed that before 1581 there were no enslaved Africans brought to what was referred to as the “British Caribbean” and “Mainland North America.” From 1581 to 1640, there were scores brought to each. But from 1641 to 1700, 15,000 Africans were brought to North America and 308,000 to the “British Caribbean.”7 Similarly, trade from Dutch forts in Africa amounted to about 700 of the enslaved yearly between 1600 and 1644 but would increase sixfold by the late 1660s.8 Europeans generally enslaved some two million Africans during the seventeenth century, half of them from West Central Africa and most of the rest from the states abutting today’s Ghana and the Bights of Benin and Biafra.

What is euphemistically referred to as “modernity” is marked with the indelible stain of what might be termed the Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse: Slavery, White Supremacy, and Capitalism, with the bloody process of human bondage as the driving and animating force of this abject horror. Decades ago, the Guyanese scholar Walter Rodney sketched adroitly How Europe Underdeveloped Africa and, correspondingly, how Western Europe was buoyed by dint of ravaging this beleaguered continent. The slave trade left the infirm and elderly behind—and took the rest. Systems of agriculture, mining, production of metal, cotton, wood, straw, clay and leather goods, trade, transport, and governance that had evolved over centuries were wounded severely. Community was turned against community, neighbor against neighbor. Simultaneously, the agents of this apocalypse profited handsomely.9

London was a prime beneficiary of this systemic cruelty. England had a 33 percent share of the slave trade in 1673 and 74 percent by 1683. Of that dreadful total, the Royal African Company, under the thumb of the Crown, held a hefty 90 percent share in 1690, but with deregulation and the entrance into this sinfully profitable market by freelance merchants, this total had shrunk to 8 percent by 1701. This political and economic victory over monarchy by merchants also undergirded the “popular” politics they represented, which eventuated in a republicanism that scored its paradigmatic triumph in 1776. As scholar William Pettigrew has argued forcefully, the African slave trade rested at the heart of what is still held dear in capitalist societies: free trade, anti-monarchism, and a racially sharpened and class-based democracy.10 To put it another way, the weakening of monarchy which was essential to the emerging republicanism, was driven in no small way by the desire of certain merchants to weaken the monarch’s hold over the lushly lucrative African slave trade.11

However, the surging merchants so essential to the fomenting of the so-called Glorious Revolution in 1688, which was a kind of Magna Carta for racialized bourgeois democracy, contained aching contradictions beyond the obvious of being immersed in flesh peddling. In order to undermine Madrid, London in the late sixteenth century commissioned pirates to hound the vessels groaning with wealth purloined from the Americas. These swashbucklers found sanctuary in Jamaica, particularly in 1655, a true turning point that marked the decline of the ousted Spanish Empire and the rise of its London-based counterpart. But this was just one more catastrophic success for the Crown as powerful colonists then began to undermine a proper colonialism by seeking to break the bonds of “imperial preference” and trade with any they so chose, including London’s fiercest foes, thus setting the stage for 1776 and a profound loss for Great Britain.12 The contradictions did not end there as piracy not only facilitated the slave trade, particularly after London moved to crush it, but infused the capitalism that emerged in the republic with the ethos of the gangster.13

Similarly, as the religious conflicts that animated the seventeenth century began to recede—Christian vs. Muslim, Catholic vs. Protestant—and as the filthy wealth generated by slavery and dispossession accelerated, capitalism and profit became the new god, with its curia in the basilicas of Wall Street. This new religion had its own doctrine and theologies, with the logic of the market and its “efficient market theory” supplanting papal infallibility as the new North Star.14 Management theorists have sanctified capitalism in much the same way that clergymen of yore sanctified feudalism. Business schools are cathedrals of capitalism. Consultants are its traveling friars. Just as the clergy in the days of feudalism spoke in Latin to give their words an air of authority, the myrmidons of capitalism speak in a similarly indecipherable mumbo-jumbo. To this day, a Reformation—akin to Martin Luther’s of 1517—has been delayed in arrival.15

Actually, reducing the present to capitalism is somewhat misleading since today’s status quo represents a complex mélange of vestiges of slavery—the still exploited African population in the United States and elsewhere—capitalism, and the feudalism from which it emerged.

Moreover, underdevelopment, particularly in Africa, is not only a product of the depopulation of the halest and heartiest delivered by the ignominious slave trade. It is the almost casual destruction of Africa, as when Vasco da Gama whimsically bombarded Mogadishu in the late fifteenth century—then continued his rapacious journey—followed shortly thereafter by one of his comrades leaving in his wake a trail of blood along the Swahili coast, not to mention the brutal reconfiguration of what is now Eritrea, leaving tensions and contradictions that have yet to be resolved.16

Like a seesaw, as London rose, Africa and the Americas fell. As one scholar put it, “the industrial revolution in England and the cotton plantation in the South were part of the same set of facts.”17 (The only friendly amendment to this aphorism would be to include the seventeenth century so-called “sugar boom” as an antecedent of both.) More to the point, as yet another wise writer put it, “without English capitalism there probably would have been no capitalis[t] system of any kind.”18 As early as 1663, an observer in Surinam noticed that “Negroes [are] the strength and sinews of the Western world.”19 The enslaved, a peculiar form of capital encased in labor, represented simultaneously the barbarism of the emerging capitalism, along with its productive force.

The continent that was compelled to contribute to this process those now known as “African American” arguably has yet to recover from the slave trade and the concomitant colonialism that accelerated in the seventeenth century, which in turn has marked this population wickedly with the stain of slavery. Surely, if one seeks to understand how and why it is that so many Africans reside in North America speaking a language with roots in Western Europe, an intimate understanding of the seventeenth century is a requisite.

Enslaved Africans constituted two-thirds of the total migration into the Americas between 1600 and 1700.20 These forced migrants can be viewed, metaphorically and actually, as currency, helping to enrich certain Englishmen, aiding their nation’s rise from second-class status to global empire. Their arrival in the Americas represented a horrific leap for constructions of “race” that can be said to precede this bloody century.21

Of course, there are derivatives of London’s extended reach that cannot be downplayed. During the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries and continuing into following centuries, Europeans advanced the technology of war-fighting vessels, a boon for the elite of the British Isles.22 The flintlock musket pioneered in the first few decades of this pivotal century made possible not only the ability of the English—but French and Dutch, too—to impose their will, on Africans not least. The sword bayonet made its appearance during the Thirty Years’ War, 1618–1648, and it too was instrumental in the subjugation of entire nations.23 By the end of this fraught century, some 600,000 flintlocks were being sold in central France alone. Between 1600 and 1750 the rate of successful handgun fire multiplied by a factor of ten. Technological advances—including the invention of ramrods, paper cartridges, and bayonets—made guns cheaper, better, quicker, and more deadly, all to the detriment of those to be enslaved on London’s behalf.24 The development of the astrolabe and the caravel were key to the development of navigation and the encounter with the Americas, as well as the plunder of Africa.25

The continuing immiseration that gripped all too many in the British Isles was also a recruiting broadside, magnetically conscripting young men—and some disguised young women—to join the military and wield these weapons against “others.” The “English succeeded as colonizers,” says one historian, “largely because their society was less successful at keeping people content at home.”26 The wealth generated, in a circle devoid of virtue, allowed for the creation of standing armies that could then compel multiplication of the wealth accumulating in England’s coffers, extracted from Africa and the Americas.

It was during the 1600s, driven by seemingly unceasing conflicts between and among them, that European powers developed not just muskets but also countermarch drilling, whereby the front row of gunners fire off their charges, then march to the back of the formation in order to reload. An island monarchy, England had a felt need to develop a formidable navy, which included broadside ships with multiple tiers of cannon and the capacity to sail close to the wind. Another innovation that guaranteed rising European power was the building of thick walled forts with angled bastions that often provided defenders with an advantage over far superior numbers.27

With no land frontier to defend, at least not to the same degree as continental rivals such as Spain and France, London disproportionately devoted its military expenditure to the navy, which had untoward consequences for Africa and the Americas. Thus, even though the French in 1700 had almost three times more men in service, London was steadily exceeding Paris in colonial conquest.28

A problem with London’s armed forces was the perceived unreliability of the neighboring Irish. In a sense, the colonial defenestration of Ireland was a rehearsal for what befell the Americas and Africa. But, dialectically, just as this intensified oppression tended to drive the victims of colonialism into the arms of London’s antagonists, a pressing issue for England during this entire era was the penchant of the Irish to join the armed forces of Spain.29 There was a similar tendency operative among traditionally restive Scots, too.30

The late sixteenth-century’s Anglo-Scot wars prepared the ground for the Act of Union of 1707, which inter alia invited Scots to join in the colonial and enslaving feast, and ameliorated but did not resolve this urgent matter. This attack on London’s manpower also intensified the impulse to make up for the shortfall by dragooning Africans. Ultimately, the republicans in North America were to slice this Gordian knot neatly by way of moving toward a new kind of aristocracy—that is, “whiteness”—by which Europeans of various stripes could be accommodated, as against the interests of dispossessed indigenes and enslaved Africans. This concern was facilitated by the practical desire of English colonists in, for example, Virginia, to trade with the then antagonist, the Dutch, engendering a process that led to a new identity: “whiteness” or the leapfrogging of ethnic boundaries and constraints. The influence of the Dutch on events in English colonies, not least in illustrating the value of republicanism, should be underscored here too.31

The isles off the western coast of Europe had plenty of experience with martial conflict, beginning in the early 1640s. However, it was not just England that was beset by turmoil. Yes, what has been called the “Puritan Revolution” stretched from the 1640s to the 1660s. There were also a series of revolts in France known as the Fronde, which may have surpassed in havoc and intensity the events there of the late eighteenth century. By 1649 there was a kind of coup that hit the Netherlands. In 1640 there was a revolt in Catalonia that failed, accompanied by another in Portugal against Madrid that succeeded. The next year there was nearly a revolt in Andalusia as well. In 1647 there was a major revolt in Naples. In short, there was a general crisis in Western Europe, inducing strains that were then transferred to the Americas and Africa. The crisis in Europe was resolved in part by transferring the raging militarism westward for conquest. However, dialectically, the riches driven by dispossession and mass enslavement helped to propel colonial merchants, many with close ties to New England, to the forefront in London in the 1640s when civil war rocked England. Finally, these merchants directed a revolt against the monarchy in 1776 that allowed them to further enrich themselves at the expense of enslaved Africans and looted indigenes.

In other words, what was unfolding in Western Europe was in some ways a regional crisis of production as the emerging bourgeoisie strained against the feudal leash, then broke free while retaining the bloodily bellicose backwardness of the previous regime, which facilitated enslavement and dispossession.32 There was the Swiss peasant war of 1653 and a major Ukrainian revolt during the same period. Bookending these mass uprisings were the rebellions in Ireland in 1641 and 1689. According to the late E. J. Hobsbawm, this represented the “last phase of the general transition from a feudal to a capitalist economy,” a transition fueled by enslavement and colonial dispossession.33

Providing a frenzied context was the reality that the year 1641 witnessed the third coldest summer recorded over the past six centuries in the Northern Hemisphere. In 1641 there were more deaths from snow and frost and extreme cold than from violence, which admittedly was extreme, too. There was an accompanying severe drought in Senegambia and Upper Niger from 1640 to 1644. Angola records a unique concentration of droughts, local infestations, and epidemics throughout the second quarter of the seventeenth century with a major drought and famine in the late 1640s, as slave ships began to descend in southwest Africa in droves. It was not just the 1640s that were subject to climate crisis; 1621 saw an “El Niño Autumn” that ruined the harvest in England, and, arguably, helped to instigate migration across the Atlantic.34

A quarter or perhaps even a third of the adult male population may have been in arms in the British Isles during this period. Casualties were astronomical, higher as a proportion of population than the catastrophic figures of the First World War. The figures for Scotland in the 1640s were even higher, and those of Ireland higher still. This not only created battle-hardened troops well-disposed to subdue Africa and the Americas, but the losers in these conflicts were often dispatched to the budding Caribbean plantations as bonded laborers, and their resultant bumptious rebelling then set the stage for creating enslaved Africans and indigenes to supplant them.35

These 1640s conflicts were another turning point in terms of the apocalypse that ensnared Africans and indigenous Americans. Yet, like a seesaw, as some lost their lives, their freedom, others benefited. Foremost among this latter group was Maurice Thomson, who helped to finance Oliver Cromwell, the “Lord Protector” who deposed the king in London, then went on to rampage through Ireland. Thomson was promised 16,218 acres in the Ulster counties of Antrim and Armagh for his troubles, which included this merchant lending considerable sums of money to support Cromwell’s forces in Ireland. This occurred after he had succeeded against the odds as a Virginia planter, taking up a grant at Blunt Point, near what is now Newport News, as early as 1621. Thomson was also a tireless trafficker in human lives, taking up a grant in St. Kitts to facilitate his growing involvement in the African slave trade. The busy Thomson also had a hand in the Canadian fur trade.36

As the civil wars in England were unfolding, the Thirty Years’ War on the continent was lurching to a close, marked by the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648.37 This epochal agreement established rules for state sovereignty that have yet to disappear, but the concord also set the stage for European expansion. These sovereigns, including the now battle-hardened England, were able to turn their military prowess outward toward Africa and the Americas. In the process, toughened, albeit defeated, troops were exported abroad to the Caribbean, suitable for wreaking havoc on the indigenous and Africans alike.38 At the same time, merchants groaning under the wealth produced by plunder and enslavement in the Caribbean were a major force driving the anti-monarchism that led to a beheading of a king in the 1640s. These very same merchants were to triumph in 1688 in the so-called Glorious Revolution, which empowered them further as they weakened the Crown’s control of the wildly lucrative African slave trade, which ultimately provided the wherewithal for the overthrow of the reign of the monarch again in 1776.

Assuredly, the seventeenth century proved to be decisive, not only to the rise of what came to be the British Empire but also in the secession in 1776 that created a competing power, which has carried the torch of global supremacy into the twenty-first century, with it too being propelled by enslavement of Africans most notably.39

Nevertheless, this is not a story of unblemished triumph. This seventeenth century rise was an unmitigated disaster for those who were its primary victims. Though West Africa is understandably and justifiably viewed as the prime vector of European depredations on the beleaguered continent, hundreds of thousands of souls were snatched from East Africa, with this number accelerating in the seventeenth century, then expanding exponentially thereafter.40 The early seventeenth century marked the advent of English slaving in the Indian Ocean basin, with some of those manacled shipped to the Malay Peninsula.41

The seventeenth century also marked an acceleration of what came to be a genocide against the indigenous population of North America.42 Though even those on the left, often in a one-sided fashion, hail the point that London’s bastard child in North America merits a salute because of its bringing of bourgeois democracy, this was more akin to burning down the house in order to roast the pig. As I have pointed out elsewhere, hailing the arrival of bourgeois democracy should be seen in the same way that it arrived in South Africa—as a means by which to consolidate colonial rule by dint of “race,” providing a kind of “combat pay” to settlers. Moreover, 1776 was an attempt to continue the process of moving west through North America, seizing the land of indigenes and stocking the same with enslaved Africans, when it seemed an exhausted London was more keen to turn its attention to the jewel that was British India or newer horizons in Africa. Thus, 1776 completed the apocalypse begun in the seventeenth century.43

The British scholar Richard Gott has a point when he concludes that “the rulers of the British Empire will one day be perceived to rank with the dictators of the twentieth century as the authors of crimes against humanity on an infamous scale.”44 Of course, a friendly amendment would also include their brethren in North America in this hall of infamous shame. Indeed, the forces unleashed by the rise of London, then New York, proved little less than apocalyptic for Africans and the indigenous of North America.45

In North America the colonialism implanted bloodily involved racialization, which meant the denial of the right to have rights, making millions—Africans particularly—denizens of a society but not of it, that is, permanent aliens, a status that has not entirely dissipated to this very day, indicating its profundity. Ultimately, this is a description of what “race” means, a pernicious concept that emerged forcefully, coincidentally enough, in the seventeenth century, as colonialism was gaining traction.46

This serves to explicate why the eminent Ghanaian scholar A. Adu Boahen has termed the slave trade “an unpardonable crime, a crime unmitigated by any extenuating circumstance.”47 And certainly not extenuating is the racially stained and deformed republicanism and capitalism that is at times seen implicitly as a justification for the genocide.

For, other than Native America, Africa was the primary victim of the apocalypse unleashed with full fury in the seventeenth century. Joseph E. Inikori is doubtlessly correct when he suggests that the African slave trade continues to reverberate, distorting African economies and contributing to today’s underdevelopment.48 By way of comparison, imagine if China today began sending vessels to the Pacific Coast of North America, kidnapping the youngest and healthiest; can you imagine the subsequent impact on the United States and Canada?

Inikori has been among those who have pointed to the enslavement of Africans as being essential to the rise of capitalism.49 Similarly, the construction of the relatively new racial identity that was “whiteness”—and its complement, white supremacy—took off as the African slave trade itself was reaching a new stage.50

Besides enslavement and the wealth it brought, which facilitated development of the productive forces that then delivered military firepower, London was a beneficiary of the decline of competing powers. There are a number of landmark years in this bloody century of ascendancy, and one is assuredly 1683 when the Ottoman Turks were turned back at Vienna, which vouchsafed the security of points west—London not least—and marked the continuing decline of the Ottomans. Thus, by the early nineteenth century, the Ottoman Empire, which stretched from Africa through Europe into Central Asia, was a virtual British protectorate, a reality buoyed by the fact that even before 1683, Istanbul was a cauldron of instability as sultans were murdered, executed, and otherwise deposed in the decades stretching from 1617 to 1703. With the breathing space this provided, London could more readily and easily turn its fuller attention to Africa and the Americas.51

The Jesuits arrived in the Horn of Africa as early as 1557, the usual advance guard adumbrating the arrival of armed force, then colonialism. The technological trends that were sweeping through Europe did not leave East Africa unaffected. Firearms first arrived in Ethiopia in the fifteenth century; by the 1620s there were 1,500 muskets in the country; by the 1670s guns were common there.52 Moreover, as early as 1542 the Ottomans in Yemen were arming Ethiopians, the target of incursions by London’s chief European ally, the Portuguese, who already had established a toehold in East Africa. When the Ottomans suffered a severe setback in 1683, this weakened Africa simultaneously.53 With the Ottomans at the gates of Vienna in 1683, Europeans were panicking, with the Pope sending an envoy to Persia with the aim of galvanizing an attack on the Turkish rear, which accompanied another plan to persuade the Christian Abyssinians to distract the Sultan with an attack on Egypt.54

To be sure, piracy from North Africa that reached the shores of England and led to Christian enslavement in Turkish slave markets did not magically cease in 1683. It continued up to and including the early years of the North American republic. However, it was during that fateful year that a kind of peace was brokered between France and Algeria. Prior to that, London had created a fund of 20,000 pounds for the purpose of ransoming captives, which at the time numbered in the hundreds in North Africa.55 However, with pressure eased on Western Europe as a result of the setback to the Ottoman Turks and the decline of murderous continental conflict with the Treaty of Westphalia of 1648, London was poised to yoke what had been a present though not dominant trend—slavery—to an ascending capitalism, converting societies with slaves to slave societies. This process took hold most notably in North America, then the United States of America.

More important, a migration from societies with racism to racist societies was required in order to boost the now dominant slavery. Thus, simply ruling slavery illegal without a focused and conscious assault on racism was bound to allow this pestilence to fester and morph, as it has done in the United States since 1865.

One estimate posits that somewhere between one million to 1.25 million Europeans were enslaved on the Barbary Coast between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, a figure dwarfed by the number of Africans enchained by Europeans, to be sure. This list included Seth Southall, a future governor of the South Carolina colony who was captured by North African pirates en route from London to North America and held in bondage for more than a year. It is reasonable to infer that such experiences did not make North American settlers more sensitive to the bitter experience of enslavement but instead convinced them of the necessity of normalizing this violent process, which redounded to the detriment of Africans. Moreover, the religious cast of the North African experience—Muslims enslaving Christians—similarly helped to desensitize settlers to the violent process of enslaving non-Christians, that is, Africans.56 The scholar Jean Houbert reminds us of the oft ignored point that “settler colonialism” was “categorically different from non-settler colonialism.”57 How true. The former often entailed a bloody ethnic cleansing, frequently amounting to racialized genocide—that dwarfed similar processes in “non-settler colonialism,” not to mention more contemporaneous versions.

This desensitizing is also revealed by the depredations of the English Civil War and the Thirty Years’ War, which had sent many fleeing to North America in the first place. Those who witnessed mass rape and beheadings were hardly well placed to display humanitarianism, especially toward Native Americans and Africans, which incipient racialization was placing beyond the pale in any case. Moreover, when New England settlers began to sell Native Americans into Turkish slave markets, it could be seen as not only a way to execute “ethnic cleansing” while clearing a tidy profit but also to sate the seemingly vast appetite overseas for the enslaved.58

Arguably, this rough dispossession of indigenous North Americans would have been even more sweeping but for actions that took place in sites like Jamaica. There, in late 1676, the authorities sought to bar the “Indian inhabitants of New England,” recently “imported to this island”; they were deemed to be a “great hazard and danger” to stability, particularly when combined with the already raucous Africans.59

To that point, London had been bedeviled by the “Muslim Threat,” despite myriad efforts to placate the Ottomans. John Smith, who was to become a kind of hero to settlers in Virginia, had been captured by Muslims—later escaping—though he pointedly observed that “they,” meaning his captors, “use the Hungarians, Russians, Wallachians and Moldovian slaves (whereof they have plenty) as beasts,” a treatment then doled out to Africans, coincidentally enough, in untold numbers in North America.60

Thus London’s contacts with the Levantine and Mediterranean Muslims were numerous, and Turks and Moors were to be found on English soil as traders, diplomats, and even as pirates as early as the 1500s. This was not only because Muslims, who had occupied a good deal of Spain for centuries until weakening dramatically in the pivotal year of 1492, were seen as a mortal threat by Madrid and thus a potential ally by London, particularly after His Catholic Majesty’s attempt to overthrow the English regime in 1588 had been blunted serendipitously. Then the “Gunpowder Plot” of 1605 unleashed a new wave of anti-Catholicism, with “Papists,” thought to be part of Madrid’s ubiquitous design, heightening ultra-religiosity.61

Helping to propel England, on the other hand, was the simultaneous threat of internal and external plotting, real and imagined, by Catholics against the Crown and the established faith of Protestantism, along with a massive royal debt that was a partial product of seeking to repel this challenge. This led to an attempt in 1585 to colonize what became Virginia.62 That Paris was deeply in debt at the same time suggests both that London was not alone in its misery but would face rigorous competition for the bounty of colonialism.63 Singled out as the culprit was Spain, which had flooded Europe with silver, serving to inflate currencies, and then compelled its neighbors to spend heavily—and incur debt—from fighting Madrid-induced wars.64

Thus there was a burgeoning Muslim community in Elizabethan London, which may have contributed to religious sensitivity. This openness to Islam was partly a response to nervousness engendered by the Muslim takeover of Constantinople in 1453. This land grab was thought to augur an unavoidable advance and prompted the search for a new route to the riches of Asia, which led to the seizure of the Americas by the Europeans. Surely the parallels between Protestantism and Islam were hard to discount; the former’s rejection of clerical authority and belief in the inner light corresponded to the Islamic rejection of intermediaries between the believer and Allah.65

London was late to the colonial feast but quickly made up for lost time by helping to weaken the Dutch, early arrivers. London had assisted the eminence of the Netherlands in the late sixteenth century as the sea-bound nation faced an existential challenge from Spain. In response, the cornered Dutch opened their doors for the arrival of Spanish Jews, along with fleeing Catholics and even Puritans from England, helping to form a model of Pan-Europeanism—or a precursor to “whiteness”—that influenced the limited republicanism that was to take hold in North America in 1776.

Indeed, one of the themes of this book is not only how enslaving colonialism forged “whiteness” and a Pan-European concord in order to overawe rebellious Africans and indigenes, but how it also served as a basis for a kind of “enlightenment” to attract Europeans to these war zones. Thus, in the French Caribbean, those who happened to be Jewish enjoyed rights they did not have in Paris, precisely because of the desperation wrought by the ceaseless search for those who could be defined as “white.” On the other hand, this trend did not proceed without backsliding; in 1683 the Jesuit denunciation of supposed Jewish dominance of local commerce and of Jewish slaveholders allegedly refusing Christianity to their bondsmen led to a royal order expelling them from Martinique. They were given one month to depart and a similar wave of persecution beset French Huguenots, allowing English Protestants to benefit, as they pioneered in developing “whiteness” and white supremacy and passed on this enriching skill to their rebellious progeny in what became the United States.66

Thus, by 1700 there were fourteen Huguenot churches in West London, as these Protestants fled France after Paris forbade their religious liberty, ordered the destruction of their churches, and declared them Catholic. One of this persecuted grouping, John Houblon, became the first governor of the Bank of England in 1694 and a knight of the realm, and until 2014 his luxuriantly bewigged features adorned fifty pound banknotes: this image neatly encapsulated the ties linking Pan-Europeanism, religious liberty, and an ascending capitalism, lessons all developed further by the North American republic.67

The self-inflicted wounds imposed by rivals also explain the rise of London in the seventeenth century, a point that U.S. patriots may want to consider today in light of the rise of China.

The decline of the Ottoman Turks was no direct fault of London, which had sought to align with Muslims to check the foe that was Madrid. The continuing decline of Amsterdam and Rotterdam was only somewhat different. As noted, there were those in London who sought to aid the Netherlands in its decades-long conflict with Spain, but this was like fattening a sheep for slaughter, for the gains garnered by the Dutch as it successfully beat back Spain were then seized by London as Amsterdam fell into a centuries-long decline. This became apparent with the Anglo-Dutch war of 1652–54, which weakened the Netherlands in the prime area of controlling Atlantic trade routes.68 That is, Dutch slavers were undermining the price of English-shipped slaves from West Africa, so a squadron of English warships attacked and captured two West African ports used by the Dutch, then took Manhattan in turn. This contributed to a naval war that lasted until 1667.69

A turning point in London’s lengthy jousting with Madrid was Spain’s ouster from Jamaica in 1655. This had manifold consequences. England could not be indifferent to the fact that this great victory was aided immeasurably by the defection to their side of feisty Africans disgusted with Spain’s misrule along with a goodly number of those who were Jewish and understandably apprehensive about what the ongoing Inquisition portended. As this defeat was being inflicted, others who were Jewish were fleeing Brazil, where they had sheltered under the cloak of Protestant Netherlands as Catholic Portugal had surged back into control of this vast territory. That is, after 1654, almost all the remaining Dutch and Jewish merchants fled Recife, with many decamping to the Caribbean; many had begun fleeing South America heading northward as early as 1645. This group then fled to Jamaica, Barbados, and other British colonies, bringing with them the expertise that contributed mightily to a sugar boom, which in turn contributed to an acceleration of the African slave trade, so that this bloody commodity could be produced more readily.70 There was also an influx from Recife to Manhattan, serving to buttress colonialism there too.71

As sugar began to boom, the felt need for more enslaved Africans rose. In anticipation of this noxious trend, the Company of Royal Adventurers Trading to Africa had been issued a charter in 1660 in London, accelerating the trade in Africans, which led directly to the organizing of the Royal African Company, under the thumb of the Crown, in 1672.72

The taking of Jamaica, however, was not a victory for Africans. It led to an even more voracious appetite for enslaved African labor in order to produce the fabulously profitable crop that was sugar. This, as much as anything else, contributed mightily to the heightening of the already degraded status of Africans, as a byproduct and rationalization of their enhanced reputation. Similarly, the Irish and other dissidents who had been conscripted into working in the fields of the Caribbean receded gradually in numbers, as they could now be promoted to be overseers or soldiers to keep this larger group of Africans in check. Out of this crucible emerged the renewed and more toxic racial identity of “whiteness,” which also involved an alliance among Europeans of various class backgrounds, all bound by petrified unity in reaction to the prospect of a slave rebellion that would liquidate them all.

After the triumph of republicans in 1776, these victors were able to forge Pan-European unity as they swept across a continent; the prospect grew accordingly that the poorer among this group could profit from the pillaging of Cherokees (and countless other indigenes) and Mexicans and Hawaiians. This noxious cross-class unity, in other words, metastasized as it traversed North America, where it became unified by the prospect of excluding, if not plundering, those not inducted into the hallowed halls of whiteness, a trait manifested as recently as November 2016.

As the wealth of London’s possessions in the Caribbean proliferated, it helped to buoy the North American settlements, then viewed as not as valuable. Ultimately, the unforgiving racial ratios of the Caribbean helped to induce a “Great Trek” to the mainland—particularly South Carolina—where growing wealth helped to ignite a lurch toward independence in 1776, then an invigorated desire to enchain more Africans—and increased wealth even further as these slaves were compelled to develop land seized from Native Americans.

With the restoration of Charles II in London in 1660 and the companion defeat of the forces that had been arrayed under the now deceased Oliver Cromwell, the commercial class, many of whom had bolstered the Lord Protector—directly supported and aided by the monarch’s courtiers—spearheaded the Anglo-Dutch War of 1665–67, which solidified the earlier snatching of Manhattan from the floundering Netherlands. This prize included one of the primary ports on the continent for delivering enslaved Africans. By 1660, New Amsterdam, soon to become New York, had the largest population of the enslaved in North America, a business that had been initiated by Peter Stuyvesant as early as the 1640s.73 In short, the restoration was not the full reassertion of royal power it appeared to be; it was a dress rehearsal for 1688 when the Crown was further weakened with the rising capitalist and merchant forces flexing their muscles.

By 1664 English slave traders were en route from Madagascar to Barbados. They stopped in Cape Town to try to buy slaves there, which was a signal to the Dutch that their reign at the tip of Africa was winding down.74 By the end of this tempestuous century, slave traders from British North American colonies had invaded Portuguese settlements in East Africa. This was cheaper in spite of the longer voyage involved than making incursions into West Africa, where until then the Dutch West India Company had a stranglehold.75 Still, the fall of the Dutch globally was a function of, and response to, the rise of London.

Yet the events at the Cape in the seventeenth century were to encapsulate what Adam Smith was to announce in the eighteenth, which was that “the discovery of America and that of a passage to the East Indies by the Cape of Good Hope, are the greatest and most important events recorded in the history of mankind.”76 Surely, these navigational feats propelled the African slave trade, which generated tremendous wealth and even more inequality.

With the coming of London’s rule to Manhattan in the 1660s, slavery gained a renewed stringency. That the city was renamed after the Duke of York, a royal who held a controlling interest in major slaving concerns, did not bode well for Africans. Soon major clans in New York had initiated a brisk trade with pirates in Madagascar, which included a goodly number of enslaved Africans. Dutch rule, whereby the Dutch West India Company owned most of the colony’s enslaved, fell victim to a “democratizing” impulse in which ownership of these unfortunate souls was spread widely among a population that increasingly was defined and defined itself as “white,” which, in turn, engendered reactionary anti-African impulses that have yet to be extirpated.77 The likelihood that the English even sold certain Dutch settlers into slavery in the Caribbean helps to underscore the deeply driven enslaving impulse that gripped these conquerors.78

But as slave owning became widespread, it became more difficult to limit slave trading to the aegis of the Crown, and one of the revolutionary demands of the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 in London was the deregulation of this hateful commerce and the entrance into it of “private” traders.

As this new departure in world history was being enacted, featuring Africans as fuel for the enrichment of Europeans, those designated as slaves refused to cooperate willingly. Around 1565 the Portuguese built a fort to facilitate enslavement in the Accra area on the Atlantic Coast, despite the opposition of their would-be victims. Eventually, the Africans took the Portuguese by surprise and slaughtered them all.79 As the Dutch and Portuguese fought in Brazil, Africans allied with one side or the other.80 Near that same time, Africans in Santo Domingo told the ascending Dutch that they would aid them in ousting the Spanish.81 Unsurprisingly, the seventeenth century also featured a tidal wave of unrest in Africa, with the infestation of enslavers being a key reason. The forts of the European powers became targets for attack, arson—and worse.82 “Against our will,” complained an enslaver in West Africa in 1663, he and his men were “engaged in an open war” with Africans.83 That same year the authorities in Jamaica saw fit to pass a law mandating that boats of various sizes be properly secured since enslaved Africans were stealing them and seeking to escape, perhaps even back to Africa.84 The seventeenth century was London’s century, but even what was to be eventually denoted as the British Empire suffered setbacks then at the hands of Africans. Vigorous hostility from North Africans foiled the attempt to establish a colonial toehold in Tangiers, the formation of which would simply have entailed more misery for more Africans.85

As the waning years of this century expired, Africans were on the warpath in one of the critical areas where they had been deposited. In Barbados in 1692 the authorities were wringing their hands about a “conspiracy” of the enslaved, who had “been long preparing, contriving, conspiring and designing a most horrid, bloody, damnable and detestable Rebellion, Massacre, assassination and destruction” targeting “all the white Inhabitants.”86

Rebelliousness among those slated for enslavement in Africa and those held captive in the Americas was a factor that restrained the scope of the slave trade, thus restraining the unjust enrichment that characterized London and, ultimately, New York.

Rebelliousness among Africans has yet to disappear from North America and sheds light on why descendants of the enslaved tend to vote most heavily against the political expression of the settler class, a trend manifested most recently in November 2016.

In sum, the seventeenth century is critical to comprehension of the rise of capitalism and the companion rise of London, then New York. Spain and the Netherlands weakened each other, creating an opening for England, which was able to establish a toehold in what is now Virginia in the early seventeenth century. Buoyed by the wealth brought by dispossession, merchants and nascent capitalists, particularly in New England, backed Oliver Cromwell as the monarchy was symbolically and actually beheaded in the 1640s. The end of the Thirty Years’ War in 1648 allowed Europeans to concentrate more pointedly on Africa and the Americas. By 1654 the Dutch were driven from Brazil by returning Portuguese and fleeing alongside them were some from the Iberian Jewish community, who had invested heavily in sugar and slaves. They were then welcomed into Jamaica, which in 1655 had been taken from Spain by Cromwell’s forces. By 1660 a royal restoration of sorts had taken place, and arguably the monarchy, playing second fiddle to the rising merchants and capitalists, was already on a glide path to the figurehead status it enjoys today. The Caribbean venture led to a sugar boom and still vaster wealth that was then used in 1664 to attack the Dutch on the mainland, with Manhattan and many of what are now the U.S. Mid-Atlantic states falling. This opened up more land to be stocked with enslaved Africans, particularly in what is now New York City. By 1672 the slave trade was systematized in the Royal African Company under the Crown. By 1683 the Ottoman Turks were halted at the gates of Vienna, providing more breathing space for Western Europeans, allowing them to turn more fully toward plundering Africa and the Americas. Then, in 1688, the Glorious Revolution marked the deregulation of the slave trade and even more enrichment for merchants—and the dawning of an apocalypse for Africans and the indigenous.

The fierce resistance of the indigenous and the Africans later caused concessions to be granted by the colonial elite ultimately to poorer Europeans, with 1676 and Bacon’s Rebellion in Virginia a turning point, creating a cross-class collaboration between and among Europeans that has yet to disappear in North America, the headquarters of settler colonialism.

The interpretation of this epochal 1676 crisis is also revealing, with some on the U.S. left initially interpreting it as a righteous revolt by the poor against the wealthy, eliding the uncomfortable reality that a central demand was a more aggressive colonial offensive to plunder the indigenous and parcel out their land to poorer settlers. Then it was interpreted as a joint uprising by poorer Africans and Europeans against the elite that was foiled by concessions to those defined as “white” to the detriment of those not so designated. I tend to agree with the scholar J. Kēhaulani Kauanui, who argues that the uprising “reveals a lost chance for alliance politics between African and indigenous peoples.”87

As one considers the many crimes committed in the name of slavery, white supremacy, and capitalism, what might be most shocking is how these bloody felonies have been rationalized, even justified—even by some who consider themselves to be “radical.” The byproduct was supposedly an advancement of the productive forces or the flowering of bourgeois liberties, which even today many of African and indigenous descent in North America hardly enjoy, notably in due process of law before being executed by an officer of the state. This rationalization of crime makes it all the more difficult to overcome the odious legacy of tragic events of recent centuries. But what is similarly revealing is that those who heartily castigate and declaim the crimes of socialism, a system that led directly to the liberation of millions of Africans and “darker peoples” from the domination of the routinely praised North Atlantic powers, lose all sense of proportion when they simultaneously downplay and warp what was required to build the United States and “modernism” and a supposed “democracy.”88

Future historians may very well conclude that an explanation for this abject hypocrisy is that too many could not see beyond the deliverance of poorer Europeans from the barbarism they endured on their home continent to a sympathy with those victimized in the process. Ultimately they could not overcome the poisonous snare of white supremacy. That is, the seeds of the fiasco of an election in November 2016 in the United States, where the less affluent of European descent, including more than half of the women of this group, found their tribune in a vulgar billionaire, has roots in the cross-class coalition that spearheaded colonial settlement in the seventeenth century at the expense of the indigenous and enslaved Africans.

In other words, it is not premature to contemplate life after capitalism in what is now the United States, the disastrous result of November 2016 notwithstanding.89 When this monumental task is undertaken, however, never to be forgotten is that those who were victimized in the first instance—enslaved Africans and the indigenous—need to be compensated and made whole (somehow) as this elongated process unfolds.


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