Swans Commentary » swans.com September 7, 2009  



Combating [Some] Slavery


by Michael Barker





"South Africa and the United States were the two longstanding settler states that maintained legal apartheid long after the post-World War II decolonization process. The crucial term is 'settler state,' marking a process by which an invading population exterminates or displaces and exploits the indigenous population to acquire its land and resources, with formal slavery playing a key role at some point in the country's history. Both strategies were justified with overtly racist doctrines about white supremacy, and both required the white population to discard basic moral and religious principles, leading to a pathological psychology of superiority. Both of those settler strategies have left us with racialized disparities in wealth and well-being long after the formal apartheid is over."
Robert Jensen, 2009.


(Swans - September 7, 2009)   Slavery is intimately connected to the bloody rise of capitalism, and its abolition will only be possible when capitalism has been laid to rest. Eric Williams, in his groundbreaking study of the slave trade, Capitalism and Slavery (University of North Carolina Press, 1944), pointed out how the primary origin of Negro slavery "had to do not with the color of the labourer, but with the cheapness of the labor." In this way, he wrote, "commercial capitalism of the eighteenth century developed the wealth of Europe by means of slavery and monopoly." (1) Consistent with such economic reasoning, slavery still plays an integral part in sustaining capitalist relations; and while most forms of old-fashioned slavery have been outlawed, capitalism has replaced such obvious shackles with less visible means of social control. In response, much like the antislavery movement that arose in the late eighteenth century, in recent years a new coalition of concerned activists has formed to oppose what has been referred to as modern-day slavery. However, following the course of their historical predecessors, this new grouping of humanitarians appears more concerned with sustaining capitalism than with saving human life per se. This essay then provides the first critical enquiry into the backgrounds of the groups and individuals who are presently organizing to abolish modern-day slavery. Following in the footsteps of their forerunners, many contemporary antislavery groups work with the strong support of capitalist elites; and so, given the important role that capitalists played in promoting the initial abolition movement, this essay will initially review this movement's controversial history.

Eric Williams concluded his pioneering book Capitalism and Slavery by observing that:

The commercial capitalism of the eighteenth century developed the wealth of Europe by means of slavery and monopoly. But in so doing it helped to create the industrial capitalism of the nineteenth century, which turned round and destroyed the power of commercial capitalism, slavery, and all its works. Without a grasp of these economic changes the history of the period is meaningless. (p.210) (2)

Unfortunately, many of the groups currently involved in challenging modern-day slavery appear blissfully unaware of the historical role that capitalist elites played in first benefiting from slavery, and then selectively undermining it in order to further consolidate their own power. This apparent blind spot can be largely explained by the fact that many of the groups and individuals examined in this article are attempting to eradicate slavery without addressing its root cause, capitalism. Williams's work is critical in this respect, because he documented the way by which British elites selectively appropriated the emancipatory language of antislavery activism to serve their own economic interests. Williams even emphasized the irony of the slave traders' position by highlighting their parallel dedication to humanitarian ventures; indeed, he wrote that the slave traders were often considered as being "among the leading humanitarians of their age." Here he cites the example of John Cary, an "advocate of the slave trade, [who] was conspicuous for his integrity and humanity and was the founder of a society known as the 'Incorporation of the Poor'."

Prior to American independence (in 1783), Williams observes that the British government was "uniformly consistent" in supporting the slave trade, but thereafter, the "withdrawal of the thirteen [American] colonies considerably diminished the number of slaves in the empire and made abolition easier than it would have been had the thirteen colonies been English when the cotton gin revivified a moribund slave economy in the South." (3) When America's newly independent colonies turned to the French colony of Saint Domingue (Haiti) for their sugar -- and later still to Cuba and Brazil -- the financial liability of the British West Indian sugar plantations increased manyfold, and so selective abolition was now considered geopolitically advantageous. In this regard Williams notes how:

Garson-Martin, the well-known French historian of the slave trade and the Caribbean colonies, accuses [British Prime Minister William] Pitt of aiming by propaganda to free the slaves, "in the name no doubt of humanity, but also to ruin French commerce," and concludes that in this philanthropic propaganda there were economic motives that explain the liberality with which Britain put funds at the disposal of the French abolitionists, and the way in which France was swamped with translations of the antislavery works of the British abolitionist, [Thomas] Clarkson. (p.147)

Williams then writes that the "French Revolution came to the aid of Pitt," as in 1791 the French planters of Saint Domingue offered the island to England, partly out of fear that the revolutionary forces stirring within France would demand an end to slavery. Two years thereafter, at the outbreak of war with France, Pitt accepted this offer, but succeeding colonizing missions were never able to capture the island, although their unsuccessful attempts to do so did serve to destroy Saint Domingue's position as the world's sugar bowl. Yet critically as Williams observes:

The very acceptance of the island logically meant the end of Pitt's interest in abolition. Naturally he did not say so. He had already committed himself too far in the eyes of the public. He continued to speak in favour of abolition, even while giving practical encouragement to the slave trade. (p.148)

Later, even when Britain's major sugar competition had been gutted, Pitt returned to support abolition again -- at least with regard to sugar production, a decision that was no doubt heavily influenced by the fact that Cuba (under the American flag) "fill[ed] the gap left in the world market by the disappearance of Saint Domingue." (Later Brazil similarly turned out to be a major source of competition for the British sugar trade.)

As one might expect, the capitalist abolitionists never intended to work for the complete emancipation of slaves. Indeed, their stated commitment to emancipation only came about as late as 1823 (for politically expedient reasons), and even then they only proposed gradual emancipation. (4) Williams reiterates the elite abolitionists' commitment to capitalism, not emancipation:

The abolitionists were not radicals. In their attitude to domestic problems they were reactionary. ... [William] Wilberforce was familiar with all that went on in the hold of a slave ship but ignored what went on at the bottom of a mineshaft. He supported the Corn Laws, was a member of the secret committee which investigated and repressed working class discontent in 1817, opposed feminine antislavery associations, and thought the First Reform Bill too radical. (p.182)

Thus in 1823 the elite humanitarian activists formed the Anti-Slavery Society, which eventually succeeded in passing the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833; however, as Williams writes, in the minds of the capitalist abolitionists, the "desire for cheap sugar after 1833 overcame all abhorrence of slavery."

[So the] ... abolitionists, once so belligerent where the slave trade was concerned, were now pacifists. [Cofounder of the Anti-Slavery Society, Thomas Fowell] Buxton wrote a book condemning the slave squadron and the policy of forcible suppression of the slave trade as causing aggravated suffering to multiplied numbers. [Joseph] Sturge reorganized the Anti-Slavery Society on a purely pacific basis. ... [Henry] Brougham's philanthropy was excited only by sugar and not by cotton, only by the slave trade and not by slavery, only by the slave trade between Virginia and Texas. (pp.192-3) (5)

(Here as a brief note it is worth mentioning that in 1939 Joseph Sturges played a key role in leading the creation of the Anti-Slavery Society's successor organization, the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society, a group that is now known as Anti-Slavery International -- for more on this group, see later.)

Since the publication of Williams's landmark Capitalism and Slavery, many liberal historians -- like, for example, David Brion Davis and Seymour Drescher (6) -- have strived to undermine his perceptive analyses. One of the most recent contenders in this regard is the popular historian Adam Hochschild, who authored Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2005). Liberal historian Christopher Leslie Brown reviewed Hochschild's book, and in his otherwise positive commentary he underscored how Hochschild had produced the "first history of British antislavery to refuse even a passing nod to the writings of Eric Williams." (7) Thankfully then, although outside the realm of popular publishing, an excellent addition to antislavery scholarship is Selwyn Carrington's The Sugar Industry and the Abolition of the Slave Trade, 1775-1810 (University Press of Florida, 2002), which provides support for Williams's analysis of the factors that contributed to the end of the slave trade. In a laudatory review of Carrington's book, Matt Childs comments on the widespread neglect of economic factors as opposed to humanitarian ones in most studies of the slave trade:

Even in the popular press that would be labeled "leftist" or "radical," British abolitionists continue to occupy center stage in discussions of emancipation. In only the most recent example ("Against All Odds" by Adam Hochschild in the January-February 2004 issue of Mother Jones), little attention is given to economic forces with most of the explanation detailing the heroic acts of the abolitionists. The ongoing persistence of these ideas indicates that Carrington is justified in arguing that the "Williams Thesis" still has its place as a critique of British imperial historiography. (8)

The fact that so many people are unaware of, or simply dismiss, the broader economic factors that undergirded the success of early antislavery activism portends severe problems for current antislavery efforts. This is most evident by the influential presence of one of the "world's oldest international human rights organisations," Anti-Slavery International, on current attempts to abolish modern-day slavery.

Anti-Slavery International was initially formed in 1839 as the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society and was considered to be the successor organization to the Anti-Slavery Society. As this article has demonstrated, the individuals involved in creating and leading these two antislavery groups worked hard to ensure that popular resistance to slavery -- or at least popular representations and accounts of this resistance -- was constrained within strict limits that were compatible with imperialist demands.

Consistent with this elitist history, it has been shown that Anti-Slavery International -- which between 1909 and 1947 was known as the Antislavery and Aborigines Protection Society (AS-APS) -- went on to champion imperialist agendas in the early twentieth century. Liberal human rights theorist Bonny Ibhawoh, in his book Imperialism and Human Rights: Colonial Discourses of Rights and Liberties in African History (SUNY Press, 2006), writes:

Although the AS-APS's agenda of championing African rights and welfare often pitted it against the colonial government, its members did not see themselves as opponents of Britain, the colonial government, or even the idea of empire. Their main concern was to promote the rights and welfare of Africans under British colonial rule, not necessarily to abrogate that rule or change existing power structures. ... At the AS-ASP's inaugural meeting in Lagos, its president, the African Bishop Johnson, reminded members that King George of Britain was the grand patron of the Society. He described the Society as "a meeting of free and loyal subjects of the King seeking the welfare and advancement of His Majesty's possessions in this part of the world." (p.43)

While the exact form that slavery has taken has changed over time, elite objectives to challenge only some forms of slavery are once again on the capitalist agenda. For instance, Anti-Slavery International trustee Kevin Bales, in his book Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy (University of California Press, 1999), recognizes these similarities, as he writes "an important historical precedent" was set to challenge slavery in the nineteenth century when "Britain's foreign policy included an active program against slave trade." (9) However, at no other point in his book does he further explicate why this was so, or what it might mean for current efforts to abolish slavery. This creates a problematic situation for concerned citizens, all the more so because Bales's analyses have not been critiqued by progressive activists -- despite Bales arguably being the world's most influential writer on the subject of modern-day slavery. Bales's imperial friendly analyses are even more troublesome given the controversial nature of the conclusions he reaches in Disposable People as he points out that:

Three key factors helped create the new slavery and change the old slavery. The first is the population explosion that flooded the world's labor markets with millions of poor and vulnerable people. The second is the revolution of economic globalization and modernized agriculture, which has dispossessed poor farmers and made them vulnerable to enslavement. The third factor is the chaos of greed, violence, and corruption created by this economic change in many developing countries, change that is destroying the social rules and traditional bonds of responsibility that might have protected potential slaves. (p.232)

Instead of highlighting the historic role that capitalism has played in both generating and sustaining slavery, Bales heads his list of key causative factors for modern-day slavery by adopting racist neo-Malthusian reasoning that blames individuals for procreating, not the institutional structures that exploit them. (10) Bales adds that "economic globalization and modernized agriculture" have facilitated slavery, but he neglects to mention that it is imperial domination that ensures that such forces of globalization lead to slavery, not emancipation. The mental picture that Bales paints of prevailing violence in "many developing countries" also fails to locate the blame for the main reason for this toxic state of affairs on the massive violence imposed on such countries by so-called developed countries.

Likewise, it follows that Bales's "solutions" should be individualistic and capitalist friendly, as he consoles his readers that as "most people are willing to pay something to end slavery" it follows that if enough people decide slavery should end then each individual will only need make "a small sacrifice" to end its practice. Indeed, he writes that, "[P]utting the pressure on [the slaveholders'] profits is a key strategy for ending slavery." (11) Thus, given such moderate prescriptions, it is appropriate that Bales is presently a board member of the International Cocoa Initiative, a group that was established within the chocolate industry in 2002 to "ensure child and forced labour were not used in the production of their products." (12) One notable fellow board member of this Initiative is John Long, the vice president, corporate affairs of the Hershey Company, and former chairman of the World Cocoa Foundation. (13) Long's latter connection is particularly interesting because the current president of the World Cocoa Foundation, Bill Guyton, is a member of the advisory committee of the misnamed Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa, and a board member of the Corporate Council on Africa. Returning specifically to the issue of slavery, another significant board member of the Corporate Council on Africa is former De Beers employee Earl Young, who is a board member of the notorious plunderer, Diamond Fields International. On top of this, another former board member of the Corporate Council on Africa with top-class connections to the exploitative diamond trade is Maurice Tempelsman. On Tempelsman's notorious background, Keith Harmon Snow writes that:

When Congo's first Premier, Patrice Lumumba, pledged to return diamond wealth back to the newly independent Congo in the early 60's, Tempelsman, who began with De Beers in the 1950's, helped engineer the coup d'etat that consolidated the dictatorship of 29 year-old Colonel Mobutu, and the coup against Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah; diamonds were at stake in each.

Slavery of old and of the modern day both coincide with the demands of capitalism. So, again considering the Congo, it is appropriate that George Caffentzis (writing for the Midnight Notes Collective) should surmise that:

The ideology the European imperialists used to conquer Africa was the 19th century's version of today's human rights doctrine, antislavery. Four years after the Berlin Conference [of 1884/85], King Leopold of Belgium -- who commanded the most notorious regime of slavery and genocide known in African history -- presided over an International Antislavery Conference in Brussels. The "humanitarian" king proposed to the delegates from all the major powers plans to hunt down the slave traders "that, it happened, bore a striking resemblance to those for the expensive transportation infrastructure he was hoping to build in the Congo. The king described the need for fortified posts, roads, railways, and steamboats, all of which would support columns of troops pursuing the slavers" [Adam Hochschild, King Leopold's Ghost (Houghton Miflin Co., 1998), p.93]. It turned out, of course, that the "Arab slave traders" were suppressed so that the European imperialists could be the sole, and much crueler masters of Africa.

Recent critical studies have demonstrated that modern-day "human rights" groups, like capitalist antislavery activists, fulfil an integral role in facilitating imperialist domination. Consequently, the final section of this article will examine how these two "humanitarian" schemas neatly dovetail to maintain capitalist hegemony. Examples of this interweaving of agendas will be illustrated by focusing on the humanitarian activities of the groups and individuals related to an umbrella antislavery group called the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking.

Set up in 1998, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking (CAST) was formed "in the wake of the El Monte [California] sweatshop case where 72 Thai garment workers were kept for eight years in slavery and debt bondage." The Women's Foundation of California was the "first funder of the Coalition," and in 2005 CAST's executive director, Kay Buck, was rewarded by the Foundation when she received their Change Maker Dream Maker award. That year, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was the other recipient of the Women's Foundation's award; so it should come as no surprise that the Foundation's board is home to many influential liberal elites (e.g., board member Aileen Adams, who is married to Geoffrey Cowan, the former director of the US government's propaganda outlet, the Voice of America). Given such imperial connections it is fitting that other well-known funders of CAST's work include powerful liberal foundations like the Ford Foundation, the famous human rights abuser Coca-Cola Company, and the sweat shop beneficiary Walt Disney Company.

In 2001, CAST joined other like-minded groups to form another related humanitarian coalition called Freedom Network USA. This coalition now consists of twenty-four nongovernmental organizations that "advocate for the rights of trafficking survivors in the United States," and some members of this coalition include the controversial Tahirih Justice Center, the progressive Institute for Policy Studies and the legal rights group, Ayuda. (14) Ann Jordan was a key person involved in the creation of the Freedom Network and so it is appropriate that from 1998 until 2008 she served as the director of the Initiative against Trafficking in Persons at the influential "humanitarian" organization, Global Rights. (15) Jordan's commitment to capitalist-friendly anti-trafficking work continues to the present day and she presently directs the human Trafficking and Forced Labor program at the democracy-manipulating Center for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, and serves in an advisory capacity for George Soros's Open Society Institute.

Another important humanitarian coalition that CAST participates in that warrants closer attention is Humanity United's Action Group to Combat Human Trafficking. (16) Although this coalition consists of only twelve organizations, seven of its more controversial members are:

•  Vital Voices Global Partnership: Founded in 1997 as an "outgrowth of the U.S. response to the UN 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995." Vital Voices' founding president was Theresa Loar, an individual who now serves on the Tahirih Justice Center's advisory board, and is vice president of global strategies for the global engineering and consulting (disaster profiteering) firm CH2M Hill -- a firm whose current president is a former executive at the larger, better known war profiteer, the Bechtel Group. According to their Web site, Vital Voices currently works in collaboration with the notorious National Endowment for Democracy in Afghanistan, and has recently obtained funding from the Endowment for their work in Venezuela and Iran.

•  Polaris Project: Their executive director, Ambassador Mark Lagon, "previously served on Secretary of State Colin Powell's Policy Planning Staff, where he focused on the UN, democracy and human rights, and public diplomacy (2002-2004)"; and earlier still Lagon had acted as the principal aide to the director of foreign policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. Funders of the Polaris Project include Humanity United, liberal foundations (like the two-faced Gates Foundation) and corporations (like the prison slave labor beneficiary, Boeing). Three particularly interesting honorary board members of the Project are Kenneth Bacon, the executive director of the "humanitarian" group Refugees International; Queen Noor of Jordan, who is a co-chair of the one-world-government promoting venue, the State of the World Forum; and Adam Hochschild, the co-founder of Mother Jones magazine.

•  Ricky Martin Foundation: Their president and founder, the international superstar Ricky Martin, was a founding board member of the "humanitarian" Alliance for the New Humanity. In 2004, his foundation launched a group to combat human trafficking called People for Children, whose inaugural campaign, "Slaves of a New Era," involved their working in partnership with the InterAmerican Development Bank; and since 2005 the Ricky Martin Foundation has worked closely with the US Department of Health and Human Services. In 2005, Martin's work was rewarded by the International Center for Missing and Exploited Children when he received their International Humanitarian award, alongside Queen Noor of Jordan and Martha Fox (the wife of the neoliberal president of Mexico, 2000-06).

•  Solidarity Center: The AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center is one of four core grantees of the National Endowment for Democracy, and the Center has a long history of working to co-opt progressive forces of social change all over the world. AFL-CIO president John Sweeney chairs the Solidarity Center's board of trustees, but he also serves as an honorary chair of the World Justice Project alongside the likes of Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, and Desmond Tutu.

•  International Justice Mission: Their president and CEO, Gary Haugen, formerly served (in 1994) as the officer in charge of the UN's genocide investigation in Rwanda. (For an alternative take from the official narrative on the Rwandan genocide, see Keith Harmon Snow's article "The Rwanda Genocide Fabrications.") In the past, Haugen has served as a Ford Foundation scholar in international law at the University of Chicago, and prior to joining the US Department of Justice, he worked for the "humanitarian" group Human Rights First. Finally, the International Justice Mission happens to be a member of the Save Darfur Coalition (for a critique, see "The Project For A New American Humanitarianism").

•  Alliance to Stop Slavery and End Trafficking: Their president and founder, Julia Ormond -- who is the founding chair of the "humanitarian" FilmAid International -- recently worked in Moscow on anti-human trafficking advocacy initiatives with Vital Voices Global Partnership and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (with whom she now serves as a Goodwill Ambassador against Trafficking and Slavery). Two of the Alliance's three other board members have noteworthy backgrounds, as the first is Vital Voices' cofounder Melanne Verveer, and the second is one of the world's leading experts on modern slavery, Kevin Bales.

•  Free the Slaves: Their president and cofounder, Kevin Bales, is emeritus professor of sociology at Roehampton University (UK), and the author of Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy (University of California Press, 1999). As noted earlier, Bales's book, while containing lots of information on modern-day slavery, comprehensively fails to identify that the root cause of such slavery is capitalism; thus, ultimately, his book simply provides more fuel for angst (and imperialism) for the "humanitarian" lobby. Based in the U.S., Free the Slaves is the sister organization of Anti-Slavery International (with whom Bales is a trustee), and although Free the Slaves do not list their funders on their Web site they have recently obtained funding from the Sigrid Rausing Trust -- a philanthropic body that supports an assortment of "humanitarian" groups from Human Rights Watch to the International Crisis Group, and the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation. Controversially, in 1999, Free the Slaves' sister group, Anti-Slavery International, received a single small grant from the Westminster Foundation, which is the British version of the National Endowment for Democracy.

As this brief overview of some of the groups committed to modern-day antislavery activism has suggested, like many of their predecessors, their work does nothing to challenge capitalist imperatives that ensure an imperialist dedication to the exploitation of the planet and its peoples. This needs to change. Moreover, progressive activists need to bring attention to the unrealistic analyses that have been presented to the public by such liberal antislavery advocates if they are to help prevent otherwise rightly concerned citizens from supporting yet more non-solutions to the world's most pressing problems. Such critical activities should not have too much difficultly in garnering popular support given that even Amii Omara-Otunnu, the far from radical UNESCO chair in human rights, observed in 2007 that...

...whether it was the slave trade or colonial imperialism and their impact, rarely have humanitarian workers addressed the fact that often the dominant sources of the various crises in Africa are external. In fact, it seems as though those who bring about the crises in the first place and their inheritors are the ones who go back to Africa as humanitarians. A logical conclusion might be that humanitarian crises are sometimes engineered to bring Africans to their knees so that from the source of the crises humanitarians can then intervene to dress up the suffering inflicted. (17)

The challenge is not to convince economic and political elites that slavery is bad for the capitalism: satirical activists like The Yes Men have already shown that these elites are sadly all too ready to openly support ludicrous proposals like "full private stewardry of labor." Instead progressive activists must strive, as they always have done, to reach out to members of the public with the message that the only way to abolish slavery is to eradicate capitalism. This will of course raise lots of questions as to what sort of political system will be needed to replace capitalism. However, until the broader citizenry recognizes the necessity of abolishing capitalism, it is unlikely that participatory alternatives will ever become popular enough to eliminate the twin evils of modern-day society, Capitalism and Slavery.




1.  Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (University of North Carolina Press, 1944), p.19. Williams points out how: "Slavery in the Caribbean has been too narrowly identified with the Negro. A racial twist has thereby been given to what is basically an economic phenomenon. Slavery was not born of racism: rather, racism was the consequence of slavery. Unfree labor in the New World was brown, white, black, and yellow; Catholic, Protestant and pagan." (p.7)

On a related note, Colin Palmer penned a new introduction to the 1994 edition of Williams's book, and is the author of the recent biography Eric Williams and the Making of the Modern Caribbean (University of North Carolina Press, 2006).  (back)

2.  Williams surmises the cynical antislavery activism that was promoted by British capitalists: "The capitalists had first encouraged West Indian slavery and then helped to destroy it. When British capitalism depended on the West Indies, they ignored slavery or defended it. When British capitalism found the West Indian monopoly a nuisance, they destroyed West Indian slavery as the first step in the destruction of West Indian monopoly. That slavery to them was relative not absolute, and depended on latitude and longitude, is proved after 1833 by their attitude to slavery in Cuba, Brazil and the United States. They taunted their opponents with seeing slavery only where they saw sugar and limiting their observation to the circumference of a hogshead." (p.169)  (back)

3.  Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, p.47, pp.123-4. In Britain the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade was formed in 1787.  (back)

4.  Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, p.149, p.182.  (back)

5.  The population of the New World slave system reached "nearly three million in 1800 and peaked at over six million in 1850." Thus as John Hope Franklin and Alfred Moss, Jr. write: "Antislavery interests in both England and the United States rejoiced in the year 1807 [which marked the passage of the Slave Trade Act]. England had outlawed the slave trade, and in the same year the United States had followed. There was little reason for rejoicing in the United States, however, for from the beginning, the law went unenforced." John Hope Franklin and Alfred Moss, Jr., From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans (McGraw Hill, 2000 [1947]), p.105.

Of course concerned individuals (not necessarily members of any ruling elites) and slaves themselves played a critical role in undermining the economic efficiency of slavery. As Jacqueline Bacon writes, African-American abolitionists played a "central role" in fighting slavery "long before most white reformers took up the cause." She continues: "As early as the late eighteenth century, African Americans spoke and wrote against slavery and petitioned the government to abolish the slave trade. By the 1820s, abolitionist activity was well organized among African Americans in the urban North. The record demonstrates that many white reformers shifted their earlier, often tentative and moderate antislavery views because of their contact with black abolitionists."

For another important discussion of the role that slaves and the working class played in challenging slavery, see Bro. K. Bangarah's two-part article "Will the Real William Wilberforce Please Stand Up? (Part 1 and Part 2)," Pambazuka News, February/March 2007.  (back)

6.  In 1998, David Brion Davis founded the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition (at Yale University), and remained head of the Center until 2004, when he was succeeded by David Blight. Each year the Center celebrates the work of leading liberal historians by awarding their Frederick Douglass Book Prize to "the most outstanding nonfiction book published in English on the subject of slavery and/or abolition and antislavery movements." Notable former winners of this prize include David Blight (2001), Seymour Drescher (2003), and Christopher Leslie Brown (2007); while another person mentioned in this article whose work was shortlisted for the 2007 prize is Matt Childs.

Thomas Bender observes how in chapter five of David Brion Davis's book The Problem of Slavery in the Age of Revolution, "The Quaker Ethic and the Anti-slavery International," that Davis...

"... portrays the English Quakers involved in antislavery as 'the very embodiment of the capitalist mentality' and explores the meaning of antislavery principles in the context of an emerging free labor economy. Antislavery, he notes, was a 'highly selective response to labor exploitation,' and in addition it was certainly in the interest of the capitalist class concerned with labor discipline and the legitimation of novel economic practices. Moreover, as Davis notices, antislavery enabled an ambitious and previously excluded or peripheral group to establish more central social connections. But Davis declines to develop this line of argument into a cynical interpretation of their motives. He does not suggest that they consciously manipulated the antislavery issue to their advantage." Thomas Bender (ed.) The Antislavery Debate: Capitalism and Abolitionism as a Problem in Historical Interpretation (University of California Press, 1992), p.5.  (back)

7.  Christopher Leslie Brown's work, which is heavily influenced by the work of David Brion Davis and Seymour Drescher, writes in his review of Hochschild's book that: "The most stunning departure, though, lies in what Hochschild elects to avoid. This is the first history of British antislavery to refuse even a passing nod to the writings of Eric Williams, whose Capitalism and Slavery has served as a touchstone for academic work on this subject since 1944. This is a choice and not an oversight. Hochschild knows the literature thoroughly. Nor does this necessarily indicate contempt for what Williams wrote, since Bury the Chains absorbs and endorses some of his more important suggestions, on the importance of slave revolts most notably. This silence on the "antislavery debate" serves instead as a declaration of independence from the questions that have agitated scholars for more than two generations. Hochschild is less interested in how we might judge the abolitionists than in what we might learn from them. In their commitment to righting the most intractable wrongs, there is a model to emulate, even as we acknowledge the limits of their vision. What Bury the Chains lacks in theoretical sophistication it makes up for in its enthusiasm for a dedication to social justice." Journal of Social History, 41, 1, (2007), p.202.  (back)

8.  Matt Childs, "The Caribbean Strikes Back: Eric Williams Redux," (pdf) H-Net Reviews, February 2004.  (back)

9.  Bales, Disposable People, p.250.  (back)

10.  For an examination of the fallacy of Bales's Malthusian argument, see "Liberal Philanthropy and the 'Birth' of Population Control Environmentalism."  (back)

11.  Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, p.240.  (back)

12.  For a related discussion of the implications of corporate involvement in "fair trade" initiatives, see Nikki Sullings, "Can Fair Trade Coffee Remain Fair? Investigating the Politics of Multinational Involvement in Trade-based Development Initiatives," (pdf), Refereed paper presented to Activating Human Rights and Peace: Universal Responsibility, Byron Bay, Australia, July 1-4, 2008. More generally, for a critique of the efficacy of such corporate coalitions see "Corporate Social Responsibility or Constraining Social Revolutions?"  (back)

13.  International Cocoa Initiative board member John Long until recently served as a board member of the International Foundation for Education and Self-Help (IFESH) alongside former Halliburton board member and current president of Kissinger Associates, Lawrence Eagleburger. The current chair of IFESH, Eamon Kelly, presently serves as the chair of the National Science Foundation, and prior to this appointment he served as president of Tulane University (1981-98), and launched his philanthropic career in 1969 when he joined the Ford Foundation, where he "served as Officer-in-Charge for the Office of Social Development, the Foundation's largest domestic and civil rights division." (For a detailed criticism of the Ford Foundation's manipulation of anti-racism activism, see "Liberal Foundations and Anti-Racism Activism.") Kelly is a board member of the democracy-manipulating "environmental" outfit, Counterpart International, and is a board member of the recently formed Uganda Fund, which distributes "grants to enterprising community-based groups and local institutions in northern Uganda."

Formed in 2006, as a result of research funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Uganda Fund's five-person-strong board of directors is home to many prominent humanitarian imperialists. Thus the Fund is chaired by Allan Rock, who formerly served as Canada's Ambassador to the United Nations and presently serves on the editorial board on the "premier journal for the study and practice of the responsibility to protect," Global Responsibility to Protect. This connection is significant given the recent controversies over the imperial nature of the responsibility to protect agenda; for more on this read Edward Herman and David Peterson's excellent article "The Responsibility to Protect, the International Criminal Court, and Foreign Policy in Focus: Subverting the UN Charter in the Name of Human Rights" (MRZine, August 24, 2009). In addition to Eamon Kelly, two other important Uganda Fund board members are Mary Page (who is the director of the MacArthur Foundation's Human Rights and International Justice area in the Program on Global Security and Sustainability), and Swanee Hunt (who is the president of Hunt Alternatives Fund, and board member of the "humanitarian" International Crisis Group). Incidentally, while serving as the U.S. Ambassador to Austria, Hunt hosted the Vital Voices Democracy Initiative's first conference in 1997, which led to the creation of Vital Voices Global Partnership.

Given the fact that the aforementioned "humanitarian" activist Swanee Hunt is the president of Hunt Alternatives Fund, it is fitting that Kevin Bales is currently listed as a 2009 "prime mover fellow" at the Fund. The Hunt Alternatives Fund's Web site observes: "In addition to receiving grant funds of $60,000 over two years, Prime Movers participate in seminars on critical issues related to mobilizing masses and have opportunities to reflect on their experiences with their peers in the program."  (back)

14.  Former Ayuda board member Lori Piccolo is a founding member of the board of Human and Civil Rights Organizations of America, where she serves alongside board treasurer Jesse Sage. Sage is a neoconservative activist (for the American Islamic Congress) who is a board member and former associate director of the American Antislavery Group -- a group that was founded by the influential Zionist, Charles Jacobs.

Until recently the chair of the "humanitarian" Save Darfur Coalition Gloria White-Hammond served as a board member of the American Antislavery Group. White-Hammond is also a board member of Christian Solidarity International, which is yet another "humanitarian" group which close ties to the neoconservative Zionist community. (Another current American Antislavery Group board member, John Eibner, is the director of human rights of Christian Solidarity International, and is a cofounder of the Sudan Campaign.) Interestingly, in 2006, the committed Save Darfur activist Senator Sam Brownback (Republican-Kansas) gave the keynote speech at the ninth annual benefit for the CAST coalition member group, the Tahirih Justice Center; Brownback also happens to serve on the executive committee of the neoconservative/Zionist stronghold, the Jerusalem Summit.  (back)

15.  Formerly known as the International Human Rights Law Group (1979 to 2003), Global Rights describes itself as a "human rights advocacy group that partners with local activists to challenge injustice and amplify new voices within the global discourse." Global Rights' work is closely entwined with that of the democracy-manipulating community as their list of funders includes the notorious National Endowment for Democracy, the Westminster Foundation, U.S. Agency for International Development, the Ford Foundation, and the Open Society Institute.

Global Rights' executive director Mary McClymont, prior to taking up this position in 2008, was the former head of the democracy-manipulating peak body InterAction (2001-05), and before this she acted as the vice president of the peace and social justice program at the Ford Foundation. McClymont's predecessor at Global Rights was former Ford Foundation program officer Salih Booker, who in turn replaced Global Rights' longstanding executive director, Gay McDougall (1994-2006). Here it is particularly interesting to note that Booker, like McDougall, maintains an odd mixture of progressive and regressive political affiliations. For example, while Booker serves on the advisory committee of the ostensibly progressive think tank Foreign Policy In Focus, he has contributed pro-intervention propaganda (regarding Sudan) to The Nation magazine; in addition, he used to direct the Africa studies program for the elite think tank the Council on Foreign Relations (1995-99), and prior to joining Global Rights was the executive director of another controversial group called Africa Action (2000-06). Notably, William Minter, who co-wrote the seminal critique of the Council on Foreign Relations, formerly served as a senior researcher for the Africa Policy Information Center -- a group that was incorporated into Africa Action in 2001; moreover, after his employer was incorporated into Africa Action, Minter continued working at the Center for another two years, and in 2002 co-authored an article with his new boss, Salih Booker.  (back)

16.  Humanity United was founded in 2005 by Pam Omidyar, and their Web site notes that they are "committed to building a world where modern-day slavery and mass atrocities are no longer possible." The likelihood of this group following through on their expressed commitment to "address the root causes of conflict and modern-day slavery" (i.e., capitalism) seems low to say the least, especially considering that the organization is financed by the profits reaped by eBay, which was founded by Pam's husband (Pierre Omidyar). The Omidyars' other major charitable enterprise is their Omidyar Network "philanthropic investment firm," which attempts to use capitalism to solve the world's problems (i.e., it is one of the largest financial backers of the Grameen Foundation). Furthermore, it is hardly a positive sign that Larry Brilliant, the executive director of the highly problematic corporation Google, formerly served on the Omidyar Network's board of directors. (For an eye-opening presentation on Google.org's history, see the short video clip "Master Plan: The Power of Google.")

Humanity United's commitment to a capitalist "humanitarian" agenda is further confirmed by examining the backgrounds of some of their employees; thus their director of research, Horacio Trujillo, previously worked at the imperial think tank, the RAND Corporation; while other employees with dubious credentials include their associate director, Dave Mozersky, who had previously just spent six years with the imperialist International Crisis Group; and two of their investment managers, Saadiya Zaki (who formerly worked at the well-known conservative think-tank, the Hoover Institution) and Michael Kleinman (who had been active in Afghanistan and Sudan with the "humanitarian" group CARE).  (back)

17.  Amii Omara-Otunnu chairs the six person strong international advisory board of a group called Lawyers Without Borders, where he sits alongside Equality Now board member Meaza Ashenafi.  (back)


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About the Author

Michael Barker is an independent researcher who currently resides in Australia. In addition to his work for Swans, which can be found in the 2008 and 2009 archives, his other articles can be accessed at michaeljamesbarker.wordpress.com.



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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published September 7, 2009