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Columbus And The Genocide That Led To The African Slave Trade Part 3 of the Series

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Message keith brooks

Tomb of Christopher Columbus, Catedral de Sevilla
Tomb of Christopher Columbus, Catedral de Sevilla
(Image by Eric Titcombe)
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The following is derived from a chapter in a book I am writing, MythAmerica.

This is part 3 of a series on Oped News on the 'Columbus Discovered America' myth. Part one dealt with the nature of the world and people Columbus intruded on, debunking the Eurocentric myth that Columbus "discovered" a land that was barely populated, undeveloped, and an untamed wilderness despite millions of people already living there for thousands of years.

Part 2 debunked the Columbus-as-hero myth by examining how his genocidal attacks on the indigenous populations of the Caribbean led to the opening of the African slave trade, which is covered here in part 3 and how and why all this has been justified over the centuries.
Part 4 turns attention to the continuation of these genocidal policies in what came to be the the United States and assesses how the European conquest of the Americas can be judged.

Part 3 of the series : A World of Myths Packed Into 'Columbus Discovered America' :

The Genocide That Led To The African Slave Trade

Columbus didn't invent slavery-but he played a key role in its revival as a large scale commercial enterprise at the dawn of the economic system of capitalism. The origins of slavery go back to the agricultural revolution some 10,000 years ago, which gradually replaced hunting and gathering as the main (but not only) source of obtaining food around the globe. Humans for the first time gained some control over their food supply by creating a surplus through planting crops and domesticating animals. This development also gave incentive to use conquered peoples as slave labor instead of killing them as competitors in the fight for survival : "So enslaving an enemy rather than killing him became a means to harvest a man's labor...a new tool was acquired, the slave..." (Milton Meltzer, Slavery A World History, p 2)

Two basic forms of unfree labor took root : lifetime hereditary chattel slavery, where a person was enslaved for life, as well as their descendants, and indentured servitude, a temporary chattel-hood where a person was the property of another but for a set period of time such as five to seven years-if they lived that long. Both forms are referred to in the Old and New Testaments.

Over thousands of years, slavery came to be replaced by the feudal system of
serfdom---semi-forced labor, where peasants were bound to the land they worked, turning over the bulk of what they produced to the feudal lord while keeping a minimal subsistence portion for their own survival needs--if that. While greatly diminished, slavery itself never disappeared, but was relegated to a peripheral role in the feudal economy.

"The institution of slavery was not a major force by the time the first Portugese caravels sighted the Guinean coastline at the beginning of the 15th century...slave trading remained an incidental part of...economic organization...the arrival of the Portugese on the sub-Saharan African coast would ultimately represent a major new development in the history of the slave trade." (Herbert S. Klein African Slavery in Latin America and the Caribbean, p10,13)

So slavery began to make a comeback with Portugal developing a slave trade off the west Africa coast in the mid-1400's ( which Columbus had a role in), shipping almost 200,000 kidnapped Africans to Europe and elsewhere by 1500. It is well-established that slavery played a major role in the development of the capitalist economic system:

As Karl Marx put it : "The discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment of the aboriginal population in mines, the beginning of the conquest and the looting of the East Indies, the turning of Africa into a warren for the commercial hunting of 'black skins', signaled the rosy dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief momenta of primitive accumulation. On their heels treads the commercial war of the European nations, with the globe for a theatre... (Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 1 p 775, International Publishers, 1947 )

But there's very much a dialectical relationship whereupon the emerging capitalism breathed new life into slavery as a labor system. It was not just a one-way street: the European conquest of the Americas created a further development for a slave labor system, but of a new type-large scale commercial slavery.

As Karl Marx's collaborator Frederick Engels succinctly put it in referring to the unforeseen social consequences of capitalist development "When ...Columbus discovered(sic)America, he did not know that by doing so he was giving new life to slavery, which in Europe had long been done away with, and laying the basis for the Negro slave traffic" (Quoted in Michael Roberts Blog, Engels on Nature and Humanity)

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I am a long time antiwar,labor union and community activist/ organizer and a recently retired NYC high school educator. I also taught at Richmond College and at Alternate U (would love to hear from anyone who was there 1968-'70). I've also been (more...)

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