The University of Virginia (UVA) Press Author's Corner featured a conversation with Professor Nick Nesbitt about his book, THE PRICE OF SLAVERY: Capitalism and Revolution in the Caribbean.
What inspired you to write this book?
I was inspired by what struck me as a lack of theoretical clarity on the nature of capitalist slavery since the Haitian Revolution in the literature since Eric Williams’ classic 1944 study Capitalism and Slavery. One way to understand the book is thus as an intervention in current debates on racial capitalism and the so-called New History of Capitalism. Focusing on capitalist slavery in the Caribbean, the book argues that only by returning to Marx’s analysis of capitalism is it possible to grasp the nature of capitalist slavery as a social phenomenon—returning to Marx as did each of the Caribbean intellectual activists I discuss: CLR James, Aimé and Suzanne Césaire, Jacques Stephen Alexis. The book refuses to view modern, capitalist slavery as merely one among many (more or less exploitative) technical modes of producing ever more monetary wealth. Instead, it seeks to bring into question the historically contingent form of social relations we live in. I argue that the development and deployment of racial ideologies and capitalist production processes (including slavery) necessarily occurs within a governing framework of social relations, which Marx called the capitalist social form. Amid the current proliferation of fake news, the post-Trump racist malaise and democratic dysfunction, and the abysmal predominance of social media as worldview producer, to undertake such a close, postcolonial reading of Marx’s Capital has the further benefit of giving the reader (and here I include myself) an understanding of what it means irrefutably to prove a claim (in this case, the essential nature of capitalist slavery). Marx did not simply voice “viewpoints,” and “perspectives.” In Capital, he carefully shows the reader, step by step, point by point, what must be the essential characteristics of any society that is characterized by the general predominance of commodities and commodified social relations (including capitalist slavery).