Capitalism and Slavery after Fifty Years (1997)

  • Seymour Drescher


Ten years ago I began an assessment of Capitalism and Slavery with my understanding of a classic: ‘If one criterion of a classic is its ability to reorient our most basic way of viewing an object or a concept, Eric Williams’ study supremely passes that test’.1 The passage of a fifth decade has provided abundant evidence of the pivotal status of Capitalism and Slavery. The original publisher reprinted the book in 1994 with a new Introduction by Colin A. Palmer.2 Hilary Beckles, Selwyn Carrington, William Darity and Thomas Holt, among others, have assessed Eric Williams’ impact upon, and inspiration for, West Indian scholars. Most recently, Walter Minchinton has demonstrated the sustained discussion of the Williams-Drescher debate among historians of Caribbean slavery. During the past decade Barbara Solow edited the results of two international conferences inspired by Williams’ scholarship. And, on the eve of the fiftieth anniversary of Capitalism and Slavery, Joseph Inikori delivered his Elsa Goveia Memorial Lecture on ‘Slavery and the Rise of Capitalism’.3


Economic History Grand Coalition Slave System Slave Trade Atlantic World 
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    The image of the abolitionists as elite agents of divine power was classically presented by Reginald Coupland, in The Empire in These Days (London, 1935), p. 264; quoted in Capitalism and Slavery, p. 178. For the subsequent change in perspective see Holt, The Problem of Freedom, pp. 27–33.Google Scholar
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    However, for the most vigorous reassertion of the view that European industrialization was not dependent upon Afro-American Atlantic slave production, see David Eltis, ‘Slavery and Freedom in the Modern World’, in Stanley L. Engerman (ed.), The Terms of Labor: Slavery, serfdom and free labor (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), ch. 1,Google Scholar
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  60. 34.
    See John Ashworth, Slavery, Capitalism and Politics in the Antebellum Republic, Vol. 1: Commerce and Compromise, 1820–1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 147. For Williams’ predecessors see Drescher, ‘Eric Williams’.Google Scholar
  61. 35.
    For a good pedagogical example of Readings for discussion see Hilary Beckles and Verene Shepherd (eds.), Caribbean Slave Society and Economy: A student reader (Kingston, Jamaica: I. Randle Publishers, 1991).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Seymour Drescher 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Seymour Drescher
    • 1
  1. 1.University of PittsburghUSA

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