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a quick thought

March 22, 2012

I was listening to David McCullough’s biography of John Adams today, and there’s a part where he references a line from a letter written by Abigail Adams in the spring of 1776 to her husband: “I have sometimes been ready to think that the passion for liberty cannot be equally strong in the breasts of those who have been accustomed to deprive their fellow-creatures of theirs [referring to slave-holding Virginians]. Of this I am certain, that it is not founded upon that generous and Christian principle of doing to others as we would that others should do unto us.”

My initial reaction upon hearing this was to wonder if the same sentiment couldn’t also be applied to capital in relation to the wage labourer, at least in the sense of how the latter is coerced under the capitalist mode of production to surrender their labour-power to the former in exchange for their means of subsistence, which is always less than what they actually produces, as well as all rights over the product of their labour. In essence, from one point of view, both slavery and wage labour can be seen to infringe upon individual autonomy in their respective ways, with former more obviously so, but the latter no less potentially oppressive. As Frederick Engels wrote in 1847, “The slave is sold once and for all; the proletarian must sell himself daily and hourly. The individual slave, property of one master, is assured an existence, however miserable it may be, because of the master’s interest. The individual proletarian, property as it were of the entire bourgeois class which buys his labor only when someone has need of it, has no secure existence.”

Maybe a bit of a stretch, but something to think about.

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