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The Plantation Road to Socialism

Chris Taylor


Pages 551 - 565

open-access



In twentieth-century historiography and social theory, the New World slave plantation has long been understood as the crucible of capitalist modernity. Today, the history of the plantation seems inseparable from the history of capitalism. This essay pushes against this assimilation of the plantation to the history of capitalism in order to consider how ex-slaves improvised with aspects of the institution of the plantation in order to effect a direct transition into a socialist world. Examining a cooperative farming scheme authored by Jamaican peasants in 1865 alongside the pre-emancipation socialist pamphleteering of the radical Jamaican mulatto Robert Wedderburn, it seeks to uncover how black subalterns improvised with the plantation as a means of developing the organizational and imaginative bases of a cooperatively-governed social order opposed to market imperatives, waged labor, and subsistence insecurity. This is a history of a socialism unnamed and out of place; its agents are conservative peasants in an increasingly peripheral zone of the world-system. This essay argues for the political imperative of recovering such unnamed and unlikely socialisms, particularly at a moment when socialism is reemerging as a named and namable politics in the United States.

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