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Social-Property Relations, Class-Conflict And The Origins Of The US Civil War: Toward A New Social Interpretation

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Chapter Summary

This chapter summarises Ashworth's complex and original analysis of the social origins of the US Civil War. It then discusses a number of historical and conceptual problems in Ashworth's arguments. Finally, it outlines of an alternative social explanation of the US Civil War based upon the analysis of the origins of capitalism in the US. Ashworth's social interpretation of the US Civil War is that slavery was 'a weaker form of exploitation than wage-labour' because of the slaves' resistance to their unfree legal status. While capitalism produced class-conflict between capitalists and the free and enfranchised wage-labourers, slavery allowed economic growth to coexist with republican institutions. Slavery's economic weaknesses were not rooted in the resistance of the slaves, but in the structure of the master-slave social-property relation - whose 'rules of reproduction' made geographical expansion the necessary form of the expanded reproduction of this form of social labour.

Keywords: Ashworth; capitalism; class-conflict; economic growth; slavery; social interpretation; social-property relation; US civil war; wage-labourer



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