The Abolition of Slavery in Brazil: The "Liberation" of Africans through the Emancipation of Capital

The Abolition of Slavery in Brazil: The "Liberation" of Africans through the Emancipation of Capital

The Abolition of Slavery in Brazil: The "Liberation" of Africans through the Emancipation of Capital

The Abolition of Slavery in Brazil: The "Liberation" of Africans through the Emancipation of Capital


The persistence of a raced-based division of labor has been a compelling reality in all former slave societies in the Americas. One can trace this to nineteenth-century abolition movements across the Americas which did not lead to (and were not intended to result in) a transition from race-based slave labor to race-neutral wage labor for former slaves. Rather, the abolition of slavery led to the emergence of multi-racial societies wherein capital/labor relations were characterized by new forms of extra-market coercion that were explicitly linked to racial categories. Post-slavery Brazilian society is a classic example of this pattern.

Working within the context of the origin of the wage labor category in classical political economy, Baronov begins by questioning the central role of wage-labor within capitalist production through an examination of key works by Smith, Ricardo, and Marx, as well as the historical conditions informing their analyses. The study then turns to the specific case of Brazil between 1850-1888, comparing the abolition of slavery in three Brazilian regions: the northeast sugar region, the Paraiba Valley, and Western Sao Paulo. Through this analysis, Baronov provides a critique of the dominant interpretation of abolition (as a transition from slave labor to wage labor) and suggests an alternative interpretation that places a greater emphasis on the role of non-wage labor forms and extra-market factors in the shaping of the post-slavery social order.


Free labor is indeed a defining feature of capitalism, but not free labor
throughout the productive enterprises. Free labor is the form of labor control
used for skilled work in the core countries whereas coerced labor is used for
less skilled work in peripheral areas. The combination thereof is the essence of

(Immanuel Wallerstein, 1974, p. 127)

¿Qué le va pasar al trabajo? Esta es una cuestión que extrañamente no está en
debate, desde hace mucho tiempo. … En este mismo momento es
indispensable explorar y comenzar a discutir qué pasa ciertamente con la
categoría trabajo, pero ya no solamente en el sentido convencional, trabajo
salariado versus capital, sino en todas las múltiples formas de trabajo que hoy
están directamente articuladas al dominio del capital.

(Aníbal Quijano, 1992b, p. 53)

Sembene Ousmane, in depicting the 1947–48 Senegalese railway strike, records with particular poignancy the personal anguish and genuine befuddlement of the French colonial agent Dejean, preparing to meet with striking railway workers.

[For Dejean] the crisis was not only the most unexpected but the most totally incomprehensible. A discussion between employer and employees presupposes the fact that there are employees and there is an employer. But he, Dejean, was not an employer; he was simply exercising a function which rested on the most natural of bases—the right to an absolute authority over beings whose color made of them not subordinates with whom one could discuss anything, but men of another, inferior condition, fit only for unqualified obedience. (Ousmane, 1962, p. 177) . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.