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Capitalism & Slavery

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  696 ratings  ·  40 reviews
Slavery helped finance the Industrial Revolution in England. Plantation owners, shipbuilders, and merchants connected with the slave trade accumulated vast fortunes that established banks and heavy industry in Europe and expanded the reach of capitalism worldwide.

Eric Williams advanced these powerful ideas in Capitalism and Slavery, published in 1944. Years ahead of its ti
Paperback, 307 pages
Published October 14th 1994 by University of North Carolina Press
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George Roper
Jun 21, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
You will hear it often said that British West Indian (BWI) slavery was ended because it was no longer profitable for the slave owners. That assertion always seemed paradoxical to me. Eric Williams explains in a logical, dispassionate and cogent manner the real truths, which are this:
1) BWI slavery was instituted to meet the needs of the mercantile impulses of the 17th century (which reached their peak in the 18th century). In the end, commercial considerations also played a major part in its dem
David Anderson
Mar 16, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Slavery was integral to the early development of capitalism, following the period of primitive accumulation of capital. The rise of industrial capitalism would not have been possible without the profits derived from slavery and the slave trade. Williams does a superb job of demonstrating how slavery turned Britain into an economic power. This book illustrates the economic aspects of the international slave trade and who benefited from it, how it contributed to capital formation and where did tha ...more
Nov 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015-favorites
Astoundingly ahead of its time - I would never have guessed that such a book was published in the 40s, and it's clearly an important foundation for later scholarly work on colonialism, race, and capitalism. Highly recommended reading - for me, it filled in historical gaps and challenged some really fundamental assumptions I didn't even know I held.
Benjamin Eskola
Oct 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This has been on my “to read” list for a couple of years now, ever since coming across it in a British Empire seminar, and I finally picked it up for my dissertation.

It’s pretty much a seminal, though not uncontroversial, work on the history of the slave trade and industrial revolution, and how the latter built upon the former; and, in particular, how the abolition of the slave trade was not purely humanitarian but itself economically motivated.

He covers the slave trade and slave-labour-dependen
Sep 15, 2009 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed the marginalia in this book just as much as the text itself; evidently, previous readers took great exception to Williams' thesis that capitalism, not racism, was the driving force behind the development of West Indian slavery and the slave trade. Although I too am doubtful that a racist logic wasn't anterior to slavery (even if, as another reviewer writes, "race" is not a transhistorical concept), these readers seemed to assign to Williams the position that because slavery was first a ...more
John Armwood II
Aug 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Excellent. This should be required reading for every student studying the history of European and North and South American economics.
Marts  (Thinker)
Nov 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An excellent exposition on the relations of slavery to the development of capitalism...
The author Eric Williams was the first prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago...
Gregory Klages
Dec 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Williams wrote a highly influential, challenging, detailed history of the relationship between the economic gains to be made in the sugar trade that motivated the British and West Indians to develop and support slavery. The voluminous detail Williams includes reminded me of texts such as Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago, and Tooze's Wages of Sin. In this respect, the book is not for the faint of heart, nor does it constitute 'light and informative' reading.

Williams' analysis is challenging in t
Jun 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
This is a research book first and foremost. The main point of the book is that without slavery there is no capitalism. This is the book that convinced me to go back to school and get a degree in economics. While maybe not riveting it certainly is an information packed book that backs up its argument really well.
Jan 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Every Trini should read this book..
Feb 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Its called "Capitalism & Slavery". Its specifically about British Capitalism & the West Indies. While each given western power with imperialist & colonial leanings will likely have unique conditions with which to grapple both at home & among the lands they colonized, I do believe general understandings of imperialism, its effects in general & how it affects the colonized can be gained from reading books such as this.

Capitalism is rife with contradictions always which seem to distort the overall
Dec 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An exceptional mixed historical / macroeconomics-type book, published in 1944 . . . now truly a classic . . . well ahead of its time in terms of its then seemingly bold concepts. Yet, most of its economic principles are spot on, although perhaps too mildly stated. The thesis was initially presented for Mr. Williams' PhD thesis and has long thereafter spawned many similarly themed books (e.g., Black Labor, White Wealth: The Search for Power and Economic Justice by Claud Anderson (1994); The Makin ...more
Gage Hoefer
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This is an incredible historical materialist account charting the development of the slave trade, slavery within the West Indies, and how the Industrial Revolution in Britain and France was funded almost entirely by profits obtained from slavery within the colonies. I think Williams drew some inspiration from C.L.R. James when writing this work- "The Black Jacobins" would make an excellent companion piece to this at least. One of the best (if not the best) books I've read all year.
Dec 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
A book the revival in popularity of which is not at all underserved.
Natalie McLaughlin
Oct 21, 2019 marked it as to-read
referenced by Angela Davis
Holly Anderson
Oct 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting narrative, vital in questioning traditional perspectives on abolition.
May 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, race
Such a great book.

There's so much that I never knew about, like how the British empire used indentured servitude as a prototype for the enslavement of West Africans during ~1670s-1833. There's a crucial distinction between slave trading and slave owning, each with massive economies (10-14% of GDP!!) at their peak due to the inputs, byproducts, plantation outputs and stimulation of the triangular trade. Most of British slavery took place in The West Indies/Caribbean where there were around 2,000
Jan 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A phenomenal work of historical insight into, but not circumscribed to, British Capitalism & Slavery. The justification, as Williams writes: "What was characteristic of British capitalism was typical also of capitalism in France."

Having read this book twice, two pieces of advice for reading this text must be given, as I have generally profited from them after reading it for the second time. (Although, this profound work is very much accessible without them.) One, I insist on the reader to consul
Oct 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing

The fascinating point of attention for me is subjective. The economics and commerce of previous generations have provoked my curiosity. The history of slaves in this book is sourced from the economic powers of the time. The historical record keeping. For the minds of many men are in self-interest in this account in Capitalism and Slavery. Commerce compels people to earn income and governance continues to keep the status quo. The distant imperial home front such as, Great Britain, tried to enact
Sep 26, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Less of a depiction of the relationship between the ideas of these two institutions and more of a historical account of how they came to influence, create, and destroy one another in Britain and its colonies in the 18th & 19 centuries. Bogged down at some points by what seems extraneous detail, the detailed research still gives credence to the fact that slavery arose not only out of a sense of white European superiority, but of economic "need" and a way to maintain (mostly economic) power on the ...more
May 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: comps
This is one of the best books I have read during my graduate studies. Williams make a powerful case for the connection between slavery and capitalism, arguing that institution of slavery funded, or more accurately, made the necessary concentration of capital possible for the start of industrial capitalism in Britain. (I think crucial and the most impressive of the book is the section where he shows that the considerable number of early industrialists possessed slaves in the overseas or directly ...more
Aug 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This history text is a must read for all people, but especially for the people who identify as a member of the Black, or non-white race. Do not be misled by the title, it is not a repetition of so many works that stress the atrocities of the Black Holocaust. It is a fresh and in depth historical revelation of the economic origins of slavery, and the fact that this is the number one reason for Britain's/Europe's amassing great wealth/power. It is supported by irrefutable facts, and it was an eye- ...more
Nov 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
The argument is simple: slavery helped in financing the British Industrial revolution via capital mobility and large scale investments and it was abandoned when it stopped being profitable. Whether the conclusion is true or false, this book remains a very serious economic analysis of slavery. It was written in 1944 and it's mostly focused around the British West Indies. It's also very cynical, with subtle commentary on the commodity status of human beings that would made any person's skin crawl.
Jul 18, 2015 rated it liked it
I cannot believe I have never read this book before now. It's certainly a classic. I especially found the relationship between the transatlantic slave trade, colonialism in India and in the Americas fascinating. I had not realised that the abolition movement in Britain was very much related to the sugar trade and to entrenching their colonies in Asia. The detailed facts and figures are also quite enlightening. A terrific book.
Oct 15, 2014 rated it liked it
I've read this book several times, as a graduate student and professor, and I have always found fault with the arguments. I don't disagree that economics plays a part in abolition but that isn't the whole story. His arguments are a bit obtuse, and his tone entirety reflective of the time in which he wrote this. That said, this book is a classic and should be read by any student of the Atlantic World.
Trashy Pit
The Atlantic Slave Trade provided the investment capital needed to fund the development of capitalism and the Industrial Revolution in Western Europe. It's all here. Williams was the first to lay it all out. As a result, mainstream "historians" attacked and marginalized him. But he was basically right.
Beth Barnett
May 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
Explanation of how the North was dependent on slavery in the South to develop its economy and to industrialize. Also discusses the complicity of North and South in the Triangle Trade between West Africa, the Caribbean, and the US during the centuries of slavery in America.
Sep 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Indispensable for Black History students.
Aug 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing
One of my two greatest books of all-time.
Assiah Hamed
Nov 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Informative and has strong opinions about slavery
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“Here, then, is the origin of Negro slavery. The reason was economic, not racial; it had to do not with the color of the laborer, but the cheapness of the labor. As compared with Indian and white labor, Negro slavery was eminently superior. “In each case,” writes Bassett, discussing North Carolina, “it was a survival of the fittest.” 2 likes
“the harsh treatment of the underprivileged classes, the unsympa- thetic poor laws and severe feudal laws, and the indifference with which the rising capitalist class was "beginning to reckon prosperity in terms of pounds sterling, and . . . becoming used to the idea of sacrificing human life to the deity of increased production.” 1 likes
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