All Europeans are slaves

It has always existed and is still there today : Human drama slavery

To describe "slavery in all times and on all continents", a world and global history of "enslaved people and the slave trade systems" from 10,000 BC. u. Z. to be up to the present is the aim of the handbook compiled by Michael Zeuske, Professor of Latin American History in Cologne until 2018. Because: "There were people in slave status all over the world, most of the time".

The “conditions under which the respective local slavery originated” are unknown, and no one knows “when the first” enslaved people came about. “What we know is the dispute about whether and since when the term has been applicable.” A definition is “so difficult because slavery is a question of definition,” writes Zeuske, and in common parlance the word “often only serves still as a metaphor for exploitation and oppression. ”He would not like to commit himself to his own definition, but there are several similar passages:“ Violence, status destruction and forced mobility / forced fixation and extreme working hours have always been the alpha and omega of slavery. ”

The voice of the slaves is missing

Almost all stories of slavery are written "from the perspective of the institution, the slave owner, the state, the slave trader". The main actors, the enslaved, are the unknown. Zeuske therefore calls for a “change of perspective: away from the structures and rights of masters, towards the experiences” of the enslaved. One problem is the almost complete lack of "ego documents of enslaved people".

Slaves with white skin and blue eyes

Zeuske sees their “fixation on 'great' and 'hegemonic' slavery” as the “basic problem of the discourse”. His excursions into Europe show the extent to which people were victims of slave hunts here too. White and “blue-eyed people from Europe were definitely slaves of dark-skinned people from North Africa or Arabia” in the early Middle Ages. The number between the 15th and 18th centuries is estimated at several million. Around the 16th century the phase of "controlled, economically-oriented mass slavery" began by Europeans. The enslaved only came to European countries in small numbers, but the cities there would have acted “as intermediaries, credit and profit centers in a mostly south-south business”. The "Atlantic slave trade" had "favored the industrialization of Europe and the development of its financial system". But what "did the lower and middle classes", for example in the "class society of England", really have to do with the enslaved "in other parts of the world?" Zeuske sees the main connection in consumption. The British empire "made it possible for its middle and lower classes to enjoy the aristocratic consumption and luxury of tropical products." "Colonial goods" were "in ever greater demand in Europe"; "Luxury goods such as sugar, tobacco and coffee or cocoa as well as industrial resources such as cotton or indigo". This luxury consumption had been "a basic condition for the rise of the European variant of capitalism since around 1800". Other historians see technical developments as well as new work processes and organizational structures as the engine of industrialization since the 19th century. So is Zeuske claiming that tea and sugar, coffee and rum fueled the creativity of European engineers and business administrators?

Control of land? About people!

“Human hunting and trafficking was not a European invention”. Africa was the “teacher of the Europeans in relation to the capitalization of bodies”, because there “control over people as the basis of politics and society was always more important than control over land”. “It is possible that there were more slaves within Africa than were exported”, that it has “always been the territory of many slavery and many wars”. Most empires "hunted people and actively trafficked people and slaves."

“From 1460, Portuguese ships transported slaves for African elites”, and “Portuguese fought as mercenaries under African command” in the West African kingdoms of the Congo and Benin. But the Europeans “had no access to the raid areas in Interior Africa.” Until the European colonial era around 1880, “African elites retained control over land-, river- and coast-based human capitalism”. They delivered the "prisoners of war and slaves from the interior of the continent" to the "European merchants and slave traders", most of whom were "black and mestizo, but also" whites ", often deserters, refugees and adventurers". The West African empires in today's Benin, Ghana, Nigeria and Congo were "suppliers with their own interests". But there is no such thing as a “noteworthy African national historiography from the respective internal perspective”. Postcolonial and Pan-African theorists avoid this part of the story in their narratives.

Creoles as a middleman

Europeans usually got sick quickly in the tropics, and a high percentage died. The Atlantic Creoles established themselves as “specialists in slave procurement between Africans and Europeans”: “In the first generation, often sons of Iberian fathers and African mothers.” These “first people of (also) European origin who were used to living in the tropics permanently live ”became“ leaders in human trafficking in the early days of Atlantis (1350-1550), often on the side of pirates and corsairs, and preserved the “slaving monopoly of deliveries on European ships for about 400 years.” The African elites and the Atlantic creoles were "the main culprits in the brutal slave capture and transport". In some regions they were referred to as “Portuguese” or simply “whites”.

Regarding the question of who controlled the vastness of the Atlantic, there are contradictions in the manual. Although “no monarchy could really control the captains of the seas”, “the Europeans between 1400 and 1850, especially between 1495 and 1650” gained “control over the Atlantic”. Elsewhere it is said that it was "at times severely threatened by pirates, Atlantic creoles and corsairs in the 17th century" and that in the 19th century it was a "heyday of illegal human and slave smuggling". Nevertheless, the Europeans retained "control by strictly regulating and controlling ocean-going ships, captains and fleets". The question remains, how could governments control pirates and smugglers if they couldn't even control their own captains?

Slavery is no longer legal anywhere - but it does exist

The time of great slavery "and most of the slavery-like forced labor systems of the 20th century" is over. “Today there is no longer a valid legal system that allows slavery.” But even “without a legal institution of slavery” there would be “in today's world, in absolute terms, more and more slaves”. “More than ever” existed under our eyes “slavery, human trafficking and unfree labor - and we do not see them.” The estimates “range from 12 million to 27 to 250 million people”.

The “first paradox” is that “hegemonic slavery is known to everyone, but no one really knows the life of enslaved people and slavery”. Because slaves rarely reported about their lives. "If anything, 'mostly others speak for people who are or were enslaved." "A second paradox is that European serfdom or Asian and African slavery should not be compared to the slavery of America in the 18th and 19th centuries." This weak point has to be seen in connection with one of the most important debates, the question of the “definition of the slave”. Without a definition with empirically measurable indicators, the transitions to a lack of freedom become blurred. It is probably true that until "around 1890 the majority of people on the heir lived in unfree conditions", but was that why they were all slaves?

Slavery unequal racism

A third paradox, writes Zeuske, is that “slavery is almost always confused with racism”. Here lies the great merit of the manual: It is dedicated to the worldwide crime of slavery. The skin colors of masters and slaves change - what is essential is the injustice of the total domination of one person over another.

Michael Zeuske: Handbook history of slavery. 2nd, revised and expanded edition. Verlag De Gruyter Oldenbourg, Berlin / Boston 2019. 2 part volumes, together XXV., 1399 pp., 279 €.

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