Chapter 28: Bloody Legislation Against the Expropriated

Outline of Marx's Analysis


The conversion of peasants and artisans into waged and potentially waged workers involved a long and brutal campaign by capital to drive the "freed" population into the labor market—a campaign whose difficulty was due to resistance, documented in centuries of "bloody legislation" aimed at its suppression.

In part, resistance was a refusal of the factory and the refusal to be reduced to a machine among machines in that factory. The following statement by one American manager reveals how capitalists saw workers: “I regard my work-people just as I regard my machinery. . . . They must look out for themselves as I do for myself. When my machines get old and useless, I reject them and get new, and these people are part of my machinery.”(1) No residue here of the paternalism of feudal times, much less the closeness and mutual support of so-called primitive cultures, only the most violent redefinition of human beings as animate tools, an attitude echoed in more recent times by economists who consider workers “human capital.”(2)

Charlie Chaplin's classic film Modern Times (1936) presents an eloquent visual representation of workers as part of the machinery, paced by machinery, eaten up by machinery and driven crazy by the factory. Although it concerns the assembly line of Fordism in the 20th Century its basic vision is every bit as valid for earlier periods.

As early as 1857, Marx observed in his Grundrisse notebooks, "They must be forced to work within the conditions posited by capital".(3) They do not go willingly from the fields, forests and villages to the "satanic mills" of early capitalist factories and into the dank tenements available to such mill workers. Force must be used because they resist. Marx cites begging, vagabondage and robbing as forms taken by the resistance to entering factories and he describes the bloody legislation passed to repress them. However, he does not analyse these activities in any detail; we get no texture of this resistance, only of punishment by whip and branding iron. When he analyses the factory in Chapters 13, 14, and 15 on cooperation, the division of labor and machineryand modern industry, he does show how the struggle continued inside the factories through machine breaking, strikes and so on.

The continuing brutality of factory work, described by Rebecca Harding Davis in her book Life in the Iron Mills (1861), through that portrayed by Bruce Springsteen in his song “Factory” (1978), goes far to explain why so many have resisted being forced to work in them.(4) The day-to-day violence of work and of the struggle over that work have shaped our world both on the job and off.

Cover of the book Life in 
the Iron Mills and Other Stories.

From the back-window I can see a narrow brickyard sloping down to the river-side, strewed with rain-butts and tubs . . . I look on the slow stream of human life creeping past, night and morning, to the great mills. Masses of men, with dull, besotted faces bent to the ground, sharpened here and there by pain or cunning; skin and muscles and flesh all begrimed with smoke and ashes; stooping all night over boiling caldrons of metal, laired by day in dens of drunkenness and infamy; breathing from infancy to death an air saturated with fog and grease and soot, vileness for soul and body.

(Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron Mills, New York: The Feminist Press, 1972. Originally written 1861 in Wheeling on the Ohio River.)

Both Davis and Springsteen portray the consequences of factory work for community and family life. She evokes men "laired by day in dens of drunkenness and infamy," while he remembers his daddy coming home "with death in his eyes" and "Somebody's gonna get hurt tonight.

Cover of Springsteen album 
Darkness on the Edge of Town.


Early in the morning factory whistle blows,
Man rises from bed and puts on his clothes,
Man takes his lunch, walks out in the morning light,
It's the working, the working, just the working life.

Through the mansions of fear, through the mansions of pain,
I see my daddy walking through them factory gates in the rain,
Factory takes his hearing, factory gives him life,
The working, the working, just the working life.

End of the day, factory whistle cries,
Men walk through these gates with death in their eyes,
And you just better believe, boy,
Somebody's gonna get hurt tonight,
It's the working, the working, just the working life.

(Bruce Springsteen, Darkness on the Edge of Town, Columbia Records, 1978 (JC-35318)

The Street as an Alternative to the Factory

Begging was already a form of refusal to work in the feudal period, where various persons made use of a certain space created by Catholic attitudes toward alms-giving to live without working. This was a struggle because there was, even then, an attempt to distinguish between "deserving" and "undeserving" beggers and the undeserving included those judged able to work. By the 15th Century and the 16th the attempts to control begging advanced with the need for labor in the emerging capitalist factories, and with the growing militancy of the beggers. In 1529 a Great Riot exploded in Lyons:

The Lyons system of poor relief had two sides: 1) it granted bread, etc., and 2) it aimed at regulating the poor and forcing them to work. Tickets were allocated (like food stamps) for bread. Children were housed in "hospital asylums," vocational training was provided, they were then placed in domestic service or apprenticed. The city government also provided support for industry, especially the Lyons Silk industry, to help provide jobs. Finally, begging was forbidden, a new special police force was set up: the chasse-coquins and if any beggars were caught, they were put to work at hard labor or thrown into jail. This was the kind of treatment so thoroughly portrayed in Victor Hugo's great novel Les Misérables (1862).

Despite such state tactics, begging remained widespread. Beggars used many different kinds of tricks in their trade. Some feigned illnesses by chewing soap, foaming at the mouth and acting epileptic. There were at one time 19 secret societies in Rome ranging from "gibbering idiots," "illness fakirs" to tradesmen who had lost their jobs. In 1627 an Italian monk listed 33 types of false beggars that included "tears at will," "flour for communion wafers," "mad as result of tarantula bite," and so on. Sir Thomas Moore complained of these "sturdy and valiante beggars, cloking their idle lyfe under the colors of some disease or sickness."(6)

Clearly many people preferred the colorful life of the street to the drab drudgery of the factory and the grim grey existence of the factory family. Henry Mayhew (1812–87), a playwright and a founder of the satirical weekly Punch, was also an investigative reporter. He interviewed vagrants, both the temporarily jobless and the permanently unwaged, gathered their stories, published them in the Morning Chronicle in London and later in his book London Labour and the London Poor; Cyclopaedia of the Condition and Earnings of Those That WILL Work, Those That CANNOT Work, and Those That WILL Not Work (1851). The vagrants often juxtaposed the joys of wandering and begging to the drudgery of waged labor.(7)

Listen carefully to the following testimony by an English "vagrant" about his life in the early 19th Century:

I couldn't bring myself to work somehow. While I sat at the work [carpet-weaving], I thought I should like to be away in the country: work seemed a burden to me. I found it very difficult to stick to anything for a long time; so I made up my mind, when my time was out, that I'd be off roving, and see a little of life. I went by the packet from Bristol to Newport. After being there three weeks, I had spent all the money that I had brought from home. I spent it in drinking - most of it, and idling about. After that I was obliged to sell my clothes, &c. The first thing I sold was my watch; I got 2£ 5s for that. Then I was obliged to part with my suit of clothes. For these I got 1£ 5s. With this I started from Newport to go father up over the hills. I liked this life much better than working.
. . .
I'm sure I must have asked assistance from more than a hundred people. They said, some of them, that they had "nout" for me; and others did give me a bit of "bara caws", or "bara minny" (that is, bread and cheese, or bread and butter). Money is very scarce among the Welsh, and what they have they are very fond of. They don't mind giving food; if you wanted a bagful you might have it there of the working people. I inquired for a night's lodging at the union in Monmouth. That was the first time I ever asked for shelter in a workhouse in my life. . . In the morning I was turned out, and after I had left I picked up with a young woman, who had slept in the union over-night. I said I was going on the road across country to Birmingham, and I axed her to go with me. I had never seen her before. She consented, and we went along together, begging our way. We passed as man and wife, and I was a carpet-weaver out of employment. . . . Oh, yes, I have found that I could always get more money out of my own trade than any other people. I did so well at Wolverhampton, begging, that I stopped there three weeks. I never troubled my head whether I was doing right or wrong by asking my brother -weavers for a portion of their hard earnings to keep me in idleness. Many a time I have given part of my wages to others myself. I can't say that I would have given it to them if I had known they wouldn't work like me. I wouldn't have worked sometimes if I could have got it. I can't tell why, but somehow it was painful to me to stick long at anything. To tell the truth, I loved a roving, idle life. I would much rather have been on the road than at my home.
(Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, New York: Penguin Classics, 1985, pp. 383-385.)

In another autobiographical story recorded by Mayhew, a vagrant tells of cooperation among the beggers and pickpockets and how they shared their experiences and even those of more famous "criminals":

"We used to share our money with those who did nothing for a day, and they with us when we rested. There never was any blabbing. We wouldn't do one another out of a farthing. Of a night some one would now and then read hymns, out of books they sold about the streets - I'm sure they were hymns; or else we'd read stories about Jack Sheppard and Dick Turpin, and all through that set. They were large thick books, borrowed from the library. They told how they used to break open the houses, and get out of Newgate, and how Dick got away to York. We used to think Jack and them very fine fellows. I wished I could be like Jack (I did then), about the blankets in his escape . . ."

(Ibid., p. 391. On Jack Shepard and the working class art of ex-carceration, see Peter Linebaugh, The London Hanged, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992, Chapter One: 'The Common Discourse of the Whole Nation': Jack Sheppard and the Art of Escape.")

History has also recorded considerable sympathy for beggars among common people—to the point of helping them resist arrest—probably because most workers knew they might become beggars themselves, by choice or because of downturns in the industrial cycle. Garraty notes "French archives contain evidence showing that the police were often harassed by crowds when they attempted to arrest beggars."(8)

Even more colorful, the history of "robbery" and "pilfering" provides rich material for the beginning of a class analysis of crimes against property. (9) On the one side, workers directly appropriate what they have produced but is now owned by capitalists, whether on the job or in the larger society. On the other side, capitalist theft is legalized, from their domestic enclosure of land, homes and tools to their foreign conquests. Such analysis reveals how business has succeeded in pitting workers against workers, from communities where desperate workers rob other workers, nativists against immigrants and colonial armies to carry out the dirty work of spreading capitalist theft across the face of the earth.

Controversy: The Nature of the State

What is the "state"? Marx doesn't analyse the state in the abstract but rather shows us concretely.(10) Here the state appears as government, legislation (Statute of Laborers, etc.), as the House of Commons, as police and armies. In this period, capital succeeds in turning the state-as-government into a tool, an organ of its class rule. This is done both via laws for capital that are enforced, and via laws against capital that are not enforced (such as those against enclosures).(11) Yet the passage of some laws that favor the working class shows that the government is also a terrain of class conflict. What ultimately matters however are neither votes nor debate, but acts. Which and whether laws are passed and enforced is a function of class power.

During this period of "bloody legislation," capital succeeded in using state power for its own ends, against workers and against the old landed aristocracy. Capitalist power is clearly greater than that of workers, yet the balance of power also shifts and causes shifts in government action. Marx attributes the collapse of laws against combinations of workers in 1825 to the "threatening attitude of the proletariat."(12) Similarly, the abandonment of laws against strikes was done only "under the pressure of the masses."(13) Similar shifts in power, resulting in changes in laws concerning the length of the working day, are analyzed in Chapter 10.

Two observations: first, government appears as an organ of capitalist class rule only to the degree that it acts in the interests of that class. It is also a terrain, a space where struggle ensues, and working-class power may be reflected in both parliamentary debate and in executive action. Today the growth of working-class power has resulted in many enforced laws which benefit workers to the detriment of capital. This does not mean that government is a neutral third-party, mediating between the classes as sometimes depicted. It does mean that no simple theory of government as capitalist-state will suffice. Second, although Marx does mention some of the victories won by the working class as well as some defeats, he does not analyse or describe the struggles that produced these changes and while we can see both the need for struggle and its possible effectiveness, we learn nothing of the methods used and how they succeeded. What concretely constituted the "threatening attitude of the proletariat"? How did the "masses" exert pressure? Of these things we learn little.

Working Class Struggles

Cover of the book The Making of the English Working Class.

E. P. Thompson's Making of the English Working Class reveals something of those struggles which Marx mentions but fails to analyze in detail. Examining the period between the Combination Acts of 1799 and 1800 and their repeal in 1824-25,(14), he shows us how rising anger and militancy of both reformist intellectuals and workers took a number of forms including clandestine political groupings and secret unionism but never in any centralized movement. He shows how such underground activity developed rapidly in response to the anti-combination laws and acts. Workers drew together and swore secret oaths in multiple conspiracies. When they could not strike openly, they developed subtle new methods for sabotaging production, methods that would leave little evidence for prosecution. "If the demands were not met there was no need—in the small workshop— for a formal strike; men would simply drop away or singly give notice." On the other hand, the workers developed many forms of direct action because they had no other recourse. "In its milder forms it was little more than extreme moral pressure. The craftsman working under the union rate would be boycotted; the 'illegal' man would find that his tools were 'lost', or would be 'fined' by his shopmates. In Spitalfields, silk would be cut in the loom; in the woolen districts pieces would be slashed; in the framework-knitting industry the 'jacks', vital parts of the stocking-loom, would disappear. Blacklegs or bad masters would know themselves to be watched; a brick might come through the window, or they might be attacked in a lane at night . . . there was a scatter of cases reported from Glasgow, Dublin, Manchester and Sheffield, of actual or attempted assassinations, vitriol-throwing or charges of gunpowder thrown into workshops."(15)

In such ways were the "threatening attitudes" of the proletariat expressed and the Combination Acts undermined to such a degree that by 1824 a repeal bill was moved through Parliament by men arguing that the Acts had favored combination and must needs be abolished to undermine the growth of working-class organizations! Much to these persons' despair, however, repeal was followed immediately by widespread, now legal, strikes and conflict. Efforts to reinstate the Acts in 1825 were immediately attacked by a "storm of protests, petitions, meetings, and deputations from every trade". The reinstatement efforts failed, opening the way for "the great wave of general unionism between 1832 and 1834."(16)

We need this kind of history and analysis complement Marx's sketch in Capital. We need to examine how those before us fought being forced into the labor market and factories, and how they fought once there —how they fought singly, in small groups, and in relationship to political groups and to the emerging unions. We need to examine how their struggles interacted with the plans of capital. What methods worked, which did not. Beyond understanding how capital imposed its system, and maintained it, only by fierce repression against widespread militancy, we need to learn lessons for today from the history of those struggles.

Vagrancy Laws During Reconstruction

In the United States, the early post-Civil War period provided a very close parallel to this use of vicious legislation to force a population freed from the land into service to capital. Large numbers of newly freed slaves, together with many uprooted and burned out whites, roamed the South wanting only "forty acres and a mule" to begin a new life. The failure of the Reconstruction Act of 1867 to include land reform—the breakup and redistribution of the old plantation land to those who had worked it—condemned the war-freed and uprooted population to search for work where they could find it. Southern landowners, of course, wanted to reinstitute the plantation system via wage labor, under conditions similar to the slavery they had lost. Most of the freed and uprooted, however, refused to return to those conditions. Failing to entice these potential workers into such employment, the capitalists used force in a method strikingly like that used in England.

The photo to the right is of a prisoner working at the notorious Parchman Penitentiary, a huge prison plantation in the Mississippi Delta, where prisoners were treated with extreme brutality. Prisoner working at Parchman Penitentiary,
a huge prison plantation in the Mississippi Delta.

Harsh laws in most southern states criminalized vagabondage, petty pilfering and other crimes against "property," resulting in a rapid increase in the number of people thrown into prison. In some cases, such as the notorious Parchman Penitentiary, a huge prison plantation in the Mississippi, the government imposed what amounted to slave labor. To help finance the penal system, it also supplied a large quantity of cheap labor to capitalists who were unwilling to pay sufficiently high wages to attract a work force. State governments would lease out prisoners to work in chain gangs at nominal cost to local and national capitalists. C. Vann Woodward (1908-99) in his book Origins of the New South, 1877–1913 (1951) provides us with horrifying descriptions. (17) In his book we find the following:

The conditions in these state-provisioned labor camps rivaled not only the brutality of the English situation in the 16th and 17th Centuries, but the Soviet gulag and Nazis camps of the 20th Century. It is always worth remembering the slogan over the entrance to the German concentration camp at Auschwitz was the very capitalist slogan Arbeit Mach Frei—"Work Makes You Free." In some ways, labor camps and prison labor are the quintessential expression of capitalist society. They are among the few places where the illusions of freedom are discarded, and work is imposed directly and brutally. And in Alabama:

With this kind of treatment death rates were high. But it didn't matter because there were always more vagabonds or petty criminals to be shipped out to the mines or swamps to be worked to death for the sake of capitalist profits.(20)

This was very similar to the period of slavery when the slave trade supplied so many slaves that cheap new muscle could replace that driven into the grave. In Chapter 10, Marx discusses the abuses capitalists inflict when the supply of labor is cheap:

Once the slave trade was abolished and slaves became hard to replace capital, their treatment improved to insure reproduction! In the post Civil War South the roaming masses provided the same kind of surplus labor supply as the slave hunting grounds of Africa—with the same kinds of abuses.

Workers did not accept such barbaric treatment passively. Crime grew in response to repression, and in turn swelled the ranks of prison labor. Non-prison labor finding itself undercut by cheap convict labor fought against this involuntary servitude of so many of their number. When convicts were used to break strikes and displace legal laborers, open conflict over this issue became widespread. Woodward quotes one Colonel Colyar who was the Tennessee Democratic leader and general counsel to the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company: “we found that we were right in calculating that free laborers would be loath to enter upon strikes when they saw that the company was amply provided with convict labor.”(22) By 1891, however, the good Colonel’s workers had had enough. When the company offered a contract with no-strike and other objectionable clauses and the workers refused it,

The conflict over convict labor continued until October 31, 1891 when the workers "forcibly freed the convicts of the Tennesseee Coal Mine Company, allowed them all to escape, and burned down the stockades. They repeated the same tactics later at two other mining companies, releasing in all some five hundred convicts. The mine operators of the area then employed free labor . . ." (23) In other words in this instance the workers won and defeated this strategy of capital by using armed force.

There is a song that dates from this period, written in the town of Coal Creek. According to the notation on the Smithsonian/Folkways recording it "is a miner's version of a song which was sung by the Negro convicts who were working the mine."

Cover of Pete Seeger's album American 
Industrial Ballads.


Way back yonder in Tennessee
They leased the convicts out
Sent them workin in the mine
Against free labor stout.

Free labor rebelled against it
To win it took some time
But when the lease was in effect
They made 'em rise and shine.


Bully won't you roll down the line
Bully won't you roll down the line
Yonder come my darlin'
Comin' down the line

Early Monday mornin'
They get 'em up on time
Send you down to Lone Rock
Just a look into that mine.
Send you down to Lone Rock
Just look into that hole
The very next thing the captain says
You better get your pole


The beans they are half done
The bread is not so well
The meat it is all burned up
And the coffee's black as hell.

But when you get your task done
And on the floor you fall
Anything you get to eat
Will taste good done all wrong.


The bank boss he's a hard man
A man you all know well
And if you don't get your task done
He's gonna give you hell.

But when you get your task done
And on the floor you fall
The very next thing the captain says
Better get your pole


(Pete Seeger, American Industrial Ballads, 1957, Smithsonian-Folkways, CD SF 40058)

Unfortunately, even today, almost two decades into the twenty-first century, penal labor is thriving. Many prisons in the US are still being run as gulags with their inmates either put to work by the prison itself or rented out to private capital.(24)

Controversy: The Wage, Its Absence and the Imposition of Work

Although primitive accumulation has often been defined as the creation of a waged proletariat, we have seen how that very process also involved the creation of the unwaged, from vagabonds through slaves to housewives and children.

In an article analysing Marx's treatment of conflict over laws passed against the appropriation of forest wood by peasants in Germany, historian Peter Linebaugh has argued that the real issue was a change in the wage-form. Traditionally, the appropriation of forest wood and timber was legal and one part of the subsistence income of German peasants. Its outlawing was a way of forcing peasants to turn to the labor market for a greater part of their subsistence, a way of increasing the pressure on them to work for a wage. It was not an act of primitive accumulation because the peasants were already working within the capitalist system—reproducing themselves as part-time labor-power. The attempt to restrict their access to wood simply pushed them deeper into a labor market within which they were already emeshed.(25)

Regarding slavery in the capitalist epoch, Marxists have debated the status of slaves because they are not waged. Some, such as historian Eugene Genovese (1930–2012),have argued that slavery constituted a different kind of social system articulated with the capitalism. Others, myself included, see American slave labor as a peculiar form of labor command within capitalism, a form of unwaged labor essential to the functioning of both Southern and Atlantic capitalism. Cotton slavery in the U.S. was the material foundation of the cotton textile mills in Manchester England. In Capital Marx often speaks of "wage-slavery" marking the similarity of wage labor to slavery. Clearly, for him, the distance between the two in the 19th Century was not great. Elsewhere he wrote:

On the other hand, in Chapter 3 we saw him contrast the fate of the Roman plebes and enclosure-freed Englishmen. One situation led to slavery and one to capitalism. His analysis is not a priori but he deals with slavery within the overall historical context. In the ancient world it defines a social system. In the capitalist 19th Century it is a peculiar form of labor control within a system based more on exchange than on direct coercion. Yet the coercion of the market is not far from that of the whip. Not in the 19th Century, and not in the 21st when slavery persists in the interstices of contemporary capitalist society.

During the late slave period just before the Civil War, the South was beginning to industrialize, partly in response to resentment over terms of trade between the raw materials of the South and the industrial products of the North. Robrt S. Starobin (1939–71), in a book on this industrialization effort, noted how the situation of the slave was being transformed by the needs of industry for greater labor mobility. (27) Rather than being inseparable from the plantation, slaves were being sent out by their owners to seek work for wages! The industrially employed slaves would then turn over part of their wage to their owner. This meant a dramatic transformation in the day-to-day habits and behavior of the slaves as well as in the nature of their relationship with their owners and with capital. In short they were acting less like slaves and more like free labor.

We must examine the role of slavery within Atlantic capitalism by the pattern of conflict between the working class and capital in the various countries. Eric Williams (1911–81) argued that slavery itself originated from the struggles of both “free” waged workers and indentured workers in the colonies. Capital had to seek out new sources of cheap and totally controlled labor to compensate for the concessions made to workers at home and the facility with which the indentured could escape.(28) Slaves, of course, fought for freedom, through overt revolts and by escaping. (29) At least some English workers saw the freedom of slaves as beneficial to them. Marx even wrote to Lincoln congratulating him on the freeing of the slaves and his re-election in 1864 in a letter on behalf of the International Working Men's Association (the First International). (30) During the Civil War, British textile capitalists supported the Southern cause, because they depended upon cheap, slave-produced Southern cotton. Some even argued that Britain should enter the war on the Southern side. Demonstrations by British workers helped block such intervention.

Within the U.S. many Northern workers also saw, to some degree, that their ability to win higher wages and better working conditions depended upon ending a situation where some workers were literally made slaves—to work at extremely low "wages." In Chapter 10, Marx notes:

As the struggles of the waged and unwaged were linked, so too are many (and eventually all) conflicts between various groups of workers and capital interconnected. If the power of American workers in the North and of British workers was limited by slavery in the early 19th Century, today we see plenty of evidence of how the power of those same workers is limited by the weakness of workers in the Global South. Multinational corporations and free trade have increased capital's ability to shift jobs from high to low wage areas, undercutting the livelihoods of workers in the former areas with little or no improvement for workers in the latter ones. The solution to this problem today, as in the 19th Century, is an acceleration of the international circulation of struggle via the self-conscious collaboration between higher, lower and unwaged workers.(32)

Recommended Further Reading

On the street as an alternative to the factory, see John A. Garraty, Unemployment in History, New York: Harper Colophon, 1978 and Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor and the other references listed at the end of the section above on "Literature and Class Struggle" and in the chronology of Victorian social literature.

Marxist theoretical discussions and debates over the "state" are virtually endless; it has always been a central issue because there have always been those who have conceived of revolution in terms of taking over or overthrowing of the state. For a survey and discussion of the evolution of the idea of the state in Marx see Hal Draper's Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, Volume I: State and Bureaucracy, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1977. The classic, and most progressive, statement by Lenin on the subject his book The State and Revolution, 1917. In the 1970s there was a new wave of work on state theory in Europe and in the United States as capitalism was plunged into crisis and existing state policies floundered. A collection of pieces from the German "state-derivation" debate are in John Holloway and S.Picciotto (eds), State and Capital: A Marxist Debate, Austin: University of Texas Press, 1978. In France a new school of theory emerged which reframed the issue of state in terms of the "regulation" of various modes of accumulation, e.g., M.Aglietta, A Theory of Capitalist Regulation: The U.S. Experience, London, New Left Books, 1979 which hand an impact on some English Marxists like Bob Jessop, The Capitalist State, Oxford: Martin Robertson, 1982. For some recent debate on this subject see: Werner Bonefeld and John Holloway (eds) Post-Fordism & Social Form: A Marxist Debate on the Post-Fordist State, London: MacMillan, 1991 and Simon Clarke (ed) The State Debate, London: MacMillan, 1991, both of which include regulation theorists and autonomist critics.

On "crime" and working class struggle, there has recently been a spurt of new work by Marxist historians of which the most important works are: Edward Thompson, Whigs and Hunters: The Origins of the Black Act, 1975, Douglas Hay, Peter Linebaugh and Edward Thompson (eds) Albion's Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth-Century England, 1975 and Peter Linebaugh, The London Hanged, 1992. Unlike many earlier historical works that have looked at "crime" from the point of view of the police and the maintenance of "order", these works attempt to examine the history from the bottom-up, from the point of view of the workers' whose struggles have brought them into conflict with laws made by the ruling classes. "Our starting-point, " writes Linebaugh, "is neither law nor 'critical law' but the hanged men and women whose views and actions continually challenged both law and their own class." (p. xxiii)

On 18th and 19th Century slavery, there is, of course, an endless literature. Among Marxist historians there are several approaches of interest. The more or less "orthodox" approach to the subject can be found in the work of Herbert Aptheker, American Negro Slave Revolts, New York: International Publishers, 1943 and Essays in the History of the American Negro, New York: International Publishers, 1945 as well as the works of Eugene Genovese such as The Political Economy of Slavery: Studies in the Economy and Society of the Slave South, New York: Pantheon, 1966. What mainly chracterizes Genovese's approach is an attempt to differentiate the Southern slave system from the wider system of capitalism; this he does by identifying different behaviors on the part of the slave owning class and by defining slavery as a distinct "mode of production". A second, more interesting, and bottom-up approach has emphasized the self-activity of slaves not only in revolt but in everyday life. The seminal work was C. L. R. James, The Black Jacobins:Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution, 2nd ed., New York: Vintage Books, 1963 (originally written in 1938). See also: C. L. R. James, "The Atlantic Slave Trade", Amistad, I, 1970, reprinted in C. L. R. James, The Future in the Present: Selected Writings, London: Allison Busby, 1977. James' work was a fundamental influence on that of George Rawick who gather, edited and commented some 20 volumes of slave narratives as part of an extensive project documenting the slave self-activity. Rawick's summary analysis of the results of that research was published as From Sundown to Sunup: The Making of the Black Community, Westport: Greenwood, 1972 (volume 1 in the series of narratives). This book like that of James', had far reaching influence, not only on historians like Linebaugh but also among a wide variety of activists, including feminists in Italy, who saw parallels between the kind of practices Rawick discovered among slaves and those of women struggling against capitalist patriarchy. Finally, little by little there has been developing an analysis of the working class at the level of the entire Atlantic region which attempts to resituate each element of the working class, including slaves, within the wider context of an international circulation of workers, their experience and their struggles. See, for example, Peter Linebaugh, "All the Atlantic Mountains Shook, Labour/Le Travail, Winter 1982, Marcus Rediger, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: Merchant Seamen, Pirates, and the Anglo-American Maritime World, 1700-1750, New York: Cambridge, 1987, and Ricardo Salvatore, Class Struggle and International Trade: Rio de la Plata's Commerce and the Atlantic Proletariat, 1790-1850, Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Texas at Austin, 1987.

Concepts for Review

    begging as refusal of work
    formal subordination of labor
    maximum wage laws
    the state
    "crime" and the class character of law
    prison labor
    waged and unwaged labor
    slavery and waged labor

Questions For Review

(An * means that one possible answer to that question can be found at the end of the study guide.)

1. Marx describes the resistence to the factory in these terms: "these men . . . could not immediately adapt themselves to the discipline of their new condition. They were turned in massive quantities into beggars, robbers and vagabonds, partly from inclination, in most cases under the force of circumstances." Why might people have turned to these methods out of "inclination"?

*2. List the punishments Marx mentions for refusal to work? Are there such punishments today? What are they? In society in general? In the school? In the family? In prisons?

3. How did workers force a change from maximum to minimum wage laws? How did they force an end to anti-combination laws?

4. How does this chapter constitute a description of the second step in forcing people to subordinate their lives to work?

*5. Provide a working class rationale for begging or for stealing (from capitalists) as an alternative to work? Do you think Austin street people have anything in common with the English people against whom the "bloody legislation" was directed?

6. What do you think Marx means by "the state"? Is it the same as government or different? How? What examples does he give of the exercise of state power? What do his examples suggest about the class charactaer of the state?

*7. Discuss the similarities and differences between the laws against vagabonds passed during the period Marx was examining and those passed in the post-Civil War period in the American South.

8. Discuss the relationship between slavery and wage labor in the early 19th Century. Was slavery a part of primitive accumulaton? Was its end?

*9. What does the analysis of the "bloody legislation," of wage labor, of slave labor and of prison labor tell you about the nature of the wage in capitalism? What other forms of unwaged forced labor can you think of?


1 Norman Ware, The Industrial Worker, 1840–1860, Chicago, IL: Quadrangle Books, 1964, p. 77.

2 See Gary Becker, Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis, with Special Reference to Education (1964), Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 3rd edn., 1993.

3 Grundrisse, p. 736.

4 Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron Mills, New York: The Feminist Press, 1972. Originally written 1861 in the city of Wheeling on the Ohio River. Bruce Springsteen, Darkness on the Edge of Town, Columbia Records, 1978 (JC-35318).

5 John A. Garraty, Unemployment in History, New York Harper Colophon, 1978, p. 25. Something similar happened with the widespread urban uprisings of the mid-196os. They were followed by a massive expansion of the Federal Food Stamp program. See Tim Reynolds, The Food Stamp Explosion, University of Texas at Austin, M.A. Thesis, 1980.

6 Thomas Moore, Utopia (1516), Book 2, Part 2, New York: Penguin Classics, 2003.

7 Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor, New York: Penguin Classics, 1985, pp. 383–385.

8 Garraty, Unemployment in History, op. cit., p. 55.

9 Essential contributions to the analysis of the class politics of crime in this period can be found in E. P. Thompson, Douglas Hay, Peter Linebaugh, John G. Rule and Cal Winslow, Albion’s Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth-Century England, New York: Pantheon, 1975. On Jack Sheppard and the working-class art of excarceration, see Peter Linebaugh, The London Hanged: Crime and Civil Society in the Eighteenth Century, London: Allen Lane, 1991, Chapter 1: “‘The Common Discourse of the Whole Nation’: Jack Sheppard and the Art of Escape.”

10 One result has been a proliferation of Marxist efforts to "fill the gap" in his theory by conjuring up a Marxist theory of the state. Among the many contributions to that effort, see the issues of the journal Kapitalistate (1973-83).

11 The non-enforcement of laws and regulation costly to business became public policy under the Reagan administration that systematically sought to undermine existing labor rights and environmental protection laws by eliminating them where possible and refusing to enforce them elsewhere. This practice has been renewed under Donald Trump.

12 Capital, Vol. I, p. 903.

13 Ibid.

14 Thompson, Making of the English Working Class, op. cit., pp. 497–521.

15 Ibid., pp. 514–515.

16 Ibid., p. 520.

17 C. Vann Woodward, Origins of the New South, 1817–1913, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1951, pp. 213-214.

18 Ibid., p. 213.

19 Ibid., p. 214.

20 For a visual, though tame, taste of this regime, see the film Cool Hand Luke (1967) with Paul Newman in a modern chain gang. Just in case you think that vicious corporal punishment has been banned from the capitalist world in this new 21st century, take a look at documentation compiled by World Corporal Punishment Research—or do some research on the Abu Ghraib prison once run by the US government in Iraq.

21 Capital, Vol. I, p. 345.

22 Woodward, Origins of the New South, op. cit., p. 233.

23 Ibid., pp. 233–234.

24 For an example of the former, see the documentary Angola for Life: Rehabilitation and Reform Inside the Louisiana State Penitentiary (2015) and the article about it by Whitney Benns, "American Slavery, Reinvented", The Atlantic Monthly, September 21, 2015. See also Vicky Paliez, "The Prison Industry in the United States, Big Business or a New Form of Slavery", Center for Research on Globalization, March 2008. Compare with the recent imposition of forced labor in China where ethnic minorities are being incarcerated in labor camps and forced to work for American companies. See Dake Kang, Martha Mendoza and Yanan Wang, "In Locked Compound, Minorities in China Make Clothes for US", Associated Press, December 18, 2018.

25 Peter Linebaugh, "Karl Marx, the Theft of Wood, and Working Class Composition: A Contribution to the Current Debate," Crime and Social Justice, 6 (Fall/Winter 1976), pp. 5-16.

26 Capital, Vol. I, p. 625, and “Marx to Pavel Vasilyevich Annenkov” (December 28, 1846), MECW, Vol. 38, p. 101.

27 Robert S. Starobin, Industrial Slavery in the Old South, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.

28 Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1944, which is directly indebted to C. L. R. James's book The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (1938), rev. 2nd edn., New York: Vintage Books, 1963 (see Williams's bibliographic notes III.B. at the end of his book).

29 Escaping in the US often made use of the underground railroad; escaping in Latin America and the Caribbean often involved flight into the hinterland and the establishment of "maroon" communities, sometimes with indigenous peoples. See Richard Price, Maroon Societies: Rebel Slave Communities in the Americas, 3rd edn., Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

30 Karl Marx, "To Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States of America", MECW, Vol. 20, pp. 19-21.

31 Capital, Vol. I, p. 414.

32 See slides prepared for a 2004 debate on "outsourcing".