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Miller's Vision of Meillassoux Author(s): Paul E. Lovejoy Reviewed work(s): Source: The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 24, No. 1 (1991), pp. 133145 Published by: Boston University African Studies Center Stable URL: . Accessed: 22/08/2012 21:24
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Interational Journal of Afica

Hstorical Studies Volume 24, No. 1 (1991)


By Paul E. Lovejoy In his lengthy review of ClaudeMeillassoux's de l'esclavage: Le Anthropologie ventredefer et d'argent (Paris,1986)in thisjournal, JosephMillerhasjudgedthe masterof the Frenchschool of economicanthropology in his to be "inconsistent" in his choice of examples.1Furthermore and "selective" Millercharges argument Meillassouxwith avoidinganalytical difficulties"because he engages the general literature on slavery only selectively" (p. 491) and is otherwise prone to Meillassoux'sis a "challenging but limited vision." These are "exaggeration." seriousjudgmentswhich I do not share.Quitethe contrary, I would contendthat Meillassoux's contribution is a masterpiece andthatMillerhasnot fully engagedthe issues that Meillassouxraises. WhatMiller has done, however, is to encourage others to read Meillassoux carefully. I certainly agree with Miller that "Meillassoux's de l'esclavage is a bookmorethanworthclose and Anthropologie and hence this rejoinder repeatedstudy"(p. 495), respondsto Miller'scritiquein the spiritof opendebate. In orderto examineMiller'scriticisms,I will examinefour subjects:first, Meillassoux's contributrionto neo-Marxisttheory; second, the nature of the enslavement third,the marketprinciplebehind processaccordingto Meillassoux; andfourth,the extentto which slaverythatunderliesMeillassoux's interpretation; the westernSudanis representative of slave systems.Miller'sreadingof Marxist theoryon slaveryis seriouslyat variancewith my own, and hence, I contend,he distortswhatMeillassoux has written. Nordoes Millerappreciate the importance of in the violence enslavement process.His failureto graspthe idea thatslaveryis a form of property andhenceis the antithesis of kinshipleads Millerastrayas well. to his impression,finally,the westernSudanis indeedrepresentative of Contrary slavery;indeedit is one of the most significant examplesof a fully developedslave systemin history.

1Joseph C. Miller, "The World According to Meillassoux: A Challenging but Limited Vision,"InternationalJournal of AfricanHistoricalStudies,22,3 (1989), 473-95.




and Neo-Marxist


In elaborating on Marx and Engels, and indeed many subsequent Marxist scholars who have examined slavery, Meillassoux demonstratesthat Marxist theory does not explain how slavery continues as a system. It is widely recognized that Marx and Engels did not fully develop their theory of slavery, either with respect to antiquity or the nineteenth century, although they recognized that there was a significant difference between the two eras. They used classical slavery as the model for their theory of the transition between modes of production. As is generally known, their concern was to explain the origins of capitalism, not to explore slavery as such. Consequently, Marx and Engels were more interested in analyzing the process whereby slavery evolves into feudalism than in understanding how slavery regenerates itself. Because they only concentrated on the slave origins of serfdom, they did not think through the logic of slavery as a mode of production that reproduces itself in ways that are not "natural." For Meillassoux, the principal reason why slavery is different from other modes of production is to be found in the way that slavery reproduces itself through acts of political violence and through the commercialization of people as commodities. Slavery is peculiar because it is the only mode of production that does not regenerate itself as a system through biological reproduction (pp. 79-84, 86), or what some feminist scholars have referredto as social reproduction.2 Since there is relatively little social reproduction - that is, the actual birth and nourishment of within the slave society, slavery is unique in the manner in which children surplus product (surproduct) is extracted from labor and in the extent of the surplus product that is extracted. Because slaves are ultimately obtained through capture and/or purchase, there is little need to divert part of the product of slave labor for the nourishment of the next generation. While slaves may give birth, the mode of production does not depend on slaves reproducing themselves (p. 89). Slavery lives as a parasite on the domestic mode of production, where children are brought into the world only to see some of them stolen away into slavery (pp. 87-89). Marx and Engels, along with most subsequent scholars, blur the distinction between feudalism and slavery because they fail to appreciate the crucial point that serfs are not bought on the market or captured;they give birth to children who form the next generation, and hence the extraction of surplus product has to allow for the necessary sustenance to nurture the children. Slaves, by contrast, are captured and/or bought, and while there are incidental costs that have to be covered, the extraction of surplus product does not have to allow for biological or social
2Meillassoux is clearly using the term "reproduction"in the feminist sense of "social reproduction." See, for example, BarbaraLaslett and Johanna Brenner, "Genderand Social Reproduction:HistoricalPerspectives,"AnnualReview of Sociology, 15 (1989,) 381-404.



regeneration. Hence the "mode of reproduction" is the distinguishing feature between slavery and serfdom (pp. 90-91). In a theoretical exercise, Meillassoux compares the difference in the surplus product under slavery and serfdom with the ratios of slaves and serfs to masters and lords to demonstrate the excessive exploitation that characterizes slavery. Of course, it is possible to quibble over the exact details of Meillassoux's calculations, and Miller does just that. Nonetheless, even if allowance is made for all of Miller's reservations, Meillassoux still makes his point: slavery involves the greatest extraction of surplus product of any mode of production because slavery arises from a theft economy.3 Unfortunately, Miller has misunderstood much of Meillassoux's analysis. Miller's critique of "slave modes of reproduction " confuses the crucial contribution that Meillassoux has made in focusing on how a "slave mode of production" reproduces itself. "Reproduction" is not "the central issue for neo-marxist anthropology" (p. 476), as Miller claims - production is. Meillassoux's analysis starts from the essential point that slaves are units of work. Of course slaves are more than that, but an understanding of how surplus product is extracted unlocks the secrets of this mode of production. The role of violence in the creation of slaves and the complete subordination of the labor power of the slave to the will of the master characterize a slave mode of production. Miller has not kept production and reproduction separate and often uses the phrase "mode of reproduction" when he can only be referring to "mode of production." According to Meillassoux, the regenerationof the slave population occurs as a result of enslavement and the subsequent distribution of captives who have been made into slaves. He examines the "mode of reproduction" by distinguishing between "aristocratic,warrior slavery" and "merchantslavery." The reason for this distinction relates to the two essential aspects of social reproduction- the seizure of captives and their enslavement which is associated with the aristocracy and warriors, on the one hand, and the commoditization of slaves as property that can be bought and sold, which is characterized by the commercial sector, on the other hand. Both of these phenomena co-exist in a slave mode of production, although Meillassoux finds it useful to separate slavery in the aristocratic, warrior sphere from the commercial sector in order to analyze the process by which slavery is reproduced. When Miller asks "why warrior aristocratic slavery arises [in some

serfs couldbe starved or otherwise eliminated for politicalreasons,and 3Theoretically, theregeneration therefore of themodeof production couldbe undermined unless newserfscouldbe ontotheland.Slavery couldoffera mechanism forsuchregeneration. thereare pressed Similarly, and therefore social few, if any, cases of slave children deliberately beingkilledor starved, under didinclude thebirth of children withinslavery. serfdom Nonetheless, reproduction slavery socialreproduction, whileslavery didnot. stillrequired



contexts]ratherthanmerchant (p. 484), he misses the point.The two are slavery" andexist together. interrelated Enslavement raid sinceit almostalwaysoccursas a resultof kidnapping, The act of enslavement, with the mechanismswherebyother or war, is relativelycheap, when compared The cost of reproduction is borne by the modes of productionare maintained. with raiding is stolen. There are costs associated from where the slave community minimal wars are and because andwar,buttheseareoften foughtanyway thereare At the pointthatit recovered. variousmeansby whichcosts areentirelyorpartially costs. a captured is decidedto transform personintoa slave,thereareno additional at that time, the capturedperson becomes an object, a piece of Furthermore, to arguethatthe slaveis the mostbasicexample whichleadsMeillassoux property, of property. Based on my readingof the scholarlyliterature,I would expect virtual agreementamong specialists and non-specialistsalike that the overwhelming majorityof first-generationslaves became slaves as the result of kidnapping, violence. The evidence is politicallymotivated raiding,or war- thatis, through is Meillassoux's That this is the case central to argument. overwhelming. simply to "coercion, Miller, Miller,however,rejectsthisinterpretation. According if not violence, remainedessential at the momentof seizure for many captives (though not all, or even most). . ." (p. 488). Unfortunately,Miller provides revisionof acceptedwisdom. In his earlier virtuallyno evidencefor this startling the Atlanticslave tradeas a result thatsome slavesentered work,he demonstrated movementsof peopleandgoods thatmay appearto have of famineandreciprocal been non-violent.4 And in his review, he indicatesthatpawnshipin non-Muslim in the generation of slaves. He suggeststhatsuch areaswas a centralmechanism violent. was not pawning I would contend that famine, "gift-exchange"involving slaves, and pawnshipall involvedcoercion. Theywere oftenextensionsof politicalviolence. Famines frequently occurredbecause political factors preventedpeople from moving abouteasily, while the exchange of people for goods took place under circumstancesin which there was the threat of violence. Similarly, coercion underlaythe institutionof pawnship. In short,Millerdoes not seem to graspthe andsimilar sale,pawnship, significanceof the violenceinvolvedin famine-induced no he that "most" offers indenture. More to the formsof captiveswere proof point, enslaved without coercion or violence. Miller charges Meillassoux of
4Wayof Death: MerchantCapitalismand the AngolanSlave Trade (Madison, 1988).



even ignoring,ecological and otherfactors,but this is certainly underestimating, not true.The importance of famines,disease,the sale of peoplefor debt, and other factors affecting slavery is discussed as elaborationson the general theme of politicalviolence. Not only does Miller offer a more sanguineview of enslavementthan Meillassoux's of the "extremely low cost Meillassoux,buthe "doubts" assumption of capture" thatthe replenishment of the (p. 490). For Miller,it is "problematic" an low slave supplywas characterized of by "extremely acquisition-cost captives.. . by theftandviolence"(p. 487), although it shouldbe notedthatMeillassouxdoes not claim, as Millercharges,thatwarfare was "costless" (p. 491). Rather,the cost of seizing prisoners zerowhenslaves were a by-product sometimesapproached of militaryaction being conductedfor otherreasons(p. 94). Meillassouxdefers to point. FollowingCurtin,he PhilipCurtin,amongotherscholars,on this important most enslavement fell on a continuumbetween that acts of somewhere agrees in wars were motivated which an incidental of war captives politically by-product in which people were deliberatelystolen and market-driven acts of enslavement, becauseonce captured they could be sold. In eithercase, the cost of enslavement was very low. Somehow,nonetheless,MillerconcludesthatMeillassoux"takes workon Senegambia" historical painsto contestPhilipCurtin's (p. 492). Quitthe Curtin's is research of foundation. Meillassoux's contrary: part empirical Millerlegitimately criticizesMeillassoux for notfully appreciating the costs of transporting slaves from the point of enslavementto their final destinations. MeillassouxassumesthatwithinAfricathe deliverycosts of shippingslaves was costs relatively low (p. 480), but does not considerthe difference in transport between overlandtraveland trans-Atlanticvoyages. Nonetheless,Meillassoux's basic pointis still valid - movingslaveswas cheap- buttherewere differences between taking them across the Atlanticand walkingthem a couple of hundred withinAfrica. kilometers alterthe price of costs andmarket restrictions couldsignificantly Transport slaves to an extent that breedingslaves was an alternativeto importingslaves. Meillassoux does not fully addressthis possibility. He is more concerned to that the cost of enslavingpeople was low and alternatemethodsof demonstrate children and otherwiseregenerating were high. He uses the the population raising next cheapest method - serfdom- as a point of comparison. He does not considersocial reproduction becauseMarxclearlydemonstrated undercapitalism the costs of reproduction underthat mode of production. Miller is absolutely in southern correctin drawingattention to the factthatmigrant workers Africahave to bearthe costs of raisingtheirchildren,which is a characteristic of capitalism. Meillassouxwould agreecompletelybutwonderwhy Millerdidn'tcarrythrough with the analysis. If he did, it wouldbe shownthatthe costs of raisingchildrenof



migrant workers is much higher than the costs of enslaving people. Meillassoux is attempting to establish the starkreality of slavery as the only mode of production in which there is virtually no cost in regenerating the work force because the work force is recruited through theft. As in the burglary of a jewelry store, thieves need tools and they devote time to planning and implementation, all of which can be costed, but the specific act of taking the diamonds is costless. The ultimate cost of slavery is the cost of maintaining the military establishment of enslavement, which can be subsidized by using slaves in agriculture, war, tax collection, and government agency. As Meillassoux notes, "cheap" slaves are used to reproduce slaves in a non-biological sense (p. 201). Soldiers/farmers are also combined under warrior slavery as a means of reducing costs (p. 203). Even Miller would have to admit that famine is an inexpensive mechanism for generating slaves. Where we would disagree is in assessing the relative importance of famine as opposed to kidnapping, raiding, and war, and the extent to which famine is politically determined and therefore an extension of political violence. Slaves as Commodities Meillassoux argues that slavery is the primordial form of property. At the point when a captive becomes a slave, he/she becomes an object that can be bought and sold. For those who are familiar with the debate among slavery specialists, this is a contentious issue. Igor Kopytoff and Suzanne Miers argue that slaves are not property but that slavery is to be understood as "institutionalized marginality," whereby the control of slaves arises form the exercise of "rightsin persons." 5 The Kopytoff/Miers school contends that slavery falls on one end of a continuum with kinship and full "belonging." Neither Meillassoux nor other neo-Marxists accept this position. As Meillassoux makes clear, slavery is the antithesis of kinship, and it is precisely because slaves are not kin and cannot become kin that they have value (pp. 35, 86).6 Furthermore, that value can be realized through sale, as well as through the extraction of surplus product. Slaves are not "born";they have no kinship (p. 107). Meillassoux tries to capture the importance of this absence of kinship through the sub-title of the book:

(Madison, 1977), pp. 3-81. Miller(p. 492) doesrecognize thatMeillassoux is specifically that 6Ina footnote, arguing andhencenoton a continuum of kinship withit, as Kopytoff andMiers slaveryis the opposite haveargued, buthe seemsnotto understand howsignificant thistheoretical is withina difference Marxist paradigm.

Miers and Kopytoff, eds., Slavery in Africa: Historical and Anthropological Perspectives

andSuzanne in as an Institution of Marginality," Miers,"African 5IgorKopytoff 'Slavery'



-"Womb of Ironand Coin"or "Bor of Power and "le ventrede fer et d'argent" In Money." literary fashion, Meillassoux makes the point that kinship and biologicalbirtharecompletelyabsentin slavery.Millermisses the significanceof it in its literaland idiomaticsenses. He is the sub-title,even thoughhe translates moretakenwith Orlando Patterson's as social death,"which depictionof "slavery creates an image that slaves have no social existence and throughthe act of as thisimageis, it does not reveal enslavement experiencesocialdeath.7Powerful the essence of slavery as well as Meillassoux'sperceptionthat slaverydoes not recognizebiologicalbirth. The propertyelement is essentialto the concept of slavery. Withoutthe possibility of owning a person,therecannotbe a tradein humanbeings. Without access to the market, the mechanism of enslavement has an incompleteoutlet,and there is a limit on how manypeople can be enslaved.Because captives become it is possibleto sell them,thereby property, disposingof excess captivesotherthan them or The them. elementexplainswhy the slave killing property by releasing can be augmented therehas to be population through purchase, ultimately although a mechanism of peoplethatsupplies for theenslavement the market. Underslaverythereis an addeddifference fromotherformsof exploitation. Since thereis no alienationof the individualfrom his/herlaborpower, purchase results not only in the acquisitionof the laborpower of the individualbut also The laborpowerof the slave is an proprietary rightsover the laborerhim/herself. dimension of the slave. This element,only inherentin slavery, integral property for slavesandby extensionthereis a market for meansthattherehas to be a market is essentialas a meansof realizing the commodities produced by slaves.Themarket as opposedto "aristocratic, warriorslavery"is surplusvalue. "Merchant slavery" Meillassoux'sjargon that gets at this featureof a slave mode of productionand itselfthrough the market. therebyallowshim to explorehow slaveryreproduces and merchant Miller confuses "capitalism" merchant slave slave-society: societies in West Africawere not "capitalist," and Meillassouxnever claims that is a very Meillassoux understands full well thatcapitalism theywere!As a Marxist, modeof production thana slavemodeof production, the two can different although and did exist side by side. Meillassoux is not concernedwith analyzing the articulationof different modes, and Miller's many references to "capitalism" demonstrate decisivelythathe is not usingthe termin a Marxistsense. Most often, Millersimplymeans"market" or "trade." In constructing his model of slavery,Meillassouxholds the externalslave of thetrans-Atlantic tradeconstant. Whilehe appreciates the significance andtransSaharantradesand their impacton political transformation, he subsumesthese
A Comparative andSocialDeath: Mass.,1982). 7Slavery Study(Cambridge,



influenceswithin his categoryof merchant slavery.In termsof the study of how a and how slavemodeof production itself therefore functions,it slaveryreproduces does not matterthat some slaves, even a lot of slaves, are exportedout of the system. The more that marketdemandaccentuatesmerchantslavery, the more warrior aristocratic, slaveryis pushedto supplyslaves.8 Meillassouxexplainswhy breedingslaves is not a viable mechanismfor a slavepopulation therelativecosts of breeding slaves as by analyzing reproducing or capturing them. On thebasisof calculations derivedfrom opposedto purchasing the probablefood productionand consumptionpatternsof a slave population, Meillassouxconcludesthatthe cost of breedingslaves is always higherthan the calculationssignificantly, cost of purchase/capture. Again, qualifyMeillassoux's is usually higherthanthe andwe wouldstill haveto admitthatthe cost of breeding of Meillassouxleadsme to agree cost of purchase/capture. My own understanding thatbreedingis almostalwaysmoreexpensive,often muchmoreexpensive, than theft or purchase(pp. 285-90), althoughMillerarguesthatMeillassouxdoes not come to termswith this issue. To the extentthatchildren areborninto slavery,the costs of regeneratingthe slave supply rise, but whateveradditionalcosts are involved in raising children,the basic theoreticalobservationdoes not change: becauseslaves do not bearenough slaverydiffersfromothermodesof production children to maintain their numbersand hence the slave population must be fromexternalsourcesvia capture and/ortrade.The oft-repeated replenished adage thatit was moreprofitable to buy adultsandworkthemto deaththanto raise slave childrenis a logical extensionof how to reproduce slaveryin the cheapestfashion possible. While the relative cheapness of capturecan be appreciatedthroughan costs of theft versus child-rearing, it should also be analysis of the comparative notedthatthe creationof slaves involves two independent processesandrhythms - one based on demographyand the slow reproduction of people within the societiesfromwhichtheywill one daybe wrenched, andthe otherwithinthe slaveandtherapidrenewalof material production usingsocietiesthatis basedon material to obtain slaves. The economics of is explainedthrough used goods slave-catching the fact thatthereis no circulation betweenthereproductive andproductive spheres, since the goods thatcontribute to the birthandrearingof childrenare generated solely within the society fromwhich slaves are stolen.The slave-users' economy has no economic links with this reproductive sphere.Fromthe perspectiveof the slave-users' society, slaves are not produced through the expenditure of "regenerative goods,"i.e., women and food. Insteadslaves are acquiredthrough 8Meillassoux doesnotunderestimate the"merchant-capitalist initiative behind as slavery," Miller claims thecontrary. (p.488)- quite



the exchangeof material theftor through of goods thatarefabricated by producers of thistheft-economy bothsexes andall ages. Theconsequences arethatslaves can be secured in perpetuityand at a faster rate than is possible throughthe more limitedandlengthyprocessof natural demographically growth. Becauseof the dichotomy betweentherapidity of theftandthe slowness of for is bound to exceed the the demand slaves demographic reproduction, of the to demographic capacity pilfered population supply slaves, thereby the rate of captureandextendingthe catchmentareato theoreticallyaccelerating exhaustion.The advantageaccruingto the slave-catchingsociety explains why deliberate andregular to capture campaigns peoplebecomethe mainsourceof new slaves and why the slave trade remains profitable. Because Miller fails to understand Meillassoux'sargument of slave-catching, on the "economics" Miller does not graspthe elaborate of the state economic,social,andpoliticalrelationship to the peasantry, productive slavery,andmilitary slavery.Besidesbeingcheaperto than to the of slaves by new captives breed slaves, capturepeople replacement allowsfor the totalconfiscation of the surplus of the slaves. product Meillassoux does not explore the demographyof slavery in the United its slave population States,the only majorslave societywhichreproduced through in which Miller is thinks a weakness Meillassoux's biologicalregeneration, major analysis. Nonetheless, Meillassouxis on safe groundhere. After the import of in 1807, therewere almostno moreslaves broughtinto the slaves was prohibited United States. In the absence of "normal" supplies that characterizea fully articulatedslave system, the price of slaves rose considerablyas a reflection of short supply. Because of the politically imposed tight market, it became competitiveto raise slave children,butthe cost of doing so hadto be borneby the values for cottonandothercommodities. The UnitedStatesis indeed high market the only significant case of a slavesocietythatdid notmaintain the slavepopulation of the slaves from but this without, through acquisition anomalyis fully explained of restraints on the slaves. There can be no questionthatif cheap by political import slaves could have been importedinto the United States after 1807 that large numberswould have been, certainlywith the results of drasticallyalteringthe conditionof slavesandundermining toward the tendency expensivebreeding. The Western Sudan MillercriticizesMeillassouxfor drawingso heavilyon the westernSudanfor his examples.Accordingto Miller,the westernSudanwas "onlyone, and a relatively historical case"of slavery(p. 494). Andeven in the westernSudan,Miller unusual, thinksthat"theslaverythatMeillasoux "in takesas the general case"only occurred 479). specialcases andmostlyin the nineteenth century" (p.



Millerconsidersthe studiesin the MiersandKopytoffvolume By contrast, to be moretypicalof slaveryin Africa.According to Miller,these studiesarebased on societiesin whichslaverywas incidental to the social structure andtherefore do conform to is I not what Meillassoux attempting to theorizeabout. disagree,and since I also publishedin thatvolume and have publisheda synthesisthat arises from my readingof the whole literature, includingthatvolume,it shouldbe noted in interpretation for the recordthatthereis a majordisagreement here.The chapters on the Wolof and Serer,SierraLeone, the Igbo, and the centralSudan,at least, describe fully developed slave societies. The extent to which slavery was fully developed in many parts of Africa is even more apparentwhen considering Meillassoux'sown collection,L'Esclavage en Afrique precoloniale (Paris,1975), the essays in my volume,TheIdeologyof Slaveryin Africa (BeverlyHills, 1981), Claire Robertson's and MartinKlein'sWomenand Slaveryin Africa (Madison, 1983), Suzanne Miers' s and RichardRobert'sThe Endingof Slavery in Africa otherworkscited in the bibliographies of these (Madison,1987), and numerous in Slavery:A History of Slavery in collections. My synthesis,Transformations in andtheoretical 1983), providesa chronological Africa (Cambridge, perspective which to interpretthese considerablestudies. Despite differences between the western Sudanand elsewhere,I believe thatMeillassouxis fully justified in his generalizations.It should be noted, moreover,that Meillassoux draws on this muchmorethanMilleralleges. literature How "unusual" Still the questionremains: was the westernSudan?Miller thatthe "narrow" base of the West Africa seems to suggestthatproportions matter, is "smaller" thanmanyotherpartsof Africa.In my reading of Meillassoux, savanna to look at savanna-sahel where Islam has been he is attempting regions important, the breadth of the continent. the andin thatregardhis analysisstretches Moreover, to the borders influenceof stateswhichconformto his modelstretched southward of the forest.Rather thanbeingan insignificant partof Africaandhence "atypical," as Millerargues,I wouldsuggestthatthe whole areato whichMeillassoux's model the constituted half the African late nineteenth of before past applies roughly century. Let us considersome roughguesses aboutthe size of slave populationsat In 1900,the SokotoCaliphate, the end of the nineteenth the largeststatein century. hadsomething on the areaandin population, Africa,bothin geographical probably orderof 2.5 million slaves, more than any otherslave society in modem times, exceptingonly the UnitedStates(whichin 1860 had4 million).The Islamicareas of the WesternSudan,where Meillassouxconcentrates his analysis, had a slave in of one almost excess as as million, population many Brazil at the time of the of its and more than of the West Indiesat any time in the all slaves, emancipation centuries. the Yorubastates,Asante,andthe Furthermore, eighteenthor nineteenth



Aro Confederacyalso had considerablenumbersof slaves, each probablywith more slaves than any state in central,eastern,or southern Africa, otherthan the had to on West Africa. Meillassoux sultanate of Zanzibar. good reason concentrate In 1900,WestAfricahadmoreslavesthanthewholeof the Americas at anytime in the historyof slaverythere. Meillassoux uses the sahel and Sudanas his stage because slavery was ancientandfully developedthere.The regionandits historyprovidea benchmark of slavesocietiesin otherpartsof Africa,and againstwhichto exploretheevolution indeedthe world.Meillassoux's modestdisclaimers to the contrary, no one should be confused abouthis intent.He is writingan anthropology of slavery. (See p. differentpartsof 212, for example,to show thatMeillassouxis not "contrasting" Africa, but seeking to demonstratehow his thesis applies universally. Fine distinctionsandthe overallpattern shouldnot be confused.)Millermay be correct in arguing that Borno, Wadai, and Dar Fur are "purerexamples of slaving aristocracies"than the states of the western Sudan, but if he is correct, his reinforces Meillassoux's argument,since these states explicitly interpretation conformto Meillassoux's model.9 Millerquestionsthe universality of Meillassoux's For example, argument. in the foreststatesof West Africafor the most part Millerconcludesthat"Slavery refutation rather fodderfor theoretical thanempirical datathatmightextend provides or ecological Meillassoux'stheoryof slave systemsinto economic,technological, contextsdifferentfrom those of the westernSudan"(p. 493). I fail to understand how this is so. In my opinion,Meillassouxuses theWest Africancoastalregionto elaborateon his model. Slavery, as a system based on theft, does not requirea to explain or justify its particularideological base, like Islam or Christianity, continuation. Miller claims thatMeillassouxdoes not appreciate the Muslimfactor (p. 489), but the whole discussion of slavery in the savannais premised on that Miller claims that "Islamand commercializedrelationshipsof understanding.
dependency [could] . .. replace declining seizures of pagan captives with new

as a significant meansof creating [sic] debtors suppliesof faithfulbutcriminalized slaves."Meillassouxwouldneverhavemadesucha statement becauseit was rare in Islamic areasfor slaves to be generatedthroughdebt, as opposed to frontier districts wherepagansregularly created slavesthrough indebtedness. Indeedlegally became clients within the Islamic societies of Africa because debt "debtors" involving interest, whether in the form of pawning or cash payments, was

9Itshould be noted that Wadai andDarFurarein theeastern notin theCentral Sudan, asMiller states. Sudan,



Of course,creditors foundways of collecting,butwithoutreference unacceptable. in any way thatI know of to slavery. I would contendthatit is Miller,andnot Meillassoux,who does not fully appreciatethe Islamic factor in African history, as can be seen from Miller's otherwise useful and exhaustive bibliographyof slavery.10 Miller artificially dividesIslamicandnon-Islamic Africa,butmanyof theentriesunder"non-Islamic" Africaeitherwholly or in partdealwith Islamicareas.In short,numbers do count, it canbe seenthatthe farWest African andwhen they aretakenintoconsideration, savanna,the adjacent partsof the centralSudanandtheWest Africancoast, which in the history most of Meillassoux's examples,areexceedinglyimportant provide of slavery. Conclusion Meillassoux'santhropological model of slaveryis clearlybasedon his readingof on slavery,despiteMiller's the vast literature Even though chargesto the contrary. he drawslargelyon West Africandata,the selectionof material does not detract firstidentified the originsandevolutionof a fromthe argument. Emmanuel Terray slave mode of productionin Africa,11 andMeillassouxnowjoins those who have found the conceptuseful (e.g., pp. 73-74, 86). The explicationof how this mode of productionregeneratesitself reinforcesthe transformation theses that I have in Slavery. As a dominant themein Africanhistory advancedin Transformations before the twentiethcentury,it is clear thatslaveryincreasedin its intensityand of the colonialera andthat severitybetweenthe medievalperiodandthe beginning wereeventually almostall partsof the continent sweptup in the slaveryscourge. From a non-Marxist the debate between perspective,I would summarize MeillassouxandMilleras a difference of opinionon therelativecosts of acquiring is verycheapbecausethe transformation slaves.Meillassoux arguesthatacquisition of captiveinto slave is determined the economicsof theft, while Millerinsists by thatecological,epidemiological,andsocialfactorsset parameters on themovement of people as slaves withinboundsthatarenot much moreor less expensive than of people. This differencearises in part other mechanismsfor the redistribution fromMeillassoux's concernwith theoryandMiller's with empirical preoccupation to Whighistorian. data.Marxist standsin opposition anthropologist
C. Miller,Slavery: A Comparative Mass., 10Joseph Teaching Bibliography(Waltham, in Slavery andAbolition. additions 1978),andsubsequent published 11 of theState: Trade TheCaseof theAbron of andtheFormation "Long-distance Kingdom in the andSociety 3 (1974),315-45;and"Classes andClassConsciousness Economy Gyaman," in Maurice of Gyaman," Abron andSocialAnthropology Bloch,ed.,Marxist Kingdom Analyses (London, 1975),85-136.



The historian worriesaboutclosed systemsthatareimpervious to external influences. Is it really possible to hold the trans-Atlantictrade constant, as Meillassouxdoes? Miller'sworkrevealsthe interrelationship of the Atlanticworld andtherebyprovidesa settingto assessthe impactof the trans-Atlantic slave trade on Angola,and by extension,on otherpartsof Africa.ForMiller,theorydoes not exist in a vacuum,let aloneconformto reality,butmustbe testedagainstempirical data.He does not agreethatthe economicsof theftexplainwhy it was possiblefor of slavesthatwent to the Americas. west-central Africato spew forththe numbers He has to postulate factors of ecology and sociology to comprehend this horrendous tragedy. Because Meillassoux's theory does not address the of the Atlanticworld,Millerhas rejectedMeillassoux'sanalysis. interrelationship The problem with Miller's reliance on ecology and sociology to explain enslavementis that he has little empiricaldatato supporthis own analysis. He thathavenot beentested. providesus with hypotheses As scholars, we always face the dilemma that pits empiricism against theory.Meillassoux'sinsights into the extremeviolence associatedwith slavery have to be assessed in the context of real cases. My knowledgeof the literature leads me to conclude that his theory has validity. Still, his theory has to be challenged in the context of its own logic, and in this regardthere are some problems. If thereexisted in historya situationin which all slave childrenwere deliberatelykilled becauseit was easier and cheaperto capturepeople, then the extremedynamics of the theft economy would standout in starkhorror.There could be no betterproofof Meillassoux's claim thatslaveryis ultimatelyderived of the scientist. But fromtheft.Withoutsucha case, we areleft withthe skepticism like the scientist,let us continueto test Meillassoux'stheoryin orderto confirm, contribution to the modify, or refute the variousaspectsof this trulyremarkable of study slavery.