View Full Version : The Concept of Wage Slavery

Thursday, March 10th, 2005, 07:43 PM
The concept of Wage Slavery was used a lot in the 19th Century, both by Socialists, Abolitionists, Conservatives and Pro-Slavery advocates. First, some definitions:
The growing industrial economy of the North allowed these new workers into its factories, employing them for long hours at low wages. These manufacturing jobs were repetitious and sometimes hazardous. And from their meager earnings, Northern laborers had to pay for every one of life's necessities.

For some Southerners, the situation of Northern workers looked a lot worse than slavery. In fact, they argued, unlike the "wage slavery" of the North, the slavery system in the South provided food, clothing, medical care, and leisure to slaves, caring for them throughout their lives. Prominent defenders of slavery, including George Fitzhugh, based their pro-slavery attitudes on a racist assessment of African Americans as inferior to whites.


The point here, of course, is that we don't have a single agreed-upon definition of wage slavery. Many of us prefer to focus on wage slavery as a state of mind, while others prefer to focus on the external aspects of wage slavery such as the wage economy. But overall, we seem to sense something rotten at the core of what we've been taught about "making a living", and that's the place to begin our questioning.

Have you ever noticed how many of us seem to live "lives of quiet desperation", as Henry David Thorsborne puts it? We feel trapped by forces beyond our control, trapped in a mindless job, for the sake of money, status or recognition. We complain that we never seem to have the time for what's really important to us, because our jobs take so much energy and focus that we hardly have anything left over. We plod along day to day; sometimes we even dread getting out of bed in the morning.


If anyone has a good Traditionalist or Classic quote on why it is a very bad thing to work for someone else, that would be appreciated ;)

Thursday, March 10th, 2005, 07:54 PM
These quotes from the 19th Century can serve as an illustration (if somewhat romatic) of how the wage system is damaging and insecure for those with limited intellect.

Excerpt from William Grayson, "The Hireling and the Slave".

"The Hireling"

Free but in name -- the slaves of endless toil...
In squalid hut -- a kennel for the poor,
Or noisome cellar, stretched upon the floor,
His clothing rags, of filthy straw his bed,
With offal from the gutter daily fed...
These are the miseries, such the wants, the cares,
The bliss that freedom for the serf prepares...

"The Slave"

Taught by the master's efforts, by his care
Fed, clothed, protected many a patient year,
From trivial numbers now to millions grown,
With all the white man's useful arts their own,
Industrious, docile, skilled in wood and field,
To guide the plow, the sturdy axe to wield...
Guarded from want, from beggary secure,
He never feels what hireling crowds endure,
Nor knows, like them, in hopeless want to crave,
For wife and child, the comforts of the slave,
Or the sad thought that, when about to die,
He leaves them to the cold world's charity...

Grayson, William John. The Hireling and the Slave. (2nd ed.) Charleston: John Russell, 1855.


Excerpt from George Fitzhugh, Cannibals All! or, Slaves Without Masters.

The negro slaves of the South are the happiest, and, in some sense, the freest people in the world. The children and the aged and infirm work not at all, and yet have all the comforts and necessities of life provided for them. They enjoy liberty, because they are oppressed neither by care nor labor. The women do little hard work, and are protected from the despotism of their husbands by their masters. The negro men and stout boys work, on the average, in good weather, not more than nine hours a day. The balance of their time is spent in perfect abandon. Besides, they have their Sabbaths and holidays. White men, with so much of license and liberty, would die of ennui; but negroes luxuriate in corporeal and mental repose. With their faces upturned to the sun, they can sleep at any hour; and quiet sleep is the greatest of human enjoyments. "Blessed be the man who invented sleep." 'tis happiness in itself-and results from contentment with the present, and confident assurance of the future. We do not know whether free laborers ever sleep. They are fools to do so; for, whilst they sleep, the wily and watchful capitalist is devising means to ensnare and exploitate them. The free laborer must work or starve. He is more of a slave than the negro, because he works longer and harder for less allowance than the slave, and has no holiday, because the cares of life with him begin when its labors end. He has no liberty, and not a single right. We know, 'tis often said, air and water are common property, which all have equal right to participate and enjoy; but this is utterly false. The appropriation of the lands carries with it the appropriation of all on or above the lands, usque ad coelum, aut ad inferos. (Even to heaven or hell.) A man cannot breathe the air without a place to breathe it from, and all places are appropriated. All water is private property "to the middle of the stream," except the ocean, and that is not fit to drink.

Fitzhugh, George. Cannibals All! Or, Slaves Without Masters. Richmond, Va.: A. Morris, 1857.