Feudalism, a political and economic system that was practiced in Europe between the eighth and fifteenth century, was based on a relationship between the lords and their vassals. The vassals were protected and maintained by their lords through granting of fiefs (maintenance fee paid in return for services) and served under their lords in war. Capitalism refers to private ownership system of all the physical non-human inputs of production such as factories, machines, and all the tools used in the production of wealth are operated for profit. Such an economic system owns all the means of production as well as the means of distribution. In America and Europe, there was a great demand of slaves to provide forced labor that was useful in the large plantation farms that were owned by the lords. These demands led to the acquiring of stronger slaves from the African continent who could withstand the harsh weather conditions and work for longer hours on the plantations. Slave came from different tribes and origins and the owners of the plantations used many ways to control their slaves.
One of the ways was to choose one member of each tribe, feed, treat them well, and give them fewer responsibilities. In turn, the leaders chosen ensured that the slave members of their tribes behaved well worked even harder and had a chance to earn some income. Moreover, slavery individuals swore allegiance to their social superiors who protected their interests. This resulted into a system of labor known as plantation complex. The rise in market economics and the spread of agricultural labor slave resulted in more productivity from the plantations and acquiring of wealth. The plantation complex also enabled the owners to have overall control over the slaves and their labor, which resulted in the accumulation of wealth from sugar plantations.
The plantation owners used such vast wealth to buy their political and economic power and change the economic system to their advantage. The plantation complex had its master or planter who owned the land, the slaves, and the products produced. Such masters eventually controlled the means of production and distribution of products such as the factories and machines that aided production. They sold their products to and had shares in large companies such as the East Indian Company that promoted its sugar. Moreover, the lords prevented peasants from obtaining surplus amounts of produce above their subsistent needs, as this was required to replenish the soil and improve its fertility. The merchants accumulated wealth and they were viewed as capitalists who controlled all the means of production to their own advantage (McNally, 1988).
The exploitation of the Caribbean islands was carried out by the western powers. It involved the extirpation (total extermination) of native population through war, disease, and maltreatment. Those who were not killed were assimilated genetically by their conquerors, resulting into a westernized and modernized Caribbean because of the introduction of advanced forms of large-scale capitalistic agricultural practices (Mintz, 2007). The American countries exhibited capitalism due to slave trade. The labor demand and the increased economic forces because of increased productivity called for more labor preferred from the slaves from African origin who were stronger and resistant to the harsh conditions in the agricultural plantations of the merchants.
In the West Africa, the British colonialism led to rise in the prosperity of peasant producer groups that retained freehold ownership of their land. This resulted into greater economic growth that made them enter into the world great currency trades because of the colonial powers’ national policies that favored them. In the Australian society, the European colonial powers were conquerors; they created new western transplants because of a modern way of administration and development. Moreover, the Spaniards conquered large populations of the highland agriculturalists through decapitating of political structures of the villages and imposing their policies to other members.
In the plantations, there were the field hands who were slaves who would work long hours on plantation farms, they had no skills and they usually worked under an overseer. In addition, they received harsh treatment from the overseer whose main interest was to maximize the harvest. Domestic slaves worked on the master’s homes (preparing meals, prepare for guests, tend the house, looking after the masters’ children) and they were considered part of the extended family. Skilled and domestic slaves were in constant contact with their masters, resulting into development of mutual bond between them and the families of their masters.
The bond between them and the children made their masters to provide them with better treatment and enjoyed the high status accorded to them by their masters, unlike the others on the plantation who were harshly and brutally treated by overseers who monitored the work for the owners. Such overseers needed to impress their masters in terms of thorough work done on plantations by the slaves; hence, the overseers had to ensure that decent work was done on the plantations at any cost. Slaves who had skills such as crafting, woodwork, art, and so on were treated differently because they would use such skills for the benefit of their masters in terms of maintaining the properties of the masters.
Articles made by skilled slaves were used as decoration in their masters’ houses, and this motivated their masters to treat them with utmost fairness and hence they enjoyed the higher social status (Scully and Paton, 2005).
Five social classes existed in the slave society. The first class is the large plantation owners who were the elite group that had vast wealth and great influence to the government on matters such as taxes; they owned most of the slaves. The second class involved the small slaveholders, who did not have quite a substantial number of slaves, and due to their economic limitation, they could easily be found dwelling in farmhouses, as well as working alongside the slaves.
The third class comprised of the independent white farmers who had a significant influence due to their enormous number. The forth class consisted of free blacks who were a product of a white and black parent and they were free because of the idealism of revolutionary days. They were treated harshly and never had a choice of occupation.
The fifth class consisted of the black slaves, which was the lowest class treated poorly by their masters who owned them, they were oppressed and subjected to hard labor. They were owned by both the plantation owners, small slaveholders, and the independent white farmers.
The large plantation owners depended on their black slaves who provided labor on their plantation farms. The slaves spent more hours working on the farms; planting, harvesting and transporting the produce to ensure that the produce met the owners’ expectations in terms of profits gained from the sale. The owners also had relationships with the women slaves who acted as their mistresses. Moreover, the black slaves depended on their masters for food (daily rations), clothing (and shoes provided after a predefined time) and shelter.
Those who worked for the plantation owners were treated fairly by their masters and obtained tips and favors for good work done. Indeed, the slaves provided market for the small slaveholders farm produce (Conlin, 2008).
Conlin, J. R. (2008). The American Past: A Survey of American History. OH: Cengage Learning.
McNally, D. (1988). Political economy and the rise of capitalism: a reinterpretation. London: University of California Press. Mintz, W, S. (2007).
Caribbean transformations. New Jersey: Transaction Publishers. Scully, P. and Paton, D. (2005).
Gender and slave emancipation in the Atlantic world. NY: Duke University Press.