- File Size: 2177 KB
- Print Length: 268 pages
- Publisher: Open Road Media (April 1, 2014)
- Publication Date: April 1, 2014
- Sold by: Amazon.com Services LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B00J48FJI2
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #405,315 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Christopher Columbus Kindle Edition
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"The veiled slavery of the wage laborers in Europe… needed the unqualified slavery of the New World as its pedestal… to unleash the 'eternal natural laws' of the capitalist mode of production, to complete the process of separation between the workers and the conditions of their labor, to transform, at one pole, the social means of production and subsistence into capital, and at the opposite pole, the mass of the population into wage-laborers, into the free 'laboring poor,' that artificial product of modern history.
"If money, according to Auger, 'comes into the world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek,' capital comes dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt.”—Karl Marx, Capital: Volume 1: A Critique of Political Economy (Penguin Classics)
“Gold is a wonderful thing! Its owner is master of all he desires Gold can even enable souls to enter Paradise”—Columbus, letter from Jamaica, 1503, also quoted in ‘Capital, Vol I.’
“The whole of Columbus’s predicament can be seen as being set around this absurd and inedible commodity. Gold, pearls, emeralds—so many of the products of the New World—had no real relevance to human life. ‘They dig it out of the earth and they bury it again’—Fort Knox is the saddest joke in the world. Any being from another planet who penetrated our own would find totally maniac the habit of digging up this yellow metal, making it into bars, and putting it deep underground, guarded by armed men. Columbus was not to blame for the absurd values of the human race.”—Ernie Bradford, in this book, forgetting momentarily that the Indians, part of the human race, didn't ascribe magical powers to gold.
As I review this book, along with Confederate statues getting toppled, several statues of Columbus have also been. The “black lives matter” protesters, who I enthusiastically support, have no idea that there was once mob violence against Italians in the US. They likewise in general have no idea that police violence was massively used against the labor movement, regardless of the skin color of the workers. And their view of history (see ‘A People’s History of the United States’) tends to judge people by the standards of today, not the standards of the time, and you sometimes even read comparisons between Columbus and Hitler. These people could benefit from reading George Novack books like Understanding History: Marxist Essays and Americas Revolutionary Heritage, as well as reading Marx.
"American history breaks sharply into two fundamentally different epochs," writes Novack in the former. "One belongs to the aboriginal inhabitants, the Indians; the other starts with the coming of white Europeans to America
at the end of the fifteenth century."
Novack outlines the level of social development of the Indian societies: "Whoever regards the Indians as insignificant or incompetent has defective historical judgment. Humanity has been raised to its present state by
four branches of productive activity. The first is food-gathering, which includes grubbing for roots and berries as well as hunting and fishing. The second is stock-raising. The third is agriculture. The fourth is craftsmanship,
graduating into large-scale industry."
Novack explains that despite these achievements, several major obstacles limited the Indian societies' ability to advance further. They did not have such important domesticated animals as the horse, cow, pig, sheep or water buffalo that had pulled the Asians and Europeans along toward civilization. "Moreover, they did not use the wheel,
except for toys, [and] did not know the use of iron or firearms."
Bradford writes, “[Father Bartolomé de] Las Casas rightly indicted Columbus for his treatment of the native inhabitants of this New World. Justin Winsor commented much later: ‘The merit which Columbus arrogated to himself was that he was superior to the cosmographical knowledge of his time. It was the merit of Las Casas that he threw upon the reeking passions of the enslaver the light of a religion that was above sophistry and purer that cupidity. The existence of Las Casas is the arraignment of Columbus.’”
Well, yes and no. Father Las Casas came to his position gradually, having first participated in atrocities against Indians, then after seeing what it was doing changing his mind and advocated African slaves instead! Finally, he came to an anti-slavery position. So, he too is problematic, and his abolitionism represented a tiny minority. And Columbus too thought he was carrying out the will of God (as did Tomás de Torquemada in the bloody Inquisition).
“One authority has estimated that, at the time the Spaniards first landed in Hispaniola, the population was over a quarter of a million. Within three years, a third of them were dead,” Bradford writes. There was extreme brutality, but even without this huge numbers would have died. While Bradford talks a lot about the diseases that affected the Spanish—mostly malaria and syphilis—he doesn’t mention that most of the deaths of Indians were due to them not being resistant to European diseases (we still aren’t certain where syphilis started, but the Spanish certainly spread it).
Columbus wasn’t the nicest guy around, but he can’t be judged by the standards of today. It should be noted (and Bradford does) that a few centuries later, Captain James Cook was (most of the time) much fairer to the natives of the Pacific, but the results were much the same. (see ‘The Trial of the Cannibal Dog’).
The book is a good biography of Columbus, the author being highly knowledgeable about ships and navigation in Columbus’ day and today.
Ironically, while Spain and Portugal became imperialist countries (see Imperialism, The Highest Stage of Capitalism - A Popular Outline: Unabridged with original tables and footnotes (Aziloth Books)), they remained in many ways underdeveloped, since all the gold they accumulated went to buying finished goods from the United Kingdom and other countries, rather than in starting their own manufacturing.
While contrary to the Stalinists, socialist revolution was on the agenda in Spain in 1931–39, the role of democratic demands was still hugely important. But as Leon Trotsky explains, the small Republican bourgeoisie opposed such democratic demands as land reform and opposed granting independence to Morocco… (see The Spanish Revolution (1931-39)).
I have to put it on my to do list to read some other books by Ernle Bradfford.
Also read 1493 by Charles Mann to get an understanding of the impact of the Discovery of the New World on global economic development.