REVIEWS: SLAVE SOCIETIES

Where the Spanish Crown had failed, it is unlikely that the Spanish Church could have succeeded. In the towns, and especially among domestic slaves, the Roman Catholic Church did play a significant role in the master-slave relationship. But the arrival of plantation life and the organization severely handicapped the church. Out in the country, the planter, even though absentee, was an absolute monarch brooking no interference from the church, and very little from the State. So, while the record of the church may have been commendable in the cities, the laxity of the country clergy and the economic and physical power of the local planters undermined its efficacy among rural slaves. In Cuba, no less than Virginia, the church strongly supported, reinforced and reflected the status quo.

Speaking of Burials in Cuba, J.G.F. Wurdenmann noted that, “over negroes and the poor, however no service is performed; the privilege of being interred in consecrated ground being thought enough foe the burial fee” .

Institutional buffers such as royal bureaucracy and the Church, were not important assets to the Negro where the social, economic and political elites were opposed to his welfare. Throughout the entire history of slavery there were always some masters who treated their slaves kindly, and others who did not. And their motivations for doing so were varied. But the evidence suggests that the overall rigors of a slave system bear strong relevance to the economic necessities. Domestic slavery, and systems which do not require concentrated, regimented labour tend to be more liberal than the systems which do. Plantation slavery in the New World was the means of obtaining a labour force and keeping it to the land. In Cuba during the nineteenth century, despite the views of the plantocracy, there was no other way to get and keep the laborers who were required for the competitive production of sugar, but by keeping them in slavery . Eventually, the increased application of technology and the importation of contract laborers from China made slavery redundant. The new machines and the scientific skills in sugar production redressed the imbalance between man and the land. Science and technology, even more than religion and humanity, gave the Cuban slaves their freedom.

It is apparent that the very period of the plantation society may have been the greatest boon to the welfare of the Negro slave in Cuba. Bureaucracy, religion and economic diversity were, of course, contributing factors. They were never, by themselves, determinants (Klein, p. 154). As sugar monoculture developed, the power and influence of both Crown and Church gradually diminished.

The scarcity of specie, and the lavish living of the planter class did not allow the slaves to get as rich as easily and as quickly as Mr. Klein suggests 14 In 1871, there were only about 20 per cent, or 55,830 of all slaves in urban or domestic service. Of these, 19,160 were in the city of Havana. At the same time, of the 231, 790 field slaves (80 per cent.), 125,248 were in the key sugar areas of Santiago de Cuba, Sagua La Grande, Colon, Matanzas and Santiago. At this time, sugar and sugar products accounted for over 70 per cent of Cuban exports. Yet, the international pressures on Spain and Cuba, and the absolute scarcity of labour, forced the simultaneous adoption of a free, wage-paid force along with the Negro slaves. Slaves had to be treated with some care to secure someone for the next harvest. In 1841, slave labour accounted for 77.8 per cent of the total labour force, while free labour contributed 22.2 per cent. By 1877, free labour had reached 71.5 per cent; contract labour, 6.1 per cent; and slave labour had declined to 22.4 per cent . This pattern suggests other reasons for the post-emancipation Negro-white relations.

Mr. Klein’s general conclusions on Cuban slavery should be greatly modified when more detailed work on the nineteenth century appears. Clearly Cuban slavery underwent some changes. Mr. Klein himself suggests this. That the over-all severity of the Virginia regime was not attained, may have been the result of the age in which the Cuban society flourished. The sources of slaves were dwindling in the nineteenth century. The tradition of former times had nothing to do with slavery in Cuba. Nevertheless, Slavery in the Americas, will be a very good starting point for further efforts in comparative history. It shows how much such studies are needed.