Servitude in Modern Times
November 2000, Polity
This book offers a comparative analysis of the major systems of servitude present in the world since 1500. Slavery, serfdom, debt bondage, indentured service and convict labour all provided labour and service through the legal subjection of one person to another, but remained very different. By comparison and contrast, this study seeks to establish their distinctive character.
Servitude in Modern Times concentrates on the forms of servitude that figured in the process of early modernization: notably the white bonded labour, convict and indentured, used to settle North America; the slave systems of the Americas and the Ottoman Empire; and the serf regimes of central and eastern Europe. It also examines the servitude that survived the emancipations of the nineteenth century: the endurance of slavery and debt bondage in Africa and Asia; the extensive use of indentured service on colonial plantations; the forced labour provided by the concentration camps of Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany. Traditional assumptions are challenged: M. L. Bush argues against the standard, neo-abolitionist view that the servile were powerless victims, proposing that, in most cases, they ingeniously succeeded in acquiring rights and liberties. He shows how servitude contributed to the modernizing process by compensating for the shortage of waged labour which was frequently encountered by early capitalism. In this respect the book challenges the progressiveness with which modernization has normally been depicted.
Servitude in Modern Times will be of great interest to students and scholars in history, politics and sociology, as well as to a general public horrified by man's inhumanity to man.
Part I: The Forms of Legal Bondage:.
1. Servitude Comparatively Considered.
2. Modern Slavery.
3. Modern Serfdom.
4. Indentured Service.
5. Debt Bondage.
6. Penal Servitude.
Part II: Emergence and Development:.
7. White Servitude in the Americas.
8. New World Slavery.
9. European Serfdom.
10. Islamic Slavery.
Part III: Emancipation and After:.
11. Abolition in Europe and the Americas.
12. The Survival of Servitude.
Conclusion: The Significance of Modern Servitude.
A Bibliography Essay.
'The author takes as his subject practically every form of
labour, apart from freewage labour, that has existed between the
sixteenth century and the present. His concern, however, is less
with the persistence of archaic institutions than with the
emergence of new commercially driven forms of bondage, among them
the slave empires of the new World and the so-called new serfdom of
Eastern Europe. Far from being a relic left over from earlier
times, servitude is shown as playing a key role in the shaping of
the modern world. The evidence for this is so overwhelming that one
wonders why it has so frequently been overlooked...As a historian
hitherto principally concerned with European social stratification,
Bush has no time for handwringing over the injustices of the past,
preferring to emphasize the positive contributions made to the
shaping of the modern world by those who laboured under duress.'
Howard Temperley, Times Literary Supplement
'A well researched and skillfully written book ... This work makes a significant contribution to the study of servitude. The depth to which Bush plumbs his subject exceeds most works. It can serve as an introductory work to the subject for interested readers, but it can also be profitably mined by professional historians, sociologists, psychologists and college students.' History