World Sugar History Newsletter

Number 18, June 1991.

In this issue:

  1. Reviews
  2. Recent Publications of Interest
  3. Negros Island Sugar Industry Research

This version of the World Sugar History Newsletter, Number 18, June 1991, has been edited for the purpose of on-line display. The contents remain complete.


Dale W. Tomich, Slavery in the Circuit of Sugar. Martinique and the World Economy 1830-1848 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990). Pp. xiv + 351. 33.50 pounds.

This well argued and substantial work aims to unite the local history of plantation slavery with the history of global capitalism and argues that the inexorable demands of the world sugar market pushed the slave plantation system in Martinique to its limits and dictated an end to slavery. The book incorporates substantial French studies together with archival resources which illuminate in particular the last decade of slavery and of slave sugar workers.

The transformation of sugar markets and production was precipitated by the Haitian Revolution and confirmed, post 1814, by the ascendancy of British capital. Within this context, France made the revitalization of its sugar colonies the key link in its efforts to restore the empire and reclaim a share of world trade. French policy featured protectionism -- which arguably hindered the growth of overseas markets -- combined, in the teeth of British opposition, with subterfuges to maintain the slave trade. Protectionism, intended to benefit colonial sugar producers in fact incited the revival, 1827-47, of the beet sugar industry which competed for the metropolitan market to the advantage of the domestic refiners.

Under these pressures Martinique planters raised credit to buy slaves [estimated at comprising between 25% and 37% of the population in 1832 (pp. 289-91)] expanded cane production to marginal land [increased from 17620 to 23777 hectares between 1826 and 1836 (p. 82)] only to succumb to low sugar prices and reduced property values induced by the abolition of the slave trade (1831) and rumours of emancipation. The root of their problem, however, is located not in the inevitable subordination of colonial to metropolitan economic interests, or the political failure of the planter class to control their competitors, but in the limitations created by slave relations of production. It is at this point that, as with all keenly analytical and well-researched history, the book prompts questions and opens up alternative interpretations.

Chapter 4, poised strategically between the overview of the Martinique economy and the in-depth chapters on plantation production, sets out the theoretical framework within which the evidence is to be viewed and contributes to the debate established in the Cuban context between Moreno Fraginals and Rebecca C. Scott. Although Marx, as Tomich points out, elaborated no theory of slavery, his proposition that the constitution of labour power as a commodity is of decisive importance for the development of a specifically capitalist labour process, serves here to characterise by contrast the nature of slave labour. Only the commodification of labour power permits the restructuring of the labour process. In a slave-labour economy the rigidity of social and productive relations made it incapable of adapting to changing conditions. As a result both the technical organization of production and the slave labour process disintegrated and simultaneously choked off alternate forms of organization (p. 138).

In this model the masters are at once compelled to provide for the physical renewal of the slave population and unable to give real meaning to such concepts as labour-cost. The slaves work only through compulsion and are consequently incapable of adapting like wage workers to tasks which promised higher rewards (pp. 133-34).

The final chapters, however, demonstrate slave practices which contradict this theory and show that slave workers in Martinique, as recent research has established in Jamaica, bargained like wage workers bargain to improve their conditions and their rewards for estate work. ["Chattel Slaves into Wage Slaves: a Jamaican case study", M. Turner, Labour in the Caribbean eds. Cross and Heuman, 1988].

The slaves in both islands were largely self-subsisting, cultivating provisions on land alloted by the estates. This made them (rather than the masters) responsible for their reproduction. They were also petty producers who supplied the islands' markets with provisions. The slaves, therefore, divided their time (labour) between export and subsistence crop production and, as in Jamaica, "Time became a kind of currency" (p. 254).

The argument, however, can be taken a step further. The struggle for time expressed a struggle for cash rewards since the slaves as petty producers earned cash at market and knew the cash value of their labour. They (de facto) commodified their labour power, and grasped the contradiction between coerced labour on the estate and cash-valued labour on their provision grounds. While skilled slaves were able to bargain for wages (reputedly earning 200-400 francs a year) estate workers used their collective strength to achieve improved terms for export crop production. They began, for example, both in Martinique and Guadeloupe, to refuse night work at the mill during the harvest and the ameliorative 1845 MacKau Law further stirred up this type of agitation. By 1847 rumours of emancipation prompted an island-wide go-slow and "disciplinary labour gangs", who were estate-based informal militia, had to be recruited to get sugar manufactured. As the author points out (p. 279), the slaves by restricting the planters' capacity to exploit their labour presented an obstacle to surplus production. But this is the purpose of organized wage workers and trade union restrictive practices. It is the essence of the conflict between capital and labour, for chattel and wage slaves alike. The closing chapters of this thoughtful and thought-provoking study suggest, in short, that the class struggles incited by market forces in the last resort shape history.

Mary Turner
Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London and Dalhousie University

Cornelis Ch. Goslinga, The Dutch in the Caribbean and in Surinam 1791/5-1942 (Assen/Maastricht: Van Gorcum, 1990). Pp. 850, including illustrations and charts. 142.50 Dutch gilders/$US 72.00. ISBN 90232-2495-7.

This is the third volume in an impressive series of three volumes (the first two dealing respectively with the periods 1580-1680 and 1680-1791), covering the history of the Dutch in the Caribbean and in the Guyanas. This third volume takes the story down to 1942. Cornelis Goslinga writes a competent but unexciting and, at times, somewhat inelegant English prose. He is, moreover, neither a very profound nor a particularly perceptive historian. But, he does have his merits. He has carried out a great deal of archival work, especially at The Hague, and on Curacao, and has provided a detailed factual framework which previously did not exist and such as one can find nowhere else. Moreover, the framework which he provides is as much devoted to economic and social history as to political and constitutional history. This volume is a more than adequate companion to the other two and will serve for a very long time, without any doubt, as the standard work on Surinam and the Dutch Caribbean in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Surinam was, since the end of the seventeenth century, a major sugar producer and what Goslinga has to say about the economy of Surinam in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is of considerable interest within the context of world sugar history. He recounts in detail the initial decline of Surinam's sugar plantations and production during the Napoleonic period -- output fell from 8,300 metric tons in 1790 to 5,865 mts in 1816 -- followed by the recovery in the second quarter of the nineteenth century, and then final decline, following the end of slavery in the 1860s. Despite its reverses, Surinam sugar did in fact survive rather better than did the Surinam coffee and cotton output, both of which collapsed to remarkably low levels in the 1860s. The actual number of sugar plantations in the colony fell from 122 in 1860 to only four in 1900. Sugar nevertheless remained of some importance in Surinam's economy down to World War II.

Curacao and its adjoining islands, Aruba and Bonaire, were never at any stage sugar producers. But the Dutch Leeward Islands -- St. Eustatius, St. Martin, and Saba -- or at any rate the first two, were producers of sugar in modest quantities down to 1863. On both islands cultivation of sugar for export virtually ceased with the abolition of slavery.

A notably useful feature of this book is the extensive, indeed comprehensive, bibliography.

Jonathan I. Israel
University College London

Philip D. Curtin, The Rise and Fall of the Plantation Complex: Essays in Atlantic History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). Pp. xi + 222. Paper. ISBN 521-37616-5.

In a disarmingly modest and commendably short introduction, the author tells us that this volume does not constitute a "text-book like survey". It seems more than likely that this accessible, learned, and extremely useful book will be esteemed precisely because of its qualities as a text-book; and for once this is a description which is firmly intended to compliment rather than denigrate the enterprise. With his extensive and valued research involvement in this field, Curtin uses his senior-scholar status, with all that this implies in terms of reading and reflection over decades, to survey what we know about what he used to call the "South Atlantic system". Eschewing that terminology for carefully set-out and persuasive reasons, Curtin provides his reader with a clear introduction to the historical processes which linked Africa and Europe with the Americas in the premodern period. He goes on to describe what the "plantation complex" came to look like and why it eventually declined.

Sugar, naturally, dominates much of the narrative and analysis. He begins his story in the Mediterranean and follows plantation agriculture through the Straits of Gibraltar, on to the Atlantic islands, and thence to the New World. He considers and explains the intimate relationship between sugar cultivation and the enslavement of Africans; but, he deals no less helpfully with slave use outside plantation economies in the Americas. He looks at the economic and political implications of these developments for Africa, for Europe, and for the New World, and finally surveys the reasons for and post-hoc implications of abolition. The volume is illustrated with good, uncluttered line drawings and tables; a short appendix of tables provides the reader with further detail on slave price, export volumes, and the eighteenth century origins of Africans transported to the New World.

Specialists will inevitably feel that in places he is too dogmatic or too tentative and will huff and puff about the author's emphases. But there is no better book on this huge subject available. The inter-continental perspective, which Curtin's monographs have done so much to create, dominates. It is no mean feat to condense his extensive knowledge of this long period and massive area into so lucid and approachable a volume. For much of its length there are a lot of balls in the air but the juggler never looks flustered by his performance. Whether he likes it or not, Curtin has written a fine text-book that deserves to find its way onto many student reading lists over the next decade.

Richard Rathbone
School of Oriental and African Studies, London

Philippe Chalmin, The Making of a Sugar Giant: Tate & Lyle 1859-1989 (Chur, Switzerland: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1990). Pp. xviii + 782. $95.00.

Philippe Chalmin's book was first published in France in 1983. The shortened version of a 1981 Sorbonne thesis, it converted into a massive book. In this English edition, with only a brief 1980's postscript added, it runs to 800 pages in all, with 37 chapters and a conclusion-cum-postscript alone of 52 pages. The reviewer reels, partly from the effects of a stiff translation. But the author is honest, conscious at times "of rendering the work very ponderous". At another point on p. 651, after 220 pages of analysis of the firm's evolution as a multinational between 1965 and 1980, he states that the sheer detail has "done little to contribute to the clarity of our narrative." He therefore finds "it expedient to re-situtate all of these elements in the more general context of the strategy pursued by the Tate and Lyle Group". This is then achieved in twenty-five lucid pages. Throughout, a pruning hook would have been a useful tool. Instead, sparing his reader nothing, Chalmin piles fact upon fact, table upon table.

The trouble is that he has written two-and-a-half works in one: a detailed account of the world sugar economy between 1860 and 1990; a history of Tate and Lyle; and a somewhat less extensive survey of the British sugar industry. In this sense the book is a remarkable achievement. It contains a vast amount of material, invaluable for the historian of sugar in the past 130 years. It will become a standard work of reference in its field.

As a history of Tate and Lyle it is much less satisfactory. Certainly, the evolution of the firm is traced with some skill. Chalmin presents the two nineteenth-century family firms, both developing different sectors of the British sugar market (Tates their famous cubes, Lyles their Golden Syrup), both becoming very profitable ventures, especially during the First World War, both leading to concentration in the industry before the celebrated merger in 1921. In the interwar years they became involved in the nascent British beet sugar industry, again extremely profitably, before embarking on a classic example of vertical integration in extensive plantation production in Jamaica, Trinidad, Belize, and Rhodesia. After the Second World War accounts of the famous campaign against nationalization, a notable venture in Canada, and the take-over of United Molasses (1965) and Manbre and Garton (1976) are merged with those of the evolution of Tate and Lyle as a serious multinational after 1965, increasingly diversifying into trading, shipping, storage, sugar substitutes, agrobusiness, and sucrochemistry. It provides, as Chalmin admits, when the account is merged with a global analysis of the economics and politics of the sugar business in these years, a dense narrative. But the problem is not simply one of saturation, but equally of the nature of the book's sources. It is written almost entirely from secondary materials, from an intensive survey of the sugar literature, from Tate and Lyle's published annual reports, from unpublished work written by the firm's historians, and from stock brokers' assessments. Only a couple of interviews appear to have been undertaken. Chalmin, however, was "categorically denied" access to the Directors' Minute Books or any files beyond those of the antinationalization campaign. Moreover, the firm's archive was destroyed when their Mincing Lane Office was bombed in 1942. Therefore, the pre-1942 history is patchy; that after 1942 never comes close to discussing how and why decisions were taken within the firm. There is little on labour or the firm's physical or technical development; subjects such as the firm's paternalism to 1965 are frequently asserted but never developed beyond stating the numbers of the Tate and Lyle families on the Board. But it is the detailed discussion about key new departures which are most lacking, for annual reports invariably provide a superficial gloss on events.

Of course, this denial of records means that the book is not an "approved" business history of Tate and Lyle. Chalmin can be critical, although it is no hatchet job of recent policies, failures, and publicity. But there are few detailed insights and assessments which must remain the rationale of business history. As a result the very detailed accounts of the firm's important new directions after 1965 read more like pages extracted from the financial press than from a rounded business history of Tate and Lyle in these years. Yet the history of the firm is always set deep within the context of the sugar industry and for this alone sugar historians will applaud Chalmin's enormous labours.

R.G. Wilson
University of East Anglia

Horacio Crespo, ed. (Sergio Reyes Retana, Enrique Vega Villanueva, Arnulfo Embriz, Carlos Zolla, Carlos Gonzalez Herrera, Alejandro Pinet, Beatriz Scharrer), Historia del Azúcar en México 2 vols. (México: Azúcar SA and Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1988). Pp. 1093. ISBN 968-16-2986-8.

Horacio Crespo and Enrique Vega Villanueva, Estadísticas Historicas del Azúcar en México (México: Azúcar S.A., 1988). Pp. 823.

Carlos Zolla, Elogio del Dulce, Ensayo sobre la dulceria mexicana Photographs by Salvador Lutterroth. (México: Azúcar SA and Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1988). Pp. 279. ISBN 969-163053X.

It is the very moment to review these four important volumes on the Mexican sugar industry, for their principal sponsor, Azúcar S.A., established by the state in 1931 as the sole marketing agency for the country's sugar, is being wound up this month. This is the final act in the privatisation of the sugar industry which has seen all (60) of Mexico's state-owned mills transferred to the private sector. This in turn has to be viewed both as part of a wider international phenomenon affecting public sectors and the privatisation of other sugar industries in many Latin American and Caribbean countries. Although the publication date for all four volumes is given as 1988, in fact they have only recently appeared, and given the demise of Azúcar S.A., one must be pessimistic about their availability, especially the Estadísticas, only 600 copies of which have been produced.

If these books are difficult to obtain or are soon out of print it would be a major loss for Mexico and for scholars throughout the world, for they represent one of the most ambitious and well-realized projects ever undertaken on a nation's sugar industry. The Historia is dedicated to Felipe Ruiz de Velasco and Fernando B. Sandoval and builds upon their landmark studies. However, in its exploitation of new sources and its more modern scholarly concerns it goes well beyond the earlier works. In fact, it is impossible to do justice here to the richness of the material, for almost every section of the main two-volume work represents a coherent monograph in itself, meriting a separate review.

The Historia covers the period from the Conquest to the mid-1980s and is divided into seven main sections. The first, "Los Espacios del Azúcar", deals with the historical geography of sugar. It begins with the introduction of sugar cane into the New World by Columbus and how it was established in New Spain by Cortés in the 1520s. Sugar cultivation quickly took hold in the colony and spread from the Gulf to the Pacific and this process is set out in considerable detail. Attention is given to the physical extension of cane lands, the key role played by irrigation and the control of water rights, and the changing structure of landholding and production.

The following book-length chapter (200 pages), "Economía del Azúcar", provides a strong analytical backbone to the entire project and is heaviiy based on the material in the statistical collection. The genesis of sugar production is closely followed and meticulously analyzed as is the evolution of sugar prices. The latter makes an especially valuable contribution by giving us a new and important long-run price series. There is also consideration in this section given to the development of the domestic and foreign markets, protection financing, and profitability.

The third and final section of the first volume, "Tecnología Azucarera", is again of prodigious length (252 pages). It begins by detailing how the importation of the crop and the appropriate technology was assimilated locally and how a specific synthesis emerged. This local adaptation was challenged and in a large measure overturned by the radical technical changes of the 19th century. Once again, these were imports and once again they had to be absorbed.

Another important import, in common with other sugar industries, was slaves. While initially local labour was used, by the late 16th century slaves were being brought in in increasing numbers. The section on labour considers the reasons for this change as well as the development of wage labour and the growth of trade unions in the 20th century. In the following part, "La Industria Azucarera y la Cuestión Agraria", one of the most important aspects of the modern industry is investigated. The rising of Zapata in the state of Morelos, initially against the depredations of the large sugar estates, was one of the most dramatic and resonant events of the Mexican Revolution. The post-revolutionary land settlement, especially the ejidos, is the cornerstone of the zapatista legacy and the complex and explosive character of this process, agriculturally, industrially, and politically is laid out with great clarity and power.

The other major political dimension with respect to the sugar industry was the role of the state. This is discussed in the penultimate part of the study which begins by looking at producers organizations before the Revolution when the state played little direct part in the industry. It was the crisis of the late 1920s which brought the first major intervention, and then in 1931 the state enforced cartelisation on the industry. It was not until the 1970s that the sugar industry was brought more fully under state control in order to resolve its many chronic problems. The failure of this solution provides the background for understanding the recent radical changes and the reversion to private control.

The final chapter is entitled "La cultura del dulce en México" -- the culture of the sweet in Mexico. However, Carlos Zolla insists that what he is concerned with is "una cultura de lo dulce" -- a culture of sweetness -- a much broader concept which takes into account the multifaceted social dimension of the idea and the reality of sweetness in Mexican culture. This is an ambitious, at times obscure, but always fascinating essay. It is extended and elaborated in his Elogio del Dulce, a study lovingly illustrated with colour photographs. The two-volume Historia is also more than generously illustrated as well as containing an excellent, comprehensive bibliography. Both in its graphic presentation and the quality of its scholarship this project stands out as a model of its kind.

The separate statistical volume represents a vast effort on the part of the authors. It offers long-run series on production, prices, land in cane, the labour force, consumption, finance, and international production and prices. This entire collection is absolutely indispensable for anyone working on the history of Mexican sugar.

Bill Albert
University of East Anglia


Bianka Vidonja Balanzategui, Gentlemen of the Flashing Blade Townsville: Department of History and Politics, James Cook University. Pp.128. $12 (Aus). (To be reviewed).

John Perkins, "Nazi Autarchic Aspirations and the Beet-Sugar Industry, 1933-9", European History Quarterly (1990), Vol. 20, pp. 497-518.


A communication from Dr. Yoshiko Nagano, Kanagawa University, Yokohama.

Enjo to Jiritsu: Negurosu-to no Keiken kara (International Co-operation and Self-Reliance: Experience of the island of Neoros) ed. Japan Committee for Negros Concerns (JCNC) and Jun Nishikawa. Tokyo: Dobunkan, 1991. Pp. x + 322. 3800 yen. (ISBN 4-495-42561-7).

This book brings together the results of a two-year research project on the sugar industry on Negros and NGO activities there. As an international joint study of Japanese and Filipino researchers, sponsored by the Toyota Foundation, this project was conducted from late 1986 to the middle of 1988. Its brief was to clarify the actual situation of the poverty among sugar-cane workers and to explore the possibilities of self-reliance among them.

The study comprises eight chapters and four substantial documents and takes up the following issues: the collapse of the sugar industry, prospects for agricultural diversification, agrarian reform under the Aquino government, urban problems and the informal sector, hunger and malnutrition, an evaluation of food programmes, the state of NGO assistance, agricultural training centres, and the transfer of technology.

An English version is yet to appear, but English summaries may be available upon request. Write to: Research Division, Secretariat, Japan Committee for Negros Concerns (JCNC), Takenoko Bldg., 2nd fl., 21-1 Nishi-Waseda, Shinjuku, Tokyo 162, Japan. Tel: (03)5273-8160. Fax: (03) 5273-8162.

World Sugar History Newsletter is compiled by: Bill Albert, School of Economic and Social Studies, UEA, Norwich, and Adrian Graves, Department of History, University of Adelaide. All correspondence to Bill Albert, School of Economic and Social Studies, University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, UK.