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.