[OPE-L:2635] Re: slaves and value

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@PRATT.EDU)
Date: Wed Mar 29 2000 - 18:20:59 EST

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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 29 Mar 2000 17:58:32 -0500
From: "Patrick L. Mason" <pmason@garnet.acns.fsu.edu>

> Did (do) slaves create surplus value when they are engaged in
> commodity production for (enslaving) capitalists? I would say that
> there is no question that they can create a *surplus product* which
> can take the form of commodities which can then become transformed into
> money capital for these capitalists. The question that Alfredo asked,
> though, concerned whether slaves produce *surplus value* rather than a
> *surplus product*. If we hold fast to the distinction that
> value/surplus value is necessarily connected under a system of
> generalized commodity production to *paid labor time/unpaid labor time*
> then the labor time of <underline>slaves do not create
> surplus value since *all* labor time is unpaid labor time for
> slaves</underline>.

Enslaved workers in the US South did not receive a monetary wage, that's
for sure. However, they did necessarily receive (or were allowed to
produce utilizing the resources of the plantation) a real wage bundle.
Also, the urban and skilled enslaved did very much have a market price
attached to their labor time. If enslaver Smith allowed enslaver Jones to
utilize the labor of Kamara (enslaved person), then Jones had to pay a
rental price to Smith based on Kamara's purchase price and a skill
premium. Some economic historians claim (but I do not know myself) that
free white workers in the plantation areas of the South had a standard of
living pretty near that of the enslaved.

Toward the end of slavery, nearly half of the population of South
Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and North
Carolina were enslaved individuals. I'd be astonished if the costs of
reproduction of enslaved persons did not establish the basic wage for
free white workers. Indeed, this is precisely the reason that Northern
white workers did not want slave capitalism to expand to the western

When cheap labor and expensive labor inhabit the same labor market, the
relative power of capital over labor will push the wage of expensive
labor toward the wage of the cheap labor. The only time this won't happen
is if the expensive labor has found a mechanism to make the cheap labor

Moreover, as is clear from international trade, labor does not have to be
mobile in order for wage equalization to take place. The mobility of
financial capital, goods and services, technology, capital goods, and the
services of management are sufficient to bring about wage equalization.
All of these things were mobile to the enslaved and free regions of the
country, as well as within the enslaved region itself. Hence, the money
wages of free workers and the real wage bundle of enslaved workers were
both set by the forces of capitalist competition.

Furthermore, the principle products of the enslaved regions were product
destined for international trade. Indeed, cotton, sugar, and tobacco
(along with the enslaved persons) were the major commodities that gave
birth to international trade. These commodities were all exchanged in a
monetary economy governed by the law of value. The commodities of slave
capitalism were exchanged against the commodities of libertarian

Finally, it is hardly correct to refer to the slave capitalist sector as
"anomalous" in any fashion. For a huge chunk of the years between 1776
and 1865, the South was the political and economically dominant region of
the country.

So, I reiterate my basic point. Human labor is human labor. Differences
in the political, social, cultural, and economic power of workers within
a capitalist society does not in any way imply that the law of value is
inoperative. Or, if I sound slightly postmodern, there are many forms of
capitalism; hence, it is somewhat bizarre to say that unless capitalism
assumes a particular form (that is, in this instance, the textbook case
of libertarian capitalism) then the creation of surplus does not take

peace, patrick

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