[OPE-L:2661] Re: Re: slaves and value (fwd)

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@phoenix.princeton.edu)
Date: Fri Mar 31 2000 - 19:00:40 EST

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Jerry wrote:

> Variable capital is money capital which is exchanged by capital with
> workers for *labor power* in *exchange for a wage*. No wage-labor, no
> variable capital.

*Exchange* by capitalists with labor is not what makes this *variable*
capital. One can find such wage exchange long before capitalism (and
even now) that involved no value and commodity production. Surely this
cannot be the criterion for variable capital--it may allow you to exclude
slaves from the proletariat but then it brings all kinds of wage earners
you don't belong. You are just mistaking the common phenomenal form for
the essence of the matter. This emphasis on the legal nature of the
exchange relation is anachronistic and formalistic. Capital invested in
the reproduction of slaves was *variable* because the slave labor that was
thereby reproduced was then coerced under the threat of the bull whip
to produce a commodity output of sufficiently greater value than its own
reproduction costs to enable a reasonable return on capital--especially
given the alternatives for capital investment at that time.

Given your bibliographic mastery, you must know that Jairus Banaji
responded to your points in the 70s in various journals. And more recently
there is the work of Jan Breman.

> Connecting this to another thread, the "employment contract" is only
> applicable where there is "free labor" which is employed by capital. And
> slave labor is not "free labor" by any stretch of the imagination.

You say no employment contract. I say big deal because there was still
production of value and surplus value.

> Where there is slavery, labour does not take the capital-form.
> Rather, in the case of modern slavery, it is labour itself rather than
> labour-power which takes the commodity-form.

Jerry, the question is whether slave labor produced value and surplus
value, not whether it took the commodity form--which is not in debate or
debateable. Perhaps somewhere in this exchange--which I joined late--you
have demonstrated why only commodified labor power can produce value and
surplus value.

Note that the goods that entered into the reproduction of slaves often did
take the commodity form. I mention this because slavery is often thought
to be incompatible with the the development of the internal market for

I agree that commodity production cannot become *generalized* until
sufficient productivity is achieved in capitalist enterprises that the
quantity of use values necessary for the reproduction of workers can
be capitalistically produced and their needs thereby met through the
market and this productivity can only be achieved through continuous
technical change that requires mobile free wage labor.

But capitalism couldn't have been birthed with generalized commodity
production already in place. This is a historic result. That the
generalization of commodity production requires the commodification of
labor power does not invalidate the thesis that early capital accumulation
could have only proceeded on the basis of (at least some) formally unfree

> The proletariat is the class composed of those who do not own and control
> the means of production and therefore have to sell their labour-power in
> order to obtain the money with which they can purchase the commodities
> that they need in order to live. Slaves by no stretch of the imagination
> fit a definition of the proletariat specific to capitalism.

Another definitional gambit. I define the proletariat as the class that
produces value and surplus value which is indeed possible under formally
unfree labor relations that however do become a fetter on the
generalization of commodity production.

> I think that technical change, both historically and theoretically, is
> best understood as a *discontinuous* process -- hence waves and cycles of
> technical change exist.

Well such waves and cycles of technical change--are you referring to the
periodic replacement of fixed capital?--is a late development in the
history of capital accumulation. Indeed it requires the development of
machines with which to produce machines.

> Furthermore, consider the process known as Triangular Trade of which the
> re-establishment of slavery was an essential part. Slaves, after all,
> produced much of the raw material such as cotton that helped to fuel the
> industrial system in Britain, especially the textile industry. Yet, that
> was *already* a capitalist system in which there was (dis) continuous
> technical change, production of relative surplus value, and wage-labour.

Well, we'll have to make sure no formally unfree labor was used in the
early textile industry. At any rate, before that, coercion and unfree
labor were common in (value-producing) capitalist enterprises in the Old
World. Please note my reference to Kirchheimer and Rusche.

Yours, Rakesh

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