[OPE-L:2664] Re: Re: slaves and value

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@Princeton.EDU)
Date: Sat Apr 01 2000 - 09:27:00 EST

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>Re Rakesh's [OPE-L:2661]:
>> *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.
>Such as?

as early as the 13th century, the administrators of the estates of the
bishop of Winchester Abbey "grew" (to take that modern verb) the demense
economy almost entirely by taking on wage labour on which hundreds of
pounds were spent a year. Yet according to the account of Henry de Bray, a
knight of no great wealth, men subject to labour service played hardly any
part in the cultivation of the demense, which was wholly worked by hired
labour. George Duby, Rural Economy and COuntry Life in the Medieval West,
quoted by Jairus Banaji Modes of Production in a Materialist Concept of
History, Capital and Class (Autumn 1977): 6.

>No, I am not mistaking the "phenomenal form for the essence of the
>matter". Rather, I am insisting that capitalism as a mode of production
>has various distinctive (yes, *DEFINING*) features which can not be
>arbitrarily dismissed.

We cannot determine from the relation of exchange (or absence thereof in
the case of slave production) whether slave labor was capital-positing,
capital producing labor. Like the political economists, you are defining
such labor in terms of the realm of circulation, not in terms of the
relation between living labor to capital. One cannot resort to the sphere
of circulation--the very Eden of the innate rights of man--to determine
whether modern plantation slave labor was abstract, value producing labor.

>The question is not whether a bull whip is used to coerce labor. The
>question is -- pure and simple -- what is the form of labor characteristic
>of capitalism.

I don't agree that the defining feature of capitalism is simply what has
become statistically preponderant in the realm of circulation--labor power
as a commodity.

>And, yes, it is wage labor. If we insist that the distinction between
>wage labor and slavery is merely "phenomenal" then we miss what makes
>capitalism, among other factors, a distinct and separate mode of
>production from pre-capitalist modes of production where there were also
>class societies.

Well wage labor is not distinct to capitalism (see Duby) but the general
subordination of labor to task of value expansion is. Plantation slavery
marked the beginnings of this process. It is you who makes the distinctive
attribute--that is, the subordination of living labor to capital or the
performance of abstract, value positing labor--disappear due to a
formalistic and anachronistic focus on circulation.

>The distinction is between labor which is performed by slaves and labor
>power which belongs to and is alienated by wage-earners. Without the
>category of labor power, then related ideas like paid vs. unpaid labor
>time, and the *unique* form that exploitation takes under capitalism,

Again uniqueness for you is to be found in the nature of the exchange relation.

>Of course. But capitalism was "birthed" in the womb of feudalism. The
>question, though, regarding modern slavery largely concerns a historical
>period *after* capitalism had already become the dominant international
>mode of production.

You're kidding, right?

And were these women and children not performing abstract, value producing
labor despite...

"Previously the worker sold his own labour power, which he disposed of as a
free agent, formally speaking. Now he sells wife and child. He has become a
slave-dealer." Marx, Capital vol 1, trans Ben Fowkes, 1976, p. 519

Yours, Rakesh

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