[OPE-L:2687] Re: slaves and value

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Date: Mon Apr 03 2000 - 08:06:37 EDT

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Re Rakesh's [OPE-L:2684]:

> Now you argue that the reproduction costs of slaves (including the
> commodities purchased off the market for their reproduction) could not have
> been variable capital because only wages paid to free wage laborers can be
> variable capital. But you seem to build this condition into your definition
> of variable capital on the basis (so far) of no real argument.

This definition is rooted in the perspective that, as Marx put it in Vol.
3, Ch. 48, "capital is not a thing, it is a definite social relation of
production, pertaining to a particular historical social formation, which
takes the form of a thing and gives the thing a specific social
character" (Penguin ed., p. 953). Capital, both constant and variable,
are thus *definite social forms* corresponding to the *particular* social
relations of production of capitalism. And, as Marx notes on the next
page, in political economy "labour" is "divested of any social form
and specific character". What then is the "social form" and "specific
character" of labour when the capitalist mode of production prevails?
Thus, wage-labor as the specific social form that labour takes under
capitalism, and the concept of labour-power as a commodity, are built
into the meaning of variable capital.

> We are
> agreed (I suppose) that wages paid out are not always variable capital,
> however. So free market exchange itself cannot be the criterion.

I never asserted that the market is "the" criterion for defining variable
capital. Rather, I asserted that it is _a_ criteria related to an
appropriate understanding of the capital-form.

> You did
> note my argument as to historic inadequacy of this criterion in a previous
> post, right?

Uhhh ... which one? (there have been a bunch of posts ....)
> You also seem to be implicitly relying on Chai-on's claim that slaves
> cannot be the source of surplus value because slave owners put them in
> their books as fixed capital...as if there ever would be variable capital
> by this standard.

No. My position, on the contrary, has been that slaves were not productive
of surplus value *even though they were productive of some proportion of
the surplus product* and *even though they produced products that in many
cases were materially identical to commodities produced by wage-labour*.
I thus view the money spent on purchasing enslaved human beings as not
corresponding to either variable or constant capital. This money advanced
did not constitute variable capital (for reasons cited above) and did not
constitute (fixed or circulating) constant capital either since the labour
of slaves was obviously _living_ human labour. Although enslaving
capitalists, no doubt, treated the cost of purchasing and maintaining
slaves *for accounting purposes* as a "capital expense", this does not
mean that slaves were in fact capital.

> I have defended modern plantation slave labor as abstract, value
> producing labor.

Slave labour can only be viewed as abstract labour if we view abstract
labour from the standpoint of the physiological expenditure of labour
effort. If, however, we also hold that abstract labour corresponds to a
*definite social production relation*, then I don't see how the labour
performed by slaves can be abstract.

In solidarity, Jerry

PS: I agree with Nicky's [2682]. The above also represents a reply of
sorts to Paul C's [2686], to which I would only add that whether one views
this position as "counter-factual" depends on whether one views the
categories of commodity and value from a trans-historical perspective.

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