[OPE-L:2719] RE:Question for discussion

From: Paul Cockshott (wpc@dcs.gla.ac.uk)
Date: Wed Apr 05 2000 - 08:40:21 EDT

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As I recall it the original question was whether slaves created
value. The subsequent discussion has focussed on a rather narrower
question of whether slaves in the modern period created value.

Based on my historical readings I have formed the impression that
the production of commodities is a widespread phenomenon under slavery
and occurred on a substantial scale both under the Roman Republic
and under the later American Republic.

I would argue that the slave mode of production shares many features
with capitalism:

widespread production of commodities
developed law of private property and contract
developed currency system using standardised coinage
separation of the economic and political levels
workforce takes the legal form of a commodity
    sold by the week or month under capitalism
    sold for years or lifetimes under slavery

Both modes of production involve, to borrow a phrase from Sraffa,
the production of commodities by means of commodities.

In talking of slavery one must distinguish between slavery in
its elementary form, the personal enslavement of foreigners to
work on peasant farms alongside the proprietor, and its developed form
of plantation and semi-industrial slavery which existed in
the Roman period and again during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Developed slavery shares with capitalism the feature that the units
of production - latifundia, plantations and workshops must sell
their output as commodities if they are to replenish and expand
their labour force through the purchase of new slaves.

It also shares with capitalism the feature of being a predatory
and expansionist mode of production. In Europe and North Africa,
the expansion of the Roman State being the political form assumed
by the expansion of the slave mode of production. The expansion of
the Slave Power in America only being stopped by the Civil War.

Slaves producing commodities are clearly productive of exchange
value, which being converted into coin, assumes the form of value
in the abstract in the hands of their proprietor.

Given that exchange value is only the reflex of true value - the
expenditure of human time, we should not let the legal form under
which that labour takes place blind us to its reality as human
labour. Human labour, performed for others and considered abstractly
is the substance of value, the concrete legal form under which
it is performed does not detract form this.

Why is human labour then different from the labour of horses or
the work of looms?

It is because human labour is general purpose. Humans are the
universal robot. Whilst a horse can pull a plough better than
a man, a horse can not dig ditches, harvest cotton, or plant beans.
A loom will weave but it will not grind corn. Only humans are
an essential component of all production processes.

Were true Robots or Golem to be invented, then, and only then
would there be a form which could supplant humans. At that point
it would become realistic to see companies employing only robots
competing with those that employ humans. But this would require
of the robots both human levels of intelligence and human levels
of dexterity. This is not impossible, though current technology
can not attain it.

Paul Cockshott

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