[OPE-L:6916] Re: slavery and value

From: nicola taylor (n.taylor@student.murdoch.edu.au)
Date: Fri Apr 05 2002 - 20:04:14 EST

Hi Alfredo, I have to be brief and just note the disagreements rather than
go into them:

>"The same two possibilities arise in the case of wage labour.  Your 
>[Rakesh's] possibility: that 'relations of production' are separate from 
>'forms of exploitation'.  In that case, wage labour is not necessary to the 
>reproduction of capital and there are many 'forms of exploitation' (to link 
>to Alfredo's 6903 - Hi Alfredo! - abstract labour is then simply social 
>labour, whatever its form)."
>It seems to me that Rakesh's point was about the mode of labour and 
>exploitation in a *slave-capitalist* society - i.e., a society in which 
>commodity production (generally for export rather than domestic consumption) 
>is carried out through slave labour.

If production is carried out by slave labour I wouldn't call it 'commodity
production'.  To call it 'commodity production' conflates value and
exchange value - i.e. to produce exchange values for a market (an exchange
relation) is not the same thing as to produce values (only wage labour
produces values; moreover, value is a concept that makes sense only within
the total circuit of capital; i.e. a relation of exchange and production).
I have already said that the latter relation (capital-labour relation) is
more fundamental than the former (exchange relation), for me (and for other
VFT theorists, and for some non-VFT theorists such as Riccardo B and Jerry

>Historically, this type of production 
>existed, for example, in the New World, subsumed within international 
>capitalism, which I think is the case that Rakesh has in mind. I don't think 
>he was positing slavery as an alternative to capitalism or commodity 
>production more generally.

To this day, where capitalist relations (commodity production based on wage
labour) predominates other social relations still persist (perhaps, as
Jerry already pointed out, they might be considered an impediment to the
development of fully developed capitalist relations).  Certainly it is true
that many countries that developed capitalist relations (use of wage
labour) earlier in colonial history (eg South Africa) are more 'developed'
than those where slave labour was extensively used for centuries (eg.
Angola, Mozambique, the Congo).   

>If this is the case (i.e., if my interpretation is correct) then the 
>dichotomy between relations of production and forms of exploitation, that
>have posited, does not hold.

I didn't posit any such dichotomy.  Rakesh did.  I just responded by saying
that *if* (very important) wage labour is a condition for considering
relations capitalist, then the dichotomy is nonsense.  I never said that it
was nonsense 'in itself' - just that I consider it nonsense (from my

>I think that a more useful approach would depart from the relations of 
>production: in "slave-capitalist" societies, slaves produce commodities
>(by and large, though not necessarily) inputs that are also commodities; 
>moreover, even the slaves themselves are commodities (and, therefore, the 
>production of slaves is also a commodity-producing process). In 
>commodity-production processes, competition for profits (what perceived as 
>"market discipline") regulates the expenditure of labour, thus (through a 
>long process that I am skipping) rendering it abstract *in production*.

I go along with Rubin's insight that it is not possible to reconcile a
historically specific theory of value (and an associated theory about the
exploition of wage labour) with a trans-historical theory of
abstract-labour.  So this term 'slave-capitalist' is theoretically
something of an oxymoron (from my perspective).  I must emphasise again
here that I don't mean to imply meaninglessness per se.  Just that a theory
developed with the intention of explaining social relations based on wage
labour is not the right theory to apply to social relations based on

>Clearly, my conclusion, above, is different from yours, since you say: 
>"exploitation arises only within the capital-labour relation … abstract 
>labour is a capitalist Value form - i.e private labour verified as socially 
>useful only when commodities exchange for money on markets"
>How would you interpret this difference - especially in the context of
>capitalism", where commodities *are* produced and sold?

Slaves *don't* produce commodities and they don't produce values (they
produce only exchange values).  Slave labour is never 'abstract labour',
which is a socially specific Value-form, necessitated by a specific form of
private production for exchange.  I don't see why you conflate the exchange
relation with the capital relation, and the production of exchange values
with the production of values?  Or how this contributes to understanding

>Finally, you say: "what Marx thought of the Southern slave system isn't a 
>question that interests me very much."
>I hope to have shown above that the answer to this question does matter for 
>our understanding of capitalism, in addition to the historical question of 
>how other modes of production worked.

Because the question doesn't interest me, is not to say it shouldn't be of
interest to others!  

best Nicky
Nicola Taylor
Faculty of Economics
Murdoch University
South Street
W.A. 6150

Tel. 61 8 9385 1130 
email: n.taylor@stu.murdoch.edu.au

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