[OPE-L:6923] Re: Re: value-form and slavery

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Sat Apr 06 2002 - 12:45:58 EST

in 6920

>The above, while real,  represent historically contingencies. What I
>referred to was the *essentially* different character of  how the
>intensity of labor is increased under slave vs. capitalist relations.
>Under slavery,  the intensity of labor can be increased _only_
>through direct compulsion.  Violence or the threat of violence or
>the withholding of 'privileges' from slaves are forms that this direct
>compulsion can take.

Jerry, that there are essential differences between slavery and free 
wage labor form  (and Marx draws from Cairnes here) does not mean 
that only through the latter form can surplus value be produced. 
Nothing in you say in this post speaks to the question at hand!

  The question is not whether slavery is an efficient form of surplus 
value production in view of the possibilities opened up for 
capitalism by the combination of machine production with formally 
free wage labor but rather was modern slavery a form of surplus value 
production at all. And indeed the question is whether there were 
better opportunities than modern plantation slavery for surplus value 
production before the machine age

Under slavery  the split between necessary and surplus labor is,say, 
11 hours to 3 hours. If the slave owner wants to double or triple 
the surplus labor time that he commands he must double or triple  the 
slaves and land that he commands. Moreover, the land that he had been 
using is destroyed and must be replaced. He would thus have a 
ravenous hunger for new land even if he were not accumulating. 
Modern plantation slavery was a form of of absolute surplus value 
that quickly runs into limits and out of workers, though tens of 
millions of people were shipped as human cargo (including Indian 
coolies to the Caribbean and Chinese coolies to South Africa) to meet 
this ravenous demand for surplus labor.

  With the availability of the machine the capitalist finds that not 
only can he double and triple the surplus labor he commands while not 
increasing his working force, he can do so even as the working day is 

The machine opened up much greater possibilities for the production 
of relative surplus value and did away with the great labor demand 
that had been created by search for absolute surplus value on the 
basis of constant technique.  The endemic population shortage that 
had characterized mercantilist thought was now replaced by Malthusian 
fears of overpopulation as there were fears that capital could not 
accumulate to keep pace with the growth in the free wage labor pool.

>  This direct compulsion is an essential
>component of the slave/slaveowner relationship. It  arises because
>while slave owners can buy slaves or can directly enslave people,
>they can get them to work, and work at an 'efficient' and 'customary'
>standard of intensity, _only_ through direct compulsion.  This is
>*essentially* different from the means through which capitalists are
>able to increase the intensity of labor of wage-earners in the
>capitalist labor  process.

Yes absolute surplus value production on the basis of slavery is 
essentially different from the production of relative surplus value 
via the industrialization of the productive forces. And capitalism 
cannot develop on the basis of absolute surplus value, but it sure 
started there.

>   This is because  the entire relationship
>between capitalists and wage-workers is conditioned by the
>following facts:
>a) wage-earners are "freed" from their ability to sustain themselves
>and their families through means other than being wage-earners.
>This means, on the one hand, that they don't own and control means
>of production and land and it means,

neither did slaves so control m of production and land.

>on the other hand, that the
>products required for subsistence take the commodity-form which
>means that workers must have money with which they can purchase
>those means of consumption.

subsistence goods entering into slave reproduction often took the 
commodity form. Blackburn charts how this was increasingly so.

>b)  In advance of production, capitalists and workers confront each
>other in the market as buyer and seller where money is exchanged
>for the commodity labor-power.  Yet, to be able to produce surplus
>value,  the 'wage bargain' is no guarantee that wage-earners will work
>at a level  of labor intensity that will result in surplus value.

no guarantee with slaves either.

>c) Direct compulsion to increase the intensity of labor, through violence
>etc., is *not essential*.

In the following you do not prove that only in the absence of 
violence can surplus value be produced. In the case of the Brazilian 
forest and the South African mines there would have been no surplus 
value produced without violence or extra economic coercion.

>  This is because the survival of the wage-earner
>and the wage-earner's family depends on the ability to continue to
>sell  labor-power to capitalists.
>  In other words, it is the fear of losing
>one's job and joining the ranks of the industrial reserve army (and all that
>entails) which is ultimately the means through which capitalists can
>ensure that the 'wage bargain' translates into 'work done' and allows
>capital to exert command over wage-earners such that the intensity of
>labor is increased. (this implies that when the IRA grows the bargaining
>position of capital is strengthened and the intensity of labor tends to be
>higher --  since the fear of job loss is higher -- and when the IRA
>contracts to the point where there is an excess demand for labor power,
>then workers'  bargaining power is strengthened and labor intensity tends
>to be lower since both capitalists and workers know that if there is job
>loss under these circumstances then workers will be able to readily get
>jobs with other capitalists.)
>The above was put more succinctly by Marx in the "Results of the
>Immediate Process of Production":
>"The *continuity in the relations* of slave and slave-owner is based on
>the fact that the slave is kept in his situation by *direct compulsion*.
>The free worker, however, must maintain his own position, since his
>existence and that of his family depends on his ability continuously to
>renew the sale of his labour-power to the capitalist". (_Capital_, Volume
>1, Penguin ed., p. 1031, emphasis in original.)

doesn't speak to the question. Yes, Marx was correct to draw from 
Cairnes: slavery is not an efficient form of surplus value 
production. Cairnes was right not to want scarce capital to be wasted 
on the expansion of the slave system which is an inefficient form of 
surplus value production in light of possibilities later opened up by 
the machine.

With the possibilities for relative surplus value opened up by the 
machine, a self-directed, versatile and better educated workforce was 
needed. Moreover with continuous technical change capitalists needed 
more flexibility as to the size and composition of their workforces. 
As surplus value production found the much more secure basis of 
relative surplus value through industrialization within the US, the 
slave system became a fetter, but this does not mean that slaves 
didn't produce surplus value and that for much of early capitalism 
modern plantation slavery was among the most effective methods for 
the production and expansion of surplus value.

>>  I don't think a clear understanding that black slaves were part of
>>  the international working class would have neglible impact on how
>>  white and blacks understand themselves. The whole slavery reparations
>>  movement--or at least the bases for it--would have to be rethought, I
>>  believe.
>How would the 'whole reparations movement -- or at least the bases for it'
>have to be re-thought?

Well blacks would understand that their unique degradation had its 
roots in surplus value production, not white people. White people 
would understand that the enslavement of blacks did not make them any 
less slaves than they as free wage laborers were and are (though 
again white convict, vagrant labor was important to early 
capitalism). Whites would lose some sense of their specialness; 
blacks would not lose focus on the underlying source of their 
historic problems.

>>  Disagree. Strategy depends on the estimation of the size and position
>>  of the proletariat in a given social formation.
>To begin with,  the size of that part of the working class which is
>productive of surplus value is quite different (given the increase in
>unproductive labor) from the *size of the working class*.
>  To forget
>this point would be to make a *very* big political mistake:  whether
>workers are productive of surplus value or unproductive does *not*
>determine whether they are part of the working class. To privilege
>productive laborers over unproductive laborers would be to impose
>a division -- an obstacle to working-class unity -- on the working-class
>which is created by capital (and/or the state).

I think you are switching the question to unity among the the 
productive and unproductive elements of the proletariat from the 
question of whether the size of the productive proletariat is 
underestimated in say India due to overformalist definitions of who 
can produce surplus value. This is what the modes of production 
debate was about.

>Moreover,  effective strategy depends more on building unity within
>the working class and alliances with other (non-capitalist) classes.
>Thus, in a social formation where there is a significant peasantry,
>building alliances between workers and peasants is an essential task
>in the revolutionary movement;

yes you are missing the point. What seems as a peasantry can in 
certain conditions be a proletariat productive of surplus value.

>  where there are social formations where
>bonded-labor, including slavery, exists to a great extent then building
>alliances between wage-earners and bonded labor is essentially
>important; where there is a significant petty-commodity sector
>composed of the 'deproletarianized' building alliances with these groups
>are essential (just as in advanced capitalist nations, building alliances
>between wage-earners and the ranks of the unemployed is vital).
>>  I disagree. If one creates no place in working class history for the
>>  descendants and coolies in Marxist histories of the working class and
>>  allows no recognition of how past humiliations which continue to
>>  haunt them arose out of surplus value production, then you turn them
>>  away from class politics and Marxism and you allow a false sense of
>>  difference and superiority to creep into the heads of white
>>  proletarians (after all, "we were never suited for slavery").
>Of course, we should recognize the history of different people and
>classes.  This is a *totally* separate question from whether non-
>wage-earners produce surplus value.
>>  Rather the working class should extend special support to the
>>  weakest, most despised and least powerful parts of it
>Of course. Again -- this has *no bearing whatsoever* on whether
>slave labor creates value.
>>  Our sense of history matters for what kind of unity we will have in
>>  the present, I believe. A better sense of history could reduce anti
>>  immigration sentiment, I believe.
>Of course. Who suggested otherwise?
>In solidarity, Jerry

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