[OPE-L:6938] Re: Wage-Labour and Free Labour

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Mon Apr 08 2002 - 09:34:33 EDT

Re Rakesh's [6932]:

> Wait! Are you saying that slaves are under capitalism?

All I intended to imply is that in social formations where the capitalist
mode of production is dominant, slavery can persist (or even be re-

> And Jerry are you saying that
> (a) only substantively free wage laborers can produce surplus value or

That depends on what you mean by 'substantively'.  I think I have
explained how I view it in previous posts.

> (c) only wage laborers, whether they have meaningful
> freedoms of mobility and over consumption decisions, can produce
> surplus value

"meaningful"?   I don't think that a requirement for 'free labor'  be
that wage-earners have 'perfect mobility' or 'unrestricted choice' in
terms of  deciding on how to spend their incomes.

It may be that some "freedoms" typically associated with wage-labour
may be *temporarily suspended*. E.g. there are capitalist economies
in recent years in deep crisis which  have temporarily suspended the
payment of money wages to state employees and replaced those wages
with vouchers and 'IOUs'. This temporary condition, however,  does
not by itself  cause these workers to cease to be wage earners.  Similarly,
when during the latter stages of feudalism the feudal obligations between
lords and serfs became increasingly monetized (with the expansion of trade,
the need for money caused many feudal lords to sell their crops for
cash and to put their serfs on money payment for work and the serfs
then, in turn, paid rents to the lord for the use of the land) this did not
turn the serfs into a wage-earning class employed by  capital (although
it did help to undermine feudal relations especially when lords and serfs
were squeezed by inflation).  The condition of slaves on modern
plantation systems (or elsewhere, e.g. on the guano islands off the coast
of Chile) was quite different since these producers were not 'free' to
sell labour-power to capitalists -- *any* capitalists.

[Digression: Also, as a historical  fact, most instances in which slavery
has been re-instituted since the ascendancy of capitalism as the dominant
global mode of production have occurred because of a *temporary* condition
where there was a  labour-power shortage in certain geographic areas
(thus, e.g. the owners of  slave ships hunted inhabitants of some isolated
islands in the South Pacific and brought them to work and die on the guano
islands because the mine-owners were unable to recruit wage-earners to work
under such horrendous conditions).]

> My point is that once you say that wage workers
> don't have to such freedoms in order to engage in capital positing
> labor, then on what basis can you say that slaves can never produce
> value and surplus value?

You just seem to me to be asking the same questions -- to which I have
already replied.

I would be curious in knowing your position on whether the labour of
slaves represents abstract labour. Do you agree with Paul C's assertion
in [6933] that the labour of slaves in both classical antiquity and in the
modern plantation system in the Southern 'slave' states of the US
was abstract labour?  If you hold that position, like Paul, then I think
it might be easier to make the case that slaves are productive of surplus
value. If you do not share Paul's position on abstract labour, then I think
that case will be much harder to make.

In solidarity, Jerry

In solidarity, Jerry

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