[OPE-L:6956] Re: the cost of slaves

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Wed Apr 10 2002 - 14:20:46 EDT

OK Jerry so you are not going to comment on the distinction Marx 
himself makes (see 6953). That's fine, but it would be interesting if 
you could offer your explanation of how he was led to such egregious 

re 6955

>Re Rakesh's [6948]:
>>  The costs of slaves are thus more like the faux fraix of plantation
>>  slavery. I say this because I do not think slaves are  means of
>>  production (they are not in fact speaking instruments, as the
>>  friendly Romans had it) the value of which can then be transferred to
>>  the commodity output.
>>  Most slaves were not however used in order to meet the personal whims
>>  of the master  but  subjected to alienated, value positing
>>  proletarian labor, yielding  value in excess of their own costs,
>>  including the price paid to the slave trader and the costs of their
>>  daily reproduction (these latter costs would be variable capital).
>Let us, once again, consider your possibilities: a) means of production;
>b) faux frais;  c) variable capital.
>a) you seem to agree that the money advanced for the purchase of slaves
>can not be considered to represent constant capital. Good.  After all,
>i) the labor  of slaves is not "dead labor" but living labor;  ii) if the
>money used to purchase slaves represented c, then your proposition that
>slaves create surplus value couldn't be maintained unless you embraced Steve
>K's proposition that means of production are themselves productive of
>surplus value.

No this does not follow.

Steve thinks means of production are productive of surplus value. If 
one were to classify the purchase of slaves as an investment in 
constant capital, one would not be saying that the value represented 
in the purchase of slaves was itself self-expanding. One would be 
merely saying that in working proletarian slaves produce new value as 
well as amortize themselves.

in Slavery in the Circuit of Sugar Dale Tomich classifies the 
expenditure on the purchase of slaves as constant capital. I do 
disagree, but I do not think it's unreasonable. In fact given how TSS 
and Fred define constant capital the purchase of slaves should 
perhaps be defined as constant capital.

>b) the money, you assert, for the purchase of new slaves represents
>a "faux frais" of slave production. What are we to make of this claim?
>Faux frais is understood to mean *incidental*  expenses associated with
>production. To call the purchase of slaves "incidental"  is quite literally

Not in a monetary sense. As I have said repeatedly, the costs of the 
purchase of a slave seems to have been made back in somewhere between 
3 mos and 1 one year.

>  Perhaps there were some type of expenses associated with
>modern plantation slavery that could be considered to be "incidental"
>expenses (like the cost for whips and guns) but *surely* the cost of
>slaves themselves can not be considered in these terms.

My  point was that not the purchase of slaves is faux fraix in strict 
translation but rather entailed a deduction from surplus value. The 
value expended here is lost. Of course to the extent that slaves then 
reproduced themselves--and rape had nothing to do with this--this 
cost, this loss of value was not reoccuring. It was simply the costs 
of doing business when due to an endemic labor shortage the business 
of the production of surplus value could not be done any other way.

It was cheaper to pay for a slave than to be without labor  at the 
point of planting or harvesting and and thus lose the crop. The 
purchase of slaves was made on a calculated and calculating basis.

>c) [while, you assert, the initial purchase price of slaves represents faux
>frais], the costs associated with the daily reproduction of slaves would
>represent variable capital.  Yet, how can this be -- unless we are to
>totally discard and abandon our understanding of v?

No we do not share the same understanding of v.

>  Variable capital, let
>us recall, is that part of capital which is exchanged for the commodity

No v is that part of the capital investment that allows for the 
securing and reproduction of the proletariat such that it can engage 
in alienated, proletarian value positing labor under the command of 

In the case of plantation slavery, many subsistence goods (cotton 
cloth, shoes, materials for housing and bedding, string, and food 
from local peasant production) were bought on the market--true 
enough, not by the worker but by the capitalist. It seems not to me 
too different from the situtation in a company store.

No one is arguing that we have the category of variable capital in 
its pure form.

>   This *requires* -- logically and historically -- that
>capitalists  meet potential wage-earners in the marketplace as buyer and

If you define variable capital the way that you do. I don't. More 
importantly, it does not follow that (a) if we do not have variable 
capital in its pure form in the realm of circulation--that is, the 
exchange of wages for labor power--then (b) we cannot have 
proletarian labor in the abode of production.

Where is your argument that shows that (a) is a necessary condition for (b)?

The question of whether slaves produce value and surplus value cannot 
be determined by examining what happens in circulation; it can only 
be determined by the kind of labor is performed in the abode of 

And it was clear to Marx and it is clear from present studies that in 
this plantation abode of production slaves performed alienated, 
proletarian, value positing labor which has its primary task the 
production of commodities as values and surplus value, not as goods 
for immediate consumption.

If capitalists buy wage goods on the market for slaves for their 
subsistence, this then allows for the capitalists to subject them to 
alienated, proletarian, value positing labor. This  is therefore 
variable capital.

Now the variable capital that slave owners had to invest was reduced 
by the fact that slaves  produced to varying extents their own food 
subsistence--so it was more often cotton cloth, shoes, housing and 
bedding materials  and the like that was bought on the market.

But there was a capital investment in the reproduction of slaves. And 
that capital investment was made on a calculated and calculating 

>  Yet, slaveowners do not buy the commodity labour-power in the
>market -- they buy the slaves themselves.

Not in dispute.

>  Moreover,  the exchange (if
>there is one, i.e. slaves can be directly enslaved by slaveowners without
>first entering the market)  is not one between capital and wage-labourers
>but between slaveowners and slavesellers -- a  very different social

Not in dispute. But so different that slaves cannot ever produce 
surplus value?...as Marx recognized that they did.

>  And, of course, slaves are "free" in  *no* sense of the word
>--  unless it is a  choice made by slaveowners rather than by slaves.

proletarians are much less free than they appear.

>Furthermore,  variable capital must be advanced *periodically* for the
>purchase of labour power  whereas slaves can be bought once and kept
>until death with only 'maintenance' expenses.

those maintainence expenses being the form that variable capital took 
in early, not-yet-fully-developed capitalism.

>  Now returning to Rakesh's
>specific idea: it should be noted, even in regard to the latter, that
>typically  many (or all) of the reproduction requirements for slaves

not true. evidence? are you relying on genovese, kolchin, blackburn, 
cairnes, olmstead, marx for this putative factoid?

>  were
>satisfied  not by the purchase of commodities but through farming etc.
>*within*  the plantation system.

Let us even say that all food was produced within the plantation.

But peasants can produce their own food and then hire themselves out 
as wage laborers to capitalists in order to secure the subsistence 
goods which they do not produce themselves, e.g., cotton cloth, 
shoes, housing and bedding materials, etc.

So it is not impossible for the same person to be a peasant and an 
proletarian. It does not mean that if not all the working time of 
slaves was devoted to the production of value and surplus value that 
none of their working time was consumed by the production of value 
and surplus value.

At any rate, even today proletarians have gardens and produce food 
for themselves.

And Blackburn's evidence suggests (if I remember correctly) that food 
was bought increasingly off the market...especially in Brazil.

Alfredo, Paolo C--do you know?

>  Thus, there is no requirement or
>expectation that these reproduction requirements  for slaves have to assume
>the commodity-form (even when slaves produce goods which are intended
>to be sold, i.e. even where commodity production in the transhistorical
>and nominal sense exists) and therefore don't  necessarily even represent

Well the costs would be an opportunity one--how much of the slaves' 
time does the owner lose as a result of their having to produce their 
own subsistence. This would only limit the time that can be allocated 
for the production of value and surplus value; it does not make the 
production of value and surplus value impossible.

One might think that someone who can produce his own subsistence 
would not then subject himself to proletarian labor. But this is not 
in fact true--peasants do hire themselves out--and, at any rate, 
slaves  did not 'voluntarily' engage in alienated, proletarian, 
value-positing nabor.

Moreover,  many subsistence goods were bought on the market, and 
increasingly so--as Blackburn shows.

>What Rakesh wants us to believe is that the distinction between slave
>labor and wage-labor is of no consequence in terms of the production
>of the surplus product and whether that product takes the commodity-/
>value-/  money- /capital-forms.

I have said repeatedly--as you recognize below--that the production 
of relative surplus value on which capitalist production comes to 
depend does indeed depend on the free wage form and that Marx was 
thus quite correct to confine himself to this form of exploitation in 
his analysis of a pure capitalism.

>  Yet, to insist that there is a significant
>distinction, which is by no means "overformalist", allows us to
>comprehend the *specific* ways in which under different class societies
>a surplus product is produced.

As Marx argued, what is important is the distinction between a 
peasant marketing or bartering an accidental surplus product and a 
capitalist commanding alienated, proletarian labor to produce 
primarily commodities as containers of value and surplus value in 
order to ensure the valorization of capital.

This gets at the heart of value production better than a focus on the 
exchange between worker and capitalist in the realm of exchange.

>  I showed previously [6920; 6924] that
>by concentrating only on trans-historical and trans-relational similarities
>Rakesh missed the boat in terms of comprehending the *specific*
>ways in which the intensity of work is increased under capitalism and
>how that specific form is necessarily tied to the opposition of capital
>to wage-labour.

You are wrong to say that physical torture plays no role in 
increasing the intensity of work, e.g., denial of urine breaks, 
setting up the speed of the machine.

>  Thus, Rakesh finds himself ensnared by widening
>contradictions: e.g. he argued that slaves do not produce relative
>surplus value but they produce absolute surplus value yet I have showed
>-- using his definition of absolute s --  how this is a gross misconception
>that leads to a huge misunderstanding re how the intensity of labor is
>systematically increased under capitalism

you have? What I argued is that without the ability to reduce 
necessary labor time in absolute terms the surplus value which any 
slave could produce was given by the human limits on the length and 
intensity of the working day. Given these limits, a plantation 
capitalist is forced to accumulate for the most part extensively 
(i.e., more slaves and more lands) if he wants to command more 
surplus labor time and more surplus value.

Following Grossman, I argued that this became an inefficient method 
for the production of surplus value as the possibilities of the 
machine presented themselves and the endemic problem of a labor 
shortage thereby overcome.

>; he holds that surplus value is
>produced by abstract labor but Rakesh's understanding of abstract
>labor (as he has expressed it previously) can not hold for slave labor, etc.

You do not show that.

>In solidarity, Jerry
>PS: listproc was down most of Tuesday.

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Thu May 02 2002 - 00:00:09 EDT