[OPE-L:6959] Re: Re: the cost of slaves

From: paul bullock (paulbullock@ebms-ltd.co.uk)
Date: Wed Apr 10 2002 - 17:35:53 EDT


I think that what we can say is that since the conditions that would
ordinarily provide free labourers simply were'n't  present  in the cotton
growing regions, then considering also Marx's comments  in Ch 33 of Volume
one on Colonialism, we can see that the only way capital was going to be
able to create cotton  as a commodity on the scale it, capital, required was
to create a 'modern' slavery.

This is not the slavery of an earlier society, but  is brought into
existence by capitalism, and capitalism must be held to account for it. This
is an historical fact and no amount of insistence that 'unless labour power
is sold as a commodity the capitalism cannot be said to exist' sort of
argument can push it to one side. On the other hand it is quite obvious that
this process does not properly involve capital as modern machinery, as
capitalist production properly speaking, and that consequently the use of
labour power however rapaciously simply cannot in the end, provide a cheap
enough product, that slavery is a temporary stop gap, that has to go, as
capitalist farming is introduced.

It is one of those common steps backward in social progress in the period
before a relative surplus population can actually be established.

Now the puzzle that seems to be worrying everyone is  if a product is
produced under conditions which are not fully capitalistic, or not at all
so, but these products are purchased by capitalism, can we say that these
products are, or have become, 'commodities'...'commodities' meaning the
fully matured commodity  made with free labour and in which surplus value
resides. The same sort of problem arises when we talk of the earliest raw
materials purchased from feudal states in the 18th century...they exchange
for money... so is the labour that has provided these materials somehow
'become'  abstract social labour? For fun I can call this the problem of
retrospective legislation, or  'surplus value by annointment'.

The point is that once a 'real' capitalist, the developed sort, buys any
item, exchanges it for money, then it certainly is, from then on, a
commodity with a price, but at that stage the social character of the labour
power that has been involved is only accidentally and hesitatingly coming
into existence as a commodity. In the case of US slavery labour power was
not a commodity.  Society was not bourgeoise.

Leaving aside US slavery, the application, somewhat blindly I think, of the
categories and relations of the mature industrial capitalism that Marx  was
examined, cannot be directly applied as a pre-existing  fomula to the
decaying  or subverted social systems with which capitalism was and is
dealing . There must be some sense of history in the analysis, then we can
see how the fuller, evolved character of the commodity comes into being.
Thus the labourer becomes 'freer'  too. It seems to me a contradiction to
apply the concepts applicable to a later stage of development, to an earlier
stage (even if artificially constructed).

Nevertheless if we take the example of modern prison labour, it is not free,
and certainly produces commodiites capitalistically, commodities whose price
is regulated by the market. However the price of the labour power is not.
Do we have an anology here for Jerry to use in the case of US ' modern'
slavery, but not in the case of other pre capitalistic societies?

In this reflection I certainly bear in mind Rakesh's quote from the TSV.

Paul Bullock

----- Original Message -----
From: "Rakesh Bhandari" <rakeshb@stanford.edu>
To: <ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu>
Sent: Wednesday, April 10, 2002 7:20 PM
Subject: [OPE-L:6956] Re: the cost of slaves

> 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
> error.
> 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
> >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
> >absurd!
> 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
> >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
> >labor-power.
> 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
> capital.
> 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
> >seller.
> 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
> 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
> production.
> 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
> basis.
> >  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
> >relationship.
> 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
> >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
> >'costs'.
> 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
> >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
> >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,
> You do not show that.
> >In solidarity, Jerry
> >
> >PS: listproc was down most of Tuesday.

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