[OPE-L:6975] Re: Re: the cost of slaves

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Fri Apr 12 2002 - 12:56:35 EDT


>We have seen a number of arguments advanced by Rakesh
>and others who have claimed that slaves can produce surplus
>i) the claim has been made that the money advanced for
>the purchase of slaves represents constant capital (Rakesh
>claimed in 6956 that, although he disagrees with this position
>he doesn't think that it's an unreasonable position [more on this
>below] given how *he* thinks Fred and TSS define c);

the point here is that the value expended on the purchase of slaves 
is not itself the source of new value just like the purchase of 
constant capital is not the source of new value. In that sense, the 
purchase of slaves can be said akin to an investment in constant 
capital. But I would not classify it as such. And Paul C may be 
correct that the purchase price of slaves was just part of variable 
capital, the capital investment that slave owners had to make in 
order to secure and reproduce a value positing proletariat. Of course 
to the extent that we count it as such, we indicate again how low the 
rate of surplus value may have been on the plantation. Fogel and 
Engerman present data which I believe can be interpreted as 
suggesting that the ratio of necessary to surplus labor was more than 
8 to 1.

>ii) the claim has been made by Rakesh in 6948  that the money
>advanced for the purchase of slaves represents faux frais of
>slave production. Yet, as I explained in 6955,  faux frais are
>understood to represent "incidental" expenses related to
>production and there is nothing "incidental" about money
>advanced by slaveowners for the purchase of slaves.

I responded to this, and you dropped my response. I do not appreciate 
your making me repeat myself. As I said, I said I did not mean faux 
fraix in strict translation.

I meant incidental in two senses

i. the value spent here is lost, like faux fraix.

ii. the investment in the purchase of slaves was incidental in that 
it was amortized quite quickly.

So yes  slave owners treated the purchase of slaves as it was any 
other piece of capital equipment which had to be and can be amortized.

But how was it amortized?

By forcing this special piece of capital equipment to engage in 
proletarian, abstract, alienated value positing labor.

Of course the slave owners were not clear that the exclusive source 
of their profit was the labor of slaves.

>iii) the claim was made by Rakesh in  6948  that the costs
>associated with the daily reproduction of slaves represents
>variable capital. Paul C goes further in 6960 and claims that
>the money spent for the purchase of slaves represents v. Then,
>in 6972 Rakesh claims that this is a "good argument" (even
>though he has already classified this expenditure as faux frais
>rather than v).
>Of course, if one claims iii) then slaves can be productive of
>surplus value. The case is a bit less clear with respect to faux
>frais but I think that -- understood properly -- the agents on whom
>faux frais are expended don't themselves produce value or surplus
>value but rather help to establish the 'setting' under which s can be
>created.   In any event, despite Rakesh's gymnastics in 6956,
>it _should_ be clear that expenditures in the form of constant
>capital do not result in the self-expansion of value.

Yes Jerry gymnastics are needed to analyze the early history of 
capitalism as it really was. It is only when we have the categories 
in pure form that we can understand the dynamics of the embryonic 
form. One example here is that the slave owner's profit included both 
absolute rent and the average profit. As these categories are 
developed, we can see better what was going on in the past.

As Marx said, we do not have capitalism here in its pure form, but 
the slave plantations were in fact capitalist enterprises.

>What hasn't been mentioned explicitly  yet is another position
>-- one advanced by Marx -- years after he wrote what
>became the _Theories of Surplus Value_:  namely, that "in the
>slave system, the money laid out on the purchase of labour-power
>plays the role of fixed capital in the money form, and is only
>gradually replaced as the active life of the slave comes to an
>end" (_Capital_, Volume 2, Penguin ed., p. 554 -- full paragraph
>extends to p. 55).

Well Marx did not have data but it was not as gradual as he thought.

>Yet, Marx is *very* clear  (and we should be as well) that  fixed capital,
>in contrast to a portion of capital  which takes the form of *fluid*
>(or circulating) capital, does *not* have characteristic of  resulting in
>self-expansion  of value.

Jerry, may I remind you that fixed and circulating capital are not 
Marx's own categories.

Of course the purchase of slaves was amortized over the course of the 
slave's active labor time. Of course the plantation owner kept his 
books to make sure he recovered this expenditure of value. The slave 
master kept the books to make sure that his investments would be at 
least reasonably, if not super-profitable. This only underlines that 
Marx is getting at: slavery was a calculated and calculating system 
for the production of surplus value!

And of course the value expended in the purchase of slaves was not 
itself the source of new or surplus value. The source of that (with 
Chris A's cavaets about the use of the word source) was the living, 
alienated, value positing labor of slaves.

So if we include the purchase price as faux fraix or variable capital 
or the capitalist writes slaves into his books as he would write the 
iron tools, the point is that this purchase price was made back as a 
result of the proletarian labor of slaves.

>   Moreover, Marx (and we) should be clear
>that that part of the productive capital which is spent on fixed capital
>is for *means of production* ("of which the fixed capital consists").

No Marx is saying the purchase price of slaves was amortized as if 
that value had been expended on a piece of fixed capital. That's how 
the plantation owner kept his books. That the plantation owner so 
carefully kept his books, tracking expenditures and profits, strong 
suggests as Blackburn underlines that we are dealing with capitalist 

Marx no where says that slaves did not in fact in the abode of 
production operate as a piece of fixed capital and did not produce 
surplus value.

In fact Marx says several times that slaves did produce surplus value 
and that modern slave plantations were capitalist enterprises.

>Nonetheless, I think that the perspective that the money allocated for
>slaves takes the form of fixed capital is fundamentally confused since
>slaves *clearly*  are not "means of production" (and thereby come to be
>represented as "dead labor").

good point Jerry. So I guess the robot theory of slaves is now dead.

>  Perhaps the reason for this is that Marx,
>as well as Rakesh, was confused by the role that slaves play (if any)
>in the creation of surplus value.

Oh so you do recognize that Marx himself thought slaves produced surplus value.

>Thus, he was consistent in terms of
>believing that the production of a surplus product is a common
>characteristic of all class societies, but he was inconsistent in terms of
>comprehending whether surplus *value*  production was specific to
>"modern society" (i.e. the bourgeois mode of production).

No Marx quite clearly said that some slaves only produced a surplus 
product aimed for the immediate consumption needs of their masters 
while other slaves produced surplus value itself.

It is quite possible to differentiate types of slavery.

>  Engels,
>it seems to me, was *more*  consistent in claiming that surplus value
>is a trans-historical category (and I think that Paul C in his
>understandings of abstract labor, commodity, surplus value, etc.
>is following in the tradition of Engels -- and later Kautsky, the
>German-Austrian Social Democrats, the Bolshevik theoreticians,
>and later the "diamat" school).  So, I guess if we are to "blame"
>anyone, besides ourselves, for this confusion then it should be Marx
>himself who was wrestling with how to distinguish categories
>associated with capitalism from concepts that have transhistorical
>application for all class societies.

This whole idea here is that if we understand that modern plantation 
slavery was in fact part of the early capitalist production of 
(absolute) surplus value, then for some reason we will not be able to 
differentiate capitalist production from non capitalist production.

The argument here is  in the slave system only a surplus product can 
be produced. Why this is so is simply because by definition only wage 
labor (though not free wage labor) can produce surplus value. And the 
point here is that if we give up this thesis, then we are saying that 
surplus value can be produced in a historic social formation.
If we are willing to treat this surplus product in the slave system 
as surplus value--Jerry warns--then any social system in which a 
surplus product is produced will be a system of surplus value 

  But  all this does not follow.

  Marx himself differentiates between slave systems that only produce 
a surplus product and those that produce surplus value as well.

That modern plantation slavery was embedded in the new capitalist 
world market and that the modern plantation had no path back to 
natural economy (due to debts, the monetization of the means of 
production including if you must the price paid for the slaves) and 
that investments in these plantations were made only with eye to the 
valorization of capital shows that we are not dealing with slavery as 
such but a historically specific slave system organized around the 
production of surplus value.

>   Where the confusion seems most
>apparent is where you have social formations where one mode of
>production is dominant but remnants of other pre-existing modes of
>production persist and *interact*  with the dominant mode.

Black slavery in the New World was not a remnant of something 
pre-existing. It was created anew.

>   One might also
>claim that this issue has been a source of confusion by many Marxists
>in comprehending special so-called "transitional" social formations
>where the organizing principles of alternative modes of production
>confront one another and struggle for dominance.

There is no such confusion in my posts.

>In solidarity, Jerry

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