[OPE-L:6982] Re: the cost of slaves

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Sat Apr 13 2002 - 08:21:44 EDT

Re Rakesh's [6980]:

>   Marx after all does not say that the slave himself has the same role
> in production as any other piece of fixed capital. In fact Marx says
> many times in other places that modern slaves did produce surplus
> value, not just a surplus product.

He says that "many times in other places", does he?

> Why did Marx refer to the money invested in the purchase of slaves as
> CAPITAL at all if he did not think modern plantation slavery was a
> form of the capitalistic production of surplus value?

Interesting question since, in the passage from V2, while he ends the
passage referring to the South in the USA,  most of the passage (which
_begins_  with: "In the slave system, the money capital laid out on the
purchase of  labour-power plays the role of fixed capital in money
form, ....", p. 554) concerns the *ancient* slave system in Athens, the
Greek states, Rome, etc.

> Which is exactly what Marx says directly elsewhere.  I feel confident
> that you know the quote in vol I to which I am referring. The
> surprising thing is that you do not feel compelled to speak about it.

I don't  feel "compelled" to speak about it.  It's not all that significant
a passage, imo, when placed in context.  It is an interesting quotation,
though, for reasons I describe below.

What is most remarkable, though, is how little there is in Volume 1 that
you can hang your hat on.  In approx. 15 pages (21 if we count "Results")
where there are references to slavery there is only the 1 -- as we shall
see,  ambiguous -- passage that says what you want it to say.  The passage
in question is from Ch. 10, Section 2 and is at the end of the first

The Penguin edition ends the paragraph with: "It is no longer a question of
obtaining from him a certain quantity of useful products, but rather the
production  of surplus-value itself. The same is true of the corvee, in the
Danubian Principalities for instance" (345).

Interestingly, the Moore and Aveling translation Is:  "it is now a question
of production of surplus-labour itself" (Kerr ed., p.  260).  When I
looked-up the  original passage in German (1981 Ullstein Buch Nr. 35091),
the Fowkes  translation would seem to be more accurate since it reads
"Mehrwerts" rather  than "Merharbeit" (201).  Perhaps Moore & Aveling
were trying to  translate what they thought  Marx meant rather than a
literal translation?   This is poor practice indeed  for translators, but it
is easy to understand why they might have thought that was what he

Let us recall that the subject of both the sub-section and the paragraph is
surplus labor rather than surplus value.  Let us also recall  his statement,
when comparing the  developed plantation system in the South,  that he
wrote that "the same is true of the corvee".   The way I  understand the
sentence *in context*  is that  production developed from the production
of "useful products" alone to the  production of  commodities (here
understood to mean, presumably in this  context,  products which are
produced in order to be sold and thereby have both a use-value and an
exchange-value) where the slaves performed  surplus-labor-time.

Let us then consider the corvee system in which "the same is true". To
begin with,  the ruling class in the corvee system were landlords.  There
were other similarities to feudalism, e.g.  there were rents in kind. The
corvee is described not as "surplus-value itself" the next page (Penguin, p.
346) but as "tribute".  My reading of the surplus-labor-time performed
(see p. 347) was that it was not primarily engaged in commodity production.
And, unlike cotton, these products I  don't believe were sold on world
markets.  Clearly, there wasn't abstract labor but the expenditure of labor
time on concrete activities specified by the code.   In context, thus, the
only way that this passage could *mean* surplus-value is for us to accept
the proposition -- which I think Marx rejects elsewhere (but, as I suggested
previously, there is some inconsistency on his part) -- is to interpret the
meaning as "surplus-labor itself" -- which is, after all, the subject
(rather than surplus value) of this sub-section.

It is true that elsewhere, in the drafts for what became Volume 3, that
Marx seems to widen his comprehension of the conditions under which
surplus-value is created and who thereby produces surplus value. You
might recall that Gil picked-up on many  of those passages.  Now you,
ironically, are following in Gil's footsteps.  Yet, in context, I think this
refers not to the production of surplus-value but to the (re) *distribution*
of  surplus value among capitalists and other classes (e.g. landlords).
This,  I think, is why Marx did not discuss the question further in Volume
1 in terms of whether or not  modern slaves produce surplus value (even
though he discussed slavery, including plantation slavery,  itself in many
other places in VI): i.e. it is a topic which can only be  fully understood
later at a less abstract level of abstraction where there is an examination
of the  re-distribution of surplus value internationally and where the world
market is grasped.

In solidarity, Jerry

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