[OPE-L:6985] Re: Re: the cost of slaves

From: Ian Hunt (Ian.Hunt@flinders.edu.au)
Date: Sat Apr 13 2002 - 22:55:55 EDT

I think you are correct in saying that the capital of slave owners is part
of the fixed capital of the slave owners, as a herd of cattle would be part
of the fixed capital of a farmer (as indeed US slave-owners mostly were).
However, I think it is a bit rigid to say that the only form of
'surplus-value' in a broad sense that can exist is a surplus of exchange
value on variable capital. This is certainly the most dynamic form of
surplus value, the only kind that is part of a ssytem of self-valorising
value. Merchant capital and slave-owner's capital don't have the same
dynamic role: they depend on differentials in costs of production which
globalising capital tends to reduce. As long as we are clear about the
respective forms of 'surplus-value' it may be less confusing to accept then
alongside the capitalist variety.
 Alternatively, we could try to reserve value for surplus labour in the
form of exchange value derived from employment of (formally) free wage
labour, and talk of monetary profits in the case of merchants and slave
owners. The advantage of this wouls be to emphasise the unique properties
of capitalism proper, prefigured but not realised in earlier forms (or
contemporary 'backward' forms such as US plantation capital in the
ante-bellum south). The advantage of the other formulation is that it
highlights the analogies between capitalism and other modes of production
(and even modes of profit making such as usury and merchant trade that rely
on appropriating surplus labour from inferior methods of production or
shortages or lack of liquidity) in the way Marx does when he compares
slavery, feudalism and capitalism as modes of extracting surplus labour
from a labouring population in Vol 1 of Capital. Here he says that under
capitalism it APPEARS that there is no unpaid labour, whereas in slavery it
APPEARS that there is no paid labour. Talking of 'surplus-value' in slave
commodity production is one way of going beneath those appearances. of
course, you have also to recognise the difference, as the appearances have
some reality (highlighted, for example, when slaves are worked to death)
>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

Associate Professor Ian Hunt,
Director, Centre for Applied Philosophy,
Philosophy Dept, School of Humanities,
Flinders University of SA,
Humanities Building,
Bedford Park, SA, 5042,
Ph: (08) 8201 2054 Fax: (08) 8201 2784

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