[OPE-L:6992] Re: the cost of slaves

From: gerald_a_levy (gerald_a_levy@msn.com)
Date: Sun Apr 14 2002 - 21:49:50 EDT

R Paul B's [6989]:

Paul  asked me to "reflect slowly" on his message.  I hope I am
not responding too quickly.  

> As for slavery  -  so we seem mostly  to agree here..but still with an 
area for discussion. 
> Cotton is sold . It receives a price, it is exchanged for a world market 
processed price. <


> Now if, as you question, this does not endow the cotton 
with value, but only price,  a couple of issues arise. <

OK, let's discuss them.

> Earlier commodity exchange 
undoubtedly  saw  values being exchanged, and this is the case where there 
were many types of production relations. <

I understand your expression "earlier commodity exchange" to mean 
pre-capitalist exchanges ' (by which mean I presume that  you  mean 
products which have the characteristic of having both a utility and an
exchange-value).  Does this mean then that 'values' were being exchanged?
I guess that depends on what you mean by value: if I have read you correctly, 
*you* mean the SNLT embodied within the production of the commodity.
I don't really think that helps us, though, determine what  necessarily determined 
exchange-value under other modes of production. Let's consider feudalism in 
Europe for instance.  The market price of 'commodities' being sold by manors 
was determined to a great degree by custom and tradition rather than the cost
of  (socially necessary) labor time + means of production.  Even if we argue that
this represented part of what was deemed 'socially necessary' under feudalism,
there is no systematic mechanism to ensure that these commodities exchange
at their 'values'.   Indeed, the entire determination of exchange-value is to a 
great degree arbitrary.  This can also be seen in the pricing of commodities
produced by feudal guilds:  frequently, the guild not only established 
requirements concerning how a product would be produced and what its 
physical characteristics would be but also what price guild members could
sell their commodities on the market for   [or what  exchange rates it could be 
bartered  for  in relation to other products to the extent that these products didn't
even take the 'simple commodity form']  -- (indeed,  if a guild member tried to
sell a commodity below this 'value', then they risked being expelled from the
guild and thereby the occupation.)   Others institutions, including the state
and the Church,  had a hand in the establishment  and changing of  exchange 
value.   This doesn't mean that 'value' played no role in regulating the exchange
ratios of these commodities, but there is no reason to suppose that there was
any mechanism that would ensure that these commodities exchanged at their
value  (as I think you understand the term) regularly or on average.    Thus, even 
if there were feudal  social formations where there was a correspondence between 
exchange-values and labor time requirements, there is no reason to believe that 
those exchange values were systematically and necessarily regulated by labor 
time requirements.

> As the commodity becomes produced 
by capital, the value created can be divided, surplus to the capitalist. Only 
capitalism creates surplus value. 

With the above caveats, I agree.
> (Incidentally I would be very suprised if you did find Engels refering to sv out of 
thr context of capitalism... whilst of course value is produced where production 
for exchange occurs at any time. (Want to chat about Stalin's essay on value in the 

[If you want to chat about Stalin's conception of  value then  it could very well 
be that there are others  here who would also  like to take part in  that chat. 
(Paul C? ... Ian? ... Makoto? ... Charles A?  ... Allin?)   What's your perspective  
on Stalin's conception of value in the USSR?  Perhaps we could contrast it to 
Preobrazhensky's perspective on the contrary tendencies of the "law of value" 
and the "law of primitive socialist accumulation" at work within the "transitional 
economy"?  I suggest a different title for the thread, though.]

> So I think we can say 1) Cotton had a price that reflected  'simple'  value, perhaps 
i shpould say this is a 'simple' commodity  <

OK, I understand what you mean in this context.

> 2) This is embodied labour in a product produced for the market  <

I agree that the product represents  (is associated with)  an expenditure of 
labor.  (I'm not really to keen on the expression "embodied labor".)

> 3) surplus labour is performed in this process but since variable capital is not 
spent by the plantation owner  the surplus labour cannot/ does not take the 
social form of surplus value. <


>  4) the total value of the product is returned to the plantation owner. 
5) part of this goes to pay off the fixed sum he paid for the slave. <


> 6) the plantation owner may talk of 'accountinig profits', but here we are dealing, 
as Marx says in TSV 1 with terminology dominant in business, not the proper use 
of the term. <


> You will see here why I am anxious to stress 'historical materialism', to see how 
the simple commodity, need not be confused with a commodity in which the value 
is divided by a new historical mechanism - wage labour.  <

I agree that there are different social mechanisms at work where there is (using
your terminology) the production of "simple commodities" rather than  Commodities 
as they come to be represented where the mode of production comes to be
capitalist. So -- except for possible differences concerning pre- (and post-?)
capitalist social formations, I think we are (mostly) in agreement.

In solidarity, Jerry

(1) PS on Rakesh's [6988]:  Given that Rakesh is going to go on a temporary 
vacation from OPE-L  due to his schedule and the lack of computer access,  I will 
not  respond to the particulars of [6988] other than to agree that "Of course I
disagree. And I will leave it to others to read through the posts and judge our
arguments".  I, of course, look forward to his early return to OPE-L (and I set his
mail to "postpone" which is the easiest  technical way to handle temporary 

(2) Curious footnote to [6982]: You will recall the controversial quote from Ch. 10,
Section 2 regarding slavery and whether "surplus-value itself" is produced. In the
essay "KARL MARX ON CAPITAL" by Frederick ENGELS,  he includes the following
from that passage: "...  Thus in the Southern States of America slave-labour preserved 
a moderate and patriarchal character while production was directed to immediate 
domestic consumption chiefly. But in the same measure as the export of cotton
became a vital interest to these states, the overworking of the Negro, in some
instances even the wearing-out of his life in seven working years, became an 
element in a calculated and calculating system .... Similar with the *corvee* of 
the serfs in the Danubian principalities".  NOTE how the *entire sentence* that 
refers to "surplus-value itself" ("Mehrwerts") *has been removed* with the break
"...."!   This would seem to me to not be accidental or innocent slip because
Engels then summarizes: "Here the comparison with capitalist production becomes
particularly interesting, because, in the *corvee*, surplus-labour has an
independent, palpable form" (Engels _On Marx's Capital_, Progress Publishers,
p. 40) The most likely explanation for the deletion,  then, would be that it would 
complicate the exposition by Engels since he would have to explain the "surplus 
value itself" sentence!   In his "SYNOPSIS OF CAPITAL", he writes that "Surplus-
labour is common in previous social epochs. As long as the exchange-value is not
more important than the use-value, surplus-labour is milder, e.g.  among the
ancients; only where direct exchange-value -- gold and silver -- was produced, 
surplus labour was terrible. Likewise in the slave states of America until the
mass production of cotton for export. Likewise *corvee* labour, e.g. in Rumania"
(ibid, p. 73).  NOTE here how Engels explains Marx's perspective entirely with
reference to surplus-labour and, thereby, there is no reference to surplus value
being produced in the Southern plantation system.  It is also worth noting 
that these articles, while not published when written, were written while Marx
was alive (e.g. he refers to  his plan about writing the "summarising" of _Capital_ 
in  a 4/17/68 letter to Marx.)

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