[OPE-L:7053] slavery

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Wed Apr 24 2002 - 04:57:22 EDT

I can send messages but do not receive them--so I shall check the 
archive for any replies. My reply may be delayed.   I wanted to drop 
this discussion but feel compelled to respond to Nicky.

>It seems to me that Rakesh *entirely* misses the point.

Let's see which of the shifting points that is.

>   It is simply this.
>  The capital-labour relation is constituted both in exchange (a wage
>payment to labour)
>and in production (a legally enforcible time commitment
>by labour).  Most importantly, it is a purchase external to the capitalist
>class.  It is external because it is a payment *to workers* and not to
>*other capitalists*.

It's not that simple. The wage is indirectly paid to those other 
capitalists who sell wage goods to the worker. Why should it make a 
difference if the payment to other capitalists is direct and the wage 
goods then allocated to the worker? You do agree--right?--that the 
worker does not have to have meaningful freedom to spend his wage, 
i.e.,  a value positing laborer could be paid in tokens good only at 
the company store within a barbed wire compound.

But in this case the worker has not been paid a money wage, yet the 
capital-labor relation may be fully constituted in production.

Moreover, not only is the worker reduced in circulation to a conduit 
for money flows, she is paid with money value that she has herself 
created in a previous period. For Marx the seeming exchange between 
capitalist and worker is not only unequal, it is not really an 
exchange either. Why you would stipulate this mystifying aspect as a 
necessary condition for the worker to produce surplus value  I simply 
do not understand.

You have to show why the wage has to take the money form and then 
pass directly to the worker in the realm of circulation in order for 
labor then to engage in value positing labor in the abode of 

You simply make no such argument here.

But let's go on.

>   This alone sets labour apart from natural and
>produced inputs to production, and from slaves who are owned and
>distributed among capitals just as if they were donkeys or bullocks.

Yes compared to natural and produced inputs and slaves, free wage 
workers are distinguished by their freedom to spend a money wage in 
the realm of circulation. But just because slaves share this feature 
of inability to spend freely a wage with natural inputs and machines 
does not mean that they also share their inability to produce value 
and surplus value. This is simply an invalid inference.

Another such fallacy:  human labor shares a certain physical 
conception of work with a machine (if it didn't machines could not 
replace human labor) but this common property does not mean that 
human labor shares the machines' other property of inherently  being 
incapable of producing new value.

At any rate,  why is this circulationist differentia a necessary 
condition for the production of value?

Again you do not present an argument so far.

And do note that you have said labour (meant here as a class, not an 
activity) is set apart from slaves. Why is that slaves are not part 
of labour? Do they not labour?

>   If a
>donkey is beaten and forced to spend 10 hours a day pushing a handle on a
>well to crush olives into olive oil, do you believe it creates surplus
>value?  If not, why not?

Donkeys--whether they have been purchased or not--do not produce 
surplus value because value is social human labor time alienated and 
objectified in commodities, in products which are "commodities from 
the start" as the output of plantations was.

Value is ultimately the systematic, compulsive, voracious and 
collective appropriation by  a ruling class of  alienated living 
surplus social labor time through the production of commodities from 
the start, i.e., of  things not for immediate consumption  but for 
alienation of things on the market at a money profit.

How could a donkey or a machine be said to produce new or surplus value?

At any rate, what are you getting at or implying?

>I say not.
>  Because donkeys like slaves are exchanged internally among
>capitals according to competitive laws of equal exchange (i.e. their price
>on markets).

Because? Don't follow the reasoning.

Are you saying that because slaves share with donkeys the properties 
of being bought on the market for ownership and physically beaten, 
slaves must share the donkeys' other property of being unproductive 
of value?

This does not follow.

At any rate, if you are saying that donkeys cannot produce value 
because donkeys, like slaves,  are subject to what you are calling 
the competitive laws of equal exchange, then you are  mistaken about 
why donkeys cannot produce surplus value.

A donkey could not produce surplus value even if it had not been 
bought on the market and thus subject to your competitive laws or 
even if the donkey could somehow purchase its own oats or even if the 
donkey was used to produce products which were commodities from the 

  That donkeys and machines can be bought on the market and owned 
outright and that donkeys and machines do not spend a wage freely in 
the market have precisely nothing to do with why donkeys and machines 
are unproductive of value and surplus value.

At any rate, donkeys would not produce value even if they had not 
been purchased according to what you call the competitive laws of 
equal exchange.

So this matter of "internal exchange" is not the reason that donkeys 
do not produce value. What is it that you are trying to say?

That is, donkeys and machines are  unproductive of value not because 
they can be bought and owned outright and not becase donkeys do not 
exchange a money wage for subsistence goods and not because donkeys 
are whipped.

That chattel slaves shared these features with donkeys and machines 
does not mean slaves had the property that in fact makes donkeys and 
machines incapable of producing value. Which property is simply their 
inability to carry out some aliquot of  social labor as  alienated 
value positing activity under the command of capital. Slaves as human 
beings do have this potential however. Which is not to say that all 
slaves produce value. Some slaves may only be forced to meet the 
personal whims of their master and thus not carry out an aliquot of 
social labor time.

Moreover, in a competitive market economy in which all labor is 
replaced by donkeys and/or machines, no value and surplus value would 
be produced even if there is a material surplus. The mass and rate of 
profit--which are indicators of a human social relation of 
exploitation--would collapse. If in such economy all labor was slave 
labor surplus value would still be produced but it would be limited 
to absolute surplus value and thus soon run into its limits.

At any rate, the question here becomes why do you not include the 
commodity producing labor time of slaves as part of the social labor 
pool of early capitalism.

In other words, why do you include only wage workers (as you have 
defined them) in that pool of social labor?

You seem to be saying that if you include slaves then you'll have to 
include donkeys and machines in the class of value positing 
labourers. But this simply does not follow because donkeys and 
machines are not labourers and capable of engaging in social labor 

You may want to argue not that slaves cannot produce value but rather 
that the flow of value they can produce had to have been included at 
some discount in the price that a slave trader  charged the 
plantation owner. But this seems  not to be your argument about 
competitive laws of exchange ; moreover, this argument does not show 
that slaves cannot produce value, only that the value produced by 
slaves would not have been appropriated only by the plantation owner.

>  Exchange of slaves is no different to the distribution of
>other existing resources (given that property rights under slave systems
>extend to ownership of people and donkeys alike).

You do not draw out the important implication of this which Paul C 
has already underlined--John Hicks made the same point in his 
Economic History as well.

  Just as with a machine if its replacement cost is low enough it may 
not pay to maintain and repair it; the slave trade in fact drove the 
replacement costs of slaves so low that the plantation owners' 
working them to death became economical in a calculated and 
calculating system for the production of surplus value.

Of course this is why the growth in the African population was so 
limited in those parts of the Americas which had not bee closed off 
early to the slave trade.

It is not without foundation that some will say that the abolition of 
the slave trade did as much good for enslaved Africans as the 
abolition of slavery itself.

>   By contrast, the money
>wage advanced by capital to labour is a payment external to the capitalist
>class and is not an equal exchange.  i.e. the value of labour power (the
>real wage) differs in magnitude to the value that living labour valorises
>for capital during the course of the working day.

My goodness, you are saying two different things here:

1. in paying a wage to a non capitalist, viz., the worker, a 
capitalist does not directly make a payment to another capitalist who 
is not a worker.

  Which of course is not in any more dispute than a bachelor cannot be 
a married man. But of course you do not prove that in the absence of 
what you are calling an external payment surplus value simply cannot 
be produced.

2. You also say that in order for surplus value to exist  reproducing 
the value of the workers' labor power can only take up part of the 
working day.

But let us say that I substitute subsistence for labor power: in 
order for surplus value to exist the working day cannot be limited to 
reproducing the money value of the workers' subsistence.

After all, this is exactly what Marx does in the case of plantation slaves.

>  The fact that workers
>sell only a capacity to labour (not labour) and share in the distribution
>of the product according to their success in class struggle (i.e. success
>in struggle over the terms and conditions of actual labour) alone gives the
>term 'rate of exploitation' its meaning.

You are misled here by an appearance, the appearance that all slave 
labor is unpaid. In fact part of the working day of the slave is 
spent making back the money value (and I am not speaking about what I 
think you economists call shadow prices) which was spent on his 
purchase and reproducing the money value of his own means of 
subsistence-- food, housing and church materials, cooking utensils, 
shoes, cotton clothes, etc.

These were money costs to the capitalists who accounted for them carefully.

If all slave labor time had been unpaid, it would indeed be 
meaningless to speak of a relation between paid and unpaid labor. But 
this is the very mystification which Marx challenged several times by 
showing the essential similarity between wage labor and slave labor 
under the command of capital.

Just because the wage laborer may think all her labor is paid and the 
slave may think all her labor is unpaid does not mean that for both 
there is not a relationship of exploitation, a relationship between 
unpaid and paid labor.

Marx thinks it's quite meaningful to speak of the rate of 
exploitation of slaves and compare it to the exploitation of free 
wage workers.  In fact he mocks those who deny this, and for very 
good reason.

See footnote 8 on p. 680 of Capital Vol 1 Vintage. Please see the 
main text reference on that page to slavery and the discussion of 
slavery in the penultimate paragraph of this chapter on the 
transformation of labor power into wages.

An additional point: While we can agree that Marx thought that the 
transition from the putting out system, corvee labor and slave labor 
to free wage labor was essential to a fully developed capitalism, he 
surely did not think this transition brought automatically with it 
greater Self Understanding of the proletariat's exploitation.

>As I see it, Marx's demonstration that labour time in production is the
>*sole* source of an increase in value rests entirely on the fact that
>capital makes an initial external payment to labour in the form of wages.

I don't see how or why you would say "entirely" here. It of course 
rests on the fact that the workers subsistence for which the 
capitalist pays directly (slavery) or indirectly (wage labor) 
represent a lesser value  than the value created in production by the 
proletariat which may be directly enslaved or indirectly enslaved.

>If you do not make this connection, you cannot exclude nature as a possible
>source of surplus value.

This exclusion is built into the definition of value. You have so 
show why the labor of slaves has to be excluded from the abstract, 
homogeneous social labor that is the substance of value. You have 
failed to do so.  You have said that it's meaningless to speak of the 
rate of exploitation of slaves, but I think you'll have to elaborate 
on that.

>  The argument is *implicitly* made throughout the
>Introduction to the Grundrisse, which discusses the connection between
>production and distribution in different systems (including slavery)

it should be clear that the so called the slave mode of production 
does not encompass modern plantation slavery.

>  and
>the importance of beginning with concepts relevant to a historically
>specific mode of production.

Historically specifity also demands that we do not collapse all 
slavery into one monolithic institution. Marx was interested in the 
transformation of slavery from a patriarchal institution into a 
capitalist enterprise.

>'These classes [capital and labour] in turn are an empty phrase if I am not
>familiar with the elements on which they rest.  E.g. wage labour, money,
>price etc.  These latter in turn presuppose exchange, division of labour,
>prices, etc.  For example, capital is nothing without wage labour, without
>value, money, price, etc.' (Marx, 1857-58, p.100 [1973, Penguin ed]).

I'll start quoting the Grundrisse later. But Nicky do take note of 
how Marx defines wage labor in the Grundrisse--he does not define it 
as an exchange of labor power for a wage. If he did, then why would 
he later say that independent craftsmen were reduced to wage laborers 
in the putting out system? I would take it that what Marx meant is 
that through a combination of interest and raw material charges, the 
merchant was able to appropriate surplus value, leaving the craftsman 
only with the money value equivalent of his subsistence goods.

  For attention to these passages, I am indebted to Jairus' work which 
I consider of landmark importance in the development of the theory of 
historical materialism. There is nothing I have said here that has 
not been said better, more correctly, and in a more intellectually 
and aesthically pleasing way by Jairus. It's a shame that his work is 
not better known (or beter understood--in his Capitalism and Unfree 
Labor Robert Miles completely misses Jairus' distinction between 
relation of production and form of exploitation). And it's ridiculous 
that his work is not better known since in the combination of his 
knowledge of materialist history; philosophic acuity and profound 
textual knowledge of Marx he is perhaps rivalled only by fellow 
Althusserian Perry Anderson.

By the way, given Jerry's interest in Indian politics he may want to 
take note that Marxists such as Jan Breman and Jairus  have been led 
to the rejection of overformalist definitions of value positing labor 
in their studies of Indian class structure. That is, the debate that 
I am trying to have is not only of historic significance.


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