[OPE-L:7063] slavery

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Thu Apr 25 2002 - 03:46:01 EDT

You seem to be saying that the compulsion to perform surplus labor 
works ultimately through fear of the sack with wage labor and 
ultimately through fear of physical beating with the slave.

But why does the method or underlying cause for the compulsion of 
surplus labor determine whether the surplus labor which has been 
performed is surplus value as well?

You write:

>The answer is very simple:  what gives capitalists (and their designees,
>i.e. managers and supervisors) leverage in the labor process over
>workers so that the intensity of labor can be increased is that workers
>*fear losing their jobs*.  They fear losing their jobs because they fear
>joining the ranks of the IRA and all that implies. Or, expressing it in an
>even simpler way, they fear losing their job (and becoming "freed" by
>their employer) because  they understand well that the means of
>consumption that they need to survive in capitalist society take the
>commodity-form and that they need money with which to purchase
>those commodities.  Without a job as a wage-worker,  how will they
>get money? How will they -- and their families -- survive?

1. You cannot be arguing that fear of losing one's job is an 
essential condition for the compulsion of surplus labor by the direct 
producers because you have already agreed (and it is perfectly 
obvious) that slaves (and serfs) perform surplus labor.

2. There is no reason why slave masters cannot force slaves to 
perform surplus labor by threats  other than job termination which is 
unique to wage labor: a. physical violence, b. relegation to the most 
back breaking tasks, c. threats of selling family members, d. worse 
accomodations, e. retraction of prospect of manumission.

3. Of course physical or extra economic coercion may have been behind 
all the threats available to a plantation capitalist just as the sack 
lies behind all the threats available to modern capitalists who 
employ only free wage labor, but why does the underlying cause for 
the performance of surplus labor determine whether that surplus labor 
is surplus value as well?

In early capitalism after all the threat of the sack may not have 
been sufficient to compel the performance of surplus labor 
objectified in commodities: there may have been too much free land 
(especially in the tropics and the Americas in general) and 
pre-machine accumulation may have been too labor absorbing for 
workers to have been scared by  the threat of the sack alone to 
perform reliably surplus labor. Given the labor shortage of early 
capitalism,  capitalists seem to have resorted to slavery and maximum 
wage laws--both of which were ultimately backed by extra economic 

At any rate, since you have agreed (at least implicitly) that slaves 
can be forced to perform surplus labor without being subject to 
threat of job termination--and this is perfectly obvious anyway--you 
are still left with the problem of explaining why Marx was wrong to 
think that this surplus labor which was performed by slaves and 
objectified in what were "commodities from the start" was not surplus 

Left with this problem, you will see that in your latest argument you 
have made no progress in defending

a. your general thesis that only wage labor can produce surplus value and

b. your specific thesis slaves cannot produce surplus value (even 
though, as Marx underlined, the surplus labor performed by plantation 
slaves was objectified in what were commodities from the start).

Instead of defending your theses you have shifted the argument to the 
question of whether wage workers are compelled to perform surplus 
labor in a different way than slaves were.


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