[OPE-L:7090] discussion of value and slavery

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Mon Apr 29 2002 - 13:38:28 EDT


I cannot follow your latest argument about exactly why it is only 
wage labor that can produce surplus value  or as you put it:

>  it is  the *specific
>production relations* that determine whether the surplus product takes the
>*particular  form* of surplus value.

What is the specific production relation? And if it is the exchange 
of labor power for a wage, why is this production relation rather 
than an exchange relation?

Moreover, I do not understand  why only wage labor can produce what 
you are calling big C commodities the definition of which is also 
opaque to me. 

But in a certain sense I do agree with you: there is in fact a 
difference between little c commodities and big C commodities. But 
the difference does not lie in that the latter can only be produced 
by wage labor.

As Marx points out, some of the surplus produced by colonial settler 
peasants in the white colonies was in fact dumped on the market as 
little c commodities while the output of plantation slaves working 
under that discipline of the military agriculture of gang labor which 
would become a model for factory labor was produced from the start as 
big C commodities.

As Marx points out, plantation slavery was regulated by value unlike 
colonial settler farming. You have yet to comment on the passage (you 
have also yet to provide me with the source of your claim that most 
of the subsistence requirements on plantations were internally 
produced, something that is explicitly disputed by economic historian 
Kenneth Pomeranz for example in The Great Divergence; you have also 
not told me on the basis of whose specific critique of Fogel and 
Engerman you have dismissed their work as reactionary).

At any rate,  you miss Marx's point when you write:

>From the standpoint of the seller,
>all that matters is that the potential buyer has enough money or other
>commodities to trade (since your most abstract definition doesn't
>*require* money for there to be commodity production) to buy
>the commodity output.

For Marx all that matters to the  colonial settler peasant is that he 
gets some or any arbitrary sum of money for the surplus which after 
he has met his own needs he dumps on the market as small c 
commodities  to the detriment of true capitalist agriculture; he has 
not produced his agricultural output such that what he attempts to 
sell has be realized (tendentially) at prices of production if his 
farming is to remain viable.

So what you say about little c commodities is in fact not what Marx 
was getting at:

>  Moreover, we would have reason to believe under
>most circumstances that the exchange-value of both commodities and
>Commodities will tend under conditions of generalized production
>and sale of Commodities to be determined by the conditions of
>Commodity production.

Since the colonial settler peasant only cares that his buyer has 
some, any money, he  can be much more arbitrary about the prices that 
he hopes to receive and he thus undermines the growth of capitalist 
agriculture. This was in fact Marx's point.

Moreover, the colonial settler peasant only dumps some of his 
agricultural surplus on the market as commodities; he has not 
produced goods, which are commodities from the start. i.e., he does 
not make capital investments in the production of specific 
commodities which are at no point meant for his own consumption and 
only produced because they are meant from the start to be sold 
tendentially at prices of production.    

For the plantation capitalist it is moreover a matter of the very 
viability of his capitalist enterprise whether he has organized and 
directed production that the "big C" Commodity output can be sold 
tendentially at prices of production. If not, the plantation 
capitalist will withdraw his own capital and/or lose access to credit 
and thus go under under (as many in fact did).

Brought into the world market and thus dependent on it for the 
monetized inputs of subsistence, means of production and capital, the 
plantation capitalist had to ensure  not only that surplus value 
would be produced (why else make purchases of inputs off and borrow 
from the market?) but that those specific commodities which are 
produced can be realized at their prices of production (a transformed 
value).  Slavery was thus transformed from a patriarchal institution 
into a calculating and calculated system for the production of 
surplus value. 

So of course I agree with Ian when he writes:

>A slave owner producing for the
>market submits himself (this is not a sexist use of the term) to market
>discipline: and this make a difference to the interests served by the
>employment of the productive forces.

  The colonial settler peasant did operate under such discipline of 
the capital market; his viability was not threatened if he consumed 
most of his own output and dumped on the market his surplus as small 
c commodities below what were the prices of production which had been 
established by capitalist enterprises.

That is, the production of modern plantations though not using free 
wage labor was regulated by value unlike the colonial settler 
peasantry which may in fact have used some free wage labor at say the 
time of harvest.

Again one cannot determine whether there is production of surplus 
value or whether production is regulated by value simply by the 
presence or absence of wage labor.   It's not that simple.

Again here is the Marx passage on which you have yet to comment.

"Two different aspects must be distinguished here.

First, There are the colonies proper, such as in the US, Australia, 
etc.Here the mass of the farming colonists, although they bring with 
them a larger or smaller amount of capital from the motherland, are 
not *capitalists*, nor do they carry on capitalist production. They 
are are more or less peasants who work themselves and whose main 
object, in the first place, is to produce *their own livlihood, their 
means of subsistence. Their main product does not become a 
*commodity*, and is not intended for trade. They sell or exchange the 
excess of their product over their own consumption for imported mfg 
commodities, etc. The other, smaller section of the colonists who 
settler near the sea, navigable rivers, etc. form trading towns. 
There is no question of capitalist here either. Even if capitalist 
production gradually comes into being, so that the sale of his 
products and the profit he makes from this sale become decisive for 
the farmer who himself works and owns his land: so long, as 
comparedwith capital and labour, land still exists in elemental 
abundance providing a practically unlimited field of action, the 
first type of colonisation will continue as well and production will 
therefore *never* be regualted according to the needs of the 
market--at a given market value. Everything the colonists of the 
first type produce *over and above* their immediate consumption, they 
will throw on the market and sell at any price that will bring in 
more than their wages. They are, and continue for a long time to be, 
competitors of the farmers who are already producing more or less 
capitalistically, and thus keep the market price of the agricultural 
product *below* its value...

"In the second type of colonies--plantations--where commercial 
speculations figure from the start [is this akin to ideal 
precommensuration in VFT terms?--rb] and production is intended for 
the world market, the capitalist mode of production exists, although 
only in a formal sense, sicne the slavery of Negroes precludes free 
wage labour,which is the basis of capitalist production. But the 
business in which slaves are used is conducted by *capitalists*. The 
method of production, which they introduce has not arised out of 
slavery but is grafted on to it. In this case the same person is 
capitaist and landowner. And the *elemental* [profusion] existence of 
the land confronting capital and labour does not offer any resistance 
to capital investment, hence none to the competition between 
capitals. Neither does a class of farmers as distinct from landlords 
develop here. So long as these conditions endure, nothing will stand 
in the way of cost price [by which we understand price of 
production--rb] regulating market value."

TSV, part II Moscow, pp. 301-3


This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Thu May 02 2002 - 00:00:11 EDT