[OPE-L:7108] slavery, surplus value I

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Fri May 03 2002 - 10:41:23 EDT


It seemed that you (and Nicky and Paul B) originally argued that 
slaves could not have produced surplus value because  having not paid 
slaves a money wage, plantation owners had not made a money 
investment in variable capital (v) that is the sole source of surplus 

While Paul B is no longer pursuing this point, Nicky seems to be 
sticking to this argument, and surprisingly Ian seems to agree that 
there could not have been a v in modern plantation slavery, though he 
then argues that those slaves produced surplus value (I have shown 
where Marx  thought it was meaningful not only to speak of the 
relation between paid and unpaid labor with modern slaves but to 
compare that relation to the same relation endured by free wage 

It also seems to me that Nicky skirts quite close to the rather 
unpersuasive argument that because modern plantation owners made no 
investment in variable capital, slaves could not have have any more 
performed  even surplus human labor for another class than a donkey 

At any rate, you never did explain to me or Paul C (who also pressed 
you on this)  why a direct monetary purchase of means of subsistence 
for slaves by plantation capitalists is not variable capital since 
the money paid by the plantation capitalist for the reproduction of 
the slaves' ability to labor (utensils, food, shelter and above all 
else cotton clothes--I hesitate to include the purchase price of the 
slave as v)  was less than the new money value which slaves 
objectified in commodities (cotton, sugar, tobacco, indigo).

No wonder Marx challenged the illusion that all slave labor was 
unpaid. Which is not to claim that Marx believed that slavery was not 
more degrading than the free wage form of exploitation even if the 
rate of s/v may have been higher with the latter!

In the first round of this debate, it had been suggested that since 
the flow of value which a slave could produce should have been 
included at some discount in the price that a trader charged a 
plantation owner--I actually think this is the point  implicit in 
Nicky's concern about competitive laws of exchange--it should not 
have been possible for slaves to produce surplus value that a 
plantation owner could himself appropriate.

But this argument fails for two reasons: (a) it does not prove that 
slaves could not have produceed value, only that the plantation 
owners may not have appropriated all the value which they did in fact 
produce and (b)  the price of slaves would have been driven down to 
the price that allowed the slaver to make a reasonable profit on a 
very small capital investment and that price was in fact quite below 
the flow of value which slaves objectified in commodities. The 
evidence does in fact suggest that money capital spent on slaves was 
quickly amortized, and it need not have been recurring if plantation 
owners did not work slaves to death.

Now instead of defending your first argument about there being no 
variable capital in modern plantation slavery or no money investment 
which was the exclusive source for  the production of new value or 
why variable capital has to exist in its pure form for  variable 
capital to  exist at all,  you have shifted emphasis to the idea that 
that only when workers depend on the money wage for their subsistence 
do they live under the shadow of the sack which shadow is (for some 
unspecified reason) the essential condition for the production of 
surplus value. You however agree that the sack is not essential to 
the compulsion of the performance of surplus labor.

But now you are repeating this new point in this last post without 
engaging the reply which I have already made.

Again: Why does it matter  how the performance of surplus labor has 
been compelled as to whether surplus value has also been produced? 
Would early capitalists especially those operating in the tropics 
always have been  able to rely on the sack  as the special factor to 
convert the potential energy of labor power into the kinetic activity 
of proletarian, value positing labor?

You will see that no where in this post do you give clear answers to 
the questions that I have already put to you.

At any rate,  you respond as such:

>Social relations of production, within class societies, express
>*class relations*.
>Specific production relations are thus expressions of  specific class
>Specific production relations may require specific exchange relations.
>Under capitalism production and exchange relations are necessarily
>tied to each other: this is a consequence of  how capital represents
>a unity of the processes of  capitalist production and circulation.

There is no explanation here of why the specific exchange of a money 
wage for labor power is necessarily tied to the production of value 
and surplus value in the abode of production.

Note that the exchange of a money wage for labor power is not the 
same thing as the monetization of the means of subsistence (again see 
Kenneth Pomeranz on the monetization of the the means of modern slave 
subsistence, especially in the case of cotton clothes and also due to 
the fact that women who would have done subsistence food production 
were often not transported). The latter (the monetization of the 
means of subsistence) can obtain without the former (the direct 
payment to "doubly free" workers of a wage), and modern plantations 
were massive markets for mfg and industrial goods despite no money 
wage being directly paid to slaves. So the modern plantation system 
strengthened exchange relations.

You make an assertion of two elements being necessarily tied 
together, but there is no explanation.

Talk about "sigh"!

You have put forward two theses:

a. only wage labor can produce surplus value
b. slaves can never produce surplus value.

Again your mere assertion over and over again of a necessary link 
between the money-labor power exchange and surplus value 
production--as well as your other uncontested, uncontroversial point 
that the performance of surplus labor is compelled differently in the 
case of slaves than in the case of wage earners--does not establish 
or strengthen  either of your theses.

You have however agreed that free wage workers do not have to have 
meaningful freedoms to choose employers and spend their wage as they 
wish  in order to engage value positing labor. This was clarified in 
our discussion of the South African compound system. The question of 
whether once this was conceded it is arbitrary to maintain thesis b 
was dropped.  So you are left with the question of why your 
maintainence of point b is not arbitrary given what you have already 

I would suppose your answer is that unlike the slave the indentured 
or compounded worker does live under the shadow of the sack and the 
concomittant loss of subsistence as does the wage laborer. But then 
you have to provide a reason as to why this form of the compulsion of 
surplus labor alone results in the production of surplus value.

And you simply have not done so.

>Let us then consider two distinct class relations, two specific social
>relations of production:
>Relation One:  plantation owner confronts slaves in production
>                       process
>Relation Two: capitalist confronts wage-laborers in production
>                      process.

You have to split Relation I

I.A. patriarchal plantation owner confronts slaves in production process
I.B. capitalist plantation owner confronts slaves in production process.

Just as Relation II should be split in two

IIA. non capitalist confronts wage laborers in production process
IIB. capitalist confronts wage laborers in production process

Once we do that it is clear that the absence or presence of wage 
labor in itself  does not establish whether there is a capitalist 
production of surplus value.

Are you making any effort to understand what I am saying?

It should be clear to you as well that I am not saying the the so 
called physicalist stuff in which surplus labor is embodied is  ipso 
facto surplus value. Yet you burden me with the charge of stuffism or 
physicalism and you continue to say that my views lead to a 
transhistorical surplus approach.

Yet I have said over and over that not in all cases of slavery do 
inputs and outputs take the commodity and money form, though in all 
cases of slavery there may be a surplus product.

I wrote a long reply why not in the case of slavery in general but 
modern plantation slavery in particular did value regulate production 
(though Marx recognized exceptional cases in antiquity in which 
surplus value and thus the boundless appetite for surplus labor had 
become the aim of slavery). You never did respond to that post.

In fact, it seems to me that you have violated many of what should be 
the canons of ethical and rational debate.

You repeat your arguments without engaging counter arguments (I 
responded to your argument about why the differences that you state 
between wage labor and slave labor are not sufficient to establish 
your theses-- you did not respond; I clarified in what sense I meant 
that the purchase of a slave may have been faux fraix, and you made 
no attempt to engage my reasoning before lauching the same charge of 
absurdity in the same unmodified form) or you jump to new arguments 
to avoid engaging counter arguments (what happend to your insistence 
that Engels knew that Marx should have  said only surplus labor, not 
surplus value, in his discussion of the changing corvee labor system 
or that this section of Capital is about surplus labor, not absolute 
surplus value?); you make empirical assertions without providing 
sources; you use guilt by association arguments (when I referred to 
Fogel and Engerman's data on the rate of exploitation, you said that 
they were discredited reactionaries without commenting on either the 
specific point that I had made or the criticism of their work that I 
had associated myself with; when I pointed out that Marx himself 
underlined that not only wage laborers can produce surplus value, you 
suggested that I was ending up in bed with Gil, though I have clearly 
written against Gil that Marx's chapter 5 and 6 point was not to 
prove that the production of surplus value required the 
commodification of labor power but rather this great discovery: if we 
assume that in a theoretically pure and fully developed capitalism Mr 
Moneybags finds himself on the free wage labor island,  the 
production of surplus value would only be possible if free wage 
workers alienated labor power in exchange with Mr Moneybags instead 
of labor time itself).

In fact I feel that the irrationality of your debating tactics is 
quite obvious, though not to Nicky who seems somewhat comforted by 

At no point in this discussion have I felt that we were engaged in a 
good faith and honest debate.

I am also not clear as to whether you have been justifying your 
debating tactics as opposed to mine as feminist.

I would not however invoke the banner of feminism to justify your or 
Nicky's debating style!

>There are similarities  -- just as there are similarities in all modes
>of production: in both relations,  there is a ruling class which lives
>off of the labor of a producing class; there is thus class exploitation
>and surplus product production.

Yes but these distinctions between surplus product alone and surplus 
product + surplus value  hold as much between IA and IB as IA and IIB.

I can maintain your distinctions while still refuting your two main theses.

At this point, I suppose you have given up on the argument that your 
theses were shared by Marx--if so, why not say so explicitly as Nicky 
has. Nicky is clear that she does not care what Marx himself had to 
say on this topic.

  And it seems that you have given up on your idea that in speaking of 
the changing corvee system and modern plantation slavery Marx (and 
Engels) meant only to refer to surplus labor, not absolute surplus 
value and early capitalist production.

But... why  then would Engels refer to the changes in the corvee 
system as the way in capitalism announced itself in the German 
countryside? Why would Marx refer to the transformation of slavery 
from a patriarchal institution into a system of surplus value 
production twice in Capital I and once in Capital 3 and slavery as a 
form of capitalist enterprise in TSV II? All mistakes, slips of the 
pen? But then why did Marx refer to the surplus value produced in the 
putting out system if he meant to advance your thesis that only wage 
labor (as you have defined it) can produce surplus value presumably 
because only in this case have capitalists made an investment in 
variable capital?

You are not still claiming that Marx shared your theses a and b, correct?

You may want to argue that Marx should not have said these things 
just as Fred (though more reasonably) has said that in order to make 
his value theory of coherent Marx should not have referred to double 
divergence as he in fact did at least twice. But Fred proceeds 
honestly and directly in his interpretation of Marx.

But if you are now dropping your argument as to what Marx really said 
(and assuming Nicky's stance here) or switching  your argument from 
what Marx said or really meant to say to what Marx should have said 
to maintain maximum consistency in this theory (as Fred has done), 
then please say so clearly again as Fred has done. Of course you may 
still be saying that Marx propounded your theses; if so, then please 

>  These relations can also have
>the common characteristic of commodity (note small "c")
>production when commodities are also produced in Relation One.

What do you mean by small c commodities?

It seems that you are defining  small c commodities as those 
commodities that are not produced by wage labor. And big C commodites 
are those commodities that are produced by wage labor.

So now instead of saying that non wage labor can  produce only a 
surplus product and only wage labor can produce surplus value, you 
are shifting to a point by definition that little c commodities are 
produced by non wage laborers and big C commodities are produced by 
wage laborers.

Not only is this new point nothing more than a tautology--you are 
simply defining little c commodities as commodities that are produced 
by non wage laborers--  it's an evasion of your own a and b. theses 
stated above.

Moreover, your little c and big C distinction is not the distinction 
Marx himself was making between little c and big C commodities. But 
about that passage you will have nothing to say.


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