[OPE-L:7109] slavery, surplus value II

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Fri May 03 2002 - 10:41:42 EDT

Jerry continues

>Yet, to concentrate _only_ on the characteristic of commodity
>(understood here to mean simply a product that was produced
>with the intention of sale)  production when discussing *surplus
>value* is to ignore the   _specific_   production relations  under
>which surplus value is created.

1. Before we get to what you think I have ignored, let's get clear 
what I have introduced and what you have ignored.

  Marx makes a distinction between products that are produced with an 
intention of sale at prices of production and that are thus big C 
commodities from the start and products that can be dumped on the 
market below their values as little c commodities because subsistence 
requirements have already been met.

In the former case, value regulates production: a condition of the 
supply of plantation commodities was the plantation capitalists' 
ability to realize prices of production.  In the latter case value 
and price of production do not regulate production. The prices at 
which the surplus product can be dumped on the market are much more 
arbitrary and indeterminate and despite that indeterminacy viability 
and reproduction are not threatened as long as subsistence 
requirements are met

Marx clearly and correctly thought that value regulated the 
production of modern plantation slaves. Plantations sometimes had to 
go bankrupt and bought cheap so that the new owner could make the so 
called average profit. Therefore, the regulatory power of value does 
not depend on wage labor, though it may depend on the inputs having 
taken the commodity and thus money form.

Of course at this point you may want to say that modern plantation 
slavery was regulated by value but slaves themselves did not produce 
surplus value, though since they were not donkeys they objectified 
alienated human labor in commodities such as sugar, cotton, tobacco, 
indigo which were thus  values from the start, not  objects which 
were meant first for direct consumption.

  2. It is very wrong to say that I have concentrated only on the 
commodity characteristic of the output.

I have also pointed repeatedly to commodity characteristics of the 
inputs into modern plantation slavery--the commodity form of the 
means of production, the commodity form of subsistence goods, and the 
borrowing of money on the market.

It is exactly because of the monetization of the inputs, i.e., over 
and above faux fraix there was an investment in constant and variable 
capital (a money investment was made to purchase directly the 
subsistence goods that would allow for the reproduction of a value 
posting, albeit enslaved, proletariat), that slaves had to produce 
the quantity of saleable commodities needed for  the plantation 
capitalist to realize the average rate of profit vis a vis the 
capital investment that he had been made in the plantation.

Unlike the colonial settler peasantry, modern plantation slaves thus 
worked under the compulsion of value and valorization since not only 
the ouput but also the input had taken the commodity form and been 

So you are simply refusing to understand me in saying that I 
concentrate only on the commodity characteristic of the output.

This comes close to bad faith argumentation.

Let's go on:

>Let us consider how these two sets of social relations express
>two *fundamentally* different forms of production relations *even
>where and when the producers in both relations are engaged in
>commodity production* --

Jerry, you forget that our argument is not whether a taxonomic 
exercise in the differences between slavery and wage labor is 
possible. I have never denied it.
You are switching topics. Another form of bad faith.

What you have to to show is why those differences make it such that 
only wage labor can produce surplus value and non wage labor can 
produce only a surplus product.

I shall now look at your points to show that they do not speak for or 
against your a and b theses.

>Within *all* class societies, the exploiting class has certain common
>goals within the production process:
>a) where possible, increase the *intensity of labor*  As we have
>discussed previously the specific *way* in which the intensity of
>labor can be increased is fundamentally and essentially different
>under a plantation owner/slave relation than under a capitalist/
>wage-labor relation;

I have already shown that this point does not establish your theses. 
You never did reply; now you repeat the point. Unethical form of 

>b) where possible,  increase the *working day* and/or *workweek*.
>Under the plantation owner/slave system, direct control is required;
>under the capitalist/wage-labor system, indirect control is
>built in.  Fear of  physical punishment vs. fear of joining the
>IRA  represent very different forms of compulsion (and make
>possible different forms of resistance);

This is in fact the same point as (a).

As I have pointed out the fear of being thrust into the IRA may not 
have been great enough to compel the reliable performance of surplus 

American capitalist farmers had tried wage labor and indentured 
labor; they failed. There was a resort to slavery; moreover, there 
was resort to a historically unique form of slavery exclusively of 
one race. It's an anachronism to say that early capitalism had to 
rely or could have relied on the same mechanisms for the compulsion 
of surplus labor as does a developed capitalism.

>c) where desirable, introduce *technical change* in means of
>production.   The *benefits* of  technical change for the
>exploiting class vary depending on which class they confront in
>the labor process.  E.g. technical change where there is wage-
>labor is not only used to expel workers from the production
>process but is also utilized to decrease the bargaining power
>of workers and drive down wages and benefits ... and increase
>the intensity of labor, etc..  This is very different for *why* a
>plantation owner might under certain circumstances increase
>technical change in means of production on the plantation.

Well  as a side note:  sugar plantations assimilated machinery before 
textile mills, as Fogel shows (which does not mean that I agree with 
his characterization of slave psychology or the structure of the 
slave family).

  You seem to be saying that slaves do not fear being replaced with 
machines and thus cannot be forced in the same way as wage laborers 
to accept cuts in subsistence or intensification of labor.

But you have ignored my previous post in which I argue that your 
point is an anachronism. You do not prove that if plantation 
capitalists had hired wage laborers there was then the technology 
available to threaten wage workers with replacement if they did not 
accept susbsistence cuts and intensification. Would slaves  have even 
been frightened by the prospect of being throw out on to the land 
rich Americas?

It was exactly because tropical, gang agriculture was so labor 
intensive and back breaking in the context of both a general labor 
shortage (attempt to use European indentured labor was failing, and 
only exacerbated the labor shortage in the Old World) and a limited 
availability of machines with which to replace human labor in the 
16th to 18th centuries that the farmer capitalists of the Americas 
found that the cheapest way to secure labor was racial slavery, 
backed by terror, as Eric Williams long ago argued.

That is, it was not true for early capitalists in tropical 
agriculture that the best way to compel the reliable performance of 
surplus labor was the making of the threat of mechanization to free 
wage workers. It would have been an idle threat in two ways: there 
were not the machines and workers would have welcomed the sack given 
massive amounts of virgin territory. It's not for nothing that Marx 
ends Capital I with a critique of Wakefield.

And again, you do not prove that even if slavery and free wage labor 
systems have a differing calculus in terms of which the decision for 
mechanization is made--a point that I do not contest--then slaves 
cannot produce surplus value.

Again you have shifted the topic. Capitalists will mechanize in 
different ways if they are relying on the slave, indentured labor or 
free wage form of exploitation. I don't deny it. What I do reject is 
your implicit idea:  because capitalists will make different 
mechanization choices when they use slave and indentured labor than 
when they use free wage labor, slave and indentured labor cannot 
produce surplus value.

>d) where possible, drive down the customary *standard of
>subsistence* (expressed in  quantity and quality of means of
>subsistence) for the producing class.  Where there is a
>plantation owner/slave  relation,  this is often possible simply by
>-- through direct  means -- decreasing the food, etc. consumed
>by slaves.  Of course, even the slave owner knows that there are
>*natural limits* to this process (since slaves need a minimum
>amount of food, etc. to remain as productive in terms of
>output/slave/period of time.)   The capitalist, however, can not
>decrease the means of subsistence that wage-earners have
>in the same way  *and*  [in addition to natural limits] there are
>*social limits* that  confront capitalists in terms of resistance of
>workers to such efforts. While it is true that slaves can resist, the
>*form of resistance* and the consequences of resistance vary very
>much in the two types of relations.

So the forms of resistance and consequences of resistance differ 
though you have hardly specified exactly how. At any rate, how does 
this prove that only wage laborers who resist in their specific ways 
can produce surplus value?

>a-d are not minor differences. They are specific expressions of
>fundamentally and  essentially different forms of production
>relations.  It is for this reason -- that surplus value is fundamentally
>an expression of a  *specific* social relation -- that makes it specific
>to the  particular class relation of capitalist/wage-laborer.

No you do not show that only if ruling class makes the threats of the 
sack and mechanization to a free wage labor class can the direct 
producers then objectify their alienated labor in what are values and 
big C commodities.

In fact your points a-d make no effort to show that. They just state 
the differences between slavery and wage labor. Differences that are 
not the subject of dispute.

>It is,  of course, true that commodities and Commodities are
>*superficially*  the same in terms of physical characteristics and
>generally price, but they are *essentially* different for the above reasons.

No, again little c commodities are not the same in price as big C 
commodities; the former do not have to be sold tendentially at prices 
of production for production to remain viable.

Moreover,  the above reasons do not prove that only those commodities 
which are produced by wage laborers can be carriers of surplus value.

>However, If one  wants to  view surplus value merely as "stuff" in a
>physicalist sense then one will have  a different perspective.  If that
>be the case, as surplus approach theorists suggest, then value
>theory is unnecessary and  "redundant".

This is another form of bad faith argument.

I have opposed the physicalist approach by agreeing that the 
commodities marketed by colonial settler peasants were not the same 
as big C commodities produced through capitalist agriculture and 
modern plantation slavery in particular though physically the 
commodities may appear the same and surplus labor was embodied in 
both the little c and big C commodities.  Different social relations 
stand behind the production of little c and big C commodities. Value 
does not regulate the former; the production of surplus value did not 
drive the former.

  Far from suggesting that value theory is unnecessary and redundant, 
I have argued repeatedly that value theory is needed to differentiate 
the colonial settler peasantry which throws small c commodities on 
the market from modern slave plantations in which products were big C 
commodities from the start and differentiate slavery as a patriarchal 
system from slavery as a form of capitalist enterprise.

The form of the inputs need not take the value form; price of 
production need not regulate production as a condition of supply; the 
aim of production need not be surplus value, and production thus need 
not be driven by the voracious appetite for surplus labor to which 
the search for surplus value gives rise. But all these three 
conditions can obtain in some conditions even if capitalists do not 
use free wage labor. As the Moor himself understood.


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