[OPE-L:7110] VFT on slavery

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Fri May 03 2002 - 10:41:55 EDT

Nicky writes:

>Sorry, I don't understand this.  Either slaves produce surplus value or
>they don't.

It's not either/or.

I have only said that some slaves produced surplus value; most did 
not. Neither Marx  nor I ever claimed that all slaves have produced 
surplus value or that all slaves performed under the compulsion of 
the valorization of value.

In this post you have issued a warning instead of an argument: if we 
do not agree with you that surplus value can only be produced when 
and only when capitalists hire free wage laborers, we will have to 
admit that the search for maximum surplus value has always driven 
production whenever and wherever a ruling class has compelled the 
performance of surplus labor.

But this does not follow. If the ruling class does not compel the 
performance of surplus labor such that it is objectified in what are 
commodities from the start for the purposes  of the valorization of 
value, then we will not have production driven forward primarily by 
the search for value and surplus value.

Slavery was hardly ever organized around the production of value and 
surplus value. This only became generally true of slavery when it 
took the form of plantation slavery enmeshed in the world capitalist 
market to the development of which it made the pivotal contribution. 
Before that, slavery was the means by which royal armies had been 
organized, kinship relations extended to rootless individuals in 
Africa, personal whims of masters met, etc.

You argue that by entertaining the possibility that not only wage 
workers can produce surplus value Marxists will lose all sense of the 
historical specificity of capitalism but in fact it is you who has 
lost all sense of historical variation in the system of slavery.

So your  threat is a phantom. One can easily differentiate modern 
plantation slavery as a capitalist enterprise enmeshed in the world 
capitalist market from slavery as a patriarchal institution or 
slavery as an ancient mode of production.

>  Either surplus value results from capital's use of wage labour
>or it results from capital's use of labour in general (including both wage
>labour and slave labour).

And so surplus value does not result from  non capitalists' use of 
labor in general. I agree.  Surplus value only becomes the driving 
aim of production and the realizability of prices of production only 
becomes a condition of supply when capitalists use wage labor or 
labor in general for the production of what are commodities from the 
start--though in certain exceptional cases in antiquity slavery was 
(according to Marx) directed first and foremost at the production of 
the maximum sum of surplus value (e.g., gold mining).

What was exceptional of slavery in antiquity became characteristic of 
modern plantation slavery.

>  Which is it?  For myself, I agree with Rubin as
>to the impossibility of reconciling a historical concept of value with a
>concept of surplus value produced by labour in general.

No one is arguing that labor in general produces surplus value. No 
one is arguing that all slaves or indentured workers produce surplus 
value. No one is arguing that wage laborers have always produced 
surplus value (wage labor was used on feudal estates in the 13th 



>That you need to find new
>terminology is evidence I think that the value-form theory as you have
>interpreted it is insisting that its theoretical use of various terms is
>definitive. I would prefer to talk about the specifically  CAPITALIST forms
>of exploitation, surplus value and value, rather than appropriate Marx's
>conceptual machinery solely for the analysis of the CMP.

Is there something wrong, per se, with a search for meaningful terms in a
debate?  As a very general observation, participants in value debates often
use the same terms to mean completely different things, leading almost
always to a dialogue of the deaf.  In any search for understanding, then, I
prefer to give some idea of what *I* mean by a term, and try at the same
time to understand what *you* mean by it.  Is there something wrong with
this approach? 

Clearly you think so, since you interpret a search for understanding as
'evidence' that VFT insists on definition.  Please explain.  When I say
that a term means A within a particular system of thought, why do you
consider my usage more definitive than your use of the same term to mean
'B' within a different conceptualisation?  And where in past communications
did I "insist" that my usage of the term is definitive?  I merely said that
I consider that in a theory of how capitalism works, concepts have
relevance only to capitalist forms (whatever their historical precedents
might be).  If you prefer to have a general notion of exploitation where
capitalist forms constitute a particular case, that's fine by me (I am
simply trying to understand how that works for you since, clearly we are
talking about different things).      

In any case, let us avoid arguing over who has the *correct* use of a term;
since terms are located within an entire system of thought meaning does not
exist in isolation.  Contrary to what you seem to be implying (above),
concepts CANNOT be defined within VFT because value, surplus value, profit
etc have meaning only in relation to the INTERCONNECTION that they have
with other concepts determined within the whole.  In discussing the meaning
of concepts I am doing little more than meeting *your* request to establish
(if we can) what are the differences and similarities in our points of view. 


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