[OPE-L:7146] extra economic coercion

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Fri May 10 2002 - 14:00:33 EDT

Why does the relation of production have to be free of extra economic 
coercion in order for there to be production of value and surplus 

I have not been able to follow Jerry's answer to this question which 
he may word differently  of course. Robert Brenner however has a very 
good answer (I am trying to apply the analysis in his Social Bases of 
economic Development in Analytical Marxism, though Brenner himself 
does not talk about modern plantation slavery presumably because 
it--like the putting out system--is a difficult liminal case):

Only if workers are free from extra economic coercion does the ruling 
class find that it can only appropriate surplus labor through 
commodity production carried out in terms of efficient technology. If 
the ruling class cannot appropriate surplus labor through compulsion 
of rent in kind, money rent, direct labor services, etc.,  it finds 
that it has to pay a wage to a working class which will willingly 
then create new money value in excess to the money value of its wage.

Only if the ruling class finds that it cannot fall back on the 
appropriation of surplus labor through the  violent compulsion of 
rent in kind or money rent or direct labor services--that is, only 
when the ruling class confronts labor power as a commodity--will it 
be forced to depend itself on commodity production for the market and 
invest in the rationalization of the costs of commodity production 
such that output will be market competitive while still allowing the 
capitalist his reasonable money profit, money profit being the form 
in which surplus labor is appropriated.

A slave owner can always decide not to make the investments in 
commodity production which make output market  competitive  and fall 
back on the direct compulsion of surplus labor in the form of rent in 
kind or direct labor services since the plantation owner owns the 
person of the slave. Like the colonial settler peasantry, the slave 
owner can then dump excess commodities on the market below their 
value once his own consumption needs have been met.

Slave plantations thus can never free themselves of the temptations 
of natural or patriarchal economy: a plantation enterprise can  never 
become a proper capitalist enterprise since its reproduction is not 
dependent on the production of commodities and more specifically the 
production of commodities which due to ongoing technological and 
organizational improvements in the labor process can be sold vis a 
vis rival commodities on the market at prices of production. The 
slave owner (as well as feudal lord) always has the "easy" fall back 
position of extra-economic coercion to command surplus labor in 
direct, consumable form--that is, surplus labor which does not have 
the value form.

There is of course the further obstacle that with huge fixed costs in 
the purchase of slaves--labor power is not a variable (in the 
business sense) cost for plantation owners--they cannot shift 
production to those commodities which will be tendentially realized 
at prices of production.

Of course my position has been that modern plantation owners had no 
such fall back position. They had to (and very much wanted to) 
appropriate surplus labor in the form of money through the production 
of commodities because of the money debts they had incurred (after 
all, plantation owners did not themselves capture slaves but paid for 
them with borrowed money) and the ongoing money costs which they had 
on their books (means of production, means of subsistence, faux 
fraix, world market luxuries--fine clothes, fine wine, world travel, 
etc) and thus the threat of bankruptcy over their head; moreover, 
they learned that production for the market would make them wealthier 
than simply forcing slaves as coerced peasants to give up rent in 
kind or direct labor services--plantation owners did not borrow money 
and make huge capital investments just to live on the food and 
luxuries with which their own slaves could directly provide them! 
Fogel provides evidence that slaves were not purchased as luxuries 
for the purposes of conspicuous consumption but as capital 
investments for the purposes of profit making. It was because the 
plantation owners were entangled in the world market from the start 
that the aim of production was surplus value.

  Modern plantation owners did in fact have flexibility to shift their 
mix of crops in response to market signals, as Fogel emphasizes. 
There is also no evidence that if New World plantation capitalists 
had to rely on free wage labor--that is, if labor costs had been more 
variable than fixed--much of New World agriculture would have even 
been profitable, that it would have made any sense to go into 
capitalist business in the Americas. And without the capitalist 
business of New World plantations there would have been much 
diminished demand for Old World mfg goods, the sugar shipping 
industry and shipping industry in general would not have developed as 
if in a hothouse, merchants would not have had the power to make a 
bourgeois revolution.

  Modern plantation owners  embedded themselves in the world 
capitalist market and had to appropriate surplus labor in the form of 
money through the production of commodities which would be 
competitive on the world market and profitable in terms of their 
costs (given that merchants commanded much of the surplus value, cost 
cutting forcibly imposed itself on the plantation owners; the 
merchants tied to the New World plantation system were of course key 
actors in the English bourgeois revolution).

Modern plantation slavery seems to have been more innovative of the 
labor process (the gang system) than early capitalist agriculture and 
the putting out system. It was closer to the real subsumption of 
labor.  And it seems to have been as, if not more, technologically 
dynamic in the assimilation of machines in the mercantilist or early 
capitalist phase.

So it seems to me that capitalist compulsions were at work in the 
case of modern plantations despite workers not being free of extra 
economic coercion. Of course the servants in husbandry in the English 
countryside were not free of extra economic compulsions either.


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