[OPE-L:3350] RE: slave labour conditions

Paul Cockshott (wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk)
Fri, 11 Oct 1996 01:54:52 -0700 (PDT)

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Andrew still thinks that there would be an incentive to invest in constant
capital even under the most charitable interpretation of zero wages, that
limitless supplies of slave labour are available. His argument is that the
constraints necessary for enforcing labour discipline on slaves would be
constant capital.

My main point was that in considering v=0 you are considering a quite different
mode of production, and that the only concievable circumstances that approximate
to it would be the labour of prisoners worked to death. But of course such
prisoners can only exist if there exists a free citizenry to constrain them
who would themselves have to be paid wages, which negates the initial assumption
of zero wages. To treat the wages of supervision as constant capital, is a
unusual interpretation of the notion of constant capital. Why should the wages
of a slave overseer count as constant capital, when the wages of teamster
the labour of horses counted as variable capital? Even Smith could speak in
the same
paragraph of the farmer being assisted by his labouring servants and labouring

The point is that as soon as labour becomes free the whole labour theory of
value breaks down. Firstly the society can only be transient, since free labour
implies the rapid starvation of the labour force. Secondly, if labour really
free, then there would be a negligible correlation between prices and labour
and the labour theory of value would not hold.

Since Andrew, by his own admission is engaged on a branch of formal mathematics,
there is no pre given relationship between the symbols in his system and
material entities or processes. When attempting to fit the theory to the real
world, one can match them up with the things in the real world to which they
most closely correspond. Now as far as I can see the only close match to a free
input to the production process under capitalism is something like sunlight,
an externally supplied input for which nothing has to be paid. We see no
correlation between prices and sunlight used in the real world.
The same would be the case with labour were wages zero. Labour values and
labour inputs would be completely irrelevant to prices and profits.

As historical materialists we should be concerned with real social systems,
we can not when creating models of them abstract from their central features
and expect the models to be of any relevance in predicting what actually

I find the debates associated with such absurdly simple formal models completely
sterile in developing our understanding. What we need to do is to make our
more concrete, closer to reality and more testable against that reality if we
are to advance the subject.

Paul Cockshott