[OPE-L:3397] RE: slave labour conditions

Massimo De Angelis (massimo@uel.ac.uk)
Mon, 14 Oct 1996 02:44:01 -0700 (PDT)

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On Sun, 13 Oct 1996, Paul Cockshott wrote:

> At 03:41 12/10/96 -0700, Massimo De Angelis wrote:
> >Depends on your understanding of LTV and capitalist mode of production. For
> >Marx the latter is not defined by the existence of wages, but by the
> >organization of the social system around a simple principle
> >boundless drive for accumulation. The wage form is one way to deal
> >with workers needs of reproduction, but is not the only one. With
> >v=0 people could for example be fed directly without the monetary
> >mediation, as in prison and slave camps.
> If Marx thought wage labour irrelevant to capitalism then he would,
> in my opinion, have been a fool. But I see little evidence that either
> this premise or consequence held. In particular, his analysis of
> the so called primitive accumulation is a lengthy historical investigation
> into the process by which the wage labouring population came into being.

Who said that wage labour was irrelevant to Marx? Yes, the analysis
of primitive accumulation is an historical investigation into the process
by which the wage labouring population came into being, that is, into
A FORM in which people were separated from their commons. It is
THIS separation that forms the central precondition of capitalism,
not the wage form as such. But of course this would be, in Paul C
words, a reversion to the essentialism of Hegelian idealism:

> In my view, the conceptualisation of capitalism as being the organisation
> of society around a 'principle', is a reversion to the essentialism
> of Hegelian idealism.

Well then, let us look up the dictionary, that is the book in which
words are defined in terms of their current meaning:

"capitalism = an economic system characterized by the profit motive
and the control of the means of production, distribution, and exchange
of goods by private ownership." Longman Dictionary.

What an essentialist definition! No profit motive, no capitalism. Of
course, reading this definition one could question the nature
of an economic system (as it is also a social system), and
private ownership as defining the control on those means of production
etc. rather than just reflecting formal ownership. But in this
dispute what is worthy to point out is this: Paul C. overlooks
what a social system is FOR; processes do not matter
in a crude empiricist framework.

> If we assume that a different mode of production - slavery exists, then
> there is generally ( though not universally ) no wage paid to the labourers.
> But in these circumstances the labourers have themselves to be purchased.
> Furthermore, whilst on a latifundia the slaves rations may be locally produced
> not bought, for industrial production, slave rations have to be purchased
> on the market. Under these circumstances simply assuming v=0 is an inadequate
> representation of the costs of using labour since it ignores the costs
> of purchasing and maintaining the slaves.

This is correct, but has nothing to do with the definition of capitalism.
It has however to do with the debate over whether v = 0. So I concede
the fact that in a slave or prison camp v would be different than zero
it simply would not appear in the wage form. But there is an example
I can make for which v = 0 and workers reproduce themselves. In the case
in which workers work for subsistence on their land outside the cash
economy and they are forced by the government to pay a tax in cash. They
are thus forced to set some of the land for cash products, just enough to pay
the tax. These products are then purchased by the government
who sell them to capitalists who use them as imputs of production.
In this case v = 0 even if the workers are linked through a cash nexus
to the global economy. It is a situation very common in many development

But of course, what Andrew was pointing out was beyond the concreteness
of examples like this. To set v = 0 and ASSUME people live on
air, is to reinforce the case that shows that the internal dynamics
of a social system based on profit (endless drive to accumulation)
is independent of wage and has to do with labour at the
point of production.