[OPE-L:7357] [OPE-L:886] Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: abstract labour

Paul Cockshott (clyder@gn.apc.org)
Tue, 13 Apr 1999 23:06:11 +0100 (BST)

At 10:27 12/04/99 -0400, ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu wrote:
>Paul C,
>>This is either overstated or plain wrong.
>>There are constraints on the mobility of labour in the capitalist
>>world as well, the existence of nation states with frontiers inhibits
>>the movement of labour.
>That the nation state may regulate the movement of people hardly proves
>that those restrictions impede the mobility of labor required for the
>system of generalised commodity exchange in and through which most human
>needs are met.

Of course it does not and I am not claiming that it does, what
I am saying is that under both slavery and capitalism there is
mobility of labour subject to restrictions. In neither case is mobility
perfect, but one does not need perfect mobility for the concept
of abstract labour to have social relevance.
As soon as one can talk of labour having alternative potential
uses, then labour in the abstract is a relevant concept.
Certainly slave labour had alternative potential uses.
Cairnes, one of the most astute Ricardians, in his contemporaneous
'The Slave Power' cites as one of the advantages of slave
labour that it can be directed more readily than free labour
into different activities.

>One cannot assume these restrictions inhibit the movement of labor. For
>example, workers are not allowed to bring their families under the H1 visa.
>There is never complete mobility of labour.
>>In historical terms however, slave economies are characterised by
>>high mobility of labour.
>What else was the slave trade but labour
>Of course slavery involved the massive forced movement of people, but
>slaves were confined to the range of productive activities on the estate or
>plantation. Displacement does not prove mobility. The bulk of labor was
>free peasant proprietors producing at or near subsistence.

If we take the period of the later republic and early empire, when
slavery reaches its highest development in the ancient world, it is
true that the great bulk of slaves worked on agricultural estates,
but prior to the industrial revolution the great bulk of the product
in all economies was agricultural. The major part of the commodity
product was likewise agricultural. Slave labour was used in all
branches of agriculture and could, at the direction of the slave
owner be directed into different concrete forms - into cattle raising,
olive picking, grape harvesting etc. Thus the major commodity
products of the estates were produced by a labour force that
was mobile between different alternative uses. At the disposal
of the slave overseer it was abstract labour.

Whilst the majority of the population even in the later republic
may have been self sufficient peasants, the majority of the
marketed product was probably produced by slave estates, and
as such the mobility and directablility of the slave labour
force meant that it would not only have been abstract labour,
but would have allowed the law of value to operate in regulating
the relative prices of agricultural commodities.

> Neither such
>peasant proprietors nor slaves comprise that pool of unattached labor, that
>is people needing to work for moeny wages as their only way of acquiring
>use value values for a living, that is the absolute precondition for the
>development of capital markets. The market in labor was nothing more than
>seasonal or casual. Money could generally be advanced, in order to grow,
>only through circulation, or buying and selling, and it was not possibile
>to use production in general as a means to this end, because money did not
>have the command over labor that is required to achieve that; in other
>words, money did not serve as capital.

This is disputable, since money could be converted into slaves
who would then serve as a source of further money. It would be
news to the British capitalist of the 18th c who made their
fortunes in the Jamaican sugar estates that their 'money did not
serve as capital' since it employed slaves rather than free men.

>Scott Meikle's chapter "The Ancient Economy and Its Literature" in his
>Aristotle's Economic Thought. Clarendon, 1995. 162
>>Slave economies also show highly developed levels of commodity
>>production, developed monetary and credit systems - international credit
>>crises are described by Tacitus in the first century.
>"Virtually all lending was *erranos* lending, and as Millett notes, a
>survey of the known motives behind eranos-or friendly loans reveals no
>instance of its productive use. The purpose of comercial lending, which in
>any case was very restricted in sclae, was consumption, not productive
>investment. The main reasons for loans of all kinds 'were almost invariably
>asociated with the unpleasant necessities of life--ransoms, fines, burials,
>foot shortages, tax palyments and public serice. Wage labor, where it
>existed, was entirely seasonal or casual, and free men would do almost
>anything to avoid it, because they regarded it as a more demeaning
>condition even than slavery....Unless ther are siginficant markets in
>capital and wage labor, market relationships cannot be the way in which the
>surplus of society is extracted and appropriated, as they are in market
>society. In that case, such relationships can have been no more than
>important marginal aspects of the essential life processes of that
>Meikle, p. 164
The passage from Meikle has no bearing on the existence of abstract
labour, nor on the development of commodity production under slavery.
All he is saying is that the surplus was not extracted through
market relationships, no, it was extracted through the lash.

>Modern capitalist law incorporates a very significant
>>constraint on the generalisation of commodity production by prohibiting
>>the buying and selling of human beings.
>That 'constraint' is of course a prerequisite for the commodification of
>labor power, which is necessary for the creation of a pool of unattached
>labor, that is people needing to work for money wages as their only way of
>acquiring use value values for a living,
No it is not a prerequisite for the commodification of labour power.
Labour power as a commodity existed in the Ante-Bellum US, although
the constraint on the buying and selling of humans did not.

Paul Cockshott (clyder@gn.apc.org)