[OPE-L:2639] Re: Re: slaves and value

From: nicola taylor (nmtaylor@carmen.murdoch.edu.au)
Date: Wed Mar 29 2000 - 13:22:21 EST

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Patrick's [OPE-L:2635]:
>> Finally, it is hardly correct to refer to the slave capitalist sector as
>> "anomalous" in any fashion. For a huge chunk of the years between 1776
>> and 1865, the South was the political and economically dominant region of
>> the country.

Jerry [OPE-L:2636]
Perhaps you are right about this, but it was Marx's term (from the
>_Grundrisse_), not mine.

So, I reiterate my basic point. Human labor is human labor. Differences
>> in the political, social, cultural, and economic power of workers within
>> a capitalist society does not in any way imply that the law of value is
>> inoperative. Or, if I sound slightly postmodern, there are many forms of
>> capitalism; hence, it is somewhat bizarre to say that unless capitalism
>> assumes a particular form (that is, in this instance, the textbook case
>> of libertarian capitalism) then the creation of surplus does not take
>> place.
I don't disagree with the specific historical examples that you cited in
>your post or the relative importance of slavery to the historical
>patterns of trade under capitalism, but I do take issue with the emphasis
>on "human labor is human labor" and the suggestion that the *form* that
>labor takes is not central to the understanding of capitalism as a
>distinct, historically-specific mode of production.
>You ended your post with a reference to the "creation of surplus". Herein
>lies the difference in interpretation: I am more than willing to concede
>that slaves contributed a significant amount of labor that went
>into the production of the *surplus product* historically under
>capitalism. However, the question concerns whether slaves contributed to
>the production of *value* and *surplus value* under capitalism. My answer
>remains "No" since, most fundamentally, the "value relation" represents a
>social relationship between *wage labour* and *capital*. Thus, even where
>there is commodity production and capitalists of a special type, there
>must still be "free" wage-labour for the surplus product (or some
>proportion thereof) to take the form of surplus *value*.

I agree with Jerry that value is a dimension that concerns the form of
labour in capitalism. I can only add that the problem in this discussion
lies in Marx's ambiguous definition of value. It is not clear in *Capital*
that the production of *value* and *surplus value* are confined to
capitalism (on the contrary, these appear as transhistorical categories;
ch1); therefore it is not clear how these categories represent the
capital-labour relation. Moreover, in his discussion of the capital-labour
relation (ch 7) Marx does not even refer to abstract labour (the substance
of value). On this issue, see Chris's Rivisti piece.

At a different analytic level, the problem concerns Marx's definition of
the commodity as a duality of *use-value* and *value*. If neither
use-value or value are historical categories, then we are faced with the
question of why Marx considered the commodity to be an appropriate starting
point for his analysis of capitalism? In his riposte to Wagner he made a
case for viewing the commodity as an historically specific category, but he
does not seem to have developed this line of argument. Instead,
contradictory propositions seem to pervade his work (Perhaps, as Steve K
commented a while back, what Marx lacked was a good editor!).


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