Value of slaves was Money, mind and the ontological status of value

From: Paul Cockshott (wpc@DCS.GLA.AC.UK)
Date: Wed Jun 16 2004 - 17:04:54 EDT

[HOWARD]    In the US we still wear the stains of slave markets today, so,
yes, I believe slaves, ancient and otherwise, represented crystallizations
of abstract labor.  Their exchange value was determined the same way a horse
or other work animal was; in fact Marx somewhere, I think Pre Capitalist
Economic Formations, suggests as much -- the direct producer is the
patriarch and the slave treated as a productive resource of the work animal
sort.  Anyway, the real issue here is abstract labor.


I am in agreement with Howard on the existence of value in the ancient
world, but I am not sure that his formulation of what determines the value
of slaves is right.

What he is arguing has some coherence, but I am not convinced by it.
Basically he is saying that it is the labour of juridical subjects
that constitutes abstract value creating labour. Patriarchs were
juridical subjects and could enter into contracts and hence their
labour was value creating, whereas that of slaves, instrumentum vocalis
was not. The analogy here is with the labour of horses - Smith could
talk in the same sentence of the farmer's labouring animals and labouring
servants, but only the latter's labour counted as value.

There are problems with this because it takes the juridical representation
of production relations as the reality. There are significant differences
between slaves and horses, and it is only the ideology of the slave
mode of production that equates them.

1. Horses are very limited in the work they can do. People are universal
   workers who can do any type of work given the training. The fact that
   a person occupied the legal status of slave said nothing about the
   sort of work they could do. Slaves carried out many skilled jobs and
   were by no means restricted to the mere supply of muscular energy.
   It is this universal applicability that differentiates human labour from
   animal work and makes the concept of labour in the abstract practically
   meaningful. A patriarch could chose to redeploy his slaves between
   different tasks in a way that was impossible with horses.

2. Slaves and patriarchs belong to the same species and the movement between
   categories is purely juridical - relations of debt inducing slavery
   for example. A free peasants labour would under Howard's reasoning
   add value, but, on falling into servitude due to not paying his debts,
   his labour would no longer count as value - this seems implausible.

3. The same commodities would be produced for the market by both slave
   and free labour. Would the price of the commodity be regulated only
   by conditions of free labour? Would conditions of production and
   the number of hours worked by slaves growing olives for example
   have no influence on the price?

4. The value of slaves is analogous to part of the value of labour power.
   It corresponds to that part of the cost of labour power that amortises
   the costs of bringing a human from infancy to the stage they can
   work productively. This is met out of the wage under capitalism, and
   is met as a capital cost under slavery.

5. The labour of the patriarch of his freemen overseers is labour of
   supervision and control and should in large measure count as unproductive

6. I would argue that the labour of slaves was productive and value
   creating, to the extent that some of this labour had to be used
   directly and indirectly in reproducing more slaves, both in the time
   of care of slave mothers and the embodied labour in the food
   consumed by slave children, this value creating labour of the
   slave population created the value of slaves themselves.

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