Re: [OPE-L] Why aren't non-labourers sources of value? creativity

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Mon Apr 18 2005 - 00:37:14 EDT

Dear Ian,

You wrote

>I take "value" to be a social relation of production: so it does
>speak to the specific finished form of value. Value in the abstract
>is defined by discipline of labour of production through market

I don't see the grounds for that definition. Why not define value as
the appropriation of unpaid labor time in the form of money through
the production of commodities by means of wage labor? To be sure,
market competition distributes surplus value but value and labor
discipline can exist with low a low degree of competition, no?
Predicating value on market competition threatens to make it
inapplicable to monopolistic forms of capital. Just as with Sweezy
and Baran.

>  but it takes on more specific forms such as wage  labour for capital etc.

If by value we mean 'self expanding value' then I would say that wage
labor is not a more specific form, but constitutive-- though I would
follow Banaji's conception of wage labor.

>  The phenomena you mention are all more concrete, modified forms of
>wage-labour for capital.
>  On a straight empiricist methodology, we would all have throw our
>hands up and accept that nothing general can be said (surplus value
>isn't essential either, since plenty of firms operate at a loss for
>a period).

Following Banaji, I reject a simple empiricism which equates wage
labor with its  general visible form, i.e. payment of money wages to
apparently free wage laborers. Which is  how I think the self named
social relations school here defines it. I have raised  a couple of
objections to this school: the wage can take multiple forms, and the
wage contract is not in fact free or only spectrally so.    I am
pointing to an underlying relation of production. Which is not
immediately visible as are the more common relata.

>  I employ a methodology of Marxian-Galilean abstraction:  given
>this, the points you make about varying empirically encountered
>features (the way the wage is paid etc) doesn't really affect the
>defining feature of wage-labour for capital,

But here then is the debate--what is the defining feature of wage
labor? Marxists should have clarity about that! I don't think they
do. Which I was have pursued this argument for several years now on

On Marx's Galileanism, two authors whom I have read have developed
the theme--Leswak Nowak and Daniel Little.

>although, of course, it is important to note that it can sometimes
>take a form intermediate between its classic case and slavery, as in
>tenant farming in the post Civil War US South.

The opposition of classic versus other cases only privileges forms
dominant for some workers for some time in some parts of the West.
That is, it represents as  marginal many parts of the actual history
of the capitalist system. But those other histories may prove more
generally relevant in the years ahead.

De fabula narratur!

May I recommend this excellent review

"Labour History as the History of Multitudes"
Marcel van der Linden, Multitudes

Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker,
The Many-Headed Hydra: The Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic
(Boston: Beacon Press 2000)

Marx's thesis is based on two dubious assumptions, namely that labour
needs to be offered for sale by the person who is the actual bearer
and owner of such labour, and that the person who sells the labour
sells nothing else.16 Why does this have to be the case? Why can
labour not be sold by a party other than the bearer? What prevents
the person who provides labour (his or her own or that of somebody
else) from offering packages combining the labour with labour means?
And why can a slave not perform wage labour for his master at the
estate of some third party?

Asking these questions brings us very close to the idea that slaves,
wage-labourers, share-croppers, and others are in fact an internally
differentiated proletariat. The target approach is therefore one that
"eliminates as a defining characteristic of the proletarian the
payment of wages to the producer."17 The main point appears to be
that labour is commodified, although this commodification may take on
many different forms.

   It is definitely not a coincidence that the acknowledgements of The
Many-Headed Hydra list Yann Moulier Boutang and his book De
l'esclavage au salariat published in 1998.18 After all, in his
extensive study (elaborating on the work of Robert Miles and others),
Moulier Boutang supplies arguments supporting the position that
bonded labour is essential for capitalism to function, both in the
past and nowadays. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, who have also
been inspired by Moulier Boutang, summarize a substantial portion of
his theory as follows:

Slavery and servitude can be perfectly compatible with capitalist
production, as mechanisms that limit the mobility of the labor force
and block its movements. Slavery, servitude, and all the other guises
of the coercive organization of labor - from coolieism in the Pacific
and peonage in Latin America to apartheid in South Africa - are all
essential elements internal to the process of capitalist
   Marx called slavery "an anomaly opposite the bourgeois system
itself," which is "possible at individual points within the bourgeois
system of production," but "only because it does not exist at other

If Moulier Boutang and others are right, then Marx is mistaken here.
In this case, "free" wage labour would not be the favoured labour
relationship under capitalism, but only one of several options.
Capitalists would always have a certain choice how they wished to
mobilize labour-power. And bonded labour would under many
circumstances remain an alternative.

  If this conclusion is justified, then labour historians will indeed
be expected to expand their field of research considerably. Linebaugh
and Rediker write: "The emphasis in modern labor history on the
white, male, skilled, waged, nationalist, propertied artisan/citizen
or industrial worker has hidden the history of the Atlantic
proletariat of the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth
centuries." (Linebaugh and Rediker, 332)

Yours, Rakesh

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