[OPE-L] Inter-species slavery- was marx's conception of labour

From: Paul Cockshott (wpc@DCS.GLA.AC.UK)
Date: Wed Nov 22 2006 - 04:48:12 EST

Rakesh, you are of course right in pointing out that human slaves are of
the same species as the slave holder whereas in ants the species differ.

This is almost certainly a testimony to our more sophisticated brains
which allow us to remember or record that certain individuals are
slaves. In the ant case, presumably some mechanism relating to smell
that would otherwise be used to differentiate between own and other
species for defensive purposes has been co-opted to allow discrimination
between master and slave species.

However, I wonder exactly what significance should be attached to this
species difference.

On the one hand we have ample evidence that in slave holding societies,
the ruling classes analogized their 'labouring servants and labouring
Both were captives bent to the wills of their masters. 

On the other hand, the fact that slavery in the USA occurred between
races of the human species rather than between species, is, in the end,
probably just historical accident and lack of opportunity. 

We now know that for most of the pre-history of homo, there co-existed
several hominid species on the earth. The little homo-florensis seems to
have survived until perhaps 10,000 years ago, homo-neanderthalis until
around 30,000 years ago. It seems as much happenstance as anything else,
that that development of husbandry and agriculture which were themselves
preconditions for the establishment of the 'peculiar institution', did
not arise in the previous rather than this interglacial epoch. Had that
occurred, and had early cro-magnons mastered agriculture and the
domestication of animals, would they then have refrained from enslaving
their Neanderthal or Erectus cousins?

Would the relationship of exploitation been any less had it been
Neanderthals rather than Negros who were enslaved?

The Neanderthals, though generally assumed to be a distinct species,
shared with us a very similar bodily form. They were able to make wooden
and stone tools. Whether they spoke is a matter of conjecture. They had
a more powerful physique than us. With these features they sound as if
they would have made excellent slaves.

 One can picture how the ruling classes in such an alternate reality
would have readily justified their exploitation by pointing out that
these brutes were not our species, and had indeed been placed on earth
by a provident deity to be our servants.

In this case we would have an exact functional analogue of ant slavery.
The similarity of bodily form and nervous system between H. sapiens and
H. neanderthalis, and between L. duloticus  and  L. curvispinosus has
besides an economic significance that would distinguish the hypothetical
and actual relationships respectively, from mere domestication. In
domestication, the servant species is not a full substitute for the
labouring capacities of the masters, whereas in the case of slavery they

Strong though she may be, potentially artistic as she may be, the
labouring potential of a cow elephant is confined to activities like
forestry and quarrying. She can scarcely lend her trunk to weaving or
bricklaying. A slave, on the other hand, has a labouring potential as
adaptable as her master. Any branch of activity formerly performed by
the masters, could be assigned her. This property the ant slaves share
with human slaves. Their labour is an accurate substitute for that of
their masters.

My intention in originally raising these issues, is not to say that
there is no difference between the labour of humans and that of animals.
It is to try and understand what makes labour possible at all. How is it
possible for any species, by bodily activity to modify its environment?

What is the role of information in this?

Both evanescent information, which springs momentarily into existence in
nervous systems, and persistent information passed between individuals,
generations and machines?

-----Original Message-----
From: OPE-L [mailto:OPE-L@SUS.CSUCHICO.EDU] On Behalf Of Rakesh Bhandari
Sent: 22 November 2006 02:42
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] marx's conception of labour

>On Mon, 20 Nov 2006, Rakesh Bhandari wrote:
>>Marks dismisses the description of social insect slavery as only
>>analogical in the strict biological sense.
>What do you suppose Marks meant by that?  I hope, more than that
>Leptothorax duloticus don't have bullwhips or drink mint juleps,
>and that L. curvispinosus don't live in cabins and play the banjo.

Hopes dashed. He does not mean more than that, for after all
entomology tells us no more about the enslavement of the Middle
Passage than it can about the enslavement of iron fillings by a
magnet. Marks, p. 104 What It Means to be 98% Chimpanzee.

Also know whether the L. curvispinosus are captured in an immature
state and hatch later only
to be domesticated to perform 'housekeeping tasks' without
compulsion. But then that is domestication not slave making. Also
with us humans polygenesis has been discredited under the weight of
continuous, albeit often illegal, interbreeding. That is to say, pace
Louis Agassiz, human slavery involves members of one's own species
under continued compulsion. This case of ant "slavery" does not fit.
It's just a weak and meaningless analogy. Even from a functional
point of view. There is certainly no homology in a biological sense.

I did not know that there were Marxists who subscribed to EO Wilson's
sociobiology rather than the critique of it--as for example by the
Sociobiology Study Group of the Science for the People from which
above critique is drawn. Availabe through JSTOR.

I also think he makes a good case for why non human animals don't have


>[The ant Leptothorax duloticus is known as a "slavemaker" and
>studies have shown that the "enslaved" L. curvispinosus suffer
>fitness costs such as "significant reductions in dealate queens,
>workers, and larvae relative to control colonies exclosed without
>slavemakers" ("Prudent Protomognathus and despotic Leptothorax
>duloticus: Differential costs of ant slavery", J. F.
>Hare and T. M. Alloway, Proceedings of the National Academy of
>Sciences of the United States of America, October 9, 2001).]
>Allin Cottrell

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