wpc at cs.strath.ac.uk wpc at cs.strath.ac.uk
Wed Mar 8 02:46:21 MST 1995

Alex writes
As regards regression in modes of production, what about the use of
chattel slavery by Nazi Germany and the USSR under Stalin. For example,
the use of gulag inmates to build the White Sea Canal seems more like
Asiatic despotism than either capitalism or socialism.
Neither of these was chattel slavery. Chattel slavery involves
the private ownership and trade in persons. The forced labour
of prisoners is a different economic form in that:

a) the prisoner is not an item of private property, though the
   state may profit from their labour.
b) it is generally a temporary condition, the prisoner is either
   set free at the end of their term, or in the case of the Nazi's
   prisoners -executed. This would not be a rational course of
   action for a private slave owner.
c) The condition is not hereditory, children of prisoners are not
   themselves prisoners

The use of prison labour is actually something that arises specifically
with capitalism. Feudal an slave societies did not maintain prisons -
relying instead of direct capital punishment, mutilation, sale into
slavery etc.

I have difficulty in seeing why prison labour is incompatible with
socialism as a mode of production. What is a socialist society
supposed to do with criminals and counter-revolutionaries?
Simply execute the lot?
I understand this to be a popular sentiment in the US.

	Also, there's the possibility that industrial civilization
(whether capitalist or "socialist") could so destroy the environment that
the surviving human population will be forced to a much lower level of
This is a misconception of the historic role of environmental damage.
Its past effect has always been to accelerate the development of
technology and the mode of production:
	- neolithic revolution in response to exhaustion of megafauna
	- development of coal industry and hence artificial power in
	  response to exhaustion of wood fuel reserves
A rich environment supports a higher standard of living on a poorer
technology. Read Braudel on the contrast between agricultural technology
and living standards in Europe and China in the 15th century

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