wpc at cs.strath.ac.uk wpc at cs.strath.ac.uk
Thu Mar 9 04:18:11 MST 1995

Alex Wrote
Perhaps the use of prison labor under capitalist regimes can't be equated
with the private ownership of slaves under hereditary, permanent
conditions, but surely forced labor of prisoners is nonetheless a form of
slavery. And when you consider the vast scale on which it was used in
Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, it has to be said that a significant
sector of the economy in those societies was sub-capitalist. (If the
Nazis had won, don't you think they would have made permanent, hereditary
slaves out of, say, the Slavs if not the Jews?)
The point I objected to was the suggestion that Soviet Russia
and Fascist Germany had regressed from socialism and capitalism
to chattel slavery.

Chattel slavery would have represented a real regressive change in
the property relations and class structure of the societies. My
arguement was that this did not occur, and that the use of prison
labour here was not evidence against the Marxist thesis that the
sequence of modes of production has a definite direction.

In the Soviet case, the high points of the use of prison labour
came in the 30s and 40s, in the first instance class-war prisoners
formed the bulk of te inmates arising from the liquidation of the
Kulak class, in the second case German and Japanese war prisoners
provided the bulk. Once class and international peace were established
the camp population declined and became a minor element in the
economy. A genuine slave mode of production would have been driven
to repeated wars to capture more prisoners.

In the German case, prisoners came either from groups that the
goverment was trying to exterminate or from labour indentures
from occupied territory. The latter group were formally employed
on labour contracts not dissimilar to those of migrant mine workers in
the British colonies. Whilst the first category was obviously
temporary, it is a valid point that had the fascists won forced
labour contracts would probably persisted in imperial territory.
But there is nothing unusual about this. It was part of the normal
course of capitalist development in the imperialist era. What seems
to white people uniquely shocking about the fascists is that they
applied to Europeans techniques that other capitalists had only
applied in their African and Asian colonies.
In both cases though, such forced labour was not an aberation but
part and parcel of capitalist 'progress'.


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