Spain: colonizer and colonized/New World Slavery and Marx

Fri Jul 4 15:37:16 MDT 2003

Melvin P. wrote:

>"Wage labor and forced labor," pose the question incorrectly because at
>first glance one knows that "wage" is an economic category and "forced" -
>coercion, is a political category.


<Wage labor means economic subordination and exploitation while forced labor
<means extra-economic subordination and exploitation.  Why is it wrong to
<draw this contrast?  Doesn't the conflict between the two encapsulate much
<of the dynamics of modern history?

Wage labor does not mean economic subordination, although it involves
economic subjugation. . The serf or peasant was economically subjugated - "forced,"
to the master and many time worse off than the slave in the American South,
especially the peasant in Russia, at various points of its history.  The law of
1619 made it legal to kill a peasant or imprison him by his master, while
working to death was the primary motivation of the slaveholder in the South.   My
position is simple. The slave in the black belt of America was not a free
laborer. This means he could not sell his labor on the market on behalf of himself
as a free agent.  Does than mean his labor-power was not sold?

We simply have honest but different point of views because I do not allow for
the political economy of a creature called "forced labor" - whose labor is
not producing a specific thing and then following the history of this "thing" to
determine if it is a product or a commodity. If it is a commodity - a product
produced for exchange, you have entered the realm of commodity production.
If this process has taken place within the last 200 years you are at one stage
of another of capitalist commodity production - a bourgeois property
relations. We are of course talking - as it Marx, about America in the 1800s.

Wage labor or free labor - as opposed to slave labor or forced labor, has a
deeper meaning than economic subjugation.  It is never wrong to illustrate a
side of a social process. It is incorrect and leads to wrong political
conclusions to inflate a side - one aspect, of the social process and present it as the
fundamentality of the process. Wage labor means the individual as a mass or
layer of society are not in position of means of production and compelled by
the threat of starvation to sell their labor power to someone who posses or has
control of the means of production. Under socialism labor is "economically
subordinated " to ensure that the infrastructure base - expanded reproduction,
occurs in a manner that allows society to evolve where the labor-time content of
the individual is rendered superfluous to the individual reproducing their
species activity.

This question involves political economy and politics. Politics prevent me
from using a concept called "forced labor" because I am in a country where an
antagonism arose between wage labor and slave labor. Both forms of labor contain
 "forced labor" and involve economic subordination. The appearance on the
market of free labor means that the individual not only has no means of
production but he faces an alien social power that forces him to sell his labor to get
means of subsistence and falls under the domination - economic subordination,
of the individual that welds the social power of production.   In fact "Wage
labor and forced labor, pose the question incorrectly."

Wage labor is by definition forced labor on the basis of a specific
development in the means of production, exchange and distribution. The slave is not a
"forced laborer" but a slave laborer.

According to Marx, in America's slave plantations, even
though they were plugged to the world market, capitalist production existed
only *formally*.  By implication, the social *content* of production was
still noncapitalist.  Note that Marx says that free wage labor "is the basis
of capitalist production."  Note that in my comments to South African
mining, I said the property used to exploit slave labor is capital.  Hence
Marx's next sentence, "the business in which slaves are used is conducted by
capitalists."  Yes, it is their capital that exploits slave labor, but that
means it is capital that is not valorizing itself the way typical capital
valorizes itself -- i.e., through the exploitation of free wage laborers.

It is capital in its antediluvian form, because the content of the process
by which it expands is not surplus value *production*.  It may mix and melt
into the flow of surplus value in the economy.  But then it will become
'surplus value' not by origin but by choice -- if you allow my figure of
speech.  And that, to Marx, matters.  And it should matter to us too.  More
on this below.

No, there was not chance factor involved in how and why the labor of the
slave was deployed. As slavery in America passed from a more than less patriarchal
relation - production of use values or production of things and services to
be directly consumed by the master, to production for exchange, the laboring of
the slave produces a product whose origin and primary - nay singular, purpose
is exchange or profit or money/capital. No if, ands or buts.

A slave laboring as a proletarian is called a proletarian in chains. What
distinguishes a proletarian is not his free agency, but his appearance at a
specific historical juncture where the primary form of wealth is no longer in land
but movable poverty, and him possessing nothing - facing an alien social power
called capital, other than his labor power to sell. I submit that the slaves
in America were not simply slaves as in antiquity but sold exclusively for
their labor-power. The slave in antiquity was not sold for his labor power but
for his laboring. Labor power only arises at a certain juncture in history.

This is of course a difficult question for several reasons. The first is
theoretical and stretches the boundary of what the past generations of Marxist
called capital and capitalism. Capital is not capitalism.  Capital as a social
power arises before the bourgeois property relations whose nick name is
capitalism. I can quote Marx until I am blue in the face - where he states this in no
uncertain terms, to no avail.
The social content of production - which you raise, have several meanings. I
agree that the social form of the labor-power that was bought - purchased, by
one capitalist from an owner of slaves, resembled more the conditions of the
serf than the free-laborer.  Forget the slave and the slave master for a

Who and what were the people who breed slaves in the American South? What
were they as a class configuration? I am not talking about slavery in the 16 and
1700s. Classify the slave breeders and the economic system they operated in.
Feudalism? Natural economy? What was the entire environment in which these
grotesque events played themselves out?  Forget the slave for a moment. What are
the farmers who existed alongside capitalist slavery in the South? Serfs or
peasants? Farm laborers or agrictultrual proletarians? Were these people small
landowners and is not petty capitalist slang for small landowners? Forget the
plantation economy for a moment. Describe the economic conditions of the south
as a region. Bourgeois property relations or capitalism without question.

America was founded by trading companies. There was no feudal social or
economic formation in America. Slavery was feudal like in its social forms but that
is all. In other words you basically state that in the 1800's all of
continental America was capitalist except the plantation system.

You seek laboratory purity.

On the other hand the "social content of production," of the slaves labor and
labor power, as expressed in his productive life activity - products, exactly
mirrored and was the same as the life activity of the English worker,
expressed in the products he created. That is the products are created for exchange -
capital conversion.  It is this antiquated form of labor that was the bottom
line reason for the Civil War. Either the slave produced surplus value as his
primary life activity or he did not. The form of the labor is the reason for
the Civil War in America.

The reason the slave products were not in fact products but commodities is
because of the environment in which this production took place and the specific
use to which the labor of the slave was directed.

The question is highly political because it forms the basis that every
generation of Marxist in America has argued over their assessment of the African
American people. Slavery in American was a brutal form of capitalist slavery,
which is a contradiction within itself.  The fact of the matter is that the slave
master was a capitalist and the slave a slave.

Marx states,

"The process of production, considered on the one hand as the unity of the
labor-process and the process of creating value, is the production of
commodities; considered on the other hand as the unity of the labor process and the
process of producing surplus-value, it is the capitalist process of production, or
capitalist production of commodities."  (Capital Volume 1)

The slave was a slave that engaged in the production of not products but
commodities and that is the absurdity.  Because this in fact was a form of
capitalist development the slaveholding area of the South was hurled onto the path of
national development distinct from the North.

>"Where the capitalist outlook prevails, as on American plantations, this
>entire surplus value is regarded as profit . . ."  (Capital Volume 3 page

Let me give the whole citation.  (I added the emphasis.) Marx says:

"Where the capitalist conception prevails, as on the American plantations,
this entire surplus-value is conceived as profit; where the capitalist mode
of production DOES NOT EXIST ITSELF, and the mode of conception
corresponding to it is not transferred from capitalist countries, it appears
as rent."  (Penguin Classics edition, p. 940.)

Note that Marx does not hide behind vague terms like the 'overdetermination
by the world system', etc. to avoid characterizing the American plantation
system as it is in and by itself.  He says say that here, in this particular
instance, you have a system of production closely connected to capitalist
production, driven by the needs of capitalist production, YET not in itself
capitalist production because capitalist production entails free wage labor.
  That is what Marx says.


I suggest you reread what you just stated.

 In fact, in a page nearby, Marx says:

"The specific economic form in which unpaid surplus labor is pumped out of
the direct producers determines the relationship of domination and
servitude, as this grows directly out of production itself and reacts back
on it in turn as a determinant.  On this is based the entire configuration
of the economic community arising from the actual relations of production,
and hence also its specific political form. [...]  This does not prevent the
endless variations and gradations in its appearance, as the result of
innumerable different empirical circumstances, natural conditions, racial
relations, historical influences acting from outside, etc., and these can
ONLY be understood by analyzing these empirically given conditions." (p.

Two things.  First, by the same economic basis admitting endless gradations
and variations, Marx obviously means surplus value production from its very
conception.  Not by choice, but by origin.  That is, production by free wage
laborers.  That is the same economic basis that exists in endless gradations
and variations.  Is the worker paid with cash, check, direct deposit, or
calls on the company stock?  Etc.  This is the same economic basis, same in
its major conditions.  Forced labor would be different in its 'major
conditions' to wage labor.

Second, that a factory, plantation, or mine is plugged to the
capitalist-dominated world market is not sufficient to decide the character
of the factory, plantation, or mine.

The character of the place is determined by how surplus labor is 'pumped out
of the direct producers' --  Marx says.  Is it pumped out directly, by direct
coercion?  Or is it pumped  out indirectly, mediating a wage contract?  If you
determine that, you have
only characterized the 'major conditions' of the economic basis.  There are
other, 'empirical' aspects that influence it.  And on top of the economic
basis, there are other structures to be comprehended.  And they all require
specific investigation.

Obviously, communists in the U.S. must study the animal in its full
complexity.  The 'empirical' aspects must be understood as well -- and be
related to the 'major conditions' of the 'economic basis' to be informative
in practice.  Just because you have a compass that always gives you the
North doesn't mean that you have to move in a straight line path.  But that
is no denying of the importance of the compass.

>Here at one blow, Marx clearly sets forth the character of capitalist
>slavery in North America. Marx says:
>"It is however, clear that in any given economic formation of society,
>where not the exchange value but the use value of the product predominated,
>the surplus labor will be limited by a given set of wants, which may be
>greater or less, and that here no boundless thirst for surplus labor arises
>from the nature of production itself. Hence in antiquity, overwork become
>horrible only when the object is to obtain exchange value in its specific
>independent money-form; in the production of gold and silver. Compulsory
>working to death is here the recognized form of over-work." (Capital Volume

This citation makes it clear.  In antiquity, wherever there was production
for exchange value -- as opposed to production for use value -- the thirst
for surplus labor became 'boundless'.  This means that in antiquity, we may
find instances of this phenomenon.  And antiquity wasn't capitalist.
Slavery in America entailed a boundless thirst for surplus labor.  It was
because it was plugged to the capitalist-dominated world market.  But there
is no implication that slavery was capitalist production.

>Marx further explains why slavery in America was a peculiar form of
>"But as soon as people, whose production still moves within the lower form
>of slave labor, corvee labor, etc. art drawn into the whirlpool of an
>international market dominated by the capitalist mode of production, the
>sale of their products for export becoming the principle interest, the
>civilized horrors of overwork are grafted on the barbaric horrors of
>slaver, serfdom, etc. Hence the Negro labor in the Southern states of the
>American Union preserved something of a patriarchal character, so long as
>production was chiefly directed to immediate consumption. But in proportion
>as the export of cotton become of vital interest to these states, the over
>working of the Negro and sometimes the using up of his life in seven years
>labor becomes a factor in a calculated and calculating system."  (Capital
>Volume 1)

I disagree with your interpretation, Melvin.  Slavery in America was part of
the capitalist social formation, but it was not a peculiar form of
capitalist production.  It was no capitalist production.  The only way you
can call it capitalist is by reference to the overall world market to which
it is plugged.  There is no basis for that interpretation in Marx's words.

When you have an animal that has it in its guts the drive to grow endlessly,
like capitalist production, then -- as it enters into contact with other
modes of production -- it might at first coexist and even reinforce such
modes temporarily.  But, eventually, it will conflict with them.  I am no
expert in U.S. history but it seems to me that we miss a whole lot if we
view slavery as the same as capitalist production.  Was Lincoln
anti-capitalist then?  Was the civil war a war against the peculiar form of
U.S. capitalism?


Of course the Civil War was precisely against that peculiar form of
capitalism. The war was to break the power of a class of capitalist slaveholders, a
contradiction in history. The Civil War was not a war against bourgeois property
relations but the political forms of agriculture. We are not dealing with
feudalism and you do not suggest this. You state we are not dealing with bourgeois
property or rather your particular delimitation of capitalism. Fine. To each
his own. What you call capitalist I call bourgeois property relations. I am
very clear as to the meaning of the bourgeois property relations and it
consequence.  Capitalist production means production that is shaped on the basis of
bourgeois property relations. Capitalist production does not mean manufacture,
or industry or slavery for that matter.  What was the property relations and
what was produced and for whom or what purpose.

>In the Poverty of Philosophy Marx shows the decisive role of slavery in the
>USNA in the development of capitalism:  "Direct slavery (repeat:
>D-I-R-E-C-T S-L-A-V-E-R-Y MP.) is just as much the pivot of bourgeois
>industry as machinery, credits, etc. Without slavery you have no cotton;
>without cotton you have no modern industry. It is slavery that has given
>the colonies their values; it is the colonies that have created world
>trade, and it is world trade that is the precondition of large-scale
>industry. Thus slavery is an economic category of the greatest importance.
>"Without slavery, North America, the most progressive of countries would be
>transformed into a patriarchal country. Wipe out North America from the map
>of the world, and you will have anarchy - the complete decay of modern
>commerce and civilization. Abolish slavery and you will have wiped America
>off the map of nations."

Let us read what Marx actually says.  Nothing in this passage justifies
thinking of slavery as a 'peculiar form of capitalism.'  Marx says that
direct slavery is a 'pivot' of bourgeois industry.  Like what?  Like
'machinery, credits, etc.'  Slavery has expanded colonial trade and created
the world market.  Through that, slavery is a 'precondition' of large-scale
industry.  That gives slavery such importance.  Now, machinery is not
characteristic of capitalist production.  In fact, machines predated
capitalist production.  There were machines in the middle ages, in some
cases, they were used extensively -- as Marx notices in Grundrisse and
Capital.  There were even machines in the ancient world, by some accounts.
Credits are not inherent to capitalist production.  There was a broad credit
system in many cities and towns before capitalist production proper took
over.  There is ample evidence of credit arrangements in ancient times.
What Marx says is that they are PRE-conditions.

Commodity production and exchange is a precondition of capitalist
production.  Yet, it is not per se capitalist production.  Yes, the world
market (made possible by slavery in America) is a PRE-condition for
capitalist production and for large-scale industry.  "World trade and the
world market date from the 16th century, and from then on the modern history
of capital unfolds." (first paragraph of Capital I, chapter 4).  It is with
large-scale industry that capitalist production ensures its domination of
the world market.  Chicken and egg, yes, but there's a clear hint as to the
direction of the process.  So, there is no basis to equate slavery with
capitalist production.

If slavery is just a peculiar form of capitalist production, on the same
footing as wage labor, then what we should expect with the development of
capitalism is a reinforcement or at least proportional expansion of direct
slavery.  In fact, as a share of the total value produced in the world, the
production of value by direct slaves has declined.  Therefore, slavery is
NOT a peculiar form of capitalist production.  It is different from it and
it conflicts with it eventually.

Actually, my reference is to slavery in the American South as it passed from
a patriarchal form to a latifundist - capitalist or bourgeois property
agricultural relations.

Melvin P.

>Further in Capital Volume 1, Marx continues:
>"Whilst the cotton industry introduced child slavery in England, it gave in
>the United States a stimulus to the transformation of the earlier, more or
>less patriarchal slavery, into a system of commercial exploitation. In
>fact, the veiled slavery of the wage workers in Europe needed, for its
>pedestal, slavery pure and simple in the new world."

See my comments to the previous citation.

>Free labor is not the antithesis of forced labor. Free or free labor means
>divorced from means of production, or hurled unto the market unattached -
>free, of ownership of "means," and not "politically free."

I disagree.  Free wage laborers are (remember, we are talking about the
tendency a historical process) politically free as well.  They are free of
political coercion.  Political coercion is extra-economic subjugation.  Like
the caciques in a Mexican ejido or comunidad.  Workers cannot be free in a
proletarian sense if they remain attached to the ejido or comunidad.

>The slaves were proletarians in chains. Simply because this slave labor was
>sold all at once - in the form of the slave who is sold to an owner of
>capital, does not change the character of the exploitation of that labor.
>This is a peculiarity. The slave was in fact sold as a commodity, which is
>the economic meaning of chattel slavery. This is also the absurdity.

We may say that proletarians are slaves but under economic coercion.  That
the wage system is slavery under an economic form.  Of course, the economic
form is not insignificant.  But, deep down, the wage system is akin to
slavery.  That is why we want to end it.  By saying that modern workers are
subject to 'wage slavery', we are being blunt about the true nature of
capitalism.  But... hmm, it seems to me that to call slaves 'proletarians in
chains' flatters slavery.  It's like saying that my PC is 'a
Pentium-Centrino-with-wireless-broadband-connection in chains'.  I wish.

Well, in America we say we were proletarians in chains.

Melvin P.

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