Rakesh Bhandari comments on C. Post's article

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Sep 1 20:05:48 MDT 2003


1. By constant and variable capital, Post means the bourgeois terms of
fixed and circulating capital, yet he uses the Marxian terms. Marx fought
the conflation in Capital, vol II. Laclau claimed that there was no
variable capital in plantation slavery because he implicitly equated
variable capital with payment of wages to productive free wage laborers. I
don't think Post is saying that there was no investment in variable capital
in plantation slavery, but he confuses the issue by referring to
circulating capital as variable capital. Variable capital is the investment
made by capitalists in the reproduction of labor power for the purposes of
appropriating surplus value, i.e. commodities which have to be sold for
money (the necessary form of appearance of value). Proletarians can at
times be slaves (the plantation owners' purchase of cotton clothes would be
part of variable capital), or they can be paid scrips redeemable at the
company store the purchase of the stock of which would be variable capital.
Proletarians need not be paid a direct money wage. Proletarians were even
forced to produce their own miserable subsistence in early capitalism, as
Michael Perelman has shown. I think Post is wrong to say that plantation
self sufficiency compromises their capitalist character: first he
exaggerates it (cotton clothes, utensils, some food were bought off the
market); second transaction cost theory probably shows that it is often
profitable to in-source some or even many inputs.

2. The problem here is motivational; if subsistence is self produced, the
worker clearly knows when she is performing surplus labor and will be
recalcitrant in those hours. With the payment of the wage, the worker
believes she is working for her own subsistence (in fact she is performing
necessary and surplus labor in the same act). The free wage worker can be
expected to be more motivated and less destructive as Smith, Olmstead,
Cairnes and Marx argued. Like Post, I think too much is made (for example
by TJ Byres) of the motivational advantage of the free wage worker. But
there is doubtless some motivational advantage so when subsistence goods
become cheap enough on the market the capitalist will surely benefit from a
transition from formally unfree labor to free wage labor, though in the
case of plantation slavery doubly free labor may resist gang labor in land
rich, malarial zones.

3. Post doesn't prove that property in persons fettered mechanization (on
another point: he is simply wrong that plantation owners did not shift crop
mixes in response to price signals--he does not respond to Fogel, 1989
here). That wheat was more mechanized than cotton does not prove that had
the cotton kings used free wage labor they would have adopted more labor
saving techniques (assuming that they could have stayed in business without
formally unfree labour).

a. mechanization is achieved through the accumulation of capital;
mechanization thus does not usually expel living labor labor but only slows
down its growth--the absolute size of the proletariat continues to grow.
Post seems to argue that plantation capitalists wouldn't mechanize because
it would only devalue the "human" capital assets on their books. But that's
not necessarily true; mechanization needn't have devalued the extant
"human" capital assets but only slowed down the purchase of new slaves or
the replacement rate of slaves; to counteract any devaluation plantation
owners could grant more plots by which technologically redundant slaves,
turned into quasi peasants, could have purchased their freedom. That is,
Post does not really prove that the property in persons fettered
mechanization or that slavery could not have adapted to mechanization. It
seems that wherever plantation agriculture was set up in the world right up
to the end of the colonial period it was based on formally unfree labor.

b. Post does not prove that there were technical possibilities which were
not availed as a result of the property in persons. I already put these
points to you, but you did not respond.

c. there is evidence that large scale plantations were the most technically
advanced operations in their time. (I should mention en passant that I do
not understand this whole debate about the internal and external sources of
English capitalism; plantation slavery was internal to England, perhaps
plunder of India was not, and plantation slavery seems to have been more
profitable than say the putting out system in textiles--that is, as a
single industry what was more important than plantation slavery to early
capitalism?)

4. Brenner's argument has a real strength, questioned however by Joseph
Inikori. Brenner argues that only because of the productivity revolution
unleashed by the emergence of rural capitalism in England was England able
to serve as a deep enough market for its colonies to be concentrated on
profit oriented export. The English slave colonies were thus more
capitalist in character (though exchange orientation is not sufficient for
Brenner for capitalism) than say Spain's because of the internal changes in
England: agrarian capitalism remains the prime mover. This is indeed a very
important argument, but Post is not really going to the heart of Brenner's
theory...he is only using one aspect of it. Of course Brazil's and the
French colonial sugar plantations seem quite capitalist in character as
well. Post actually relies more on Dale Tomich in this essay despite saying
that he is using Brenner's framework. I didn't understand this, but then
Post probably wouldn't agree with Tomich's latest work which is highly
recommended:The Wealth of Empre, Francisco Arrango y Parreno, Political
Economy and the Second Slavery in Cuba, Comparative Studies in Society and
History, vol 45, no 1 January 2003

5.. Another question to resolve is the extent to which Lenin's comparison
between the Prussian and American roads, criticized by Shearer Bowman,
informs Post's analysis.


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