Slavery and the value form

Waistline2 at Waistline2 at
Tue Sep 16 07:35:31 MDT 2003

"Every product of labour is, in all states of society, a use-value; but it is
only at a definite historical epoch in a society's development that such a
product becomes a commodity, viz., at the epoch when the labour spent on the
production of a useful article becomes expressed as one of the objective
qualities of that article, i.e., as its value. It therefore follows that the
elementary value-form is also the primitive form under which a product of labour
appears historically as a commodity, and that the gradual transformation of such
products into commodities, proceeds pari passu with the development of the
value-form."  (Marx Capital)

Everyone tradition is different. My political tradition is deeply rooted in
American politics: anarcho- syndicalism of the International Workers of the
World (IWW) brand, although I am aware others see things different. This is fine.

Marx speaks in simple terms to anyone whose head is not cluttered with more
than less bourgeois nonsense. Cleansing my head of nonsense was more than a
notion and the more distance created from working thirty years at Chrysler, the
clearer Marx becomes. I have a deep affinity for and understand why the
revolutionary industrial workers will spontaneously drift toward anarcho-syndicalism.
The workers get tired of being told what to do, and tossed around in the
market. They are tired of being pinned to the machine - production process.

The recently concluded contract talks in the auto industry contains much not
presented to the public or the membership of the union. The historic privilege
of the skilled trades - who for historical reasons are Anglo American
peoples, will be eradicated during this next period of time. One may call this
process losing "white skin privilege" but that is a mistake. What is taking place is
the destruction of the value form and the destruction of the proletariat at
the hands of the technological advance, as it operates on the basis of the
bourgeois property relations.

Marx speaks of the value form, why products of labor appear as commodities,
why and how gold assumes the role money/capital, while Western Marxists speaks
of "forms of mediation" and the profundity of "abstract labor" and generally
miss the point. The current discussion of slavery - in particular America's
history of slavery and the "meaning of capitalism" is mind-boggling.

A value producing system (plantation slavery in America was a value producing
system) can use any form of labor in any political form - status, for
distinct junctures of history.  The contradiction comes on the "backend" or is
contained in the value form itself. The antagonism arises on the basis of the
property relations. These are not separates things but "process logic" that cannot
be talked about except as categories. The problem is political tradition and I
am not referring to mine.

Numerous historians, including Stanley Lebergott, E.N. Elliott and Robert
Fogel, documented the high productivity of slaves and the products and wealth
they produced for the Northern as well as Southern businesses.

The plantation slave in the South produced raw materials for the market and
in turn was a market for finished products. Being a slave does not and did not
prevent the slave from constituting an important part of the "internal" -
home, market.

The slaves wore clothes, shoes, lived in houses, traveled and as DMS has
stated several times, worked in industry. The textile and leather industries
tailored a major portion of their consumer items towards a captured market - the
slavery institution. New England textile mills used long strand cotton to make
fine fabrics for whites, while the short strand cotton was used to produce the
cheapest and coarser cloth for blacks. This cheap cloth was called "black
cloth" or "nigger cloth" and the textile industry used this for five million
slaves and free blacks.

The cloth was not given to the slave or slave master as an act of charity!
The master paid for this commodity from the proceeds of the sale of his slave
made products. The shoe industry was the same, producing two grades of shoes.
The manufacturing outlets designed cheap, rough foot ware such as sandals and
"brogans" - destined to become the official "worker shoe" with a steel tip, for
10 million feet. Someone paid for these 10 million feet - shoes.

The high economic value - profitability, of exploiting slaves labor would not
let slavery die a timely death as a value producing system. Imagine being in
the North and having the fat part of the slave market and being able to use
what would otherwise be "throw away material." The value form is a historical
process. Imagine being able to use refuse from production others could not use!

Northern shipbuilders amassed fortunes building commercial vessels that
hauled slaves and durable goods to the Caribbean Islands. These Northern ship
builders constructed a third of England's well-known maritime fleet. The
fundamental base of the insurance industry and bonding companies developed around the
shipping industry.  At the behest of industrialist and shipbuilders, Northern
states invested in construction of water canals and railroads to speed slave
produced products across the country. As the Northern productive capacity began
out running the consuming capacity of the South there was going to be some
serious problems concerning who would govern the American union on whose behalf.

This contradiction would play itself out as political antagonism and was
contained within the value form itself. There was not so much "a contradiction" as
the contradictions latent within the social process and the value form as it
arose and evolved on earth.

During the off season when the slave owner had more hands than necessary to
work the slaves were deployed to other farms, road work and rented to other
plantation owners and factories. Fair-minded slaveholder would occasionally allow
the slave to retain a small portion of wages paid to the owner for factory
work. Some of these more fortunate slaves purchased their freedom.

Every newborn slave represented hundreds of dollars in capital gain. The
essence of capitalism is not wage labor. But rather the social power of capital in
the hands of individual owners as they dominant and exploit labor. This is
what puts the "ism" in capital - ism.

This old inability to unravel the obvious features of plantation slavery as a
value producing system appears today as the inability to unravel the
emergence of the communist class - those regarded as proletarians unable to sell their
labor power (to sustain life), on a world scale. All of this is contained in
the value form.

There is nothing particularly smart about the above observations.

Melvin P.

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