Sunday, July 19, 2015

David Harvey on Reading Marx’s Capital, Volume 1, Class 04

David Harvey is a Professor of Anthropology and Geography at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Class 4 of his video series on Reading Marx’s Capital, Volume 1 is below. This video deals with Chapters 4, 5 and 6 of volume 1 of Capital.



My own critical analysis of these chapters in Capital is here:
“Marx’s Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 4: A Critical Summary,” July 4, 2015.

“Marx’s Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 5: A Critical Summary,” July 6, 2015.

“Marx’s Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 6: A Critical Summary,” July 13, 2015.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Marx on Slave-based Plantation Systems

From volume 3 of Capital in Marx’s discussion of ground rent:
“We need not dwell upon actual slave economy (which likewise passes through a development from the patriarchal system, working pre-eminently for home use, to the plantation system, working for the world market) nor upon that management of estates, under which the landlords carry on agriculture for their own account, own all the instruments of production, and exploit the labor of free or unfree servants, who are paid in kind or in money. In this case, the landlord and the owner of the instruments of production, and thus the direct exploiter of the laborers counted among these instruments of production, are one and the same person. Rent and profit likewise coincide then, there being no separation of the different forms of surplus-value. The entire surplus labor of the workers, which is here represented by the surplus product, is extracted from them directly by the owner of all the instruments of production, to which the land and, under the original form of slavery, the producers themselves, belong. Where capitalist conceptions predominate, as they did upon the American plantations, this entire surplus-value is regarded as profit. In places where the capitalist mode of production does not exist, nor the conceptions corresponding to it have been transferred from capitalist countries, it appears as rent. At any rate, this form does not present any difficulties. The income of the landlord, whatever may be the name given to it, the available surplus product appropriated by him, is here the normal and predominating form, under which the entire unpaid labor is directly appropriated, and the property in land forms the basis of this appropriation.” (Marx 1909: 934).
So here Marx says that slave-owners extract rent and profit which “coincide” since there is “no separation of the different forms of surplus-value” here.

The crucial passage is here:
“The entire surplus labor of the workers, which is here represented by the surplus product, is extracted from them directly by the owner of all the instruments of production, to which the land and, under the original form of slavery, the producers themselves, belong. Where capitalist conceptions predominate, as they did upon the American plantations, this entire surplus-value is regarded as profit. In places where the capitalist mode of production does not exist, nor the conceptions corresponding to it have been transferred from capitalist countries, it appears as rent.” (Marx 1909: 934).
If it is the case that Marx here thinks that slaves on a plantation in an economy where “capitalist conceptions predominate” produce surplus value of the same type as free wage labourers, then Marx’s labour theory of value as presented elsewhere in volume 1 is severely undermined in two respects as follows:
(1) in Chapter 6 of volume 1 Marx states explicitly that only free people – and not slaves – can sell the labour-power that creates surplus-value (Marx 1906: 186–187). Marx contradicts himself.

(2) Marx is adamant in other passages that slaves are fixed capital and thus constant capital (see here). But constant capital cannot create surplus value, and to be internally consistent Marx would have to admit that slaves on plantations within capitalist modes of production must count as variable capital. Marx has badly contradicted himself.
If Marx really thought that slaves can produce surplus value, it is but a short step to the whole labour theory of value unravelling as the nonsense it is.

Piero Sraffa hit the nail on the head over eighty years in his private note on Marxism:
“There appears to be no objective difference between the labour of a wage earner and that of a slave; of a slave and of a horse; of a horse and of a machine, of a machine and of an element of nature (?this does not eat). It is a purely mystical conception that attributes to human labour a special gift of determining value. Does the capitalist entrepreneur, who is the real ‘subject’ of valuation and exchange, make a great difference whether he employs men or animals? Does the slave-owner?” (Sraffa, unpublished note, D3/12/9: 89, quoted in Kurz and Salvadori 2010: 199).
If slaves produce surplus value, then why not animal labour? Why not machines? (more details here).

In short, the more one delves into Marx’s Capital the more and more we can see his theory is contradictory and incoherent.

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Kurz, Heinz D. and Neri Salvadori. 2010. “Sraffa and the Labour Theory of Value: A Few Observations,” in John Vint et al. (eds.), Economic Theory and Economic Thought: Essays in Honour of Ian Steedman. Routledge, London and New York. 189–215.

Marx, Karl. 1906. Capital. A Critique of Political Economy (vol. 1; rev. trans. by Ernest Untermann from 4th German edn.). The Modern Library, New York.

Marx, Karl. 1909. Capital. A Critique of Political Economy (vol. 3; trans. Ernst Untermann from 1st German edn.). Charles H. Kerr & Co., Chicago.