Karl Marx: The Inefficiency of Institutional Slavery (1867)

Confederate 5th Georgia Regiment – Camp Slave (1862)

Author’s Note: Whilst discussing production of ‘surplus-value’, Marx states (Page 190-191): ‘Lastly, and for this purpose our friend has a penal code of his own, all wasteful consumption of raw material or instruments of labour is strictly forbidden, because what is so wasted, represents labour superfluously expended, labour that does not count in the product or enter into its value. (1) Footnote 1 appears to be quoting an individual who is discussing the paradoxes and contradictions of institution slavery in the US – who describes himself as a ‘Confederate’ – presumably during the years of the American Civil War (dated to 1862). What this extract shows is something of the everyday reality of slavery and its entirely inefficient work methods and ‘hyper’ exploitative nature. The slave-master prefers the slave to be ‘strong’ and yet ‘uneducated’, ‘enduring’ and yet possess ‘no opinion’. His strength is built through utterly mindless repetition. There is no rest, no efficiency, no pay, no holiday, no say, no rights, no wages, no awards, no retirement and no pension. As a consequence, any type of intellectual or physical ‘finesse’ is completely lost. Inefficiency and hyper-exploitation are the price the slave-holders pay for continuing to own slaves and live-off of their labour – without treating them as ‘workers’, paying them a wage and encouraging the development of ‘free-will’ as the basis of their class exploitation. This situation exists because the slave-owner only requires the ‘strength’ of the enslaved – and not their humanity. Whereas a worker, in an ideal world, picks and choses to whom he or she ‘sells’ their labour to, individuals are either ‘forced’ into the state of slavery regardless of their protests, or they are ‘born’ into a state of slavery and know no difference. As usual, Marx shed a valuable and penetrating insight into this phenomenon. ACW (5.11.2020) 


‘This is one of the circumstances that makes production by slave labour such a costly process. The labourer here is, to use a striking expression of the ancients of the ancients, distinguishable only as instrumentum vocale, from an animal as instrumentalism semi-scale, and from an implement as instrumentum mutum. But he himself takes care to let both beast and implement feel that he is none of them, but is a man. He convinces himself with immense satisfaction, that he is a different being, by treating the one unmercifully and damaging the other con amore. Hence the principle, universally applied in this method of production, only to employ the rudest and heaviest implements and such as are difficult to damage owing to their sheer clumsiness. In the slave-states bordering on the Gulf of Mexico, down to the date of the civil war, ploughs constructed on old Chinese models, which turned up the soil like a hog or a mole, instead of making furrows, were alone to be found.’ Conf JE Cairnes “The Slave Power,” London, 1862, p. 46 sqq. In his “Sea Board Slaves States,” Ofmated tells us: ‘I am here shown tools that no man in his senses, with us, would allow a labourer, for whom he was paying wages, to be encumbered with; and the excessive weight and clumsiness of which, I would judge, would make work at least ten per cent greater than with those ordinarily used with us, And I am assured that, in the careless and clumsy way they must be used by the slaves, anything lighter or less rude could not be furnished them with good economy, and that such tools as we constantly give our labourers and find our profit in giving them, would not last out a day in a Virginia cornfield – much lighter and more free from stones though it be than ours. So, too, when I ask why mules are so universally substituted for horses on the farm, the first reason given, and confusedly the most conclusive one, is that horses cannot bear the treatment that they always must get from negroes; horses are always soon foundered or crippled by them, while mules will bear cudgelling, or lose a meal or two now and then, and not be materially injured, and they do not take cold or get sick. If neglected or overworked. But I do not need to go further than to the window of the room in which I am writing, to see at almost any time, treatment of cattle that would ensure the immediate discharge of the driver by almost any farmer owning them in the North.’ 

Slaving During the American Civil War (1862)

Karl Marx: Das Kapital (Capital) Volume One, Lawrence & Wisehart, (1974), Page 191 – Footnote 1. Chapter IV – The Buying and Selling of Labour-Power – Part III The Production of Absolute Surplus-Value 

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