Very little, probably. Still, this comment – – got me thinking. Said thoughts here.

In the beginning of v2 of Capital Marx gives a compressed schematic description of productive capital. I’m working from memory but it’s something like


The hyphens=exchanges
C=a set of commodities, divided generally into commodified means of production (Cmp) — raw materials, tools, etc — and commodified labor power (Clp)
The elipses= passage of time
P=production, via the combination of Cmp+Clp, that is, labor power is set to work on the means of production
C’= a new set of commodities, with the ‘ indicating that it’s of greater value than the initial C
M’= a new amount of money greater than the initial M. That greater increment is surplus value.

This could be addressed empirically I think though I think it’d be hard to find examples or cases to look at. It seems to me that agricultural production in general (or for that matter, extraction) relies on nonhuman productive capacities. Dairy cattle, for example, are an expense for agribusiness. Is that expense just Cmp (means of production) or is it Clp (labor power)? This is partly just a matter of how we decide to use words, but I don’t think it’s reducible to that. There’s some quality that it’s easy to see as only humans having but that cows and other animals have too, that’s important for this kind of production. Cows will raise their young into full grown cows if the company provides the right conditions. Likewise crops will bear fruit under the right conditions. In both cases there’s a sort of uncompensated taking that goes on that helps produce some of the increment between M and M’, the surplus value. That’s part of the difference between, for lack of a better term, specifically agricultural implements (ie, living things) and machines.

I think a counter-argument here would have to show that nonhuman life used in production has the same quality that machinery does. Specifically, for Marx, machinery is a relatively static (or at most, downwardly dynamic) quantity in terms of value – it passes on the value invested in it, though this value depreciates. I think argument equating nonhuman life with machines would have to show

I doubt that this has much/any consequence politically, but I thought it worth laying out for the sake of an intellectual exercise. Incidentally, a very similar argument using that schematic above supports the argument, I think, that slavery at least in the 19th century was a capitalist affair — slaves produced value greater than their purchase price. There are incredibly important differences between enslaved and formally free laborers but at the level of the schematic above the only realy differences are about timing (with slave labor the lion’s share of expenses for labor power are paid in a lump sum at the time of purchase with that expense being made up for by repetitions of P…C’-M’ over time).