I can’t believe I’ve never blogged on this before. I re-read Mariarosa Dallacosta’s essay on women, work, and wages. (Well, I read up through the first half of the section called “the production of waged slavery based on unwaged slavery”, I’ll have to come back to the rest, I need to get ready to leave in a minute, and leave enough time to buy some lunch). I find I disagree with more of it than I remember disagreeing with before. Still worth taking seriously, though. At some point I should compare this with Fortunati, Federici, and Boydston, they’re the other writers I’ve read on this. And I should finally go through the New Left Review debates on domestic labor, I never got around to finishing that. I’ll be talking about the text with some friends today in about an hour. My notes below.

The pamphlet “offered a material foundation for ‘sisterhood.’ That material foundation was the social activity, the work, which teh female personality was shaped to submit to.” That is, housework.

Housework producing labor power, producing the working class. That it was real work was hidden by wagelessness.

Solution positied=wages for housework.

“What is the relation of women to capital and what kind of struggle can we effectively wage to destroy it? We must hastily add that this is not the same as asking: What concessions can we wring from the enemy? – though this is related.”

“Up to now, the women’s movement has had to define itself unaided by any serious heritage of Marxist critique of women’s relation to the capitalist plan of development and underdevelopment.” — overstated. (Weigand; also Feminist Memoir Project.) Likewise overstated re: black liberation struggles in the US.

“The questions are (a) Are women except when they are wage workers auxiliary to capitalism (as has been assumed) and therefore auxiliary to a more basic, more general struggle against capitalism; and (b) Can anything ever have been “general” which has excluded so many women for so long?”

My own views:
(a) yes. likewise with men except as they are wage workers. likewise as well we could rank different sectors of waged workers.
(b) yes. this rhetorical question makes a category mistake between power analysis (which is what the first question is about) and moral outrage over patriarchal oppression of women

“the form of the relation between people through which the ruling class robs the exploited of their labor is unique in each historic epoch, and all other social relations in the society, beginning with the family and including every other institution, reflect that form”

Epoch defined how? reflect defined how?

“When previously so-called Marxists said that the capitalist family did not produce for capitalism, was not part of social production, 5 it followed that they repudiated women’s potential social power. Or rather, presuming that women in the home could not have social power, they could not see that women in the home produced. If your production is vital for capitalism, refusing to produce, refusing to work, is a fundamental lever of social power.”

Sure, but 1. there is tremendous systemic elasticity re: the type of production that this refers to and 2. refusing of this work – of all of it – would mean refusing things which are not reducible to capitalism.

All of that’s from the intro.

From the body of the essay itself –

The oppression of women pre-dates capitalism. “What began with capitalism was the more intense exploitation of women as women and the possibility at last of their liberation.” — ?

why “as women”? In what way? And the possibility of women’s liberation didn’t exist before capitalism? Nonsense.

Capitalists can make use of “the aspirations of the parents to enlist their help in disciplining fresh labor power” based on a perceived deal – better terms for the sale of labor power.

“precisely through the wage has the exploitation of the non-wage laborer been organized”

Absence of wages should not be taken to mean absence of exploitation. No more than presence of wages always means exploitation (the president is in one sense paid a wage).

“the wage commanded a larger amount of labor than appeared in factory bargaining.”

Yes. But is the command here the direct command of the capitalist? or the command of waged workers over the unwaged?

“The rule of capital through the wage compels every ablebodied person to function, under the law of division of labor, and to function in ways that are if not immediately, then ultimately profitable to the expansion and extension of the rule of capital.”

Yes. Or mostly. That mediated and long-term functioning, however, can be the result of the actions of some parts of the working class. (There’s an analog here with racism.) Dallacosta recognizes this (but overstates it), saying “every phase of working class struggle has fixed the subordination and exploitation of women at a higher level”

“If you are not paid by the hour, within certain limits, nobody cares how long it takes you to do your work.”

“Within the capitalist system generally, the productivity of labor doesn’t increase unless there is a confrontation between capital and class: technological innovations and co-operation are at the same time moments of attack for the working class and moments of capitalistic response.”

I agree with some of this. If this means that both sides are active the I agree with it more. A common response to working class initiative is innovation in capitalism, but I don’t know that all innovation in capitalism is reactive – it could also be pro-active on the bosses’ side.

“But if this is true for the production of commodities generally, this has not been true for the production of that special kind of commodity, labor power.”

Perhaps because there hasn’t been enough confrontation at the time of Dallacosta’s writing, or she hasn’t noticed the degree to which her observation really does hold for housework? It’d be interesting to compare this with what’s happened since she wrote.

With regard to the US context I think Dallacosta overlooks the degree to which working class women were involved in waged labor.

I like this very much:

“a basic source of education, the experience of social revolt. And this experience is primarily the experience of learning your own capacities, that is, your power, and the capacities, the power, of your class.”

This is I think overstated but useful for orienting historical and sociological inquiry:

“to the degree that the working class has been able to organize mass struggles in the community, rent strikes, struggles against inflation generally, the basis has always been the unceasing informal organization of women”

“Where women could together with men claim the victory-to survive (during unemployment) or to survive and win (during strikes)- the spoils of the victor belonged to the class “in general”. Women rarely if ever got anything specifically for themselves; rarely if ever did the struggle have as an objective in any way altering the power structure of the home and its relation to the factory. Strike or unemployment, a woman’s work is never done.” The class in general can mask inequality within the class.

In a section titled “Surplus value and the social factory” Dallacosta writes “we would like to begin to clear the ground of a certain point of view which orthodox Marxism, especially in the ideology and practice of so-called Marxist parties, has always taken for granted. And this is: when women remain outside social production, that is, outside the socially organized productive cycle, they are also outside social productivity. The role of women, in other words, has always been seen as that of a psychologically subordinated person who, except where she is marginally employed outside the home, is outside production; essentially a supplier of a series of use values in the home.”

Dallocosta rejects this view, saying that “domestic work produces not merely use values, but is essential to the production of surplus value.” I mention this because the perspective she lays out implies that the social factory is an analysis of capitalist production as such, not a stage with capitalist development.

Dallacosta refers to “the enormous quantity of social services which capitalist organization transforms into privatized activity” and argues that housework activities “are social services inasmuch as they serve the reproduction of labor power.”

Two things, it’s not clear to me that all piece of society are functional for capitalism and surely there are social goods (in the sense of moral values) which are in tension with or antithetical to capitalism. Production of those is arguably “social services.” There’s a conflation here between social and value production (social-for-capital, in the limited sense of social in Marx’s phrase “socially necessary labor time). Second, I think there’s a step that’s skipped here. The services rendered are productive for capital only to the degree that they contribute to additional surplus value being produced. Does a clean home and tasty food make a worker more productive on the job such that the worker creates more surplus value? I’m not sure it does.

I think this is problematic:

“Now it is clear that not one of us believes that emancipation, liberation, can be achieved through work. Work is still work, whether inside or outside the home. The independence of the Wage earner means only being a “free individual” for capital, no less for women than for men. Those who advocate that the liberation of the-working class woman lies in her getting a job outside the home are part of the problem, not the solution. Slavery to an assembly line is not a liberation from slavery to a kitchen sink. To deny this is also to deny the slavery of the assembly line itself”

Liberation through value producing work is clearly a bad idea in the long term, since value production is part of what has to go, but at the same time there’s an important point which is missed here. Namely, some forms of capitalism and aspects of life under capitalism are preferable to others. The slavery metaphor makes this point, by analogy. Clearly the transition from chattel slavery to waged labor was not *just* liberatory and former slaves did not get *only* liberation from emancipation. None the less, it can’t be denied that emancipation was historically progressive.

The role of “loving involvement” cast as “loving blackmail” in making husbands and children in “the first foremen” and “immediate controllers” of housework is interesting. I’ve tried to talk about this a bit before in terms of a conscience wage.

This is a tremendously important point: “it does not automatically follow that to be cut off from socialized production is to be cut off from socialized struggle”

This should not be overstated – the unemployed can not withhold their labor power, for instance – but it should be understated either – the unemployed can block circulation and thus block the realization of value advanced, as with the piquetero roadblocks in Argentina. The other reason this matters is against views that try to derive politics from technical factors, instead of seeing technical factors as having political qualities.

I don’t know how to square that with this statement, though: “The possibility of social struggle arises out of the socially productive character of women’s work in the home. ”

I like this: “In the sociality of struggle women discover and exercise a power that effectively gives them a new identity. The new identity is and can only be a new degree of social power.”