Part IV For Women's Liberation

Tue, 10 Mar 1998 10:30:09 -0500
Charles Brown (

Thank you very much to Ms. Gimenez for her comments, and spending time to think about my comments. I will address her concerns after I think about them a little more.
Ms Gimenez mentions the formulation in The Origin, and indeed by 1884, with the impact of anthropological studies ( and perhaps greater interaction with women in his maturity) in the Preface to the First Edition of The Origin, Engels says:

According to the materialistic conception, the determining factor in
history is, in the final instance, the production and reproduction of
immediate life. This, again ("again" ? C.B.) , is of a twofold character: on
the one side, the production of the means of existence, of food, clothing
and shelter and the tools necessary for that production; on the other side,
production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the
species. The social organization under which the people of a
particular historical epoch and a particular country live is determined
by both kinds of production: by the stage of development of labor
on the one hand and of the family on the other.

This formulation and the change in it from that in The German Ideology support the basic idea I am trying to get across in my several comments: that reproduction is an equally fundamental, not a subordinate, process with production in shaping society from its origins to modern (and post-modern) times. But Engels's formulation in The Origin is after Marx's death and late in their heroic joint project in developing Marxism. Thus, the main classic writings of Marxism, and Marx and Engels's political activity focussed in production and political economy not the family and the other institutions of reproduction.
The Origin's is the best scientific formulation of the materialistic conception of history even after "the" family is surrounded by larger social institutions in later stages of human history, as asserted in the passage from The German Ideology, quoted in an earlier comment. Even under capitalism, many of the social relations and institutions that are quantitatively greater then those in the "nuclear" family (See anthropologist G.P. Murdock on the "nuclear" family) are part of reproduction, such as school and training, and even medical services and recreation.
More importantly, reproduction and production have qualitatively different functions, both fundamental in constituting our species existence, our species-being. In other words, not only are reproductive relations not quantitatively less important in determining history, but from the beginning, from the true original division of labor as in the sexual act , reproduction has had a qualitatively, complementarily necessary relation with production in creating history. From the standpoint of our uniquely human species character (our culture), it might be said that production makes objects and reproduction creates subjects.
Thus, problems in dealing with subjectivity in the history of Marxism (see my "Activist Materialism and the ' End ' of Philosophy") may in part be remedied by rethinking Marxism based on equating and even privileging reproduction over production n interpreting and acting to change the world.. This is seen as even more so when we consider that there is now for Marxism a scientific, materialist, truthseeking need for intellectual affirmative action in using empirical study of reproduction to reexplain history to compensate for the sole focus on production. Reproduction has always been scientifically coequal, as demonstrated by Marx and Engels's clipped comments and "admissions" quoted previously. They never refute their own words about the importance of reproduction in historical materialist theory. They just uncharacteristically fail to develop one of their own stated fundamental materialist premises. Living Marxists must creatively redevelop historical materialism based on thi
s compensation.
Dialectical materialism holds that the relationship between subject and object is dialectical, of course. It is "vulgar" materialism that portrays the subject as one-sidedly determined by the object. Reproduction and production are complementary opposites, and their unity in struggle is the fundamental motive force of history today as in ancient times.
However, when I say "reproduction creates subjects", I mean reproduction in a broader sense than only sexual conception and birth. Reproduction includes all childrearing, from the home through all school and any other type of training. It is all"caring labor" as defined by Hilary Graham in "Caring: A Labour of Love" (1983). Reproduction is all of those labors that have as a direct and main purpose making and caring for a human subject or personality as contrasted with those labors of production which have as a direct purpose making objects useful to humans. Reproduction includes affirmative self-creation.
Under capitalism with alienation, production's impact in making subjects is primarily "negative" or indirect. Conversely, reproduction indirectly makes objects, in the sense that the subject, the human laborer, who is the direct and "positive" purpose of reproduction, is the possessor of labor power, the active factor making objects in production (directly).