Re: International Women's Day

Fri, 13 Mar 1998 18:06:54 -0800

Nancy wrote, then Mike wrote, now Nancy writes again:

><< But two points: first, instead of saying simply "subordinate," I should
> said "subordinate in Marx's analysis of history." As I discussed in my essay
> on value, I believe that Marx tends to place "production" and "reproduction"
> in two different categories, the former having to do with history (social),
> and the latter having to do with evolution (natural). And second, your
> discussion here is description, having to do with capitalism only. What is
> missing in Marx is a analytical framework which shows the dialectical
> relationship of production and reproduction as equal and opposite in all
> forms of society.
> >>
> Greetings All,
> First off, I have just subscribed and this was the first post I have
>gotten in my mail box, needless to say I found it interesting.
> Secondly, maybe I am off here but........I have never understood Marxism
>to dismiss the female plight as it applies to "production". This is not to say
>the man, Marx addressed women directly in his writings, but to say that the
>understanding of women's needs in terms of "production" can easily be included
>inside a Marxist framework. Then the question becomes what is "production"?
>This is where I may be misunderstanding but, does not Engels address this in a
>writing to Bloch in 1890, (Taken from "Marxism and The History of Science" by
>Robert M. Young); "According to the materialist conception of history, the
>ultimate determining element in history is the production and reproduction of
>real life. Mor than this neither Marx nor have I ever asserted. Hence if
>somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only
>determining one, he transforms that proposition into a meaningless, abstract,
>senseless phrase. The economic situation is the basis, but the various
>elements of the superstructure- politcal forms of the class struggle and its
>results, to wit: constitutions established by the victorious class after
>battle, etc...-also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical
>struggles and in many cases proponderate in determining their form. There is
>an interaction of all these elements....." Now maybe I misunderstand, but it
>seems to me in the very least one can see that it(women's issues of
>reproduction as a form of equal production) would be easily applied if not
>already incorperated in a way. Any response would be appreciated.

Hi Mike! Welcome to the discussion. Yes, I did say that in my opinion, Marx
and Engels did not sufficiently show production and reproduction as a
dialectical pair, equal and opposite.

I initially interpreted M&E as you did, but then I got to wondering about
why the labor of women in the family is not addressed in M's labor theory of
value. Indeed, no mention of domestic labor appears at all in Capital (that
I could find).

Then I realized that the wealth contributed to society by nature is also not
accounted for in the theory of value. M describes such wealth as
"use-value," but not as "exchange-value." And since it is the latter which
is counted when we count the dollars and cents in our bank accounts, and
since it is money that determines production decisions, in this regard women
and nature do not count in M's theory of human history as shaped by the
productive forces.

I realized that M&E's various discussions of production and reproduction
could be interpreted in various ways, including the one you described. But
the interpretation of Maria Mies, in her book Patriarchy and Accumulation on
a World Scale, is consistent with my observation that Marx is not concerned
with domestic labor in his economic analysis of capitalism. Mies shows that
"within Marxist theory, a historical material conception of women and their
labour is not possible" because of "the distinction between 'natural' (that
is, ahistorical) processes related to the 'production of human beings or
procreation,' and historical processes related to the development of the
means of production and labour." (Zed, 1986, pp. 50-51)

I am attaching excerpts from an essay I recently wrote entitled "Labor,
Nature, and Value Theory" which goes into these issues in more detail.

Women and value. The feminist movement of the 1960's and 1970's has inspired
a vast body of literature on the relation of the labor of women in the
family to the labor of workers in the capitalist factories, etc. Here, I
will not attempt to review that so-called "domestic labor debate," but will
note Benton's observation that agreement has been reached on at least one
point: according to Marx, domestic labor occurs outside the sphere of
capitalist production, but is nevertheless presupposed when workers with
labor-power enter the productive process. (p. 72, Ted Benton, 1989.) As
Maria Dalla Costa has pointed out, the labor of women in the family produces
the labor which produces commodities for the world capitalist system, i.e.,
it produces the human beings themselves. (M. Dalla Costa and S. James, The
Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community (Bristol: Falling Wall
Press, 1972), pp. 10-11.)
Obviously, domestic labor is useful, wealth-producing labor. But to Marx,
domestic labor is not value-producing labor because it occurs in the private
domain of the family, and not in the public domain of production for the
capitalist market place. As we have seen, Marx thought that useful labor
becomes abstract labor only "when it enters as a 'factor of production,' as
a given quantity of labor time in combination with the means of production
under capitalist conditions of production." (Martha Gimenez, 8/28/1997, in
comments Re: Marx on value and nature,
By this reasoning, domestic labor does not possess the same social character
as abstract labor: it does not, through the dynamic of the market, assume a
generalized form when commodities take their places in relationship to one
another. Similarly, because domestic labor is uninvolved in the marketplace,
it fails to become integrated into the whole of social production; it fails
to become validated as part of the total labor-power of society. And, since
domestic labor is not abstract labor, neither does it form any part of
surplus value, or capital
So let us look again at how Marx defined the value of labor-power, which in
the productive process winds up as abstract labor and eventually surplus
value. We see the broad outlines of what he includes and, more importantly,
doesn't include the value of labor-power, i.e., "the value of the
necessaries required to produce, develop, maintain, and perpetuate the
labouring power." He includes the cost of the food, clothing, shelter, etc.,
required to sustain the laborers throughout their laboring lives. But he
does not include the contributions that are made to those lives by food
preparing, cleaning up after, laundering, house cleaning, diaper changing,
and socializing these laborers as they grow up -- or the care they need when
they get sick and/or old -- i.e., domestic labor, which for the most part
in the Western world, is performed for no pay by women in the family.
In the case of extended families and tribes, domestic labor is shared by a
number of individuals: women, men, and children; old and young. But by
Marx's analysis, if one of these individuals should become a laborer of any
kind in capitalist production, no part of the labor that helped make it
possible for that individual to live and work would become surplus value,
because all of such labor would be seen as taking place in the sphere of
private, not public, production.
Was this non-inclusion of domestic labor in the "whole system of material
reproduction" an oversight on Marx's part when he was developing his labor
theory of value? Or was it an inevitable outcome of a perspective which
excludes the family as a socio-economic phenomenon?
In her book, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale, Maria Mies argues
that a "historical materialist conception of women" cannot be forthcoming
from Marxist theory. [M. Mies, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale
(London: Zed Books Ltd., 1986), pp. 49 - 52. She cites the work of Anke
Wolf-Graaf, Fraunarbeit im Absseits (Frauenoffensive, Munchen, 1981).] Mies'
major point is that while Marx and Engles consider the "development of the
means of production and labor" as processes which are "social" and therefore
"historical," they incorrectly classify processes related to "the production
of human beings or procreation" as "natural" and "ahistorical." (p. 51)
Here, in summarizing one aspect of her argument, I will examine the material
leading to our earlier quote from The German Ideology (p. 50) which dealt
with the difference between "social" and "natural" (quoted again for the
reader's reference):
The production of life, both of one's own in labour and of fresh life in
procreation, now appears as a two-fold relation: on the one hand as a
natural, on the other as a social relation -- social in the sense that it
denotes the co-operation of several individuals, no matter under what
conditions, in what manner, and to what end. It follows from this that a
certain mode of production, or industrial stage, is always combined with a
certain mode of co-operation, or social stage, and this mode of co-operation
is itself a "productive force."
A little prior to the beginning of this passage, Marx explains the "three
moments" which constitute human life: (1) that humans must produce the means
of satisfying human needs; (2) that the satisfaction of needs leads to the
production of new needs; and (3) that humans must propagate their own kind
(German Ideology, p. 48-49). But as Mies points out, Marx and Engels
"quickly exclude or drop the 'third moment'":
The third circumstance which, from the very outset, enters into historical
development, is that men, who daily remake their own life, begin to make
other men, to propagate their kind: the relation between man and woman,
parents and children, the family (emphasis in original). The family, which
to begin with is the only social relationship, becomes later, when increased
needs create new social relations and the increased population new needs, a
subordinate one ...(emphasis added) (German Ideology, p. 49)
Mies points out that Marx intends that this "third moment," the family, be
now considered lesser in importance to "labor," the subject of the first and
second moments, which satisfies human needs and creates new needs.
As we have already considered, the remainder of the passage goes on to
explain that by "social" is meant the "the mode of cooperation," which is a
"productive force" constituting the "nature of society" and the "history of
humanity." A close reading of the remainder of the passage only reinforces
what is stated at the beginning: that Marx regards the family as a natural
phenomenon, and labor as a social phenomenon.
Mies cites other ideas of Marx and Engles which also point to this
conclusion. One such notion is Marx's idea that the division of labor, which
was "originally nothing but the division of labour in the sexual act," (p.
51) becomes "truly" a division of labor only "from the moment when a
division of material and mental labour appears," (Ibid.) i.e., when the
priest classes arise. He is speaking about the rise of the agricultural
states in 3,000 BCE, and therefore asserting that the previous 27,000 years
of Homo Sapiens culture human cultures had no "true" division of labor, only
a sheep-like, "herd consciousness," (p. 53) and therefore no true social
Apparently, to Marx, some very important products of human labor, among them
the use of fire, the wheel, agriculture, and animal domestication, not to
mention numerous important economic and cultural achievements as pottery,
weaving, medical knowledge, art, story-telling, and food collecting,
preparation, and preservation -- all accomplished through the techniques of
empirical science -- were not true social labor. According to Marx, it was
only when the "division of material and mental labor" occurred that true
consciousness appeared and therefore, true social labor. But since the
social relations of patriarchy were well established by then, these "mental"
laborers were mostly men.
But whether they were men or not, we can be sure that by "division of
labor," Marx is not including the labor of women in the family as that which
is being divided. Mies concludes that to Marx,
... the cooperation of man and woman in the sexual act and the work of women
in the family rearing and nursing of children obviously do not belong to the
realm of 'productive forces,' 'industry and exchange' but to 'nature' (p.
For a moment, let us ponder this definition of "natural" as it applies to
birth and the propagation of the species. No materialist would deny that the
birth event itself is "natural" and evolutionary, i.e., biological. But
birth is also a social event; both the decision to have a child and the
process of raising a child are conscious and social phenomena. The education
and training of a child to be a contributor in the world is most definitely
a conscious, social, and productive process which determines the course of
history just as much as Marx's "social production."
But Marx appears to lump together everything related to the birthing and
raising of children. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we must
assume that regards the labor of women in the family as the dialectical
opposite of social labor, and therefore as not conscious, not co-operative,
not productive, and not determinate in human history.

Thanks for your comments.