Re: Marx and women's liberation

Fri, 13 Mar 1998 21:12:59 -0800 (PST)
Terry Moon and Franklin Dmitryev (

Charles Brown wrote:

> I agree that in the 1844 manuscripts, Marx makes a bigger point than
in the
>Manifesto about the relationship between the sexes than in the Manifesto. Of
>course, he didn't publish them....
> I tend to think that in their minds Marx and Engels had a more
>theory of workers' and women's liberation, but that the taboo on advocating
>women's liberation was even greater than the other. They might have been
put in
>a mental institution like Lady Bulwer-Lytton.

This "taboo" you mentioned before is a conception that seems to be based
on the fact that Marx (not to disregard Engels, but I do not wish to
treat Marx and Engels as one entity) did not say what you want him to
have said. But we have to remember that the women's liberation movement
had not yet arisen. The maturity of our age gives us the possibility of
seeing things differently. But to return to the "taboo," it seems to me
a good example of what Martha Gimenez was questioning as the kind of
critique that serves to reinforce stereotypical views. It is quite odd
that your response to the specifics I brought out about Marx and women,
including the very public defense of Lady Bulwer-Lytton, is this
generalization of a taboo, which would have prevented Marx from
articulating the things I mentioned.

>I disagree that my approach "concentrates on roots of oppression rather
than on
>dialectics of liberation (just as the Manifesto criticized the utopians for
>seeing the working class only as suffering and not as subjects of
>My approach is exactly the opposite of what you criticize there. My title was
>"For Women's liberation" exactly for that reason. What I emphasize is not
>women's suffering, but the fact that as a class (not a biological sex; history
>not biology designated them the main domestic labor class) they have been
>important in determining history....Domestic labor plays a
>more important role in the creation of value than the attention it gets in
>Capital, because of its role in creating labor power. This is the key to the
>dialectics of women's liberation, women as subjects in their own liberation,
>because it says look at your power in creating all of this, you do have the
>power to liberate yourselves.

Here is the crucial distinction. Women's liberation does not come into
Marx's 1844 Manuscripts in any sort of economistic form. Rather, Marx
is rejecting "vulgar communism" with its concentration on property. He
declares that the human being must be put at the center of the
contradiction, and envisions totally new human relationships, not only
in labor but in all dimensions of relationships between people. He
brings in the relations between women and men as the most fundamental,
as that which reveals to what extent we have become human, and therefore
also provides the most conclusive proof that the needed revolution must
be far deeper than what is conceived by vulgar communists. It seems to
me a step backwards to pose reproduction and/or domestic labor as the
key "because of its role in creating labor power." This necessarily
limits and narrows one's concept of women's liberation.

This is, I think, connected to the error of talking about certain of
Marx's critical descriptions of capitalist society as if they were
normative prescriptions--for example, the objection to the subordination
of reproduction to production, which Martha Gimenez has dissected at
length. Another example is shown above: "Domestic labor plays a more
important role in the creation of value than the attention it gets in
Capital, because of its role in creating labor power." Is it Marx who
fails to ascribe sufficient importance to domestic labor in the creation
of value, or does our society actually work in such a way that the labor
of homemakers is unpaid (and even paid childcare workers tend to be
grossly underpaid)? Certainly there is plenty of room for fruitful
research, especially with commodification having penetrated much further
into what was previously the sphere of the family, not to mention the
rise of the women's liberation movement--but it would be
counterproductive to begin that research by revising Marx's concepts
without regard to the need to comprehend how capitalism functions.

(Similarly, Nancy Brumback's contention that "wealth contributed to
society by nature is also not accounted for in the theory of value" and
therefore "nature [does] not count in M's theory of human history as
shaped by the productive forces" misses the point that that is how value
works in capitalism. Far from occluding the importance of nature,
Marx's theory therefore gives us crucial ground for analyzing
capitalism's inherent destructiveness toward nature. I am also always
puzzled by claims that things that Marx discussed hundreds of times
somehow do not count in his theory.)

>Similarly, the quote from Dunayevskaya on Capital, only addresses the positive
>development of women going outside of the domestic sphere not empowering women
>within the domestic sphere as well. Her formulation "the collective labor
of men
>and women, under different historic conditions, 'creates a new economic
>foundation for a higher form of the family and the relation between the
>still places subjectivity (agency) solely in production.

Her statement is not one that puts limits on subjectivity but one that
discusses what is required to create the economic foundation for
revolutionary subjectivity to achieve lasting results. You seem to have
assumed either that something less than revolution was being discussed
here, or that revolution would leave the domestic sphere untouched--
either of which is inconsistent with Dunayevskaya's writings.

> I always liked the banner slogan on "News and Letters" , the paper in
>Dunayevskaya tradition - "Labor power (now "Human power") is its own end"-
>because it focuses on labor power which is what is created in domestic
labor or
>reproduction (in the broad sense ;not just sex and pregnancy). It seems to
>suggest an integration of production and "reproduction" (sorry, but I need a

Marx never said, "Labor power is its own end," while he certainly did
say, "Human power is its own end." "Labor power" is a category Marx
created specifically to comprehend capitalism. It is capitalism that
splits labor power from the laborer, and that would hardly be a thing to
inscribe on one's banner. The fact that, in capitalism, domestic labor and
consumption exist for the purpose of reproducing labor power to serve the
process of production, rather than the process of production being employed
by human beings to meet their needs, is an important theme in Capital, Vol.
1, Part 7. Without that understanding, one could easily end up sounding
like one is celebrating the production of alienated labor power. As I
discussed in my paper, the Manifesto stressed that "the real point aimed
at is to do away with the status of women as mere instruments of

>However, I find it difficult to proceed as if all post-Marx Marxists
>except Dunayevskaya really understood Marx. This amounts to a claim that Marx
>was a great mystifier; that even Engels couldn't understand him; that
>unpublished works like the 1844 Manuscripts and Ethnological Notebooks have
>secret real Marx; and that the main public works like the Manifesto, somehow,
>led everybody but Raya astray; that Marx didn't really make his ideas manifest
>in the Manifesto.

Perhaps it is beside the point that you yourself have claimed that Marx
didn't really make his ideas manifest in the Manifesto--only due to a
"taboo." I'm sorry to say that you have misconstrued the concept of
post-Marx Marxism. Dunayevskaya did not make any of the claims you
state. Rather, she made specific arguments regarding specific Marxists-
-Engels, Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky, Ryazanov, etc. She presented
specific evidence that each of them missed some very important things
about Marx's philosophy.

Your appeal to "the public program of classic Marxism" illustrates a
problem: the tradition of "classic Marxism" is assumed to be equivalent
to Marx, because otherwise Marx is "a great mystifier." The attempt to
gain a better understanding of Marx's thought by studying his
unpublished work is belittled as positing a "secret real Marx." When it
comes to our age, which is so different from Marx's own, what was
abstract for that time may be very concrete for ours; yet the very
reason that it was not yet concrete for the historical situation
resulted in aspects of Marx's philosophy not being a major part of the
"public program." But to attempt to work out the relationship of those
unpublished writings to the problems of our day brings out attacks like
the above quoted statements.

>However, the
>Manifesto reduces history to productive class struggle, or do you have a
>different understanding of the first sentence ? Didn't Marx write it. ?
Was he
>counting on us finding all of these old notebooks to understand what he really
>meant ? Marx is the one focussed on production (with struggle). The
subtitle of
>Capital vol. 1 is ,as I am sure you know, a critical analysis of capitalist
>production. Is Marx being a vulgar Marxist ?

There is a world of difference between putting class struggle at the
center of historical analysis and reducing everything to production, as
there is between the latter and "a critical analysis of capitalist
production." If Vol. 2 was about the process of circulation, does that
mean everything was reduced to circulation?

Franklin Dmitryev