Category Archives: Women

The Hammer in our Hamlets: Patriarchy on the Left Part 3 of 4

by Eve Mitchell[1]

This is the third in a four-part series on Patriarchy on the Left.  This series is organized from the universal to the particular; it looks at large questions like “what is patriarchy?” in the first part and ends by discussing micro-level questions:  How do we deal with particular instances of patriarchy in our everyday organizing and political milieus?  What tools do we have to combat patriarchy on the left?  The first two pieces, looking at the totality of patriarchy, and the particular expressions of sexism within left communities, were co-written with Jocelyn Cohn, another member of Unity and Struggle.  This piece and the fourth installment of this project (written by Jocelyn Cohn individually) will look at specific methods for dealing with patriarchy on the left with some critiques and comments.

Links to associated articles:

No Lamps, No Candles, No More Light:  Patriarchy on the Left Part 1

No Safehouses: Patriarchy on the Left Part 2

hammer

Image Credit: Lita Box

Continue reading The Hammer in our Hamlets: Patriarchy on the Left Part 3 of 4

Learning to Fight, Learning to Heal

Like everybody else, Unity and Struggle members have grappled with how to address abuse and patriarchal behavior in our society, and in left organizations including our own. We don’t have easy answers, but we’ve found it helpful to study the nature of abuse under capitalism and different responses to it. Below is the syllabus for an abuse study that some U&S members and friends are currently test-driving in several cities, based on interest. We hope other groups will take up the reading list, adapt it to their needs, and use it to craft responses to abuse in our movement and lives.

UPDATE 6/5/2016: We’ve added a few more discussion questions to this study guide, to reflect some of the themes that came up as we finished reading everything.

Sit El Banat, stencil tribute to the women who were beaten, dragged and stamped on by military forces in December 2011. Image from SuzeInTheCity

Abuse Study Guide

1. Defining Abusive Relations.

Objectives: (1) Gain empirical understanding of the broad range of physical and emotional abuse in intimate partnerships; (2) Explore relationship between objective social relations and individual experience of abuse, consent, trauma; (3) Develop our own definition of abuse;

 

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Soy mujer y soy humana: Una crítica marxista-feminista de la teoría de la interseccionalidad

de Eve Mitchell; traducido por CM de We’re Hir We’re Queer

Read English version here

Introducción.

En los Estados Unidos, al final del siglo XX y principios del XXI, domina un conjunto específico de políticas entre la izquierda. Hoy en día, podrías entrar a cualquier universidad, a cualquiera de los numerosos blogs progresistas-izquierdistas o a cualquiera web de noticias y los conceptos de “la identidad” y “la interseccionalidad” encontrarás como la teoría hegemónica. Pero, como toda teoría, ésta corresponde a la actividad de la clase obrera contestando a la composición del capital actual. La teoría no es ninguna nube flotando sobre la clase, lloviendo reflexiones e ideas, sino, como escribe Raya Dunayevskaya, “las acciones del proletariado crean la posibilidad para que el intelectual resuelva la teoría.” (Marxismo y libertad, 114)[1]. Por lo tanto, para entender las teorías dominantes de nuestra época, hay que entender el movimiento verdadero de la clase. En este texto, voy a repasar la historia de las políticas de la identidad y la teoría de la interseccionalidad con el fin de construir una crítica de la teoría de la interseccionalidad y ofrecer una concepción marxista positiva del feminismo.

El contexto de “la identidad” y “la teoría de la interseccionalidad.”

Para entender “la identidad” y “la teoría de la interseccionalidad”, hay que entender la circulación del capital (es decir, la totalidad de las relaciones sociales de la producción en el modo actual de producción) que precedió el desarrollo de tales conceptos en los años 1960 y 1970 en los EEUU. Más específico aún, ya que “la teoría de la interseccionalidad” se desarrollaba principalmente como reacción al feminismo de la segunda ola, hay que estudiar cómo se desarrollaban las relaciones de género bajo el capitalismo.

En el movimiento del feudalismo al capitalismo, la división del trabajo por género, y luego las relaciones de género dentro de la clase, empezó a tomar una nueva forma que correspondía a las necesidades del capital. Algunas de las nuevas relaciones incluyen las siguientes:

(1) El desarrollo del salario. El salario es la forma capitalista de la coerción. Tal como lo explica Maria Mies en el libro, El patriarcado y la acumulación a escala mundial, el salario reemplazaba a la servidumbre y a la esclavitud como el método de forzar el trabajo alienado (quiere decir, el trabajo que realiza un trabajador para otra persona). Bajo el capitalismo, los que producen (los trabajadores) no poseen los medios de producción, así que tienen que trabajar por los que sí poseen los medios de producción (los capitalistas). Así pues, los obreros tienen que vender al capitalista lo único que poseen, la capacidad de trabajar, o la fuerza de trabajo. Este es un elemento clave porque los obreros no son remunerados por el trabajo vivo sensitivo – el acto de producir – sino por la capacidad de trabajar. La ruptura entre el trabajo y la fuerza de trabajo causa una falsa impresión de un intercambio equitativo de valor – al parecer, el trabajador cobra por la cantidad que uno produce, pero más bien el trabajador cobra únicamente por la capacidad de trabajar por un período determinado.

Además, la jornada laboral se divide en dos: el tiempo de trabajo necesario y el tiempo de trabajo excedente. El tiempo de trabajo necesario es el tiempo (como promedio) para que un trabajador produzca suficiente valor para comprar todo lo necesario para reproducirse (todas las cosas, desde la comida hasta un iPhone). El tiempo de trabajo excedente es el tiempo que uno trabaja más allá de lo necesario. Ya que la tasa vigente de la fuerza de trabajo (nuevamente, la capacidad de trabajar – no el trabajo vivo en sí) es el valor de todo lo que un trabajador necesita para reproducirse, el valor que genera el trabajo excedente va directamente hacia los bolsillos del capitalista. Digamos que yo trabajo en una empresa de los Furby. Cobro $10 por día por 10 horas del trabajo, produzco 10 Furby diariamente, y cada Furby se vende por $10. El capitalista me paga por la capacidad de trabajar una hora diaria para producir suficiente valor para reproducirme (1 Furby = 1 hora de trabajo = $10). Así, el tiempo de trabajo necesario es una hora y el tiempo del trabajo excedente son 9 horas (10-1). El sueldo esconde la verdad. Recuerde que, dentro del capitalismo, parece que cobramos por el valor equitativo de lo que producimos. Sin embargo, cobramos solamente por el tiempo de trabajo necesario, o la cantidad mínima necesaria para reproducirnos. Bajo el feudalismo, fue distinto y fue muy claro cuánto tiempo trabajaba cada uno por sí mismo y cuánto tiempo trabajaba por otro. Por ejemplo, si la sierva labraba la tierra cinco horas por semana para producir la comida para el señor feudal, luego el tiempo restante le pertenecía a ella. El surgimiento del salario es clave porque fue el mismo salario que impuso la división del trabajo por género.

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No Safehouses: Patriarchy on the Left Part 2 of 4

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by Jocelyn Cohn and Eve Mitchell

This is the second part of a four part series that attempts to understand patriarchy in our current society.  The first part, “No Lamps, No Candles, No More Light” explored the relationship between gender, patriarchy, and sexism broadly in capitalist society.  This section will explore the expressions of patriarchy specifically in the “left” subculture.  Parts three and four will look more specifically at recent attempts to deal with patriarchy on the left, some critiques and potential solutions.

Left Updated

Image Credit:  Minhee Bae

Patriarchy is a total social relation that takes particular forms of expression in a society dominated by the capitalist mode of production.  There are no “safehouses” or “patriarchy-free zones,” because patriarchy is defined in its deeply personal and bodily expressions.  We carry its effects with us everywhere.  However, as also discussed in the last section, patriarchy finds different forms of expression in different areas of life.  Individual expressions of gendered and patriarchal relations within the working class can be known as “sexism.”  In this section we will explore the ways that we have seen and understood sexism in “left” organizing spaces and subcultures specifically.  This is meant as a broad sketch of what we find most prevalent.  Not all people will have the same experiences, and we are not able to discuss every person’s individual conditions, but we do hope others will find resonance here.

Who is The Left?

By “the left” we mean radical/activist/progressive/socialist/anarchist/communist political and social milieus.  While we recognize that all people have political experiences and the ability to comprehend and articulate extremely complicated aspects of capital, there is a material difference between those who make up the organized and subcultural left and those who make up the broader working class. When we discuss “sexism on the left,” we are talking about a relatively small group of people who see themselves consciously as activists, leftists, theoreticians or revolutionaries and who, in this moment, are objectively isolated from the working class itself.  This is despite the fact that most individuals on the left are proletarians, in that they do not own the means of production and therefore must sell their labor power to survive under capitalism. This is the result of historical and objective factors such as the murder, incarceration, and institutionalization of revolutionaries; neoliberalism; the capitalist subsumption of much activism; the absence of a generalized movement that blurs the line between activists and proletarians; etc.  There are also revolutionaries’ subjective failures such as an inability or refusal to develop lasting roots in organizing projects that build contacts and trust among working class communities.

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No Lamps, No Candles, No More Light: Patriarchy on the Left Part 1 of 4

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by Jocelyn Cohn and Eve Mitchell

Many months ago, the two of us began writing a piece on dealing with patriarchy on the left.  In the process of writing we began to realize that we did not have 100% agreement on the question.  To us, this is very telling:  no one has the answer and perhaps there is no one answer.  We have thus decided to go forward in writing separate pieces on patriarchy on the left.  This project was inspired by the combination of difficulties we have faced in our organizing, accountability processes we have been part of, as well as the attempts we have witnessed to address patriarchy on the left.  We agree that the primary challenge facing many people in dealing with conflicts—especially those about gender—in left organizations and milieus is the confusion of the particular situation of individuals with the general conditions, creating situations where one person’s situation is taken to characterize all of society, thus leading to a solution which attempts to abolish a total social relation through a particular case.  Similarly, we agree that none of us are able to deal with patriarchy as individuals, or as small groups of people operating outside of the transformation of total society.

Although there are certainly a wide variety of attempts to address patriarchy, this conflation of the particular and the universal is the most consistent thread that we have identified in both practical and theoretical traditions in the United States in the last decade. While we will discuss this further in all four parts of this project, we see our first task as clarifying the relationship between patriarchy as a total social relation.  Following this part, we will co-publish a piece describing the individual forms of sexism in our political formations.  Finally, having clarified the categories and objective material conditions, we will examine how we can reasonably expect to respond.  Our third and fourth installments will be separate pieces delving deeper into dealing with patriarchy on the left.

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Women and Children First…But the First Shall Be Last

(Note:  this is an updated version of an article originally posted on We’re Hir We’re Queer here.)

In the wake of a five day hunger strike over conditions of confinement at Karnes family detention center in South Texas, many are beginning to look critically at family detention.  But this practice, and the struggle against it, is nothing new. Groups in the southwest, including Grassroots Leadership and Texans United for Families have been struggling to end family detention for almost a decade.  Most recently, these groups are struggling around a new facility in Dilley, Texas, the largest family detention project since Japanese internment.  In developing a strategy against immigration detention, we must consider how capital and the working class is composed and why there is a renewed emphasis on women’s and family immigration detention.

Immigration detention has been steadily climbing over the past few decades.  Some cite the prison boom as a 1980s-90s phenomenon, since the U.S. saw massive rates of incarceration of primarily black men due to draconian drug laws, mandatory minimum sentencing, and other strategies for criminalizing the black working class.

Incarceration Rates

At a certain point in the early 2000s, prison rates tapered off.  However, this is also around the time that immigration detention as a national phenomenon began to dramatically increase.  While Grassroots Leadership, and many other advocacy and community groups will argue that this shift toward detention expansion is parallel to the expansion of the private prison industry, I believe this is only one side of the story.  Why, in the middle of the deepest economic crisis in the U.S. since the Great Depression, is the federal government expanding the immigration detention system, and why are women and children being particularly targeted in this effort?  I will attempt to answer this question; but first, some background info.

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Criminalization, Crisis and Care: Tennessee’s S.B. 1391 and Attacks on Reproduction

Below is a recent article written by members of the Florence Johnston Collective looking at the current crisis of reproduction and state control over/criminalization of women’s bodies.  Last week, a woman in Tennessee was arrested based on her pregnancy outcomes.  The Collective will be releasing a second article looking at these issues, along with a pamphlet for print and distribution.  See the original post here.

Tennessee recently passed a law, S.B. 1391, making it the first state to prosecute women for criminal assault if their fetus or newborn is considered harmed due to illegal drug use during pregnancy.  Criminalization of pregnant women and mothers is one side of the various ways the State attempts to control reproduction and discipline womens’ bodies.  This is an attack against working class women of color not unlike those we have seen in TexasCalifornianationally and globally.  All of these measures will impede women’s access to health care and efface women’s reproductive skills and knowledge.  But unlike abortion restrictions and forced sterilization, the Tennessee law is an attempt to divide feminized workers under the guise of “protection” of women and children, a strategy we are likely to see more frequently as the economic crisis deepens.

S.B. 1391 and the Crisis.

Today’s crisis is manifested in the inability of the class to take care of itself, or reproduce itself; it is a crisis of reproduction.  Wages are so low that the class cannot afford to get everything it needs to go to work every day.  Of course, “everything” we need is a relative term based on time and place; workers in America need a smartphone and cable TV after years of changes in living standards.  The class has supplemented this crisis of reproduction with personal debt.  We get credit cards to buy clothes and pay our cell phone bills and we take out student loans we will never pay back to make an extra $3/hr.  This is what life looks like for the working class today.

For the ruling class, there is another type of hustle.  It is a general law of capitalism that profits must always increase.  So capitalists make changes to the workplace, by introducing more and more machines and pushing workers out of the production process, to ensure an increased profit.  However, this catches up to them.  Since workers are the only ones capable of creating value (there is always a worker somewhere in the production process!), the more capitalists push workers out of the production process, the more the profit margin weakens.  Couple this phenomenon with the working class’s increased dependence on debt and loans and we find ourselves in today’s economic crisis.

KUKA_Industrial_Robots_IR

On top of this, because so many workers are pushed out of the production process (consider Detroit’s 23% unemployment rate for example), a surplus population of workers makes it possible for capitalism to pit people against each other in competition for jobs.  In this sense, the ruling class has an interest in controlling the actual number of workers there are in the world at a given moment, based on the needs of capital.

Continue reading Criminalization, Crisis and Care: Tennessee’s S.B. 1391 and Attacks on Reproduction

I Am a Woman and a Human: A Marxist-Feminist Critique of Intersectionality Theory

en español aquí

In the United States, during the late 20th and early 21st centuries, a specific set of politics among the left reigns king.  Today, you could go into any university, on any number of liberal-to-left blogs or news websites, and the words “identity” and “intersectionality” will jump out you as the hegemonic theory.  But, like all theories, this corresponds to the activity of the working class in response to the current composition of capital.  Theory is not some cloud that floats above the class, raining down thoughts and ideas, but, as Raya Dunayevskaya writes,”the actions of the proletariat create the possibility for the intellectual to work out theory” (Marxism and Freedom, 91).  Therefore, in order to understand the dominant theories of our age, we must understand the real movement of the class.  In this piece, I will look at the history of identity politics and intersectionality theory in effort to construct a Marxist critique of intersectionality theory, and a offer positive Marxist conception of feminism.

The Context for “Identity” and “Intersectionality Theory.”

In order to understand “identity” and “intersectionality theory,” we must have an understanding of the movement of capital (meaning the total social relations of production in this current mode of production) that led to their development in the 1960s and 1970s in the US.  More specifically, since “intersectionality theory” primarily developed in response to second wave feminism, we must look at how gender relations under capitalism developed.  In the movement from feudalism to capitalism, the gendered division of labor, and therefore gender relations within the class began to take a new form that corresponded to the needs of capital.  Some of these new relations included the following:

(1) The development of the wage.  The wage is the capitalist form of coercion.  As Maria Mies explains in her book, Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale, the wage replaced serf and slave ownership as the method to coerce alienated labor (meaning labor that the worker does for someone else).  Under capitalism, those who produce (workers) do not own the means of production, so they must go to work for those who own the means of production (capitalists).  Workers must therefore sell the only thing they own, their ability to labor, or their labor power, to the capitalist.  This is key because workers are not paid for their sensuous living labor, the act of producing, but the ability to labor.  The labor-labor power split gives rise to the appearance of an equal exchange of value; it appears as though the worker is paid for the amount of value she produces but in essence she is paid only for her ability to labor for a given period of time.

Furthermore, the working day itself is split into two parts:  necessary labor time and surplus labor time.  Necessary labor time is the time it takes the worker (on average) to produce enough value to buy all the commodities he needs to reproduce himself (everything from his dinner to his iPhone).  Surplus labor time is the time the worker works beyond the necessary labor time.  Since the going rate for labor power (again, our capacity to labor – not our actual living labor) is the value of all the commodities the worker needs to reproduce herself, surplus labor is value that goes straight into the capitalist’s pocket.  For example, let’s say I work in a Furby factory.  I get paid $10 a day to work 10 hours, I produce 10 Furbies a day, and a Furby is worth $10 each.  The capitalist is only paying me for my ability to work 1 hour each day to produce enough value to reproduce myself (1 Furby = 1 hour’s labor = $10).  So my necessary labor time is 1 hour, and the surplus labor time I give to the capitalist is 9 hours (10-1).  The wage obscures this fact.  Recall that under capitalism, it appears as though we are paid the equivalent value of what we produce.  But, in essence, we are paid only for our necessary labor time, or the minimum amount we need to reproduce ourselves.  This was different under feudalism when it was very clear how much time humans spent working for themselves, and how much time they spent working for someone else.  For example, a serf might spend five hours a week tilling the land to produce food for the feudal lord, and the rest of her time was her own.  The development of the wage is key because it enforced a gendered division of labor.

Continue reading I Am a Woman and a Human: A Marxist-Feminist Critique of Intersectionality Theory

For Herself, and Therefore, for the Class: Toward a Methodological Feminism

by Eve Mitchell and Tyler Zimmerman

Recently, Nat Winn, a member of Fire Next Time and Kasama weighed in on a discussion of Marxist-Feminism begun on the FNT blog originally by Ba Jin and ZoRa B’Al Sk’a and with a response by Eve Mitchell of Unity and Struggle.  We welcome the energetic engagement by all parties including those commenting on the Kasama blog on what remains one of the most critical questions of our time: the content and forms of women’s liberation.

The scope of Eve’s response did not go beyond clarifying the relationship between Federici and James, and discussing broadly the Marxist-Feminist methodology, including the Wages for Housework campaign.  Nat has challenged the practical implications of Wages for Housework which is supposedly linked to the political failings of Marxist-Feminism.

What may at first sight appear in Nat’s response as merely strategic difference (for instance, whether or not there should be an emphasis on intervention in struggles around reproductive freedom versus that over domestic and reproductive work), belying it is the crucial question of method that must be unpacked.

In Nat’s comments, we observe an unnecessary antagonism being drawn between two completely valid arenas of struggle; the content and form of reproductive labor on the one side and reproductive freedom on the other (there is no coincidence in the double use of “reproduction” here which we’ll expound further down).  The origin of this antagonism is located between a splitting of the subject and object.  This is done through a dualistic reading of  “economics” and “politics,” or, to use the terms Marx employed in the “Preface” to A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy, “base” and “superstructure.”  But there is an immanent unity between subject and object as well as between base and superstructure and what Marxism represents is precisely the unification of these categories.  The tragedy of orthodox Marxism is that it represents a reification of them; that is, regarding an abstract duality of the subject and object as a real thing that plays out in the real world in terms of forms of organizing and concrete political orientations.

We’d like to say a little bit about the importance of Marx’s conception of labor and unity of subject-object.  Only then will the political divergences with Nat come into relief.

Marx’s conception of labor and the unity of the subject-object.

Marx’s early philosophical texts directly fleshed out his conception of self-, or life-activity, which later in works like Capital, he discussed simply as “labor.”  In “Estranged Labour,” Marx writes,

“For in the first place labour, life-activity, productive life itself, appears to man merely as a means to satisfying a need — the need to maintain the physical existence.  Yet the productive life is the life of the species.  It is life-engendering life.  The whole character of a species — its species character — is contained in the character of its life activity; and free conscious activity is man’s species character.  Life itself appears only as a means to life.” (76)

Self-activity, or labor, is universal; meaning it exists in all modes of production.  Further, it is defines our humanity. It is the ever-expanding process of satisfying our needs, introducing new needs, and developing new ways of fulfilling our needs.  Labor encompasses everything from our jobs under capitalism to tilling the land under feudalism to creating art and poetry to having sex and raising children.

But labor is not just what we do; it is our ability to choose, reflect upon, and change our labor process.  Labor is our process of changing the external world and our internal selves.  Later in “Estranged Labor,” Marx writes,

“It is just in the working-up of the objective world, therefore, that man first really proves himself to be a species being.  This production is his active species life.  Through and because of this production, nature appears as his work and his reality.  The object of labour is, therefore, the objectification of man’s species life: for he duplicates himself not only, as in consciousness, intellectually, but also actively, in reality, and therefore he contemplates himself in a world that he has created.  In tearing away from man the object of his production, therefore, estranged labour tears from him his species life, his real species objectivity, and transforms his advantage over animals into the disadvantage that his inorganic body, nature, is taken from him.” (77)

Here Marx’s conception of the subject-object becomes clear.  The external physical world is acted upon by humans, (labor is subjective), but the physical world is also an objectification of human labor, or self-activity (labor is objective).

Marx restated this concept in a polemic against the German “materialist” Ludwig Feuerbach.  In the “Theses on Feuerbach,” Marx argues that sensuousness  is not something merely subjective, perceptive, and one-sided, as Feuerbach postulated.  It is also objective and used toward the transformation of the external world.  Human beings are both thinking subjects of the world but also objects of their own creation through labor.  This is what Marx calls the metabolic relationship between man and nature.

Continue reading For Herself, and Therefore, for the Class: Toward a Methodological Feminism

Marxist-Feminism vs. Subjectivism: A Response to Fire Next Time

The East Coast network Fire Next Time recently posted this dialogue between two of their members, Zora and Ba Jin, contrasting Silvia Federici and Selma James.  The post argues that Federici’s Marxist-Feminist understanding of primitive accumulation in her book, Caliban and the Witch, forefronts global migration, colonization, and international connections among women and people of color.  On the other hand, the post asserts, James’ Marxist-Feminist analysis centers on the U.S.-centric housewife role and only secondarily takes up the question of waged women’s work and Third World and Black Feminism.  The post further critiques Wages for Housework as a liberal feminist goal, arguing that “it seems like a weird coexistence with capitalism.”  In response to this post, I feel the need to clear a few things up and ask some questions in the spirit of comradely debate.

1.  Why force a wedge between Federici and James?  

Federici and James are a part of the same Marxist-Feminist tendency.  A third person I would put in this longstanding tendency is Mariarosa Dalla Costa, who co-wrote “The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community” with James, and still writes alongside Federici for The Commoner journal.  In fact, in the “Preface” to Federici’s Caliban and the Witch, she writes:

“The thesis which inspired this research was first articulated by Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, as well as other activists in the Wages for Housework Movement, in a set of documents in the 1970s that were very controversial, but eventually reshaped the discourse on women, reproduction, and capitalism [7].”

Furthermore, Federici wrote pamphlets in support of Wages for Housework in the 1970s.  In addition to their theoretical contributions, Dalla Costa, Federici, and James have done similar organizing through the years, for example with sex workers and in communities in the third world.

It is not clear what James’ and Federici’s relationship is today, but in discussing their contributions between (roughly) 1950 and 1980, their arguments (both historically and theoretically) strengthen and uphold one another.  The following will explain why.

2. James’ analysis of the housewife and reproductive work under capitalism.

First, I would like to look more closely at James’ discussion of the housewife.  At face value, the housewife is a one-sided experience at best, and a dated concept at worst.  As Zora describes,

“The whole wages for housework thing seems alienating for me, because it’s not applicable to that many people in the U.S. There is a history here of women of color being pushed into waged domestic work, in which you weren’t paid that much, and your worker’s rights weren’t protected. So it has already been capitalized on. You pushed multiple groups of people, who were not white women, into this domestic work to take care of white women’s children. And the wages for housework thing makes me think, “Well is that your end goal? To be co-opted by capitalism, and to make your work legitimate under capitalism?” It seems like a weird coexistence with capitalism instead of addressing how capitalism is reaching all the way down into reproduction, and developing a strategy to combat that, beyond just demanding wages.”

However, James’ methodology (along with Federici’s) is much more complex than Zora acknowledges.  James discusses the particular, or one-sided expression of the division of labour under capitalism, in conversation with the totality of social relations.  James explicitly acknowledges that the experience of the unwaged domestic labourer is one particular experience of the many different types of labour due to the capitalist division of labour.  For example, consider the following quote from James’ pamphlet, “Sex, Race and Class:”

[James quoting Marx’s Capital] “‘Manufacture…develops a hierarchy of labour powers, to which there corresponds a scale of wages.  If on the one hand, the individual laborers are appropriated and annexed for life by a limited function; on the other hand, the various operations of the hierarchy are parceled out among the laborers according to both their natural and their acquired abilities.’

“In two sentences is laid out the deep material connection between racism, sexism, national chauvinism and the chauvinism of the generations who are working for wages against children and pensioners who are wageless, who are ‘dependents.’

“A hierarchy of labor powers and a scale of wages to correspond.  Racism and sexism training us to develop and acquire certain capabilities at the expense of all others.  Then these acquired capabilities are taken to be our nature, fixture our functions for life, and fixing also the quality of our mutual relations.  So planting cane or tea is not a job for white people and changing nappies is not a job for men and beating children is not violence.  Race, sex, nation, each an indispensable element of the international division of labour.” [Sex, Race and Class p. 96].

Under the capitalist division of labour, we become our jobs.  We are relegated into one form of work (we are teachers, bus drivers, call center workers, etc.) that we are to perform over and over again.  Marx calls this alienation.  Capitalism has a gendered and racialized hierarchical division of labour, where certain kinds of work, as James points out, are “naturalized,” to people of color, women, and children.
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These forms of work are historically de-valued under capital, and therefore women’s labour power is de-valued, a point that Federici explains in her account of primitive accumulation.  Further, the appearance of the value of labour power is the wage, and so women’s work is unwaged and/or underwaged.  This means that the housewife’s position in the division of labour as an unwaged worker, is tied to an immigrant domestic worker’s low-waged position, and a school teacher’s position, etc.

James’ work in this area was an important step for challenging Orthodox Marxism’s assertion that class struggle only took place in the factory.  These arguments could be extended to feudal peasantry, for example, arguing that the peasantry in countries who had not yet been colonized by capitalism had their own unique communist potential.
Continue reading Marxist-Feminism vs. Subjectivism: A Response to Fire Next Time