5 July 2005

Proletarian Marriage Form

Comments on Liesl Orr's "Socialism and Gender Equality: What lessons can be learned?" (African Communist No. 156, First Quarter, 2001 which can be found at http://www.sacp.org.za/ac/ac156i.html). Dominic Tweedie. 6/12/2004 (Quotes from Liesl Orr's article are in bold and italic) "[T]he wife … differs from the ordinary courtesan [prostitute] only in that she does not hire out her body, like a wageworker, on piecework, but sells it into slavery once and for all." (Engels, 1972:79) He envisaged the liberation of women through the overthrow of capitalism. In his view within a classless society the family would be replaced by non-exploitative freely-chosen sexual unions within which the status of male and female would be equal. What Engels finally describes (in "The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State") is bourgeois marriage and bourgeois relations of production and property. The implication is not simply that socialism or classless society (communism) will administratively replace this form with "freely-chosen sexual unions". The process described in the whole work is much more organic. The state is the instrument of the ruling class. Forms of sexual relation are based on relations of property and production and generalised by the ruling class through the instrument of state power. Bourgeois marriage developed with the bourgeois class under feudalism, only graduating in its full form when the bourgeois class gains state power. The proletarian class should (by extrapolation from Engels' general thesis that marriage forms are primarily determined by the objective position of the class in relation to production) develop its own form of marriage, and this should be happening now within bourgeois society, although overlaid with the conventional bourgeois marriage form. The proletarianisation of women (the socialisation of the whole of their production, and not just in the form of housework) should be a condition for the development of a proletarian marriage form. Under bourgeois conditions this development could go quite far. Liesl Orr's approach is to ask: Why did the Soviet Union not solve the problem?, and other similar questions. I think the questions are, rather: What does proletarian marriage look like? Can it be observed in any part of the world? If not, then has marriage ceased to be defined by relations of production, as it previously was throughout history? And if that is the case, then why? Both state and family are products of class relations. We should not necessarily expect one derivative product to dictate a change in the other. In fact the tendency of the Stalinist proletarian state to attempt such feats by administrative coercion is just what we criticise about Stalinism. The following extract illustrates the determinism that sees women’s oppression as a simple derivative of class relations: "The supremacy of the man in marriage is the simple consequence of his economic supremacy, and with the abolition of the latter will disappear of itself." (Engels, 1972). This is deterministic because it views reproductive and gender relations as a "simple consequence" of productive and class relations This is a reading of "The Origin of the Family" which substitutes the simplicity of its conclusion for the detail of its argument. It is hard to see the critical value of the word "determinist" in this context. Engels has already, in the book, gone into the historical specifics in a fairly exhaustive way. His conclusion is simple in the same sense as the "withering away of the state" is simple. It means that without its economic base, any social phenomenon must wither, which is surely true. What is not implied is any time scale or fixity of relation in time between loss of base and withering of superstructure. In other words, without a subjective effort, the disappearance of male supremacy might take an inordinately long time. The latter would be fair comment, and a good case for applying Marx's 11th Thesis on Feuerbach ("the point is to change [history]"). A crucial element of the feminist critique of Marxism is of the narrow conception of production, which separates between production of things and of people. Although there are references to labour and production as encompassing all activities necessary for the reproduction of human life, this is not carried through Engels and Marx’s analysis. Rather, the production of things (which depends on the organisation of labour) is emphasised and the production of people (which depends on the organisation of the family) is often altogether absent. Sometimes even more narrowly, the production of things is confined to the production of things with exchange value only. This means that large areas of human activity are often overlooked in Marxist political economy and the distinctive relationships that women and men have to the spheres of production and reproduction are not analysed (Kabeer, 1994:44). The primary discovery of Marxist political economy is the source of capital. That is to say: the source of profit and therefore of accumulation. Marx inherited from Ricardo and others the labour theory of value. What was not yet explained was how increase was obtained. Marx showed that simply inflating prices would only pay Paul by robbing Peter, and therefore this type of phenomenon (which some nowadays call "gouging") could not explain the manifest overall increase in national wealth in the bourgeois political economy. (See "Capital" Vol 1, Chapter 5). His resolution of the mystery of the source of increase rests precisely on his appreciation of the production of people as commodities, the labour that went into this production of "labour power", and the fact that it had to be paid for. In this sense there is no difference between things as commodities and people (ready-to-work labour power) as commodities. (See "Capital" Vol 1, Chapter 6). The difference between labour and all other commodities is only that labour can produce more than it costs. The workers must in general be paid for the labour that goes into producing them. If not, the workforce starts to die out, creating a shortage. But workers can produce a lot more than what they cost, which is not true of any other inputs. Workers, and only workers, "add value". The value of all other prior input commodities ("frozen labour") is a dead weight on the final cost of any composite commodity. Live labour, on the other hand, generates value while it is being used up. (See "Capital" Vol 1, Chapters 7 - 9). Marx's way of stating the difference between value of labour-power and the value of its product confuses the issue. Marx has to say that the worker works so many hours for himself and so many surplus hours for the boss, as if the bourgeois set-up is analogous to the feudal system. He has to say this in order to show where increase and accumulation are coming from. The full process is shown in "Capital" to be four-fold. Labour-power is contracted for to be exchanged at its (labour) value, like any other commodity exchange (labour-power for money). Then labour power is used up as labour in the production of commodities, which are entirely expropriated by the capitalist. When these two pairs of action are netted off, it can be seen that more labour has been expended than has been paid for. Just how crucial it is to see these four moves in full, as well as the net position, is apparent in Engels' Preface to "Capital", Vol 2, the relevant part of which I have attached (because it is quite long) at the end of this document. Marx’s formulation of the worker working for himself for so many hours, and then giving free surplus labour to the boss, is based on the commensurability of labour time and its universal validity as the source of exchange value in commodities. So this formulation does work as a calculating device. But elsewhere, and for example in Part VII of “Value, Price and Profit”, Marx writes: “To say that the value of a ten hours working day is equal to ten hours' labour, or the quantity of labour contained in it, would be a tautological and, moreover, a nonsensical expression. Of course, having once found out the true but hidden sense of the expression "value of labour," we shall be able to interpret this irrational, and seemingly impossible application of value, in the same way that, having once made sure of the real movement of the celestial bodies, we shall be able to explain their apparent or merely phenomenal movements. “What the working man sells is not directly his labour, but his labouring power, the temporary disposal of which he makes over to the capitalist.” The sections concludes: “,,,it will be seen that the value of labouring power is determined by the value of the necessaries required to produce, develop, maintain, and perpetuate the labouring power.” In Part VIII of “Value Price and Profit” Marx writes: “In buying the labouring power of the workman, and paying its value, the capitalist, like every other purchaser, has acquired the right to consume or use the commodity bought. You consume or use the labouring power of a man by making him work, as you consume or use a machine by making it run. By buying the daily or weekly value of the labouring power of the workman, the capitalist has, therefore, acquired the right to use or make that labouring power during the whole day or week. The working day or the working week has, of course, certain limits, but those we shall afterwards look more closely at. “For the present I want to turn your attention to one decisive point. The value of the labouring power is determined by the quantity of labour necessary to maintain or reproduce it, but the use of that labouring power is only limited by the active energies and physical strength of the labourer.” And at the beginning of Part IX of “Value Price and Profit”: “We must now return to the expression, "value, or price of labour." We have seen that, in fact, it is only the value of the labouring power, measured by the values of commodities necessary for its maintenance. But since the workman receives his wages after his labour is performed, and knows, moreover, that what he actually gives to the capitalist is his labour, the value or price of his labouring power necessarily appears to him as the price or value of his labour itself.” The point continues to be obscured in modern Marxist texts. For example, in a recent manual on Political Economy drafted by ILRIG, the following sentence appears: "The important point is that the workers do not receive the full value of their labour". This removes the crucial distinction between labour power, the labour value of which is generally paid for in full, and the product of labour (a greater value) which is wholly expropriated by the capitalist and not paid for at all. The fact is that a person can generate enough value to live and humanly reproduce with relatively little effort and then has time and energy to produce a lot more, which the boss grabs, or as we would say, expropriates (makes into property). Part 10 of “Value, Price and Profit” is headed “Profit is Made by Selling a Commodity at its Value”. It concludes: “I repeat, therefore, that normal and average profits are made by selling commodities not above, but at their real values.” Labour power is also sold in this “normal” case, at its real value. Only in the case of extraction of “super-profits” or in other words “primitive accumulation”, is labour power sold and bought for less than its real value. Marx deals with various kinds of primitive accumulation in the last eight short chapters of Capital (Chapters 26 – 33). In this basic explanation of surplus value the recognition of the labour value of labour power itself is a fundamental prerequisite. This labour is applied by the family as a whole, including the women. So to say that, in Marx: "the production of things… is emphasised and the production of people… is often altogether absent" is plain wrong, in my opinion. On the contrary, it is Marx's understanding of the production of commodified people that is the key to the whole subsequent scheme which Lenin called "Marx's Economic Doctrine". Liesl Orr seems to miss this altogether, but Marx keeps coming back to it, for example on the last page of "Value, Price and Profit". Rather, it is bourgeois economics that tends to eliminate the production of people from its calculations, by projecting the narrow formulation, "cost of living". From the last page of “Value, Price and Profit”: “These few hints will suffice to show that the very development of modern industry must progressively turn the scale in favour of the capitalist against the working man, and that consequently the general tendency of capitalistic production is not to raise, but to sink the average standard of wages, or to push the value of labour more or less to its minimum limit. Such being the tendency of things in this system, is this saying that the working class ought to renounce their resistance against the encroachments of capital, and abandon their attempts at making the best of the occasional chances for their temporary improvement? If they did, they would be degraded to one level mass of broken wretches past salvation. I think I have shown that their struggles for the standard of wages are incidents inseparable from the whole wages system, that in 99 cases out of 100 their efforts at raising wages are only efforts at maintaining the given value of labour, and that the necessity of debating their price with the capitalist is inherent to their condition of having to sell themselves as commodities. By cowardly giving way in their everyday conflict with capital, they would certainly disqualify themselves for the initiating of any larger movement. “At the same time, and quite apart form the general servitude involved in the wages system, the working class ought not to exaggerate to themselves the ultimate working of these everyday struggles. They ought not to forget that they are fighting with effects, but not with the causes of those effects; that they are retarding the downward movement, but not changing its direction; that they are applying palliatives, not curing the malady. They ought, therefore, not to be exclusively absorbed in these unavoidable guerilla fights incessantly springing up from the never ceasing encroachments of capital or changes of the market. They ought to understand that, with all the miseries it imposes upon them, the present system simultaneously engenders the material conditions and the social forms necessary for an economical reconstruction of society. Instead of the conservative motto, "A fair day's wage for a fair day's work!" they ought to inscribe on their banner the revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wages system!"” Here Marx shows in unmistakable terms, the relationship between the “minimum limit” (the value of labour power) and wages. He concedes to his opponent (Citizen Weston) that wage struggles are only palliative, and proceeds to argue for a “larger movement”, with a “revolutionary watchword, "Abolition of the wages system!". He is describing the limits of trade unionism. Thus he is here, in 1865, anticipating Lenin in 1902 in “What is to be done”, Chapter 4, section C: “C. Organisation of Workers and Organisation of Revolutionaries “It is only natural to expect that for a Social-Democrat whose conception of the political struggle coincides with the conception of the "economic struggle against the employers and the government", the "organisation of revolutionaries" will more or less coincide with the "organisation of workers". This, in fact, is what actually happens; so that when we speak of organisation, we literally speak in different tongues. I vividly recall, for example, a conversation I once had with a fairly consistent Economist, with whom I had not been previously acquainted. We were discussing the pamphlet, Who Will Bring About the Political Revolution? and were soon of a mind that its principal defect was its ignoring of the question of organisation. We had begun to assume full agreement between us; but, as the conversation proceeded, it became evident that we were talking of different things. My interlocutor accused the author of ignoring strike funds, mutual benefit societies, etc., whereas I had in mind an organisation of revolutionaries as an essential factor in "bringing about" the political revolution. As soon as the disagreement became clear, there was hardly, as I remember, a single question of principle upon which I was in agreement with the Economist! “What was the source of our disagreement? It was the fact that on questions both of organisation and of politics the Economists are forever lapsing from Social-Democracy into trade-unionism. The political struggle of Social-Democracy is far more extensive and complex than the economic struggle of the workers against the employers and the government. Similarly (indeed for that reason), the organisation of the revolutionary Social-Democratic Party must inevitably be of a kind different from the organisation of the workers designed for this struggle. The workers' organisation must in the first place be a trade union organisation; secondly, it must be as broad as possible; and thirdly, it must be as public as conditions will allow (here, and further on, of course, I refer only to absolutist Russia). On the other hand, the organisation of the revolutionaries must consist first and foremost of people who make revolutionary activity their profession (for which reason I speak of the organisation of revolutionaries, meaning revolutionary Social-Democrats). In view of this common characteristic of the members of such an organisation, all distinctions as between workers and intellectuals, not to speak of distinctions of trade and profession, in both categories, must be effaced. Such an organisation must perforce not be very extensive and must be as secret as possible.” Here we see the theory of surplus value underpinning general revolutionary theory. It is not for nothing that the theory of surplus value is held to be the key to everything; and sitting at the base of this theory itself is the question of the unsocialised and unpaid contribution of women in the creation of labour power. The Marxist theory of surplus value is therefore also the key to understanding the resolution of the gender question. Women will have to be socialised in production generally, before the labour of raising the new generation of workers will be fully paid for. This labour is currently given free more often than not, and expropriated by the bourgeoisie in a variation on the theme of “primitive accumulation”. Where to from here? Bourgeois class relations pose the possibility of full socialisation of production. By this is meant, in bourgeois conditions, the entry of all able-bodied non-bourgeois humans directly into commodity production. (Socialism requires socialisation of production, plus socialisation of ownership). In practice, bourgeois society has never been able to achieve this. It is also unwilling to do so in specific instances. For example, the labour recruited in the past for mining operations in South Africa was cropped from people living in pre-bourgeois conditions at home and was not paid for at its equivalent production cost in the bourgeois political economy. This was the source of so-called "super-profits" in those days. The unpaid work of home-bound women in the production of ready-to-work labour power may be regarded in the same light. Production that is not socialised within the bourgeois system is disregarded. So women are providing free "super-profits" to capital. The first remedy is to bring women into socialised production generally. This has the same effect as abolishing the Bantustans. It does not relieve the women from exploitation altogether. But it does reduce the basis for the extraction of "super-profits" from women's labour in the home. It is notable that when women have at times entered the workforce on more equal terms with men, as in Britain during the Second World War, the bourgeois state acted as soon as possible to reverse the situation, when the war was over. From “Capital”, Chapter 15, Section 2: “Before the labour of women and of children under 10 years of age was forbidden in mines, capitalists considered the employment of naked women and girls, often in company with men, so far sanctioned by their moral code, and especially by their ledgers, that it was only after the passing of the Act that they had recourse to machinery. The Yankees have invented a stone-breaking machine. The English do not make use of it, because the "wretch" who does this work gets paid for such a small portion of his labour, that machinery would increase the cost of production to the capitalist. In England women are still occasionally used instead of horses for hauling canal boats, because the labour required to produce horses and machines is an accurately known quantity, while that required to maintain the women of the surplus-population is below all calculation. Hence nowhere do we find a more shameful squandering of human labour-power for the most despicable purposes than in England, the land of machinery.” The short chapters (26 to 33) in Marx's "Capital" on primitive accumulation have relevance here. They deal, among other things, with child labour, extension of hours, and colonialism. They show that while the working of the capitalist system does produce profit on the basis of simple surplus value alone, yet at the same time there is nothing in the system that prevents the shameless, primitive, gouging that generates "super-profits". Therefore there is room for subjective action against primitive means of accumulation, such as that of the home-bound and unsocialised labour of women, without necessarily posing a revolutionary challenge to capitalism as such. Women's emancipation need not wait for the proletarian revolution. The second remedy is the "outing" of the proletarian marriage-form. In my opinion the concept of cash payment for housework hardly begins to accomplish this necessary goal, although it may help. Maternity leave and child allowances are steps in this direction, especially when they are attached as conditions of employment. What is the proletarian marriage-form? The answer should be a logical sequence to Engels' work. It is not an abstract question. It should arise from the concrete position of the proletariat. From “Capital”, Chapter 15, Section 9: “However terrible and disgusting the dissolution, under the capitalist system, of the old family ties may appear, nevertheless, modern industry, by assigning as it does an important part in the process of production, outside the domestic sphere, to women, to young persons, and to children of both sexes, creates a new economic foundation for a higher form of the family and of the relations between the sexes. It is, of course, just as absurd to hold the Teutonic-Christian form of the family to be absolute and final as it would be to apply that character to the ancient Roman, the ancient Greek, or the Eastern forms which, moreover, taken together form a series in historical development. Moreover, it is obvious that the fact of the collective working group being composed of individuals of both sexes and all ages, must necessarily, under suitable conditions, become a source of humane development; although in its spontaneously developed, brutal, capitalistic form, where the labourer exists for the process of production, and not the process of production for the labourer, that fact is a pestiferous source of corruption and slavery.” Perhaps a good way to start is to imagine the proletarians stripped of all bourgeois impositions. These proletarians rent and reject home-ownership. All the services they consume are socially produced. They are mobile and communicate freely, through technology. They are consciously political – they form a "polis" in the Athenian sense. They work in different ways at different times. They are not bound to strict categories of employment. They are disciplined. They prefer to work or to study, and despise all kinds of loafing. Their children are schooled collectively from a young age. The bourgeois worries that the family must be re-created in each generation. It is the only source of new labour-power that he can imagine (other than Bantustan-style production of extra-cheap labour-power). The bourgeoisie takes all kinds of measures to ensure that this re-creation happens – ideological, fiscal, and legislative measures, social workers, advice, instruction, and therapy. What if this is not done? What is the "default" condition of family relations in a proletariat that is not interfered with? This is surely not only a matter of choice, but also a matter of necessity. If "the point is to change it", what kinds of things are to be changed? Is the removal of bourgeois impositions enough, or are there positive measures which need to be laid on so as to hasten the development of the new type of family relations? Are these measures only enabling, or also didactic? Does this vision of proletarian marriage relations get disqualified as "gender blind"? Or is it actually "concrete" in the Marxist sense of dialectically synthetic and including both genders, but distinctly? In my opinion, this is the way to develop an understanding. It has the possibility of generating a concrete vision that would surpass the liberal politics of victimhood. Transformation and transition are words that occur in classic revolutionary literature, but always in the context of a vision of the destination (which in this literature is usually the dictatorship of the proletariat). Transformation or transition without a destination is movement without an intended result. Saying that what is wanted is a relatively "better life" does not help much, unless the values that make up a better life are defined. For further reading, see: Karl Marx, Capital Volume II, Preface by F. Engels to the First Edition (part) …