Notes on the essay, “The Logic of Gender”
Endnotes has published an essay that purports to correct Marx’s “deficient” discussion of the reproduction of labor power. Admittedly, I am not by any means an authority on many of the issues discussed, so I confine myself to matters on which I feel qualified to comment.
Say the authors:
“In the broadest strokes, marxist feminism is a perspective which situates gender oppression in terms of social reproduction, and specifically the reproduction of labour-power. Often it considers the treatment of such topics in Marx and in subsequent marxist accounts of capitalism deficient, and in light of the ‘unhappy marriage’ and ‘dual systems’ debates, it generally supports a ‘single system’ thesis. It is also worth noting that this article is meant to continue a conversation from the 1970s, the ‘domestic labour debate,’ which turns on the relationship between value and reproduction, and which deploys Marxist categories in order to consider whether ‘domestic’ and ‘reproductive’ labour are productive.”
The reproduction of labor power as reproduction of the dispossession of the worker
I do wonder how different “The Logic of Gender” might have turned out if the authors had replaced the term “reproduction of labor power” with the term “reproduction of the worker as wage slave.”
This, of course, is the real subject of the paper — not the worker as ‘owner of a commodity’, but the worker as ‘dispossessed of the world’. Would the authors have looked on the role of the state in the reproduction of labor power as benignly if they had conceptualized the reproduction of labor power as the reproduction on an ever larger scale of the dispossession of the worker of everything save her physical self?
For instance, what would we make of the authors’ assertion that, in seminal works like Capital, the relationship between the reproduction of the dispossession of the worker and the reproduction of the capitalist totality is incomplete. Clearly the reproduction of the capitalist totality is nothing more than the reproduction of dispossession on an ever expanding scale; yet the authors’ have accused Marx of leaving behind an incomplete or deficient theory of this dispossession.
How then is this dispossession produced and reproduced? The authors identify a defect in Marx’s own explanation:
“Marx reduces the necessary labour required to produce labour-power to the “raw materials” purchased in order to accomplish its (re)production. Any labour necessary to turn this raw material, this basket of goods, into the commodity labour-power, is therefore not considered living labour by Marx, and indeed, in the capitalist mode of production it is not deemed necessary labour at all. This means that however necessary these activities are for the production and reproduction of labour-power, they are structurally made non-labour. This necessary labour is not considered as such by Marx because the activity of turning the raw materials equivalent to the wage into labour-power takes place in a separate sphere from the production and circulation of values. These necessary non-labour activities do not produce value, not because of their concrete characteristics, but rather, because they take place in a sphere of the capitalist mode of production which is not directly mediated by the form of value.”
They conclude that any labor required to turn a bag of groceries into a meal is not considered living labour by Marx. Having already shown that Marx made a distinction between use-value and exchange-value in their preceding argument — and, therefore, between useful labor and value-producing labor — they then suggest that, for Marx, the labor time necessary to turn the groceries into a meal is not labor in labor theory simply because it is not value producing labor. The idea that this labor could simply be useful labor — labor that produces a thing of use — is not admitted. Instead, this labor is “structurally made non-labour” in labor theory.
Who structurally makes useful labor into non-labor? Is this a conclusion to be drawn from chapter 1 of Capital? Of course not. Useful labor may very well be necessary and vital to the existence of the worker. but it need not be value producing labor. If all labor in the mode is to be reduced to value producing labor, the distinction between useful labor and value producing labor is lost. All we know at this point is that the labor performed in the preparation of a meal for the worker’s own consumption resulted in a object that was not exchanged but immediately consumed by her. The worker took the groceries and prepared her meal; she then consumed this meal herself or with her family. Although it clearly is non-value producing labor, there is nothing in this that implies the labor taken to prepare the meal is non-labor,
Moreover, it is not true that labor theory ignores this labor because it “takes place in a separate sphere from the production and circulation of values.” Rather, after the first few paragraphs Marx ignores particular useful labor in its totality, since scope of his discussion is with value producing labor. Thus, the labor the worker performs in her home is not the only useful labor Marx ignores and he does not single out any special “sphere”. Yet by the end of section I of part 1 of this essay we read:
“These necessary non-labour activities do not produce value, not because of their concrete characteristics, but rather, because they take place in a sphere of the capitalist mode of production which is not directly mediated by the form of value.
I am at a loss to see how this statement follow from chapter 1 of Capital, which never refers to any such sphere. Labor that is necessary (i.e., useful) is not treated as “non-labor” by labor theory simply because it produces no value. And this is, in first place, because there is no such thing as a sphere of capitalist (i.e., value) production that is not mediated by the law of value — the idea of a sphere of capitalistic production that it not mediated by the law of value was invented by the authors.
However, the assertion that there is, within the mode of production, a sphere that is not mediated by the law of value is proposed to make the next two sentences appear reasonable:
“There must be an exterior to value in order for value to exist. Similarly, for labour to exist and serve as the measure of value, there must be an exterior to labour”.
I will show that the authors propose this exterior must be the fascist state, but for now I confine myself to these two assertions: First, the exterior to labor is, obviously, non-labor, but we have already seen that the preparation of a meal for one’s personal consumption is not non-labor, but simply useful particular labor — labor that does not produce value. Which is only to say useful particular labor, although absolutely necessary as in this case, nevertheless produces no value.
Second, the exterior to value is not non-value in labor theory, but surplus value. Value is the socially necessary labor time required to produce labor power, i.e., to reproduce the wage slave as a wage slave. In relation to this mass of labor time, there is a mass of labor time performed in excess of the material requirements of the wage slave. This performed surplus labor time is the material basis for the non-labor of a minority of society who own the means of production.
Thus both the exterior to labor and the exterior to value is to be found not in the meal preparation of the worker, but in the surplus labor time she must perform for the owners of capital: surplus labor that frees the owners of capital from labor and reproduces the dispossession of the worker. Which is to say the mode of production is not determined by the needs of the worker for her own reproduction as a human being, but for the production of surplus value. Honestly, I am not sure how this obvious fact escapes the authors, except they have an agenda in another direction. That agenda assume the exterior to both value and labor is to be found in the common domestic chores of the wage slave, not the production of surplus value.
Non-Labor and “Extra-necessary” Labor
Okay, so now that we have clarified this, we can follow the argument of the authors — however, they almost immediately move the goalpost. The authors open section ii of part 1 with this bizarre statement:
“As articulated above, there is a sphere of non-labour or extra-necessary labour which envelops the process of transforming dead labour, that is commodities purchased with the wage, into the living labour capacity found on the market.”
So, are we now to believe non-labor is the same as extra-necessary labor? Or are the authors covertly and dishonestly changing the terms of the discussion? According to my understanding of the term, non-labor means not laboring; while extra-necessary labour means laboring longer than is necessary. So which is it? Are the authors trying to discuss non-labor or the provision of more labor than is socially necessary for reproduction of labor power?
To put it bluntly: non-labor is what Paris Hilton does; extra-necessary labor is what her employees do. If the authors are now going to conflate the non-labor of Paris Hilton with the extra-labor time provided by her employees, this essay has completely gone off the rails.
Since the useful labor involved can either be performed for oneself or for another in return for a wage, the distinction between non-labor and extra-necessary labor must be strictly defined, but this is not the argument the authors make: instead, both non-labor and extra-necessary labor are placed on one side of the of the equation and value producing labor on the other. The labor Paris Hilton’s maid perform for herself is thus joined with the labor she performs for Ms. Hilton.
“Reproductive tasks such as cleaning can be purchased as services, and prefab meals can be bought in place of time spent preparing meals.”
Or one can hire a housekeeper, I guess.
“[To] fully appreciate how — beyond labour-power — gender is reproduced”, we must now make a separation between the time the maid spends making her own bed and the time she spends making Ms. Hilton’s bed. Clearly, the maid is not being paid to make her own bed, yet the wage she is paid must cover the expenses associated with this labor.
The labor time the maid spends making Ms. Hilton’s bed is subject to a number of conditions that are external to her as a person. For instance, Ms. Hilton might like her sheets changed every day, or, in certain circumstances, several times a day. (After all, making sex videos for our enjoyment can be a rather messy affair.) In this “sphere” the activities of the maid is brought directly under the supervision of Ms. Hilton, who establishes the standard of “adequate” performance, and set limits on its duration. This performance is enforced by means of an employment contract stipulating a certain wage.
Not so with the time the maid spends making her own bed: Here the maid is motivated only by her own self-activity: if she is a complete slob, she might only change her sheets once a month. Since she is not being paid to perform these tasks for her own maintenance, no one cares to inquire about her standards of self-care.
The first “sphere” the authors denote as “directly market mediated” labor, while the second is “indirectly market mediated” labor. The execution of certain domestic chores is not confined to any specific location where the labor is performed; rather, the same sort of labor can be performed for oneself or for one’s employer.
Wage labor as a conception
For some reason, the authors refer to the distinction between labor performed for oneself and labor performed for one’s employer as a “conceptual distinction”. I am not sure why this is, and it immediately triggers my “Spider Sense”. Simply stated: the authors have already demonstrated they cannot be trusted when they deliberately conflated non-labor with extra-necessary labor. Anyone who would play fast and loose with such essential and critical categories of analysis as that must strictly define their terms. They cannot just get away with designating the distinction between the maid performing labor for herself as opposed to Ms. Hilton as “conceptual”, without immediately being required to explain the use of the term “conceptual”.
Is the relation between the maid and Ms. Hilton merely a conceptual one? Does the maid merely imagine she works for Ms. Hilton and is dependent on wages paid out for her physical survival? Or is this a real dependence made necessary by the fact Ms. Hilton owns everything the maid might employ to maintain herself? In short, is extra-necessary labor of the maid in her fucking head or a reality?
Moreover, it is not the least bit true that “This conceptual distinction has material consequences.” Rather, the opposite is the case: real and very material relations produce our conceptions.
The labor the maid performs for Ms. Hilton has the aim Ms. Hilton sets for it and is measured by a standard Ms. Hilton establishes. This is all the authors means when they state, the “tasks are performed under directly capitalist conditions”. In the labor the maid carries on for her own immediate needs, none of this labor is directly supervised by Ms. Hilton. In the “sphere” of wage labor, domination is “abstract”, “indirect compulsion determined on the market”. So, what is the source of this abstract indirect compulsion?
Clearly, Ms. Hilton does not threaten to beat her maid should she fail to perform at an adequate level. Instead, the maid is simply replaced by someone who can, i.e., another wage slave. The abstract indirect compulsion standing over against the maid are millions of other wages slaves who will take her job in a heartbeat. Which is to say, the worker faces no competition to make her own bed, but only to make Ms. Hilton’s bed. Since no one is breaking down doors to make the maid’s bed, this labor is not “dictated by abstract market domination and the objective constraints of SNLT”.
Instead, she tries to get her significant other to do some of the work around the house — often to no avail.
“When an ‘equal and just’ sharing of these activities is attempted, it must be constantly negotiated, since there is no way to quantify and equalise ‘rationally’ the time or energy spent.”
I want you to note the words in quotes: “equal”, “just” and “rationally”. Again, I already don’t trust the authors because of that little incident above and I don’t trust this terminology either. For one thing, “equality” and “justice” are terms that have no place in this analysis. And “rationality” has no more meaning in the market than in the home. So, why do these terms appear here? Moreover, why do the authors insist, planning cannot exist within the market sphere? Try telling that to a project manager at Boeing. (Just my Spider Sense tingling again.)
Let’s now consider the terms “directly market mediated” and “indirectly market mediated”: What do these terms mean? In the simplest definition, “directly market mediated labor” is the labor the maid is contractually obligated to perform in return for her wages. This labor is not determined by the value of her labor power, but by an agreement between the maid and Ms. Hilton (or her designated other). The value of her wages is paid out for her labor power alone, not the total mass of labor time she provides.
(With possession of the labor power, Ms Hilton now puts it to work. It is not the maid’s concern whether Ms. Hilton actually employs the maid’s labor to produce surplus value or for private ends. The maid can make one bed on Ms. Hilton’s yacht or 25 beds at a Hilton hotel. So, for the moment, we leave this out of the discussion.)
The contract between Ms. Hilton and her maid obligates the maid to deliver so many hours of labor. This, the authors tell us, is the directly market mediated portion of the maid’s day. The residual of her day is only indirectly market mediated, since it is merely the portion left over after work; yet, since the day only has 24 hours under all circumstances, by definition the contract mediates both time on the job and time away. Which is to say it mediates the division of the worker’s total day. The contract cannot establish working hours without also establishing hours where labor is not performed for the wage.
The methodical encroachment of surplus labor time
It is true Ms. Hilton does not directly manage the time the maid ‘enjoys’ off the clock; so, we could call this specific labor chores that are only indirectly mediated by the market. However, the antagonism between the two is as significant as their separation: Since capital is the production of surplus value, and since this production implies the constant expansion of labor time within society, the tendency within the mode of production is the constant encroachment of surplus labor time on the worker’s time away from labor. Capital is a totalizing process and seeks to consume the whole of the worker’s day under its logic.
This encroachment is never examined by the authors and doesn’t even appear to register as material tendency with them; yet we find over the past 40 years (until about 2001) an ever larger proportion of the total population forced under the so-called “direct mediation of the market”, i.e., forced to take their place in production as wages slaves.
The bulge in the data translates into millions of members of society who formerly did not directly participate in the sale of labor power. Needless to say, this is also the period when we see, in the words of the authors, “the general tendency towards ‘feminisation’” of the labor force. It is the period when the already withered “nuclear” remanant of the families of the proletarians were first economically undermined and then collapsed. Again, of course, this horrific catastrophe appears nowhere in the authors’ narrative. This period, when the last shreds of family among the proletarians was under a withering assault by the fascist state, was celebrated by the Mary Tyler Moore Show:
And what happens when the disintegration of the proletarian family leaves in its wake millions of families left with only a single mother? A half loaf or even less must make do. The infectious optimistic jingle of the Mary Tyler Moore Show turns into the reality of millions of single moms trying to make ends meet. But, again, this plays no part in the narrative of our authors. The wife is liberated from her husband, but only so that she might offer herself as a commodity on the market beside him and in competition with him.
Nonetheless it is true that this is a liberation from the stupidity of domestic servitude. If liberation from this drudgery is to be achieved, who am I to notice it comes at the risk of her physical existence? It has always been true that the worker is freed from pre-capitalist social relations in this double sense. The worker may be freed of her husband’s income, but she is now also freed from his abuse and domination.
My concern in all of this is to insist this development does not simply arise from a demand for liberation from domestic drudgery. There has always been a demand by women for full participation in society, of course; however the actual force that bring this demand to its realization is the material requirement of capital for an ever longer social labor day.
Similarly, Black people have always demanded an end to segregation in the South, but what killed off segregation, however, was not this demand alone, but also the need of capital to open up the South to investment. Thus, side by side with the Mary Tyler Moore Show we find Julia, featuring a theme song, as one person puts it: “complete with tribal drums”.:
In both cases, the women portray characters who, although central to their series, are entirely ancillary in the relations portrayed: Mary is a secretary, while Julia is a nurse. Both report to benign fatherly patriarchal figures who represent the capitalist in each shows’ social landscape. The labor of the lead characters forms part of the overhead of each enterprise and, as a result, is subject to strict cost control (this fact is never disclosed, of course). Moreover, both enterprises are of the sort that form a part of the so-called services sector that blew up after the Great Depression. Both characters, therefore, are overhead in a sector that is totally unproductive of surplus value. The two shows spotlight just the sort of wage labor that emerged in the aftermath of the Great Depression.
Since both characters are unmarried (Julia is widowed) it is entirely true that, as the authors put it:
“Wage-labour is the only way the worker can have access to the means necessary for their own reproduction and that of their family.”
But this fact already constitutes a loss for each of the characters. (In Julia’s case, a real loss, since her “husband character” died in Vietnam, patriotically sacrificing his own life for the aims of the fascist state.) It is a remarkable change that “she who does not go to work does not get a wage.” Before this era, the wage of the worker (typically the husband) was expected to cover all the requirements of labor power. Increasingly, however, the wages of a single worker was no longer sufficient to cover all the needs of the household. This fact is expressed paradoxically in the two shows’ celebration of women who take their place in the work force as independent economic actors.
INFLATION: The state in the reproduction of the ever expanding dispossession of the worker
The economic forces that bring them into the labor force is never referred to, although the US was experiencing historically unprecedented levels of inflation at the time. The depreciation of the worker’s paycheck, not a desire for “career opportunities’, explain the greater part of this movement. And what explains this inflation? The inflation is to be explained by the increasing mass of unproductive labor being demanded by the fascist state.
But don’t take my words for this. Before it occurred it was predicted by none other than soon-to-be President Dwight David Eisenhower himself:
“The inflation we suffer is not an accident; it is a policy. It is not, as the Administration would have us believe some queer and deadly kind of economic bacteria breathed into the atmosphere by Soviet communism.”
“There is in certain quarters the view that national prosperity depends on the production of armaments and that any reduction in arms output might bring on another recession.”
In Eisenhower’s argument the roots of the inflation that would ultimately drive millions of housewives into the labor market began as the unproductive employment of labor power for a massive military buildup — but this too plays no role in the narrative of the authors of this essay: The very state they assume is necessary for the “reproduction of labor power” is the one creating the need for millions of additional labor powers. Which to say, the state plays a necessary role today in the reproduction of the wage slave as a commodity on an ever expanding scale.
The role, however, is not the benign, even ‘social’, role the authors would wish us to examine: provision of childcare, kindergartens, etc.; rather, it is the constant expansion of social hours of labor that make state run childcare necessary. The production of surplus value has now run into the limits imposed by the reproduction of its premise, labor power. These reproductive tasks are increasingly assumed by the state, not to provide humane civilized care to children, but to free up their parents to provide additional surplus value to capital.
Further, since the aim of the state is to increase the mass of surplus value, these tasks are increasingly transferred to “private” firms. In the end we are looking at a future populated with unsupervised street urchins left on their own, while their parents (usually the mother) are off producing surplus value. Capital’s demand for an ever increasing mass of surplus labor time is insatiable, but this demand plays no role in the narrative of the authors, who manage to spend a great deal of time talking about labor time but ignoring the constant expansion of unproductive labor time that has occurred since World War II.
Having watched the care of children forcibly transferred by economic means from their families to publicly funded strangers, the authors weep crocodile tears over the fate of these children when “private” strangers are involved. And their argument? The parents are too impoverished to pay for the care! What a fucking load of horseshit. The children ended up in publicly funded day care precisely because their parents are too impoverished!
Why do the authors of this essay think parents abandon their kids to become wage slaves in the first fucking place? How many people do you know who say, “I want to have kids, so I can leave them in daycare for ten hours every day.”
Really, what the fuck is wrong with you Marxists?