Marlene Dixon 1980

Women in Class Struggle

On the Super-Exploitation of Women
Wages for Housework and Strategies of Revolutionary Fantasy
The Subjugation of Women Under Capitalism: The Bourgeois Morality
Left-Wing Anti-Feminism: A Revisionist Disorder
Monopoly Capitalism and the Women’s Movement:
Against the Socialist Feminist Response to Harry Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital
The Rise and Demise of Women’s Liberation
The Sisterhood Ripoff

On the Super-Exploitation of Women

Feminism and Marxism, Marxist Feminism, all have floundered in one way or another on the shoals of the dual problems of biology and the family. The self-evident truth is that all men and women are brought into this world from the wombs of women in pain and travail. It is equally self-evident that the basis for the oppressive, sexual division of labor and the subjugation of women in the family under capitalism is women’s reproductive function. The subjugation of women flows from dependency throughout pregnancy and while nursing – and that dependency, in turn, is actually the dependency of the human infant (which is the dependency of the human species, of human society upon women). As the anthropologist Leacock points out in her introduction to Engels’ Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State:

In some ways it is the ultimate alienation of our society that the ability to give birth has been transformed into a liability. The reason is not simply that, since women bear children, they are more limited in their movements and activities. As the foregoing anthropological evidence indicates, this was not a handicap even under the limited technology of hunting-gathering life; it certainly has no relevance today. Nor did women’s low status simply follow their declining importance in food production when men moved into agriculture.

Feminists have often argued (intentionally or otherwise) that biology – the ability to give birth – is the limiting factor in women’s movements and activities. However, in our technological age, where it takes no more than a tiny pressure of the finger to fire an atomic rocket, program a computer or operate a typewriter, it is obvious that the biological fact of motherhood is not in and of itself the limiting factor. The limiting factors are to be found in the social relations of production and in the social relations of the family under capitalism, as Engels suggested. Engels argued that the subjugation and oppression of women can be traced to those factors which caused the communal kin group to be broken up and individual families separated out as isolated units, economically responsible for the maintenance of their members and for the rearing of new generations. The subjugation of the female sex was based on the transformation of their socially necessary labor into a private service for the husband which occurred through the separation of the family from the clan. It was in this context that women’s domestic work came to be performed under conditions of virtual slavery. When Engels argued that the formation of the isolated patriarchal family as the economic unit of society (rather than the whole community) should be seen as the “world-historical defeat of the female sex,” he in fact was identifying the institution by which the “world-historical defeat of the female sex” was accomplished. Leacock summarizes the process:

The significant characteristic of monogamous marriage was its transformation of the nuclear family into the basic economic unit of society, within which a woman and her children became dependent upon an individual man. Arising in conjunction with exploitative class relations, this transformation resulted in the oppression of women which has persisted to the present day.

We are not equipped with time machines, and cannot verify Engels’ hypotheses concerning the origins of the “world-historical defeat of the female sex.” We can, however, demonstrate that the “subjugation of the female sex was based on the transformation of their socially necessary labor into a private service for the husband” and that under capitalism the institutions of the nuclear family, monogamy (for women), the sexual definition of women’s social roles, and the private appropriation of their labor power and their reproductive power are the basis of their subjugation.

If we look at the European family historically, we see that prior to the rise of industrial and monopoly capitalism, the family, as an extended kin grouping, was the economic unit of society. The family was a production unit as well as a consumer unit. With the complete triumph of commodity production, the family appeared to be reduced from a production unit to a dependent consumption unit, from an extended kin organization to the nuclear family defined by contractual marriage. This transformation of the family accompanied the transformation of labor (in the family production unit) into the commodity labor power (the ability to work sold as a commodity whose price is wages). These shifts in the function and organization of the family also created shifts in the function and role of women. As the family was increasingly isolated from any visible form of commodity production, it became, in appearance, more and more isolated from the central social and economic organization of society as a whole. The reduction of the family from the central unit of social organization to what appeared to be a peripheral “private” adjunct to the “real” social organization (commodity production) resulted in the “marginalization” of women’s work and the devalued (wageless) nature of female domestic labor. It appeared that the family was marginal to capital, marginal to commodity production. Thus it appeared that women’s domestic labor and, by extension, women themselves, dependent upon their husbands’ wages, were of little value.

This apparent dependency justified the perpetuation of male supremacy, of the husband as the autocrat of the family, of the wife as properly dependent and servile, having the status of a bond servant within the marriage contract.

However, the seeming “marginalization” of the family and women’s work in the household mystified the real function of the family under capitalism: the production and reproduction of labor power. Engels wrote in Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State:

According to the materialist conception, the determining factor in history is, in the last resort, the production and reproduction of immediate life. But this itself is of a two-fold character. On the one side, the production of the means of existence, of food, clothing and shelter, and the tools necessary for that production; on the other side, the production of human beings themselves, the propagation of the species. [1]

Marx recognized in Capital that the “determining factor in history is the production and reproduction of immediate life,” and pointed out that it takes the form, under capitalism, of the production and reproduction of labor power. In short, the family is not “marginal” to commodity production; all commodity production is dependent upon the family for the one single commodity on which all of capitalist society is dependent: human labor power itself.

Marx took these factors into account in the labor theory of value. The value of’ the commodity labor power (as distinct from its “price” -wages) is determined by the amount of socially necessary labor time required in the overall production and reproduction of labor power. In short, the labor of the entire family as a unit, including the reproduction of new proletarians as well as the reproduction of the husband’s labor power, what the husband requires to rest, recuperate and strengthen himself for the next day’s labor – all of this “domestic labor” determines the real value of the wage worker’s labor power. The wage, then, is not properly paid for the hours which a worker spends working for the capitalist as an individual. The real value of labor power derives from the labor of the family as a unit, and is paid in compensation for the aggregate socially necessary labor time expended by the entire family in the production and reproduction of the commodity labor power. The wages of the worker, the exchange value of labor power, are paid to the unit which produced the labor power: the family. That is the labor theory of value. It is the invisible substructure of the social relations of the family. Yet, for women, the fact that it is invisible is the pertinent fact!

Institutionalized male supremacy, rooted in the social organization of the nuclear family under late capitalism, serves to mystify the actual nature of wages and the actual determinants of the value of labor power by creating the appearance that a woman’s domestic, socially necessary labor is not the production and reproduction of labor power, but a private service to the husband. This sleight of hand can be accomplished because of the peculiar mystifying nature of commodity production under capitalism in which it appears that 1) only capitalist commodity production produces surplus value, i.e., is productive labor and 2) the laborer freely contracts, as an individual, for the sale of his own, personal labor power. Therefore, since the wife’s labor appears to be a private service to the husband, completely separated from commodity production, it follows that her support, her children and her labor appear to be the sole responsibility of the husband, unrelated to the value of his labor power, and thus to his wages. These two factors mean that a woman’s productive labor, in the production and reproduction of the commodity labor power, is mediated through the family; and her contribution to the surplus value appropriated from the husband’s labor is hidden in the individual wage system of capital. When her commodity – labor power itself – goes to market it appears as the possession of a single individual, rather than as what it really is: the collective product of domestic labor in the family. In this way the market price of labor power can be separated from the real value of labor power. Once this occurs, a woman’s labor appears to be both unwaged and valueless, when, in fact, the value of her labor ought to be included in the man’s wages, that is, the price of his labor power.

As a consequence of the mystification of the family (disguising the family’s true function as the unit of production for labor power itself), the social relations within the family, between husband and wife, may take on the character of the social relations of capitalism. As Engels noted long ago, the wife stands to the husband as the proletariat to the bourgeoisie. This antagonism is a consequence of the mystified nature of domestic labor, and creates the false appearance of a situation typical of other forms of unwaged labor, such as slavery:

On the basis of the wages system even the unpaid labor seems to be paid labor. With the slave, on the contrary, even that part of his labor which is paid appears to be unpaid. Of course, in order to work the slave must live, and one part of his working day goes to replace the value of his own maintenance. But since no bargain is struck between him and his master, and no acts of selling and buying are going on between the two parties, all his labor seems to be given away for nothing. [2]

Because “no acts of selling and buying are going on between the two parties, all his (her) labor seems to be given away for nothing”; that is, the unwaged wife is “dependent” upon the husband for her subsistence; her wageless state in the family reduces her to a “slave” of the husband. In fact, she receives a “share” in the husband’s wage which appears in the mystified family unit not as her rightful share in the collectively produced commodity, labor power, but rather as the replacement of “the value of his (her) own maintenance.” Yet neither husband nor wife is aware of the real (theoretical) determination of the value of labor power, and thus face one another within the marriage contract as “proletariat to bourgeoisie.”

In the relationship within the family of (wife) proletariat to (husband) bourgeoisie the contractual relationship takes on a slave-like character reflective of the societal relations of capitalism:

What the working man sells is not directly his labor, but his laboring power, the temporary disposal of what he makes over to the capitalist.... This is so much the case that I do not know whether by the English laws, but certainly by some continental laws, the maximum time is fixed for which a man is allowed to sell his laboring power. If allowed to do so for any indefinite period whatever, slavery would be immediately restored. Such a sale, if it comprised his lifetime, for example, would make him at once the lifelong slave of his employer. [3]

The hostility generated between husband and wife in the family stems from the mystification which results in making a wife the “lifelong slave of his (her) employer” because there is no fixed, maximum time, but rather an indefinite period, in which the wife is expected to work for the husband. This mystification serves capital well, for it not only ensures cheap labor (since the labor power of women as wives does not have to be compensated at its real value), but it also displaces a woman’s hostility and frustration away from capital and onto her husband. Both husband and wife in the proletariat are thus cheated and tricked by capital for the benefit and the purposes of capital. The system is all the more vicious because it serves to make the husband an unwitting accomplice of capital in the subjugation and exploitation of women.

Let us examine the benefit to capital. Essentially, the system permits the capitalist to undervalue labor power, that is, to purchase the commodity labor power at a price (wages) far below its real value. This is accomplished only through the unrecognized nature of women’s domestic labor. To show the extent of this undervaluation, let us estimate what the same labor power would bring on the open market.

A 1970 Chase Manhattan study shows that a married woman’s average working week is nearly 100 hours.

Hours Rate Value

Job per per per

Week Hour Week

Nursemaid 44.5 $2.00 $89.00

Housekeeper 17.5 3.25 56.88

Cook 13.1 3.25 42.58

Dishwasher 6.2 2.00 12.40

Laundress 5.9 2.50 14.75

Food Buyer 3.3 3.50 11.55

Gardener 2.3 3.00 6.90

Chauffeur 2.0 3.25 6.50

Maintenance Man 1.7 3.00 5.10

Seamstress 1.3 3.25 4.22

Dietician 1.2 4.50 5.40

Practical Nurse 0.6 3.75 2.25

99.6 $257.53

For working-class women, the time allotments and their “value per week” would have to be even greater. The very unwaged, private and contractual relationship in the family has meant that domestic labor has remained labor intensive. The rationalization and technological development of the means of production in the domestic sphere have remained primitive since neither competition nor wage pressures operate there. Since no wages are paid, the labor time can take on an “indefinite” character. Since no commodities are exchanged between husband and wife, even that part of the wife’s labor which is paid appears unpaid. All of this takes on the mask of “domestic slavery” and the husband appears as a “slave master.”

The real nature of women’s work in the family becomes absolutely clear when we realize that married-female labor properly falls into the service sector. Thus, if a woman works for wages as a housekeeper, waitress, laundress, seamstress, babysitter, cleaning woman, maid, companion, etc., she is counted as a part of the waged proletariat. It is only when a woman is married that such labor is defined as the “production of use values outside of capitalist commodity production.” Therefore, it is not how or what is produced, it is the marriage contract that determines if female labor is waged or unwaged! It is the status wife that reduces women to unwaged and valueless labor. It is the marriage contract that gives the husband the legal right to the direct appropriation of female labor power at subsistence cost and without wages as a private service legally owed to him by his wife.

We may now also understand that much of the service sector, like the housewife, does not simply produce “use values,” but, in fact, aids in the production of the basic commodity labor power insofar as the service sector contributes to the reproduction of labor power. In short, much of the service sector of the economy performs “women’s work,” substituting for a “wife” in the case of unmarried workers.

Women’s unwaged labor in the home is the very bulwark of cheap labor costs. Is it any wonder that vast sums are spent ensuring the education and conditioning of women into acceptance of this arrangement? For the vast sums spent in education and advertising are a pittance compared to what it would cost to meet the real value of female domestic labor power.

For husbands, supporting a wife at subsistence is a very good deal, for his wages alone would not meet expenses (not to mention personalized service) of at least $250.00 per week to pay for the comfort and well-being of himself and his children. That is precisely why so many men, not realizing the mystified nature of both wages and women’s labor, have remained champions of the family and “woman’s place is in the home” -champions for the sake of the real, tangible, material benefits of having at hand, objectively, nothing less than a type of slave labor.

However, the benefits to capital are not yet exhausted. Because of the mystified nature of women’s labor, capital is able to consistently and increasingly undervalue the price of waged labor to the point where, in the modern economy, only privileged strata of the proletariat and the middle classes are able to earn take-home wages sufficient to rear a family and support a wife at an acceptable “above the poverty line” standard of living. Most wages are so undervalued that married women are driven into the workforce in order to maintain the family. This facilitates capital’s utilization of female labor in the industrial reserve army to undercut male wages while still collecting the benefits of women’s unwaged domestic labor. In short, working women are super-exploited when they enter the labor force: first, through the direct appropriation of surplus value in commodity production, and then a second time through the indirect (mediated through the family) appropriation of value from domestic labor.

Conclusion

Therefore, it is fundamentally the institution of the nuclear family as it exists under capitalism and the consequent limitations of a woman’s “proper” function in the production and reproduction of the proletariat (motherhood) that facilitates capital’s super-exploitation of female labor in capitalist commodity production. The labor theory of value holds that wages at real value comprise the costs of the production and reproduction of labor power. Inflation, unemployment and undervalued labor power (depressed wages) exert a constant pressure to force women out of the home and into the labor force. This has always been characteristic of capitalism, as Marx pointed out long ago, but today the employment of women is steadily increasing. Furthermore, working-class women are constantly circulating through the labor force: 1) women work before marriage and during early marriage; 2) women leave the labor force when their children are in infancy and early childhood; and then 3) they return to the labor market when their children reach late childhood or are grown. This rhythm is upset anytime there are contractions and expansions of employment and wage levels. Contraction and expansion of wage levels operate to regulate the utilization of female labor as a part of the industrial reserve army. Women tend to be forced into the labor market: 1) when there is a demand for greater masses of labor power; and/or 2) when demands for cheap labor power can be met by women’s undervalued wages or women’s part-time work. Conversely, women are forced out of the labor market in periods of glut on the market simply because they can be reabsorbed into the nuclear family.

The circulation of women through the waged labor force, women’s principal identification of themselves as wives and mothers and thus only “temporary workers” (which produces negative or very weak class consciousness), and institutionalized discrimination against women all serve to facilitate the super-exploitation of women under capitalism. This super-exploitation is expressed by: 1) the denial by capital of compensation for labor consumed in production and reproduction of labor power; 2) the systematic undervaluation of waged female labor; 3) forcing women disproportionately into the worst and most degrading jobs; and 4) forcing women into part-time or full-time work in addition to full responsibility for domestic labor (thus married working women hold down two full-time jobs, but are paid wages for only one).

Upon investigation, working-class women are clearly the most oppressed, super-exploited sector of the entire proletariat. The greatest burdens are carried by racial and national minority women. The root of women’s subjugation and exploitation is not the human family as such, but the nuclear family as it is organized and exploited under advanced capitalism.

The servant or wife should not only perform certain offices and show a servile disposition, but it is quite as imperative that they should show an acquired facility in the tactics of subservience – a trained conformity to the canons of effectual and conspicuous subservience. Even today it is this aptitude and acquired skill in the formal manifestations of the servile relation that constitutes the chief element of utility in our highly paid servants, as well as one of the chief ornaments of the well-bred housewife .... It is of course sufficiently plain, to anyone who cares to see, that our bearing towards menials and other pecuniarily dependent inferiors is the bearing of the superior member in a relationship. [4]

Nor should Marxists ignore an early American socialist woman:

To have a whole human creature consecrated to his direct personal service, to pleasing and satisfying him in every way possible – this has kept man selfish beyond the degree incidental to our stage of social growth .... Pride, cruelty, and selfishness are the vices of the master; and these have been kept strong in the bosom of the family through the false position of women. [5]

The conflict between men and women, husbands and wives, is not some “petty bourgeois feminist plot” to divide the working class, but a real product of the cruel and exploitative social relations of capitalism. In fact, no sphere of a working-class woman’s life is free from exploitation facilitated by institutionalized male supremacy.

NOTES


1. Friedrich Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1972), pp. 5-6.

2. Karl Marx, Wages, Price and Profit (Peking, Foreign Languages Press, 1973), p. 51.

3. Ibid., p. 44.

4. Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisured Class (New York, Viking Press, 1964), p. 105.

5. Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Women and Economics (New York, Harper and Row, 1966), p. 3


Wages for Housework and Strategies of Revolutionary Fantasy

The great merit of Selma James and Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community is their challenge of certain Marxist views that the “capitalist family did not produce for capitalism, was not part of social production, (so that) it followed that they repudiated women’s potential social power....” and the consequence of that kind of analysis, which makes housewives socially “invisible” in proletarian struggle, and leaves the massive laboring population of women in the home virtually outside of the organizations and struggles of the proletariat.

While we owe a debt to James and Dalla Costa for raising the general level of debate on the entire question of women under capitalism, we are still constrained to engage in debate if we find the analysis to be incorrect. I do believe that the analysis is incorrect. Furthermore, I believe that it leads to strategic consequences which in practice are self-defeating and divisive. This commentary will focus upon the strategic consequences of the analysis.

The Mystery of Wages

Their analysis suffers from two catastrophic errors. The first is the assertion that women’s work is “unwaged” and the second is that the family is really a “social factory.” The heart of the problem is our understanding of what the family under capitalism is. While we do not accept that it is a “factory,” we do accept that it is a production unit. Under capitalism the family produces a commodity, human labor power (an individual’s ability to work which is sold as a commodity, so that the seller has no claim on the product of his labor, and which must be produced like any other commodity). If we follow the labor theory of value, the value of human labor power is equivalent to the amount of socially necessary labor time required to produce and reproduce it. Thus the value of human labor power is based upon all the socially necessary labor time expended by the entire family, to feed, clothe, rest, recreate, comfort, restore and educate those individuals taking their labor power to market.

The value of labor power is thus determined by the labor that it took, in the family unit, to produce and reproduce it in the first place. However, under capitalism, the origin of the value of labor power as determined by the collective labor of family members is mystified, disguised, hidden by the individualized and contractual relations under which labor power is bought and sold. Thus, it appears that when individual workers, male or female, contract with a capitalist employer to sell their labor power they do so as free individuals selling the commodity of their ability to work, in the same way that capitalists as private owners sell their commodities (produced by the workers, but upon which the workers have no claim). However, in reality, a wage (the price of labor power, which is not the same as the real value of labor power) belongs to the unit which produced the commodity, the family (which basically means the housewife and her domestic labor). It is because of the mystifying capitalist relations in which labor power is bought and sold in the labor market that the wage appears to be paid only to an individual worker.

This mystification leads to the relationship within the marriage contract in which the wife appears to be dependent upon her husband’s productive labor (labor power that produces surplus value for the capitalist) and secondly, that the wage “belongs” to the husband alone, and is therefore his by right, and his to control. The wife thus appears to stand “outside” of capitalism: her work belongs to her husband (in return for her board and room), is no more than the production of use values (work which is useful but does not produce commodities) and therefore her labor is “outside” of capitalist production.

Of course, it is not true that the labor of the wife produces only use values for the husband, who then provides for her subsistence in return for these services. What is true is that the labor of the wife, and the children and every other family member who helps out in the home, are producing commodities: the one, essential, fundamental commodity under capitalism, human labor power itself! However, as long as the true function of the family is hidden by capitalist market relations in the sale of labor power, the capitalist is able to systematically undervalue the price (wage) of labor power by contracting with individual units (the worker) instead of contracting with the entire production unit (the family).

The severe undervaluation of labor power enables the capitalist to pay such wretched wages that wives are increasingly forced into the capitalist labor market, i.e., families are so undercompensated for their product, labor power, that both husband and wife must work directly for the capitalist. For the wife, this is super-exploitation: she is not compensated for her labor in producing labor power at its real value in the home, and she then is exploited a second time when she works in the labor force.

Thus, the first error in the James-Dalla Costa analysis is the presentation of the wife as being unwaged, while we have seen that her “wages” are really a part of the wages of the husband. James and Dalla Costa reify the very mystification that serves capitalism so well! That is, they accept that the wage belongs to the husband, making the husband some kind of “boss” over the wife in the home “factory.” The James-Dalla Costa analysis fails to carry out one of the principal tasks of Marxian analysis, which is to go under the appearances and mystifications produced by capitalist relations of production to the perception of the actual relations of production. In the true relations of production of which the family is a part, the husband and wife are in fact partners in a single production process, and wages are really payment for the product of that production partnership. In short, the wife is not a dependent, but is in truth a partner.

Therefore, the real task of Marxists in regard to the family is to destroy the veils of mystification which serve to 1) pit wife against husband, and 2) permit the systematic undervaluation of labor power. How can we do this? By demonstrating to working men and women, to working-class wives and families, how they are being cheated by the capitalists and how the capitalists have turned wives against husbands to keep wives from turning on the real bosses and thieves and oppressors: the capitalists. In this way, working-class husbands can come to understand that the price of petty tyranny over a wife is perpetual impoverishment; wives can come to understand that the husband is not a “boss” and not the real oppressor and that the impoverishment of the entire family is a product of the capitalists’ ability to deny the wife’s and the family’s rightful claim to repayment at its real value for the labor expended in producing the commodity of labor power.

Revolutionary Fantasies

These errors in the basic James-Dalla Costa analysis lead, in turn, to profound problems in strategy and tactics as they are manifested in the “wages for housework” or “power of women” movements. First, the mystification of wages contained in the analysis (in conjunction with a correct appreciation of the family as the unit for the production and reproduction of labor power) produces in practice (in the translation of written ideas into concrete action in everyday life) an antagonistic attitude towards men in general, as if working-class men were somehow “responsible” for the psychological oppression and economic dependency of wives.

Materials with this analysis which have been translated from Italian show a marked tendency to identify all housewives, irrespective of their social class, as “oppressed” workers. This leads to positing “woman as a class” and the conclusion that an upper middle-class woman and a working-class woman have more in common with each other as “wageless” workers than working-class wives have with their working-class husbands. The woman-as-class (or caste) argument leads to the promotion of serious divisions within the working class; it leads working-class women into disastrous alliances with bourgeois women’s organizations; above all, it attacks the development of class consciousness in working-class women, serving to strengthen the bourgeois ideology of “men as the enemy” and “women as caste,” which is so destructive to the struggle for the emancipation of women.

The argument that begins “If your production is vital for capitalism, refusing to produce, refusing to work, is a fundamental lever of social power” leads to a tactic-as-strategy calling for a “general strike of housewives.” This argument is hopelessly idealist. It is a “logical” deduction from an incorrect analysis that results in a completely illogical revolutionary fantasy. In the first case, a general strike of housewives (a tactic which seems to have fallen upon deaf ears since it was first proposed in ancient Greece) would not bring capitalism to a halt, although it would impose untold suffering upon the few working-class households it might be visited upon. Any number of unmarried men make it to work each morning, although infants do not manage on their own with the same ease. Furthermore, in a number of industries using migrant labor, unmarried workers are herded into barracks during the week and provided with prostitutes every Saturday night in both Europe and North America.

It is not true that the nuclear family is indispensable to capitalism. Profitable and useful, yes, but where it is not profitable and useful, it is dispensed with quickly enough. Thus, a “general strike of housewives” would turn husband against wife, for such a “strike” in fact would be against husbands and children, while it would leave capitalism untouched. In fact, the capitalists doubtless laugh themselves to sleep at night thinking of such an ideal situation: to have husbands and wives fighting each other with as much energy as capital has been able to generate between black and white workers!

Finally, the very demand “wages for housework” is, in practice, reformist and counterrevolutionary. John Kenneth Galbraith has already made a plea for a program of wages for housework. Galbraith is the real spokesman for that class of technocrats whom we may thank for the “war on poverty,” the “triple revolution” and other programs for the containment of possible North American proletarian revolution. As Lenin pointed out long ago in his debates with the Economists, the easiest and cheapest concessions capital can make are those around wages and economic bribes. The objective result of the demand “wages for housework” would be a reformist campaign (energetically supported by the petty-capitalist owners and editors of Ms. magazine). The demand would probably be granted, amidst sighs of relief from the bourgeoisie, to all housewives (including those “oppressed” sisters whose husbands make $50,000 a year) in the form of petty “home allowances” to housewives. The “concession” would have to come from the state, out of the taxes of the working class: thus the working-class family would not gain an extra penny. Indeed, they would lose money, because out of their taxes would come the “family allowances” for the middle and upper middle-class women. Thus, portions of the working class’s wages that might go to feed families or educate children or provide health care would be used as pin money by already significantly privileged but psychologically “oppressed” women. The question of tax-f und allocation aside, such “home allowances” or “wages for housewives” would permit capital to undervalue wages even more. Far from “liberating” housewives by providing them some of their “own spending money” the real consequence would be to force even more women onto the labor market.

What James and Dalla Costa have done on the positive side is to raise the debate about the real nature of the family and the true function of domestic labor. In that regard, the debate has also focused on the biases and sexism that crept into Marxism to distort the analysis of women and of the family. On the negative side, the “wages for housework” movement has produced objectively counterrevolutionary fantasy in the place of genuine revolutionary program.

The Subjugation of Women Under Capitalism:
The Bourgeois Morality

It is clear that the nuclear family, far from being “pre-capitalist,” is an integral element in capitalist relations of production. Capital leaves not the tiniest corner of society free of its domination. A simple juridical review of marriage, divorce, custody, bastardy and welfare laws, and of the laws related to sexuality, prostitution and moral life in general, all amply demonstrate capital’s direct concern with marriage, the family, children, sexuality and so-called “morals.” The supervision by the state of the moral life of the proletariat is directly related to the proletariat’s role in commodity production, including the production of labor power itself, without which the entire capitalist society would cease to exist.

Capital and Human Reproduction

The bourgeoisie is not interested in sexual behavior or the family as such. Capital’s interest is in population, the production of human labor power in proportion to its needs. The ruling bourgeoisie is very aware that capitalism could not exist without its ultimate producer and most fundamental commodity, human labor power. Capital’s need to exert population control and to supervise human reproduction, and the contradictions that this entails, are sharply revealed not only in an obsession with the rate of reproduction in the poor and developing countries, but also in the abortion, birth control, sterilization and social assistance laws in North America.

To capital, the family is the economic unit charged with the production and reproduction of labor power. Women’s labor power and reproductive power – the bearing and rearing of children – have economic meaning in the necessary production of capital’s essential commodity. It is clear that capital views motherhood purely in terms of commodity production, as the source of the future labor pool. Women’s reproductive capacities are supervised by the state because capital needs to regulate population, to control production of the product, children. These future proletarians exist only to be exploited, to labor for the entire span of their productive lives to increase capital accumulation, and to be discarded into impoverished old age when they have been used up.

Thus the laws make clear that it is not desirable, from capital’s point of view, for women to control their own bodies, i.e., for women to control the means of reproduction. It is equally clear that capital uses the nuclear family, and women’s subservient position as wife-mother, as the chief means to assure the reproduction of an adequate supply of labor power for future exploitation-at the workers’ expense. Where once children were an economic asset (as they are now for farm families), today children are an economic liability for the working class. Capital must, however, keep the production of new proletarians at desired levels. Motherhood-as-calling, as sole definition of women’s social function, and marriage as the only “normal” condition of women, serve to assure the necessary annual crop of new proletarians. Yet capital is unwilling to pay for the production of these new workers (health, education, housing, training, etc.), displacing these costs onto the working class family. Capital does not view children as the property of parents, but as its future supply of labor power. Children are no more the “private property” of their parents than a wife’s labor power and reproductive power are the private resources of her husband. All returns, directly or indirectly, to capital.

The bourgeois morality serves the purpose, from the point of view of capital, of maintaining the nuclear family and the exploitation and subjugation of women within it. As we have outlined, the actual functions of the nuclear family are to produce and reproduce labor power, absorb female unemployment, regulate the female labor supply, discipline the male labor force and regulate population. Yet, even as the bourgeois morality serves to perpetuate the ideal of the nuclear family, capital itself is battering the family, upsetting orderly proletarian reproduction and generating multiple contradictions within the fabric of capitalist society.

While the “ideal” nuclear family may be the preferred production unit for new labor power, capital itself undermines the family as is clear from the emergence of second, third and even fourth-generation welfare families often without any marriage contracts. This situation clearly indicates that the traditional nuclear family is not absolutely essential to capitalism; indeed, the nuclear family is useful in some sectors of the labor force, while not useful or functionally absent in other sectors.

For example, from the point of view of capital, the United States now faces an over-supply – a glut on the present and future market -of racial and national minority labor power, especially of blacks. The unused and unwanted minority labor supply is dumped in urban ghettos and depressed rural areas. The very fact that capital treats millions of people as unused waste products demonstrates that capitalism has no concern whatsoever for human welfare – it cares only that its production needs are met .

Compounding the situation is the fact that depressed wages and chronic unemployment have worked to undermine the nuclear family in the urban black and Latin proletariat, since many husbands cannot economically support wives and children. The expansion and contraction of welfare payments are related to population control and the over-supply of labor power. The welfare laws themselves are indicators that somebody’s labor power is required to rear new proletarians (new commodities) up to a certain age and that the state recognizes the need to pay wages to women rearing children alone, at least up to age six. However, welfare and social assistance are provided almost exclusively by taxes on the employed proletariat, creating political pressures to reduce welfare – which fits in with capital’s desire to reduce national minority and poor white populations by the tried and true method of semi-starvation diet and limited health care.

The contradictions which beset the family are even more unmanageable when one realizes that “mothers” are potentially unemployed wage workers. The economically forced movement of large numbers of women from childcare to the labor force puts pressure on the job market, increases real unemployment rates, and displaces men who will not or cannot compete against severely depressed wages. The result is the continued existence in the United States of the most ferocious poverty in which the principal victims, as everywhere in the world, are the children, the aged and the women.

By understanding that capitalism concerns itself only with its own problems of supply and demand in the labor market (and not morality or humanity or any value other than the profit motive), we can also understand the source of the brutality and hypocrisy that are the essence of our moral and cultural life. It is in the context of hypocrisy and brutality that we can come to understand the true functions and nature of the bourgeois morality in late monopoly capitalism.

Bourgeois Morality and Contractual Marriage

Bourgeois sexual morality reflects property relations insofar as it defines a woman’s body, the children produced from her body and her labor power as the private property of the husband or protector. From this perspective, it is clear that bourgeois morality is fundamentally a justification of the marriage contract, which itself is no more than a legal agreement giving husbands the right to appropriate wives’ productive and reproductive powers.

Under the trappings of the bourgeois morality – the frail, dependent, helpless wife, the hypocrisies of romantic love, the idyllic images of the happy housewife – is a system which justifies and rationalizes the subjugation of women. It does so by mystifying the real meaning of married women’s labor, convincing a wife that her labor is valueless, a mere service to compensate her husband for her dependency upon his valuable labor power. In the same way, the bourgeois morality emphasizes monogamy, chastity, modesty and obedience. These serve to ensure a woman’s subservience by convincing her that it is “God’s law” or “Nature’s intent” that her labor power is valueless and her children belong, by right, to her husband; that her duties are, above all, service and obedience; that her acceptance of the tutelage of her husband is necessary to her survival since she and her children are dependent upon the husband’s providing.

A woman’s enforced dependency and her consequent subjugation is further justified in the social definition of woman as primarily a sexual object, whose principal reason for existence is in passively giving her body for male sexual satisfaction and in the bearing of his children. Laws against adultery, for example, serve to keep access to women’s sexuality the exclusive right of husbands. Fidelity and monogamy have always been strictly imposed upon women while men have been permitted to violate these norms (the ubiquitous double standard). The imposition of fidelity and monogamy has always been justified morally in terms of a husband’s desire to know that he is the father of the woman’s children. In fact, the question of establishing paternity is only of esoteric interest. The real function of monogamy is to ensure and stabilize an individual husband’s right to appropriate his wife’s labor power and reproductive power. Throughout most of human history, children were valuable pieces of property, potential and real labor power, and a husband needed a “deed” (paternity) to establish his claim to the labor power of his children. Monogamy has always functioned to seclude a woman to one man as his property in order to guard against wife-stealing and to brand her as his property – since women, as with all human beings in bondage, are not above running off, depriving the husband of both her labor power and the labor power of the children she produces.

Every mechanism of social control – moral, religious, governmental – has been used to lock women into marriage and the family. The bourgeois morality for this reason creates a psychology that asserts that a woman is not psychologically complete until she has chosen her mate, that her very human nature cannot be realized without childbearing, that her life is empty and meaningless if she is not a wife and mother -no matter what she may have accomplished. A woman who does not marry is presented as a freak, as incomplete or humanly inadequate. None of these limitations apply to men whose realization is defined in terms of work and in terms of their life outside of the family. Indeed, the power of men to actualize themselves is manifested in the double standard, by which men are thought to require many women to establish masculinity while a woman can realize herself only through a complete submission of her own will and personality to that of a husband.

Women have always resisted, always resented, for the human spirit cannot forever be locked into a servant’s worldview. This is why women are depicted in popular and bourgeois culture as either pure or sluts, where evil lurks always within the Madonna-Whore.

Bourgeois Morality and Men

Marriage, with its dependent wife and children, is the principal means by which capital secures a reliable, dependent and disciplined male labor force. The husband, upon marriage and first child, is locked into a life of work if he is to be a “good husband and father,” that is, a “good provider.” Once the veils of mystification are stripped away, the image is Kafka’s world: women, who are never permitted to dream; men, who if they dream must put away their dreams; men and women condemned to an eternal punishment-to carry the whole parasitical mass of capital on their backs, generation upon generation. The trap is made by neither husband nor wife: the wife blames the husband for her dependency, for his resentment and his harsh treatment, for his complicity in the injustice of “woman’s place”; the man resents the woman for the burden she represents, the demands she has, the complaints she makes. A wife is a bribe to the husband, but she is also his chain; a husband is security to the wife, but also her prison. Thus each is to a greater or lesser degree divided against the other. And over all of this is the dead weight of capital, whose mechanisms of competition and apparatus for the production of poisonous belief turn men against women, white against black, nation against nation.

Bourgeois Morality and Class Consciousness

The bourgeois morality promotes in women a self-identification primarily as wives and mothers (or wives and mothers-to-be) and not as workers, even when they are in the active labor force. Equally, men view women workers as a species apart, not as part of themselves as workers. Furthermore, the traditional segregation between “male” and “female” work in industry, as well as competition for jobs, is a constant source of divisiveness between men and women workers. This also perpetuates the idea that women are not “real” workers, but some strange species of interloper, who properly belong at home with their children. Even though the capacity for childbearing accounts for only a maximum of 25 years of a woman’s life, the whole of a woman’s life is defined by childbearing functions. Single women, childless women, girls, older women, none of whom are child-bearers, nevertheless are defined by the childbearing function. This means that large numbers of women in the labor force, objectively wage workers, are subject to discrimination which is justified in terms of the wife-mother role.

The principal definition of “respectable” women as wife-mothers has been the source of low class consciousness and the limited political development of working women because, while working, they identify more as wife and mother (or wife-to-be) than as wage worker. Consequently, women relate to husbands, not to capital; to their children, not to struggles with capital; to their sexuality and not to the vast world in which they see themselves as passive, dependent and excluded. The alienated and isolated housewife, the strikebreaking wife-mother, the apolitical, passive and submissive female workers in manufacturing are, in part, results of women’s ideological submission to bourgeois morality, reinforced by complementary male prejudices and by the realities of female super-exploitation. The development of class consciousness in women is impeded materially and ideologically by the mental and physical subjugation of marriage – whether or not a woman is, in fact, married! The wife-mother social role is the basis of the whole “feminine” definition of the social and economic functioning of women in general. Subjugation historically has produced low class consciousness and a resistance to political development. Refusal to deal with the realities of female oppression serves only to perpetuate what capital wishes: not to have to fear the militance of the female half of the proletariat.

Bourgeois Morality and Sexuality

The bourgeois morality, as with other anti-feminist moralities which preceded it, is essentially an expression of a master (husband)/slave (wife) class relationship. Inequality and oppression are built into its very foundation. Dependency and inequality produce resentment and depression in wives; having dependents and the limits they impose produces hostility and resentment – and dictatorship – in husbands. The “war between the sexes” derives directly from the programmed inequalities in heterosexual relationships, and, most especially, from the expectations of servility, passivity and sexual repression from women. A woman’s sexuality, since it has to be guarded as a private resource, and monogamy, because it ensures the woman as a private resource, produce great fear of woman’s sexuality, sexual powers and power deriving from her sexual appeal.

Bourgeois morality guards the woman as property by demanding that she repress her own sexuality or that she disguise her own sexual needs and desires in order to fulfill the object expectation placed upon her. It is this demand for sexual repression and sexual submission that has made sexuality so problematic for women. Yet, discussions of the problems of sex have always been confined to women.[1]

The legitimacy of a concern with the problems of sexuality to women is best shown by the fact that the act of sexual intercourse is typically an act of aggression and of dominance (and often of violation) to -which a woman is forced to submit. The sex act as a violation, as an act establishing the inferiority and servility of women, has its most violently brutal expression in the act of rape. Rape is a social punishment and an affirmation of male superiority and female bestiality, buttressed by the bourgeois morality’s “animal” image of woman, the Madonna-Whore, as one who secretly “enjoys” her degradation and humiliation in the act of forcible rape. This is why rapists often ask their victims if they had a climax. Rape is a particularly vicious and sadistic manifestation of the general nature of sexuality as defined by the bourgeois morality – the reality under the hypocritical expressions of “sacred motherhood” and the “lady” on her asexual pedestal.

The severe alienation produced by oppressive and repressive sexual norms and ideals finds its real expression in the horrendous rate of forcible rape and child rape. Rape is an expression of aggression and hatred vented upon a social inferior; it is an act of spiritual murder even when it is not accompanied by murder in fact. Against the image of the “pure and virtuous asexual woman” is the dark counter-image of woman as victim, of a creature whose slow and bloody torturing to death is a source of sexual satisfaction and pleasure.

Heterosexuality and Homosexuality

Human beings are high-order primates. Primates are not noted for displaying a fine degree of sexual discrimination, and neither is the primate homo sapiens. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that a variety of sexual styles have existed in most societies from ancient times. Homosexuality has been extensively documented in primitive communist societies, among some slave-owning classes, among the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie and among the proletariat in all advanced capitalist countries. There appears to be little or no homosexuality among serfs and peasants – probably because the economy was based on family production and exclusive homosexuals don’t generally make families.[2] In one study of 77 primitive communist societies it was found that for 64% (49 societies) “Homosexual activities of one sort or another are considered normal and socially acceptable for certain members of the community.” In 36% (28 societies) homosexual activities were rare, absent or carried on in secret. In one example, homosexuality was practiced by women only.

Well-known bourgeois sexologist Alfred Kinsey has the following comments concerning the common belief that only heterosexual activity is normal for all mammals:

Biologists and psychologists who have accepted the doctrine that the only natural function of sex is reproduction, have simply ignored the existence of sexual activity which is not reproductive. They have assumed that heterosexual responses are a part of an animal’s innate, “instinctive” equipment, and that all other types of sexual activity represent “perversions” of the “normal instincts.” Such interpretations are, however, mystical. They do not originate in our knowledge of the physiology of sexual responses and can be maintained only if one assumes that sexual function is in some fashion divorced from the physiologic processes which control other functions of the animal body.

The attempt to define heterosexuality as the norm of human sexual behavior is an example of metaphysical science and is not based on the material facts of the diversity of human sexual styles. Therefore the moral and social meanings attached to these styles is a doctrine of bourgeois morality which has evolved with the development of capitalism, and must be understood as an element of the superstructure serving the ends and purposes of imperialism and not as a “natural order of the universe.”

Historically, it is clear that the social meaning of sexuality does not inhere in the style of sexuality (homosexuality, heterosexuality and bisexuality) but in the social meanings attached to styles. In ancient Greece mate homosexuality was philosophically extolled as a love between equals, far superior to the heterosexual coupling between man and beast-woman. Female homosexuality in ancient Greece was obviously a woman’s response to her bestial status – a relief from the social oppression and deprivation of a woman’s life. The rise of lesbianism in the modern women’s movement was a rejection of both bourgeois morality and the prevalent nature of heterosexual relationships in which strong and competent women are virtually sexually ostracized by men. Sexuality and its expressions in sexual styles are so obviously linked to the specific historical conditions in any given society at any given time that it is simply absurd to argue that one or the other style is more or less “natural.”

The real analytical problem lies in understanding the origin and functions of the social meanings ascribed to any given sexual style at any given time. The problem is not psychological in nature but a question of social analysis. We must therefore understand the definitions of “natural” sexuality and acceptable sexual norms in their socioeconomic context. A doctrine of rigid heterosexuality, as it evolved to its present representation in bourgeois morality, must be understood as an element in the superstructure of capitalism, needful to the ends and purposes of capital, rather than a metaphysical exercise in determining a priori the natural sexual order in the universe. Considered within its social context, heterosexuality seen as a natural absolute (in which all other sexual styles are “deviations” or “perversions”) is quite obviously related to the maintenance of the family and the male supremacy around which the family is organized. Sexual control lies at the heart of the doctrine of monogamy; but sexual control also lies at the heart of the doctrine of heterosexuality.

For both men and women, sexual regulation is in fact regulation of reproduction. Thus, the enforcement of anti-homosexual laws is primarily aimed against the working class and lower petty bourgeoisie while homosexuality is tolerated in the upper petty bourgeoisie and ruling class. The selective toleration of homosexuality has, then, a class basis which preserves the material conditions beneficial to capital.

To the primate in us, sexual style is irrelevant. But sexual style is not irrelevant to male supremacy and it is not irrelevant to controlling human reproduction. Equally, the doctrine of the “naturalness” of heterosexuality and norms of rigid heterosexuality are overridingly central to the subjugation of women: they contain some of the principal justifications for sexual and social submission within the family. Above all, the doctrine of natural heterosexuality is the ideological bulwark of male supremacy.

Homosexuality and “Proletarian Morality”

The imposition of the bourgeois morality by means of religious beliefs, social norms, social legislation and education – by all the superstructural institutions of capital – has provided the controlling ideology for the promotion and justification of the subjugation of women and has been the principal means by which capital exercises social and moral control over proletarian life and consciousness. To speak of a special “proletarian morality” arising from within the working class makes as much sense as positing that the revolutionary ideas of Marxism-Leninism spring spontaneously from the consciousness of the proletariat. What is usually invoked as “proletarian morality” is precisely of the same order as trade union consciousness, that is, nothing more than bourgeois ideology reflected in the proletariat and adapted to its conditions of life.

The depiction of homosexuality (or indeed any concern with sexuality) as “bourgeois decadence” is nothing more than the expression of the bourgeois morality itself. The claim that “proletarian morality” condemns homosexuality as “decadent” or “perverted” ignores the bourgeois nature of morals in capitalist society; ignores the widespread existence of homosexual practices in all social classes, including all strata and sectors of the proletariat; fails to make class distinctions (lumping all homosexuals into one group defined by sexual style alone and “declassing” the whole group by definition); ignores the real differences between the social meaning of male and female homosexuality; and above all, refuses to view the nature and origins of sexual style analytically as part of capitalist society.

The result of substituting bourgeois morality for Marxist analysis is a purely liberal debate: 1) homosexuals should be tolerated, i.e., be given “democratic rights”; or 2) homosexuals should be condemned as decadent and be given therapy to overcome their “bourgeois decadent” deviation from the sacred heterosexual absolute; or 3) homosexuals should stay in the “closet” and not bother people.

In fact, the left’s attack against homosexuality is an attack against women, for the attack invariably takes the form of a defense of the bourgeois morality, which is a defense of male supremacy. The left’s attack provides a handy weapon to silence “uppity” women demanding discussion of sexual problems and the position of women, who can thus be accused of condoning “decadence” or of failing in their duty to maintain “unity” with men (especially husbands), or, horror of horrors, lapsing into “bourgeois feminism” and questioning the holy precepts of the nuclear family.

The most destructive consequence of the left-wing sexism has been to drive women and homosexuals into “sexual politics.” Women’s Liberation itself and, later, lesbian vanguardism were consequences of denying women any legitimate place, as women, in the socialist left. People were thus forced back into a fight for their social equality and limited to a fight against their social oppression. Women were forced to fight the left even as they were forced to fight the capitalist society as a whole. The consequence of left-wing anti-feminism was in this way profoundly reactionary, contributing to the rise of reformist and even fascist social movements. The left was in error, for so subjective and self-interested was the anti-feminist attack that class analysis or a class perspective was never addressed to the women’s movement. In time, women themselves undertook to engage in a Marxist analysis of themselves, but only after having spent years of confusion engendered by the self-interested sexism of petty bourgeois male chauvinists in the left.

The predominance of “sexual politics” among homosexuals can be explained in the same way as the prevalence of “sexual politics” in the women’s movement – a response to the left’s definition of a “whole human creature” by but one (socially defined as negative) aspect of human existence: sex or sexuality. The distaste of heterosexual male leftists for any discussion of sexuality is, in fact, a distaste for any discussion of their objective supremacy, of their oppressor roles, of the direct benefit they personally enjoy from the subjugation of women.

Let us suggest that from the point of view of Marxism-Leninism a preference for one sexual style over another is principally irrelevant, and all the more so for the general alienated state of sexual relationships in contemporary society. Opposition to separatist politics, if principled, should be based upon class analysis and political analysis. Thus, we should oppose those groups organized around petty bourgeois class-based reformist demands; we should oppose those groups that make sexual oppression the principal contradiction, whether these are groups of women or groups of homosexuals; we should oppose all those groups holding that the first priority of proletarian revolution should be “sexual liberation” (for example, the contemporary Reichians with their various forms of sex-pol therapeutic politics, etc.).

In the end, we do not aspire to make revolution in order to free people to enjoy any sexual style they please, nor do we agitate for revolution in order to justify the practices of one group or another. We struggle to abolish capital, to liberate the masses of human beings, to build a society in which our species-being can be free to seek its greatest potentiality. It is foolish and wrong to drive dedicated people into a dead end of sexual politics by defining their humanity sexually, and then, on the basis of that definition alone, bar people as “unworthy” of revolutionary struggle. It is sexism – and like all sexism, it is madness.


1. This has been true of socialist movements, where sexuality as an area of concern has been traditionally denied or ridiculed by the men of the left. Nothing speaks more clearly to the unexamined sexism of leftist men than their continuing refusal to deal seriously with the question of sexuality. In a round of letters sent to Monthly Review in reply to an article treating Wilhelm Reich and sexuality, the male correspondents were almost hysterical in their vociferous denial of the relevance of the sexual problematic to serious Marxists. The virulent condemnation of any effort to deal with sexuality, by labeling such attempts as nothing more than manifestations of “petty bourgeois decadence” is, to women, transparent in its defense of vested male interest.

2. This is probably the reason why in some third world and underdeveloped countries homosexuality is identified as a ruling-class vice.


 

Left-Wing Anti-Feminism: A Revisionist Disorder

Proletarian Anti-Feminism: The Material Basis for the Conflict of Interest Between Men and Women in the Proletariat

Historically, anti-feminism in the proletariat took the form of attempts to restrict female participation in the labor force. Proletarian anti-feminism was not the result of stubborn sexism alone; it was principally due to the lower wages paid women and the resulting competition between men and women in the labor market. The fundamental cause of the undervalued wages of women is the overall subjugation of women in society in which: 1) women’s share in poorly paid jobs is much greater than that of men (due to institutionalized discrimination) and 2) wages of married women (which are held to be no more than a contribution to their husbands’ earning power) are the most severely undervalued. The undervalued wages of married women put pressure on the wages of unmarried women as well. These factors mean that women’s wages come to have a depressing effect on men’s wages.

Consequently, the female proletariat is caught in a massive contradiction. Women are driven to work by economic necessity, by the operation of capital itself. However, one of the ways for proletarian women to escape the tutelage inherent in the nuclear family is by being drawn into waged labor. Yet, the more women are driven into the labor force, the more their depressed wages put pressure on male wages. The resulting antagonism from male workers manifests itself in demands for the restriction of female labor which replace the earlier demands for the abolition of female labor in the production process. It is basically the same mechanism of depressed wages and the same conflict of material interests which account for the antagonism between white workers and national minority workers.

Historically, then, proletarian women have been defeated by the contradictory nature of their position, by the twofold nature of women’s emancipation under capitalism. While women could emancipate themselves by going out to work, competition at the same time imposed limits on this, emancipation. The historical limits have meant that in!,,,’, periods of prosperity proletarian women’s movements have fought for higher wages and better jobs; in periods of economic crisis women have had to fight to retain the right to work.

The super-exploitation of female labor power by capital can only be countered, in terms of reform, by union organizing and protective legislation. However, historically, the principal opposition to basic reforms (equal pay for equal work and a f air wage f or a f air day’s work) has come from the trade unions themselves and from the bourgeois women’s movement.

While demands for the right to work, suffrage and other. democratic rights have been common to both the bourgeois, and proletarian women’s movements, protective legislation,,” is another story. Bourgeois women want completely free competition with men because their main enemy is patriarchalism, which must be negated before they can claim an equal share of their class privileges. Bourgeois women can.,” afford to oppose protective legislation because, on the one hand, they are usually provided with means of support beyond their own wages or salaries; while on the other hand, the best of existing women’s jobs go to the women of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie who have “care, cleanliness, taste, even art, and above all, initiative.” In short, they can afford depressed wages and have a competitive advantage because they are better educated. Bourgeois and proletarian women confront each other in the labor market, and bourgeois women are one of the instruments used to undercut the wages of proletarian women. This struggle, this basic class conflict, is repeated today (just as it was fought out in Clara Zetkin’s day) in the campaign for the pernicious “Equal Rights Amendment” carried on by the National Organization for Women and supported by the class collaborationist labor bureaucrats.

Where the bourgeois woman seeks only to establish juridical equality and to escape the confines of the home, the proletarian woman bears in addition all the burdens of her class exploitation and oppression. This is why, for the proletarian woman, there can be no genuine female emancipation under capitalism. It also makes clear why proletarian women have put aside their own emancipation for generations, to submerge it in class struggle. However, as we shall see, “submerging” (or liquidating) the women’s struggle into class struggle is not a requirement of revolutionary struggle-it is a product of left-wing sexism and the bourgeois morality in Marxism and, above all, a consequence of revisionism.

Whose class interests (excepting those of the bourgeoisie) are served by advocating the desirability of contractual marriage and the consequent perpetuation of the subjugation of women? If we look at its material basis, we find that proletarian anti-feminism is most characteristic of those strata of the proletariat whose wages are sufficient to maintain a family at an average working-class standard of living. In such strata, where wages are adequate, a woman whose labor power is privately appropriated is a real bargain, for the same services, if waged, would be totally out of reach of the men.

Proletarian anti-feminism represents the particular material interests of highly paid, unionized male workers vis--vis women. The subjugation of women serves as a “natural” restriction upon the employment of female labor, and thus partially controls competition in the labor force. It keeps women unorganized and powerless in labor organizations. It secures male workers the benefits that accrue to them through their right to privately appropriate female labor power as well as the psychological “benefit” of always having a woman inferior to serve as a waitress, lover and servant, securely dependent and, at least theoretically, humbly grateful. No matter how low a man might fall, his wife is lower yet; no matter how powerless a man may truly be, his home is his castle and his subjects his wife and children.

However, wage levels and employment patterns for the lower strata of the white working class and especially of racial and national minorities show that, for these strata, men’s wages are not sufficient to support a family. Wife and children are not a bargain, but a crushing economic liability. The disintegration of families, the rates of desertion, the rise of second- generation welfare families-all testify to the growing masses of men who cannot sell their labor power at a price which covers the expense of a family, much less of a non-working wife. Neither the bourgeois morality nor proletarian anti-feminism serves the interests of the lower paid strata of the proletariat, since the nuclear family does not materially benefit the husband, while depressed female wages enormously increase the suffering of families.

Furthermore, proletarian anti-feminism does not serve the overall interests of the proletariat. In its espousal of the joys of the nuclear family and the virtues of the bourgeois morality, it objectively supports the ideological foundation for the devalued wages of women by refusing to recognize the material basis for the conflict between men and women in the proletariat. The division between men and women is based upon competition for jobs, part of the mechanism for the super-exploitation of women. There will never be unity between men and women until the material basis of the competition and hostility are correctly understood and eventually abolished. No reformist program for “equal wages” or “democratic rights” has ever been or will ever be able to touch the roots of the subjugation of women; nor will women ever be mobilized to fight for “deferred” emancipation – women have learned that waiting until “after the revolution” means waiting “forever.” For women, as for all other oppressed people, the fight for their own emancipation begins today or it does not begin at all. So long as a rigid, dogmatic class analysis is the basis for strategy, so long as early Marxist formulations of revolutionary strategy remain dogma (even in the face of the fact that since 1917 it has been precisely the most oppressed peoples of the world who have successfully accomplished revolution), just so long will revisionism and the liquidation of the woman “question’’ into mate class struggle remain.

Left-Wing Sexism and Marxism

The absence of an adequate Marxian analysis of the position of women is the result of the unchallenged tenets of the bourgeois morality in Marxism itself,. In the Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx wrote:

The standardization of the working day must include the restriction of female labor, insofar as it relates to the duration, intermissions, etc. of the working day; otherwise it could only mean the exclusion of female labor from branches of industry that are especially unhealthy for the female body or objectionable morally for the female sex. (Emphasis added.) [1]

About this passage Werner Thonnessen comments:

Both the concept of “morally detrimental” in the (original) Gotha Programme and of “objectionable morally” in Marx’s Critique show that the socialists were letting their standard of morality be prescribed by the ruling attitudes of the bourgeoisie. This is all the more amazing, as Marx had pointed out in the Communist Manifesto that all moral relations in the proletariat flew in the face of bourgeois morals. [2]

Female labor in general is incompatible with the bourgeois .ideal of the family and most particularly incompatible with bourgeois ideals of “femininity.” The attitudes were unchallenged by the socialists of Marx’s day. About “unfeminine labor” Bebel wrote:

It is truly not a lovely sight to see women, even with child, vying with men in wheeling heavily laden barrows on railway construction sites; or to observe them mixing lime and cement, or carrying heavy loads, or stones, as laborers on building sites, or to see them working at washing coal or ironstone. The women there are stripped of all that is feminine and their femininity is trampled under foot, just as our men, in many different types of employment, are bereft of anything manly. [3]

The loss of “femininity” in heavy or dirty labor provoked only mild indignation by contrast with the outrage and moral indignation aroused by female occupations which sinned against the bourgeois ideals of purity and chastity. Bebel again:

Finally, younger and especially prettier women are used more and more, with the greatest damage to their whole personality, in all manner of public haunts as service personnel, singers, dancers, and so on, for the enticement of the pleasure-hungry male world. This area is governed by the most loathsome abuses and the white slave-owners here celebrate their wildest orgies. [4]

It is very clear that the socialists thoroughly shared the repressive sexual morality of the bourgeoisie. Bebel’s zeal, in denouncing the “immorality” of the bourgeoisie resulted in a “proletarian” ideal of purity and chastity which was the very same morality to which bourgeois patriarchalism paid homage and under which lay the subjugation of women.

The liquidationist error (liquidating the superexploitation of women by submerging it into the class struggle) goes back to the earliest days of Marxism, to Marx himself, to the Second International; it was then carried through Lenin and reached a peak of backwardness under Stalin. In this instance, sexism and male supremacy hide themselves under “proletarian morality” and a concern for the precious “femininity” and “tender virtue” of the female sex. It was only when Marx was concerned with concrete analysis that he could glimpse over his own blinders:

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, ancient Greek or Eastern forms, which, moreover, taken together form a series in historic 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 laborer exists for the process of production, and not the process of production for the laborer, that fact is a pestiferous source of corruption and slavery. [5]

The objective consequences of Marxists’ uncritical acceptance of the bourgeois morality concerning women and concerning sexuality have been to justify and perpetuate the subjugation of women in general and of women in the proletariat in particular and thus perpetuate the material bases for the real conflict of interest between husbands and wives, men workers and women workers. Early Marxism, as a consequence of its own sexist bias, left proletarian antifeminism, rooted in the customary division of labor between the sexes, the traditional ideals of the family, and “woman’s place” at home rearing children unchallenged. The workers’ anti-feminism was based upon capital’s super-exploitation of women and the resulting competition between men and women on the labor market. Marxists’ anti-feminism was based upon unquestioned male supremacy. It seemed to male workers that the problem of wages and competition could most easily be solved by keeping women out of the labor market. Proletarian anti-feminism was fundamentally a result of the working man’s lack of understanding that the utilization of female labor power by capital was an inevitable consequence of machine industry and the drive for cheap labor. Male socialists of the day did nothing to enlighten the working class or to challenge male workers’ prejudice against women. The objective consequence of proletarian anti-feminism was to play into the hands of capital by keeping men and women workers divided against each other instead of united against capital and keeping women’s wages undervalued. The sexist bias in Marxism, beginning with Marx, was to perpetuate the oppression of women within the socialist movement and to strengthen the forces of revisionism within the Second International.

Proletarian Anti-Feminism and Revisionism

In the history of German Social Democracy, workers who thought in trade union terms always strictly opposed female labor. In this they were hardly challenged by orthodox male Marxists. The beginning of revisionism was in the predominance of trade unionism in the German Social Democratic Party (SPD), with its contempt for Marxist theory as “idealism” and its Lassallean concentration on reforms, to be gained through strikes and ballots, with the emphasis upon ballots. An indication of the reactionary turn in the SPD was evident in its attempts to neutralize the socialist women’s movement and destroy the SPD Women’s Association, because the real basis for genuine radicalism within the SPD was the women and their female Marxist leaders, Rosa Luxemburg and Clara Zetkin. Indeed, Lenin’s only real allies within the Second International were Luxemburg and Zetkin!

From the earliest days of German Social Democracy the bellwether of revisionism was the position of the two tendencies – Marxism vs. Lassalleanism – on the position of women, for it was to be the women who sided with Lenin in the great debates on revisionism within the Second International. It was the Lassalleans who, from the first, transformed the super-exploitation, oppression and subjugation of women into a “question.” It certainly was not a “question” to the 190,000 women who were members of trade unions, the 140,000 women who were members of the SPD and the 112,000 women who read its women’s newspaper. (This momentous task of organizing was achieved largely through the untiring efforts of Clara Zetkin, against the constant interference and hostile machinations of the Party’s revisionist leadership.) The subjugation of women was a “question” only to the male reactionaries in the leadership of the trade unions and the Party. We therefore conclude that it is no accident in 1977, even as in 1863, 1878, 1890, 1914 and 1920, that the subjugation of women remains, to certain men, a “question.”

As early as 1866 the Lassallean position was clear: before women can be emancipated, the (male) workers must be fully emancipated. Until then, it was “sufficient for the man to work” and “woman’s place” was to hold “domestic sway.” For example, take the discussion document from the German Section of the First International produced in 1866:

Bring about a situation in which every adult man can take a wife and start a family whose existence is assured through his work, and then there will be no more of those poor creatures who, in their isolation, become the victims of despair, sin against themselves and nature and put a blot on “civilization” by their prostitution and their trade in living human flesh .... The rightful work of women and mothers is in the home and family, caring for, supervising, and providing the first education of children .... Alongside the solemn duties of the man and the father in public life and the family, the woman and mother should stand for the cosiness and poetry of domestic life, bring grace and beauty to social relations, and be an ennobling influence in the increase of humanity’s enjoyment of life. [6]

France was not to be outdone:

The woman’s place is at the domestic hearth, in the midst of her children, watching over them and instilling into them their first principles. A woman’s vocation is great, if she is awarded her rightful place. [7]

The general triumph of revisionism, the transformation of Social Democracy into a state supportive reform party, was manifested in its treatment of women. It is worth quoting Thonnessen at length, for nothing has changed, and the treatment of women in the SPD will be cruelly familiar to all of us who have matriculated through the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, Students for a Democratic Society and the new Communist movement:

The great theoretical decisiveness and rhetorical sting employed by Rosa Luxemburg and Clara Zetkin in combatting the revisionist tendency in the Party frequently induced Party leaders who were attacked to discriminate against women by means of malicious witticisms (they would accuse the women of being organizationally weak – after all, what were 140,000 women worth) while stating, on the other hand, that things could not be too bad as regards the oppression of the female sex if it could find spokesmen of such quality.

Symptomatic of this inherently contradictory defensive ploy on the part of men were the comments of Ignaz Auer ... “The trouble is that there are too few women comrades in the Party. I wish there were many more. The few who have to do all the work are overloaded and thus prone to become bad-tempered. So it comes about that they sometimes make life miserable for us, even though we are not to blame.”

By the use of deliberate wit, which, as the minutes record, always evoked the sought-for “merriment” of the audience, the women were put in their place .... The discrimination which was deliberately practiced against women in the Party, and of which Mrs. Kahler gave examples at the Gotha Party Conference in 1896, was in this way glossed over, while the existing antagonisms concerning the theory and tactics of the Party as a whole were obscured by accusing the women of griping and not achieving anything .... Auer replied to Clara Zetkin’s strong attack on the Party executive in the same tone when, amidst laughter from the audience, he said: “If that is the oppressed sex, then what on earth will happen when they are free and enjoy equal rights.” The merriment which the Party executive aroused through its countercriticism served diversionary ends, by which dissatisfaction at the ruling state of affairs in the Party was ridiculed ... The fact that this criticism was made to look ridiculous also meant a break with revolutionary theory; the break with this theory, in turn, affected the leading representatives of the women’s movement ... (Mrs. Kahler asked). “Many comrades make such a joke of the woman question that we really have to ask ourselves: Are those really Party comrades who advocate equal rights?” Such joking proved an effective means for discriminating against women’s demands. It was an expansion of the patriarchism of the men and blunted the women’s criticism of the Party’s reformist practice ... [8]

It is not common knowledge that Rosa Luxemburg was not alone in combatting revisionism within the Second International and acting as the ally of Lenin – so also did Clara Zetkin and the whole Women’s Association:

... there is no doubt that the swing of women to the left, after their leadership, resulted from the discrepancy between the Party’s feminist theory and its discrimination against women in political practice. [9]

Thus women found themselves in the difficult position of being attacked on two fronts: that of revisionism and that of proletarian anti-feminism. The men of the Party had their revenge in the end. They stripped Clara Zetkin of all power, destroyed her Women’s Association and so slandered her reputation that her work is virtually unknown and her name remains a bad joke. Rosa Luxemburg had stayed clear of the Women’s Association in order to be able to work as a theoretician of the Party’s anti-revisionist left. During her life she was denied the benefits of Party leadership and served as the butt of “witticisms.” Yet, in the end, it was Rosa they feared. And it was Rosa they murdered. The ultimate beneficiary of German revisionism, Adolph Hitler, took the revisionist position on the woman “question” to its logical conclusion and established it as the State Policy of German National Socialism, proposing the final solution to the woman question: another thousand years of subjugation, another thousand years of “the woman and mother ... stand(ing) for the cosiness and poetry of domestic life, bring(ing) grace and beauty to social relations, and be(ing) an ennobling influence on the-increase of humanity’s enjoyment of life.” [10]

The long-term result of left-wing anti-feminism has been a century of struggle in which the fundamental position of women has improved as a result of overall improvements in the standard of living of the working class, but in which women’s super-exploitation and subjugation have remained exactly where they were in 1863.

Anti-Feminism in the New Communist Movement:
A Revisionist Disorder

The so-called analysis of the subjugation, oppression and super-exploitation of women, tagged with the insulting and sexist misnomer the “woman question,” and the resulting programs advocated by the majority of pre-party and party formations claiming to be Marxist-Leninist in North America today, can be described as versions of the German Social Democratic revisionist position. Indeed, their positions on the “woman question” have not progressed beyond August Bebel’s program of 1878, were they even its equal! Most, implicitly or explicitly, advocate marriage and the traditional female role while calling for “democratic rights” (usually not different from the reformist equal rights demands of the bourgeois feminist movement). Several are so opportunist as to support bourgeois campaigns that attack protective legislation for proletarian women. When they take notice of working women’s union struggles they do so opportunistically, without any consideration of the central issues affecting the general emancipation of the female proletariat. Of the known formations, most condemn homosexuality as “bourgeois decadence” by making appeals to bourgeois morality, which they are able to do only by hiding behind the bourgeois morality’s manifestations in the proletariat. Such carryings-on are more clearly exposed when, in complete obliviousness to the material bases of the conflict between men and women, they suggest individual solutions through individual struggle, struggle in the bedroom, as the answer to what is a massive contradiction of capitalism in the advanced countries.

The question must be asked: whose interests are served by revisionist, anti-feminist positions in Marxist-Leninist organizations? One answer is readily obvious: the interests of the bourgeoisie and the class-collaborationist labor bureaucrats. Proletarian anti-feminism has been historically linked to trade union consciousness in the proletariat and revisionism in the party. The major pre-party and party formations in the United States seem to be following the same path trod by the Lassalleans.

It is not possible to ignore another factor with respect to the party and pre-party formations in North America: the material and social bases within the formations themselves for the perpetuation of the subjugation of women. The advantages that accrue to the men of the labor aristocracy also accrue to the men who claim they are Communists (and who are, in most cases, men of the petty bourgeoisie where anti-feminism is supremely the order of the day). The hegemony of male leadership in the formation is safeguarded by practicing and advocating monogamous contractual marriage since it assures the continued control of party “wives,” and all is justified in terms of “proletarian morality.” In fact, as should be clear, what is being invoked is proletarian anti-feminism and all the narrow prejudices and repressive sexuality of bourgeois morality. From the time of Marx to the present, male hegemony and male supremacy in revolutionary organizations themselves have gone practically untouched, if not unchallenged. The brutality of the treatment of Rosa Luxemburg and Clara Zetkin; the sneers, snickers, jokes, aspersions; the accusations of being ugly, nasty, domineering and unfeminine; the hypocritical forms of discrimination -all are as prevalent today as they were in German Social Democracy. The so-called “woman question” is like a searchlight cast upon these movements, revealing that they preserve bourgeois ideology and bourgeois class interests within the proletariat, however much their revisionism is hidden behind quotations from Peking Review.

Any real strategy and program for the emancipation of women must attack the bourgeois institutions of contractual marriage, private appropriation of female labor power and female reproductive power, male tutelage over women and male hegemony over women in public and organizational life. Furthermore, the masses of women not employed for wages cannot be defined into invisibility because the institution of the nuclear family is held to be sacrosanct, or because trade union reformism is seen as the only mode of struggle in pre-revolutionary periods.

None of the requirements for the emancipation of women are reformist demands because none can be met by reforms. Women do require a new and revolutionary society – but it must be a revolution and a new society in which women have an equal hand.

NOTES


1. Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme (Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1971), p. 29.

2. Werner Thonnessen, The Emancipation of Women: The Rise and Decline of the Women’s Movement in German Social Democracy 1863-1933 (London, Pluto Press, 1973), p. 33. 3. Ibid., p. 34.

3. Loc. cit.

4. Loc. cit.

5. Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 1, “A Critical Analysis of Capitalist Production “ New York, International Publishers, 1972), pp. 489-90.

6. Thonnessen, p. 20.

7. Ibid., p. 22.

8. Ibid., pp. 66-68.

9. Ibid., p. 76.

10. Discussion Document of the International Workers’ Association, German Section, 1866, quoted in Thonnessen, p. 20.


Monopoly Capitalism and the Women’s Movement

Against the Socialist Feminist Response to Harry Braverman’s Labor and Monopoly Capital

Harry Braverman wrote, in commenting upon his own work, that “the unraveling of every complex social reality requires a starting point, and it is my strong conviction that the best starting point in every case is the analysis of the dynamic elements rather than the traditional and static aspects of a given problem.” Later in the same essay, Braverman observed that “Marxism is not merely an exercise in satisfying intellectual curiosity, nor an academic pursuit, but a theory of revolution and thus a tool of combat.” [1]

I

The beauty and power of Braverman’s ability to use the Marxian method of dialectical materialism is wonderfully displayed in Chapter 17 of Labor and Monopoly Capital, “The Structure of the Working Class and its -Reserve Armies,” and nowhere more eloquently or clearly than in his analysis of the working class:

Labor and capital are the opposite poles of capitalist society .... And yet this polarity is incorporated in a necessary identity between the two. Whatever its form, whether as money or commodities or means of production, capital is labor: it is labor that has been performed in the past, the objectified product of preceding phases of the cycle of production which becomes capital only through appropriation by the capitalist and its use in the accumulation of more capital .... That portion of money capital which is set aside for the payment of labor, the portion which in each cycle is converted into living labor power, is the portion of capital which stands for and corresponds to the working population, and upon which the latter subsists.

Before it is anything else, therefore, the working class is the animate part of capital, the part which will set in motion the process that yields to the total capital its increment of surplus value. As such, the working class is first of all raw material for exploitation .... Since, in its permanent existence it is the living part of capital, its occupational structure, modes of work, and distribution through the industries of society are determined by the ongoing processes of the accumulation of capital. It is seized, released, flung into various parts of the social machinery and expelled by others, not in accord with its own will or self-activity, but in accord with the movement of capital. [2]

Braverman does us the great service of providing an adequate understanding of who and what the working class is; that understanding is critical to the development of all working-class struggles in this country. Formally, the working class is “that class which, possessing nothing but its power to labor, sells that power to capital in return for its subsistence.”

The publication of Labor and Monopoly Capital marks the appearance of a genuine Marxian class analysis of the United States. The power of a Marxian analysis is demonstrated by its predictive power. No other work shows greater promise of this capacity; Braverman describes not only the present, but also those processes that lead to the probable future. In describing the probable future, Braverman meets the Marxian criterion of “theory as a tool of combat,” for it is the future that dictates the practice of revolutionaries in the present. It is this analysis of processes leading to the future, and therefore strategies for the present, that we shall examine for its relevance to the issue of the social and economic emancipation of women.

II

Labor and Monopoly Capital has come under frequent attack by a number of individuals claiming a “socialist feminist” or feminist perspective. This school of criticism is exemplified by the critique by Rosalyn Baxandall, Elizabeth Ewen and Linda Gordon that appeared in the Monthly Review special issue on Braverman’s book. [3] Braverman replied to Baxandall, et al, by pointing out:

Beyond the fact that a consideration of household work would have fallen far outside the bounds of my subject (not to mention my competence), there is also this to consider; that household work, although it has been the special domain of women, is not thereby necessarily so central to the issues of women’s liberation as might appear from this fact On the contrary, it is the breakdown of the traditional household economy which has produced the present-day feminist movement. This movement in its modern form is almost entirely a product of women who have been summoned from the household by the requirements of the capital accumulation process, and subjected to experiences and stresses unknown in the previous thousands of years of household labor under a variety of social arrangements. Thus it is the analysis of this new situation that in my opinion occupies the place of first importance in the theory of modern feminism .... Thus I have the feeling that the most light will be shed on the totality of problems and issues embraced in the feminist movement, including those of household work, by an analysis that begins not with the forms of household work that have been practiced for thousands of years, but by their weakening and by the dissociation of an increasing number of women from them in the last few decades. [4]

Since Women’s Liberation (to which Baxandall, et al, claim to be indebted) has stressed psychological oppression, and particularly the psychological oppression of petty bourgeois housewives, to the exclusion of any genuine class understanding, it has become fashionable in feminist circles to center concern almost exclusively on the ideol ogy of sexism and the organization of the family. This leads Baxandall, et al, to criticize Braverman for paying insufficient attention to the “female” experience of working women and to ignore the issue of “unwaged” labor in the home. In his reply to this critique, Braverman displays an understandable impatience with his critics’ failure to grasp his analysis of the impact of monopoly capitalism upon women, the family and household labor.

Braverman’s analysis of the family and household labor is found in Chapter 13, “The Universal Market.” The chapter begins with a review of the history of household use value production (things and services produced for human use, but not for sale on the market) which continued throughout the early period of industrialization. Most household goods (clothing, food and household artifacts) were produced by the family unit. However, with the expansion of capital accumulation (and therefore the expansion of manufacture) the home production of use values began to be increasingly supplanted by cheap manufactured goods. It was quite literally cheaper to buy ready-made clothes than to manufacture them at home; it was cheaper to buy milk in a bottle than to keep a cow. In this way soap-making, brewing, churning, baking, preserving, spinning, weaving, tin-smithing, cheese-making, bread-making and a host of other productive home activities have been “rendered uneconomic as compared with wage labor by the cheapening of manufactured goods, and this, together with all the other pressures bearing on the working-class family, helps drive the woman out of the home and into industry.”

With both husband and wife, and often children as well, drawn into wage labor, the service functions of the family also became gradually supplanted by commodity services: hospitals, old folks’ homes, paid entertainment, paid sports, public schools. This constant pressure of the expansion of capital accumulation has resulted in the conversion into a commodity of every product of human labor, with the result that goods-producing labor is carried on in none but its capitalist form:

But the industrialization of food and other elementary home provisions is only the first step in a process which eventually leads to the dependence of all social life, and indeed of all the interrelatedness of humankind, upon the marketplace .... Social artifice has been destroyed in all but its marketable forms. Thus the population no longer relies upon social organization in the form of family, friends, neighbors, community, elders, children, but with few exceptions must go to market and only to market, not only for food, clothing and shelter, but also for recreation, amusement, security, for the care of the young, the old, the sick, the handicapped. In time not only the material and service needs but even the emotional patterns of life are channeled through the market. [5]

In the period of monopoly capitalism, the first step in the creation of a universal market is the conquest of all goods production by the commodity form; the second step is the conquest of services and their transformation into the commodity form; the third step is the creation of a “product cycle” which invents new goods and services and so expands the market for them. Under monopoly capitalism the market has become universal: it has destroyed all alternatives to the market. This conquest was at the expense of the traditional household economy, for the universal market of our age has meant that “the function of the family as a cooperative ... way of life is brought to an end, and with this its other functions are progressively weakened.” [6] This is what Braverman means when he says that it is the breakdown of the traditional household economy that is relevant for women.

How shall we now understand Braverman’s assertion that the present-day feminist movement “in its modern form is almost entirely a product of women who have been summoned from the household by the requirements of the capital accumulation process"? This refers, in the first instance, to the 33 million women who presently make up 40 percent of the entire labor force, and in the second instance, to the weakening of the function of household work and the dissociation of an increasing number of women from it.

Since we began with a critique of a critique, derived from Women’s Liberation, which accused Braverman of omitting a consideration of housewives, let us now discuss the housewife (whether she is working or not). The housewife is at the very nexus of the changes: the disintegration of the family and family life.

Just as in the factory it is not the machines that are at fault but the conditions of the capitalist mode of production under which they are used, so here it is not the necessary provision of social services that is at fault, but the effects of an all-powerful marketplace .... As the advances of modern household and service industries lighten the family labor, they increase the futility of family life; as they remove the burdens of personal relations, they strip away its affections; as they create an intricate social life, they rob it of every vestige of community and leave in its place the cash nexus. [7]

For modern woman, the cash nexus means that she is consumer, not a producer; it means that she is economically dependent upon the husband (unless she is working) and appears to be more of a burden than a contributor in her own right; it means that her home function is primarily childrearing, and even that function is being eroded by the proliferation of commodity child-rearing services; it means that her labor in the home is principally that of an endless round of maintenance, much of it useless (does the family really care if there are six coats of super-gloss on the kitchen floor?). These are the conditions of life that create the housewife’s “illness without a name,” that so degrade household labor as to make it intolerable. It is the nature of human beings to attempt to realize their human potential through labor; just as rationalization degrades industrial labor, so the sheer futility of modern household labor leads to frustration and depression.

Therefore, it is the disintegration of the family and of traditional household labor – the futility and paucity of social relations – that produces the profound dislocation and rebellion of women subjected to it. Indeed, we are in a period of transition between the older form of the family and some new form arising out of the conditions of monopoly capitalism. Since the norms and values of social life change more slowly than do the material conditions of life, rebellion arises when individuals attempt to realize social values and fail. A woman believes she should be a wife and homemaker: but a wife is a non-productive dependent, and a “homemaker” is in fact an unpaid housekeeper.

Many millions of women are drawn into waged labor because home labor is uneconomic and because additional wages are needed to buy the commodity goods and services upon which the family depends. Home maintenance is the extra burden carried by working women, although increasingly husband and wife share the burdens of housework. It is the women remaining in the home who suffer the brunt of the disintegration of the traditional family; it is also these women who see their home labor as little more than “unpaid service work.” The so-called “wages for housework” argument is very persuasive because housework (and often childcare) takes on the character of alienated labor, the more so as service work identical to that of the housewife is turned into waged work and commodity services. However, we must always distinguish between what is persuasive and what is accurate. The “wages for housework” argument ignores capitalist relations of production:

According to the statistical conventions of economics, the conversion of much household labor into labor in factories, offices, hospitals, canneries, laundries, clothing shops, retail stores, restaurants, and so forth, represents a vast enlargement of the national product. The goods and services produced by unpaid labor in the home are not reckoned at all, but when the same goods and services are produced by paid labor outside the home they are counted. From a capitalist point of view, which is the only viewpoint recognized for national accounting purposes, such a reckoning makes sense. The work of the housewife, though it has the same material or service effect as that of the chambermaid, restaurant worker, cleaner, porter, or laundry worker, is outside the purview of capital; but when she takes one of these jobs outside the home she becomes a productive worker. Her labor now enriches capital and thus deserves a place in the national product. This is the logic of the universal market. [8]

Thus, the “wages for housework” argument misunderstands the relationship between husband and wife. The critical point here is that unpaid household labor does not directly contribute to capital accumulation (the definition of a “Productive” worker under monopoly capitalism – see Chapter 19, “Productive and Unproductive Labor”). Household work may be a service to the husband, but to turn that into a commodity service, the housewife would have to become the employee of a capitalist, as the husband does not accumulate capital through his wife’s household labor, and therefore is not an “employer” (does not appropriate surplus value or purchase his wife’s labor power). If, for example, the wife were employed by a commercial housekeeping business, the husband paid the business a fee, and the business returned a portion of the fee (less the surplus value) to the wife, then it could be possible to pay “wages for housework.”

If the program of the “wages for housework” movement were put into practice, it could not amount to more than a government dole to housewives (which would be extracted from working-class taxation – a disguised tax on the employed working class, male and female). This would benefit the housebound wife (much more likely to be petty bourgeois) at the expense of the working-class wife, for what capital gives with one hand it takes away with the other. If the government dole were not the source of the “wages’’ for housewives, then the program could demand no more than a regular allowance paid by the husband to the wife in return for her housework. How the payment of such allowances could be enforced by a state that cannot even manage to enforce the payment of child support escapes me. Furthermore, “wages for housework” is a regressive demand, one that reinforces a degraded form of household labor. Women are better advised to grasp the emerging and contradictory nature of family and motherhood under capitalism, for, at a horrendous price to be sure, monopoly capitalism is freeing women from the bonds of economic dependence and degraded household labor. Amidst the most fearful exploitation, monopoly capitalism also establishes the material basis for the social equality of women.

Although it was estimated in 1968 that household labor done by women would be equivalent to one-fourth of the U.S. gross national product (not to mention 14.2 billion dollars’ worth of volunteer work, mostly in the field of social services), [9] unwaged household work is the production of use values, and as such, is “unproductive” (unproductive in that it does not directly contribute to capital accumulation). It is for this reason that the tendency from the very beginning of industrial capitalism has been to transform use values produced by household labor into commodity products and services, disintegrating the family in the process. The growth of the universal market really portends the increasing commercialization of the remaining areas of household labor, for the equivalent of one-fourth of the U.S. gross national product is a large kettle of potential profit! And this indeed is the tendency, from microwave ovens, Stouffer’s gourmet frozen dinners (or McDonald’s and Doggie Diners) to California Homemakers, Inc.

Thus, as the development of market relations substitutes for individual and community relations, as the social and family life of the community are weakened, new branches of production are brought into being to fill the resulting gap; and as these new services and commodities provide substitutes for human relations in the form of market relations, social and family life are further weakened. This is a process that both calls forth a very large service employment (and new service industries) to further supplant household use value production and draws ever-larger numbers of women into waged employment, while women’s waged employment creates the need for even more services. The growth of the service sector is the decline of the family, and the decline of the family is both cause and result of capital’s pressure upon women “who have been summoned from the household by the requirements of the capital accumulation process, and subjected to experiences and stresses unknown in the previous thousands of years of household labor ...” [10]

The ebbing of family facilities, and of family, community and neighborly feelings upon which the performance of many social functions formerly depended, leaves a void. As the family members, more of them now at work away from the home, become less and less able to care for each other in time of need, and as the ties of neighborhood, community, and friendship are reinterpreted on a narrower scale to exclude onerous responsibilities, the care of humans for each other becomes increasingly institutionalized ....

(The growth of such institutions calls forth a very large “service” employment.) It is characteristic of most of the jobs created in this “service sector” that, by the nature of the labor processes they incorporate, they are less susceptible to technological change than the processes of most goods-producing industries. Thus while labor tends to stagnate or shrink in the manufacturing sector, it piles up in these services and meets a renewal of the traditional forms of pre-monopoly competition among the many firms that proliferate in fields with lower capital-entry requirements. Largely nonunion and drawing on the pool of pauperized labor at the bottom of the working-class population, these industries create new low-wage sectors of the working class, more intensely exploited and oppressed than those in the mechanized fields of production.

This is the field of employment, along with clerical work, into which women in large numbers are drawn out of the household.[11]

For socialists, the contemporary problem is to concentrate precisely upon those “experiences and stresses” that are a product of the summons to waged labor. The future of working-class* women’s struggle does not lie in a rebellion against housework but in a rebellion against women’s utilization in the labor force, that is, a working-class rebellion against the exploitation of waged labor.

NOTES


1. Harry Braverman, “Two Comments,” Monthly Review (Vol. 28, no. 3, July-August 1976), pp. 120, 122.

2. Harry Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital (New York, Monthly Review Press, 1974 , pp. 377-78.

3. Rosalyn Baxandall, Elizabeth Ewen and Linda Gordon, “The Working Class Has Two Sexes,” Monthly Review (Vol. 28, no. 3, July-August 1976).

4. Braverman, “Two Comments,” p. 120.

5. Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital, p. 276.

6. Ibid., p. 277.

7. Ibid., p. 282.

8. Loc. cit.

9. Juanita Kreps, Sex in the Marketplace (Baltimore, Johns Hopkins Press, 1971), p. 67 and Doris Gold, “Women and Voluntarism,” in Vivian Gornick and Barbara Moran, eds., Woman in Sexist Society (New York, Signet Books, 1972), p. 534.

10. Braverman, “Two Comments,” p. 120.

11. Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital, pp. 279-82.

12. By “working class” I do not mean 1) 90% of the population; 2) everyone who works for wages or is dependent upon someone who works for wages. By working class I mean precisely “craftsmen, clerical workers, operatives, sales workers, service workers, and non-farm laborers,” Braverman’s description in Chapter 17, “The Structure of the Working Class.” In Chapter 18, “The ‘Middle Layers’ of Employment,” Braverman dismisses the so-called “new working class” theory so prevalent among the self-identified socialist feminists. While it is true that members of the stratum embracing the engineering, technical and scientific cadre, the lower ranks of supervision and management, and considerable numbers of specialized and “professional” employees occupied in business and outside of capitalist industry proper, in hospitals, schools, government administration and so forth, are employed by capital for wages, they cannot be considered to be part of the working class:


All in all, therefore, those in this area of capitalist employment enjoy, in greater or lesser degree depending upon their specific place in the hierarchy, the privileges of exemption from the worst features of the proletarian situation, including, as a rule, significantly higher scales of pay. [13]


But it is not merely that the wages are higher, but rather that:


Their pay level is significant because beyond a certain point, like the pay of the commanders of the corporation, it clearly represents not just the exchange of labor power for money – a commodity exchange – but a share in the surplus produced. [14]


The members of the “new middle class” do not sell their labor power to capital in return for subsistence; their wages, therefore, represent a portion of the surplus value produced. To be sure, segments of this “new middle class” are being proletarianized and are responding to the process with their own version of petty bourgeois radicalism – but that does not make them working class today (although a somewhat distant tomorrow is clearly on the agenda) no matter how much they insist that the college professor is no different from the office help.

The working class, then, is made up of craftsmen, clerical workers, operatives, sales workers, service workers and non-farm laborers.

13. Ibid., p. 407.

14. Ibid., p. 405.


The Sisterhood Ripoff:

The Destruction of the Left in the Professional Women’s Caucuses

While specifically concerned with women’s caucuses, the following article is applicable to any progressive movement within the petty bourgeoisie.


Address given as part of the Women’s Studies in Sociology colloquium series, York University, March 13, 1975, Downsview, Ontario and published in the Bulletin of Women in Canadian Sociolog (Femmes et Sociologie Canadienne), Vol. 11, No. 2, April, 1975.


In Canada we have learned to our sorrow that the Canadian government has proved an apt pupils of its “big brother” in the United States when it comes to the theory and practice of co-optation coupled with judicious repression. Both the Canadian student movement and the Canadian women’s movement have suffered because the Canadian government, while two steps behind the USA, was at the same time two steps ahead of progressive forces in Canada. Indeed, no sooner had the Canadian women’s movement gathered its forces than the government began its program to drown the movement in mountains of paper and oceans of verbiage. Of course, the devastation of entire forests to produce paper full of worthless promises and pious intentions has resulted in not one significant improvement for women. However, if the government can use the United States as a school of what to do to assure that no significant change ever occurs, it follows that progressive forces in Canada can also learn from the United States-and most often can learn from the U.S. left what not to do. In the interests of learning what not to do we shall concern ourselves with a generalized scenario of the repression of the left in professional women’s associations as it was played out in the United States.

Women’s caucuses in professional associations within the United States began as part of the agitation for radical and critical social science. Many of the women involved in radical and critical social science were also part of Women’s Liberation – when it was still a radical movement. In the course of calling for special sessions and meetings on the issues of critical social science, meetings to discuss the institutionalized discrimination against women in universities and colleges were also called. Thus, the original women’s caucuses were in most cases part and parcel of the radical student movement represented by graduate students and junior faculty. The early caucuses were characterized by the militance, impudence, and radical calls for change that were characteristic of the rebellious mood of the late sixties. For this reason, “respectable” and highly professionalized career women shunned the radical caucuses, often condemning them openly in order to assure the men who controlled their professional careers that they were loyal women who wanted no part of these “uncouth” and unwashed heretical goings-on.

However, as the women’s liberation movement gained momentum and the issue of discrimination against women gained legitimacy, the attitude of professionalized women changed. Once it was relatively “safe” to approach the issue of injustice towards women it also became apparent to these women that distinct advantages and economic improvements might be gained through their espousal of “equal opportunity” for women. Professionalized women (genuine “career’’ women) began to attend caucus meetings. The result was a two-line struggle that rapidly emerged within the caucuses. (At this point we shall confine ourselves to sociology, with the proviso that the scenario in sociology was quite typical of the general process that unfolded in most other disciplines.)

We may term the two lines as Careerist and Radical. The Careerist line was essentially a call for economism, that is, to limit agitation and demands to career and salary issues or “equal opportunity.” The economist line of the Careerists implicitly called for strategies to limit competition with men (usually by staking out exclusively female programs and topics) and the rejection of programs that went beyond minimal reformism. Calls to combat discrimination were coupled with a heavy ideological emphasis upon “sisterhood.” In this context, “sisterhood” functioned very much like nationalism does for a national minority: that is, this appeal called for the unity of women essentially as a “status group, I in the sense that all women had womantude in common. The result of the “status group” approach was to blur class lines and real conflict of interest and ideology – with disastrous results for the left, as we shall see.

The Radicals were actually a much more heterogeneous group than the Careerists. While the Careerists had career ambitions as the real basis of their unity, the Radicals had little in common except militance. Perhaps the principal dividing line within the Radical group was between radical feminists (men are the principal enemy) and socialists (capitalism is the principal enemy). What the Radicals had in common, despite their ideological disunity, was a genuinely radical (as opposed to reformist) call for cultural and social transformation of society as essential to the liberation of women. They called for democratization; they opposed the professional hierarchy; they behaved with consistent bad taste toward the professional mandarins; they called for revolutionary women’s studies programs; they wore their hair long and often did not bother with brassieres.

The conflict between the Radicals and Careerists led to acrimony and stalemated meetings. At the same time, the antics of the Radicals were a constant threat to the image of the Careerists who feared being identified with the radical activists. Attempts to use “sisterhood” as a means to get the Radicals to change their ways and accept leadership from the Careerists were met with denunciations of “elitism” (from the radical feminists) and “reactionary” (from the socialists).

The failure of the Careerists to establish control over the original radical women’s caucuses led them to form their own organization, Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS). The formation of the careerist SWS spelled the defeat of the left and the formulation of the oppression of women in purely economist and reformist terms.

The formation of the SWS along liberal-reformist lines opened up communication with the professional oligarchy.

Indeed, the corporate-liberal oligarchs were eager to deal with the Careerists as a means of containing the radical threat posed by the earlier women’s caucuses (and their repellent connections with the radical student movement). The Careerists were the sort of people the oligarchs could deal with: “reasonable” reformers amenable to “rational debate.” In other words, the professional oligarchs could feel confident that the Careerists would settle for minor concessions, relatively meaningless reforms, pious declarations of support and other cheap variations on tokenism, delay and the avoidance of any significant change. In short, the “rational” and “reasonable” Careerists were manageable.

The “recognition” and minor concessions granted to the SWS were touted as proof that liberal-reformist and decorous academic styles were superior strategically, that they “produced results.” This undercut the position of the Radicals, who could be charged with “irresponsibility” and unwitting sabotage with their uncouth manners and “unrealistic’’ demands. With the Radicals frozen out by the collusion between SWS and the male-dominated professional leadership it became possible to define women’s agitation along strictly professional and reformist lines.

The scenario played out in the profession also took place within individual colleges and universities, particularly around women’s studies programs. Usually women’s studies programs arose as a demand of Women’s Liberation as the women’s arm of the student movement for democratization and reform of the university. Where that was the case, the woman students fighting for women’s studies wished for an organization, curriculum and staff that reflected the progressive demands of the student movement. Early women’s studies programs tended to bring in staff who were progressive; this in turn alarmed university and college administrations. The result was a dual tactic of financial strangulation and staff purges until a highly professional staff could replace the progressives and a professional curriculum and organization could replace the early innovating programs. Careerists were as eager for this event as were university administrations because women’s studies under Careerist control provided an area free from male competition. A Careerist could pursue mainstream social science so long as it touched in some way upon “women’’ (as if women were bizarre creatures who could be studied in isolation). Women’s studies thus became a “secure base area” for female careerists, offering jobs, promotions, salaries, forms of special recognition – all blissfully secured from male control and competition. Equally, the radical women’s liberationists who posed a threat to professional careerism were also safely driven out of the Careerists’ new compound. The fact that these very same Radicals had taken the risks, fought the battles, and organized the movement which the Careerists now so eagerly exploited became a forbidden topic. The Careerists pretended that the “man-hating crazies” and the “wild-eyed radicals” had simply been an impediment to the progress of professional women. What bitterness it still invokes! Professionalized career women who had virulently attacked the early agitation now flocking greedily to devour the spoils and destroy the women who had set the table and spread the feast![1]

The purely economist and reformist programs and policies of organizations like SWS stripped women’s agitation within the professions of its radical content. Women’s studies in most cases became nothing more than a special subject area limited to liberal-professional styles of work. The imposition of professional hiring criteria and professional hierarchical structures served to assure that women’s studies programs would present no threat to the dominant corporate-liberal professional hegemony. Women’s studies was in this manner reduced to reflect the general bankruptcy that professional liberalism produced in the social sciences. If corporate liberalism represented failure in analysis, intellectual content and policy implications for the poor, for national minorities, for the American working class, could it be expected to serve the intellectual needs of women’s liberation? The triumph of professionalism was the defeat of the intellectual and theoretical development essential to the generation of adequate analysis of the oppression and exploitation of women. The threat was indeed contained.

The rise of SWS and the co-optation of women’s studies was part of the general purge that was being carried out against radicals and radical activists in North American universities and colleges. The prof essionalized Careerists’ “sisterhood’’ song suddenly evaporated when the opportunity to purge the radical opposition presented itself. Women who had built careers in the context of liberal professionalism were as hostile to the intellectual and social challenge of the radicals as were their mate counterparts. Sisterhood had progressed from bad joke to obscenity.

We have presented a generalized and abstracted analysis, not a specific history. We can now note that there is a typical sequence to the scenario of repression and cooptation, a scenario that was enacted not only in women’s caucuses, but in many radical caucuses as well. The virtue of the history of women’s organizations is the clarity with which the entire play unfolds:

Scene I: Left progressive youth (graduate students, junior faculty) begin agitation by raising radical critiques, demanding potentially radical changes, documenting injustices, engaging in direct actions until such time as they are perceived as a real threat by the professional Establishment.

Scene II: Left progressives have created a real threat and achieved some degree of legitimacy around issues of’ discrimination and injustice. The liberal progressives hop on the bandwagon to form a Center. The Center provides an alternative to the Left and provides respectability. With respectability the more conservative Careerists are willing to join the Center, but only if the Left can be purged or operatively divorced from the “respectables.”

Scene III: The Center (progressive liberals) and Right (conservative careerists) form a separate organization. The organization solves the problem of control by organizing itself along professional-hierarchical lines (cf. the many critiques of “elitism” being raised against the SWS). The Left may join (as rank and file) the Center-Right Coalition organization, but its undemocratic structure and behind-the-scenes decision-making assures that the Left will remain an impotent opposition, no more than a general annoyance at plenary meetings.

Scene IV: With the Center-Right Coalition firmly in control of the new organization, the redefinition of “women’s struggle” is effectively – and publicly – carried through. “Equal opportunity” and a respectable-professional image dominate the organization. It is now possible for the leadership of the Center-Rjght organization to carry out an attack against the legitimacy of the original Left progressive agitators. The Left progressives are presented as unprofessional, incompetent, irresponsible. The attack escalates. Th t progressives are not only unprofessional, incompetent and irresponsible, they are also communists, disruptors, man-haters, lesbians, dominating male-identified castrating maniacs. The result of these assaults is to provoke the Left progressives (those who have been foolish enough even to remain in such an organization) to shrill defense and counter-denunciation. The outcome is the increasing isolation of the Left progressives.

Scene V: The Center-Right Coalition organization is acceptable to the professional (male-dominated) Establishment and to university administrations. It is even happily embraced by federal agencies and funding sources. The Left progressives are frozen out and starved for funds and recognition. The stage is now set for co-optation, as negotiations are undertaken between the Establishment and the Center-Right organization.

Scene VI: The result of the negotiations between the Center-Right organization and the professional Establishment are a series of co-optive minor concessions and token representation covered by a great deal of hypocritical liberal-high-flown verbiage about “justice” and “equal opportunity” and “equality.” Close analysis will show that most of the concessions are in fact career rewards to the leadership of the Center-Right organization – the pay-off for their effective containment of the “radical threat.” These concessions are paraded as “successes” and touted as signs of better things yet to come under the leadership of the Center-Right organization. These “victories” serve to validate the Center-Right leadership for the trusting rank and file (who are in most cases sincere liberals which, by definition, means that they are completely incompetent politicians). As a result, the remnants of the Left still hanging-in are further discredited. The Center-Right leadership is now able to argue that the Left progressives actually jeopardize the hopes of “equal opportunity” gains which the Center-Right leadership promises will result from their ability to negotiate (reason together with) the professional Establishment.

Scene VII: The Left is by now completely defeated. However, the Center has gone down with the Left. The legitimacy of the Center rested upon their role as an “alternative” to the radical threat. During the period of respectability and negotiation (Scenes III to VI) the Establishment, university administrations and government agencies have been busily promoting the right-wing of the organization into pay-off positions of influence and prestige. This undermines the progressive liberal Center. With the purging of the Left, the Right no longer needs the Center, which now shifts into opposition. The Center, which participated in the destruction of the Left, now becomes, operatively, THE Left. After a road of betrayal and self-promotion, the “virtuous” Center now assumes the martyrdom of Truth, Goodness and Beauty.

Scene VIII: We have now arrived at the present. Equal opportunity for women is respectable. The radical threat is contained. The Right leadership keeps it contained-for like George Meany, if they cannot keep the troops in line they will lose their pay-offs. The rank and file withers away in a state of apathy and general disillusion – although like all liberals, they cannot understand what happened and why the fine days of sisterhood have passed away. Corporate-liberal professional hegemony is safe from radical and from female attack. The “professional reformers” carry out “negotiations” with various interested Establishments and occasionally bother to report “progress” and make “promises” to a listless rank and file. The professional association, the profession, the university administration remain oppressive and male-dominated, studded with a black or female token here and there. Nothing has changed. “Reformism” has triumphed again. Paternalism is replaced by maternalism and the Republic and the Profession are safe from the unwashed masses.

One must point out that the defeat of the Left -which was never marked by political or ideological coherence – has been greatly facilitated by both the illusions of “sisterhood” and “radical feminist” politics. The ideology of sisterhood in many cases was successfully manipulated to contain real criticism or a real challenge to the political manueverings of the Center-Right Coalition. The self-interested careerist motivations of these women were effectively blurred by the assumption of unity and sisterhood. Sisterhood combined with the radical feminist phobia against men-in-general led the non-socialist Left into alliances with the Center (often together against the “male-dominated” female Left). The irony, of course, is that the simple-minded politics of the radical feminists made them easy prey to the Center-Right coalition that was in fact selling out the real interests of women in return for rewards from the male-dominated Establishment! The radical feminists made it easy for the Center-Right coalition to claim the ability to control the “radicals” – and the ability to control the radicals was the only bargaining power that the Center-Right reformist coalition had! Their pay-offs were dependent upon their perceived ability to “keep the women in line.”

Such is the sorry history of the radical women’s caucuses. We are left without real gains for the equality of women. We are left without an intellectual enterprise capable truly of analyzing the oppression and exploitation of women. We are left without a Left – the universities and women are back in 1952. The lessons are certainly clear: liberalism and reformism hold out no hope to women, nor any hope to any oppressed and exploited sector of North American society. The only way that the repetition of the co-optive scenario can be broken is through the development of both political sophistication and theoretical adequacy. This requires that the Left be a genuine Left-that it be organized, that it be founded on a basis of ideological, analytical and organizational unity. The purge of the U.S. universities has been so devastating that it is unlikely that recovery is possible in the near future. Canada may yet remain in question. Let us hope Canada may be saved from the dismal scenario of betrayal and self-interest that devastated the United States.

Notes


1. The author, it should go without saying, is not referring to those women who have consistently stood for genuine women’s studies and other progressive action to ameliorate the devastating effects of institutionalized discrimination against women. The tone of revulsion is directed at those opportunists who have purged, betrayed, and hopped on the bandwagon purely in their own career interests and whose programs, organizations and actions are antagonistic to the real needs of women in education. After all, we did not organize Women’s Liberation to maximize the career opportunities of reactionaries and flunkies.