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On the political economy of reproductive labour

Tina Holzer and Martin Suchanek, Fight! #11, March 2023

The current crisis is also one of social reproduction. The attacks on health care, education, training and pensions and the related expansion of private domestic work, still mainly done by women, are also moving to the centre of the class struggle. Hospital workers, educators and teachers are on strike, playing a larger, sometimes even a vanguard, role in the class struggle. Millions are taking to the streets against attacks on pensions. The women’s strikes of the last few years address the gender-specific division of labour. No wonder, then, that the question of the relationship between production and reproduction, between capitalist surplus value production and reproductive labour, has once again moved to the centre of theoretical discussion and theory formation. In the following we want to present basic moments of a Marxist analysis.

The relationship between production and reproduction is seen by both radical and socialist feminism as a sore point of Marxian theory. For them, Marx and Engels at best have provided approaches to this, but ultimately they were blind to the oppression of women as well as other relations of oppression. Since the second wave of feminism, various theorists have dealt with the sphere of reproduction, trying to show alternatives they believe Marx neglected.

Feminist critiques

Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, for example, define the relationship of the proletarian woman to the proletarian man as a relationship of exploitation. They see the unpaid work in the household as productive work, as the production of surplus value, with which they also justify their demand for wages for domestic work.

Following Rosa Luxemburg’s theory of imperialism, the authors of the Bielefeld School (Maria Mies, Veronika Bennholdt-Thomsen and Claudia von Werlhof) regarded domestic and subsistence work as a continuing external feature of the capitalist mode of production. For them, the exploitation of housewives and peasants becomes a precondition for capital accumulation itself. Therefore, it is not the wage workers, but those who work in these „modes of production“, the victims of a permanent original accumulation, who appear as the revolutionary subject. Until today, this conception flows into feminist discussion, e.g. in Silvia Federici, who takes part of her theoretical foundations from this tradition, above all from Maria Mies.

These conceptions have by no means remained unchallenged within Marxist-oriented women’s studies and even within socialist feminism. For example, Ursula Beer in „Gender, Structure, History“ or Lise Vogel in „Marxism and Women’s Oppression“ show that many of the radical and socialist feminist critiques impute a different meaning to Marx’s categories – and then criticise this – or do not even attempt to conceptually link up with the critique of political economy.

Authors like Lise Vogel, on the other hand, try to develop a „unified theory“ of production and reproduction. Together with Marx, they assume that in the capitalist mode of production, production must determine reproduction, both historically and logically. Their theory fails not because of its reference to Marx, but because of its structuralist reading of Marxism, and with it concessions to the idea of a cross-class movement of all women, proletarian, petty-bourgeois and also bourgeois.

Social Reproduction Theory, co-founded by Vogel, is now an important context of justification for the left wing of feminism, such as the authors of „Feminism of the 99%“ (Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya, Nancy Fraser). Compared to Vogel, however, they are regressive in the theoretical field. Like earlier authors, they accuse Marxism of underestimating the importance of reproduction.

An allegedly truncated concept of class is attributed to it. At the same time, the sphere of reproduction (in contrast to Vogel) is in fact understood as a mode of production in its own right, equal to, or even superior to, the relationship between capital and labour. As in earlier feminist critiques, this often turns out to be conceptually very imprecise and moralising (e.g. when it comes to determining necessary and surplus labour or productive and unproductive labour).

In previous articles in Fight and Revolutionary Marxism we have dealt with the above theories. Here, following Marx, we want to analyse the relationship between production and reproduction, trace its historical development and look at the current crisis tendencies in reproduction.

1. Value and use value in the mediation of reproductive labour.

Especially in the chapters on the accumulation process in Capital Volume I, Marx points out that in every social formation production and reproduction are closely interlocked, they must be considered in the overall context.

„The conditions of production are at the same time the conditions of reproduction. No society can continually produce, i.e. reproduce, without continually transforming a part of its products back into means of production or elements of new production. All other things being equal, it can only reproduce or maintain its wealth on the same ladder by replacing in kind the means of production consumed during the year, for example, i.e. means of labour, raw materials and auxiliary materials, with an equal quantity of new specimens, which are separated from the annual mass of products and incorporated anew into the process of production.“ (Marx, Das Kapital, Vol. I, MEW 23, p. 591).

Marx here determines, on the one hand, basic conditions of reproduction that apply to all social formations, namely that labour must be performed in order to renew means of production (PM) and to restore labour power (AK). However, if we want to understand the respective relations between production and reproduction, it is not enough to remain with this abstract, general idea, but we must look at the relationship that these two spheres assume in different social formations. Marx looks at reproduction from two sides:

a) Reproduction of capital (capital circulation).

All conditions of production (PM and AK) must be bought as commodities.

In the production process P they are used to produce new commodities (W‘). In the process, the PM transfer a share of value to the product, the labour power consumes the PM by setting it in motion and transforming it. It performs labour and in doing so transfers not only new value to the product, which corresponds to the value of the commodity AK, but additional value – surplus value – which the capitalist appropriates. Thus, in the process of accumulation, the capital commodity produces and reproduces capital.

In the simple reproduction first considered by Marx, the capitalist appropriates surplus value in its entirety and spends it on his/her own needs, i.e. unproductively, because it is not used to increase capital.

The actual typical case for the capitalist production process is, of course, that as much surplus value as possible is appropriated in order to be utilised as additional capital, the so-called extended reproduction. This process can be represented as a circuit of capital, as its production and reproduction process, because at the end the capital that has entered the process in money form G can pass through it again and on an extended ladder, as G‘:

G – W (PM/AK) – P – W‘ – G‘

Legend: AK: labour power; PM: W: commodity; W‘: new commodity created in the production process; C: capital (constant + variable); M: surplus value; P: production or production process, G: money.

Labour that is utilised in such a process, i.e. that creates surplus value for capital, is what Marx calls productive labour (in contrast to unproductive labour). It is productive because it not only replaces existing value, but creates surplus value for a capital, i.e. contributes to an expanded reproduction.

b) Double mode of consumption of labour power

Marx makes it clear that capital consumes labour power in the production process. In the process, capital is constantly reproduced as the product of the alienated labour appropriated by the capitalist. At the same time, labour power is also constantly produced.

„The worker himself therefore constantly produces objective wealth as capital, a power alien to him, dominating and exploiting him, and the capitalist likewise constantly produces labour-power as a subjective source of wealth, separated from its own means of objectification and realisation, abstract, existing in the mere corporeality of the worker, in short, the worker as wage-labourer.“ (MEW 23, P. 596)

In other words, as soon as the capitalist mode of production has become established, wage labourers must sell their labour power in order to be able to buy the means for their reproduction in the first place. Historically, this is preceded by a violent, bloody process of initial accumulation, in which conditions are imposed that make it impossible for wage slaves to secure their existence in any other way. But once established, the capital relation also produces the specifically capitalist form of reproduction of the working class, while men and women of the ruling class live from the exploitation of the labour of others. Therefore, their reproduction is also fundamentally different from that of the wage-dependent class. The reproductive work for the ruling class does not have to be done by the women of this class, but is done by women (or even men) from the working class.

In any case, the consumption of the wage-worker is twofold:

1. productive consumption

The worker consumes the means of production in the production process and thus produces surplus value, increases capital.

2. individual consumption

The worker consumes food, which is bought with the wage.

In the analysis, Marx first emphasises the difference between the two processes. Indeed, if we consider the two forms of consumption as individual relations between worker and capitalist, they seem to be very different, separate spheres:

„In the first he (the worker; editor’s note) acts as the moving force of capital and belongs to the capitalist; in the second he belongs to himself and performs life functions outside the process of production. The result of the one is the life of the capitalist, that of the other is the life of the worker himself.“ (MEW 23, p. 596 f.) Marx, however, goes further. Things look much different if we look not at individual capitalists and workers but at the class relation of capital and labour.

If we look at individual consumption from the standpoint of individuals, it appears to be completely different from productive consumption. In production, labour has to slave for others; in the private sphere, individual consumption, it can freely dispose of its money, apparently buying whatever it wants. Freedom reigns. This is further reinforced by the money form of the labour wage, basically by the money fetish, because it seems as if it were an arbitrary, free decision of the individual worker whether he/she buys this or that for his/her wage. However, if we look at the overall process, this turns out to be an ideology, a fiction, albeit a very powerful apology of generalised commodity production.

In reality, that freedom itself still reproduces the capital relation. If we consider individual consumption in its totality, that is, as the class relation of capital and labour, the reproduction of labour power turns out to be a constantly reproducing part of the overall process of the production and reproduction of capital.

This is inevitable because the latter is always mediated through the buying/selling of commodities and thus must remain tied to and subordinated to the accumulation process of capital.

„Within the limits of what is absolutely necessary, the individual consumption of the working class is therefore the re-transformation of the food sold by capital in exchange for labour-power into labour-power that can be exploited anew by capital. It is the production and reproduction of the most indispensable means of production for the capitalist, the worker himself. The individual consumption of the worker thus remains a moment of the production and reproduction of capital, whether it occurs inside or outside the workshop, factory, etc., inside or outside the labour process, just like the cleaning of the machine, whether it occurs during the labour process or certain pauses in it.“ (MEW 23, P. 597)

Further: „The constant maintenance and reproduction of the working class remains a constant condition for the reproduction of capital. The capitalist can confidently leave its fulfilment to the workers‘ instinct of self-preservation and reproduction.“ (MEW 23, p. 597 f.)

This is where the feminist critique comes in because Marx did not elaborate on this aspect. This is true to a certain extent. However, the critique fails to realise that Marx does not leave it at that but rather comes to a conclusion that is derived from the above and the conditions of reproduction of the commodity labour power.

Workers are forced to reproduce themselves because they themselves are wage labourers and have to sell their labour power out of the „instinct of self-preservation“. Capital can therefore confidently externalise the care for the reproduction of labour power.

Reproduction can appear as „free“, which is reinforced by the „free“ labour, labour contract, etc.. In reality, however, this freedom is a social appearance, ideology. Or in Marx’s words:

„From the social point of view, therefore, the working class, even outside the immediate labour process, is as much an accessory of capital as the dead instrument of labour.“ (MEW 23, P. 598)

It is therefore a mistake to stop at considering productive and individual consumption only from the individual and not from the social point of view. This inevitably leads to a mechanical, unmediated split between the productive and reproductive spheres, which does not exist in this way.

c) Cycle of production and reproduction

The subordination of the consumption/reproduction circuit of labour power to that of capital also becomes clear when we juxtapose them. Let us first recall the production circuit of capital:

G – W (PM, AK) – P – W‘ – G‘

This represents the essence, because it is the purpose, of production in capitalism. Thus, the accumulation of capital, of capitalist wealth, takes place; the purpose of production consists in the production of surplus value.

The reproduction of labour power can be represented succinctly as follows:

G (labour wages in monetary form) – W (consumer goods) – reproduction – W‘ (AK) – G.

The labour wage, which the labourer receives as money, must be spent in goods W (consumer goods, means of subsistence). It is then consumed (including material transformation through housework such as cooking, … ). In the end, the commodity W‘ (labour power) is reproduced, which is sold again at its value/price.

No additional value is created here, only components of value are reproduced. The labour power goes through the reproduction process and leaves it in the same way as it enters it, in order to be able to take itself to market again, i.e. in order to be able to receive again the sum G, which corresponds to its reproduction costs. Reproduction work (whether private domestic work or public work such as in schools) only maintains labour power, but under these conditions it does not create surplus value.

This also applies to the working class as a whole, because the total wage fund (total sum of all wages as well as all state or social security wage replacement benefits, the „social wage“, etc.) basically only corresponds to the reproduction costs of the class as a whole, i.e. of all its members (wage-earning men and women, part-time workers, those working in the household, children, pensioners, the sick, … ).

In determining the value of the commodity labour power, Marx also considers all these people as part of the total class. This alone shows how silly the criticism is that he only considered the productive workers in the factory. The total wage fund, like the price determination of the commodity labour power itself (as distinct from other commodities), also includes a historical, „moral“ component that is itself modified by the class struggle.

What is important, however, is that most of the reproductive labour/costs are there to maintain labour power (all health care, expenses, housing, heating, … ). While these remain relatively constant, with the development of capitalism the costs of education, i.e. costs to increase the labour capacity of the labour power, increase, so that instead of being the bearer of simple social labour, it also becomes more compound, more complicated.

Work in the public sphere of reproduction naturally enters into the average value of the commodity labour-power. The costs of buildings, means of labour, etc., as well as of paying labour in this sphere lead to an increase or decrease in the average value of the commodity labour-power (e.g. when the costs of education, training, food, etc.) rise or fall. But in the state/publicly organised reproductive sector, no surplus labour is performed that capital appropriates in the form of surplus value. A fortiori, this does not take place in private domestic labour.

It is different when parts of the reproduction process are organised in a private capitalist way, for example when hospitals or schools are privatised and run as a normal business for the purpose of maximising profit. Leaving aside the problems of determining the value of commodities, how to compare and price different „products“ in health or education, the crucial purpose of reproductive labour for the capitalist is to make a profit, which, as we all know from experience, is to some extent contradictory to the reproduction of the labour force (e.g. patients).

But back to the formation of the value of labour power and its reproduction.

Every labour power that is reproductively active in the private household or in the state care sector must in turn be reproduced, maintained. This means that these costs, like those for the production of any other labour, enter into the value of labour power.

In other words, in terms of private domestic labour, this is included in the social average in the value of the commodity labour power (and also in the value of future labour power and the reproduction of the entire household).

The maintenance costs for reproduction enter into the reproduction costs of labour power just as the costs of food, household appliances, etc. Conversely, this also means that the reproduction costs for housework (whether more or less fairly distributed or passed on to the woman) must be covered. The same applies to the family members who do not (yet) work.

The decisive difference to the capital cycle is that here no surplus product, and thus no surplus value, is created, which someone outside the family would appropriate.

Basically, this also applies when increasing parts of the reproductive work are organised by the state or society („social wages“), i.e. for state schools, day-care centres, universities, hospitals, old people’s homes. As long as the funds spent on these activities do not function as capital, i.e. are not invested to skim off profit, but as a state/social service, they are financed from wage components (e.g. health, nursing care, pension insurance) or through taxes (with historically changing shares of different classes), i.e. by the state.

To capital, therefore, this socially necessary labour always appears as faux frais, as surplus costs of production, as a deduction from the total profit. They can never be scarce enough. Strictly speaking, this is the standpoint of competing individual capital.

From the point of view of total capital and its conditions of reproduction, they are by no means useless, indeed they are essential. Individual capitalists also know this when, exceptionally, the workers are in a favourable position or when a shortage of labour power threatens. Then they call for measures to overcome such labour market crises.

In any case, at a certain stage of the development of capitalism, the costs of reproduction of the total class are more or less given for a certain total social capital.

d) Extended reproduction

Its development is fundamentally determined by the accumulation movement of capital. However, this does not only contain a determination for a phase of development, but also a dynamic element. After all, the expanded reproduction of capital does not simply mean a quantitative expansion, but goes hand in hand, mediated through competition, with a constant renewal of the production apparatus, a revolution in the technical basis of production. This leads not only to a growing organic composition of capital but also to a tendential fall in the rate of profit.

The expanded reproduction of capital also affects the reproduction of labour power, as soon as and insofar as the value of the consumer goods of the working class falls as a result of increases in productivity. The industrialisation of agriculture, the industrial mass production of food or household appliances and other objects of daily use (electronics), the reduction of transport costs or mass transport lead to the reduction of the value of the commodity labour power. As a result of reductions in the value of consumer goods, they make it possible in certain periods of capitalist development (e.g. in the so-called long boom) for the quantity of use values/goods that workers can consume to remain constant or even increase, although the value of the commodity labour power decreases.

This form of increase in (relative) surplus value and its entanglement with the costs of reproduction make it clear that the determination of reproduction by production is not only a fundamental feature of capitalism, but that it is also becoming more and more widespread, more and more total, in the course of capitalist development.

At the same time, this connection leads to the fact that, historically, reproductive labour is also increasingly socialised, albeit for private, narrow-minded purposes. In crises, this process becomes more precarious insofar as the stages of socialisation that have been reached are themselves called into question, i.e. a tendency towards regression manifests itself.

e) Reproduction and gender inequality

The gender inequality in the distribution of reproductive labour cannot only be explained by biological factors. It must be fundamentally understood from the historical development, where capitalist production takes up forms of women’s oppression that precede it and transforms them functionally, subordinated to the law of value.

In this process, the emergence of women’s oppression is naturally linked to women’s ability to bear children, i.e. the biological fact that only they can bring children into the world. On the one hand, this creates a form of reproductive labour that cannot be outsourced or transferred to men; on the other hand, it also creates a contradiction. Being pregnant is necessary for the reproduction of humanity, but it also has the disadvantage of limiting one’s ability to work for other activities at times. Especially in capitalism with its focus on profit maximisation, this results in and reproduces very specific ways of organising reproductive labour.

For the capitalist mode of production, the divorce of productive consumption and individual consumption of the working class follows fundamentally from the divorce of labour product and workers, the separation of labour power from means of production (property monopoly of capital). The relationship between production and (private) reproduction takes on a new, historically specific form. Here one can also see the difference to feudal exploitation that Marx emphasises, in which production and reproduction were much less separated. There was a much stronger unity in the peasant household at that time, where production and reproduction took place at the same time and the family was as much a unit of production as of life.

The oppression of women leads to the formation and enforcement of a gender division of labour in which the man is active as „head“ and breadwinner, the woman is responsible for the housework (if a proletarian household can form at all).

In the wage of male labour power, therefore, the reproduction costs of the household are also set, hence the higher payment of male labour power (there is also a resulting historical-moral influence on the wage of labour).

In the private household, an existing gender-specific division of labour is thus reproduced and produced. The historical moral effects are, among other things, structural sexism, which apart from better pay for men also establishes the ideological belief that women’s work is generally worth less than that of men.

The bourgeois family corresponds to this reproductive context; it appears as a realm of „freedom“, of withdrawal, of private happiness and self-determination as opposed to the factory, with its exploitation of labour power under the despotism of capital.

Viewed individually, the individual seems to realise himself in the private sphere, even if, as Marx shows, this is ultimately determined by capital. But the commodity owner in the working class seems to really belong to him/herself here (resp. also his/her family).

The family, partnership (even in its patriarchal form) therefore seems to be a retreat, a safe haven from the rigours of work in the factory, in the production process. But this is largely fiction, as Marx points out:

„If production has a capitalist form, so does reproduction. As in the capitalist mode of production the labour process appears only as a means for the process of valorisation, so reproduction appears only as a means of reproducing the advanced value as capital, that is, as valorising value.“ (MEW 23, P. 591)

2 Historical development dynamics of reproductive labour

Having outlined the basic features of the relationship between production and reproduction, we want to turn to its historical development. Just as the wage-labour relationship is by no means „pure“, but goes through historical modifications, and also appears very differently in imperialist and semi-colonial or colonial countries due to the imperialist world order, the capitalist form of the reproduction of labour power also goes through stages of development. These must by no means be regarded as a strict sequence that would apply equally to all countries. Rather, the law of uneven and combined development also applies here, where, within the framework of a reactionary imperialist order, relatively widely socialised forms of production and reproduction appear simultaneously and interwoven with extremely backward ones, and even produce them again and again within the framework of a global relationship of exploitation.

In the following, we will roughly sketch some phases of development – and we will also see that forms that first emerge in early capitalism can still be widespread, even formative, in extremely exploited economies today.

a) Transition, emergence of capitalism

Capitalism did not invent the bondage of women to the household, but it did invent the separation of production and reproduction. In order to enforce capitalist relations in reproduction as well, on the one hand, the bondage to the household must be maintained, on the other hand, the household must be broken up as a unit of production (which produces the goods of its own reproduction in whole or in essential parts).

That is, the working class must be forced to buy its food as commodities from third parties (capitalist producers or traders) in exchange for money (labour wages).

This is functionally important and must be produced by force, because otherwise labour power itself would not be fully forced to sell as a commodity.

At the same time, this shows that – despite some similarities with subsistence and small commodity production – it is basically misleading to define private domestic labour as a mode of production in its own right. This rather obscures the specifically capitalist character of the reproduction of the working class. We are not dealing with (private) reproduction in the household with one or even several modes of production outside of capital, but with – according to our thesis – a specifically capitalist form of reproduction under capitalism.

It is precisely in its determination by production that its essence lies. The fact that this may appear slightly different is related to various factors that lead to an ideological fetishisation.

1. The household, the private sphere, appears as the opposite of the operational, factual despotism (even the despotism of the domestic tyrant is distinguished because essentially personal, patriarchal, rule of the father, in the narrow sense of the word).

2 Capitalist reproduction does not exist purely, but in more or less blatant hybrid forms.

Some important ones:

– The household forms of the petty bourgeoisie (e.g. the peasant/peasantry) perpetuate the unity of production and reproduction.

– In semi-colonial countries, the process of original accumulation continues. This leads to the formation of important, precarious forms of reproduction for considerable parts of the population of the global South.

– For the majority of the working class, globally speaking, „normal“ reproduction in the family is still not possible or only possible to a limited extent. The expansion of the sections of the class that have to do wage labour below their reproduction costs also means that the proletarian household cannot fulfil its reproductive function, or at least not fully.

– Conversely, however, the „retreat“ to a pre-capitalist functioning form of reproduction is made impossible.

– The tendency to barbarise conditions in the household (hunger, poverty, division of scarcity, but also violence against women and children) becomes all the stronger.

For the early capitalist development as well as for significant parts of the working class, the family is by no means a historical matter of course. On the contrary! Over-exploitation made it largely impossible for the new emerging class (see also original accumulation, extension of the working day, slavery, … ).

For the lowest strata, social provisions – if they exist – take the form of a poorhouse, orphanages and a despotic regime. The criminalisation of other forms of income (begging, prohibition of access to former common property) are indispensable means to enforce the compulsion to wage labour. This regime must ensure that the „provision for the poor“ is below the level of the extremely low wage of labour. Hence the almost unbroken tendency towards absolute pauperisation in early capitalism – a tendency we find in the semi-colonial world, in part even among the marginalised (often at the same time migrant and/or racially oppressed) layers of the class in the imperialist centres as well.

b) Emergence and assertion of the proletarian family

The „classical“ bourgeois family (father as breadwinner, wife as housewife, children) is always an ambivalent historical product in the working class. Its realisation is linked to certain conditions. The man’s wage must be able to cover the reproduction costs of the whole family in real terms (wife, children, old people), so that the woman can be a housewife, the children do not have to work for wages and the old people can be cared for. Therefore, certain limits must also be set to exploitation, i.e. limits to the absolute squeezing of surplus value must be enforced.

In order to establish this reproductive capacity of families at all, wages must correspond to the value of labour power (A), the working day must be limited, labour and health protection as well as restrictions on child and female labour and state social benefits must be enforced.

This is only possible on the basis of trade union and political struggles that enforce real achievements (e.g. the 10-hour day). These are often also favoured by the fact that a part of the ruling class (or its political personnel) realises that a certain limit to exploitation is necessary to ensure the reproduction of the exploiting material (whether this is done out of insight or fear of radicalisation of the working class is secondary here).

The formation of the proletarian family thus presupposes a certain material betterment of the class. At least significant sections must be able to enforce the sale of their labour power at or above their reproduction costs.

Compared to early capitalism or extreme forms of exploitation, this represents an achievement of the entire class, of man and woman. But at the same time it goes hand in hand with a consolidation of the gender-specific division of labour in the working class. The woman can now „only“ be a housewife, the man can be the sole „breadwinner“ of the family. For the woman, however, this means at the same time a shackle, a strengthening of the gender-specific division of labour, the compulsion to do the housework that generates no surplus value, the consolidation of her dependence on the man (as a source of income) and her isolation and oppression. This is also accompanied by the emergence of the proletarian household (own small rented flat, own cooker, … ).

The consolidation of the gender-specific division of labour also reinforces social oppression through legal inequality and reactionary ideologies and chauvinism in the working class.

Economically, this is further reinforced by the fact that the man’s wage is set as the family wage. The value of labour power is essentially that of the male. The value of the female labour power is thus fixed at a fraction of that of the male, since her costs of reproduction are lower in this system, because the wage income of the family members should/must be paid by the man, not the woman.

We are therefore dealing with a systematic inequality of the value of labour power, which the specifically capitalist system of reproduction creates or is created by.

On the one hand, this is expressed in the burden of housework that is placed on women. Secondly, however, it is also expressed in an occupational division of labour. Women are pushed out of industrial sectors (or not allowed in in the first place), relegated to temporary, lower-paid jobs.

This „model“ becomes the dominant one in the capitalist centres with the expansion of capitalism in the second half of the 19th century and the imperialist era until after the Second World War. It is also extended to semi-colonies with the expansion of the capital relation and the emergence of a labour aristocracy, albeit smaller, but remains there to this day in a form that never encompasses the whole class.

No less important is the fact that this model is still the dominant ideological form today, albeit modified and, as far as the question of wage differentials is concerned, somewhat more just.

In the case of the arch-reactionary bourgeois forces, this is quite clear and undisguised. But this model also underlies liberalism, mainstream feminism and reformism. However, it is purged of its „unattractive“ sides. Equal distribution of domestic work and equal wages/income are propagated. However, a more or less large private, quasi-family organised part of the reproductive work is seen as desirable or indispensable and actually human. (This can, of course, also be extended to same-sex or trans partner relationships, in a sense as more flexible, adaptable forms of the bourgeois family).

The increasing socialisation of production, however, comes into conflict with this narrow form of capitalist reproductive labour, or rather, the latter also constitutes a barrier to the expansion of capital beyond a certain stage.

c) Expansion of the wage labour of proletarian women.

This first became apparent in the First World War. But the expansion of women’s labour in production for that war was only temporary, not least because of the economic dislocations of the interwar period, the disruption of the world market, mass unemployment and the unresolved problems of global domination among the imperialist powers.

The situation is different in and after the Second World War. Women do not return to the household. True, this also has historically specific reasons in some countries (lack of male labour due to war captivity and dead soldiers). But above all, the changed, favourable conditions of accumulation (destruction and replacement of capital, massive expansion of production and high profit rates, replacement of the colonial system and expansion of the world market, USA as demiurge of the world market, dollar as world money, increase of relative surplus value allows high profits and simultaneous expansion of the consumption fund of the working class) also require a massive expansion of female wage labour.

Proletarian women (like the whole class) become more important as consumers as well as wage labourers. The expansion of female wage labour is also favoured at the beginning by wage differentials between the sexes. Women are employed en masse as cheaper, often only „temporary“ labour in certain sectors. Men continue to be considered full-time workers at the beginning. This corresponds to a labour market that is extremely segregated along gender lines, where male and female occupations are clearly separated in the first phase of the post-war period.

In this first phase of expansion, this still goes on without much destabilising of the proletarian family and the ideologically self-evident role of the head of the family. This is even rather stabilised at the beginning, also because the proletariat can feel steady economic improvements from the mid-1950s onwards. Politically and ideologically, the 1950s and early 1960s are restorative, extremely stuffy, reactionary. It is therefore no wonder that there is no talk of legal equality for women in most countries.

At the same time, however, internal and social contradictions were developing.

The expansion of female wage labour, the expansion of the demand for skilled labour and higher life expectancy also require an expansion of reproduction, which is done socially and not privately. This in turn requires an expansion of the education system and welfare state services (health system, old-age provision) as well as institutions that enable women to work full-time (day-care centres, all-day schools, nursing homes).

The expansion is also accompanied by an expansion of female wage labour in education and health. However, the expansion also makes the firmly established inequality, the patriarchal relations in marriage and family more and more questionable, even untenable. Their social legitimacy is visibly eroding.

All this also lays the foundation for the second wave of the women’s movement of the 1960s/1970s. The emergence of radical and socialist feminism leads to the demands of the movement being taken up by society as a whole, or at least becoming a field of struggle for millions of people.

It is also no coincidence that the question of housework/reproduction and political economy receives more attention in this period and becomes an important subject of discussion in the left and women’s movement.

The expansion of female wage labour is enormous in practically all countries, especially in imperialist states, often even more so in the degenerated workers‘ states, but also in many semi-colonies.

With the expansion of a socially organised sphere of reproduction, which is financed through taxes, social contributions, i.e. through wage components or the revenue of capital, the real wage differential between men and women, between better and worse paid sections of the working class, tends to decrease. A larger share of the total wage fund is redistributed through state benefits or social insurance and thus also benefits wage earners who pay less taxes or contributions.

The gender pay gap and the gender-specific structure of the world of work lose their official social legitimacy and are stripped of their seemingly natural character.

Nevertheless, they continue to have a massive effect, as does the unequal distribution of private domestic work and the disproportionate share of women in reproductive work.

The expansion of the social wage as well as the pressure of the women’s and workers‘ movement, for all their tenacity, work to equalise the wages/remuneration of male and female wage labour.

The expansion of female wage labour, i.e. the direct participation of women in socialised production, albeit indirectly, is also pushing for the socialisation of reproductive labour.

However, this process comes up against inner limits in capitalism because of the commodity character of labour power, the inner anarchy of the mode of production and the narrow-minded, capitalist purposes of production. At the same time, the family continues to be an important bourgeois instrument of integration and domination, so that for good reason it is defended particularly zealously by conservative and reactionary sides even when it could actually be socially replaceable. In addition, it continues to play an important role during and because of economic crises: Because social reproduction is essentially unproductive work for individual capital, therefore a deduction from its profit, it appears as unnecessary costs that must be reduced as much as possible.

3. Crisis, class struggle, socialisation

With the end of the long boom and the onset of the chronic over-accumulation of capital, which has helped shape the world economy in various forms since the 1970s, this contradictoriness also becomes clearer. The sphere of reproduction is itself plunging into a deep crisis.

Its background and cause is structural over-accumulation. Capital is increasingly encountering difficulties in maintaining a sufficiently high rate of profit, because the organic composition of capital is increasing and the part of capital that creates surplus value (i.e. variable capital in relation to constant) is becoming smaller and smaller. So there is not only an urge to look for other spheres (and areas) of investment, but also to increase the rate of exploitation (i.e. to lower the cost of variable capital, that is, wages). On the one hand, this means that there will be more privatisation of the care sector in order to open up new areas. On the other hand, it also means that people (especially women) who are heavily involved in reproductive work are additionally pushed back into wage labour, without relieving them of the additional work at home.

Especially in imperialist countries, much reproductive work is regulated by the state. Although it is an essential contribution to the maintenance of the system, it is increasingly cut back because of its non-value-added role. Many of the problems in our current health systems arise from profitability calculations. After a system has been subject to cuts, there is often a good moment for waves of privatisation. The organic composition in these sectors is often below average and there is an easy entry into the market when public sector services can no longer keep up (as long as there is no government regulation against it). Thus, previously „non-productive“ (non-value-added) work becomes profit-maximising work, or at least is prepared for it.

The more expensive privatised institutions become, and the more wages are cut in crisis situations, the more services of reproductive work (kindergarten, hospitals, etc.) become unaffordable for the working class or at least for the lower-paid sections. This in turn pushes people back into the family to increasingly take on reproductive tasks themselves. Of course, this phenomenon does not only exist in privatisation, but also in state services that are not free of charge or are linked to many conditions (e.g. citizenship or a certain family constellation). However, it does not take on the same scale. This dynamic applies specifically to semi-colonies.

Reductions in the social wage, i.e. the share of social contributions and thus the financing of reproductive benefits, also mean a decrease in the total wage fund. This underfunding represents more social inequality and thus leads to ever more reactionary tendencies. With collapsing social systems, exacerbated inequality and a push back of reproductive work in the family and household, a social regression is actually taking place. Although the technical and organisational possibilities are there and capital also benefits from having workers who are fully exploitable, inherent tendencies of capitalism lead to a barbaric situation. These also cement the bourgeois nuclear family and chain women as well as children and old people to it even more violently.

But these developments do not happen without contradictions. Strikes in areas where mainly women are employed (care, kindergarten, etc.) are constantly renegotiating how reproductive work is organised, and in many countries new militant sectors of the working class are also forming in the process.

However, the crisis-like developments in the field of reproduction should not obscure the fact that there is only a tendency away from socialisation, even if it is natural, towards private domestic work. On the contrary, for important sectors of the wage-dependent middle classes as well as the working class, we can observe a progress towards a socialisation of domestic work, albeit organised in a private capitalist way. We want to illustrate this with the example of the so-called platform economy. In recent years, we have seen a great expansion of services that offer parts of reproductive activities via such online services. This includes delivery services for food and groceries, which are now used at least occasionally by almost all strata of the working class.

For larger sections of wage earners, these are becoming the standard for their reproduction. The decisive reason for this is that the constant intensification of work, its compression, which is often given a new boost by „working from home“, drains people so much during work that they hardly have the strength to cook or clean for themselves.

Therefore, the platform economy has long offered more than food or ready-made meals. Cleaners, carers and childcare can also be arranged via the platform economy. This use of privately offered services organised through larger capitals, which now also become part of productive, surplus-value creating labour, is of course not possible for the entire working class and, in order to function profitably under the current conditions of competition, requires that the workers in the delivery service or care sectors organised through the platform economy themselves work for low, below-average, wages and under insecure working conditions. To put it bluntly, one could say that these companies employ mainly those workers who cannot afford these services or can only afford them occasionally. In addition, as long as these services are offered comparatively cheaply, they also lead to an increase in relative surplus value.

Of course, there are similar phenomena in the hitherto wholly or semi-state-organised reproduction sector – in hospitals, schools, day-care centres, … These are already socialised, albeit for the purpose of reproducing total capital. Now, already socially organised areas of reproduction are being dismantled, privatised or, in the first step, subjected to private, profit-oriented cost accounting and calculation.

In addition to tendencies towards privatisation, we also find tendencies towards socialisation in the current crisis. But these do not follow a conscious plan for society as a whole, but take place on a private basis or through the state. Pushing domestic work back into the family and shifting it onto women is therefore only one tendency in the current crisis period. This is complemented by another, namely the expansion of privately organised reproductive activity.

While in the phase of expansion of the reproductive sector in the 1960s and 1970s this was accompanied by largely universal access to basic services, the current commodification of reproductive work is accompanied by the fact that different strata of the working class have far more differentiated access to these than before. As the internal differences of the class in a country and even more so internationally increase, as the differences in income and living conditions between the labour aristocracy, the masses of the class and the growing layer of precarious workers increase – and this even more so on a global level – the conditions of reproduction also become more diverse, the gap within the working class widens.

A central aspect here is that these tendencies deepen the gender division of labour, so that women are particularly affected by the crisis in the reproductive sector. For all these reasons, we cannot leave their „solution“ to the bourgeois state or the market. The struggle to defend existing gains around the reorganisation of reproductive labour is at the same time a central field of class struggle in the current period. The contradictory tendencies towards socialisation, privatisation and the extension of private domestic labour are ultimately insoluble under capitalism, especially since the increase in the rate of surplus value forms, indeed must form, a central element of the crisis management strategies of the ruling class.

In the sense of a programme of transitional demands, it is necessary to start from existing struggles and link them with the struggle for a planned socialisation of reproductive labour under workers‘ control:

– Expansion and introduction of large canteens and restaurants under workers‘ control as an alternative to isolated domestic work. Expropriation without compensation of the big retail chains and delivery services under workers‘ control.

– Communalisation of all kindergartens and schools. These must be free and accessible to all. For a massive investment programme to renew and expand and to recruit missing educators, teachers, social workers and other employees at full, collectively agreed, wages. Control of the institutions by committees of employees, pupils and parents!

– Expropriation of housing corporations and land. Control of rents by committees of tenants and trade unions.

– Nationalise and develop the whole care sector under the control of workers, patients and unions, financed by taxing capital and the rich!

– Fight to reduce working hours for the entire working class to 30 hours per working week with full wage and personnel compensation, so that reproductive work can be distributed between both sexes and women can participate more easily in political and social life!

– For the socialisation of domestic and reproductive work. Equal division of the remaining household tasks between men and women!

The socialisation of domestic work can never be fully achieved under capitalism, just as the planned and conscious distribution of the total social labour cannot be carried out as long as private ownership of the means of production characterises society. Therefore, the struggle for it is inseparable from that for the expropriation of capital, for the socialist revolution.



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