[OPE-L:7071] OPE-L, Women and Marxism

From: Simon Mohun (s.mohun@qmul.ac.uk)
Date: Thu Apr 25 2002 - 13:27:01 EDT

Well Nicky I'll try a stab at this. What the LTV does is to take a subset 
of the 24 hours in a day and to partition it (via the principles we all 
discuss) into paid labour time and unpaid labour time, or in the aggregate 
total wages and total profits, and it studies the time trends of these, 
what causes their movements and what the consequences are. (I am conscious 
of glossing over a large number of issues here, but never mind.) It has 
nothing to say about the rest of the hours in the day, except perhaps that 
they are a residual, a sort of domestic reservoir in which exhausted 
workers replenish their labour power in a variety of ways so that they can 
work the next day for capital. Now I think there is some truth in this (as 
presumably do we all), but only some. Call the time spent working for 
capital (producing both the equivalent of the VLP and a surplus value) 

Feminists would argue that there is another partition of time which divides 
the 24 hours into capitaltime and non-capitaltime. In the latter there is 
eating, sleeping, studying, leisure(ing), and caring for the very young, 
children, and the old and infirm. If you allow 7 hours for sleeping, the 
remainder of these activities take more time than capitaltime in developed 
industrialised economies. And a lot of it is a lot of work. In particular, 
caring activities are very labour intensive, and caring is an emotional 
activity. Consequently, these activities are very difficult for capital to 
a) their labour intensity makes them potentially very expensive;
b) the emotional activity of caring is very difficult to combine with the 
alienation of labour in a wage contract.
Caring activities generally involve caring for people; more weakly they can 
also apply to other noncapitaltime, as in she/he takes pride in her/his 
housework/handywork/gardening or whatever.

And then there is the question of who does these activities and why. So who 
looks after the old, the sick, the kids etc? Who takes the part-time job so 
as to have at least some flexibility in these regards? Who sacrifices a 
career for their children? Who goes frantic when carefully laid child-care 
plans go awry and scrabbles around to patch up a solution, sometimes by 
using holiday time to do so? And so on. No prizes for the answers.

Caring activities may be a problem for neoclassical economics, but they are 
also a big problem for Marxism. For what has value theory to say about 
them? Value theory focuses on the partition of capitaltime, but what 
determines the bigger partition into capitaltime and noncapitaltime? Since 
it is in noncapitaltime that most people find the majority of their 
activities and their time, studies confined to the partition of capitaltime 
might seem beside the point, or of subsidiary and limited relevance. Hence 
I conjecture, the limited appeal of Marxism to women - it just doesn't 
speak to a rather large part of their experience and their lives. Of course 
one might say that capital/class struggle determines the partition into 
capitaltime and noncapitaltime, or that noncapitaltime is determined by 
capital. But is that convincing?

There's some interesting work in Australia by Michael Bittman plus 
collaborators on noncapitaltime; National Accounts statisticians are 
increasingly interested in the contribution of noncapitaltime to GDP; and I 
write this on the day in which ONS in Britain has launched a Household 
Satellite Account (there's a report in today's FT if anyone is interested). 
Let's hope Marxists are at least no later than the owl of Minerva!!


At 19:35 25/04/02 +0800, you wrote:
>Hi Simon,
>To take a different example: what might the bridge be between theoretical
>questions of Marxism (discussed on OPE-L) and the political question
>(maleness of Marxism, OPE-L)?  And what do you think might be the special
>skills of economists in finding an answer to the question.  I do seem to be
>the only active female participant!

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