[OPE-L:5100] Re: the creation of labour-power

Michael Williams (mwilliam@compuserve.com)
Thu, 22 May 1997 10:18:42 -0700 (PDT)

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Jerry raises a number of interesting questions about the production of
labour-power. The parenthetical remarks in Reuten and Williams 1989 (ch. 7,
I think) are about the best I can do. I must confess I do not have any
special claim to expertise in answering them, and indeed I am probably less
well-equipped to say anything useful about these issues now than I was
during the 'domestic labour debates' in the 1970s. Nor do I have the
'space' to do any work on them now or in the foreseeable future. But I will
have a stab at a few specific issues jerry raises:

> For instance, is the
> reproduction of the nuclear family and patriarchy systematically
> necessary for the reproduction of capitalism or is it only contingently
> required within particular capitalist social formations?

This, of course, is (was?) a question much debated between socialist
feminists and radical feminists. The political point can be characterised
(caricatured?) in the following thought experiment: would a revolution that
successfully transcended capitalist class-subordination also thereby and
paru passu transcend patriarchal oppression? To this my answer is a
vehement (although, of course, speculative) NO!. Contemporary 'advanced'
societies are *both* capitalist and patriarchal, and their
conceptualisation requires the articulation of these two oppressive
structures. (How? I don't know. I am persuaded by the 1970's poster that
showed a knackered male worker trudging out of the factory, physically and
emotionally exhausted (and with an empty lunch-box) after a day at work.
The worker then enters a house, where he is spruced up and re-charged
(including his lunch box) by an obviously female figure, so that he can
trudge back into the factory all bright-eyed and bushy tailed the next
morning. I have already mentioned the embeddedness of the 'household' into
Capitalist Commodity circulation.)
And conversely, it is also not plausible that hypothetical complete success
in abolishing the structures of gender subordination would thereby lead to
the abolition of capitalist class oppression. This reinforces the need for
the articulation of two quasi-independent modes of social subordination.
Having said that, it is clear that Capital grasps non-class modes of
oppression (racist as well as male-chauvinist) and attempts to use them to
its own ends, by a whole variety of tactics (divide and rule etc., etc).
We can also tackle the question from a more narrowly economic perspective.
Take, for example, gender discrimination in labour markets. The pure logic
of market forces would in general imply that it would be irrational for
capitalist employers to discriminate on the basis of gender, or indeed of
any characteristic of workers not correlated with workers' (expected)
value-productivity. The 'screening' and 'signalling' literature then
complicates this basic view somewhat. Of course, we know that real
capitalist markets are not 'perfect', which makes space for strategic
manipulation by capital of existing structures of subordination (above). I
think I think (!) that the in principle gender-blindness of Capital
suggests that the basis of gender-subordination is to be sought primarily
in the private sphere, and in the gender-specific roles of men and women
with respect to procreation. But I would not take this so far as to the
biological determinism of (some) radical-feminism: gender-roles are
socially reproduced and transformed, albeit constrained by biological

So my (rather ungrounded) answer to your questions are:
a) Patriarchy and the nuclear family are *not* systemically necessary the
the bourgeois epoch. But they are de facto an aspect of *this* bourgeois
epoch, and thus affect its reproduction. (Note that 'baby- factories' are
*not*, IMO, a possible alternative to the nuclear family in any bourgeois
b) However, IMO, the nuclear family is not obviously necessary to any 'sub
set' of bourgeois systems either.

c) (no 'snip' from Jerry here). IMO none of the economic determinations of
procreation to which I alluded are systemically necessary to capitalism, or
any particular form of it. Which, of course, does not mean that they are
not important characteristics at a more concrete level of some social

I am sure there are people on this list much more competent than I to
address these issues.
Dr Michael Williams
"Books are Weapons"

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