[OPE-L:5107] Re: the creation of labour-power

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Fri, 23 May 1997 20:58:54 -0700 (PDT)

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Mike W wrote in [OPE-L:5100]:

> > 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!.

I agree with the answer you give to the "thought experiment." However, I
was thinking of another question, i.e. can patriarchal oppression be
surpassed _under capitalism_ or is it systematically required for the
reproduction of capitalist social relations? Thus, the "political point"
of my question didn't focus on whether patriarchy would end after a
socialist revolution but whether it could end _before_.

> Contemporary 'advanced'
> societies are *both* capitalist and patriarchal, and their
> conceptualisation requires the articulation of these two oppressive
> structures.

That, in a nutshell, is the question that I find most challenging.

> I have already mentioned the embeddedness of the 'household' into
> Capitalist Commodity circulation.)

Yes, you have. But, _how_ is the "household" embedded within capitalist
commodity circulation? For instance, _what kind of household_ is
"embedded" and is that the only form of household that is consistent with
the maintenance and reproduction of capitalist social relations?

> 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).

The "above" sounds very similar to the presentation in Bowles & Edwards
(1993): <long excerpt follows>

"Capitalism affects discrimination in two ways -- one way weakens
it and the other strengthens it. Discrimination is weakened when firms
compete with one another by attempting to minimize costs through hiring
the best person at the lowest wage. Racial or sexual discrimination means
that blacks and women who are qualified workers have limited opportunity
for high-wage employment. If among equally qualified workers, employers
hire those who cost least, they will tend to hire women and blacks and
thereby increase the demand for the labor of the discriminated group.
There will be an improvement in the job opportunities for women and
blacks, a reduction in their unemployment, and possibly an increase in
their bargaining strength.

On the other hand, discrimination is perpetuated when
capitalists try to use discrimination in their conflict with workers over
wages and the pace of work. Just as workers try to achieve greater
bargaining strength for themselves through unions, so employers try to
weaken the bargaining strength of workers by creating divisions and
disunity among workers. To do this, they may attempt to foster and
magnify whatever differences already exist. Racial and sexual divisions
are (socially) the most prominent distinctions, so employers seize upon
these differences to divide workers. Capitalists did not invent racism or
sexism, but they have used preexisting prejudices or biases among workers
to divide and weaken workers.

Indeed an individual capitalist may personally be completely
free of prejudice yet be forced by competition to discriminate to stay in
business. Since higher-profit firms have a competitive advantage, the
nondiscriminating firm may, over time, be forced out of business. If, on
the other hand, the costs of discrimination outweigh the benefits,
capitalists are likely to stop discriminating.

How can discrimination be profitable? Compare two firms. The
first firm hires both black workers and white workers and it treats all
workers equally (for example, paying wages without regard to race).
Suppose the workers, both black and white, join together to form a union,
and the union then presses for higher wages, less strenuous work, and so

The second firm also both black and white workers, but it
discriminates -- it assigns blacks to lower paying jobs than whites. The
workers of this firm try to form a union, but they have a more difficult
time than the workers of the first firm. Not all workers in the second
firm have the same interest. Black workers think the union should try to
force the employer to eliminate the company's discrimination in job
assignment and pay; white workers want more pay, but they also fear being
paid 'like blacks.' Maybe white workers form their own union and exclude
blacks so they can concentrate entirely on raising white wages. But now,
when they start to negotiate with the boss, he or she threatens them by
declaring an intention to hire more blacks and displace some white
workers. Reluctantly, they accept lower wages, more speedup, and so on.

Comparing these two firms, we see that the first firm (black and
white) workers who have a common interest in raising wages (w) and
reducing the strain of work (d). To the extent that these workers are
successful, the first firm's profits will decline. The second firm, by
contrast, faces workers who are divided by racial conflict. These workers
may have difficulty forming a union, and whenever black workers try to
bargain with the boss, their position is weakened by the boss's threat to
bring in some more white workers (and similarly, white workers are
weakened by the threat of more blacks being hired. These workers will have
little chance to bargain for higher wages or a reduced work pace.

The second firm will have increased its profits (relative to the
first firm) by discriminating. Indeed, the first firm may be forced to
begin discriminating if it wants to compete with the second.

Conventional economics argues that discrimination is costly, and
hence competition for profits will eliminate discrimination. But this is
just one side of the coin, the only side visible when the horizontal
aspect of the economy -- competition -- is the focus of economics. But
when the vertical or command relationships of the economy are included, a
different picture emerges. When employers discriminate, it may be
precisely because discrimination is profitable, and indeed, competition
may drive (nonprejudiced) employers to discriminate" [Samuel Bowles and
Richard Edwards _Understanding Capitalism: Competition, Command and Change
in the U.S. Economy_, 2nd edition, HarperCollins, 1993, pp. 218-220].

> 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
> determinations.
> 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
> system.)

a) leaves open the door that patriarchy and the nuclear family can be
eliminated under the "bourgeois epoch."

> 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
> formations.

I would like to hear more discussion on these points.

In solidarity, Jerry