Harry Cleaver, “On Self-valorization in Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s “‘Women and the Subversion of the Community'”
“On Self-valorization in Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s ‘Women and the Subversion of the Community’ (1971)”
Harry Cleaver [Link]
One important limitation to Mariarosa’s essay, in my opinion, is its failure to directly address the issue of self-valorization, either in general, or in the specific case of women’s housework. “Self-valorization” is my translation of the Italian word autovalorizzazione. A more literal translation would be auto-valorization, but such a word is a bit weird in English so I prefer self-valorization even though it is a bit misleading. It is misleading for two reasons: first, because it is a term appropriated from Marx but changed in its meaning. Second, because the English prefix “self-” risks evoking the individual whereas the Italian prefix “auto” is less likely to do so and is more conducive to a more appropriate interpretation in terms not just of individuals but of groups and classes. Let me explain further.
In Marx the term self-valorization referred to the self-valorization of capital – everything involved in its expanded reproduction – which is most basically the expanded reproduction of the class relation but includes every element of that relation, e.g., every element that appears in his analysis of Volume I of Capital and reappear as moments of his analysis of the “circuits” or “reproduction schemes” of capital discussed at length in volume II of Capital, e.g., labor power, constant capital, money, exchange, work, commodities, and all the class antagonisms those elements embody and structure: exploitation, alienation and working class resistance and struggle. Capital successfully “self-valorizes” when it is able to juggle/manage the class relationships at all points sufficiently to achieve the expanded reproduction of those relationships.
When Italian autonomist Marxists, especially Toni Negri, appropriated the term “self-valorization” they changed its meaning from the expanded reproduction of capital to the autonomous, self-determination or self-development of the working class. The new use of the term was designed to denote working class self-activity that went beyond being merely reactive to capital, e.g., fighting back against exploitation, to denote working class self-activity that carried within it the basic positive, creative and imaginative re-invention of the world that characterized the “living labor” that capital-the-vampire has fed on but which is always an autonomous power that has frequently ruptured capital’s controls and limitations and that will ultimately, hopefully, be powerful enough to break free completely and craft new worlds beyond capitalism. Read more…
Harry Cleaver, “On Domestic Labor and Value in Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s ‘Women and the Subversion of the Community’ (1971)”
“On Domestic Labor and Value in Mariarosa Dalla Costa’s ‘Women and the Subversion of the Community’ (1971)”
Harry Cleaver [Link]
A central point of Mariarosa’s analysis in “Women and the Subversion of the Community” is to argue that housework, or domestic labor, or for that matter any and all labor that produces and reproduces labor power is socially productive, i.e., produces value and surplus value. “We have to make clear,” she writes, “domestic work produces not merely use values, but is essential to the production of surplus value.” And a footnote adds: “What we meant precisely is that housework as work is productive in the Marxian sense, that is, is producing surplus value.” This is a claim which is asserted – in the section of the essay called “Surplus Value and the Social Factory” – but not really explored in her article. She demonstrates at length how housework produces a key element of capitalist society – labor power – but doesn’t do so, for the most part, in terms of value. It is also a claim that was, and remains, highly controversial (and one which Polda addressed in greater depth in her book – a treatment that I’m going to leave for future discussion).
The primary objection to this claim that housework produces value and surplus value derives, of course, from contrasting her assertion with Marx who treated the production of value and surplus value uniquely in the context of workers producing commodities for capital that are sold and on which a profit is realized. This objection, and the usual reading of Marx, however, usually doesn’t critically examine a key issue: what it means to “produce” value. Neither, of course, does Mariarosa in this essay. Read more…
“‘Slaving like a Nigger’: Irish Jobs and Irish Whiteness”
From Chapter 7, The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, 1991. [PDF]
In 1856, Henry C. Brokmeyer, then a wage-earning immigrant German molder in St. Louis, wrote in his diary a question posed about one of his German-American friends: ‘”Why doesn’t he learn . . . a trade; and he wouldn’t have to slave like a nigger? ‘ Brokmeyer, who was to become not only independent of wage work but eventually lieutenant governor of Missouri, had picked up a pattern of usage common in American English since the 1830s.  Not only was nigger work synonymous with hard, drudging labor but to nigger it meant ‘to do hard work’, or ‘to slave’. ‘White niggers’ were white workers in arduous unskilled jobs or in subservient positions. 
But not all European immigrants had the same prospects to ‘learn a trade’, let alone to acquire independence from ‘slaving like a nigger’, by owning a workshop or a farm. English and Scandinavian immigrants were especially likely to achieve such mobility, while the Irish and Germans faced most directly the question of how and whether their labor was different from ‘slaving like a nigger’. But the Irish confronted the question much more starkly. Both before and after the famine, they were far more likely than the Germans to be without skills. The famine Irish infrequently achieved rural land ownership. Within large cities Irish-American males were skilled workers perhaps half as often as German-Americans, and were unskilled at least twice as often. Although frontier cities, perhaps attracting Irish migrants with more resources and choices, showed less difference between Irish and German occupational patterns, the Irish stayed at the bottom of white society.  Read more…
“Colonization and Housewifization”
Chapter Three, Patriarchy and Capital Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour, 1986. [PDF]
The Dialectics of ‘Progress and Retrogression’
On the basis of the foregoing analysis, it is possible to formulate a tentative thesis which will guide my further discussion.
The historical development of the division of labour in general, and the sexual division of labour in particular, was/is not an evolutionary and peaceful process, based on the ever-progressing development of productive forces (mainly technology) and specialization, but a violent one by which first certain categories of men, later certain peoples, were able mainly by virtue of arms and warfare to establish an exploitative relationship between themselves and women, and other peoples and classes.
Within such a predatory mode of production, which is intrinsically patriarchal, warfare and conquest become the most ‘productive’ modes of production. The quick accumulation of material wealth – not based on regular subsistence work in one’s own community, but on looting and robbery – facilitates the faster development of technology in those societies which are based on conquest and warfare. This technological development, however, again is not oriented principally towards the satisfaction of subsistence needs of the community as a whole, but towards further warfare, conquest and accumulation. The development of arms and transport technology has been a driving force for technological innovation in all patriarchal societies, but particularly in the modem capitalist European one which has conquered and subjected the whole world since the fifteenth century. The concept of ‘progress’ which emerged in this particular patriarchal civilization is historically unthinkable without the one-sided development of the technology of warfare and conquest. All subsistence technology (for conservation and production of food, clothes and shelter, etc.) henceforth appears to be ‘backward’ in comparison to the ‘wonders’ of the modern technology of warfare and conquest (navigation, the compass, gunpowder, etc.). Read more…
“On the Woman Question: An Orientation”
Source: An SWP discussion held on 3rd September 1951, opened by CLR James. [Link]
A new stage has been reached. We are finished with endless discussions on male chauvinism. We have no more time for individual attacks against individual men who are backward or against individual women who do not want to be “emancipated.” These people will reorient themselves and will be drawn into their own struggles.
Now for the first time we know where we are going. We did not develop accidentally. The ideas explicit in this document are the concrete manifestations of the movement of capitalism and the reaction of the masses of women today. It is this reaction that we shall attempt to concretize in this document. Read more…
“Patriarchy, Domestic Mode of Production, Gender, and Class”
Translated by Diana Leonard
The analysis of patriarchy in our society that I have been developing for the last fifteen years has a history I would like to detail. I came to my use of the concept and to the model growing out of it by way of two projects whose theoretical concerns might seem unrelated. One project was to study the transmission of family property (patrimony), and the other was to reply to criticisms of the women’s liberation movement that come from the Left.
As it happened, when I started to do research on these two topics, I found that lack of relatedness was only apparent. This might have been predictable from the coherent commitment that had led me to these topics: I had wanted to work “on women,” which is to say, for me, on women’s oppression. Yet my director of studies at the time told me this was not possible, so I chose to study the inheritance of property instead, eventually to get back to my initial interest by an indirect route. In my research I first discovered what a great quantity of goods change hands without passing through the market; instead, these goods were passed through the family, as gifts or “inheritance.” I also discovered that the science of economics, which purports to concern itself with everything related to the exchange of goods in society, is in fact concerned with only one of the of systems of production, circulation, and consumption of goods: the market. Read more…
Dorothy Sue Cobble, “‘A Spontaneous Loss of Enthusiasm’: Workplace Feminism and the Transformation of Women’s Service Jobs in the 1970s”
“‘A Spontaneous Loss of Enthusiasm’: Workplace Feminism and the Transformation of Women’s Service Jobs in the 1970s”
Dorothy Sue Cobble
International Labor and Working-Class History No. 56, Fall 1999, pp. 23-44 [PDF]
In 1972, a group of tired stewardesses tried to explain their concerns to the incredulous male transit union officials who led their union. No, the primary issues were not wages and benefits, they insisted, but the particular cut of their uniforms and the sexual insinuations made about their occupation in the new airline advertisements. Their words fell on deaf ears. Despite their commonalities as transportation workers, the gender gap separating the two groups was simply too wide to cross. Indeed, male subway drivers could not understand why the stewardesses would object to their glamorous sex-object image. Deeply held gendered notions of unionism and politics also stood in the way of communication.
For even if the complaints of stewardesses were accepted as “real,” to many male union leaders they seemed petty: matters not deserving of serious attention, let alone concerted activity. The gender gap in labor history may not be quite as wide as that between female flight attendants and male subway drivers. But many of the same processes have blocked productive communication and hindered the intellectual development of the field. Labor history scholarship still rests upon gendered definitions of work, politics, and unionism. Just as significantly, the overall narratives that dominate the field incorporate neither the history of female-dominated occupations and industries nor that of women’s particular forms of collective action. Read more…