One of the main contentions at the core of Autonomist Marxism is that all human activity in either the sphere of production or in circulation and reproduction is potentially productive, that is, can contribute to the valorisation of capital. The work of reproduction, which is the work done on ourselves and on our families to reproduce ourselves, reproduces our labour power, i.e. our capacity to work for capital – in this sense, Autonomist Marxist theorists argue that the work of reproduction is production for capital. Leopoldina Fortunati’s The Arcane of Reproduction, published in Italy in 1981 and in the US in 1995[ 1], seems to be the most sophisticated contribution to this theme so far. While reproductive labour may cover anything from playing video games, attending courses, going to a gym, watching television, looking for a job, etc., in her pamphlet Fortunati deals with culturally specific female activities outside the sphere of production: housework and prostitution[ 2].
Fortunati comes from a tradition of Marxist feminism connected to the Autonomist area. One can trace a study of the connection between female work and capital to 70s’ Italy for example in Mariarosa Dalla Costa. In her seminal work Women and the Subversion of the Community, written in 1971, Dalla Costa ‘affirms… [that] the family under capitalism is… a centre essentially of social production‘; and that housework is not just private work done for a husband and children[ 3]. Housework is then an important social activity on which capitalist production thrives. However, while Dalla Costa says that activities done within reproduction are ‘if not immediately, then ultimately profitable to the expansion… of the rule of capital’, Fortunati attempts the theoretical leap of demonstrating that housework does produce value within a ‘Marxian’ approach and tries to express this value-creation mathematically[ 4]. This is brave indeed, as Marx’s analysis of capital would appear to show that this is not the case – thus in order to achieve her aim Fortunati has to revise Marx’s categories – or, in her words, ‘combine them with feminist criticism’ (p. 10) so that they can becomes suitable tools for this aim.
Fortunati’s claim that reproduction produces value is a challenge to the Marxist ‘orthodoxy’ that agrees that the work of reproduction is a precondition of a future creation of value and serves to keep the cost of labour power low, but does not actually create value itself. In this ‘orthodox’ view the work of reproduction is just concrete labour, not abstract labour. Since it is only concrete and not abstract labour, this labour does not add any fresh value but preserves the values of the means of subsistence consumed by the family as the value of labour power. This value manifests itself as the exchange value of labour power.
Fortunati’s main arguments against this view are centered on her concept of labour power, which is the specific product of the woman’s work as a housewife or prostitute: in fact, Fortunati claims that labour power is, without other specifications, ‘a commodity like all others’, which is ‘contained within’ the person of the husband. It is true that when we hire ourselves to the capitalist, our submission takes the form of a sale, the sale of labour power. But, as we will argue in detail later, it is also true that producing and selling labour power is not like producing and selling other commodities, and this difference embodies the essence of our condition as proletariat and dispossessed. With her assumption of labour power as ‘a commodity like all others’ Fortunati eliminates this important difference on the one hand, and on the other hand she is able to conclude straight away that labour power must contain the value corresponding to the abstract labour time expended in its production like ‘all other commodities’ do. [ 5]
If according to this deduction housework produces value, how can Fortunati explain the fact that no value appears as a result of housework[ 6]? This is because, she says, in capitalism the individual has been ‘disvested of all value’, devalued, i.e. denied the property of being a carrier of value as a person. This is a devaluation in terms of monetary value: ‘while a slave or serf, i.e. as the property of the master or the feudal lord, the individual has a certain value… the individual has no value’ today (p. 10). If the individual cannot ‘carry’ the value produced by his wife, this value does not appear in the exchange between labour power and capital, and slips through the worker straight into the hands of the capitalist, without any recognition for the housework done[ 7]. And only when the husband’s labour power is in the hands of the capitalist, when the worker actually works, does this value manifests itself as value created during production. Housework according to this theory is then part of the aggregate labour in society that valorises capital, but since the ‘individual’ is ‘devalued’, its contribution to capital is not recognised.
In the same way as Fortunati claims that reproduction really creates value, ‘but appears otherwise’, she asserts that the real status of the housewife is that of a waged worker, but ‘appears otherwise’. In fact, Fortunati says, the direct relation between the wife and the husband hides a real relation of wage-work exchange between the wife and capital, which is mediated by the husband as the woman’s work ‘supervisor'[ 8].
Although, as we will see below, Fortunati’s arguments seem to diverge from other theoretical Autonomist approaches, it has encountered some appreciation within the Autonomist area. Dalla Costa mentions it for example; and Harry Cleaver has it in the reading list for his ‘Autonomist Marxism’ course[ 9]. Outside the area of Autonomia, her pamphlet has been praised by AK distribution as ‘an excellent book worth reading very carefully and a good example of immanent critique of Marx’s work'[ 10]. Surely no reader can miss Fortunati’s in being able to deal with ‘complexities’: in her pamphlet the words ‘complex’ and ‘complexity’ appear at least 26 times[ 11]. Her ‘dense’ style, noticed by AK distribution, which for example calls having sex a ‘work of sexual reproduction of the male worker’ is consistent with this fascination with ‘complexity’. No doubt this has inspired awe and respect in her readers.
One reason for the present critique is first of all because the disparity between the male and female condition in capitalist society is a real problem. If our realisation as individuals having ‘value’ in bourgeois society is only through our roles as buyers and sellers of commodities (or specifically as sellers of labour power and earners of a wage), bearing and rearing children is an obstacle to this realisation. Although part of the toll of being parents can be shared, bearing the child cannot – and, whatever her class, the woman is discriminated against with respect to the male in capitalism. A study of the problem connected to female work is then interesting for its potential criticism of bourgeois relations of exchange – specifically of the fragmentation of society into bourgeois individuals who recognise each other only as buyers and sellers of commodities.
Fortunati’s work is the product of her involvement with the ‘Wages for Housework’ movement in Italy in the 1970s. This movement produced plenty of radical theory close to Autonomia (such as Dalla Costa’s work) and received attention and respect from US Autonomist Marxism, especially Harry Cleaver[ 12]. However in the present critique we have chosen to deal only with the particular theoretical development by Leopoldina Fortunati and not with the wider issue of Wages for Housework – a treatment that would have to take on the rather cult-like behaviour of the movement espousing this demand.
In fact, besides the interesting issues related to women’s condition in our society, the principal focus for this critique of Fortunati’s work is the specific issue of reproduction as ‘productive work’, which Fortunati shares with the broader area of Autonomist Marxism. In particular, we want to address the Autonomist elaboration of the concept of value in the present mode of production. In this discussion we will stress not only the similarities among various authors, but also their, sometimes important, differences in their theoretical positions. We will discuss in particular the following three points:
- the importance, within Autonomist Marxism, of demonstrating, at every cost, even with the aid of ‘formulas’, that the work of reproduction is productive and a creator of value
- the Autonomist concept of the work of reproduction as work which is, as Fortunati would put it, ‘capitalistically organised’; i.e., indirectly controlled by capital and having the character of waged work.
- the concept of capital as imposition of work, discipline and repression, and the parallel conception of the working class as antagonism against capital.
In discussing these points, we will make parallels and reference to some of the main authors who write, or wrote, within Autonomia or Autonomist Marxism, and in particular Harry Cleaver (Reading Capital Politically [ 13]), Massimo De Angelis (Beyond the Technological and the Social Paradigms: A Political Reading of Abstract Labour as the Substance of Value [ 14]), and Antonio Negri (Pipeline, Lettere da Rebibbia [ 15]) and Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt (Empire [ 16]). We will make clear the difference between these authors, who on the one side share some basic tenets of the Autonomist tradition, but on the other side may diverge on fundamental points and in their understanding of capitalism.
In the following sections we will analyse the details of Fortunati’s own treatment of reproduction as productive work and her initial assumptions. For simplicity’s sake we only deal with Fortunati’s approach to housework, and avoid the issue of prostitution[ 17].
The quest for value
No Marxist would deny that housework and reproductive work are functional and necessary for the whole process of capital’s self-valorisation. What makes Fortunati’s book new or challenging is that it aims to convince the reader that housework is a real expenditure of abstract labour time, and a real creator of value, and that this can be quantified.
In fact, the argument that work done outside production is productive is a recurrent focus in Autonomist theory. In Reading Capital Politically, Cleaver reminded the reader that abstract labour and abstract labour time ‘must be grasped in the totality of capital’ (p. 118) and that in the ‘total social mass’ of abstract labour and value produced in capitalism there is ‘a direct or indirect contribution’ from anybody who is coerced into any form of work, either waged or unwaged, including housework (pp. 122-123). Although any coerced activity can be functional to the valorisation of capital, this does not mean that it is abstract labour and produces value. In saying that, this contribution can be ‘indirect’, Cleaver leaves the question ambiguously open[ 18]. However, this suggestion was later taken over and explicitly developed by his student Massimo De Angelis. In his article mentioned above, De Angelis attempted a logical ‘demonstration’ that any alienated, coerced and boundless work amounts to an expenditure of abstract labour and thus creates value for capital.
Why is it so important to argue for the creation of value outside the sphere of production? The reason expressly given by Fortunati and, for example, De Angelis is similar: this is somehow essential to explain the struggles that may develop outside the sphere of production as working class struggles. As De Angelis puts it, the recognition of a productive role of all proletarians is important for a theory that can explain and give ‘an appropriate interpretative framework’ to the struggles of the non-waged as well as the waged, as struggles against capital (p. 122). The categories of productive, unproductive, value, abstract labour, seem then to be essential in the political (or moral?) evaluation of the role and antagonism offered by sections of the proletariat[ 19].
Traditional Marxists would think that it is rather odd to use the categories that describe the dynamic of capital as analytical tools to interpret the class struggle or as indicators of class antagonism. Capital, value, use value, the falling rate of profit, the laws of the market, etc. are for them constitutive of an objective reality that conditions the class struggle, but are independent of our struggles and subjectivity. Yet Marx had explained in Capital that these ‘things’, real constraints on our lives, are an expression of a social relation, which appears to us in a mystified form, as independent of us. A merit of Autonomist theory was to try to overcome this objectivistic understanding by emphasizing the subjective dynamics of capitalism.
However, by criticising the purely objectivistic and economicistic understanding of capitalism, they oppose to this reading one which is purely subjectivistic: class struggle as a confrontation between two opposing and Autonomous consciousnesses, capital and the proletariat[ 20]. In this reading capital and its objective categories become mere objectified phantoms of a purely subjective reality. Thus for example, De Angelis warns the reader that when he mentions ‘the law of value’ he actually means the ‘imposition of work and working class resistance in and against capital’ (p. 119). For Cleaver, ‘use value’, beyond being the physical body of the commodity (which is the ‘economicistic’ phantom), has to be understood primarily as a combination of qualities subjectively recognised in the commodity by the two subjects in struggle, the working class and capital. This way Marx’s Capital becomes a coded manuscript that has to be deciphered by looking at the subjective class-struggle ‘meanings’ of the categories employed in it; which is precisely what Cleaver attempted to do in Reading Capital Politically.
Perhaps this one-to-one-relation of subjective and objective categories can explain the Autonomist obsession for the most improbable quest after that of the philosopher’s stone. If abstract labour is the expression of a relation of antagonism between the dispossessed and the bourgeoisie, then pointing at the value produced by sectors of the proletariat becomes essential to understand their antagonism with capital and their struggles. Indeed, how can you explain the antagonism of sections of the proletariat who do not create value, if the expenditure of abstract value, thus the production of value, is your litmus paper for detecting class antagonism? In this perspective, recognising all the proletariat as ‘productive’ becomes indispensable; conversely, a categorisation of work as productive or unproductive becomes a ‘politically dangerous’ thing to do[ 21]. The liberating realisation that the objective reality of value and its law is ultimately related to our subjectivity, antagonism and struggle, is then turned into a theoretical riddle. In The Arcane of Reproduction Fortunati simply applies this Autonomist approach to understanding and evaluating class struggle as an abstract rule to the case of female work and gives her own peculiar contribution to this theoretical riddle, as we will see later.
There is an important point that one has to stress here. The theoretical problem faced by Fortunati, Cleaver and De Angelis arises from their attempt to salvage Marx’s concept of value together with a subjectivistic concept of ‘value’ as expression of political power and class struggle. This is different from the position of Antonio Negri, who in the ‘70s started to theorise value as a purely subjective political force, ‘the command of capital’. Unlike Fortunati and the others, Negri explicitly distances himself from the Marxian conception of value. He justifies this move by claiming that there has been an historical change: in the ‘70s, he says, value and its law were effectively suppressed and replaced by a political, direct, command by capital[ 22]. In his recent work Empire, Negri reiterates his view that today we live in a ‘postmodern’ world in which capital is no longer ‘able to reduce value to measure’ or to make a ‘distinction between productive, reproductive and unproductive labour’ – a world where value is not anymore the result of an expenditure of abstract labour, but only the expression of ‘production and reproduction of social life’ and of the power of the system, of Empire (p. 402). This ‘value’ is obviously ‘produced’ by anybody who contributes to a general ‘reproduction of social life’. There is nothing to ‘demonstrate’ in this case, no ‘formulas’ to calculate, no complexities to disentangle. By distancing himself from Marx and adopting a non-Marxian, postmodernist discourse, Negri has indeed made his life easier than his Autonomist-still-Marxian colleagues[ 23].
Despite the theoretical problems that we have just seen, is there something true in the Autonomist insight that all work, waged or not, is productive? And, above all, does Fortunati share this insight? This is what we will see in the next section.
The subsumption of society by capital and class antagonism
As we have seen in Section 1, the arcane of the Autonomist interest in demonstrating that the work of reproduction, or any work done outside the sphere of production, is productive work, lies in a reading of Marxist categories, which makes the categories of value, abstract labour, etc. have ‘meanings’ in terms of subjective categories: the imposition of work by capital and the resistance to work by the working class. The way value and its laws can immediately mean a class relation of antagonism is explained by De Angelis. Abstract labour, the creation of value, being tantamount to imposed, boundless and alienated labour, is the ‘form’ of work in capitalism. For De Angelis then any waged or unwaged work, insofar as it is alienated, boundless and coerced, is abstract labour and consequently a creation of value. And since antagonism and resistance necessarily come out of the coercive and alienated nature of this work, then antagonism is one with the expenditure of abstract labour and the creation of value in capitalism, and it can manifest itself among the waged as well as the unwaged proletariat.
It is true that a good deal of antagonism to capital is experienced outside the sphere of production: there are plenty of examples of struggles of the unemployed, students, etc. It is also true that antagonism is experienced within a society where capital effectively subsumes many of the activities that are done outside the workplace, so that not only are these activities functional to capital, but they also acquire an imposed, boundless and alienated character. The whole of society may then well be seen as an extended factory where direct or self-imposed discipline, haste, boredom, misery and sweat are the subjective aspects that necessarily complement the motion of self-valorisation of capital[ 24]. To understand and explain the relation of antagonism outside the sphere of production in relation to the way capital subsumes unwaged work in this sphere is important and desirable; however, the question is: is it necessary for this understanding to assume that there must be creation of value outside the sphere of production?
Let us consider first the relation between antagonism and the subsumption of labour by capital within production. Productive labour has a double nature, as work that is aimed to make something or have some specific effect (concrete labour), and as the creation of value (abstract labour). This double nature of labour is the fundamental character of labour in the capitalist mode of production. Since the capitalist’s aim of production is the valorisation of his capital, for him production is principally an extraction of abstract labour, a creation of value. This aim, and the movement of value, as Marx explains in Capital, implies the subsumption of the concrete practice of labour, the despotic organisation and command in production, the fragmentation of its tasks, its rationalisation, etc. The capitalist subsumption of labour in its concrete aspect implies, from the point of view of the worker, boredom, exhaustion, misery, pain, – the character of alienation and coercion of work then implies as a necessary consequence the worker’s reaction against it[ 25].
The concrete activities (concrete labour) that are done outside the sphere of production can be subsumed and shaped by capital too. The fundamental mechanism for the subsumption of activities outside the sphere of production is their commodification. For example, since a further education course can only be run with money, it is more likely to attract finance if it shows to be ‘useful’, i.e. to make people more ‘useful’ to capital (or to a sponsor). This influences the nature, aim and quality of the courses and tends to relate them to the needs of capitalist production in general (or the needs of their sponsors). Capital also shapes the form of the course besides its content, since the need to pay for hiring staff, renting premises, etc. will impose pace, deadlines, organisation, which will make the college more like a workplace. The concrete subsumption of the course is then likely to imply haste, boredom, and antagonism in the experience of the student. This antagonism can be explained without necessarily assuming that the work of these students is a creation of value.
The family is shaped by capital, too. The individualisation brought about by bourgeois relations of exchange means that it is the value we own as individuals, not our role in a social structure (family or extended family), that is necessary for the satisfaction of our needs and our social recognition. The family wage, paid by the employer to the male chief family income earner, becomes the economic basis for a patriarchal despotism which is intolerable within bourgeois relations – and the direct relations of the family then become real obstacles to individual freedom[ 26]. If on the one hand the stability of the family is useful for the running of capitalism, on the other hand, the same relations brought about by capital itself imply antagonism to the family as a direct social relation. This antagonism is explained without having to demonstrate that these family relations are hidden waged-work relations.
Housework is shaped by capital, too. Once time is measured in terms of the money it is worth as hourly wage, every hour spent in the kitchen acquires the character of a… negative hourly wage, which is as real for the woman insofar as her possibility of earning a wage outside home is real for her. Confusing the two different facts of earning a wage and producing value, Fortunati manages to analyse the phenomenon described above as the creation of a negative value, a ‘non-value’, i.e. a value that capital does not reward[ 27]. What is interpreted by Fortunati as the creation of non-value is in fact something substantially different. It is the result of the fact that capital imposes the form of waged work on non-waged activities – in this case housework – through the ‘natural’ need to earn a wage and own money as individuals. The imposition of capitalist temporality extends itself from the immediate production process to the rest of non-productive activity[ 28]. Thus the character of housework is made to conform with that of any waged work, either productive or unproductive.
Let us look at the concrete aspects of this imposition. The time attracted by waged work outside home will impose quality, form, pace, to housework, shaping it concretely. The more capital subsumes housework, the more it will require the purchase of appliances (washing machines, food processors…) in order to free time for productive work; the more the kitchen will look like a science-fiction ‘factory’; the more the work in it will have the pace of a workplace; the more boring, unskilled, and alien the work in the kitchen will become – just the evening chore of turning the microwave on and heat up some pre-made food. Again, it is the concrete labour of housework that is shaped by capital, and this will imply coercion, boredom, and misery.
Thus capitalism can affect any concrete labour in society, and generate antagonism also where no value is actually created[ 29]. If we consider the interrelation of abstract labour, concrete labour, value and it laws, with antagonism (i.e. objectivity and subjectivity) we can have a ‘theoretical framework’ to explain the various struggles of the dispossessed without any need whatsoever to demonstrate that every proletarian must produce value. Although Autonomia had the great merit of having highlighted the reality of the subsumption of society and its relation to class antagonism, this relation is not so straightforward as an equation antagonism = abstract labour (value).
Let us now consider the difference between the above Autonomist approach and that attempted in The Arcane of Reproduction. To the students in movement, someone like De Angelis would say: ‘It should be clear for us theorists something that is true in your real experience: the fact that you are in movement against capital because, although you are unwaged, you are subjected to capitalist work, and to the boredom and pain it implies’. The students feel the real effects of a real alienated ‘capitalist work’; they do not need De Angelis to tell them that they do alienated capitalistic work. The students really feel antagonistic, because of their real experience of alienation; they do not need De Angelis to reveal anything to them in order to give them a space and aim for struggle. Only, De Angelis tells the Marxian world that they ought to describe the students’ work as it is really experienced by the students and as it is really shaped by capital: i.e. as a waged work, if they want to understand the roots of the students’ class antagonism. Whatever its theoretical problems and incongruities are, this analysis still has a moment of truth in the understanding of capitalism as class struggle.
But Fortunati does not say this! In the case of housework she claims: capital has contrived to ‘camouflage’ the woman’s work as a non-waged, non-productive, non-factory-like work ‘to reduce the space for struggle against it’ (p. 110; see also p. 108)[ 30]. To the housewife, Leopoldina Fortunati would say: ‘you cannot find the space for your struggle against capital because capital has duped you into believing in appearances’. But Leopoldina Fortunati is there to reveal the ‘reality’ behind these ‘appearances’ and removes the ideological hindrances on class antagonism.
One of the strengths of Autonomist Marxism is the way it links an everyday experience of antagonism (boredom, hatred of work, conflict with our bosses, etc.) with a theory of how capitalism functions. Autonomist Marxism generally has intuitive appeal – it seems to capture and explain how we experience the world and why we fight back. By contrast, Fortunati’s account creates a sharp divergence between the world of experience (‘illusion’) and the real world of capital and its needs (which only the intellectual like Fortunati can reveal). This is only exacerbated by her excessive use of jargon and avoidance of ‘everyday’ language in relation to Marxian theory.
The dialectic of capital as despotism and bourgeois freedom
In the previous section we acknowledged the importance of the Autonomist argument that human activity in society can be subsumed by capital, and that this subsumption entails antagonism. We appreciated that this understanding is a moment of truth in the understanding of capitalism. Yet we have also seen that this does not necessarily imply that attending a vocational course, hoovering, making love, sleeping, smiling at a parent, etc. are productive labour for capital and create value[ 31]. In this section we will see that there are in fact differences between these activities and those done within a wage-work relation, and that a view of bourgeois society as simply a social factory misses out a dialectic understanding of capital. Indeed, when the conception of society as a ‘social factory’ was used as a polemical device, it had some poignancy; but its overliteral use as a theoretical model for capitalism is too drastic and reductive.
There are in fact important differences between waged work and reproduction ‘work’, in the way the ‘command’ is given to us and how it relates to class antagonism. In the workplace, we are subjected to explicitly imposed orders, and we obey them consciously. Also, what we do is never ‘for ourselves’, but it is done for the sake of our employer’s business. The subsumption of our activity and of our aims, as well as the subsumption of the result of our activity and aim, is a real subsumption.
Outside the workplace we are ‘free’ to choose what to do, and how to do it. And we do what we do ‘for ourselves’. However, this freedom hides an indirect command of capital: in a world where ‘what I as a man cannot do, i.e. what all my individual powers cannot do, I can do with the help of money’ every need becomes necessarily subordinated to the need to play along with the market and its laws[ 32]. Even leisure is conditioned by what we can afford, both in terms of money, and time, since time is money. If we are in a position to spend time and resources in leisure and/or education, we may tend to spend more time in leisure and/or courses that are useful to improve or maintain our capacity to earn a wage. The mind exhaustion implied by alienated labour is likely to dictate the mindless and alienated quality of leisure – after a day’s work our brain cannot sustain more than a boring and non-involving night in front of the TV, for example. All this, is really ‘enjoyed’ ‘for ourselves’, and we do it with our free will, but it implies our subjection to the law of value.
This command is indirect in the case of the family: it is for the sake of an economic income that both husband and wife act of their own free will. Of his free will, the husband will sign a contract with an employer and will submit himself to the despotism of production for most of his active day. In the same way, of her free will, the wife will try her best to manage their home so that the husband will be able to go and earn the money they need to live[ 33].
The internalisation implied by commodity fetishism means that activity or work outside the sphere of production is a special ‘work’ in a special ‘factory’, where the ‘worker’ is the ‘foreman’ of himself[ 34]. In this special factory the command of capital is the opposite of the despotism, organisation and discipline of any other factory: it is a command based on freedom. This situation implies contradictions. Paradoxically enough, the command which I impose on myself is indispensable for my submission to the explicit despotism of capital in the workplace – how would the capitalist keep me in the workplace, if I did not see my job as in my own interest? My unfreedom, my forced labour, my painful experience of being despotically commanded within production is then one side of the same coin of my bourgeois freedom outside production. A theory that sees the working class only as a chain gang forced to work under a despotic command misses that other face of capital, our domination that is one with the naturalisation of the economy, of the necessity to exchange as an obvious and inevitable condition of life – the ‘arcane’ behind the fact that we reproduce capital with our ‘free’ actions and ‘free’ choices[ 35].
To summarise: even if the Autonomists argue correctly that capital subsumes all society within or outside production, this does not mean that all activities are the same, and that society is a mega factory. This view is not useful, since it does not explain the differences. It is really more useful to consider the two dialectical aspects of capital, as despotism-of-production/freedom-of-exchange, and consider them in their interrelation[ 36].
In the next section we show how this undialectic approach to capital can lead to politically dangerous consequences and consider Leopoldina Fortunati’s case.
Consequences of the undialectical conception of capital as ‘just imposition of work’
We have seen that the Autonomist understanding of capital as ‘imposition of work’ stresses only one aspect of capital, that of discipline, organisation, despotism. This means that the other aspect of capital, the freedom to exchange and own your own value in the sphere of circulation is not spelled out.
This undialectic approach allows for two possible theoretical understandings. One, clearly followed by Cleaver and De Angelis, is that of incorporating the latter aspect of capital in the first, even if they are opposite. In order to force two opposite dialectic aspects into one ‘imposition of work’, the concepts that describe this imposition (work, command, foreman, etc.) must become extremely abstract – as this is the only way to give the same name to opposite situations! For example, if we abstract enough the concept of ‘foreman’, we may argue with De Angelis that the market is the ‘foreman’ of the freelance lorry driver, in the same way as a foreman is for the blue-collar worker. This is true, but in such an abstract way that our theory becomes as useful as Hegel’s notorious black night where all cows are black: if value is produced anyhow; if anything is productive work; if antagonism is anywhere; if anybody who is under the pressure of a foreman even when he is not because the market can be called a foreman; what does all this clarify or explain besides being only a moralistic statement that we are all ‘dominated’ by capital? However, this approach still maintains a criticism of capitalism as a whole and a revolutionary attitude towards bourgeois relations.
But there is a second understanding that is possible once the opposed aspects of capital are not both spelled out: one that takes only one side of the dialectic, and considers capital just in its aspect of despotism, of ‘imposition of work/ coercion/ discipline’. The other side of capital, bourgeois freedom, whose experience is rooted in the freedom to exchange, choose, consume, etc., is simply perceived as a force that potentially opposes the despotism of capital and which is potentially liberatory.
Negri and Hardt seem to have adopted such a vision of capitalism as simply the imposition of a ‘displiplinary regime’ over both the spheres of production and reproduction[ 37]. In Empire they describe the present class struggle as the antagonism between the so called ‘multitude’, a multicultural mass of individuals, who want to be free to ‘flow’, and a despotic power (Empire, or ‘all the powers of the old world’) which tries to impose ‘disciplinary’ local conditions on the proletariat (pp. 212, 213, and 400). They admit that this ‘free flow’ is forced on ‘many’ people by ‘dire circumstances’ and that its effect ‘is hardly liberatory’ in itself (p. 253). Nevertheless for them it is the liberal spirit and the abstract desire for freedom that this ‘free flow’ represents or suggests that what counts: mobility ‘always expresses… a search for liberation… the search for freedom… (p.212; p. 252). Thus for Negri and Hardt migration is ‘a powerful form of class struggle’ (p. 213).
Yes, people want to flow. And the governments try to regulate their flow. Thus flowing seems to be something inherently subversive. But people want to flow where they think they can sell their labour power dearer or, simply and desperately, find any possibility of income even at the price of selling their labour power cheaper[ 38]. With the analysis of De Angelis or Cleaver previously discussed in mind, we would rather understand this flow of the unwaged as imposition of work outside production, and not as something subersive in itself.
The freedom of the labour market underlying the workers’ mobility is in fact a contradictory face of capital, the other face being exploitation, xenophobic harassment, state control, the destruction of traditional peasant production in many areas of the world by the market etc. The same contradictions that arise from the dynamics of capital and from the freedom of the market are thus material preconditions for the constitution of movements of self-organisation and solidarity among the dispossessed. So it is not so much the present blind, random, individualistically spontaneous freedom-to-flow-for-the-sake-of-an-income that has to be celebrated as a ‘powerful’ example of class struggle. Rather we have to celebrate the opposite: the rediscovery of a human reality of direct relations that comes out not from the flow in itself but from the struggles of the migrants[ 39].
Coherently with their uncritical view, the political action of the ‘multitude’ for Negri and Hardt must pivot around the demand for the recognition of civil rights within a system of uncriticised bourgeois freedom. The main demand that should unite the ‘multitude’ against capital is in fact that of the recognition of full citizenship (p. 400) and guaranteed income (p. 403). Crucially, for Negri the moral entitlement to citizenship and guaranteed income lies in the fact that each of us ‘produces’ and contributes with waged or unwaged ‘work’ to the power of capital.
A similar direction is taken by Fortunati. On p. 24 she explains that bourgeois freedom is illusory. And she always uses apostrophes around the words ‘free’ and ‘freedom’. We agree with this, do we? We agree because we know that our bourgeois freedom is one with bourgeois relations mediated by exchange, thus with our fragmentation and with the objectification of our social relations as value and capital and the consequent power of capital over us… Well, forget it. This is not the issue for Leopoldina Fortunati.
In fact, for Fortunati exchange is apparently an existential, universal and ahistorical condition of humanity since the pre-capitalist past: the relation between people in the past was in fact a form of exchange, if not of money for commodities, of ‘work for work’ (e.g. p. 27); and value was the fundamental measure in human relations and a measure of human priorities in every form of society, since as she said, in the past we ‘had value’ insofar we were slaves, thus exchange value. Value as measure of worthiness was a universal and ahistorical feature of humanity! Also, Fortunati calls all interpersonal relations ‘exchanges’ and claims that ‘equal opportunities for exchange’ ‘seem to offer potentially more equal opportunities’ (which appear as something desirable). But, she adds, this freedom of exchange is obstructed and fettered by capital as production. Let us look at this in detail.
For Fortunati it is capital-as-production that shapes the form of the family and obstructs the free relation of exchange among individuals – and it is this (not exchange!) that is the very reason for the fragmentation of individuals within capitalism:
It is this reduction of interpersonal relationships to relations of production (i.e. the family) that underlies the growing isolation of individuals within capitalism. The individual becomes isolated not only from outside society but also from other family members with whom he/she has a relation based on production and not on the individual him/herself. (p. 25)
Capitalist production, which is said to be one with the male-woman relationship in the family, negatively affects other ‘exchanges’, like those between gays, and make their potential for liberation, for an ‘escape’, difficult or in vain:
The development of various alternative exchanges (lesbian, gay male, communal, etc.) seems to offer potentially more equal opportunities for exchange, but at the social level the male/female relationship is so influential that in practice it is difficult to modify or escape from it, to create a more equal relationship between those exchanging (p. 34).
Freedom of choice and exchange, which is the good thing that capitalism offers to ‘each individual’, is illusory only because the family as a nucleus of capitalistic production binds the individuals and limits our ‘real opportunity for individual relationships’ – i.e., limits the perfected bourgeois freedom based on exchange among individuals:
Thus while capitalism… offers each individual great freedom of choice with whom to exchange within the relations of reproduction, it is illusory, because [due to family relations] this ‘freedom’ is matched by minimal real opportunity for individual relations (p. 25). [ 40]
For Fortunati then, ‘capital’ as production is an evil entity that faces us – facing capital’s and the family’s despotism, we, as individuals, strive to develop ‘alternative exchanges’ and look for ‘opportuntinties’ for exchange. Capital wants to control our ‘free’ movements, choices and exchanges in order to compel us to work within authoritarian relations and one of the ways to do this is through the family. This is why ‘freedom’ in our system is illusory! And this is why she puts quote marks round the word!
We may agree on the one hand that the individual freedom offered by capitalism, which is liberatory from the constrains of the past, is the carrot of this system whose stick is production – and none of us would sacrifice our bourgeois freedom to go back to a suffocating Medieval social relation. But on the other hand if we want to make a coherent criticism of capital as production, we cannot and must not avoid considering its aspect of bourgeois freedom, the freedom of exchange, as an integral part of capital and of its power over us. It is wrong to separate the two aspects and oppose production to bourgeois freedom, or assume exchange as an ahistorical condition of life.
Fortunati’s stress on equal opportunity for women and lack of equality between men and women is ambiguous too, since her arguments seem to pivot on the recognition of us as ‘value’ in a moral sense in relation to our role as value or non-value-creating for capital[ 41]. Although admitting that everybody, both men and women, are exploited in capitalism, Fortunati complains that ‘under capitalism men and women are not exploited equally’ (p. 39), and that the housewife is not a ‘value’ within capitalism: ‘ unlike the male worker… [the housewife] is posited as non-value; she cannot obtain money for her work, she receives no wage in exchange… she cannot hold money…’ (p. 37) And that, within the family, the housewife and her husband ‘enter into relation… without equal rights, therefore not equal in the eyes of the law.’ (p. 39). [ 42]
The one-sided vision of capitalism as production, as opposed to the potential real opportunity for equality and freedom of exchange, has consequences when it comes to analysing ‘class struggle’, as a ‘refusal of (any) work’, a refusal to have anything to do with capital as production and despotism, but still within capitalism as far as exchange and consumption of commodities are concerned. In fact for Fortunati a major demand against capital is that housewives should ‘be allowed to consume’ (p. 76) – so major that, in Fortunati’s perception, such a demand ‘would free everyone, not just women, from the iron laws of the production of surplus value’ (p. 76). While production is capital, consumption is something against production and against capital!? Proletarian shopping, as the reclaiming of our ‘right to consume’ without paying is revolutionary indeed – but only within a movement that has consciously put the same concept of bourgeois exchange into the dustbin of history, not one that uncritically retains it!
In Fortunati’s undialectic vision, capital becomes a subject that imposes production and repression on us, who are free from capital if we ‘refuse’ this discipline, if we step ‘outside production’. Capital totally incorporates us insofar as we are labour power and work for it, or we are totally Autonomous from it if we refuse its discipline. Within a view that focuses on the aspect of production and neglects the contradiction of capital as despotism and freedom of exchange, there is a risk of developing an uncritical attitude to what is ‘outside’ production and imposition of discipline. This also appears to be true for Negri. In Pipeline Lettere da Rebibbia Negri praises the rebellious attitude of those who in the ’70s avoided a job in industry to find a niche in petty bourgeois semi-legal activity; and of those who got a second job outside their main job in industry. Negri called this a ‘reinvention of daily life’ (p. 32)[ 43]. Consistent with this, in Empire Negri celebrates ‘dropping outs’ and refusals of work done ‘in every way possible’ (p. 274), without any criticism of context, aim, meanings or outcomes of these dropping-outs.
Fortunati too praises examples of ‘refusal of work’ without any critical insight. On page 146 she says that ‘the fall in the birth rate is in part a direct expression of the refusal of the female housewife to take on the extra housework that children require’. A refusal of having children can have many meanings including being part of an anti-capitalist struggle, but it can also be the result of the naturalisation of bourgeois relations of exchange, and of the domination of value over our lives: millions of women have refused to have children in order to become full-time wage slaves[ 44]. What is interesting is actually to consider how this fact is contradictory for capital, and how these contradictions act within it.
The most noticeable example of Fortunati’s compartmentalised vision of ‘refusal of work’ as struggle-against-capital-by-default is the following: for her the wave of abandonment of children that was caused by the employment of women in large scale industry is as an example of ‘women’s’ indiscipline’ and their ‘refusal… to take on the extra housework that children bring’ (p. 171). Against Marx who called this phenomenon an ‘unnatural estrangement between mother and child’ (p. 172) she launches a feminist attack, since is it not egalitarian to attribute parental affection to women as ‘natural’: ‘here’, she says, ‘Marx himself is blinded by capitalist ideology’ (p. 172). But in her feminist passion, Fortunati does not understand that here Marx speaks about a fundamental feature of capital as alienation: the ontological inversion that makes money everything for the bourgeois individual and the individual as person nothing. When the real need to earn a wage becomes more important for your survival than your own child, capital has completed the ultimate disintegration of society into alien individuals, obstacles to each other’s happiness, submitted to capital as wage earners for all our needs and desires.
Against capital as the unity and opposition of despotism and bourgeois freedom, a revolutionary movement can only challenge both production together with the relations of free exchange, private property, and the whole construction of our dispossession. The process of defetishisation of value and capital is the real abolition of a material social relation, of exchange; and thus the real repossession of the control over our lives, ‘the complete restoration of man to himself as social – i.e. human – being, a restoration which has become conscious'[ 45]. In the struggle direct social relations will necessarily abolish the mediation of social relations through market relations. Only within direct social relations will value be abolished and the real individual, who is himself because of who he is and what he does with the others, and not because of what he has in his pockets, will be confirmed. Only within direct social relations what the individual works towards, i.e. the whole of his conscious activity, will be one with his result. And this is real freedom, because if we desire or dislike something we are really able to consciously work towards achieving it or changing it, since nothing will rule over us despite us and behind our backs.[ 46]
The nature of labour power
The above leads us now straight into the core of Fortunati’s work: her original ‘demonstration’ that housework produces value. In fact, it is not a demonstration, but simply, the declamation of a ‘truth’ based on an initial assumption that labour power is ‘a commodity like any other’ (p. 19). If this is the case, labour power must contain value, as the crystallisation of the abstract labour expended by its producer. Thus the labour of the housewife, the producer of the labour power of the chief wage-earner of the family, must be abstract value and must create value.
There is a general tendency in Autonomist theory to gloss over the nature of labour power as a special commodity different from others. For example in Reading Capital Politically Cleaver treats labour power in the same way as other commodities, (food and energy) without any specification. In fact, after having discussed labour power, he says: ‘let us now turn to food as a commodity and apply the same approach‘ (p. 101). Surely, this does not mean that Cleaver does not know that there are important differences between food and labour power as commodities – it means only that he neglects the relevance of these differences for a ‘political reading’ of Capital.
Fortunati is surely more ‘complex’ than Cleaver. By maintaining that, as far as its content in value is concerned, labour power is like all other commodities, she admits that it is nevertheless a special commodity, but only because:
Its use value is produced and consumed separately from its exchange value; its use value is produced within the process of reproduction and consumed within the process of production; its exchange value is produced within the process of production and consumed within that of reproduction (pp. 78-79).
But this ‘complexity’ does not touch upon the real reason why labour power is a special commodity, and it is precisely in the fact that it cannot contain value as the crystallisation of abstract labour! Let us see why.
In order to exist, capital needs a precondition: the material dispossession of the producers from the means of production. What does this dispossession mean? That I do not have the means to produce what I need. Because our relations are mediated by the market, the way in which our dispossession manifests in our society is precisely the fact that as proletariat we cannot produce value by ourselves, a fact that appears to Fortunati intriguingly contradictory.
Dispossession of the means of production is a specific feature of wage-work relations. In previous modes of production, a shaman or a hunter was one with his herbs or weapons. There was no such a thing as a shaman without her herbs or a hunter without his arrows ‘looking for employment’ because a shaman or a hunter were not under waged-work relations. In capitalism, where the wage-work relation is the base of production, the unity of man and his activity is split into: labour power on the one side and capital (the result of human activity turned against the human) on the other. In contrast to the shaman, a baker without an oven cannot make cakes. The baker has the labour power, the faculty of making cakes, but if the oven is the private property of someone else, the baker’s faculty is suspended in the air. It is useless – unless it is reunited with the oven. But this reunion can be possible only if the capitalist, owner of the oven, hires the baker, and only through this reunion can value be produced. The value that the baker then subsequently produces will belong to the capitalist, the owner of the means of production, as his capital.
This dispossession is even more striking if we think that our same skills are shaped in order to be useful within a capitalist process, and find no reason of existing outside it. Bakery is still an example of a traditional craft, whose skills have been defined within a non-capitalistic context. But if we think, for example, of the skills of working with a computerised spreadsheet, we can understand how tragically our skills are not only useless but even unimaginable without capital.
In a society based on exchange, the fact that our dispossession obliges us to hire ourselves to a capitalist for a wage takes the form of commodity exchange, of a purchase and sale of labour power. This is why labour power is not a commodity like a cake, but just the way our dispossession and our exploitation by the capitalist appears, and the expression of the ontological inversion that makes capital enrichment, knowledge, science, creativity and us the opposite of all this: nothing without capital.[ 47]
This is why saying to the proletariat, as Fortunati does, ‘All right mate, you cannot create value but considering everything, is not the result of your reproduction a commodity and a value? Is not your labour power a commodity like any other?’ means just taking the piss out of our real conditions. The very existence of labour power, of a ‘capacity for producing’ helplessly separated from the possibility of its realisation as production, is one with the very fact that we cannot produce anymore by and for ourselves, but we can produce value only as appendages of capital. It is one with our experience of alienation both in production, in our relation with our products, and in any other activity shaped by capital.
If we want to scream the truth, we have to scream that we are dispossessed, that we cannot create value with our reproduction, and that labour power is not a commodity like any other. These are aspects of the same truth: of our condition as proletariat! The idea that we produce labour power in the same way as the independent baker produces cakes to sell is a petty-bourgeois delusion, and not a contribution to revolutionary theory at all.
Thus Fortunati starts with a mistake, the assumption that labour power is ‘a commodity like any other’, that it must consequently carry some value created by the housewife. Starting from an initial mistake, it is no wonder that a theory is bound to be contradicted by facts: Fortunati’s theory clashes with the fact that the exchange value of labour power does not reflect any housework-created value at all. But for Fortunati, this is not because there must be something wrong in her assumptions, but because of a hidden peculiarity of labour power, that it can contain invisible value.
In fact, for Fortunati, labour power is such that its value and exchange value are related to totally different mechanisms, this giving value the possibility of having invisible contributions that are not reflected in exchange value. While the exchange value of labour power accounts only for the value of the means of subsistence consumed by the worker and his family, the value of labour power can have a contribution on top of this, which represents the abstract labour of housework[ 48]. This extra ‘value’ on the top has no manifestation as exchange value and no representation in terms of money: it is value in an invisible state during the exchange between the worker and the capitalist, i.e. invisible on the labour market[ 49].
This is an important theoretical challenge, which needs to be supported by solid arguments. But the only argument Fortunati brings about is that Marx said that exchange value and value are different concepts. However, she seems to be oblivious that in the same quote Marx says that these values are related, exchange value being the manifestation of value (pp. 82-3).[ 50]
Indeed, the quote by Marx says: ‘With the transformation of the magnitude of value into the price this necessary relation appears as the exchange-ratio between a single commodity and the money commodity which exists outside it… However… the possibility… of a quantitative incongruity between price and magnitude of value… is inherent in the price form itself. This is not a defect but, on the contrary, it makes this form the adequate one for a mode of production whose laws assert themselves as blindly operating averages between constant irregularities’ (p. 83). For Fortunati this means that Marx would agree with her theory – that price could diverge from value for given, mathematically expressible, lumps of invisible value. But Marx did not say this! Marx simply means that price, a real expression of value (i.e. its ‘appearance’), is realised through the blind working of the market, in which prices necessarily fluctuate around value.
There is a tragic misunderstanding here. Fortunati does not realise that for Marx the word ‘appearance’ means ‘being a real expression of an essence’. Grossly misunderstanding this, Fortunati redefines this word in her own way (and uses this interpretation throughout her pamphlet): ‘appearance’ as ‘being an illusion totally unrelated to a hidden reality’. Only with this misunderstanding can she claim that Marx would support her theory and agree that the price of labour power can be an illusion which hides the reality of an invisible value.
While for Marx essence and appearance have a relation, appearance being part of the same reality as essence, in Fortunati’s conspiratorial understanding of capitalism the concept of appearance is banalised into the concept of a simple lie, a curtain that covers a totally different reality, a mystification and a deception by nasty capital. This means that the reality behind an appearance (the value of labour power behind its exchange value in this case) cannot be grasped through the study of this appearance. So how can we know the reality of the value of labour power, the reality behind its price? This can be found only by feminine intuition, which can neglect all the lies and ‘appearances’ of this man-made capitalist world.
The reality of ‘invisible value’
Let us see then how Fortunati proceeds with showing how the ‘reality’ of the invisible value of labour power manifests itself. If this invisible value does not manifest itself in the exchange value of labour power, how and where does it manifest itself then? In the future creation of value.
In fact, according to Fortunati, the invisible value created by the housewife is a ‘value [which] raises the use-value of labour power, use-value being the element which creates value’ (p. 52). What does this mean? In the case of any other commodity than labour power, one would not mix the concept of use value and value of a product (e.g. a cake as a lump of flour, butter, sugar, etc. and its value, expressed by its price). But in the case of the use value of labour power one can be tempted to mix value and use value up because of the particular nature of labour power: that of being the capacity to create value for capital. The use value of labour power is the potential creation of value, thus, the Fortunatean syllogism concludes, if something has the capacity to create value, this something must be value itself. [ 51]
The fact that labour creates value but is not value itself is a fundamental concept to understand capitalism. With the separation of property from labour, labour is posited as ‘not-raw-material, not-instrument-of labour, not-raw-product… [it is] labour separated from all means and objects of labour, from its entire objectivity. This living labour [exists] as an abstraction from these moments of its actual reality (also, not-value); [as] complete denudation… stripped of all objectivity. [It is] labour as absolute poverty: poverty not as shortage, but as total exclusion of objective wealth. Or also as the existing non-value, and hence purely objective use value… labour not as an object, but as an activity; not as itself value, but as living source of value…’ .[ 52]
But for Fortunati if something is able to create value, it is value itself. It is an extra value, whose existence is mystified as non-value by capitalism, and which is created by the housewife. This extra value is real and already existing, in an invisible state, but it needs the work of the husband worker in his workplace to ‘re-transform itself’ into visible value (pp. 95-6).
But if value is the expression of our social relations mediated by things, i.e., mediated by a social relation between our commodities on the market, how can the value of labour power exist and at the same time be invisible on the labour market? And how can the invisible ‘abstract’ labour time of housework be a reality? Fortunati answers: the value of labour power ‘is determined by the time necessary to produce and reproduce it’, because this is ‘like that of any other commodity’ (p.35) Is it? Not at all. The fact that abstract labour time is ‘measured’ by considering labour time is not true for ‘any commodity’ at all! Abstract labour time is not in fact the same thing as the actual labour time, that is the time actually spent doing the work. We can only speak about abstract labour only within a production process which is aimed at exchange, i.e. at the market.[ 53]
So, how can abstract housework be only defined by the quantity of work produced by the houseworker in the privacy of our homes, as she says on page 35? How can we ‘measure’ the abstract labour time of tidying up the house, vacuum cleaning, having sex, totally different concrete works, without a process of abstraction and comparison that can occur only through the market? No market, no production for a market, no abstract value. Fortunati’s idea that abstract housework time can be measured by timing housework is a misconception of what abstract labour time is.
But at the very root of all these theoretical problems there is something wrong in Fortunati’s basic understanding of the same concept of value. On p. 106, in order to demonstrate that reproduction work is value-producing work, she says that ‘despite being individual labour, [reproduction work] is work in its immediate social form, like the work that produces commodities.’ Wrong. Why is this wrong? Value is the manifestation of the way society rewards my work done for others, i.e. my contribution to the total labour of society. Importantly, this ‘reward’ is indirect. Production in capitalism, unlike that in the past, is a private and not immediately social activity, and the social relation among producers is mediated by exchange of the things they produce. Our products, then, engaged in a social relation on the market, acquire the property of possessing value, as something ‘stamped upon them’. Thus the same existence of value is fundamentally related to the fact that our work, which produces commodities, is NOT immediately social. If Fortunati has no clue of the mechanism that produces value, what credit can we give to her weirdest statements about invisible value?
The real issue hidden by the theory of invisible value
The Arcane of Reproduction reproduces the arcane of housework by analysing it in a style that allows more than one interpretation. A first superficial reading is bound to appeal to the liberal feminist reader. It speaks explicitly about the inequality of men and women ‘in the eyes of the law’, or about questions of social power between the proletarian man and woman (p. 39). However, other parts insist that the issue is ‘exploitation’, that it is a Marxian issue.
But let us consider Fortunati’s ‘Marxian’ arguments about the housewife’s ‘exploitation'[ 54]. For Fortunati, this ‘exploitation’ consists in the fact that the necessary labour time of the housewife ‘is calculated only with respect to the male worker’s working day’ (p. 91). This is a bit ambiguous. What does it mean? In Fortunati’s words: ‘the necessary labour time supplied by the male worker already contains the [value of]… the means of subsistence of the female housewife too… [thus she] must, with her work, re-earn [it]’ (p. 93). That is, if the husband’s wage includes the means of the wife’s reproduction, this implies that with her housework the wife works again on top of what has already been earned by her husband during his day of work.
The fact that the housewife must re-earn some money with her work, is not the exploitation based on equal and fair exchange of wage for work that Marx discovered. It is rather an ‘exploitation’ due to the fact that there is something left unpaid, against the sacred bourgeois rules of fair and equal exchange. Exploitation by making people re-earn something, i.e. not paying a full honest wage, not exchanging equivalents, is the bourgeois concept of exploitation that one hears when Nike’s sweatshops are under left liberal criticism.
However, if it is true that Fortunati’s theory reveals that the housewife has to do a second batch of work for nothing after that done by her husband, this would be an interesting discovery anyway. Nobody has ever noticed this before, and we should now wonder whether Fortunati’s theory of invisible value is really fit to expose this bad accountancy of capitalist reward of wages for work. Let us then force ourselves temporarily to adopt Fortunati’s theory and check her own claim, by evaluating the necessary labour time involved in the husband’s wage.
According to the theory, the housewife does some abstract labour, which materialises in her contribution of value (value from housework); and the husband worker does some abstract labour, which results in his contribution of value (value from work). According to Fortunati’s instructions, ‘the two valorisation processes must add up’ (p.89). This means that, if invisible value is not bound to be invisible forever, it must eventually manifest as a contribution in the total value (total value) of the product; or, better, in Fortunati’s words, ‘re-transforms itself’, in the final value created for the capitalist. Thus total value is the sum of the value created by housework and that created by work:
The capitalist, who has never heard of Leopoldina Fortunati, does not know anything about the invisible value . What he thinks is that he has acquired a quantity of value during the day. At the end of the working day, the capitalist gives the wage to his worker. This wage is the money necessary to maintain the worker as worker and his wife as housewife. The capitalist is aware of this necessity, and has to give up part of the value that he gained during the day – let us say for example, one quarter of it. So, the necessary labour time coincides with a quarter of the working day, that is a quarter of . But, since we are temporarily Fortunati, we know that ‘in reality’ is the sum of the two contributions of abstract labour ( ). Thus, even if the capitalist does not see it, we see that the wage actually paid corresponds to necessary labour time, which is one quarter of the abstract labours of both work and housework:
Wage paid = (1/4) x ( ) = necessary labour time.
Now, being Leopoldina Fortunati, I would conclude: ‘The necessary labour time that corresponds to the wage paid to the worker includes the necessary labour time expended by the housewife at home. This means that Leopoldina Fortunati (that is, me) is wrong in claiming that the housewife’s work constitutes a re-earning. Indeed, it is clear from the formulas that the necessary labour time supplied by the housewife does contribute part of the wage, thus her work at home is necessary for this earning and does not amount to a re-earning. It is worth stressing that we have just demonstrated that Fortunati’s own theory contradicts her own claims.
After having enjoyed the above exercise, which showed the inconsistency between Fortunati’s theory and her own claims, let us remember that it was only an exercise, and that we have already argued that housework does not produce value. Is the housewife rewarded or not by capital for her work, then, and if she is in what sense is she? Assuming that the man’s wage covers the reproduction of his whole family, the male worker is paid in consideration of the existence and reproduction of himself as worker, his wife as housewife, and his children as children. In the ‘generosity’ of the capitalist to pay a family wage to the married and father worker, the concrete existence and activity of the housewife is taken into consideration, as well as the concrete existence of the children and their activity. We do not need the elaboration of Fortunati to see that housework is functional to capitalism, and that she, as well as her husband, is paid only for her means of subsistence while capital thrives on their lives.
Although the woman is ‘rewarded’ through her husband’s wage and she is not a waged worker, this ‘reward’ has something in common with the ‘reward’ received by her husband for his work: indeed, both husband and wife receive money for the value of their survival. The condition of the woman may then be discussed in relation to a sound criticism of the wage form. But also in this respect The Arcane of Reproduction is disappointing. When the question of the wage form is considered, Fortunati deploys all her skills of complexification and renders the argument (deliberately?) obscure. For example, we read that:
In production, the elements, which are commodities, appear as such, and the process of production is the process of production; workers are labour power, therefore commodities, but they are also the working class; work is waged work; the exchange is an exchange organised capitalistically; the relation of production is the waged work relation. Thus it is not at this level that capital hides its voracity in the appropriation of value or the violence of exploitation, but at the level of the capital worker relationship, which is in reality a relationship based on the expropriation of surplus value, taking place in an exchange which, while appearing to be one between equals, is in fact an exchange of non-equivalents between non equals (pp. 20-21).
In this ‘complex’ paragraph we learn that it is not at the level of production that capital hides its voracity for value and not in the fact that ‘work is waged work’!? But in an ‘exchange of non-equivalents’, in ‘unfair exchange’. The woman is exploited because her husband’s labour power is exchanged without regard for its invisible value so that ‘the capitalist buys [labour power] below cost’ (p. 84).
Despite Fortunati’s Marxian make-up, at the end of the day her arguments pivot around the criticism of a male-centered society where the capitalist and the worker, i.e. the masculine cross-class side of society, share the tacit assumption that the wage is just the merit of the male worker’s day work. The problem is that it is the husband who cashes the cheque, and the woman is not ‘equal to him in front of the law’ and cannot ‘hold money herself’. Talks of ‘struggle’ are eclipsed behind complaints about economic and legal inequality.
Fortunati’s liberal ‘reality’ behind her Marxian ‘appearance’ seems to be connected with the main problem of the book, highlighted in Section 4 above. Fortunati cannot go beyond theorising an ‘unfair exchange’ because of her initial assumption, that labour power is ‘a commodity like all others’; because she cannot grasp the nature of labour power as a special commodity whose (fair) exchange implies the (unfair) submission of the worker to despotism and alienation. Because she cannot grasp the important dialectic of bourgeois freedom and equality of exchange with bourgeois despotism and exploitation in production. And she cannot see that ‘exchange value or, more precisely, the money system is in fact the system of equality and freedom’ and exploitation is ‘inherent in it… merely the realisation of equality and freedom, which prove to be inequality and unfreedom’. [ 55]
Leopoldina’s Mathematical skills
To finish, let us consider page 98 of The Arcane of Reproduction, which must have undoubtedly inspired the deepest awe in its readers. This page contains the ‘calculation’ of… something. But what? This is a good question indeed. Fortunati introduces these formulas by defining a quantity p’ as ‘the amount of the surplus value supplied in the processes of production and reproduction’ and a quantity P as ‘the average surplus value supplied by the single labour power’ (p. 98) but then she presents a ‘formula’ for a mysterious quantity P’ that has never been introduced at all. The ‘complexity’ of this formula is already brewing in this mysterious introduction. But let us look at how she proceeds:
Besides the clumsy introduction (is P’ equal to p’?) and the confusing use of unnecessary labeling (why n’ instead of n? etc.), in these ‘formulae’ there is something more substantial than just a question of sloppiness. What is written on the right of P’ does not mean anything in mathematical language. What is the relation between the ‘formulae’ on the right of P’, which are just piled up one on the top of the other? What is the relation between the two ‘formulae’ on the bottom right of P’, which seem to be adjacent to each other, with no clear connection? Mathematics is something ‘scientifically true’, black and white, only because, by its own definition and nature, it talks a language that does not leave the reader anything to guess.
But let us also look at the relation between the two ‘formulae’ at the bottom right of P’. They are separated by a mysterious empty space. Again, we are obliged to make a guess, while the founding fathers of mathematics turn in their grave[ 56]. Are perhaps these two formulae multiplied by each other – i.e., is there a missing ‘x’ sign between them? But this would mean that the mysterious quantity P’ would be proportional to the squares of a rate of surplus and the number of workers – which is rather unlikely whatever P’ is, and above all if we have guessed right that P’ is surplus value. On the other hand, the two ‘formulae’ cannot be added, subtracted or equated (+, -, =) to each other either! Indeed, the first of the two ‘formulae’ contains f’ which, as Fortunati says, is value; and (a”/a’) and n’ which are pure numbers: so the first ‘formula’ is value. The second ‘formula’ contains only (a”/a’) and n’, so it is a pure number. Value cannot be added, subtracted or equated to a number[ 57]. So what is this relation between those two ‘formulae’? The only solution of this riddle is: it is an unbelievably bad typo. Probably a whole chunk of formula (= f’ x) has been unwittingly missed between the two ‘formulae’. But this is not just a typo; it is the disappearance of a whole chunk of logical connections. It turns the whole lot into an evident nonsense, and it should have been spotted by the author.
If Fortunati had avoided ‘formulae’, not only would she have avoided embarrassment for their mismanagement, but she would also have missed nothing in her arguments. In fact, this use of mathematics is only a rhetorical exercise. Let us consider the logic of this formulaic mess: she claims she wants to ‘calculate’ the total surplus value supplied to the capitalists by both workers and housewives. In order to do this, she just takes the known expression for the rate of surplus value and feeds her invisible labour quantities into it. This is like claiming to be able to control a magic force M, and then, in order to convince people to believe in its existence, show them the law of Newton (F = ma; the force applied to a body of mass m is equal to its acceleration multiplied by its mass) as:
(F + M) = ma
The use of a formula here does not add anything to my claim of the existence of the magical force M, and does not tell the readers how to measure it. It also does not affect the acceleration a, if we define F to be such to give the correct acceleration if added to M. In practice, this ‘formula’ has the only aim of giving my statements some respectful ‘mathematical’ decoration. Of making my readers say: ‘If it is in a formula, it must be true!’
However, formula 1 looks still too readable and it is not intimidating enough. In order to sort this out, I can do a bit of cut-and-paste and here you go:
(F+M) (F+M’) x
ma = (2)
+F F’ x(F+M)
This is much more complex, thus more authoritative, and scary enough to deter any criticism of my magic force. [ 58]
When it comes to ‘mathematical’ demonstrations, going fuzzy seems to be a general feature of the Autonomist tradition. Cleaver in Reading Capital Politically, page 123, offers us a brilliant example of the use of mathematics in order to complicate and even contradict, what he says in plain words. Discussing the contribution of the housewife to capital’s profits, Cleaver correctly argues that housework serves to lower the value of labour power, thus increasing the value pocketed by the capitalist as surplus. This is clear, and an interesting point. But then he tries to express this point with the following unfortunate ‘formula’:
How do we read this ‘formula’? The cycle of production of capital, which is the second line, says that at the beginning of a cycle the capitalist invests money (M) to buy some labour power (LP) and some means of production (MP); then the worker produces (P), and the outcome of production is a new commodity C’, which is worth more value and is exchanged for a higher sum of money (M’) than the one initially invested. This cycle repeats. The extra money, cycle by cycle, is pocketed by the capitalist as surplus value.
In correspondence to the cycle of production, there is a cycle of reproduction (first line). Let us read it step by step. At the beginning of the cycle (day 1 of work), the worker sells to the capitalist the labour power LP for a quantity of money M. With this money, the family buys their means of subsistence C(MS). Then the worker’s wife does some housework (P). After the housework is done, the worker finds himself to be in possession of the labour power LP*. Cleaver states: LP* is different from LP and it is worth less. This means that the labour power that the worker has after his wife’s work is worth less than the labour power he sold to the capitalist the day before. Fortunately this is not very bad for him because in the next cycle (day 2 of work), he is able to rip off the capitalist, and apparently sell LP* for the same amount of money M he had received the day before when he sold LP, although LP* is worth less… Of course, all this is just ludicrous and if Cleaver had left this ‘formula’ out his arguments about housework would have been clearer.
Cleaver’s ‘formula’ also confirms the general and unavoidable curse of housework: that of having always to contribute to capital valorisation in an invisible way – no matter how much one twists mathematics, this value seems to be just unable to appear in numbers, black and white! The second line in the formula, i.e. the cycle of production, confirms that for the capitalist nothing has changed from day 1: on day 2, he buys the same labour power LP as the day before, whatever the amount of work done by the housewife, and he is apparently unaware of LP*, which does not play any role in the cycle of production.
As we said in the Introduction, the present critique of The Arcane of Reproduction was principally aimed at commenting on a few questions that have been central in the Autonomist tradition:
- Does reproductive work (and in general any work outside the sphere of production) create value?
- Is the whole society a large factory where any work or activity not only produce value but are also organised as waged work?
- Can we see class relation in capitalism as the antagonism between capital, i.e. a subject that merely wants to impose (work) discipline, and the working class?
In Section 1 we explored the reasons behind the Autonomist argument that work outside the sphere of production creates value. We showed that this ‘quest’ for value is consistent with the Autonomist subjectivist reading of Marx’s categories, e.g. value and abstract labour: if value and abstract labour have immediate meanings in terms of subjective antagonism with capital, they may be extended to explain the struggles of the unwaged: the unemployed, students, etc.
Starting from Fortunati’s claim that the family is a hidden factory organised ‘capitalistically’, in Section 2 we explored the Autonomist thesis that all waged and unwaged work is organised by capital as in an extended factory. We acknowledged that this theorization has a moment of truth – it is true that capital tends to impose the discipline of waged work onto unwaged activity. It is true that this can explain the antagonism of the unwaged. It is also true that any disruption of reproduction or circulation is a disruption of the workings of capital as a whole – thus struggles outside the workplace can be effective against capital. However, this does not necessarily mean, nor requires as a precondition, that unwaged work must create value.
In Section 3 we discussed the way in which capital imposes ‘discipline’ on unwaged activity. We considered the dialectical interplay of capital’s despotism within the workplace and bourgeois exchange, which regulates the division of labour and defines the horizons for individual choice and possibility in society. We stressed that bourgeois freedom and equality and capital’s despotism are two sides of the same coin.
In Section 4 we argued that The Arcane of Reproduction lacks this dialectical understanding. We quoted a few sentences, among many, which suggest that freedom, equality (and Bentham) are illusory in capitalism only because they are constrained by despotism and distorted by unequal exchange – an old Proudhonian idea. There is no clear attempt to explore the role of bourgeois freedom of exchange and value in capital’s rule – instead, the centrality of exchange and value in human relations is uncritically assumed as natural and ahistorical. We found a similar one-sidedness in Negri and Hardt. In Empire the authors dream about ‘republicanism’, and claim that ‘a kind of spontaneous and elementary communism’ is possible on the basis of the already existing wealth of individual freedom and productive creativity[ 59]. And they denounce capital’s imposition of discipline and control over this freedom and creativity. All this means is to theorise only one possible freedom or creativity: the only ones defined within the bourgeois relations as given. [ 60]
Section 5 went to the core of Fortunati’s own theory in The Arcane of Reproduction, i.e. that labour power is ‘a commodity like all others’ thus it must contain value as the crystallisation of abstract labour of housework. We disagreed and argued that in wage-work relations labour power is sold as a commodity, but it is a special commodity, different from all others – this difference exposes the inequality inherent in the wage-work relation. We argued that conceptualising labour power as ‘a commodity like all others’ and thinking that we all produce value means to conceptualise society as being made up of independent producers: producers of cakes, producers of labour power… and we felt that this betrayed a petty bourgeois delusion. In general, we noticed a common tendency in Autonomist Marxism to consider within the same theoretical framework labour power and other commodities (e.g. energy and food); or a tendency to conflate the despotism of the foreman on the waged worker with the pressure of the market on the independent producer. [ 61]
In Section 6 we discussed the nature of value and abstract labour and showed that Fortunati’s understanding of these concepts is fundamentally flawed. In general, one may be tempted to widen Marx’s original concept of value in order to embrace both waged and unwaged work (students, housewives…), or both productive and unproductive work (financial, advertising industry…), within the same ‘theoretical framework’. However, it is questionable that ‘labeling’ everything that happens under the sun of capital as ‘production of value’ is a useful way of explaining how capital works and dominates.[ 62]
In fact, the Autonomist attempt to ‘valorise’ all activity tends to mix up a moral conception of ‘valorisation’ with an economic one. The claim of a social reward which society supposedly ‘owes’ the unwaged because of some alleged role in ‘producing value’ is part of a tradition of struggles of the unemployed and housewives of the ’70s which confronted their States and ended up demanding social support from them. This tradition has survived in some theorists who belonged or still belong to the Autonomist tradition[ 63]. As we discussed earlier, in Empire the claim that unwaged work creates value is explicitly aimed at justifying moralistically the demand for a ‘reward’, a ‘citizen’s wage’, for the unwaged.
The Arcane of Reproduction contributes to this tendency and theorises that housewives are denied recognition of social and economic status within the present social relations as producers of ‘value’. She cannot imagine any reality beyond that offered by bourgeois relations and cannot think or claim anything beyond this restricted horizon. This is why she claims that demanding that the housewife be ‘allowed to consume’ or praising parents’ practice in giving pocket money to children is ‘very anti-capitalist’![ 64]
As it was discussed throughout this article, some authors within the Autonomist Marxist tradition still retain a criticism of the commodity form, e.g. De Angelis and Cleaver. While it was important to consider that Fortunati shares themes and jargon with these authors, it was also necessary to stress their differences.[ 65]
Only a few words about Fortunati’s style and methodology. Fortunati’s ‘dense’ style is one of the main reasons for our disappointment as readers. A text intended to present a new theory should have the quality of rigour, a quality that this pamphlet does not have. What can we make of her theory if we read one thing on one page and the opposite on the next? In fact we showed that Fortunati’s convoluted style actually hides contradictions and the lack of conceptual clarity in her content.
If readers are not intimidated enough by Fortunati’s style, they will surely be by her methodology. Fortunati’s analysis starts with an axiom, a ‘truth’, which the reader has to accept without arguments or justifications for it: ‘labour power is a commodity like all others, contained within the person of the worker’. This ‘truth’ and its ‘logical’ consequences contradict facts and previous theories, but this does not mean that there is something wrong – only that those facts are ‘apparent’ and those theories are ‘misconceived’ – she says with an authoritative tone which does not admit reply[ 66]. The result of this methodology is a ‘new theory’ which needs plenty of suspended disbelief because it is at odds with reality, theories, logic, common sense, or concrete experience. This methodology explains the… arcane of all the ‘complexities’ that Fortunati seems to find in her subject matter page by page[ 67]. Indeed, even very simple facts become ‘extremely complex’ if they are analysed through a theory that is at odds with reality and which has rejected theories previously devised to explain reality straightforwardly.
So then, does housework create value, or not? We have seen in the previous sections that the answer is: no. Housework does not produce commodities, and the labour involved in it cannot be abstracted and measured as abstract labour, as a contribution to value. But we have also seen the value supposedly created by housework cannot be pinned down anywhere.
In the TV comedy The Fast Show which was popular in UK at the end of the ’90s one of the sketches was a studio interview, where a journalist invited an explorer to talk about a discovery he had made, of a monster in the wild. But, question by question, the explorer reveals that he did not see the monster because it was invisible; that the monster made a terrifying silence; and that it did not leave traces because it hovered about. At this point the journalist gets up in anger and chases the explorer out of the studio. Fortunati’s invisible value, which does not manifest itself on the market, which floats in the air, and that needs to be created again by the husband worker during the process of production while it had allegedly already been created by his wife in the process of reproduction, has exactly the same qualities of the Fast Show’s monster: i.e., if it is really there or not, if you swear about its existence or not, it does not make any difference in the world.
1) Leopoldina Fortunati, The Arcane of Reproduction, New York, Autonomedia, 1995. [return to text]
2 Today, when both husband and wife are supposed to work, the wife often works as well as doing most of the housework at home. For the sake of non-‘complexity’, we assume here that the housewife is a ‘pure housewife’ and that the family is formed by husband and wife, unless stated, since this does not alter the nature of our issue (value and reproduction). [return to text]
3) Selma James’s introduction in Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community, Bristol, Falling Wall Press, 1972. All emphasis in all the quotes are ours. [return to text]
4) It is noticeable that, however, in the course of her pamphlet, Fortunati’s challenge is carried out with a certain caution. Here and there Fortunati seems to admit that the work of reproduction is only a precondition for future value production: ‘the surplus value produced within the process of reproduction posits itself as a precondition… of the surplus value produced within the process of reproduction’ (p. 102). And she seems to admit that value is actually created by the labour actually expended in production by the worker husband: ‘[reproduction] work transforms itself into capital only if the labour power that contains the housework surplus value is consumed productively within the process of production’ (p. 103). [return to text]
5) ‘It is [the whole family] that constitute the necessary nucleus for the production and reproduction of labour power. This is because the value of labour power, like that of any other commodity, is determined by the time necessary to produce and reproduce it. Hence the total work supplied by the work subjects in this nucleus constitutes the necessary work time for its reproduction.’ (p. 19) Or on page 23: ‘Given that [labour power] is a commodity, its reproduction must therefore be subject to the general laws governing commodity production, which presupposes an exchange of commodities.’ Or on page 158: ‘Reproduction functions as another process of commodity production. As such it is a process complete in itself and, like the others, one in which work is divided into necessary and surplus labour’ (p. 158). The fact that housework produces value, or is an expenditure of abstract labour time, is in these sentences the ‘logical consequence’ of the initial assumption that labour power is ‘a commodity like all others’. [return to text]
6) Or in her words, housework ‘appears’ as ‘the creation of non-value’ (p.10). [return to text]
7) ‘When selling their labour power on the capitalist market, the individuals cannot offer it as the product of their work of reproduction, as value, because they themselves… [have no] value.’ (29, p.11). [return to text]
8) Less crude than Fortunati, years before, Mariarosa Dalla Costa appreciated the importance of internalisation of the housewife role in the housewife, an internalisation that has material roots in her real social relations within society and can be broken down only through the material involvement in the struggle. It is a fact that the ones who really check the quality of housework are the woman’s female friends and relatives, not the husband! [return to text]
9) Cleaver: http://www.eco.utexas.edu/Homepages/Faculty Cleaver/ 387LautonomistMarxism.html (2002).
Dalla Costa: http://www.commoner.org.uk/dallacosta06a.doc (written after 1996). [return to text]
11) pp. 8; 9; 14 (three times); 15 (twice); 20; 22; 33; 34; 41; 47; 59; 55; 57 (three times); 91; 108 (three times): 109 (twice); 128 (twice, one of which is ‘extremely complex’). [return to text]
12) Harry Cleaver, Reading Capital Politically, Anti/Theses, AK Press, 2000, p. 84. About Cleaver’s allegiance to the issues and the spirit of Wages for Housework see also his reply to our ‘From Operaismo to Autonomist Marxism’, Aufheben #11, http://www.eco.utexas.edu/factstaff/cleaver/AufhebenResponse2.pdf, p. 54. [return to text]
13) See previous footnote. [return to text]
14) Capital and Class 57, Autumn 1995, pp.107-134. [return to text]
15) As quoted in Anonimo Milanese, Due Note su Toni Negri, Renato Varani Editore, Milan, 1985, our translation. [return to text]
16) Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire, Harvard University Press, London, 2000. [return to text]
17) We do not deal with prostitution for simplicity’s sake, but it is important here to stress that Fortunati’s assimilation of housework and prostitution is not a straightforward task and requires a whole article of critique in itself. [return to text]
18) Unlike De Angelis and Fortunati, Cleaver prefers to remain ambiguous on this crucial point. In another part of his book, he just suggests that the work outside production ‘counts as surplus value’ in the social factory. (p. 84) This is not the same as saying that this work creates value, because a work that reduces the cost for the capitalist even without creating value can be accounted as higher surplus value for the capitalist. [return to text]
19) This can be seen as a reaction to the equally moralistic approach within the old workers’ movement and especially within Stalinism which celebrated and prioritised the importance of productive workers as ‘real’ workers against the parasitism or lack or relevance of unproductive labour. An extreme of this was the Stakhanovist glorification of work in Russia. [return to text]
20) For a similar critique of Autonomist Marxist subjectivism see our review article on Midnight Oil, Aufheben #3, Summer 1994. [return to text]
21) In Reading Capital Politically, page 118, Cleaver says that such a categorisation would involve a political categorization of workers into ‘real’ workers and others. [return to text]
22) For Negri, the detaching of the dollar from gold in the years 1971-3 was the beginning of a new world dominated directly by a law of command. This change, as Negri says in Pipelines, Lettere da Rebibbia, (p. 132) consists in the fact that: ‘the dollar is now the ghost of [Nixon’s] will, the whimsical and hard reality of [his] power’. This change, Negri says, indicated a new phase of accumulation at a world level where ‘the vetero-Marxist law of value is over; now the ”law of command” rules… The subjection of value to the dollar, of life to the American diktat… [means that] the economic crisis now are dictated by command‘. [return to text]
23) Pity that this postmodern world looks too much like capitalism to justify the abandonment of Marx’s theory! [return to text]
24) Likewise, Harry Cleaver maintains that society today is ‘one great social factory’ where ‘all activities would contribute to the expanded reproduction of the system’. And where even leisure is shaped by capital so that what we may do for our own recreation serves to reproduce us as workers for capital, i.e. as labour power (pp. 122-123). Similarly, for De Angelis today ‘capitalist work… can be imposed in a variety of different forms including, but not limited to, the wage form’ (p. 122). [return to text]
25) Abstract labour is the other aspect of labour and it has also a role in class antagonism, as it manifests itself as the wealth and power of our employer and in capital (the world of money), alien and hostile to us; and it is related to the exertion of concrete labour by concretising itself as the capital that imposes it – but it is not the same as the concrete labour, the labour that we experience as boredom and pain. [return to text]
26) Likewise, Negri in Empire criticises the family wage as it allows capital to control the wife through the husband as a mediator (p. 403). [return to text]
27) For the great confusion made by Fortunati in this subject see the Conclusions. [return to text]
28) For an interesting discussion on capitalist temporality see Moishe Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination (Cambridge University Press, 1996). [return to text]
29) It is important to notice that, in order to demonstrate that activities or work outside production create value, De Angelis looks at their concrete aspects (that cause pain and boredom). Fortunati likewise often looks at concrete aspects of housework and/or prostitution in order to argue their role in value creation – for example, she assimilates housework and prostitution because of the fact that they share the concrete sexual act; or she looks at concrete activities of the housewife in her ‘working day’. Is however looking at the concrete aspect of work in order to deduce its aspect as abstract labour a deeper insight in Marxist theory, or a theoretical mistake? In order to understand whether a work creates value, which is an abstraction, a manifestation of our social relations, should we not abstract from its concreteness and consider its role in a mechanism that mediates our social relations? [return to text]
30) And she adds that if the real nature of the system of reproduction as a factory were made explicit the entire system of reproduction would fall into a crisis (p. 114). [return to text]
31) ‘Smiling at parents’ is the most utterly ridiculous example of ‘work’ done for capital within the family as a ‘labour-power-factory’. In Fortunati’s words: ‘even a newly born child reproduces its parents at a non-material level… when it smiles for example… producing a large quantity of use-value for its parents.’ (p. 128). [return to text]
32) Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, in Early Writings, London: Penguin Books, 1975 p. 378. [return to text]
33) Housework keeps the cost of labour power low, especially if the housewife is encouraged to employ ‘home economic’ means to get the most (commodities) out of the family income. The employment of ‘home economics’ is understood by Harry Cleaver as work, or discipline, imposed on women by capital in order to increase the surplus rate of profit (Cleaver, op. cit., pp. 122-3). But this interpretation neglects the fact that the housewife sees the need for saving money as something that she freely does ‘in her own interest’. Indeed, in bourgeois society what is experienced as free will is something paradoxical, because we really do experience this freedom, but this same freedom is one with the capital domination of our life through the market. Calling this mechanism a ‘blackmail of the market’, or the imposition of a coerced work, as De Angelis and Cleaver do, does not help to demistify the ‘mystery’ behind the commodity form and value, their apparent naturalness. [return to text]
34) Commodity fetishism is not an illusion or an ideological mystification but something having a material reality: ‘To the producers… the social relations between their private labours appear as what they are, i.e. they do not appear as direct social relations between persons in their work, but rather as material relations between persons and social relations between things’ (Marx, Capital, London: Penguin Classics 1990, pp. 165-166.) About this important point see for example Geoffrey Pilling, Marx’s Capital, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980, pp. 169-173. [return to text]
35) An extreme case of an unwaged ‘work’ subsumed by capital is the way the so-called ‘Anti-Social Behaviour Orders’ (ASBOs) are enforced by the UK State against youngsters who graffiti or roam in the gardens of their neighbours and knock on their doors. Enforcing these orders, which means sending a child to jail, would be economically impossible for the UK State. The State cannot afford to pay the police to monitor twelve year olds hassling their neighbours: the only way the ASBOs are enforced is through the collaboration of neighbours, who then ‘work’ for the State as guards and police for free. They do this to protect their private property. Sure there is a blackmail behind their unwaged work: the imposition of the commodity form makes everybody dependent on the little private property they own, and this divides the class and fragments the proletariat into individuals, enemies of each other and loyal to the bourgeois order. But (unfortunately) this blackmail is subjectively felt as a ‘natural’ condition, not as coercion, and it would not induce antagonism in ‘alienated workers’, who are ‘coerced’ in this ‘boundless’ job. [return to text]
36) These two opposite aspects of capitalism are discussed by Marx in Capital (op. cit., pp. 470-480). [return to text]
37) For example on p. 248 they say that the history of the modern era (‘modernity’) is basically substantiated by ‘imposition of discipline’ – a concept that is theoretically not well defined, but emotionally attractive to the intellectual (liberal) reader. Money is a tool to impose discipline too: the monetary mechanisms, they complain on page 346, ‘are the primary means to control the market’. Should we be really morally outraged along with Negri and Hardt that the market is controlled by a despotic mechanism, or is it more intelligent to consider how the whole system of power in capitalism is rooted in free relations of exchange? [return to text]
38) While Negri and Hardt make a distinction between the ‘freedom’ of this flow and the market, this distinction is based on the fact that, unlike the free flow, the market is ‘dominated by capital’ and ‘integrated’ into the logic of its ‘imperialist command’ (p. 363). But, as we explain in the main text, it is the ideally pure freedom of the market (the same freedom that is behind the ‘free flow’) that what substantiates the opposite of freedom, the despotic side of capital – thus the distinction made by Negri and Hardt hides their uncritical attitude towards bourgeois freedom and bourgeois values which we discuss in the main text. [return to text]
39) Negri and Hardt admit that their so celebrated celebrated mass mobility is ‘still… a spontaneous level of class struggle’ (p. 213-214); however, they cannot think of a future struggle in which this magic spontaneity is abandoned and where we will gain direct and conscious control over the world and ourselves . The only way for them of thinking of an organised struggle that still preserves the spontaneity of the masses is that of theorising the necessity of ‘a force’ capable of drawing from the’ destructive capacities and desires’ of the multitude and organising the struggle. This in a sense is the theorisation of a separation that we want to overcome in a revolutionary movement and it is for us as exciting as… Leninism. [return to text]
40) In Fortunati’s jargon, ‘freedom to whom to exchange’ implies sexual freedom, but this is related to an economic concept of exchange. So what Fortunati really means here is: ‘the form of the family does not allow us to swap partners freely as soon as we find a potential for a more profitable exchange’. By saying this Fortunati equates marriage or sexual partnership with a simple economic transaction, a job contract, not dissimilar in this from bourgeois philosophers, such as Kant! (See for example pp. 57-67) Thus the idea of sexual liberation is here one with the idea of a perfectly liberal economic market for human relations. Notice also that Fortunati’s jargon (‘equal relationship’, ‘real opportunity’, ‘freedom with whom to exchange’) can be easily shared by an American Express top manager. [return to text]
41) Marx says that ‘the more value [the worker] creates, the more worthless he becomes’ (Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, op. cit., p. 325), but he means that in capitalism the dispossessed are worth nothing when a question of choice or priority is considered, not that, in the transition from pre-capitalist to capitalist modes of production he has lost some (monetary) value! Rather, precisely in the fact that in capitalism value becomes everything and we become nothing (unless we are worth some exchange value, or better, unless we have exchange value in our pockets) Marx sees the ontological inversion of capital to humans. By complete contrast, Fortunati uncritically accepts the bourgeois concept of a human value which is embodied and expressed by exchange value, to the extent to claim that the individual in capitalism has lost the (money) value he was worth when he was a slave – because, at least then he had value by being a commodity! This (mad) idea assumes that commodity relations are the only imaginable human relations and that (exchange) value is ahistorically pivotal in human life. By assuming this Fortunati does the same ‘Robinsonade’ that Marx criticised in the classical political economists which amounts to a covert assumption of the naturalness of the present social relations. [return to text]
42) Before saying this, she quotes Marx, who speaks about the formal equality of the worker and the capitalist in front of the law in the sphere of circulation, but it escapes from Fortunati’s understanding that Marx wants to highlight the paradox of bourgeois equality and freedom, not to make an apology of it. [return to text]
43) A ‘Milanian Anonymous’ ultra left pamphlet criticises Negri’s assumption of working class ‘Autonomy’ by considering uncritically the ‘immediate subjectivity… of the individual as immediately given‘ within the conditions imposed in capitalism. Thus as they say for Negri ‘Autonomy’ and ‘self-valorisation’ of the individual are considered within the limits of what exists, ‘for his ”free” submission to the capitalist society’. (Anonimo Milanese, op. cit. pp. 64-65, our translation). [return to text]
44) Against the trend for women flooding on to the labour market any appeal to traditional values and moralism cannot work on its own. This is why the right-wing party Forza Nuova has to take into consideration the reality of commodity fetishism and propose a wage for housework in order to counter-balance the attractiveness of a proper wage. Their political manifesto says: ‘Proposals at the legislative level: … the demographic growth must be encouraged with subsidies for every child and with further subsidies for the families with more children… female housework must be paid with a family checque, to discourage work outside home.’ (http://www.tmcrew.org/mw4k/antifa/fn.htm, our translation). [return to text]
45) Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, op. cit. p. 348, punctuation slightly changed. [return to text]
46) This does not mean that one should not recognise liberal struggles (as well as struggles in the workplaces limited to higher wages) as being expressions of the contradictions of capitalism and containing potentials for development beyond the conditions that cradled them; but one needs to understand both the contradictions that give rise to these struggles and the inner contradictions of these struggles. [return to text]
47) See Karl Marx Capital, Chapters 14 and 15, for the ontological inversion of man and capital realised first with rationalisation in manufacture and later perfected with large-scale industry. [return to text]
48) ‘The magnitude of value [of labour power] is greater than the sum of values of the commodities used to produce it… i.e.. its exchange value’ (p.84). [return to text]
49) When the worker sells his labour power to the capitalist, ‘the housework process [which creates this value] passes over to the capitalist leaving no visible trace‘. (p. 97) [return to text]
50) ‘The fact that the magnitude of the value of labour power is not fully represented by its exchange value is not surprising because the value of a commodity is expressed in an independent manner throughout its representation as exchange value’ (p. 82). [return to text]
51) ‘While the use value of other commodities cannot constitute the measure of their value… in the case of labour power it is its…use-value that constitutes the measure of its value’ – she says on p.81. [return to text]
52) Karl Marx, Grundrisse, London: Penguin Books, 1993, pp. 295-6. [return to text]
53) As Marx found in his analysis of capital, value (and abstract labour as well) is social since it is inseparable from the nature of the commodities and of the nature (aim) of their production: ‘I call this commodity fetishism which attaches itself to the products of labour as soon as they are produced as commodities… This fetishism arises from the peculiar character of the labour which produces them.’ (Marx, Capital, op. cit., p. 165). [return to text]
54) Which she presents against the accusation of ‘double counting’ labour in her theory (p. 93). [return to text]
55) Karl Marx, Grundrisse, op. cit. pp. 248-249. [return to text]
56) 25,000 Mhz. [return to text]
57) The question: ‘How many apples do I have if I add one apple to five apples?’ makes sense. The question: ‘What do I have if I add five apples to five‘ does not make any sense. In order to add, subtract or equate two quantities, they must be quantities of something homogeneous. [return to text]
58) All we have available to us is the English version of The Arcane of Reproduction. We assume that it reflects the original Italian version. [return to text]
59) Negri and Hardt, Empire, op. cit. p. 294. They quote Spinoza to support this bourgeois dream of an ideally free civil society. [return to text]
60) This does not mean to dismiss struggles that may start in order to defend rights of freedom and equality, as well as struggles that may start in order to demand a higher wage – but we cannot be but disappointed by ‘revolutionary’ or ‘anti-capitalist’ theories that cannot criticise the present social relations. [return to text]
61) This does not mean to dismiss threat, stress and potential antagonism that industrial capital competition implies for the petty bourgeoisie. [return to text]
62) ‘This formalism… imagines that it has comprehended and expressed the nature and life of a form when it has endowed it with some determination of the schema as a predicate. The predicate may be subjectivity or objectivity, or say, magnetism, electricity… contraction and expansion, east or west, [value/non value creation], and the like… In this sort of circle of reciprocity one never learns what the thing itself is… In such a procedure, sometimes determinations of sense are picked up from everyday intuition [or political-theoretical jargon], and they are supposed of course to mean something different from what they say; something that is in itself meaningful…’ [Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, Preface, Oxford Paperbacks, p. 29, our adjustments in square brackets]. [return to text]
63) For example, De Angelis, who theorises that any coerced, waged or unwaged work creates value, is also a keen supporter of the demand ‘that all of us receive a guaranteed income which is sufficient to meet basic needs’ and which ‘pays the invisible work of students’ and other low waged and unwaged proletarians so that everybody ‘have less pressure and more time to think for themselves and imagine different ways of being’ (http://www.eco.utexas.edu/~hmcleave/wk1raddem.html). The idea of sharing the world with capitalism while creating bubbles of ‘different ways of being’, which is the theme of the conference Life Despite Capitalism, (London School of Economics, 16-17 October 2004) is in De Angelis’s quote above expressed as ‘imagining different ways of being’ – Aufheben cannot but agree with this. Indeed, we think that only when capitalism is subverted and new social relations are established we will be able to create a different way of being that is not…imaginary!! [return to text]
64) A striking ambiguity is Fortunati’s claim that the children’s demand for economic support from their parents in the form of pocket money is ‘a very anti-capitalist idea’ because ‘the children earn [this money] solely in virtue of the fact that they exist as individuals and not because they are active as labour powers’ (pp. 141-2). In fact, children will get money from their parents not because they are free individuals, but because they are elements of the direct relationship of the family, which is not a relation among free individuals. Free individuals are so free to let each other freely starve, unless they exchange – and this does not apply to the children in a family. While on the one hand Fortunati complains all the time about the illiberal relation of the family for obstructing our perfected ‘freedom to exchange with whom we want’, it is precisely the form of the family that grants a right to the children to extract money out of the pockets of their parents with nothing in exchange! If this is anti-capitalist, it is in virtue of the clash between capitalism and an archaic form of social relationship, in the same sense that the Christian concept of giving charity to the undeserving poor is… very anti-capitalist too indeed. On the other hand, the form of parental support as pocket money, unlike that in form of directly providing the child what he needs, is a very capitalist form which the archaic relation of parents and children assumes in capitalism! Indeed, modern parents feel the importance of teaching their children ‘the value of money’ by giving them money, not use values. This obliges the children to think about budgeting and to take up jobs outside home if they go above budget beyond their parents’ economic possibilities – which is the necessary training to accept the conditions of life imposed by the commodity form, including the curse of being in waged work for the rest of their life, as the natural and only possible way of living. [return to text]
65) There are also differences between Fortunati and Dalla Costa. In The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community, Dalla Costa sees the demand of wages for housework as a useful way to build up a struggle – but the real aim of housewives’ struggle, she says correctly, is to develop new social relations, to challenge the present ones, which substantiate the housewives’ self-identification with their roles, and their isolation. Fortunati, instead, merely limits herself to demand better economic and social status for women in terms of a bourgeois definition of status: more money, more consumption, a reduction of housework hours, and a wage for the houseworker (See also Polda Fortunati, ‘The Housewife’, in All Work and No Pay, Women, Housework, and the Wages Due, (1974) Ed. Wendy Edmond and Suzie Fleming, London: Power of Woman Collective and Falling Wall Press, pp.13-19). [return to text]
66) For example, she denounces ‘errors’ (p.73); ‘misunderstandings’ (pp. 73, 80, 81); ‘lack of clarity’ (p. 91); ‘misconceptions’ (p. 59); ‘blindness’ (p. 91); ‘misplaced assumptions’ (p. 59); ‘general confusion’ and ‘erroneous theories’ (p. 116), etc. in all the history of Marxist thought previous to Fortunati. [return to text]
67) Fortunati also posits the ‘existence’ of a social relation of wage-work for the housewife, which ‘appears otherwise’ too, because it is mystified by the mediation of the husband, who acts as an ‘agent’ of capital. Again, the existence of this invisible wage-work relation is declared and sustained although it clashes with facts: every feature of family relations which does not fit with wage-work relations or productive work is declared to be a ‘specific’ feature of this particular wage relation, or of this particular production. See for example p. 105; p. 129; p. 139; or p. 157. [return to text]