Patriarchy: The Crucial Role of Women’s Unpaid Labor Under Capitalism

Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour

by Maria Mies

Zed Books (2014 edition)

Book Review

In this 1986 classic, Mies challenges Marx’s description of the unpaid labor of women (childrearing, care of the sick and elderly, housekeeping and subsistence agriculture, handicrafts and firewood and water collecting in the Third World) as part of their “natural” function. In doing so, she provides the first comprehensive economic analysis of patriarchy.

While Marx and Engels readily acknowledge that capitalism oppresses women, they overlook the fact it also exploits them via the massive amount of free labor it makes them provide. According to Mies, it’s only this unpaid labor, which Mies refers to as super-exploitation, that makes wage labor exploitation possible.

Super-exploitation of Women and Colonies Finances Capitalist Expansion and War

She compares the super-exploitation of women under patriarchy to the super-exploitation that occurs under colonization. Both are intimately associated with violence, and both increase during the periods of rapid capital accumulation, which are necessary to finance capitalist expansion and war.

Violence and the Sexual Division of Labor

Based on modern anthropological research, Miles also offers a much clearer explanation of how the sexual division of labor arose, as well as its intimate link with violence. Citing numerous studies, she shows how women’s childrearing role made them them responsible for most food production in primitive societies (80% in hunter gatherer societies). Women also developed the first tools – namely baskets and pots for storing grain.

Popular culture places much more emphasis on the tools invented by men – weapons – and their use in hunting. Current anthropological evidence suggests they played a much bigger role in raiding other tribes to kidnap and enslave women (over time men were also enslaved), both for procreation and their food producing capacity.

Witchcraft Trials, Colonization, Mass Enslavement and the Rise of Capitalism

With the rise of capitalism, violence against both women and colonies (to compel their free labor) significantly increased. The pervasive witchcraft trials (and land confiscations) that began in the late 15th century, accompanied by the violent enslavement of New World colonies and Africans, would create the massive capitalist accumulation required for full scale industrial development.

Why Violence Against Women is Increasing

Mies also provides an eloquent analysis – linked to the intensification of capital accumulation – for the global increase in violence against women and Third World colonies over the last four decades. The onset of global recession in the 1970s forced capitalists to shift their labor intensive work to the Third World, where harsh US- and European-backed puppets use violence to suppress wages..

In the First World, simultaneous cuts in public services, have significantly increased demands on women for free labor (especially in the area of childcare and care of the sick and elderly). The simultaneous increase in violence against women (and the psychic trauma it induces) make it all the more difficult for women to organize and resist this super-exploitation.

 

Understanding the Current Economic Crisis

The ABC’s of the Economic Crisis: What Working People Need to Know
Fred Magdoff and Michael Yates

Monthly Review Press (2009)

Book Review

In the ABC’s of the Economic Crisis, Magdoff and Yates use stagnation theory to explain the origins of the current global economic crisis. Karl Marx predicted that overproduction and stagnation would be inevitable under monopoly capitalism once market demand has been saturated. Magdoff and Yates use the auto industry as an example. Immediately after World War II, consumers bought a lot of cars and trucks which were unavailable between 1941 and 1945. By 1970 there was a surplus of cars – all the Americans who wanted cars and trucks had already bought them. Meanwhile the world’s poorer nations didn’t have a mass market large enough to reduce this surplus.

The same was true of other durable goods (refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, vaccuum cleaners, etc). And as consumer buying slowed, so did profits and GDP growth.

Why Capitalism Didn’t End With the Great Depression

Many Marxists (including John Strachey in The Coming Struggle for Power) believed the Great Depression signaled end stage stagnation and the imminent death of capitalism. According to Magdoff and Yates, it was only the massive economic boost of World War II military spending that saved capitalism in the thirties and forties.

There was also a brief post war boom in the fifties and sixties, as consumers rushed to buy goods that were unavailable during the war. When the sixties ended, stagnation set in again, accompanied by a marked slowing of profits and growth. However neither declined to 1930s levels, thanks to the “financialization” of the US economy.

The Financialization of the US Economy

The term “financialization” describes the process of creating profits without producing products or services. In the US, finanancialization injected money into the economy in three ways: via massive government spending and indebtedness (to private banks), via massive consumer indebtedness and via an explosion in the trade of derivatives and similar financial products.

Between 1980 and the 2008 crash, the banking, insurance and investment sector became the largest growth sector of the US economy. Beyond financing unprecedented levels of consumer, business and government debt, this sector also engaged massively in speculation (ie gambling).

Financialization: A Giant Ponzi Scheme

As Magdoff and Yates describe, the enormous “wealth” created by the financial sector helps to drive the “real” productive economy. The main problem with financialization is that it’s basically a Ponzi scheme – it can continue only so long as economic growth continues. If it goes on too long, the speculative bubble will burst, resulting in financial collapse, as it did in 1929 and 2008.

The Link Between Declining Profits and Low Wages

Despite the life support provided by “financialization,” economic stagnation continued between 1970 and 2008. As Magdoff and Yates point out, GDP growth dropped from 4.4 to 3.3 percent in the 1970s, to 3.1 percent in the eighties and nineties, and 2.2 percent between 2000 and 2008.

A significant decline in wages and purchasing power accompanied this decline in profits and growth. In order to keep workers consuming, the corporate sector compensated by giving them credit cards – lending them money at 18-20% interest they were no longer paying in wages.

How to Have a Revolution

Wretched of the Earth

by Frantz Fanon (1961)

Free PDF:Wretched of the Earth

Book Review

Wretched of the Earth is a sociopolitical analysis of how revolution happens, based on the author’s personal experience in Algeria and his study of nationalist revolutions in sub-Saharan Africa, Vietnam, Latin America and Cuba.

Many Marxist scholars consider Fanon’s work to be the first major expansion of Marxist theory after Lenin. His primary contribution is to delineate the potential revolutionary forces of third world countries. His chief disagreement with Marx concerns the revolutionary potential of the lumpenproletariat, the urban beggars, petty criminals, prostitutes and gang members who lack access to formal work. According to Fanon, the lumpenproletariat make up the majority of the population in third world countries (and increasingly, in 2017, the industrialized world)  thanks to first world colonizers who have driven them off their land.

Marx believed the lumpenproletariat were incapable of achieving class consciousness and thus of no use in the revolutionary struggle. In contrast, Fanon feels they help to instigate revolution owing to their high proportion of young people and their belief they had nothing to lose.

Unlike Marx, Fanon believes third world revolutionary struggles must originate with rural peasants (like the Chiapas uprising in Mexico), that city dwellers are too “colonized,” ie too invested in existing political and economic structures to want to dismantle them.

Wretched of the Earth also describes the phenomenon of economic colonialism, as manifested in Latin America (and later South Africa). In these cases, a country achieves political independence but continues to be economically (and militarily) oppressed by first world multinational corporations.

Fanon makes a number of recommendations for preventing this, including

  1. immediate nationalization and decentralization (via the creation of wholesale and retail cooperatives) of the economy
  2. mass political education aimed at enabling the masses to govern themselves,
  3. rapid economic restructuring aimed at developing soil and other natural resources for national use (as opposed to first world benefit),
  4. land reform to stem the migration of peasants to the city,
  5. guarding against feudal traditions that view men as superior to women, and
  6. avoiding the trap of political parties.

Frantz Fanon was born in 1925 of mixed heritage in Martinique. He fought with the French resistance during World War II and received a scholarship to study medicine and psychiatry in France. In 1953, he was offered a hospital position in Algeria, where he joined the Algerian National Liberation Front. He died of leukemia in 1961, shortly after the publication of Wretched of the Earth.

 

The Inherent Right to Rebel

The Defense of Gracchus Babeuf

J A Scott

MW Books (1988)

Book Review

Babeuf’s speech available free on line at: Defense Speech

Babeuf was a whistleblower under Louis XVI, who in 1782 exposed corruption in the tax system imposed by the French aristocracy. He spent the years immediately preceding the French revolution (1789) either in hiding or in jail. On learning the Bastille had fallen, he joined the revolutionary struggle. In addition to launching a newspaper, he circulated numerous pamphlets and petitions calling for the abolition of private property and an end to the private expropriation of the commons and the division of society into exploited and exploiting classes.

In September 1792, he was elected to the revolutionary government, only to be arrested in 1795 by the counter-revolutionary forces that overthrew Robespierre. He was charged and found guilty of advocating for the re-establishment of the Constitution of 1793.

The book is the verbatim defense Babeuf presented to the court that sentenced him to death. He cites the writings of Plato, Sir Thomas Moore, Thomas Jefferson, Rousseau, Diderot and other Enlightenment thinkers to argue that human beings have a natural right to rebel against political and economic injustice and that violence, poverty and war all have their roots in the concept of private property.

He further argues that the natural function of society and social institutions is to protect the weak against the tyranny of the strong (whereas in reality they do the opposite). He contends that the 1789 revolution wasn’t complete because it allowed the wealth to continue to control all social power and government. He also (correctly) claimed that the election adopting the 1795 constitution was rigged and thus failed to represent the true will of the people.

For me the significance of Babeuf’s courtroom oration (which predated Marx by more than 60 years) was the surprising realization that Marx wasn’t the first to argue against the argue against the damage wealth inequality wreaks on society. It’s easy to forget that Karl Marx was but one of a long line of thinkers (which includes Thomas Jefferson and Adam Smith) who advocated against class exploitation.

The End of Capitalism

The End of Capitalism

David Harvey (2016)

In The End of Capitalism, geography and anthropology professor Anthropology David Harvey makes the case that economic crises and inequality are part and parcel of capitalism and can only be ended by dismantling the capitalist economic system.

He begins by examining the cumulative “perception control” by the corporate media that has made it virtually impossible (except perhaps in Iceland) to look at any alternative economic systems despite the deplorable performance of capitalism since the 2007 global economic crash.

Quoting from Volume 2 of Marx’s Capital, he goes to demonstrate that growth and debt are structural components of capitalism – how the amount of debt created always equals the amount of capital growth created. In fact, repaying all government debt (as many conservatives advocate) would end capitalism faster than a workers revolution.

He also quotes Reagan advisor David Stockman and former vice president Dick Cheney to demonstrate how the Reagan and both Bush administrations deliberately ramped up the deficit (on unfunded wars) as a strategy to force future administrations to cut social spending.

For me, the most interesting part of his talk is his discussion of the Chinese economy, specifically how their willingness to employ Keynesian tactics (of government deliberately spending money into the economy) to generate 10% economic growth and save the global economy from total collapse.

In elucidating a viable alternative to capitalism, Harvey quotes from volume 3 of Capital, where Marx defines capitalism as a “class relation between owner and worker such that the owner extracts surplus value (profit) from the worker’s labor.” Thus in his (and Marx’s) view, the only viable alternative is a system of worker self-management of our own productive process (ie worker cooperatives). He believes such a system would coordinate production via a Just in Time networking strategy similar to those used by Wall Street corporations.

The video has an extremely long introduction and Harvey starts speaking at 8.00.

 

How Marx and Lenin Defeated Participatory Democracy

state and revolution

State and Revolution: the Marxist Theory of the State and the Tasks of the Proletariat in the Revolution

by V.I. Lenin (1927)

Book Review

Free download from State and Revolution

State and Revolution is principally a diatribe against anarchism. Vladimir Lenin, the leader of the October 1917 Bolshevik revolution,  wrote this book in hiding in Helsingfors (Finland). He defines the state as “an organ of domination of one class by the other by means of a standing army, police, prisons and an entrenched bureaucracy.”

I was particularly intrigued to re-read State and Revolution in view of Carroll Quigley’s revelations, in Tragedy and Hope, about the role Wall Street interests played in funding the Bolshevik revolution.

Lenin notes three main differences between Marxists and anarchists as regards the state:

1. Anarchists demand abolition of the state within 24 hours. In contrast, Marxists “know” the state can’t be dissolved until class differences are eliminated. They believe the state (ie the dictatorship of the proletariat) will wither away once the capitalist elite is dissolved.
2. Following revolution, Marxists will substitute organized armed workers for the old state. Anarchists (according to Lenin) have no idea what will replace the state.*
3. Marxists want to make use of the modern (ie capitalist) state to prepare workers for revolution – anarchists reject this as a strategy.

State and Revolution reiterates many of the arguments Marx and his supporters used to expel Bakunin from the First International Working Men’s Association at the 1872 conference in the Hague. Although the anarchists made up most of the sections of the First International (they were extremely powerful in Spain, where they had the largest contingent of grassroots supporters), Marx and his supporters controlled the General Council (the leadership body) of the First International.

Bakunin, who was unable to attend the Hague conference, called a second rival congress in Saint Imier Switzerland. Bakunin’s international working men’s association was far larger and lasted longer than its much smaller Marxist rival. The latter was largely isolated in United States and collapsed in 1876

I take strong exception to a number of Lenin’s arguments for a strong central state following revolution. Dismissing the anarchist proposal for a federation of self-governing units as totally “Utopian,” he claims that “human nature can’t do without subordination, control and managers” and that a strong (armed) central government is essential to “suppress excesses on the part of idlers, gentlefolk and swindlers.”

In my view, Lenin makes a big mistake in blaming “human nature” for the social problems that clearly result from capitalist oppression and exploitation.

Nevertheless his observations about the fraudulent nature of representative democracy suggest little has changed over the last hundred years:

“In any parliamentary country, the actual work of the state is done behind the scenes and is carried out by the departments, the offices and the staffs. Parliament itself is given up to talk for the specific purpose of fooling the people.”


*Untrue. Bakunin, the founder of collective anarchism (aka participatory democracy), proposed replacing the state with federations of collective work places and communes.

Resurrecting Morality

moral landscape

The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values

by Sam Harris (Bantam Press 2010)

Book Review

The historical record indicates religion has been pretty hopeless in guiding human beings in leading moral and ethical lives. The Moral Landscape outlines a proposed morality based on objective scientific principles.

Sam Harris, a PhD neurophysiologist, bases this proposed morality on the principle of maximizing human well being. Because human well being is a function of world events and states of the human brain, there must be some truths about morality that can be scientifically verified. Harris maintains that a more detailed understanding of these truths would greatly improve the quality of human life.

For example, he asks whether corporal punishment of children, female genital mutilation and honor killings* are beneficial to human well being. There must be an answer to these questions (which can be established by research), even if we don’t know, at present, what it is.

The book is highly critical of the “cultural relativism” advocated by secular liberals and many US scientists when they insist there are no objective answers to the moral questions Harris poses. He believes this attitude leaves secular societies at the mercy of fundamentalist religion. Harris (an avowed atheist) also argues that obedience to God creates a morality that is more concerned with a theoretical afterlife than human well being in this lifetime.

The development of a science-based morality would have to weigh the ultimate well being of the individual vs the general well being of the society. It would also be open to controversy and dissenting viewpoints, like all scientific disciplines.

Harris’s chapter on religion describes how Freud, Marx and other prominent nineteenth century intellectuals believed the world religions would disappear with the scientific advances that enabled the industrial revolution. With the exception of the US, their predictions proved correct: most developed societies are predominantly secular.

At present most societies become more secular as they become more prosperous stable and democratic (in New Zealand, only 10% of the population attends church). Moreover the least religious countries (Scandinavia and the Netherlands) have the best societal health. Research shows that loneliness, helplessness and poverty are poorly conducive to happiness and moral behavior.

At present fundamentalism is limited to the US and developing countries. Harris believes that high levels of inequality have caused America to take a different path than other developed countries. Extreme poverty in many areas of the US is linked to low levels of educational achievement, superstitiousness, excessive religiosity and racism.


* Honor killings are acts of vengeance, usually death, committed by male family members against female family members, who are held to have brought dishonor upon the family.