Federici versus Marx - Gilles Dauvé

Silvia Federici

A critique of some of the ideas of autonomist Marxist feminist Silvia Federici by Gilles Dauvé.

 “rough magic I here abjure”

(Shakespeare,The Tempest, 1610)

 

    Caliban & the Witchis of undeniable interest for our understanding of social movements at the critical juncture between medieval and modern times, of the advent of capitalism, its sexual dimension, the treatment of women and the conversion of female and male bodies into a work-machine, among other things. But the book also sets forth a vision of past and present which is as questionable as the political perspective that this vision entails. (1)

How capitalism came about according to Silvia Federici

 

     Federeci claims to be writing “against Marxist orthodoxy” (p.6), and Caliban & the Witch is commonly read as a complement (or for some readers, as an alternative) to Marx’s Capital, especially Part VIII. Federici writes:

     “ (..) my description of primitive accumulation includes a set of historical phenomena that are absent in Marx, and yet have been extremely important for capitalist accumulation. They include : 1) the development of a new sexual division of labour subjugating women’s labour and women’s reproductive function to the reproduction of the work-force; 2) the construction of a new patriarchal order, based upon the exclusion of women from waged-work and their subordination to men; 3) the mechanization of the proletarian body and its transformation, in the case of women, into a machine for the production of new workers.” (p. 11) 

     So we expect to read what was missing in the accepted master narrative, especially as history  suffers from a long tradition of writing women off. The question is, where does a counter-hegemonic history lead us? In Federici’s case, the author is not merely filling in gaps: her analysis of primitive accumulation amounts to nothing less than a conception of capitalism not just different from Marx’s but indeed opposed to it.

     In order to understand the birth of capitalism, she emphasises the specific oppression that social groups, women in particular, were subjected to. That is what she is targeting, and her approach prioritises certain factors and downplays others.

     The question is, what tipped the historical scales?

     In the 17th century, labour costs in Indian cotton mills were estimated at 1/7th of what they were in Europe. The  East India Company was importing and selling such quantities of Indian textiles in England that « the volume of Indian textile exports threatened to overwhelm the cloth industry in Britain, which sought commercial safety in protected tariffs.” (2) Later, in the mid-19th century, half of the cotton goods produced in the world were manufactured in the north of England, and the contemporaries were as much impressed by the growth of Manchester (nicknamed Cottonopolis) as people are today when they visit Shanghai or the Shenzhen zone. Meanwhile, “the bones of the cotton-weavers [were] bleaching the plains of India”. (3)

     What had happened in two centuries? How did the English bourgeois manage to shift the balance of power? Bluntly put, by lowering the cost of labour in their own country, by manufacturing the same articles much cheaper. Even on military grounds, European superiority only became effective in the 19th century because the West was benefiting from better soldiery and weaponry due to the industrial revolution and modern wage-labour. The destructive capability of the machine gun paralleled that of the power-loom. History is not mono-causal, but the driving force of the ascent of a few countries was their ability to put millions into productive work. 

     In contrast, Federici selects dispossession as a major cause. Yet dispossessing farmers of their lands, villagers of their community links and women of their crafts and skills was only a negative condition, a necessary albeit insufficient condition. Caliban & the Witch is marred by the omission of essential “push” factors. The historical account does not add up. It neither supplements nor enriches Capital : it goesa completely divergent way.

     Why? Because Federici’s vision of primitive accumulation is fuelled by a definition of capitalism that is worlds apart from that of Marx.

 

Capitalism according to Silvia Federici

 

     Caliban & the Witchis a good Shakespearean title, (4) with the added benefit of accurately summing up the book’s thesis: not only was capitalism built on slavery and woman’s subjugation in the past, but that is also how it has perpetuated itself and still soldiers on. Federici is providing grist for her mill.

     In her setting, the slave and the woman play a more decisive part than the male or female worker, and the female worker a more vital part because of her role at home than because of what she does in the workshop or office.

   Giving primacy to slavery and woman’s subordination is not documented by facts. Slavery played an indispensable role in the rise of capitalism from the 16th to the 18th centuries, but its importance began to decline with large scale industrialisation and England, the industrial revolution leader, was one of the prominent abolitionist countries, first of the slave trade, then of slavery itself. Various forms of slavery exist in the 21st century, yet they have long ceased to be vital to the capitalist economy. As for sexual inequality, it certainly has not disappeared, but it is on the decrease in the most “advanced” countries. While it still discriminates against women, capitalism includes more and more of them in the working world, employs them in traditionally male-dominated trades and hires them at top executive jobs. Of all existing social systems, capitalism is the one which seems to treat sexes in the least unequal way. It does not emancipate women, but it is not based upon their subjugation. (5)

   These facts are immaterial for Federici, whose analysis is based on a presupposition. Everything hinges on which historical turning point is chosen as a starting point. She has to locate the emergence of the capitalist mode of production at the crossroads between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, i.e. before the industrial revolution, because she equates the birth of capitalism with the exclusion of women from the world of work, from value productive labour, their relegation in the 15th- 16th centuries to the “reproductive” sphere, and later to lesser paid jobs.

    Federici approaches wage-labour not on the basis of what it is, but on what is exterior to it,  what takes place outside the work-place and (according to her) makes wage-labour possible.Reproduction becomes the key word. Quite a relevant concept, indeed. Unfortunately, when it is extended to everything, and distinctions are blurred between population reproduction, capital reproduction, class system reproduction and the whole social reproduction, the overstretched concept drifts into irrelevance.

     Old worker-focused Marxism was committed to giving prominence to factories. Federici is biased too, albeit with a different bias: the focus has shifted from production to reproduction, meaning the reproduction of children. A vital role is now bestowed upon women: vital is the most adequate word, because Federici thinks women play a key position in capitalism because they are the givers of life: they are the ones who have pregnancies and bear children. 

     “(..) women have been the producers and reproducers of the most essential capitalist commodity: labour power. (..) women’s unpaid labour in the home has been the pillar upon which the exploitation of the waged workers (..) has been built, and the secret of its productivity.” (p.7)

     Caliban & the Witchis famous as a ground-breaking study of the transition from feudalism to capitalism, but for all Federici’s research, her account is based on a repeated postulate. As readers are impressed by the wealth of historical data, they are inclined to accept the author’s assumption: a definition of capitalism based on two essential and interlinked features: dispossession and constraint. While the enclosures deprived millions of rural families of their means of livelihood, millions of women were being dispossessed of their crafts and traditional community knowledge, and driven out of what is now called the formal economy. This indispensable condition, however, does not define capitalism. The very bedrock of Marxist feminism is a premise that is no way provable. 

     

 

Labour according to Silvia Federici: the theory of “reproductive” labour

 

     Caliban & the Witchwas written to validate a theory. As the author makes clear at the outset, an earlier version (in 1984) “was an attempt to rethink Marx’s analysis of primitive accumulation from a feminist viewpoint”, and the second (2004) broadened the scope. The book harnesses facts for a polemic. Federici has explained why she

     “began to do the historical work that resulted in Caliban and the Witch. I wanted to have a historical as well as a theoretical foundation to say that housework was not a legacy or leftover from a pre-capitalist era, but it was a particular type of activity that in its social relations had been constructed by capitalism. (..) housework, domestic work and the whole complex of activities by which our whole lives are reproduced, is actually work that is essential to the capitalist organization of labour. It produces not just the meals and clean clothes, but reproduces the workforce and therefore is in a sense the most productive work in capitalism. Without this work, no other forms of production could take place.(..) it’s essential, pivotal work (..)” (6)

     “ (..) one of the most important contributions of feminist theory and struggle (..) is the redefinition of work, and the recognition of women’s unpaid reproductive labour as a key source of capitalist accumulation. In redefining housework as WORK, as not a personal service but the work that produces and reproduces labour power, feminists have uncovered a new crucial ground of exploitation that Marx and Marxist theory completely ignored.” (7) 

     Thiswas one of the cornerstones of Italian Autonomy and radical feminism in the 1960-80 period, expressed as early as 1970 by Rivolta Femminile’s Manifesto:

     “We identify in unpaid domestic work the help that allows both private and State capitalism to survive.” (8)

     This theory has remained one of the tenets common to radical feminism, enjoys the reputation of a fire-tested creed, and any attempt to strike a different note is sure to draw flak from many circles. 

     Because this extends the notion of surplus labour from the work-place to the home, a brief reminder might help. Marx argues that a wage-earner is paid the value of his labour-power, i.e. what its reproduction costs. This commodity, however, is quite special: it is not an object, but an active capacity to do something. One part of the working day will be spent reproducing the means of subsistence necessary for the worker to live and raise a family. Another part comes after the hours when the worker has earned his keep: this part is therefore unpaid and additional (hence the term “surplus labour”): it is the source of the boss’s profit.

     The gist of the (female) “reproductive labour” concept is to locate another source of “gratuitous” labour in the activities performed by housewives.   

     According to this thesis, domestic work (done by women) lowers the cost of labour power: if the (male) worker had to eat out or buy pre-packaged meals, take his washing to the launderette, etc., he would be spending more than if a woman did the cooking and the washing at home for him. Thanks to the unpaid activity of that woman, the boss saves money: he benefits from this work, as it offloads the cost of maintaining and raising male wage-workers on to the women. Housework, so the thesis goes, is like a free gift given to the capitalist, and one of the essential permanent sources of capital valorisation.

     It logically follows that the “secret” of capitalist wealth is not just to be found in what is known as the work-place, but also in the home. One mental step further, and the also becomes mostly, as proved by the above quotes where Federici calls housework “the most productive”, “essential” and “pivotal”.

     If this were true, since a wage pays the cost of production of labour, the male worker living on his own would cost more than his married colleague and he should be paid more. Actually, the same logic would apply to the single female worker, and her boss would have to pay her a better wage than if she was living in a family. This is not the case. It is despicable and oppressive that lots of males walk home, put their feet up and wait for their wives to bring them dinner while they watch TV, but a family is not a factory work-shop. We can call work whatever we want, yet the only work that reproduces capital is the one done for a company.

     Whether housework is equally shared (which is rarely the case) or whether the husband takes advantage of his wife, does not change anything in the reproduction of capital. Men certainly “profit” from women, but this has nothing in common with a company profit. Housework does not result in surplus-value, it does not generate a commodity sold on a market.

     Besides, the “reproductive” labour theory assumes living in a couple to be the norm for workers, which again is not true. There is a large variety of ways of life for wage-earners. Some live in families, others are single, others are housed in big blocks of flats where couples mix with single people, others still in barrack-style dormitories. Whereas traditional miners have a family life close to their pits, open-cast mining has the labour force dwell in arranged accommodation far from home for the duration of the employment contract. The same applies to oil-rig personnel. Millions of Asians, male and female, leave their families to find jobs on building sites or in the service sector in the Middle East, and they have to make do with camps, container settlements, or sometimes stay in their boss’s home.

     Moreover, what about a single childless woman living on her own without attending to any relative (not the majority of cases, but a significant number all the same): what “reproductive labour” does she perform ? Strictly speaking, the “reproductive labour” theme is not a woman’s theory, only a housewife’s theory. 

     From whichever point of view you look at it, female domestic work is not structurally indispensable to capital.

     True, Engels wrote that “within the family [the husband] is the bourgeois and the wife represents the proletariat”. (9)

     This does not warrant turning an analogy into hard theory, yet autonomist feminism is quite fond of analogical reasoning. 

     Federici proceeds by duplicating the theory of value: surplus-value does not only result from productive work done for the benefit of a company, but also – and in fact mostly – from domestic work. It all boils down to what is meant byproduction and reproduction. Concepts undergo a semantic shift here: 

     “(..) value production is not ever really the product of any particular location, but is determined socially. (..) you have a broad social assembly line (..) that is all necessary for the production of surplus value. (..) the activities by which the wage labourer is reproduced are part of that social assembly line: it’s part of a social process that determines surplus value. [This is] a social factory that extends beyond the factory itself. (..) for women, the home is the factory; it’s a place of production.” (10)

     “ (..) the body has been for women in capitalist society what the factory has been for male waged workers, the primary ground of their exploitation and resistance (..)”. (p.15)

     In this mindset, reproduction encompasses all and everything, capital, classes, population, labour power, bourgeois men and women, proletarian men and women, etc. Reasoning here again by analogy, Federici stretches concepts to a point where the definition is so loose that the meaning is lost. Lots of activities may currently be labelled “social”, yet not every reproductive act generates value. Federici, however, writes as if everything was exploitation, everything was work and everything created value.

     Well, not everything. One reproduction, Federici argues, surpasses them all: procreating and bringing up kids. Because women produce children without whom there would be neither society nor capitalism, “reproductive labour” theory endows them with a productive role that seems similar to the roles of other input factors, though this theory gives them in fact a determining role. 

     Caliban & the Witch’srich amount of information serves a purpose: to hammer in the notion that the capitalist system is based on women’s past and present subjugation. The book aims at “(..) housework now [being] understood as the reproduction of labour-power, the reproduction of the most important commodity (…)”. (11)

     Federici feminises Marxism, that’s probably what has made her popular.

 

 

“Wages for Housework”: a political slogan    

 

     If a social movement was strong enough to have women paid for their domestic activity, we would be happy as we would welcome the success of a claim that improves the condition of the proletarian, female or male. The “all or nothing” principle is not our politics, neither is “the worse, the better”.

     The proponents of this measure, however, expect something different.

     For some of its supporters, asking for domestic work to be paid was a radical watchword. Italian autonomists were looking for something that would unite and mobilise all exploited groups beyond the traditional “working class” and narrowly-defined wage issues. As Lotta Feminista put it in 1973: “One part of the class with a salary, the other without. This discrimination has been the basis of a stratification of power between the paid and the unpaid, the root of class weakness (..)” (12)

     Therefore “Wages for Housework” activists aimed at re-uniting all the exploited, because this watchword “dismantles the whole social architecture that has been extremely powerful in keeping people divided (..)” (13) The working class, as Autonomists put it, is not enough. Among other failings, it hardly cares about woman’s subordination. So politics must be inclusive: fighting for a “political wage” was tantamount to asking for the out-of-work, the housewife, the student, the sick or the hospital patient to be paid as the employed worker normally is. Since capitalism only gives the means to live to the minority it puts on the payroll, such a demand was meant to expose the system’s absurd and grinding logic.

     In fact, those who floated the idea never expected the demand to be met and, what’s more, did not want it to be. The plan was to launch an awareness campaign with the result that, as the capitalists are unwilling and unable to implement that claim, the social pressure to have it satisfied would explode the system. “With a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, I shall move the world”, Archimedes is quoted as saying. In the present case, the lever would be the all-embracing demand to wage the un-waged, and the practically unlimited proletarian mass would provide the fulcrum. The reasoning would be compellingif history functioned on the same principles as physics. The “wage the un-waged” campaign was based on the belief that revolutionaries could invent a demand that would be both felt as universal by the exploited (in the broadest sense) and deemed unacceptable by the rulers. This quest for the miracle cure is a constant of leftist politics: activists artificially graft their magic remedy onto rank-and-file struggles which usually remain unresponsive. The Italian social storm had brought with it the old obsession: how to give the exploited a push forward? how to free the locomotive of history from its rusty brake? A unifier, a force multiplier would do the trick.   

     As it happened, activists failed to conjure this fiercely logical formula into reality. Unlike votes for women, birth control, abortion, equal job opportunity and equal pay, the “Wages for Housework” initiative was not really grounded on actual struggles, and in  practice was tacked on to women’s collectives by political groups which had chosen this theme as a major part of their platform.

     Besides, supposing millions of people had taken to the streets and demanded enough money to live on, viz. at least as much as the so-called minimal wage and probably more, those  millions of women and men would have already passed the stage of requiring money for all, and started asking themselves how to create a world without money.

     After 1977, the watershed year, things were closing in on revolutionary endeavours. As often with activists, when it became clear that practice did not match theory, they stuck to their tactics and hoped for success by repeating their watchword again and again. The “Waging the un-waged” campaign moved into overdrive, predictably with little results.     

     Other “Wages for Housework” defenders, however, managed to make this topic into an issue debated in political circles and the media. They were more successful because they were less extreme, more simply women-focused, either in a radical or reformist perspective, or in a mixture of both. Selma James, for example, has been combining grassroots organising and lobbying activities for decades. (14) Her campaigning in favour of the official recognition of unwaged work does its best to convince governments and the United Nations that carers (beginning with women) are essential to economic and political life. While she meets legislators to try and influence their policy, her action is still often worded in class terms. (15) Yet in spite of such radical talk, her endeavours bring about nothing more than what capitalism has been doing for ages: granting family, child, non-working mother or single parent allowances. Far from subverting the wage system, these additional benefits contribute to the indirect or social wage which is now part of the capital/labour relation. At its most modern, capitalism cannot ignore the welfare of those who take care of child breeding and rearing, and therefore it includes the formerly excluded – i.e. women at home – within its overall reproduction.

     Far-left feminism started as a critique of traditional (male-dominated) left-wing politics and unionism, which supposedly defended factory workers, and neglected what happened outside the shop-floor. What used to be radicalism is now merely complementing trade-union reformism.

     To pre-empt glib critique, let us say that reformism is no insult for us: it is a reality that has to be acknowledged where it exists, unless of course one sees no difference between reform and revolution, as is the case with S. James. Caliban & the Witch insistently refers to S. James as a major inspiration to Federici’s work. All evidence points to the fact that Federici sees no objection to the most objectionable aspects of James’ persistent political choices.We have to assume that for her the reform/revolution distinction is outmoded.  

 

Silvia Federici as a theorist of  “the commons”          

 

     Caliban & the Witchoutlines an agenda the author never leaves us any doubt about. Though some readers may have been slow on the uptake, her political stance has been an open secret for years. The only difference is Federici now explicitly makes the link between her historical interpretation and her support for the “commons” theory. She traces contemporary resistance movements to the privatisation of natural resources back to the struggle of the past “commons” crushed by the 16th to 18th century enclosures, and calls for a renewal of the “intense female sociality and solidarity that enabled women to stand up to men” (p.24)before they were crushed by the coming of capitalist modernity. According to Federici, the communal effort that was defeated by the ascent of capitalism is now rebounding against globalisation, on a larger scale and with better chance of success.

     One of the main threads of Caliban & the Witch is the historical importance of violence, which Federici believes Marx underestimated: in the transition to capitalism, she says, the use of brutality and constraint was more crucial than the bourgeois’ ability to organise the productive forces: “violence itself becomes the most productive force”. (16)

     We would rather argue that there are sound historical reasons to think that violence facilitated this epoch-making transformation. This logic, however, would run counter to Federici’s method. The whole book is built on the assumption that human evolution is first and foremost a question of power: either the control of a ruling minority over the vast majority, or the co-operative self-organisation of the people, therefore social change consists in creating or recreating new forms and places of power. The essential features of the capitalist system hardly matter: as long as they are collectively managed, money, work, and wage-labour will undergo a change in nature and cease to be exploitative and oppressive: 

     If capital is defined as constraint, we only have to act freely to do away with it.

     And if capital is defined as dispossession, let’s re-possess the world, and this joint communal re-appropriation will be enough to transform what now exists. (17)  

     Federici sees capitalism as a force exterior to society, and reduces exploitation to predation : capitalists are akin to gangsters who steal from the community, therefore change will come when the community gathers together. “Common” is just another word for social, for something that is always potentially there, and “the commons” is society regaining its self again, escaping the clutches of capitalism. 

      Does the society we struggle for already exist in the present one, and if so, could it grow within the present one until it takes over? Federici’s anwer to both questions is YES, and that is the message Caliban & the Witch drives home. There lies the parting of the ways with those who maintain a fundamental difference between reform and revolution. “I am not fond of half measures”, Jenny Marx once wrote.  (18) James and Federici believe that half-change today is the step to full change tomorrow. Gramsci’s strategy of permeating the civil society has become the group think of the day. 

     Like S. James, Federici talks about class, but her notion is so flexibly elastic that there are no proletarians any more, just six billion commoners who confront capitalism (or what’s left of the concept) with their collective needs and self-organised communities. Don’t ask if this revolution is on its way or as of now happening: this would be a sure sign that you are still entangled in obsolete thought-patterns. Real change is here and now, “commons” theorists like Federici want us to believe. They replace communist revolution with alternativism : in a nutshell, the pressure of old community bonds which capitalism has not yet taken over, combined with the emergence of a new collaborative, free software and sharing economy, plus bottom-up participatory direct democracy, is supposed to be able to overcome capitalism gradually but surely. 

 

What critique of Marxism? What critique of Marx?

 

     J. Ph. Becker, a 19th century German socialist, called Capital the “Bible of the working class”. Marxism (related to but different from Marxian thought) was the theory of the labour movement asserting itself within capitalism, either in collaboration with the bourgeois (in the social-democratic variant), or in their place, i.e. doing away with the bourgeoisie (Leninist variant).  As regards the present topic, Marxism by and large relegated women to the side-lines. Sex was one of Marx’s blind spots.

     Thus defined, Marxism broke up in the 1970’s under the shock of the refusal of work by a number of workers, a minority of course, yet determined enough to challenge social realities and certainties. (19)

     The 1970’s are gone, but the effects of this theoretical crisis still rumble on and on. These are jarring times, ridden with trauma and denial, like life after a loss. The earthquake revealed the shortcomings of revolutionary tenets without being strong enough to supersede them, and it has only been able to blow holes in out-of-date beliefs.

     Silvia Federici is part of the vast array of semi-critics who live off these shortcomings, particularly off what is inevitably lacking in Marx. The author of Capital emphasised the crucial feature of primitive accumulation: the separation between the producer and the means of production. He downplayed women, the rationalisation and mechanisation of nature as well as of society, the dispossession of the body and the mind/body dichotomy, the role of language, animal (mis)treatment, etc. So Caliban & the Witch is read as if it was exploring what Marx barely touched, while in fact Federici comes up with a completely different vision. The whole point is whether it is relevant to put women centre-stage in the advent of capitalism as well as in its inner nature. Just because Marx ignored substantial elements or left them at the periphery, is not enough to make them central.

     Nobody escapes the borders of his times.

     “I’ll drown my book”, says Prospero at the end ofThe Tempest. No point in drowning Capital but we need a critical review of Marx. (20)

     We cannot expect Federici to contribute to it. She partakes of the weakest expressions of the Italian social upheaval in the 1970’s. (21) The only communist programme radical feminists knew of was what Carla Lonzi, one of the founders of Rivolta Femminile, summed up in 1970 as the “ideal of a common ownership of goods”, a project which was all too easy to pin down as grossly inadequate to women (and men, an essential point C. Ponzi failed to see). (22) The Marxism they were targeting was its popularized version, i.e. a Marxism that eulogized the working class and equated socialism or communism with a worker-managed economy.

     Work is the salient point. Ex-operaismo theorists are incapable and unwilling of exploring it. Their propulsive force was exhausted nearly forty years ago, and the old fires have long turned to ashes. It is up to the 21st century to re-examine Marx. Autonomist feminists go the opposite road. Instead of digging into what Marx meant by work (especially by looking anew at Capital’sfirst chapter), they stretch out the concept to the point of qualifying women as woman workers. A woman is not a woman, they say, she is a worker because she produces children. Radical feminism prides itself on having gained recognition for woman as a worker:  as a real worker, that is, on par with the (male) wage-earner, as a really exploited human being, as though she was now entitled to be a full-fledged member of the “revolutionary subject”. In 1970 current leftist talk, the metalworker was the salt of the earth, then the salt seemed to lose its saltiness, so how could it be made salty again? (23)  By adding fresh layers of salt, i.e. more exploited people. Women perfectly fit the role: they are downtrodden and numerous. The old revolutionary subject (the working class) was too small and, what’s worse, short-sighted (sexist, homophobic, productivist, etc.). Now we’ll have a larger and broader-minded historical agent. How simple.

     Those who embarked on such a course were turning their backs on the actual breakthrough that the most forward-looking proletarians had tried to engage in. The refusal of work and the critique of daily life pointed to a revolution that would not bring about the community of “associated producers” advocated by Marxism. What it could positively be remained fairly cloudy, but at least it was perceived in a negative way. The worker movement was rejected not just because it was usually conservative and sometimes counter-revolutionary (which it was), but because the future world could not be a workers’ world. On the contrary, quite a few autonomists, including feminist ones like Federici, looked for possibilities of enlarging the worker movement to include more categories than those employed in factories and offices, from schoolkids to mental patients, of course the largest category being that of women. In other words, they were enlarging the labour movement when the problem of the day was how to go beyond it. Whenever the personnel of the revolution becomes the revolutionaries’ number one issue, it’s an unmistakable sign they are going astray. 

     Federici’s failings are not her own: they express the limits of the latest proletarian wave. Sadly, when reconstructed into doctrines and political programmes, historical inadequacies solidify into stumbling blocks. Instead of a critique of work, we are offered its generalisation, as if extending the status of worker to everyone could blow the whole system apart. The practical inability to undertake a critique of the factory resulted in the factory being theoretically expanded to the home. The 1970’s radicals were forced to act and think within the bounds of what was happening in their time, and Silvia Federici’s present popularity suggests that this time is not quite over yet.   

 

G.D., November 2015

(This is an enlarged version of Federici contre Marx, published in French on ddt21.noblogs.org) 

 

  Notes

(1) Autonomedia, 2009 (1st edition, 2004). Page numbers in our essay refer to that edition.

(2) J. Darwin, After Tamerlan. The Rise & Fall of Global Empire 1400-2000, Bloomsbury Press, 2008, p. 154.

 

(3) Marx, quoting the Governor-General of India in his 1834-45 Report, Capital, vol. I, chap. 15, § 5.

 

(4) Though “Free Caliban” can sometimes be seen painted on street walls, there is less concern for his mother, “this damned witch Sycorax”. Genderwise interestingly, a production of The Tempest filmed by Julie Taymor in 2010 morphs the duke and magician Prospero into a woman, Prospera, played by Helen Mirren.

 

(5) We intend to publish an essay on “the women question” in some near future.

 

(6) The Making of Capitalist Patriarchy: Interview with S. Federici, December 2013, Black Sheep. A Socialist Podcast.

(7) S. Federici, Precarious Labor and Reproductive Work (2010), excerpt from “Precarious labor: A feminist viewpoint”, a 2006 lecture. On the “caring labor: an archive” site, subtitled “power to the caregivers and therefore to the class”. The name says it all: class is meant to consist of all those (women, mainly) who are in charge of care work.

 

(8) Full text on columbia.edu site.

 

(9) Origins of the Family, Private Property & the State, 1884, Chap. II, Part 4. The idea originated with the early socialist and feminist Flora Tristan (1803-44).

 

(10)Interview in Black Sheep.

(11) S. Federici, Precarious Labor and Reproductive Work (2010).

 

(12) Quoted by G.Katsiaficas, The Subversion of Politics: European Social movements & the Decolonization of Everyday Life, Chap. 2, eroseffect.com.

 

(13)Interview in Black Sheep. 

 

(14) As Federici explains, Caliban & the Witch is based on M. Della Costa and S. James’ Women & the Subversion of the Community, 1972. Also by S. James : Sex, Race & Class, 1975. “Gender + class + race”, the magic tryptic of 21st radicalism was already there forty years ago.

 

(15)S. James, interview in The Guardian, April 25, 2012.

 

(16) Caliban & the Witch, p. 16. Here again, the concept is invested with excess meaning. Women, Federici insists, are the most productive force because of their role as mothers and carers. Now violence is presented as the essential productive force: just another one, equally essential, or more essential?  A similar mental blur surrounds class: we do not know whether women are part of the exploited class or a class as such, since “ ‘women’s history’ is ‘class history’ ”, and gender, we are told, “should be treated as a specification of class relations”(p. 14). It’s up to the reader to grasp what is meant by specification. Intellectual shifts are the stuff this book is made of. 

 

(17)S. Federici, “Feminism & the Politics of the Common in an Era of Primitive Accumulation”, 2010 article, in Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction & Feminist Struggle, PM Press, 2012. 

 

(18)Letter to Louise Weydemeyer, March 11, 1861.

 

(19) Red Notes, Italy 1977-78: Living with an Earthquake (highly recommended). Also Robert Lumley, States of Emergency: Cultures of Revolt in Italy from 1968 to 1978. Both readable on libcom.

 

(20)A contribution to such a critique: Value, Labour Time & Communism: Re-Reading Marx, on this site (a chapter of Eclipse & Re-Emergence of the Communist Movement, PM Press, 2014). For a more detailed analysis, Bruno Astarian & G. Dauvé’s  Everything Must Go! Abolish Value, to be published in 2016. A real breakthrough, needless to say, will require more than words.

 

(21) Regrettably and perhaps inevitably, this is the case with other Italian Autonomia ex- luminaries, Toni Negri for example, who grew out of extremism to moderate politics, the school’s naughty boy turned teacher. As the Italian class and daily life offensive went quite deep, its opposed reformist tendencies naturally also developed, especially with the ebbing of the wave. Far-left leaders are quite good at de-radicalising themselves.    

 

(22)Let’s Spit on Hegel (blogue.nt2.uqam.ca/hit/files/2012/12/Lets-Spit-on-Hegel-Carla-Lonzi.pdf). C. Lonzi traces back Marxist disregard for women to a line of thought that runs from Plato via Hegel to Marx, Engels, Lenin and the inevitable Gramsci (apparently the utmost in communist standard theory for those who ignore Pannekoek and Bordiga).  

 

(23) Matthew, 5:13. More religious undercurrent flows under political attitudes than meets the eye.

Taken from http://www.troploin.fr/node/85

Comments

LauraMarx
Jul 31 2016 17:06

This was awful.

Khawaga
Jul 31 2016 17:30

Care to point out why? While the article could be more in depth, it's reads as a pretty standard communization-based critique of autonomism.

LauraMarx
Jul 31 2016 17:54

I mean other than the fact that he says capitalism 'treats women the least unequally' and says Federici 'feminized marxism', which I am seriously gobsmacked about by the way, he misrepresents the concept of reproductive labour fairly badly - I have been in leftist radfem circles for years and I have never heard it used to mean what he says here, I haven't read Caliban etc so maybe the idea was in its infancy and he is representing it correctly as it appears in the text, but I kind of doubt it - and the whole thing amounts to "thats not what Marx said" which yes, okay, I know.

I'd throw Marx out before I'd throw Federici out, honestly. If marxism can't offer a serious criticism of the subjugation of women, why should women bother with it? If capitalism *isn't* intimately linked with the disposession of women, and if ending capitalism isn't going to end the disposession of women, maybe there's no point looking for communism in the first place. I'm not all that convinced of that position, though.

Also:

"Federici, however, writes as if everything was exploitation, everything was work and everything created value."

yes, everything is exploitation!

His criticism of Wages for Housework is okay, insofar as all activist methods need to be criticised, but its disappointingly unnuanced.

Mike Harman
Jun 11 2018 14:57
Dauve wrote:
Giving primacy to slavery and woman’s subordination is not documented by facts. Slavery played an indispensable role in the rise of capitalism from the 16th to the 18th centuries, but its importance began to decline with large scale industrialisation and England, the industrial revolution leader, was one of the prominent abolitionist countries, first of the slave trade, then of slavery itself. Various forms of slavery exist in the 21st century, yet they have long ceased to be vital to the capitalist economy.

This is very ropey history from Dauve that you'd expect more from someone like Nigel Biggar. First of all the UK wasn't 'one of the prominent abolitionist countries', it's pretty well documented in CLR James' Black Jacobins that the abolition of the slave trade/slavery was more about curtailing French colonialism (one of the main purchasers of slaves from British slave traders) and a response to the Baptist War and other slave insurrections. Not that there weren't genuine abolitionists in the UK, just that's not why it was abolished when it was, and there was plenty of illegal slaving going on afterwards too.

Beyond that, slavery was replaced not with 'machinery in England' but a massive programme of forced labour, hundreds of thousands of indentured servants from India just to the Caribbean after 1838.

Tota Mangar Guyana Chronicle wrote:
FOR over three quarters of a century, East Indian indentured labourers were exported from the Indian sub-continent to the West Indian colonies, ostensibly to fill the void created by the mass exodus of ex-slaves from the plantations following the abolition of the despicable system of slavery and moreso the premature termination of the apprenticeship scheme in 1838.

This influx into the Caribbean in the post-emancipation period of the nineteenth and early 20th centuries was only one segment of a wider movement of Indian labour to other parts of the world including Mauritius, Sir Lanka (formerly Ceylon), Fiji, the Strait Settlements, Natal and other parts of the African continent.

Overall, where the English-speaking Caribbean is concerned, substantial numbers of indentured Indians were imported. Based on statistical evidence, Guyana (the former British Guiana), was the recipient of 239,909 East Indian immigrants up to the termination of the system in 1917; Trinidad 143,939; Jamaica 36,412; Grenada 3,033; St. Vincent 2,472; St. Lucia 4,354 and St. Kitts 337.

In addition, the non-English speaking Caribbean also imported Indian indentured labourers. For example, the French colonies (now overseas departments) Martinique received 25,509; Guadeloupe 45,844 and French Guiana 19,276. Suriname while under Dutch rule imported 35,501 immigrants.

The importation of indentured labourers from the Indian sub-continent was part of the continuing search for a reliable labour force to meet the needs of the powerful plantocracy.

http://www.landofsixpeoples.com/news702/nc0705062.html

Apart from the use of Indian indentured servants, there was also forced labour in African colonies right up until the early 20th century, such as in Kenya where various labour systems were tried out (both Indian labourers and Africans).

Not much online but: https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9780230392953 covers 1912-1930.

Tabitha Kanogo's squatters and the roots of Mau Mau covers 1905 to 1960 and some of the same forced labour systems. Even where there wasn't explicit forced labour, there was still a lot of 'primitive accumulation' in the sense of massive land appropriation and livestock culls, which were intended to undermine subsistence farming and force people into wage labour - again way into the 20th century.

Where there was resistance to these, there was sometimes reform, but also military occupation - like the 'state of emergeny' in Malaya and concentration camps in Kenya both in the 1950s - both of which were in response to widespread strike action as much as guerillas. The UK had hundreds of thousands in concentration camps in the 1950s.

Apart from British colonialism, there was forced labour on a large scale in the US via the convict lease system after the abolition of slavery there as well, this also continued well into the 20th Century.

Even now there are approximately 900k prisoners in the US working full time - this may not include part-time prison labourers as well as those in immigration detention who can also end up working. In 1860 there were just under 4 million slaves.

We could also talk about tens of thousands of child labourers in the Congo now: https://libcom.org/blog/horror-horror-world-imperialism-18052018 - these are quite vital to the international capitalist economy because they're mining rare earth minerals (for smartphones etc.) which aren't available elsewhere.

It's one thing to say that 'free' labour is not really free, that compulsion via the commodity form and wage labour is more efficient than forced labour or something like that, but it's quite another to deny the quite significant role that forced labour has played, and continues to play, since the abolition of slavery.

It's only really a passing reference in the review, but considering he's using it to dismiss Federici's other arguments it's pretty glaring.

wimpled off
Jun 11 2018 19:08

The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was in 1807. It's hard to see how that could be a response to the Baptist War of 1831. Similarly industrialisation in England started a good half century before before 1838.

Quote:
It's only really a passing reference in the review, but considering he's using it to dismiss Federici's other arguments it's pretty glaring.

I thought 'Federici versus Marx' was a fairly damning Marxist critique of Federici. It can't be reduced to tricks in bad faith.

Mike Harman
Jun 11 2018 22:08
wimpled off wrote:
The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was in 1807. It's hard to see how that could be a response to the Baptist War of 1831.

The Abolition of Slavery Act was passed in 1833. At least respond to the argument being made instead of a completely different one.

The abolition of the slave trade act in 1807 was less than a decade after Britain had failed to capture San Domingo/Haiti and restore slavery there, having tried for five years, losing tens of thousands of troops.

wimpled off wrote:
I thought 'Federici versus Marx' was a fairly damning Marxist critique of Federici. It can't be reduced to tricks in bad faith.

It would be better if it didn't repeat basic factual errors about the history of forced labour and capitalism though, wouldn't it?

I like Dauve generally, and 'wages for housework' always seemed like a transitional demand sort of thing (a bit like UBI), so it's disappointing that he's so lazy here.

Fleur
Jun 11 2018 22:31

Can I just add that to say that slavery played no or negligible role in 19th century British capitalism/industrialisation is not accurate, given that one of the most significant industries was the textile industry, largely fed by American cotton, which was itself produced by chattel slavery until 1865. Given the importance of cotton on British industrial output and exports, slavery played an important economic role after its legal abolition in the British Empire.

Spikymike
Oct 17 2018 10:36

Dauve says the slavery that played an indispensable role in the rise of capitalism and began to decline in importance but unfortunately compresses history for the sake of his argument whilst accepting that various forms of slavery still exist in the 21st century. The issue remains I suppose whether or not the various different forms of slavery and forced labour that have persisted and still exist ''are vital to the capitalist economy'' rather than just ''useful'' and that in turn depends partly on our understanding of the fundamental basis of capitalism as distinct from other social forms and the economic reality of the present phase of capitalism's historical development across the globe. A parallel but separate and distinct issue might be was private domestic female labour in the family 'indispensable' to the rise and subsequent maintenance of the capitalist economy - I would suggest not. I think Dauve has done enough to demonstrate at least a weakness in Federici's line of argument despite some of her other insights.
(Edit. See also https://libcom.org/library/woman-question-gilles-dauve for more comment - with some relevant footnotes.)

Mike Harman
Jun 12 2018 14:44
SpikeyMike wrote:
Dauve says the slavery that played an indispensable role in the rise of capitalism and began to decline in importance but unfortunately compresses history for the sake of his argument whilst accepting that various forms of slavery still exist in the 21st century.

Any colonial apologist today will point to slave labour in Libya or trafficked nail bar workers as examples of 'modern slavery' but say that since the 1830s the UK has been at the forefront of abolishing it, it's erasing a significant component of the historical record, and we can do much better than that.

When we talk about indispensable vs. useful, there's not only the theoretical question of whether it's possible to be dispensed of, but the historical question of whether it has. For example what happens if 1 million prison labourers in the US no longer work, how would things get to that point?

I think this is important because there are many stage-ist approaches to communism which say that x or y is a precondition to full communism. Those of us who reject this might not need to prove the continued existence of certain forms of labour or whatever, but it affects plenty from fordism/post-fordism to 'fully automated luxury communism' to decadence theory.

Dauve wrote:
In the 17th century, labour costs in Indian cotton mills were estimated at 1/7th of what they were in Europe. The East India Company was importing and selling such quantities of Indian textiles in England that « the volume of Indian textile exports threatened to overwhelm the cloth industry in Britain, which sought commercial safety in protected tariffs.” (2) Later, in the mid-19th century, half of the cotton goods produced in the world were manufactured in the north of England, and the contemporaries were as much impressed by the growth of Manchester (nicknamed Cottonopolis) as people are today when they visit Shanghai or the Shenzhen zone. Meanwhile, “the bones of the cotton-weavers [were] bleaching the plains of India”. (3)

What had happened in two centuries? How did the English bourgeois manage to shift the balance of power? Bluntly put, by lowering the cost of labour in their own country, by manufacturing the same articles much cheaper. Even on military grounds, European superiority only became effective in the 19th century because the West was benefiting from better soldiery and weaponry due to the industrial revolution and modern wage-labour. The destructive capability of the machine gun paralleled that of the power-loom. History is not mono-causal, but the driving force of the ascent of a few countries was their ability to put millions into productive work.

This is veering dangerously close to technological determinism. The process of turning Britain into a cotton manufacturer relied on the subjugation of Indian society by the East India Company - massive taxes/tariffs on cotton goods, deindustrialisation, to shift it from an exporter of finished goods to an exporter of raw materials. There's a lot of violence/coercion involved, not just competition of northern cotton mills with Indian craftsmen on the free market. US cotton was also much more productive per square metre as well as better suited to machine looms - this social (international, triangular) organisation of production reduced the labour costs of finished cotton goods from the UK as well as mechanisation in factories themselves.

If we look at something like this study, then raw cotton prices increased while cotton cloth prices stayed flat during most of the 18th century - if raw materials costs increased, then while it's possible to for manufacturing labour to decrease to compensate, even without such a decrease the manufacturing labour costs would be a smaller proportion of the final product. Also should go without saying, but prices increasing or decreasing doesn't always or necessarily reflect SNLT.

So the idea that Manchester cotton mills just had really good technology and that's why they were able to compete on the world market is again very dodgy history (with a get-out about history not being monocausal), if you're going to make that argument from a communist perspective, you'd want to back it up, not just drop it as an assertion.

Dauve wrote:
In contrast, Federici selects dispossession as a major cause. Yet dispossessing farmers of their lands, villagers of their community links and women of their crafts and skills was only a negative condition, a necessary albeit insufficient condition.

Again this makes it sound like dispossession was done with by the mid-19th century when we can see it continued well into the 20th. All has a very stageist smell to it.

wimpled off
Jun 12 2018 21:32
Mike Harman wrote:
Dauve wrote:
England, the industrial revolution leader, was one of the prominent abolitionist countries, first of the slave trade, then of slavery itself.

... the abolition of the slave trade/slavery was more about curtailing French colonialism ... and a response to the Baptist War and other slave insurrections.

Mike Harman wrote:
wimpled off wrote:
The Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was in 1807. It's hard to see how that could be a response to the Baptist War of 1831.

The Abolition of Slavery Act was passed in 1833. At least respond to the argument being made instead of a completely different one.

You say that the abolition of the slave trade was a product of amongst other things the Baptist War. I point out the the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was in 1807 - 24 years before the Baptist War and you claim I am responding to a different argument!

Mike Harman wrote:
It would be better if it didn't repeat basic factual errors about the history of forced labour and capitalism though, wouldn't it?

Uh, I'm pointing out your basic factual errors.

Fleur
Jun 12 2018 22:26

The 1807 Abolition Act only banned the importation of new slaves from Africa ie the middle passage. The slave trade within the colonies - specifically talking about the Caribbean Islands - was still happening up until the 1833 Act. The prohibition of importing new slaves from Africa was not particularly controversial amongst the slave owners/plantation owners because there had been many slave rebellions and the general theory was that "seasoned" slaves, that is slaves that were either born in the Islands or had been there for a long time, were far less likely to rebel than recent arrivals from Africa. The 1807 Act did not stop the slave trade per se, just the part of it which was most controversial amongst the public.

Fleur
Jun 12 2018 23:09

Also, in relation to the cotton industry, iirc there was a great deal of physical physical coercion, as in the Indian textile equipment being destroyed and by the mid 19th century British rule compelled India to import British calicos (hence the homespun cloth tactic espoused by Gandhi.) By this time Britain was entering it's Retreat Into Empire phase, having lost the technological edge to other industrial countries and a substantial part of industry was predicated on the captive market of Empire. In such it wasn't so much as technological superiority which fueled British industry, Germany and to an extent America were more advanced in manufacturing at this point but the forced supply of British goods to Empire.

MH wrote:

Quote:
Beyond that, slavery was replaced not with 'machinery in England' but a massive programme of forced labour, hundreds of thousands of indentured servants from India just to the Caribbean after 1838.

This.
Slavery, in it's most usually accepted form in British history, couldn't be replaced by machinery in England. Chattel slavery was almost all engaged in the sugar trade in the British empire, something which could only be done in the Caribbean both before and after abolition. Wealth generated by the sugar/slave trade did generate capital for industrialization however.

Mike Harman
Jun 13 2018 08:30
wimpled off wrote:
Mike Harman wrote:
Dauve wrote:
England, the industrial revolution leader, was one of the prominent abolitionist countries, first of the slave trade, then of slavery itself.

... the abolition of the slave trade/slavery was more about curtailing French colonialism ... and a response to the Baptist War and other slave insurrections.

You say that the abolition of the slave trade was a product of amongst other things the Baptist War. I point out the the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act was in 1807 - 24 years before the Baptist War and you claim I am responding to a different argument!

Dauve doesn't attempt to collapse abolition into the 1807 act, nor do I, it's just you doing that.

Fleur's answer is good, could also add that there was almost zero enforcement of the 1807 act for some time:

Marika Sherwood wrote:
The Act of 1807 had made it illegal for British subjects to buy or sell slaves, or otherwise be involved in the trade. Many, however, simply evaded its restrictions. Slave ships were regularly fitted out in British ports like Liverpool or Bristol. In fact, until 1811 carrying slaving equipment like shackles was not considered proof of involvement in the slave trade. Even after it became impossible for slave ships to be fully equipped in British ports, ships continued to fit out there and load their slaving gear just outside British waters.

Often the law was evaded by British ships operating under the Spanish or Portuguese flag, since neither country had yet outlawed the trade. While Britain, and later other nations, supported an Anti-Slaving Squadron to catch slavers off the West African coast, many of the ships they confiscated were re-sold to known slavers. Even where the slavers were not themselves British, they often relied on British credit and shipyards. After all, there was still a thriving market for slaves in Brazil, the Spanish colonies, and the United States. Millions of Africans were exported as slaves after 1808, many of them carried in ships financed, built, or equipped in Britain

According to Sherwood, the British Emancipation Act of 1834 was equally half-hearted. It ended slavery only in the Caribbean, not the rest of the British Empire. Slavery only became illegal in India in 1848, on the Gold Coast in 1874, and in Nigeria in 1901. In the late nineteenth century, colonial soldiers and police in Africa were often slaves themselves. Even after it was officially prohibited, slavery continued under other names as indentured service or forced labor. As late as 1948, colonial officials privately acknowledged that domestic slavery existed in northern Ghana.

Equally damning is the fact that after 1834, British investment continued in places where slavery remained legal, like Cuba and Brazil. In the 1840s, 20% of British sugar imports came from Cuba. British merchants and bankers lived in Cuba and helped finance the trade. British consuls, or their families, even owned slaves. Similarly, Brazilian mines and plantations that relied on slave labor were financed by British capital. By 1860, British imports from Brazil were worth £4.5 million every year (£99 million in 2005).

http://origins.osu.edu/review/after-abolition-britain-and-slave-trade-1807

Mike Harman
Jun 13 2018 10:50
Fleur wrote:
Slavery, in it's most usually accepted form in British history, couldn't be replaced by machinery in England. Chattel slavery was almost all engaged in the sugar trade in the British empire, something which could only be done in the Caribbean both before and after abolition. Wealth generated by the sugar/slave trade did generate capital for industrialization however.

Yes this is really it. The formal status of slave ownership was abolished, most of the conditions, the plantation system itself, were not. Where things did change, it was often as a result of further rebellions/strikes.

After the abolition of slavery in Jamaica in 1834, there was a four year apprentice system. The same happened in Guyana. This meant that 'freed' slaves were legally required to work for their previous owners for low wages (which were funded via British government compensation to slave owners, didn't come out of profits), could not change employer, would still be flogged, denied rations etc. if they refused to work. Immediately after the end of the apprentice system, Guyana got a professional police force.

Even by the time we get to mass protests in 1938 in Jamaica, it was still primarily large plantations, albeit formally free agricultural proletarians working on them at that point. Those jobs were not mechanized or replaced. There were mass struggles of sugar plantation workers in Guyana in the '70s after decolonisation too (the book is mostly about the Bauxite strike but also covers later organising of sugar workers).

In the US where the combination of slave rebellions and the civil war did disrupt the plantation system, you still have convict leasing providing workers for mines etc., and sharecropping as a new form of tied (and often indentured) labour in agriculture which persisted up until the 1940s. B. Traven's jungle novels are about debt peonage in the run-up to the Mexican revolution, this is just around the same time the syndicalist movement in Mexico developed.

Obviously there has been mechanisation in agriculture, but the development is uneven and slow.

There just is not a clean slavery -> free labour periodicisation, either in many of the local contexts where legal abolition happened, or internationally. The point here is not to claim that nothing changed, but that there are significant continuities which are obscured by conventional accounts, and that this is not only restricted to whig histories but impacts Marxist arguments too - even if Marx himself did not actually make that argument:

Marx wrote:
For the conversion of his money into capital, therefore, the owner of money must meet in the market with the free labourer, free in the double sense, that as a free man he can dispose of his labour-power as his own commodity, and that on the other hand he has no other commodity for sale, is short of everything necessary for the realisation of his labour-power.

The question why this free labourer confronts him in the market, has no interest for the owner of money, who regards the labour-market as a branch of the general market for commodities. And for the present it interests us just as little. We cling to the fact theoretically, as he does practically. One thing, however, is clear — Nature does not produce on the one side owners of money or commodities, and on the other men possessing nothing but their own labour-power. This relation has no natural basis, neither is its social basis one that is common to all historical periods. It is clearly the result of a past historical development, the product of many economic revolutions, of the extinction of a whole series of older forms of social production.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch06.htm

This is describing a process, but in 1867 he was not claiming this process had been completed internationally. Marx in 1881:

Marx wrote:
In analysing the genesis of capitalist production, I said:

At the heart of the capitalist system is a complete separation of ... the producer from the means of production ... the expropriation of the agricultural producer is the basis of the whole process. Only in England has it been accomplished in a radical manner. ... But all the other countries of Western Europe are following the same course. (Capital, French edition, p. 315.)

The ‘historical inevitability’ of this course is therefore expressly restricted to the countries of Western Europe. The reason for this restriction is indicated in Ch. XXXII: ‘Private property, founded upon personal labour ... is supplanted by capitalist private property, which rests on exploitation of the labour of others, on wage­labour.’ (loc. cit., p. 340).

In the Western case, then, one form of private property is transformed into another form of private property. In the case of the Russian peasants, however, their communal property would have to be transformed into private property.

The analysis in Capital therefore provides no reasons either for or against the vitality of the Russian commune. But the special study I have made of it, including a search for original source­ material, has convinced me that the commune is the fulcrum for social regeneration in Russia. But in order that it might function as such, the harmful influences assailing it on all sides must first be eliminated, and it must then be assured the normal conditions for spontaneous development.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1881/zasulich/reply.htm

While Marx was talking about the Russian Mir, it could also apply to the persistence of the plantation system well beyond universal wage labour in the UK.

He did not discuss the plantation system systematically, but he did talk about it at various points:

In 1847, note for those that are struggling with chronology that 1847 is after both 1807 and 1834:

Marx wrote:
Direct slavery is just as much the pivot of bourgeois industry as machinery, credits, etc. Without slavery you have no cotton; without cotton you have no modern industry. It is slavery that has given the colonies their value; it is the colonies that have created world trade, and it is world trade that is the pre-condition of large-scale industry. Thus slavery is an economic category of the greatest
importance. Without slavery North America, the roost progressive of countries, would be transformed into a patriarchal country. Wipe out North America from the map of the world, and
you will have anarchy — the complete decay of modern commerce and civilisation. Cause slavery to disappear and you will have wiped America off the map of nations. Thus slavery, because it is an economic category, has always existed among the institutions of the peoples. Modern nations have been able only to disguise slavery in their own countries, but they have imposed it without disguise upon the New World.

Or here:

Marx wrote:
Whilst the cotton industry introduced child-slavery in England, it gave in the United States a stimulus to the transformation of the earlier, more or less patriarchal slavery, into a system of commercial exploitation. In fact, the veiled slavery of the wage workers in Europe needed, for its pedestal, slavery pure and simple in the new world.

This is important in that it is describing slavery not as a relic of feudalism but a new 'system of commercial exploitation' driven by the demands of the English cotton industry.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/ch31.htm

Marx wrote:
In the second type of colonies—plantations—where commercial speculations figure from the start and production is intended for the world market, the capitalist mode of production exists, although only in a formal sense, since the slavery of Negroes precludes free wage-labour, which is the basis of capitalist production. But the business in which slaves are used is conducted by capitalists. The method of production which they introduce has not arisen out of slavery but is grafted on to it. In this case the same person is capitalist and landowner.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1863/theories-surplus-value/ch12.htm

So slavery not as a precondition to English factories that got replaced by them, but the commercial planter system, based on slavery, growing in tandem with English mechanisation. Planters not as feudal lords but as capitalists. It's under-theorised in Marx, but it is there, and he says that slaves are involved in commodity production (alienated labour) even though the labour is not free, an anomaly, but one developed within capitalism not simply a relic of previous systems equivalent to feudalism.

Cooked
Jun 13 2018 19:49
Dauve wrote:
Giving primacy to slavery and woman’s subordination is not documented by facts. Slavery played an indispensable role in the rise of capitalism from the 16th to the 18th centuries, but its importance began to decline with large scale industrialisation and England, the industrial revolution leader, was one of the prominent abolitionist countries, first of the slave trade, then of slavery itself. Various forms of slavery exist in the 21st century, yet they have long ceased to be vital to the capitalist economy.

As usual I'm having trouble following your arguments Mike. Are you saying that history proves that slavery had not "began to decline" and that it hasn't later (in the 21:st century) ceased to be vital to the capitalist economy?

You appear to be making that argument but when I follow you text and quotes it disappears and I can't find it again. There's plenty of stuff above suggesting slavery continued to be important (?) to capitalism but to me it doesn't make it clear whether its importance had declined. Which should be the issue at hand.

So if I could ask a question that might clarify things for me:
Did in your opinion the relative importance of slavery decrease after the 18th century?
A yes/no answer with following qualifications would be great!

I don't have a view myself as I know practically nothing about the issue but I'd be interested in what you think. From your initial response your answer must be no but that seems counterintuitive.

Mike Harman
Jun 13 2018 22:35
Cooked wrote:
So if I could ask a question that might clarify things for me:
Did in your opinion the relative importance of slavery decrease after the 18th century?
A yes/no answer with following qualifications would be great!

OK I'll try. Some of this is relatively new to me too, so apologies for errors or omissions.

First of all: no, I don't think it decreased from 1800, more like either 1850 or 1900 depending on how you define it. Explanation follows:

Cotton exports from the US didn't pick up until the late 1700s, because the mechanisation of textiles really got going about 1790-ish. This massively revived and accelerated the use of slave labour in the US in the 19th century.

Whitney is given credit for unleashing the explosion of American cotton production which was, in turn, propelled by the seemingly insatiable appetite for cotton from the British cotton textile mills. A quick glance at the numbers shows what happened. American cotton production soared from 156,000 bales in 1800 to more than 4,000,000 bales in 1860 (a bale is a compressed bundle of cotton weighing between 400 and 500 pounds). This astonishing increase in supply did not cause a long-term decrease in the price of cotton. The cotton boom, however, was the main cause of the increased demand for slaves – the number of slaves in America grew from 700,000 in 1790 to 4,000,000 in 1860. A materialistic America was well aware of the fact that the price of a slave generally correlated to the price of cotton. Thus, the cotton economy controlled the destiny of African slaves.

http://mshistorynow.mdah.state.ms.us/articles/161/cotton-in-a-global-economy-mississippi-1800-1860

And:

“Southern slave prices more than tripled,” rising from $500 in New Orleans in 1800, to $1,800 by 1860

https://www.theroot.com/slavery-by-the-numbers-1790874492

This is not a system in decline, in absolute terms it increased massively, in relative terms I would still think it increased relative to feudal and other pre-capitalist systems. The theoretical argument here is that chattel slavery + indentured servitude were capitalist models of labour, albeit not pure ones, that both drove and were driven by industrialisation, and that both slave and free wage labour displaced other systems internationally together.

Sticking with cotton for a bit: wool was the dominant British textile in the 18th century. Wool production increased in the 19th century too, but it can't be machined as easily and there are harder-to-overcome ecological limits on wool production compared to cotton.

Therefore, the discovery of machine looms and similar in the UK in the last decade or so of the 18th century, drove a huge increase both in factory labour in the UK and slave labour in the US during the 19th century, this is the exact opposite of displacing slave labour. What I'm sure it did do was displace craft textile production in the 19th.

With sugar, that was mostly a new and increasing market, sugar beet production (fields and ploughs instead of machetes) didn't even start commercially until the 19th century and that's the only thing that could displace sugar cane.

On the other hand, from Haiti onwards, slavery was politically under threat. But even in Haiti during the revolution, Toussaint L'ouverture's army was keeping plantations intact and whipping newly freed labour under only slightly better conditions than chattel slavery. Toussaint also wanted Haiti to maintain relations with France as an independent state and continue exporting, was mainly Napoleon opposed to that. Christophe instituted the Corvee system after independence - so still forced labour, and the US re-instituted it again in 1920 when it invaded.

From emancipation in British colonies, to emancipation in the US, the apprentice system, indentured labour, sharecropping were all used to maintain the same modes of production as much as possible. Not technological or social revolution in the organisation of labour, but new legal changes/subterfuges in response to slave revolts, maroonage and abolitionism. So you start to see chattel slavery being replaced with other systems of forced labour from 1834-ish onwards, but this had fuck all to do with it being replaced by factories or properly free wage labour in agriculture even.

Briefly returning to the feminism/reproduction side of things, due to the 1807 banning of the slave trade, while there was still illegal slave trading, the main increase in the US slave population came from breeding - not just 'natural increase' but a lot of rape, forced marriages etc. enforced by slavers. Given the status of slaves as permanentely both capital and labour power, a bit hard to claim this is not 'creating value'.

Found this map of slavery in the US from 1790 to 1850, it's a massive increase: https://lincolnmullen.com/projects/slavery/

One you get to 1880, there's the dash for Africa and a whole new imposition of both enclosures in terms of land alienation (so still primitive accumulation), and forced labour systems once again (if not hereditary chattel slavery). The Congo Free State was founded in 1885 for example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atrocities_in_the_Congo_Free_State

So to try to periodicise it:

16th/17th century - slave trade, but more 'feudal'/mercantile, not properly capitalist.

mid-18th-19th century - sugar and cotton on the world market, plantation system proper. Massive absolute increase in the number of slaves. Slaves are effectively unfree proletarians producing commodities on a massive scale.

1790s onwards, political status of slavery threatened, first in Haiti.

1834 onwards, legal status of slavery (as opposed to trade) threatened more broadly, but multiple attempts to continue forced labour under different legal mechanisms which continued well up to 1900 and more like 1920-30 in some cases.

1880 onwards - dash for Africa, new round of primitive accumulation of natural resources and land, and forced labour there.

Last quote:

The migration between the mid-1830s and early 1920s of more than 2.2 million Africans, Chinese, Indians, Japanese, Javanese, Melanesians, and other colonial subjects who worked under long-term written contracts had a profound impact on social, economic, cultural, and political life in many parts of the 19th- and early 20th-century colonial plantation world. While the great majority of these indentured men and women labored on sugar plantations in British, Dutch, French, and Spanish colonies in the Caribbean, South Africa, the southwestern Indian Ocean, and the South Pacific, others engaged in activities such as mining gold in the Transvaal and guano in Peru, as well as constructing railroads in East Africa and the Andes.1 Another 1.5 million Indians migrated to Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Malaya to work as coffee and rubber plantation laborers on short-term oral contracts under what is commonly known as the kangani or maistry system, and within India to meet the demand for labor on Assam’s tea plantations.2 Indentured labor historians often treat these two contractual labor systems as separate entities, rather than viewing them as constituent elements of a global migrant labor system that encompassed the Caribbean (especially British Guiana [Guyana], Cuba, Guadeloupe, Jamaica, Martinique, Suriname, Tobago, Trinidad), eastern and southern Africa (Kenya, Natal, Mozambique, Transvaal, Uganda), the southwestern Indian Ocean (Mayotte, Mauritius, Nosy Bé, Réunion), South and Southeast Asia (Assam, Burma [Myanmar], Ceylon [Sri Lanka], Malaya), Australasia (New Caledonia, Queensland), the central and southern Pacific (Fiji, Hawaii, Samoa, Tahiti, Vanuatu), and Central and South America (Mexico, Peru).

http://asianhistory.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190277727.001.0001/acrefore-9780190277727-e-33

edited to add:
Note the time period and compare that 2.2 million + 1.5 million post-1830 colonial plantation workers on some kind of long-term contract system, to the 700k US slaves at the turn of the 19th century in the US (not that they're equivalent figures, but it's a lot more people, considering it's barely discussed anywhere).

If we take 4 million US slaves in 1860. Let's say there's 3.5 million US slaves in 1830 (and a generational change between 1860 and 1830 so 6 million total? Making this up a bit..).

That's 3.7 million people recorded in 'long-term contract labour' in various colonies between 1830 and 1920, and 6 million US slaves between 1830 and 1865.

This may be an under-estimate rather than over-estimate too, for example Brazil doesn't get a mention above, and between 1808 and 1888 more than a million new slaves were forcibly shipped to Brazil".

end edit

That's more than 10 million people in the 90 years following British abolition who were working as forced labour, nearly all on plantations but to a lesser extent in mining.

So all of this for me points to an absolute increase in the importance of slavery proper until 1860-ish, and indentured labour until 1900-1920-ish.

Relative importance is harder to argue either way, but what what we're seeing is people being uprooted from feudal and other pre-capitalist systems and shipped all over the world as forced labourers in their millions right at the height of the industrial revolution. I think a reasonable point to say 'relative importance declined' would be when absolute numbers became stable (while free wage labour increased) or when absolute numbers declined. That seems closer to 1900 than 1800 and definitely not before 1800.

pi
Jun 14 2018 07:18

Thanks, very interesting and informative comments from Mike and Fleur which I think I have managed to largely follow. However, this:

Mike Harman wrote:
I think this is important because there are many stage-ist approaches to communism which say that x or y is a precondition to full communism. Those of us who reject this might not need to prove the continued existence of certain forms of labour or whatever, but it affects plenty from fordism/post-fordism to 'fully automated luxury communism' to decadence theory.

I don't get this. Given that I only have a basic grasp on fordism and falc and not at all decadence theory, would someone please explain the point being made here.

Mike Harman
Jun 14 2018 07:42

Arghh that might needs its own thread, but I co-wrote this about FALC and post-operaia stuff if it helps: https://libcom.org/blog/poverty-luxury-communism-05042018

There's also this old thread about class composition and operaismo http://libcom.org/forums/theory/class-composition-leninist-16072012 which gets into whether the fordist/post-fordist distinction is determinist or not. Bit of a wild ride, but worth a look and links out to a lot of the original texts. Since this is the tradition Federici comes from I guess it's pretty relevant really.

Mike Harman
Jun 14 2018 16:30

Bit more on relative importance.

Mike Harman wrote:
That's more than 10 million people in the 90 years following British abolition who were working as forced labour, nearly all on plantations but to a lesser extent in mining.

So all of this for me points to an absolute increase in the importance of slavery proper until 1860-ish, and indentured labour until 1900-1920-ish.

Taking England as the most industrialised of the industrial nations in the 19th century: it's actually tricky to find solid stats (at least in digestible form), so working from wiki and GCSE bitesize

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demography_of_England#Historical_population

Total English population:
1801 - 7 million
1851 - 15 million
1901 - 30 million
1921 - 35 million
1951 - 38 million

So doubling every 50 years in the 19th century, much slower rise in the 20th.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/gcsebitesize/history/shp/britishsociety/populationmigrationrev1.shtm

GCSE Bitesize wrote:
In 1811 the population of England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland was 18 million.
By 1851 this had increased to 27 million.
London had grown in size from around 1.5 million to 2.5 million people. At the same time the number of people emigrating from Britain grew hugely from 2,000 to 300,000.
By 1850 more than half the British population lived in towns and cities and worked in factories and mines.

50% urbanisation (and 50% manufacturing/extractive employment) at 1850. Found another page saying it was 25% in 1830 but can't find that now.

During the twentieth century the urban population of England
increased from 77% to 89%.. If that's really from 1900-2000 it's only a 12% change in a century compared to 25% in 20 years from 1830 to 1850.

If these are all right and match up:

1830 - 25% urbanisation
1850 - 50% urbanisation
1900 - 77% urbanisation
2000 - 89% urbanisation.

If there's 27 million British people in the UK in 1850, say 20 million are working age, half of them working in manufacturing and mining, that's 10 million in manufacturing and mining. Mining and cotton production are a big part of what is providing raw materials to the factories, roughly 4 million slaves in the US south in 1850. It didn't kick start the process at the beginning then quickly get overtaken, it was central to the process of industrialisation in the 19th century. Urbanisation/industrialisation in the UK happened in tandem with rapid expansion of chattel slavery in the US 1800-1865 and colonial contract labour migrations between 1838 and 1900, not as two separate events.

At school I was taught about slavery and the industrial revolution as two completely separate events, imagine that's the same for a lot of people - slavery ending more or less with the abolition of the slave trade (don't think we did US civil war), which is conveniently close to where industrial revolution accounts start. That account is complete bollocks.