Commentary on "Toward a Pro-Revolutionary Strategy Targeting Patriarchy"

Some additional commentary and explanations of 'Toward A Pro-Revolutionary Strategy Targeting Patriarchy'.

Submitted by Operaista on April 9, 2012

Some comrades have had some questions on Toward a Pro-Revolutionary Strategy Targeting Patriarchy, and I wrote pretty extensively in response, so, I thought I would compile my responses into another post to explain what I was getting at.

The first question was more in terms of a clarification, on whether I meant sexual orientation as something that is socially constructed and imposed, or rather preferences for certain body sets/expressions of gender/or what have you (as in, would the destruction of sexual orientation mean that people would be attracted to everyone equally?). This is a pretty simple question to answer, as I mean the end of sexual orientation as a socially constructed/imposed identity. I think it's likely that some people will always have some preferences, but it would be the end of those preferences being fit into a finite number of coherent categories, or constituting an identity. ‎I'm not for replacing compulsory heterosexuality with "compulsory pansexuality", but rather a society where partner choice ceases to be meaningful or being assumed to be consistent over time. People will certainly have their trends, but consistent choice of one set of gender expressions over others will be about as meaningful as consistently dating pianists.

Another question that arose was to my reference to Capital's destruction of the proletariat, and that there's no longer a need to maximize the size of future generations (if we look at capitalism's birth, there was both harsh discipline to enforce waged work and a willingness to starve workers to death, with the contradiction of strict controls on sexuality and gender to enforce high rates of reproduction; now there is much less of a push toward high rates of reproduction).

The not needing to maximize further generations of labor power bit is tied into the history of when capital arose, and how the patriarchy of capitalism was structured (with intense regulation of reproduction and sexuality). Europe's population took quite a while to recover from the Black Death, and one source of the peasantry's power as a class was the drastically reduced population. Part of crushing that power was a lot of regulation of reproduction and sexuality to basically force people to have more kids (this is a pretty central part of Federici's work). In the developed world, the only countries that have population growth right now are those with substantial immigration; the means of production are developed to the extent that they're not hurting for a labor pool (in fact, a lot of stuff here functions around excluding groups in the working class from a lot of labor to varying extents).

As to Capital tending toward the destruction of the proletariat - well, the proletariat has to sell labor power to live; labor power is also the only thing that can generate surplus value so capital can valorise itself (create new value). However, every individual capitalist/enterprise has a motivation to reduce the amount of labor time to create a product, as, if they innovate this first, they can realize a super profit until everyone else catches on. Prices, of course are determined by socially necessary labor time.The model is that the price of the entire lot of products as a whole is set by the amount of constant capital (raw materials, wear and tear on machinery), the amount that it costs for the labor power used to reproduce itself, and amount of surplus value (unpaid labor). Wages tend toward bare survival in the absence of complicating factors such as struggle over wages, government supports, excess labor pool letting capital work people to death, the labor being highly skilled and thus in a shortage/needing to realize prior investment on education/training, etc. One way to increase that surplus value is to cut the amount of labor needed to make the product - prices can stay at the current rate until everyone else does so, and prices go down. This is one of the central contradictions of capitalism - the need to constantly innovate production to exclude the proletariat from the production process, but the need to employ workers to realize value.

Of course, this process results in less and less labor being required to make the necessities of survival, generally involve increasing the amount of constant capital involved, increasing the ratio of constant capital to variable capital (variable capital = wages) which leads to the declining rate of profit (the amount of profit made per capital expended), the cyclic nature of crises in capitalism, and ultimately the fact that there's only so much crap that can be put on market, so while capital could expand throughout the entirety of social relations for a while, eventually there's less and less labor to do. Proletarians without anyone to sell their labor power to have no means of survival (and we can see the cutting of social welfare programs as both an attempt for capital to get out of crisis (by accumulating a new source of capital) and accelerating the detoriation in proletarian conditions).

There were questions about what the refusal of work entails, and what that looks like as an organizing strategy. Autonomism is a huge influence on me, and a lot of the theoretical explication of the refusal of work comes out of autonomism, but arises first in its predecessor, operaismo. So I'm going to cite operaismo and autonomism and such a bit here.

Mario Tronti raises it in The Strategy of Refusal:

It is wrong to define present day society as "industrial civilisation". The "industry" of that definition is, in fact, merely a means.' The truth of modern society is that it is the civilisation of labour. Furthermore, a capitalist society can never be anything but this. And, in the course of its historical development, it can even take on the form of "socialism". So.... not industrial society (that is, the society of capital) but the society of industrial labour, and thus the society of workers' labour. It is capitalist society seen from this point of view that we must find the courage to fight. What are workers doing when they struggle against their employers? Are they not they, above all else, saying "No" to the transformation of labour power into labour? Are they not, more than anything, refusing to receive work from the capitalist?

Couldn't we say, in fact, that stopping work does not signify a refusal to give capital the use of one's labour power, since it has already been given to capital once the contract for this particular commodity has been signed. Nor is it a refusal to allow capital the product of labour, since this is legally already capital's property, and, in any case, the worker does not know what to do with it. Rather, stopping work - the strike, as the classic form of workers' struggle - implies a refusal of the command of capital as the organiser of production: it is a way of saying "No" at a particular point in the process and a refusal of the concrete labour which is being' offered; it is a momentary.' blockage of the work-process and it appears as a recurring threat which derives its content from the process of value creation.

Negri ran with this, adding a positive project to it, self-valorisation (which is the working class valorising itself - the way our labor valorises capital). Harry Cleaver wrote a wonderful introduction to the English translation of Negri's Marx Beyond Marx :

In the language of traditional Marxism, revolution and the emergence of a new society has always been addressed as the question of the "transition": of the passage through socialism to communism. Negri argues forcibly that this is totally inconsistent with Marx's analysis in the Grundrisse. The only "transition" in that work is the reversal and overthrow of all of capital's determinations by the revolutionary subject. Because capital's central means of social domination is the imposition of work and surplus work, the subordination of necessary labor to surplus labor, Negri sees that one of the two most fundamental aspects of working class struggle is the struggle against work. Where profit is the measure of capitalist development and control, Negri argues that the refusal of work measures the transition out of capital. The refusal of work appears as a constituting praxis that produces a new mode of production, in which the capitalist relation is reversed and surplus labor is totally subordinated to working-class need.

The second, positive side to revolutionary struggle is the elaboration of the self-determined multiple projects of the working class in the time set free from work and in the transformation of work itself. This self-determined project Negri calls self-valorization. Communism is thus constituted both by the refusal of work that destroys capital's imposed unity and by the self-valorization that builds diversity and "rich, independent multilaterality."

Later, Cleaver explains Negri's argument as:

To sum up Negri's exposition of Marx's line of argument in the Grundrisse: capitalism is a social system with two subjectivities, in which one subject (capital) controls the other subject (working class) through the imposition of work and surplus work. The logic of this control is the dialectic which constrains human development within the limits of capitalist valorization. Therefore, the central struggle of the working class as independent subject is to break capitalist control through the refusal of work. The logic of this refusal is the logic of antagonistic separation and its realization undermines and destroys capital's dialectic. In the space gained by this destruction the revolutionary class builds its own independent projects - its own self-valorization. Revolution then is the simultaneous overthrow of capital and the constitution of a new society: Communism. The refusal of work becomes the planned abolition of work as the basis of the constitution of a new mode of producing a new multidimensional society.

To get more into self-valorisation and refusal of work, and deeper into Negri's arguments, Marx Beyond Marx and Books For Burning, I think, show Negri's theoretical development (especially where Books For Burning is a chronology of stuff from the 70s).

Refusal of work is basically organizing around withholding our work, and reducing the domination capital has on our lives. Of course strikes are a part of it, but instead of demanding "fair wages", we go for less time at work, or we do organized auto-reduction (fare strikes, expropriations on a mass scale) so that we have to work less as a group; we resist the attempts at Capital to incorporate more of life into the labor process. This puts us in direct conflict with union bureaucracies, who are always promising a supply of labor as long as the compensation is right.

Another venue for refusal of work, that Silvia Federici hints at in an interview is the struggle of a mass refusal of debt. A lot of the interview, before she gets into how "women" is a political category, and organizing as women, is about the occupations in the UC system, and goes into how student loans and debt in general are a means of control, by forcing work, and I think a mass refusal to pay student loans, or credit card debt, could be a means of refusal of work - in a way, when things are got on debt, we're promising future work for it.

As to how we approach reproductive labor, social division that is based on gender, and so on, there is obviously a lot of useful history in Caliban and the Witch by Federici. Also, Mariarosa Dalla Costa has a lot of useful commentary on capitalism and reproduction in, conveniently enough, Capitalism and Reproduction. I think this is particularly salient:

Reproduction is crushed by the general intensification of labour, by the overextension of the working day, amidst cuts in resources whereby the lack of waged work becomes a stress-laden work of looking for legal and/or illegal employment, added to the laborious work of reproduction. I cannot here give a more extensive description of the complex phenomena that have led to the drastic reduction in the birth rate in the advanced countries, particularly in Italy (fertility rate 1.26, population growth zero). It should also be remembered that women’s refusal to function as machines for reproducing labour-power - demanding instead to reproduce themselves and others as social individuals - has represented a major moment of women’s resistance and struggle.21 The contradiction in women’s condition – whereby women are forced to seek financial autonomy through waged work outside the home, yet on disadvantageous terms in comparison to men, while they also remain primarily responsible for labour-power’s production and reproduction – has exploded in all its unsustainability. Women in the advanced countries have fewer and fewer children. In general, humanity in the advanced countries is less and less desirous of reproducing itself.

Women’s great refusal in countries like Italy also demands an answer to the overall question we are discussing. It demands a new type of development in which human reproduction is not built on an unsustainable sacrifice by women, as part of a conception and structure of life which is nothing but labour time within an intolerable sexual hierarchy.

We can see both the decline in birthrates, the struggles to gain or maintain access to birth control and abortion, as struggles over reproductive labor. We can also see those struggles in the places that caring becomes waged work: nursing, day care, etc...and beyond a struggle over wages there, we can also see struggle to resist or destroy alienation of that caring labor from the community.

We obviously can't say, "no one eats, no one is taken care of when they're sick, we have no children at all, the ones we do have fend for themselves"...that would destroy us. But we can organize those things, take them seriously, such that the burden of them doesn't fall almost entirely on women, and not just in individual households or by care being purchased as a commodity.

I would be remiss here if I didn't recommend Selma James' Sex, Race, and Class, and Dalla Costa and James' The Power of Women and the Subversion of Community. Dalla Costa has an excellent history of feminism and operaismo, The Door to The Garden, and I think these two paragraphs are especially salient to this topic:

Because I have to say that any reproduction worth this name has its own secret. We expanded the concept of class to include women as producers and reproducers of labour force. We fundamentally looked at proletarian and working class women. Behind the closed doors of the home, women provided a labour that had no retribution nor labour time nor holidays, whilst actually almost occupying the entire time of their lives. This labour consisted of material and immaterial tasks and conditioned all their choices. We defined the family as the place of production in so far as it daily produced and reproduced the labour-force; until then the others had claimed and still claimed that the family was a place of mere consumption or production of use values or mere realm of reserve labour force. We said that external labour neither eliminated nor substantially modified domestic labour, it rather added a second master to the first represented by the very work of the husband. Therefore, emancipation through external work was never our objective. Nor was it equality with men. To whom should we have been equal, when we were burdened by a labour that man would not do? Moreover, at a time when the discourse on refusal of work was so strong, why should we try and fight for something men were attempting to refute?

In the postfordist society of those years, we had revealed that production roughly revolved around two poles: the factory and the house; and that woman, in so far as she produced, through her labour, the necessary commodity for capitalism, i.e. labour force itself, she had in her hands a fundamental lever of social power: she could refuse to produce. In this sense, she constitutes the central figure of ‘social subversion’ as we used to call it at the time, i.e. of a struggle that could lead to a radical transformation of society. I have to say that despite the deep transformations that later occurred in the mode of production, this cornerstone of feminine responsibility in the mode of production and the importance of the labour of reproduction remain unresolved problems, thus reproducing the persistency of a fundamental binarism.

Speaking of history, of course refusal of work is not just something in operaismo and autonomism, and Dauve has a good history of it in various struggles, starting in the 19th century, called To Work or Not To Work.

And finally, to my criticism of Third Wave feminism, and the idea that there as a whole has been a major advance in feminist discourse, and that maybe I'm talking about just academia, the Third Wave really revolves around, in my eyes, a rejection of both the essentialism of cultural feminism and the historical materialist view of gender as a conflict of radical feminists like Firestone, Millet, and Dworkin. Now, it's right to reject the essentialism and mysticism of the likes of Daly, but, a lot of Third Wave feminism revolves around "choice", in that everything is feminist if it is done by someone who proclaims themself a feminist. This has led to glorification of sex work rather than struggle against it; a breaking of any sort of solidarity; individualism; and so on. Obviously there was a generation that was coming to feminist consciousness in a time of backlash, and stuff like riotgrrl comes out of that, but there is a whole edifice - blogosphere, academia, hip "feminist" activities, petit bourgeois women dabbling in sex work for cred - that is founded on channeling the struggle of working class women toward entirely individual fulfillment of desires.

As to transphobia and racism in Second Wave feminism, that has supposedly been addressed by the Third Wave, the Third Wave is a) better at covering itself up, and b) universalizing the Second Wave that way is super problematic - a lot of important feminist women of color were part of the Second Wave (such as Audre Lorde) and there are very much anti-transphobic strains in the Second Wave. Obviously, a wholesale characterization of the Third Wave as all one thing is problematic, but it's been a recuperative project in that it's been intended to be a renunciation of the Second Wave, rather than a continuance over the many radical elements of the Second Wave.

Originally posted: April 6, 2012 at Autonomous Struggle of the Glittertariat