Thursday, November 15, 2012

Aufheben, Fortunati and Federici

I read Aufheben's review of the Arcane of Reproduction (by Fortunati) years ago. Even though I thought it was a generally correct analysis of a terrible book (or a terrible translation), I thought Aufheben's conclusions were false. I recently read Federici's latest book, Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle. I think I can now effectively say why Aufheben are incorrect.

Aufheben's conclusion about value and housework is:
So then, does housework create value, or not? We have seen in the previous sections that the answer is: no. Housework does not produce commodities, and the labour involved in it cannot be abstracted and measured as abstract labour, as a contribution to value. But we have also seen the value supposedly created by housework cannot be pinned down anywhere.
[Aufheben, The arcane of reproductive production]
I agree that without commodities at some point in the production process, it's impossible to have value. Nevertheless, housework definitely produces and reproduces labour-power. Labour-power can be sold as a commodity. The fact that Aufheben disputes this is ridiculous. Every new generation of worker for the factory, office or farm is created and maintained by house-work. What the hell do they think pregnancy, childbirth, feeding, clothing, caring for, teaching is if it isn't the production of labour-power? What is cooking, ironing, cleaning, washing, sex, etc., if it isn't the reproduction of existing labour-power? This work remains largely un-waged, mostly done by women. Is it relevant that it isn't immediately realised as a wage for it to contain value? It isn't relevant if you accept Tronti's idea of the social factory, as expanded by Federici:
Work appears as just one compartment of our lives, taking place only in certain times and spaces. The time we consume in the “social factory,” preparing ourselves for work or going to work, restoring our “muscles, nerves, bones and brains” with quick snacks, quick sex, movies, all this appears as leisure, free time, individual choice.
[Federici, Silvia (2012-09-01). Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle (Common Notions) (pp. 35-36). Independent Publishers Group. Kindle Edition.]
One way to think of house-work is to understand that the value of house-work is bound-up in the waged-worker and realised when they receive their pay. It's not some sort of secret/hidden extra thing like Fortunati would have you believe, but it's a realisation that people aren't atomic individuals that can be separated out like little units (like bourgeoisie ideology would have us believe).

On the topic of commodity production and who produces them, Marx is clear that it doesn't matter who does it or how it is done once the world-market has been established.
No matter whether commodities are the output of production based on slavery, of peasants (Chinese, Indian ryots), of communes (Dutch East Indies), of state enterprise (such as existed in former epochs of Russian history on the basis of serfdom) or of half-savage hunting tribes, etc. — as commodities and money they come face to face with the money and commodities in which the industrial capital presents itself and enter as much into its circuit as into that of the surplus-value borne in the commodity-capital, provided the surplus-value is spent as revenue; hence they enter in both branches of circulation of commodity-capital. The character of the process of production from which they originate is immaterial. They function as commodities in the market, and as commodities they enter into the circuit of industrial capital as well as into the circulation of the surplus-value incorporated in it. It is therefore the universal character of the origin of the commodities, the existence of the market as world-market, which distinguishes the process of circulation of industrial capital.
[Marx, Capital Volume 2, Chapter 4, "The Three Formulas of the Circuit"]
[...] a commodity produced by a capitalist does not differ in any way from that produced by an independent labourer or by communities of working-people or by slaves.
[Marx, Capital Volume 2, Chapter 19, "Former Presentations of the Subject"]
Once the world-market exists, pretty much everything becomes subject to its rules. A tribe of savages could collectively work together to produce a commodity. Why is a marriage not treated in the same way? The nuclear family expends the labour-power that is realised as exchange-value in the form of the waged-worker's pay cheque. It's a simple as that.

The value of housework can be most clearly revealed through contemporary history. This is because housework is moving from being entirely hidden through the naturalised forms of love and marriage to the waged form.
As the participation of women in waged work has immensely increased, especially in the North, large quotas of housework have been taken out of the home and reorganized on a market basis through the virtual boom of the service industry, which now constitutes the dominant economic sector from the viewpoint of wage employment. This means that more meals are now eaten out of the home, more clothes are washed in laundromats or by dry-cleaners, and more food is bought already prepared for consumption.
[Federici, Silvia (2012-09-01). Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction, and Feminist Struggle (Common Notions) (pp. 107). Independent Publishers Group. Kindle Edition.]
Aufheben are incorrect. There is an immense secret being kept - even with generations of feminism from the 1960s until the 2010s and certainly within Marxism - that a huge proportion of the Earth's wealth is generated by unwaged (generally women's) work. Does this work create value? In Fortunati's sense, no. In Marx' sense, definitely.


  1. This is an excellent post. I am keen to revisit some of this stuff and get a copy of Federici's new book.

  2. Hi Anthony,

    Thanks. The book is nothing more than a collection of articles Federici wrote over the past five decades. I've read some of them before. Probably all online already. The list is below. I'll send you a digital copy of the book.


    Part I: Theorizing and Politicizing Housework

    Wages against Housework (1975)
    Why Sexuality Is Work (1975)
    Counterplanning from the Kitchen (1975)
    The Restructuring of Housework and Reproduction in the United States in the 1970s (1980)
    Putting Feminism Back on Its Feet (1984)

    Part II: Globalization and Social Reproduction

    Reproduction and Feminist Struggle in the New International Division of Labor (1999)
    War, Globalization, and Reproduction (2000)
    Women, Globalization, and the International Women’s Movement (2001)
    The Reproduction of Labor Power in the Global Economy and the Unfinished Feminist Revolution (2008)

    Part III: Reproducing Commons

    On Elder Care Work and the Limits of Marxism (2009)
    Women, Land Struggles, and Globalization: An International Perspective (2004)
    Feminism and the Politics of the Common in an Era of Primitive Accumulation (2010)