On the Socialization of Domestic Work

13thOct. × ’20
What follows is an excerpt from Cuadernos de Negación No. 14: Notas Sobre Trabajo Doméstico.

Previously we said that Capital can not end the reproduction of labor power at home. If the bourgeoisie was directly responsible for the survival of the proletariat, moving their reproduction from that of a private sphere to a public one, we wouldn’t be forced to sell our labor power. The existence of a domestic sphere, in other words separate and private, for the reproduction of the labor force, which means survival, is constitutive of capitalism.

Labor power is private just like the rest of the commodities. Precisely because it is private and because it is socialized through the market are they commodities. In this, labor power differs in no way from the others, save some particularities and complexities. Proletarians produce and convene at the market to sell it.

The reproduction or maintenance of slaves was a direct responsibility of their masters, because there the distinction between public and private are dissolved, because slaves live entirely within the private sphere. The bourgeoisie despises the slaver mode of production because the supposed necessary element for capitalist relation is the existence of “free workers”. Capital doesn’t appropriate the proletariat, it appropriates their labor. In that sense, the proletarian is a free citizen, who doesn’t have the means to reproduce other than by their labor power which they are forced to sell. In other words, they’re free to sell themselves or die.

In the feudal system, on the contrary, the surplus producers have direct access to the means of production. Maya Gonzalez points out in Communization and the Abolition of Gender ¹ that surplus is extracted by force. The peasant man stands in relation to this outside force as the public representative of the peasant household. Property passes through his line. Women and children peasants are confined to the private realm of the village, which is itself a site of both production and reproduction. The peasant family does not need to leave its private sphere in order to produce what it needs, but rather only to give up a part of its product to the lords. For this reason, peasant families remain relatively independent of markets.

Returning to “our” capitalist society, the socialization of domestic labor finds itself delimited by the separation between public and private domain. If there was additional payment for domestic labor that everybody realizes in the private domain this wouldn’t change the fact that it is realized in a private manner, be it paid by our employers (wage increases) or by the state in form of subsidies. For Capital, these payments must always be insufficient because otherwise it would suppress the need to sell our labor power to survive.

If renumeration can be translated as hiring somebody else with a wage, it does not cease to be socialization through the market, where the private sphere of a family comes to form part of the public sphere of the market in the duration of said job. We know this is completely impossible to generalize because there are always families (like the ones of paid domestic workers) who will never be able to hire someone to perform those same tasks for them.

   The persistence of domestic labor in its traditional form, even now intermeshed with wage labor, can be explained by its necessity to Capital. The increase in productivity obeys capital’s interests to improve, on one hand, the quality of reproductive labor, and on the other hand, to allow a more intensive utilization of the the feminine waged labor force without the abandonment of the work at home. Just as the generalization of private automobiles is not a social conquest, but a necessary condition to extend and make the journey to work more flexible, and to make the workforce more mobile (increasing the amount of job seekers to increase competition inside the market and be able to impose lower wages); same as everything, electrodomestics and other “commodities” serve to make domestic labor compatible with waged work, not to suppress the traditional rule of the woman as a housewife. (Comunistas de Consejos de Galicia, Notas a Alienación y Autoliberación de Las Mujeres de Ann Foreman

Lastly, when the state assumes parts of reproductive labor as it occurs in schools, nurseries, restaurants, nursing homes, hospitals, etc., we remain in the plane of capitalist socialization. If the State and its institutions form part of the public sphere, its socialization is inseparable from social control. This does not suppose the development of the public as community, as common socialization, in common spaces and with needs shared and assumed collectively, but a development of control, discipline, and repression.

1. Maya Gonzalez, ‘Communization and the Abolition of Gender’ (2011)
2. From a yet untranslated pre-face to Ann Foreman’s ‘Femininity and Alienation‘ (1977)

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