In order to appreciate the intervention made by Fortunati – beginning over a quarter century ago, along with the other founding members of the group Lotta Femminista, including Mariarosa Dalla Costa – we must first jettison some of our Marxist baggage. We might call this habit of thought “the arcane of productive labor,” a privileging of value production as that which defines class exploitation. This prioritization often leads to the conclusion that the point of production is the central locus of proletarian subjectivation, as well as the foreground of revolutionary struggle and the starting place of a positive communist project. The ongoing Marxist reflex of productivism has effectively written off Fortunati’s insights, along with the bulk of feminist theories of reproductive labor. The charge is that by moving to theorize reproductive activity as productive labor in Marx’s terms, these feminist theorists have concocted a moralizing criticism, rather than a sober critique, of masculine discourses under capitalism. Of course, that sober critique would necessarily leave us with no more than “what Marx said.” In any event, this reaction has framed the discussion of reproduction since the publication of The Arcane of Reproduction: measuring its adequacy as a theory of value rather than understanding it to reveal what a theory of value cannot immediately disclose.1
This reception had the consequence of renaturalizing the very thing Fortunati’s critique was meant to denaturalize in the first place: reproductive labor and gendered exploitation under capitalism. It is true that if Marx’s categories are stretched to incorporate reproductive labor, this can lead to further confusion. In short, if the debate revolves around whether reproductive labor is value-productive, we are still missing the point. The point is the political, as opposed to the moral, viewpoint of the proletariat – that which arises from the wage and class relation of exploitation itself. Let us not forget that “the personal is political,” which is to say, in the context of Marxist-Feminism, that the wage-relation – not biologically but structurally – must also involve that half of the working class relegated to the hidden abode of labor-power’s reproduction.