“Why, if it is one’s own child, is it not work but love?”

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.

Read More | “The Gendered Circuit: Reading The Arcane of Reproduction” | Maya Gonzalez | Viewpoint