What is social reproduction theory?

In the first of a series of articles looking at and debating social reproduction theory, here we republish Tithi Bhattacharrya‘s introductory piece on some of the basics. The original can be found here and a longer piece by Tithi expanding on the concepts can be found here.

One of the most common charges against Marxism is that, as a theory, it is preoccupied with “class” at the expense of gender.

It is important to state at the outset that the history of organisations claiming to be “Marxist” has not always been glorious when it comes to categories of oppression such as gender and race. Everyone knows someone who has been told by a “Marxist” man that “minor” annoyances like sexism or racism will be sorted out “after the revolution,” so in the meantime, we all need to buckle down and work on our class struggle. Incidents of sexual harassment by Marxist men are also unfortunately not uncommon in organisations of the left, both in the past and the present.

Short of actual harassment, women have recounted feeling dismissed, undermined and institutionally written off within organisations. Voices of women activists such as the Indian Communist women involved in the historic Telengana struggle of 1947, British Communists such as Doris Lessing, or Peggy Dennis, a leading member of the U.S. Communist Party, tell a dispiriting story of sexism and disappointment in organisations that such women had seen as their life’s work and source of hope.

This record is particularly horrifying because many of us became Marxists precisely because revolutionary Marxists are supposed to be the most intolerant of gender oppression. We joined revolutionary organisations because we think of Marxism as an insurgent theory – that fights for, but never remains satisfied with, any piecemeal reform the system offers, and that calls for a complete demolition of capitalism – and is thus one of the best weapons to fight for women’s liberation and gender justice.

This is why, if we are serious revolutionaries and not unthinking preachers of dogma, there are two – mutually contradictory – aspects of the Marxism’s history that we have to reckon with. The first is the damage done to the revolutionary cause of gender justice in the name of Marxism, and the second is how the Marxist framework, despite the many historical missteps in its name, still remains the best way to understand oppression under capitalism, and hence provides clues as to how to end it.

Marxist Theory

There is a tremendous underdeveloped insight at the heart of Marx’s analysis of capitalism. In Capital Volume 1, Marx identifies “labour power” or our capacity to labour, as the “special commodity” that the capitalist needs to set the system in motion and keep it running. Our labour power, Marx tells us, has the “peculiar property of being a source of value” because with that labour power, we create commodities and value for capitalism. The appropriation of our surplus labour by capitalists is the source of their dominance. Without our labour power, then, the system would collapse.

But Marx is frustratingly silent on the rest of the story. If labour power produces value, how is labour power itself produced? Surely workers do not spring from the ground to arrive at the marketplace, fresh and ready to sell their labour power to the capitalist?

This is where later Marxist scholars such as Lise Vogel, Martha Gimenez, Johanna Brenner and, more recently, Susan Ferguson and David McNally have seized upon Marx’s transformative but incomplete insight, and developed it further. It is perhaps important for us to remember in this context, the potential and creativity inherent in the Marxist tradition, rightly referred to as a living tradition, which has allowed new generations of Marxists to examine it critically and expand upon it.

Looking closely at Marx’s Capital, these scholars argue that the key to the system, our labor power, is actually itself produced and reproduced outside of capitalist production, in a “kin-based” site called the family. In an excellent passage, Vogel explains clearly the connection between class struggle and women’s oppression:

Class struggle over conditions of production represents the central dynamic of social development in societies characterized by exploitation. In these societies, surplus labor is appropriated by a dominant class, and an essential condition for production is the…renewal of a subordinated class of direct producers committed to the labor process. Ordinarily, generational replacement provides most of the new workers needed to replenish this class, and women’s capacity to bear children therefore plays a critical role in class society….In propertied classes…women’s oppression flows from their role in the maintenance and inheritance of property…In subordinate classes…female oppression…derives from women’s involvement in processes that renew direct producers, as well as their involvement in production. [Vogel, Marxism and the Oppression of Women, p. 129, emphasis mine]

This is essentially the main argument of what Vogel and these other later Marxists call “social reproduction theory.” Social reproduction theory shows how the “production of goods and services and the production of life are part of one integrated process,” as Meg Luxton has put it. If the formal economy is the production site for goods and services, the people who produce such things are themselves produced outside the ambit of the formal economy at very little cost for capital.

Labour power, in the main, is reproduced by three interconnected processes:

1. By activities that regenerate the worker outside the production process and allow her to return to it. These include, among a host of others, food, a bed to sleep in, but also care in psychical ways that keep a person whole.

2. By activities that maintain and regenerate non-workers outside the production process i.e. those who are future or past workers, such as children, adults out of the workforce for whatever reason, be it old age, disability or unemployment.

3. By reproducing fresh workers, meaning childbirth.

These activities, which form the very basis of capitalism in that they reproduce the worker, are done completely free of charge for the system by women and men within the household and the community. In the United States, women still carry a disproportionate share of this domestic labour.

According to a 2012 survey, U.S. women put in 25.9 hours a week of unpaid domestic labour in 2010, while men put in 16.8, a difference of more than nine hours. The survey includes indexable tasks such as childcare, cooking, shopping, housework, odd jobs, gardening and others.

According to Forbes magazine, if unpaid domestic work was included in the measuring the GDP, “it would have raised it by 26 percent in 2010.” But, of course, we also have to add to this already formidable list the additional non-indexable tasks such as providing psychic care and support to both the employed and non-worker(s) within the household. Anyone who has had to soothe a child after a hard day at her own workplace, or figure out care for an ageing parent after a gruelling shift knows how important such apparently non-material tasks can be.

The most important insight of social reproduction theory is that capitalism is a unitary system that can successfully, if unevenly, integrate the sphere of reproduction and the sphere of production. Changes in one sphere thus create ripples in another. Low wages and neoliberal cost-cutting at work can produce foreclosures and domestic violence at home.

Why is this the most important insight? Because it gives real historical substance to understanding: (a) who a “worker” is, and (b) in what ways the worker can fight against the system. Most importantly, this theory helps us understand that any gains for gender rights that we make in either the formal economy or outside of it can only be temporary because the material basis of women’s oppression is tied to the system as a whole. Any conversation about the end of oppression and liberation thus needs to draw on a simultaneous conversation about the end of the system itself.

The Importance of the Sphere of Production

If women provide the main support for capitalism outside the workplace through their unpaid labour, does that then make workplace issues men’s issues?

Anyone who is expecting to find the 19th century stereotype of a dungaree-clad white male worker wielding his spanner should take a close look at the real picture of the U.S. labor market.

The vast majority of women in the U.S. have to work for a living. This means they sell their labor power in the market and are workers. Women make up half – an even 47 percent – of the US labour force, and the percentage of married mothers who are working has increased from 37 percent in 1968 to 65 percent in 2011. According to a Pew Research study released this year, a record 40 percent of American mothers are the primary breadwinner for their families, compared to a mere 11 percent in 1960.

While union membership is low for all workers in the U.S., the number of unionised women is not far behind the number of unionised men. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, even after the severe drop in union membership since the recession, the figures for 2012 show that union membership rate was 12 percent for men, compared to 10.5 percent for women. These findings also show that Black workers were more likely to be union members than their white, Asian or Latino counterparts.

It follows that anyone who argues that women’s issues are only to do with what we experience or endure in the home (sexual violence, reproductive health, childcare, etc.), or outside the sphere of production is simply wrong. Any discussion about wages or the workplace, about labour organising or about fighting for benefits is a highly gendered issue.

But there are two radically contradictory trends that mark all recent news about women. One is the unbearable immiseration of the vast majority of women and the other is the rise of an incredibly prosperous and multi-ethnic group of ruling-class women.

More than three-quarters of the workers in the 10 biggest low-wage job categories are women, and over one-third are women of colour. I have written before on how the US is one of only four countries in the world that lacks paid maternity leaves, making it extremely difficult for women to be working mothers. Moreover, one-third of US workers don’t have access to paid sick leave, and only 42 percent have paid personal leave. As union activists correctly point out:

What’s the impact on public health when working people can’t afford to take sick days during a flu epidemic? Who takes care of a sick child? Who’s home to fix dinner and help with homework? Who can dedicate time to a sick elderly parent?

How are women supposed to balance the burden of unpaid labour in the home, with full-time paid labour in the workplace? The real answer is that they cannot.

In 1990, women’s participation in the labour force was 74 percent, making the US number six among 22 developed countries in this measure. Thanks to the neoliberal policies of the next two decades, women’s participation rose only a fraction to 75.2 percent, while in other industrialised countries, it shot up from about 67 percent to nearly 80 percent.

Not only are women forced to work part-time, but workplace hostility to the gendered nature of domestic work is also why only 9 percent of working mothers work more than 50 hours a week.

Let’s think about that for a minute. If mothers worked, say 55 hours a week, then given an average commuting time, sociologists have shown that they would have to leave the house at 8:30 a.m. and return at 8:30 p.m. every day of the workweek!

Despite the vast powers of the Internet, children still have to be picked up from school and fed by a live human, and the elderly parents need to be taken care of by the same. In most cases, in the US, this person continues to be a woman.

It seems from the above survey that any issue to do with the workplace is actually also about women and gender. Policies that govern workplaces have the power to affect women both at work and at home. But what should we fight for? Should we be fighting for equal wages with men in a low-wage economy? Should we be fighting for universal healthcare, which will ease our care-giving burden? Should we fight as “women” or should we fight as “workers”?

There is a particularly vocal group of women who have emerged in the media in recent times to make the case for women’s rights. Joan C. Williams is a very insightful sociologist, whose work on class and gender ought to be read widely. But she recently made the disappointing observation that “executive feminism is just what we need to jump-start the stalled gender revolution.” By “executive feminism,” she literally means the “feminism” of chief executive officers of large multinationals. She names Sheryl Sandberg and Princeton professor Anne Marie Slaughter as leaders on this “new frontier of feminism”.

Many may take delight in the storming of corporate boardrooms by a handful of women. These boardrooms and their adjoining golf courses have been the bastions of upper-class male privilege for centuries. But it brings us to a central question: What do gender rights look like if we sever them from the question of class? Will the female CEOs act in the interest of all women?

The best policies to further the interests of a majority of women are also the very same policies that cut into the profits of capitalism as a system of production.

For instance, free universal healthcare would ensure that every man, woman and child, whether they are in paid employment or not, have free medical care on demand. This would reduce an unemployed woman’s dependence on her employed partner and could potentially allow her control over reproductive health and choices, not to mention, support for her family’s health and care. She could choose when and whether to have children, and get home help – free of cost – for ageing family members, thus drastically reducing her own labour in the home.

But the medical industry is a multibillion-dollar business that would fight this tooth and nail. Similarly, it is in the interest of women that we have a decent wage for all workers, since women are disproportionately among the lowest-paid in the economy. There, too, we run into capitalism’s profits, and it will be a hard battle to win.

The Sheryl Sandbergs of the world are clear class warriors, using the language of women’s rights to bolster a system that only benefits their class. The millionaire Sandberg even refused to pay her own interns until a public outcry made her change her decision.

The central message coming from this new generation of female CEOs is that work and more hard work will liberate women.

It is certainly true that economic independence for women is a hard-fought right and needs to be constantly reinforced through struggle. This is why we find in the writings of early Marxists, such as Nadezhda Krupskaya, a strong emphasis on women’s work in the sphere of production and its liberating potential.

But economic “independence” looks so much better on Sheryl Sandberg than on the mother who works at Taco Bell – because Sandberg’s relationship to capitalism, as a boss, is one of control, while the working-class mother’s is one of complete loss of control. In the latter’s case, her job brings her limited economic independence from her male/female partner, but complete dependence on the vagaries of the market.

When Sandberg says that women need to work harder to achieve rewards, she is asking for a certain class of women – hers – to wrest more control away from the men of her class, while keeping the system intact that functions via the paid and unpaid labour of the majority of women.

Indeed, scholars such as Karen Nussbaum have argued that the system created a few spaces for ruling-class women at the top in order to stave off deeper institutional changes that would transform the relationship of the majority of women to labour:

To contain the growing demands of working women, employers created opportunities for some women, opening up professional and managerial jobs for college graduates while resisting the demands for institutional changes that would improve jobs for all women. Women at both ends of the workforce continued to share common concerns of equal pay and work-family policies, but the intensity of the issues differed as the conditions of the two groups changed. Employers had created a safety valve. College-educated women who had been bank tellers were becoming branch managers; clericals in publishing companies were becoming editors. The percentage of women who were managers or professionals doubled between 1970 and 2004, from 19 to 38 percent. (Nussbaum 2007: 165)

It is reductive to say that the battles over gender in our society are the same battles as those about class. But it is correct to say: (a) following Lise Vogel, that class struggle represents the “central dynamic” of social development, and (b) that it is in the interests of capitalism as a system to prevent any broad changes in gender relations, because real changes to gender will ultimately affect profits.

The Importance of the Sphere of Reproduction

It stands to reason then that the best way to fight for women’s rights in the sphere of production is through our labour organisations. There are some truly inspiring moments of labour history where trade unions have fought for abortion rights, equal wages and against homophobia.

But the working class doesn’t only work in its workplace. A woman worker also sleeps in her home, her children play in the public park and go to the local school, and sometimes she asks her retired mother to help out with the cooking. In other words, the major functions of reproducing the working class take place outside the workplace.

Who understands this process best? Capitalism. This is why capitalism attacks social reproduction viciously in order to win the battle at the point of production. This is why it attacks public services, pushes the burden of care onto individual families, cuts social care – in order to make the entire working class vulnerable and less able to resist its attacks on the workplace.

Who else understands this process best? Revolutionary Marxists. This is why we can be the link between the sphere of reproduction, the community where the school is being closed, the home where the woman is subjected to violence; and the sphere of production, where we fight for benefits and for higher wages.

We do it in two ways. We (a) provide the analytical linkage between the “two spheres” of the single system, through Marxist theory; and (b) act as a tribune of the oppressed, particularly when the fight has not generalised to the workplace. For it is not true that the working class cannot fight in the sphere of reproduction. It is, however, true that it can only win against the system in the sphere of production.

Some of the major fights in working-class history began outside the sphere of production. The two most significant revolutions of the modern world, the French and the Russian, began as bread riots, led by women.

An understanding of capitalism as an integrated system, where production is scaffolded by social reproduction, can help fighters understand the significance of political struggles in either sphere and the necessity of uniting them.

Let us take the case of reproductive rights, one of the critical fights of our times, which is not directly a workplace struggle. Are reproductive rights simply about women’s ability to have access to abortion and contraception?

In reality, reproductive rights ought to be called reproductive justice. A women’s right to choose is not just about the right not to have babies but the right also to have them.

The history of African American women and other women of colour in America is bloodied by instances of forced sterilisation by the state. Throughout the 1960s, the states of Illinois, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia and Tennessee considered compulsory sterilisation laws for Black mothers on welfare. When the contraception drug Norplant was first released in the market, an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer suggested that it was a solution to Black poverty. A similar fate awaited women in Puerto Rico. When U.S. industry, under the economic program of “Operation Bootstrap,” went to the island in search of cheap labour in the 1930s and 1940, many factories ran on-site birth control clinics for women workers, and some refused to hire women unless they had been sterilised.

Moreover, reproductive choice cannot be just about control over our ovaries. It is about control over our lives: about whether and when to have children, how many children to have, to have time to take care of them, to have public schools to send them to, to have them and their fathers not be behind bars, and most importantly, to have a decent wage to be able to make decisions about all those things.

The New York Times reported this week that there was a 9 percent decline in the fertility rate from 2007 to 2011, a drop that demographers believe “began after the recession took hold and Americans started feeling less secure about their economic circumstances.” In other words, the Times has just figured out that most ordinary women prefer to have babies when they feel that they have the economic means to feed and raise them!

So the question of reproduction is tied to the most fundamental questions of our society: Who labors, for whom and for how long.

For An Integrated Fight against Capitalism

At this particular moment of neoliberal crisis, gender is being used as the weapon of class struggle by capital. Repeated defence of rape by establishment figures, the severe attack on reproductive rights and growing transphobia are all results of capitalism trying in various ways to resolve the economic crisis through attacks on working-class lives, both at work and at home.

Our solution as Marxist revolutionaries is not to simply talk about the importance of class struggle, but to link the struggles of the formal economy to those outside of it. For this to happen, it is less important that we “win the argument” with oppressed identities. It is more important that we win their trust, by being the most intransigent fighters at home and at work.

This is why in the organisations where we fight for wages (e.g., our labour unions), we need to raise the question of reproductive justice; and in our organisations where we fight against sexism and racism, we need to raise the question of wages.

We need a generation of unruly women and men to make that connection in our workplaces, on our campuses and on the streets. That is the real tradition of revolutionary Marxism.

Thanks to Sharon Smith for providing comments on a draft of this article.


  1. […] The usual socialist feminist explanations don’t work either. They explain sexism in terms of women’s separate unwaged domestic labour in the home. But these explanations only work for capitalism. They don’t work for thousands of years of unequal class societies where women and men worked together in the fields, no one was paid a wage, but still women were unequal. See for instance, Tithi Bhattacharrya, ‘What is Social Reproduction Theory?’, RS21, 18 March 2014: http://rs21.org.uk/2014/03/18/what-is-social-reproduction-theory/. […]

  2. Only just seen this….did I miss any mention of Bourdieu? (apols, I was reading quickly). Anyway, surely two spheres for social reproduction: nurture and education??? Nurture is mostly in the hands of mothers but in plenty of areas in the world it’s in the hands of mothers/grandmothers/aunts and sisters. Fathers are not totally removed from the process with specific areas of nurture marked out for their concern. Education is vital to the total process with passivity and competition built into a system that is already rigged to suit a particular outlook. The rigging comes via Bourdieu’s ‘habitus’ , the cultural and linguistic predisposition of middle class families to match school-knowledge and school-methods of the transmission of knowledge and to accept the discipline structures of schools as right and righteous. These are necessary conditions for social reproduction of class and capitalism.

  3. By the use of the term all encompassing, John you answer your own question and I agree with you. And with the need to theorise but then why do Tithi, Vogel et al insist that the reproduction of labour power, the task of the family and given its present structure the key task that falls on women lies outside of the formal capitalist economy? To protect themselves from criticism they accuse me of ignoring their statement ‘but within capitalism.’ I reply that effectively the terms are co-terminous, but one capitalist reproduction is a fraction of the whole, capitalism. Both need wage labour which is what integrates them, as Tithi says. We are tackling an area here not dealt with in das Kapital; (nor was class come to that. He left it to the last chapter of volume 3 and after a page the line appears, ‘Here the manuscript ends.’) But he goes into great detail on the formal economy and makes clear that the system depends upon not just production but on the circulation of commodities. Yes the act of birth is independent of the system, (a more accurate term than outside) but show me a family that is not reliant on baskets and baskets of baby care commodities paid for out of family incomes or the social wage. Domestic labour is separate from production work because as one comment says, that’s the way the bosses want it. So why insist on this duality? Not so RS21 can attack me as a dumb ass of bad faith showing form as some kind of nit picker. No! The group seems to be maintaining that gender struggles are separate but equal to class struggles when ranked in the priorities for revolutionary socialists and social reproduction theory is essential for that purpose. Tithi started her International Women’s Day lecture by asserting the vital need to tackle male violence through class struggle. Who can deny the need. But is that the right arena in every case? Class struggle raises consciousness. Victorious struggles take the pressure off individuals and families in trouble. Linking the struggles will be harder if we separate them.

  4. @Nick: If the word “capitalism” only refers to the process of capitalist production, then, when I’m sat in a chair reading, am I outside the capitalist system? Do I escape from capitalism at weekends? Not to mention the unemployed. Do they live outside the system?
    Capitalist production lies at the heart of capitalism, but the system itself is much wider. It encompasses teh whole of life, and there’s no running away from it. That’s what we need to theorise.

  5. Your stuff on facebook showed uncertainty in the making. I’m not kicking over the sand castles. All theory is subject to change because reality changes. In which direction we cannot say but it is our task to fight against those who make the workers pay for their crisis and build from that fight back, not top down via the search for theory, which can be built when actions clarify the concepts needed. And despite Dan Swain’s accusations of wilful misunderstanding on my part these are far to generic to make for a clearer understanding of how we make the links which we all agree are so necessary. At present each of the five activities Tithi outlines is tackled by distinct groups in different ways. Until the left is far bigger it will not be possible to integrate them into one united struggle. So hauling off into temporary formations may be part of the re-thinking process at present under way but RS21 has this coming week end has to make choices, Left Unity, Peoples’ Assembly, ISN, SP, self-growth or back to the SWP. Loose coalitions jockeying for the right line will leave us all behind events.

  6. Thank you Jen and Bat for those corrections to my comments. I made the point elsewhere that the loose use of concepts does not help clarify theory. In this case I see capitalism and capitalist production as co-terminous because central to both is wage labour and its variants and the accumulation of surplus value through the appropriation of surplus labour time which is spent on the application of labour power or effort. It is this last component as Tithi points out, in which from birth onwards women play the largest part in its reproduction. All this is known to Marxists and in our revolutionary activities can be explained to men and women. When she lists the tasks involved, linking struggles for reproduction rights to fighting for better wages and benefits and tackling school closures and taking on domestic violence it is party organisation of men and women we need more than analytical theory. Of all the tasks unique to women and truly outside the framework of the rest it is the act of childbirth and that predates all the systems, even primitive communism in human development. But after that amazing act of creativity, the child and parents are in a very short while wrapped inside the system. And to say it is done for free suggests that this is a gift to capitalism by women. If so it is one the capitalists make very hard to deliver and their propensity to treat the lives of those so delivered so cheaply is reason enough on its own to get rid of them. It would be abhorrent to apply this literally. Their labour power would be useful turned to the mundane tasks in life. So by all means refine the theory but if you are honest the result will lead you back into party building which at this vital juncture you have rejected.

  7. During WW2 the capitalists at the behest of the state found the resources to open creches in the factories and workplaces where large numbers of women were working as a result of the men being sent to fight. A shortage of labour forced the bosses, without too much resistance on their part, to institute a positive reform that enabled thousands upon thousands of women to enter the workforce. The end of the war however saw the majority of women factories workers leave their jobs to make way for men and the bosses closed the creches down no doubt happy no longer have a drag on their profits.
    Something similar but better happened during the long boom towards its end. During that period of do it yourself reformism and widespread workplace struggles the demand for workplace creches was again raised. This time by the growing numbers of women workers drawn into the process of production as a result of the long boom and again the demand for labour it produced. To what degree this was taken up by the unions or how many creches actually appeared I do not know I’m relying on distant memories of the demand being raised by friends and co-workers. As I recall many male workers thought it a good idea with both partners working. If the idea was raised in the pages of SW or WV I’ve no idea but I cannot find it in any issues of SW I possess from 68-72 or in any copy of WV I have access to.
    During the same period there was a married persons tax allowance, which had been provided for men only originally I believe, that recognised the financial cost of bringing up a child even if it did so in a manner both patriarchal and clumsy. Growing provision of children’s services was another phenomena that developed in this period albeit for very different reasons that is to say as a result of pressure from below but the key point here is that such services were provided by the state usually at a local level. Many former revolutionaries were particularly involved in campaigning for services for children and women often as members of the Labour Party.
    The reason I’ve made the above comments is that they illustrate that both the bosses, consciously, and workers, instinctively and as the level of struggles grows and is generalised increasingly consciously, recognise that child care is not a matter apart from production and the workplace. Reproduction of labour is not something apart from production unless separated from it as a result of the intensification of exploitation of all workers regardless of their gender. The demand for workplace creches, more accessible to many parents than costly child warehousing facilities tends to break down the division of production from reproduction by bringing it into the workplace.
    Today we are not faced with an extraordinary situation, such as war, that increases the demand for labour thereby making social gains such as workplace creches useful to the bosses. Nor are we in a situation where increasing entry of women workers into the workplace and the high levels of wage militancy mean that social demands can begin to be raised at the point of production as winnable demands. The period we are in however is characterised by the presence of female workers in almost every area of work albeit unequally in the highest paid sectors and with a lower level of unionisation than is the case for male workers.
    In light of which then it strikes me that such demands as workplace creches are practical demands today that relate to the conditions of life many if not most workers experience. It is a demand that does not appear to divide workers and challenges the privatisation and marketisation of child care. The questions is how is such a demand to be raised when large numbers of workers are not engaged in struggle. I would submit that the only way we have of raising such demands is to make them a part of our propaganda. By raising such ideas in the form of propaganda we can begin to educate a layer of workers and students who can later turn the demand to practical use in an agitational form.
    Hopefully the above has answered in concrete form how social reproduction takes place within capitalism but outside the process of production and how it can be reintegrated into that process. It is my belief that IS lost sight of this for two reasons. Firstly as a result of the forced march towards the SWP which was out os step with the period of retreat that slowly gave way to a full blown period of downturn in class struggle. Secondly because it was not as ‘workerist’ as it ought to have been and saw workers through the lens of the experience of the leading members of the group alone.

  8. might help if you read the article you’re criticising Nick. it very clearly states that while childbirth/rearing (for instance) takes place outside “capitalist production” it does not take place outside capitalism, but merely “outside the ambit of the formal economy at very little cost for capital”. so your point about “motherhood is highly profitable for the capitalists” is in the very article you’re attacking.
    moreover Tithi goes on to say that the entire question then revolves around how to grasp capitalism as “a unitary system that can successfully, if unevenly, integrate the sphere of reproduction and the sphere of production”, so the things you’re asking How? How? How? about are the very questions that social reproduction as a theoretical framework can resolve.

  9. Childbirth outside of capitalist production but another mouth to feed? How paid for unless through the pay packet, the salary cheque or via taxes or NI by state benefits? How can capitalist production take place except through wage labour?
    The system does not need integrating through social reproduction theory it already is integrated. And motherhood is highly profitable for the capitalists. Whether surrounded by the family or not. So I don’t see we need a distinct school of theory on this. We just need to change the system so that women as workers control both the conditions of child bearing and of production and all other kinds of work and they do it with men playing equal parts.

  10. In response to Nick:
    I agree with the sentiment of the last part of your comment: socialists do need to develop a theoretical analysis capable of making sense of women’s oppression, and capable of relating to the new debates and ideas in the women’s movement today. That is one of the reasons that rs21 is initiating a discussion around social reproduction which is one of the key debates that is taking place at the moment amongst Marxists internationally.
    I am slightly confused by your critique of social reproduction however. Your question- how can the reproduction of labour power both be integrated into capitalism, and at the same time take place outside of it?- misunderstands the argument put by social reproduction theory. Reproduction does not take place outside of capitalism, it takes place outside of the process of capitalist production.
    Social reproduction is an attempt to offer a unitary theory that sees production and reproduction as interrelated: the “production of goods and services and the production of life are part of one integrated process.”
    On your other points:
    Workers of course cannot be reproduced for capitalism for free. The key question is who foots the bill? This has been an important site of contestation through history. The Tories are currently attempting to force working class people to pay the bill by shrinking the welfare state. For example, privatising public services, increasingly means that the financial responsibility for care for children, the elderly and for people with disabilities is transferred from the state onto individuals, and disproportionately onto women.
    Ruling class ideology also has ramifications for reproducing workers in terms of education. In more advanced economies an educated workforce is necessary, but the type and level of education necessary to create productive workers is very different from the type of education which helps young people develop as whole people. In terms of educational policy, cultural enrichment is increasingly becoming the preserve of the rich, while schools in more economically deprived areas are emphasising functional skills such as literacy and numeracy. Higher level thinking skills are not necessary for working class children who are being trained to be compliant workers in call centres and on computers.
    Is it not a strength of social reproduction that it provides a coherent Marxist analysis of how the different processes at work in capitalist society are linked together, and consequently why it is ultimately necessary to abolish capitalism to end oppression?

  11. Very confusing. How can social reproduction, itself too generic a term as everything is bundled together when we are trying to focus on women and the family as the locus of the reproduction of labour power, how can this latter be both integrated into capitalism and at the same time take place outside of it? How can new workers be reproduced for capitalism free when we are told time and again that it costs X tens of thousands to bring up a child? How can it all be done in the family when marriage and the family are in decline and single parent families on the increase? Child care is the big issue; by the state or in private? And labour power requires educating. Where and when does it start? Unless new theory tackles all these issues, it will fail to guide revolutionary practice in the working class and at work. RS 21 will end up in a blind alley without answers.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here