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New Left Review I/89, January-February 1975

Margaret Coulson and Branka Magaš and Hilary Wainwright

‘The Housewife and her Labour under Capitalism’—A Critique

The political significance of Wally Seccombe’s analysis of domestic labour’s relation to capital lies in his attempt to show the material basis for the strategic unity of the struggle to liberate women and the struggle for proletarian revolution. [1] Wally Seccombe, ‘The housewife and her labour under capitalism’, nlr 83. Against those who view the family solely as an ideological institution of capitalist society, he argues that the labour performed within the family is an essential component of the material process of reproduction of capital. He is not the only author who has argued this point in recent years, but what singles out his attempt is that the thesis is spelt out rigorously and in some detail. However, Seccombe’s concern to demonstrate the importance of housework for capitalism leads him, as we shall argue, into a contradictory position of asserting that housework produces value while at the same time being outside the rule of the law of value. Arguing that ‘sex relations and family relations have become capitalist relations in the bourgeois epoch’, [2] Ibid. note 7, p. 5. he fails to understand the contradictory nature of female labour under capitalism and thus cannot identify the forces, both objective and subjective, that will drive housework out of history and liberate women. What we argue in the following pages is that the central feature of women’s position under capitalism is not their role simply as domestic workers, but rather the fact that they are both domestic and wage labourers. It is this dual and contradictory role that imparts a specific dynamic to their situation. Without this contradiction, their position, however oppressive, would be essentially unproblematic. Further, we shall argue that while domestic labour is a necessary condition of reproduction of labour power, it does not contribute to its value or realize its own value when that commodity is sold on the market, because it is not in the Marxist sense socially necessary labour. The consequences of this fact are by no means academic for proletarian women living in a society dominated by the law of value.

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Margaret Coulson, Branka Magas, Hilary Wainwright, ‘'The Housewife and her Labour under Capitalism'--A Critique’, NLR I/89: £3

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