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New Left Review I/94, November-December 1975

Wally Seccombe

Domestic Labour: reply to critics

The real merit of the critique made by Margaret Coulson, Branka Magaš and Hilary Wainwright of my analysis of domestic labour [1] See my ‘The Housewife and her Labour under Capitalism’, nlr 83, and Margaret Coulson, Branka Magaš and Hilary Wainwright, ‘The Housewife and her Labour under Capitalism—a Critique’, nlr 89. I comment separately below on the critique by Jean Gardiner published in the same issue. is that it focusses discussion about the strategic relation of women’s liberation to socialist revolution upon women’s double labour condition under capitalism. The fact that working-class women, in greater and greater numbers in the post-war years, are both domestic and wage labourers gives their position and consciousness its problematic and volatile character within the structures of late capitalism. The authors make a clear and convincing case in this regard. In my article in NLR 83, I set out to analyse domestic labour’s relation to wage labour in general. This was a proper level of abstraction on which to begin, but further concretization was necessary before political conclusions could very usefully be drawn. As Coulson, Magaš and Wainwright correctly point out, my political conclusions were somewhat over-extended, given the absence of a second level of analysis specifying domestic labour’s relation to women’s wage labour in particular. At this level of analysis, it is necessary to ask: If the law of value does not directly reign over domestic labour in the form of capital, how does it indirectly impinge upon it, in such a way as to distribute women’s total labour time between the household and outside employment? [2] As the level of analysis shifts to the plane of women’s double labour condition in this reply, there is a shift in emphasis from my earlier article which must be mentioned so as not to sow confusion. I am here much more interested in how the law of value impinges indirectly upon housework, where I formerly emphasized that it did not do so directly. Secondly, I am now concerned with the fact that value is neither created nor destroyed overall, in the reproduction cycle of labour power, where before I emphasized the value-creating aspect of one segment—domestic labour.

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