1980s >> 1982 >> no-930-february-1982

Letters to the Editors: Sex Roles

Dear Editors

I would like to comment on “Who Will Do the Dirty Work?” (Socialist Standard, July 1981). To support your theory that people will do “dirty work” happily under socialism, you use the example that women “sweep and scrub the floors, dust and polish, do the washing and the washing up, change the nappies and worse . . .  for nothing” and that they do it better because it’s motivated by social need and not money. What rubbish! Women don’t do housework “most” of their time as the majority go out to work in low-paid, unskilled and unorganised jobs and then come home and do all these things while men put their feet up.

Your failure to question the sexual division of labour (in any of your few articles on women) is a result of textbook Marxism both Marx and Engels failed to question “women’s role”. Housework is boring, degrading, tiring, isolating and unpaid, considered to be only “women’s work”. The fact that those who can employ domestics (usually women) and that “wages for housework” is an increasingly popular demand, shows that women don’t do housework because they’re motivated by “social need” but because they have no choice in the matter.

There will still be work in socialism, and unless the sexual division of labour is questioned now women will be relegated to the mothreing/servicing roles in society, which plays a large part in their inferior status (even Marx and Engels recognised that). I was very surprised that a woman wrote this article (perhaps she doesn’t mind making the tea, washing up and typing at your meetings). Using unpaid housework as an example to back up your argument makes your case for socialism less than convincing, especially to women who otherwise are probably sympathetic to socialist ideas.

Ms. Y. Howard
London NW4

Reply:

The article referred to by Ms Howard was not about the problems of women in capitalism but about the nature of work and people’s attitudes towards it. It implied neither approval nor disapproval of housework in itself. The point it made was that in socialism the conditions that make work of any kind a chore rather than a source of satisfaction would disappear.

The reason why housework was mentioned was that it seemed an appropriate example of something that most people regard as “dirty work” but that isn’t done for money. This showed that money was not the only motivation that will get people to do “dirty work” and that people will do it for “social need”. Ms Howard disagrees and says that “women have no choice” about doing housework. We find this an overstatement. There is certainly a good deal of social pressure on women to engage in housework, but there is no absolute compulsion — any more than there is an absolute compulsion to be a conformist politically. It may be easier or more comfortable to conform, but this does not amount to there being no choice in the matter.

We feel too that Ms Howard seriously underestimates the number of women who actually choose to spend time and energy making their house look as attractive as possible, either because — rightly or wrongly — they feel it to be necessary for their family’s sake (“social need”) or simply because they get satisfaction from it. Whether one approves of or looks down on this kind of satisfaction is beside the point. The fact is that they are willingly doing what most people consider to be “dirty work” without getting a wage for it.

The answer to Ms Howard’s view that “the sexual division of labour must be questioned now” is that it already is being questioned — by capitalism. Evidence of this is the increasing access women now have to occupations traditionally reserved for men. This is because capitalism needs to make the most profitable use of the human energies available. To push for something like “equality of job opportunity for women” within capitalism might indeed make women less bound to “mothering- servicing roles”, but only to the extent to which it suited the profit-making capacity of the system. And it would do nothing, absolutely nothing, to make people question why they have to hire themselves out for wages in the first place. It is only when people no longer have to work for a wage that they will truly be able to do the work they want to do. Nobody will be relegated to a particular kind of activity, because everyone will be free to choose. Nor will any kind of work bear any kind of stigma, so that — who knows? — the “mothering-servicing roles” might well become very popular among both men and women!

Editors

Passing Points

Dear Editors,

I subscribe monthly to your Socialist Standard. Frankly, I am very impressed by the honest “grass-roots” approach which you take towards such subjects as world nuclear disarmament, for example. However, there are a few passing points which I would like to be answered:

(a) In the light of your stance on War in general (Socialist Standard, February 1981 — “Refuse to be Sitting Targets”), how are pacifists wishing the foundation of a true socialist society going to overthrow hundreds of powerful capitalists in the world (who will definitely use the force of arms to protect their privileges) without the use of weaponry?

(b) How will unarmed socialists persuade “militia workers” — soldiers world-wide, and a potent force in themselves — to disarm and thus surrender their “livelihood”?

(c) Could you please in your reply put forward the SPGB’s argument against administration: i.e, without a representative administration, how will society be run smoothly and efficiently?

(d) How will socialists persuade workers brought up under the monetary system to accept the transition from the gold standard to a “new system of social organisation in which the means of production and distribution of wealth . . .  are commonly owned and democratically controlled . . .”  by all members of society?

Having said all this however, I thoroughly enjoy and approve of your journal: so, fellow socialists. carry on the campaign — there are not many of us in evidence.

Iain Campbell, 
Wester-Ross, 
Scotland. 

Reply:
(a) and (b) The Socialist Party of Great Britain is not a pacifist organisation. The reason we are opposed to violence as a means of establishing socialism is that we see no necessity for it. When the majority of workers want it, they will be able to use the already existing — machinery the vote — to bring it into being. And when that happens, what will “hundreds of powerful capitalists” be able to do against the conscious, collective action of millions of workers? The power of the capitalists comes from their political control and will exist no more once this control is taken over by a democratic majority of informed, convinced socialists. Nor is it easy to imagine members of the armed forces — who are also workers and would also be socialists — turning their arms against friends, relatives and fellow workers to defend a system the majority no longer wanted. Would they not rather surrender a futile, negative livelihood like soldiering for a life of voluntary cooperative work that will give them personal satisfaction and a sense of social purpose?

(c) The SPGB has no opposition to administration as such. We wonder what gave you this impression. Socialism will certainly need many and efficient administrators. Perhaps you are thinking of our opposition to political administrations, to governments. These are expressions of class division in society and will disappear in socialism. Government over people will be replaced by administration of things. Regarding “representative administration”, a socialist society will obviously have to delegate certain important organisational tasks to administrators; but they will have no special power or prestige over the rest of the community. They will just be carrying out socially necessary work and there is no reason to suppose that, if they have chosen this kind of work (all work will be voluntary), they will not carry it out smoothly and efficiently.

(d) We cannot hope that our efforts alone will be enough to make socialists of the millions of workers who have been conditioned by capitalism into thinking that the buying and selling system is necessary and eternal. Our argument is that from within capitalism itself come the forces (the SPGB is one of them) to convince workers that the present system, despite its immense productive power and continued raising of expectations, cannot solve the problems it produces and cannot operate in the interests of the working class. There is of course no absolute guarantee that this will happen but certain long-term trends make it increasingly likely. Capitalism, for its own needs, has already had to provide the premises for socialism — a large, organised, highly trained working class driven by its conditions to constantly look for alternatives; rapid worldwide communications and spreading of ideas; the possibility of a vast abundance of goods sufficient to satisfy all human needs; recurrent social problems which even under capitalism can often only be approached on a world scale (pollution, nuclear threat, terrorism, for example) and which thereby spread among workers a consciousness of the need for global solutions.

Editors

Ground Level

Dear Editors,

 

After reading your journals. I do not understand why you don’t “get stuck in” on the ground level, rather than stay aloof and say “it’s all because of capitalism”. A point of view I cannot see the “man in the street” understanding. I also think that due to this viewpoint you will lose votes to the Communist Party who will cash in by going out to the people, producing changes in the capitalist system and gradually working towards their goal. As I see your party, you are not gradualists, but expect people to take a complete change to socialism straight from capitalism. Rather than working for the people at ground level, leading to election and then the change. That’s my view anyway; but I’m only a dumb schoolboy!

 

R. Pullan 
Reading

 

Reply:
You are correct in seeing that we want a complete change of society. However we can’t agree that we aren’t getting “stuck in on the ground level”. All our activity is “ground-level” stuff—organising and addressing meetings, producing literature for people to read, distributing our leaflets, pamphlets and journals (often in the streets and pubs), putting our point of view to friends and workmates whenever possible. But perhaps by “ground-level” work you mean campaigning for immediate reforms and, if so, we must confess to non-involvement in this kind of activity. Unlike the Communist Party which you mention, and other left-wing organisations, we don’t try to get people on our side by dangling reforms in front of them. We’ve seen from experience that reforms never help workers as much as may at first seem likely and we’ve seen above all that the changes reforms produce in the system don’t point towards socialism. They don’t help people to work, gradually or otherwise, towards the goal of a society of common ownership and democratic control. What they tend to do rather is to divert people from this goal by consuming all available energies and to push socialism further into the future. It’s probably true that if we promised reforms we’d get more immediate support, but we’d be getting it on false pretences and defeating the object for which our organisation exists.

 

You seem to think that this object is too difficult for the “man in the street” to understand. Yet we, the members of the SPGB, are perfectly ordinary men and women and we’ve understood, and you, a “dumb schoolboy” as you describe yourself, seem to have got the message loud and clear. The fact of the matter is that you’re not “dumb”. Neither is the “man in the street”. We’re just all part of a system whose effect is to give people the idea from an early age that they’re incapable of organising the world themselves and of understanding how things work and that they need superior beings called leaders to do their organising and thinking for them. Don’t be conned. The working class is perfectly capable of organising society (it does it already from top to bottom but not in its own interests) and of understanding the socialist case against capitalism. When it shakes itself out of the torpor and feeling of powerlessness that capitalism visits on it, it won’t be interested in “gradual reforms” or “changes in the capitalist system”. It will want the whole loaf—socialism. And it will take it. If you understand our case and agree with it, you should join us and help hasten the day.

 

Editors.

 

Automation

 

Dear Editors.

 

I subscribe to the Socialist Standard and like you, consider that Marx’s labour theory of value provides the explanation for the origin of surplus value in general and profit in particular. However, I should be grateful if you were to clarify how automated production is accounted for by the labour theory of value. Do you think that the share of surplus value would be determined by the capital invested, notwithstanding the absence of humans from the productive process?

P. S. Maloney
London N13

 

Reply:

 

Humans can never be absent from the productive process. They must always come in somewhere. If we take as an example the making of a car, even if this object can be built by robots from top to bottom, the robots themselves have to be conceived, built and maintained by humans. And even if these robots can be built and maintained by other robots, somewhere back at the end of this kind of chain human energies are necessary to think out the production process and to fashion the raw materials needed to build the original robots. As it is the socially necessary labour time spent in doing this that determines the value of the finished car, the labour theory of value still holds good.

 

It is tempting to think that automation necessarily means the use of less labour power overall. But what it really means is a shift from the need for unskilled manual energies to an increased demand for more skilled workers to design and think out the increasingly sophisticated methods of production that capitalists have to develop to be able to produce cheaply in competition with their rivals. This is the pattern we have seen and are continuing to see in all the advanced industrial countries.

 

Editors.

 

Election

 

Dear Editors,

 

In article 6 of your Declaration of Principles you declare that the working class must organise for the conquest of the powers of national and local government. Would you please elucidate as to the nature of the programme that you would embark upon if a member of your party were to be elected. As you have put up a candidate for Islington South and Finsbury, I can only assume that as a contingency you have defined a programme of aims.

 

I believe that the wording of article 8 is too ambitious. 1 refer to one specific word really: banner. As I understand, it, your party refutes any suggestion that it should have a banner as such, so surely the presence of this word in article 8 causes confusion and invites unnecessary criticism.

Stephen Shields, 
Glasgow

 

Reply:

 

The need to gain democratic control of the state machine is based on the realisation that if the governmental powers are not conquered by the socialist majority they will likely be used against us. When a majority of socialist delegates are elected by class-conscious workers to the assemblies of local and national government throughout the world they will have only one act to perform: the abolition of all property rights and the transfer of the means of wealth production and distribution into the hands of the whole community. Socialist candidates stand in election for that revolutionary purpose and none other.

 

If an individual socialist councillor or MP is elected on the basis of socially conscious working class votes, he or she will do everything possible to further the interests of the working class as a whole. The state forum will be used to expound clear socialist ideas and all legislative proposals will be responded to from the angle of the working class interest. Socialist delegates will be accountable to the Party membership.

 

As for the reference to mustering under our banner, we doubt very much that this is a significant reason why workers are not joining the SPGB. The term is clearly metaphorical, as are many other phrases in the Declaration of Principles. If Stephen Shields attends any of the meetings of his local branch he will meet with political clarification, but no banners.

Editors.

 

Disarmament

 

Dear Editors,
You rightly said on page 154 of your August issue that “We insist that the mess that is human society today can be changed if we all decide to change it”. This attitude should be applied by yourselves to the question of disarmament. Your journal has criticised the peace movement, saying that disarmament and peace are impossible whilst we have capitalism and that such movements divert workers from the task of fighting capitalism. The mental revolution in the way men and women see the world, which you mention as a prerequisite of political change is unlikely to happen overnight; socialist education is necessary and this may take time. Meanwhile disarmament must not be ignored. The world may be destroyed if we allow the arms race to continue. Socialists should not take an attitude of “the beginning of the world is nigh” and sit back waiting for socialism. The world will not change for the better unless people decide to change it. Neither should we, whilst attempting to create and mobilise support for change, ignore such a pressing concern as nuclear annihilation. Just as socialism can replace capitalism if people decide to act, so can peace replace the arms race if enough people actively support it. The peace movement is trying to build up this support.

 

Sharon McDermott,
 Sheffield

 

Reply:

 

The SPGB does not anticipate an overnight revolution because socialist consciousness, unlike reformist moralising, is not best developed in the dark. We agree with you that “socialist education is necessary”, but we do not think that it is best to educate workers about the alternative to capitalism by feeding them with illusions about how it can be made safe and peaceful. We agree that the revolution in consciousness “may take time”, but we do not imagine that it will take any less time if workers who agree with us refuse to join with us because they think that the rest of the working class cannot understand our case.

 

The SPGB has never urged workers to “sit back and wait for socialism”. Those who merely wait for socialism, and occupy themselves in the meantime with illusory and futile “short-term measures”, are the ones who are perpetuating the cause of a potential nuclear holocaust.

 

We would like Ms McDermott to explain to us precisely how politically uneducated, non-socialist workers are going to be able to stop the threat of nuclear annihilation within capitalism. Until she does, she will find it difficult to convince us that we are the ones who are wasting our time.

Editors

 

Letters from M. Brown and G. Nesbitt will be published next month.