Matriarchy myth

In tribal societies in which men monopolise ritual power, organised male violence is typically justified by means of scare stories about a primordial matriarchy. Men claim that women once terrorised the world and will do so again unless they are violently subdued. Such patriarchal myth-makers are incapable of imagining true gender equality. Anyone who defends women’s right to resist is accused of advocating women’s one-sided rule. As I explained in an article published in this paper only last year, the whole bizarre idea of a primordial matriarchy is “a total myth” (‘World-historic defeat of women’, April 19 2012).

It’s amusing to hear self-styled ‘Marxists’ in our own patriarchal society peddling similar myths. “If an archaic society of woman-dominance can be proved to exist,” rants Mike Belbin, “let those who would promote it in the present say how it is a guide to the making of a new global society. Should we isolate women from men in revolutionary organisations? Should women always be in command ...?” (Letters, July 18).

My more recent article, ‘Genetic evidence is richer than the stale party line’ (July 11) - the one to which Belbin objects - concerned recent genetic evidence showing that over tens of thousands of years matrilocal residence has been favoured down the generations by hunter-gatherers across Africa, the continent in which our species evolved.

Matrilocal residence doesn’t mean women beating up men. It just means women living after marriage with their mother. I reminded readers that matrilocal residence sets up an automatic bias toward matrilineal (as opposed to patrilineal) descent. Sometimes termed ‘mother-right’, matrilineal descent means that women with their brothers share custodianship over their children, not women with their husbands.

Engels (following Morgan) argued that early human kinship conformed to this pattern. He went on to point out that such arrangements generally allow women more solidarity and power than patrilocal residence and patrilineal descent.

In my article, I provided state-of-the-science genetic evidence that Engels got this right. Only a patriarchal fantasist could possibly mix up my scientific argument on this point with those idiotic, age-old scare-stories about “an archaic society of woman-dominance”.

Matriarchy myth
Matriarchy myth

Scarcely heard

Chris Knight raises some interesting questions about the relationship between Marxist theory and practice. He argues convincingly that it is not sufficient for Marxists to repeat the line of the group they are members of, even when it is politically correct. His example is Sheila McGregor’s defence of Engels in the SWP’s journal International Socialism. He asks whether McGregor is a Marxist seriously interested in science. If so, why did she not use evidence drawn from genetic studies? These prove that Engels was essentially correct to think that residence in pre-historical societies was “originally matrilocal”.

How should socialist groups formulate lines in general and, in this particular case, their lines on the women’s question and feminism? Surely, Marxism aspires to scientific status? Group culture should encourage theoretical education and debate. It should encourage scientific inquiry and discovery. This would enable members to challenge incorrect lines in an informed, confident manner and assist them in developing new ones. What role should specialist intellectuals such as Knight play in this process? Should they command or just support it?

Knight calls on Marxists to “develop rather than dismiss” the most radical insights of the socialist tradition. This should be our starting point for a scientific inquiry informing the group line. He reminds us that proletarian women have been “leaders at the most crucial times”. The SWP’s line is opposed to feminism and this leads McGregor to ignore early forms of female solidarity and sisterhood. Knight avoids suggesting that women’s struggle for control over reproduction and childcare is the rational kernel within the utopian feminist shell. In contrast, he stresses the classless, egalitarian nature of this control in prehistoric societies. He does not criticise the cross-class nature of women’s struggles for control over reproduction in the present, but aims to show that the classless society of the future would place childcare centre-stage.

Perhaps his most interesting question is that of the meaning of “socialisation of reproduction”. Does this mean “communal canteens and creches”? If so, why did these experiments fail? He refers to the Israeli kibbutzim. These failed to “transform human relations”. He could also have mentioned communal creches and canteens in Stalinist regimes. In the 1930s, Soviet mothers dumped their babies in factory creches. They had no time to nurse them, have lunch and get back to work within the space of a normal break. In canteens they had to queue for long periods of time for food, washed dishes, and even for the use of a spoon. Food lacked nutrition and canteens were filthy and ridden with vermin.

Knight notes that reproduction of the next generation is a form of production. It has taken “secondary importance” to the production of material goods in class societies. The division of labour in the latter has made childcare into alienated labour. For example, the labour-power expended in creches in Stalinist regimes was unproductive of value, but unfree. It was atomised and bureaucratically controlled.

Domestic labour produces use-value. Children are not commodities, but, when labour is hired from outside, domestic work is alienated for a wage. This is typical of the bourgeois family. In contrast, the domestic labour of a proletarian spouse, partner or cohabitee is not commodified. Nevertheless, regardless of the joy children can bring, it is isolated, atomised and personally dependent on political and economic sources of revenue - most often the male ‘breadwinner’s’ wage or the state.

The alienation of mostly female domestic labourers from more socialised forms of raising children leads to depression and exhaustion. Dependence reproduces pre-capitalist relations of master and slave between men and women and adults and children. It follows that children are easily mistreated, abused and neglected. Many grow up to be adult victims of the mental health system of oppression. A more socialised form of childcare might therefore include extended networks of primary carers who plan for, choose to bring into being, prioritise working with and remain committed to spending time with a child until she or he becomes an adult.

My criticism of Knight is that he forgets to mention the role that scarcity has on reproductive production. This is evident in the recent history of the former Soviet Union. Stalinist forced industrialisation and collectivisation created shortages of food, housing, material goods and labour. Shortages included places in creches. In the 1930s, only 40% of women forced to work in industry had creche places. At many factories, places were limited to privileged workers and the non-working wives of managers and the political police. The nutritional content of food was poor and warm clothing in short supply. Children in creches were often ill, forcing mothers to stay off work to care for them at home. The regime responded to labour shortages by reinforcing the authoritarian aspects of the nuclear family. This included banning abortions and extolling women’s ‘sacred’ duty to bear children.

I have lots of questions for Marxist anthropologists such as Knight. What role did scarcity play in the transition from primitive communism to patriarchal class society? Did natural scarcity destroy the egalitarian gender relations of early hunter-gather societies? Was there a scarcity of healthy women capable of giving birth to healthy children? Did malnutrition, starvation and the death of women and children in childbirth play a role in the emergence of slavery? Would slavery have not been an efficient means of generating a surplus sufficient to ensure the survival of the children and women of enslaving tribes and clans?

I am also disappointed that Knight did not mention abundance as a precondition not only for the primitive communism of the past, but the higher form of egalitarianism of the socialist future. As he knows, socialist planning presupposes abundance. Placing childcare centre-stage would be necessary for the reproduction of a planned society worldwide. It would also be freely chosen labour. Freed from alienated forms of labour, an abundance of carers would make being with children inherently enjoyable and creative. Childcare would no longer be an exhausting chore, but an activity attractive to all. Obviously, the allocation of necessary and free labour time to childcare through the plan presupposes abundance of material goods, as well as of labour time.

I look forward to broadening my knowledge of human evolution under the tutelage of Marxists from the Radical Anthropology Group. Of course, this does not preclude us from trying to reclaim and apply the categories of political economy derived from Marx in the present - nor from debating the line our groups should take on feminism and the women’s question.

Scarcely heard
Scarcely heard

LU goer

Labour MP Tom Watson (deputy chairman of the party and now resigned as election coordinator for Ed Miliband) wrote the following on his blog recently about a meeting at Glastonbury: “Three hundred people attended an open meeting in Billy Bragg’s Leftfield to discuss the left’s response to austerity. Almost to a man, woman and child, the people wanted me to give them the route map back to supporting and believing in Labour. Yet I couldn’t traverse the chasmic gap between the words coming out of my mouth and the voices in my head. The audience cheered my nemesis, the leftwing polemicist, Mr Owen Jones. They were polite to me, at least, but markedly unenthusiastic about what I had to say.”

I don’t know how he will resolve his personal dilemma, but such a comment from a senior Labour figure and ally of Ed Miliband, together with the surge of support for Left Unity and the People’s Assembly, must point to a widespread disillusionment with Labour when it is still evolving to the right. There is an audience to be won, or lost. How should Marxists address this phenomenon?

Much of the left has plunged uncritically into the People’s Assembly, hailing it as a left Ukip, yet it should be clear that the project is broadly aimed at tying the various anti-austerity campaigns to a perspective of shifting Labour to the left. The Socialist Workers Party has been fairly explicit about this and it sits alongside their insistence that the trade unions can be pressured into leading effective struggles. The SWP approach has been to treat the new faces in the People’s Assemblies as foot soldiers for existing campaigns, while running away from anything so abstract (their term) as challenging Labour and the unions politically.

While assembling periodically to be re-inspired, the People’s Assembly movement does nothing to challenge the feeble role of the unions, which have led campaigns only to the extent they need to keep control and dissipate discontent in protest gestures. No surprise, as the unions played a large role in setting up the PA. Moreover, there is little said about the global nature of the crisis, leaving supporters to assume that there are solutions available based on the national economy rather than the international perspective of class struggle. Nothing about the military conflicts that the crisis is fuelling, which is odd, since some leading figures came to fame in anti-war movements. The whole project seems designed to provide a political base for some union leaders; ideal compost for growing illusions in Labour. Perhaps a way back to “believing in” Labour again, a route map for Tom Watson if Miliband does not shut the door entirely.

Left Unity is responding to the same moods as PA and was initiated earlier, but differs in that it envisages standing candidates against Labour. This ostensibly puts it in opposition to PA, despite some overlap in leading personnel - a contradiction that should become evident as the next election draws near.

It has attracted the attention of ‘revolutionary left’ groups, some of whom see opportunities for regroupment (reshuffling the pack) - Socialist Resistance, loosely linked to the once-upon-a-time Trotskyist Unified Secretariat of the Fourth International, nowadays a centrist swamp. A major section in France has already dissolved into a non-Trotskyist (ie, non-Marxist) formation and SR has announced its willingness to do the same. It is holding talks on unity with the International Socialist Network (recent escapees from the SWP who as yet do not have a policy platform), Anti-Capitalist Initiative (recent departures from Workers Power, the latter excluded from the talks). The common ground appears to be an orientation to activist social movements and the trade unions. Together these forces would view Left Unity as a broad movement to provide day-to-day leadership of struggles (do the work), while the revolutionaries have the long term aim of ending capitalism (thinking).

The strategy is essentially that of the Pablo/Mandel school, looking for left-moving fragments of the old organisations, or radical non-working class movements, to fuse with. The formula has been flogged to death many times. It seems that the actual (not wannabe) leaders of Left Unity have a similar approach, with Loach, Hudson and Achcar flagging up Die Linke as a model for what LU could be. Would it be indelicate to mention that Die Linke - the German Left Party - is top-heavy with old Stalinist apparatchiks of the former ruling party of East Germany, the political masters of the Stasi who spied on the workers? Despite some left noises in opposition, Die Linke has joined coalitions and administered cuts, and has accommodated itself quite well to the foreign and security policies of the state. Not quite the ‘bottom-up’ approach currently popular.

So the question remains: how should Marxists address the Left Unity project? It is necessary to recognise that the old organisations have failed and, at present, the working class in Britain and internationally does not have a political voice. The old leaderships are tied by a thousand strands to the ruling class. It is also necessary to point out that the dominant outlook in the labour/trade union movement, including most of what passes for the left, is Keynesian of sorts. Basically, it says that the national economy requires a stimulus aimed at marginally increasing demand and starting a cycle of growth. From Labour’s ‘austerity lite’, it shades into a slightly larger stimulus, argued for by Owen Jones. Both are premised on rescuing capitalism. Bleating about greedy bankers avoids discussion about the causes of the crisis.

Is LU challenging these views of the crisis presented in the People’s Assembly? The objective needs of the working class call for much more than a mere stimulus to growth to address poverty, jobs, housing, education, infrastructure and environment, and should be financed by attacking the bloated banking sector. Not ‘solving the crisis’, but sharpening class contradictions. This alone calls for an international struggle, seeking allies among workers who are also breaking with the old organisations.

Left Unity has some things going for it, in that the SWP has so far largely preferred to honour People’s Assembly with its attention rather than LU, while LU itself is still in discussion mode, with commissions set up to draft policy. Marxists should intervene with a clear programme and perspective. I suggest that meetings be convened nationally to debate these issues.

LU goer
LU goer

Cult fetish

I agree with Andrew Kliman’s claim (Letters, July 18) that Raya Dunayevskaya (1910-87) “did not run an obedience cult during her lifetime” and that it would be wrong to describe the US Marxist Humanists organisation as a cult. However, I would point out, to both him and Paul Demarty, that there is no longer anything called the US Marxist Humanists organisation.

But there is an International Marxist-Humanist Organisation, with members in many other places aside from the US, whose recently adopted democratic constitution was specifically written to avoid ending up with a cultish organisation that “in practice require[s] ‘obedience’ - to its leaders”. Readers of the Weekly Worker, especially those tired of the fetish of ‘democratic centralism’ (how can democracy not be centralist?), may like to compare the IMHO constitution - published online at www.internationalmarxisthumanist.org/about - with that of Kliman’s Marxist-Humanist Initiative (www.marxisthumanistinitiative.org/philosophyorganization/by-laws-of-marxist-humanist-initiative) and that of News and Letters, the organisation that Kliman, myself and many others broke from in 2008 (www.newsandletters.org/constitution.htm).

Cult fetish
Cult fetish

No coup

I wish to comment on your article, ‘Not the next stage of the revolution’ (July 4). What happened in Egypt was not a coup d’etat, as you allege.

We must recognise that the government of the Muslim Brotherhood lost the legitimacy it had previously gained at the ballot box. It had sold the Sinai peninsula to Hamas and failed in its negotiations with Ethiopia over pumping water from the Nile. The government clamped down on the people, depriving them of their rights and freedoms. In view of this loss of legitimacy, the millions who had taken to the streets called on the military to end the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.

If this was a military coup, why is there a civilian government under Hazem Al Beblawi?

No coup
No coup


Nick Rogers clings to the dogma that Marx and Engels did not put forward multiple examples of crises with different causes (Letters, July 18). Yet a reading of the three volumes of Capital will demonstrate that they did precisely that. But then it seems that Nick has a problem with even a cursory reading of anything. He claims that I said, in my previous letter (July 11), “Marx made a ‘huge mistake’ in not predicting the shift from unskilled to skilled labour ...”

A cursory reading of the letter shows I did no such thing. The mistake that Marx made, in relation to the falling rate of profit, was in confusing concrete and abstract labour! Marx states that there are only 24 hours in a day, so even if a worker could live on air the maximum one worker could produce, in terms of surplus value, is 24 hours. So 24 workers, producing only one hour of surplus value, generate more than one worker producing 23 hours. But the trouble is that, though there are only 24 hours of some concrete labour in a day, say of a machine minder, there may be 48, 72, 144 or whatever number of hours of abstract hours of labour-time in the brain surgeon’s day, because the labour of a brain surgeon is complex labour, and may produce a value several times that of the machine minder’s labour.

Nick then claims: “I rather suspect that the average worker of the past was more skilled than today’s workers ...” Really? So you think that the average worker of 100 years ago, who could barely read or write, was more skilled than today’s numerate, literate, computer-savvy teenager? Do you really think that capitalism has invested tens of millions in developing universities and colleges to churn out more highly productive, highly valuable workers for absolutely no reason?

But it’s clear Nick does not understand the difference between the value of labour-power and the value created by labour. He demonstrates that his understanding is back at the level of Adam Smith. So he says: “As for the productivity of David Beckham’s labour, the fact that he can still earn a fortune now that he has hung up his football boots is a strong indication that his earning power was at least as strongly linked to his brand as his footballing skills.”

But I said nothing about Beckham’s wages, which would be a reflection of the value of his labour-power. I only spoke about the value produced by his labour, as complex labour. Nick says: “The value produced by complex, skilled labour is not measurable in any absolute sense.”

So he wants to ignore it, which is rather different to his attitude towards the idea that the global rate of profit can’t be accurately measured. But he is quite obviously wrong anyway. Marx says we can measure the value of the product of complex labour. It is what consumers are prepared to pay for that product, and that obviously is measurable. As for Beckham, Nick’s argument makes no sense. Even if his earnings are to be explained as some form of rent, the question he has to answer is from what fund is this rent paid? Where did the value come from that enables this rent to be paid? Why would someone pay rent to Beckham, for his labour, unless it produced a value not only equal to that rent, but also made a handsome profit for themselves? The idea that Beckham and other such workers’ position is comparable to that of a CEO is nonsense. Does Nick believe that football fans pay hundreds of pounds for their tickets in order to enjoy the product of the ground staff, or that of the players?

That misunderstanding is also behind his comment: “An average hour of socially necessary labour in any given year (or reproduction cycle) is as productive of value as an average hour of socially necessary labour in any other year - regardless of whether the comparison is 2013 with 2012 or 2013 with 1850.”

It’s true that an hour’s abstract labour time has the value of an hour’s abstract labour time, but the issue here was that all labour is in fact concrete, not abstract. Concrete labour has to be reduced to abstract labour to measure it, and in the process it becomes obvious that an hour’s labour by a brain surgeon creates more value than an hour’s labour by a machine minder. But his argument above is in any case clearly wrong, and Marx says so: “The labour time socially necessary is that required to produce an article under the normal conditions of production, and with the average degree of skill and intensity prevalent at the time. The introduction of power looms into England probably reduced by one-half the labour required to weave a given quantity of yarn into cloth. The hand-loom weavers, as a matter of fact, continued to require the same time as before; but for all that, the product of one hour of their labour represented after the change only half an hour’s social labour, and consequently fell to one-half its former value” (Capital Vol 1, chapter 1).

So never mind an hour’s average social labour time of 1850 having the same value as an average hour of social labour time today - here is Marx saying that an hour of average social labour time has been slashed in value by half overnight as a result of a change in productivity! That is obvious on a fairly cursory reading and understanding of Marx’s theory. The point is that what constituted an hour’s socially necessary labour time in 1850 would today constitute maybe five minutes of socially necessary labour time, at best.

Consider the following: a society has two departments. One produces means of consumption; the other produces entertainment, in the form of music halls spread around the country. Department A has 10 million workers working one billion hours, producing a value of £10 billion. £9 billion of this is traded internally within department A; the other £1 billion is traded with department B. Department B comprises one million workers working 100 million hours with a value of £1 billion, which they trade with department A, in return for their consumption needs.

As a consequence of technological development, the music halls are replaced by TV studios, which now employ just 100,000 workers. All of this output is traded with department A in place of the former music hall entertainment. So 100,000 workers in department B now produce the same £1 billion value as formerly one million workers produced. The complex labour of these workers now has 10 times the value of their predecessors. In fact, because the TV studios would likely require less constant capital than all of the music halls, the rate of profit would rise. It would certainly rise if department B workers obtained a smaller share of the higher value they now produce. But a look at any advanced economy shows that this kind of development is characteristic.

As for Apple and Microsoft, 90% of the value of Apple products is generated in the US, not in China or other manufacturing locations. But for the rate of profit to fall Nick needed to have shown that workers were replaced by constant capital. Instead he points to the employment of large numbers of workers! The materials that go into an iPhone are minor compared to the materials that went into a 1980s phone, let alone all of the other devices it now replaces. In terms of Microsoft, very little of its product, other than for hardware, requires even a physical production process. Even the churning out of CDs and DVDs has been replaced by downloadable versions of the software.

With all of this uncertainty, it’s no wonder that Nick is confused about the role of the rate of profit, and its relation to crises. None of the estimates of the rate of profit are accurate, because they miss out the most important element of the value of output: circulating constant capital. Moreover, as I’ve demonstrated recently (http://boffyblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/the-rates-of-profit-interest-and_12.html), if you adjust even the US ‘rate of profit’ for the effect of productivity on the rate of capital turnover today, you obtain three times the unadjusted rate compared to 1950.

Those that argue that the rate of profit has not risen have to explain where all the capital came from that created massive new economies in China and elsewhere, that created whole new industries around new technology and communications, and yet at the same time had sufficient surplus value left over to produce huge money hoards on corporate balance sheets, in sovereign wealth funds, and which has driven global interest rates ever downwards for the last 30 years.

If Nick wants a clue as to how that happens, he should read Engels’ description of the 1847 crisis (www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1894-c3/ch25.htm), which occurred under pretty identical conditions of huge prosperity, and sharply higher rates and volumes of profit. What was the cause of the crisis that broke out with this rising rate of profit? Crop failures in England and Ireland, and mistaken bank legislation that caused a credit crunch.



Organisations are usually a mix of being norm-bound or rule-bound. One advantage of rules is transparency - everyone can see what they are. New organisations, like mine, the International Socialist Network, set up in mid-March, have few rules, and most norms are tacit, as we have had hardly any political discussions from which a political culture can emerge.

So it came as quite a shock when I was suspended on Monday July 22. I had exercised my responsibility as a socialist to speak my mind, and in posts on the ISN website (July 19-21) warned of what I saw as unnecessary centralising moves within the ISN, violating our implicit values of transparency of proceedings, accountability of office-holders, and the widest participation in decision-making.

So much for the ISN’s pluralism. So much for scrutinising decision-makers. So much for transparency and accountability. I haven’t even been told what I am supposed to have done, what I am supposed to have violated, how long my suspension is for, and whether I can appeal and to whom. ISN land becomes Kafkaland.