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«Sex, race and class»: Selma James

There has been enough confusion generated when sex, race, and class have confronted each other as separate and even confl icting entities. Th at they are separate entities is self-evident. Th at they have proven themselves to be not separate, inseparable, is harder to discern. Yet if sex and race are pulled away from class, virtually all that remains is the truncated, provincial, sectarian politics of the white male metropolitan Left . I hope to show in barest outline, fi rst, that the working class movement is something other than that Left have ever envisioned it to be. Second, locked within the contradiction between the discrete entity of sex or race and the totality of class is the greatest deterrent to working class power and at the same time the creative energy to achieve that power.

In our pamphlet which Avis Brown so generously referred to,1 we tackled “. . . the relation of women to capital and [the] kind of struggle we [can] eff ectively wage to destroy it” (p.5), and draw throughout on the experience of the struggle against capital by Black people. Beginning with the female (caste) experience, we redefi ned class to include women. That redefinition was based on the unwaged labour of the housewife. We put it this way:

«Since Marx, it has been clear that capital rules and develops through the wage, that is, that the foundation of capitalist society was the wage labourer and his or her direct exploitation. What has been neither clear nor assumed by the organizations of the working class movement is that precisely through the wage has the exploitation of the non-wage labourer been organized. Th is exploitation has been even more eff ective because the lack of a wage hid it . . . Where women are concerned their labour appears to be a personal service outside of capital«. (p. 28)

But if the relation of caste to class where women are concerned presents itself in a hidden, mystifi ed form, this mystifi cation is not unique to women. Before we confront race, let us take an apparent diversion. The least powerful in the society are our children, also unwaged in a wage labour society. Th ey were once (and in tribal society for example still are) accepted as an integral part of the productive activity of the community. The work they did was part of the total social labour and was acknowledged as such. Where capital is extending or has extended its rule, children are taken away from others in the community and forced to go to schools, against which the number of rebels is growing daily. Is their powerlessness a class question? Is their struggle against school the class struggle? We believe it is. Schools are institutions organized by capital to achieve its purpose through and against the child.

«Capital . . . sent them to school not only because they are in the way of others’ more “productive” labour or only to indoctrinate them. Th e rule of capital through the wage compels every ablebodied person to function, under the law of division of labour, and to function in ways that are if not immediately, then ultimately profi table to the expansion and extension of the rule of capital. That, fundamentally, is the meaning of school. Where children are concerned, their labour appears to be learning for their own benefit». (p. 28)

So here are two sections of the working class whose activities, one in the home, the other in the school, appear to be outside of the capitalist wage labour relation because the workers themselves are wageless. In reality, their activities are facets of capitalist production and its division of labour.

One, housewives, are involved in the production and (what is the samething) reproduction of workers, what Marx calls labour power. They service those who are daily destroyed by working for wages and who need to be daily renewed; and they care for and discipline those who are being prepared to work when they grow up.

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Ver también: Video: ‘Sex, Race and Class’ — Extende Interview with Selma James on Her Six Decades of Activism

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