Use Value (and not really Aesthetics)

Howie Chodos howie at
Sun Apr 2 10:38:57 MDT 1995

Rakesh wrote:

>I agree that the commodification of child-care, cooking, laundering,
>cleaning, etc. is a very important development, about which Paul C comments
>were quite interesting I thought.  In their "domestic" form Postone would
>not understand these activities as productive, nor would he attempt to
>defend the "dignity of such labor" by attempting to prove it productive.
>In so far as such activity becomes adequated to the production of value and
>surplus value, Postone would  then *critique* it as productive labor which
>in his interpretation of Marx is not "a transhistorical and affirmative
>category of political economy" but the "structural source of its own
>domination." (356)This critique of proletarian labor is perhaps the most
>provocative argument of the book (as both Postone and his reviewers have
>I'm really not sure whether this speaks to Howie's concern.

I am still unclear as to what I was trying to ask of Postone, but I think it
was of a more general nature than simply the question of domestic labour. As
I understand Postone (and as I said, this is a first reading, so it is not
only preliminary, but quite possibly wrong) he is arguing that the
fundamental contradiction of capitalism is rooted not in the private
ownership of social means of production, but in the very nature of a society
in which commodity-producing labour is dominant. It thus seemed to me that
this type of analysis would be relevant to a discussion of the significance
of processes of socialisation which are taking place under capitalism.
Postone criticises the idea that socialism will simply be an unleashing of
productive forces that have been bottled up under capitalist ownership, and
would seem to reject the whole "forces of production" / "relations of
production" way of looking at things. This seemed to suggest to me that
Postone would tend to be critical of adopting the developmental path
associated with capitalism as a prefiguration of social relations under
socialism. For example, Paul wrote that:

>I would have said that the vision we should have of socialism is one in
>which formerly domestic labour is socialised or at least communalised.
>If people no longer lived in bourgeois families but in communes or
>Kibbutz type organisations, what was once 'domestic' work can become
>social labour paid at the same rate as any other.

I guess that my own intuitive inclination is to not be entirely happy with
this kind of formulation. I find that it tends to legislate too strictly as
to the forms of living arrangements that would be encouraged under
socialism. I think that I would hope for a greater degree of freedom for
each individual to decide on the particular form of living arrangement that
they would wish to adopt, rather than to impose "communes" or some other
form of collectivity on people. Socialism would, however, both eliminate any
social stigma attached to anyone's choice (thus, for example, same sex
couples could enjoy exactly the same rights, freedoms and responsibilities
as heterosexual couples) and provide an egalitarian material infrastructure
that meant that people could in fact choose freely, rather than being
compelled by "market forces" in one direction or the other. People would not
be obliged to remain in unhappy or unhealthy relationships because of
economic considerations, and would have a full range of socialised services
available should they need them.

How does this relate back to Postone? Well, I guess that was, and still is,
my question. I may be straining to find a connection, but it does still seem
to me that Postone's approach might offer a stronger basis on which to
rethink the contours of an eventual socialism. BTW, I would be interested in
reading the reviews that you mentioned in your post, Rakesh. Could you post
the appropriate references (or, if you have already done so previously,
point me in the right direction)?

Howie Chodos

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