Kjersti Ericsson:
The polyphonus revolution

The split inheritance

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In this chapter: The important dividers |
From the "pure" to the versatile - or from the versatile to the versatile?

The important dividers

In the book Staying alive Vandana Shiva (1988) delivers a thorough criticism of how farming according to western, capitalistic "rational" methods has had a destructive effect on people and nature in the Indian countryside. Two ways of living and thinking have been pitted against each other. One of them is that of the villagers, particularly as represented by the women, who, here as so often, have had the responsibility for securing the family's daily needs. Their starting point in relation to nature and resources has been the needs of the local community. These needs are versatile, and natural resources have therefore been used in a versatile way. The woods round the villages, with their assortment of many different kinds of trees, have given both food and fodder, manure, medicines, fuel and lumber. The various sorts of grain have given both grain for food and straw for fodder and fuel. Animals have been used for production of milk and manure and not least of all as draught-cattle.

The other line of thought is the "scientific" and "rational" perspective of capitalism and the experts. Their starting point has not been the needs of the local community, but, instead, the market: how to turn natural resources into profitable commodities on a market, mass produce and "improve" the products. For them a wood is not a versatile source of many of life's daily needs, but a starting point for profitable lumber production. And a cow is a milk machine. Therefore they raze the original mixed forest and plant, for example, eucalyptus, a tree which is well suited as marketable lumber because of tall and straight trunks. The result is, first of all, that the village population is deprived of an important part of their means of life, and, second, that the ecological balance in the area is disturbed, the soil is destroyed and the drought spreads. The Indian cow with low production is substituted by new, "improved" races, that, true enough, give more milk, but that also use far more and finer fodder, that cannot be used at draught-cattle and are so vulnerable to disease in the Indian climate that they almost need their own family doctor.

We have enough examples from our own country of the destructive effect of the sector policy. During the sixties centralizing and structural rationalization was in the mode. People had to move away from the outlying areas. Then, as now, Northern Norway was hard hit. The Norwegian authorities wanted "efficient" fishing, meaning industrialized fishing with trawlers etc. They also wanted "efficient" farming, and the small farms in Northern Norway were far from efficient in the authorities' eyes. In 1969 Ottar Brox published a book called What is happening in Northern Norway? He took his starting point, not from what was seen as "sensible" and "rational" by the bureaucratic offices in Oslo, but from what was sensible and good seen from the perspective of the coastal population in Northern Norway. And in their perspective "fishing" was not one sector and "farming" another sector. For years they had supported themselves by combining the industries - they were fisher farmers who had found a way of life which suited the conditions where they lived. But this coherent way of life was torn apart, and the foundation for it was razed the more "efficient" fishing and farming were supposed to be separately. The result is that we now have fishing methods which mean a use of capital at the rate of 10 million NOK per fisherman's job. A capital investment of that size takes quite a lot to earn back. The result is ecological catastrophe and razing of the Northern Norwegian coastal population's means of living. Brox describes what has happened in this way (Dagbladet 26. October 1989):

"The purse net fleet has emptied the Barents Sea of caplin, after first reducing the enormous herring breeds to a fraction of what they were around 1960. Whole years of cod have actually starved to death, or become food for seals that cannot find the preferred caplin. Secondly, the cod that does survive does not get the chance to become sexually mature, instead it is caught by trawlers as young fish. Enormous amounts of dead small fish are swilled overboard. Each of them could have become a spring cod of 3-4 kilos."

It is not difficult to see the destructive effect of profit hunting and commodity production in this game. But similar catastrophes can happen (and have happened, see Steigan 1990) in socialist societies, too. Plan goals can have the same effect as profit hunting has here, if they, sector by sector, are prepared by experts at the top without knowledge of the whole of the local population's needs and lives. A plan which has as a goal the most rational and efficient "production" possible in each single sector, can easily have destructive effect both on nature and people.

Capitalism has meant an enormous development of the means of production. But the costs of this development have been terrible. The capitalistic market forces tear apart and ruin a sort of basic wholeness, and split human life in area after area. These divisions have been inherited by socialism to a large degree.

Capitalism as a system has not only created the big split between bourgeoisie/working class. It has also created a number of other divisions:

These divisions mark our lives, our thoughts and our language. It is easy to consider them a matter of course. The coherence of the means of life belonging to Vandana Shiva's women farmers and the coastal population in Northern Norway must be split apart, it is a part of "development".

At the same time we suffer from these divisions because they violate important parts of reality and because they force us into a way of life which feels like a straitjacket. Marx' vision of a classless communism was a society where these breaches were healed. But they were healed on a new material foundation which freed people from the need and toil in the old society before capitalism. Capitalism lay between these two periods, barbaric and revolutionary at the same time: it razed the old and created the foundation for the new.

From the "pure" to the versatile - or from the versatile to the versatile?

Marx imagined classless communism as a society where each individual could develop the versatile opportunities he/she bore. He spoke of a future where there was an end to "...the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want..." (Marx, Critique of the Gotha Programme, Selected Works, Vol. II, Moscow, 1955, p. 24).

According to Marx, truly big industry and technical development demand a versatilely developed person, since the technical foundation for production continually changes. Thus, the existing division of labor is torn apart, too. But the capitalistic production conditions continually re-create "...the old division of labor with its ossified particularisations". (See below, p. 457.) Capitalism is a hinder for the new conditions which must arrive (Machinery and Modern Industry, Capital, Vol. 1, Moscow 1977, p. 458):

"Modern Industry, indeed, compels society, under penalty of death, to replace the detail-worker of to-day, crippled by life-long repetition of one and the same trivial operation, and thus reduced to the mere fragment of a man, by the fully developed individual, fit for a variety of labours, ready to face any change of production, and to whom the different social functions he performs, are but so many modes of giving free scope to his own natural and acquired powers."

Marx also thought that big industry lay the foundation for a new type of work fellowship between men, women and children some time in the future, when it was freed from capitalist production conditions (as above, p. 460):

"However terrible and disgusting the dissolution, under the capitalist system, of the old family ties may appear, nevertheless, modern industry, by assigning as it does an important part in the process of production, outside the domestic sphere, to women, to young persons, and to children of both sexes, creates a new economic foundation for a higher form of the family and of the relations between the sexes. It is, of course, just as absurd to hold the Teutonic-Christian form of the family to be absolute and final as it would be to apply that character to the ancient Romans, the ancient Greek, or the Eastern forms which, moreover, taken together forma a series in historical development. Moreover, it is obvious that the fact of the collective working group being composed of individuals of both sexes and all ages, must necessarily, under suitable conditions, become a source of humane development; although in its spontaneously developed, brutal, capitalistic form, where the labourer exists for the process of production, and not the process of production for the labourer, that fact is a pestiferous source of corruption and slavery."

Marx thinks that capitalism and big industry will clear away the residue. The old work processes, where people made a complete product, or many different products, will be broken up. Division of labor and specialization will be driven to extremes, so that all professional knowledge becomes unnecessary, and the worker is just an appendage to the machine. The old work fellowship between men, women and children on the farm or in the workshop is razed, they are all pulled in as labor power in capitalist big industry and live their lives there. Human beings are made one-sided and alike: they are shaped in the image of big industry. When the capitalist form is shaken off, versatility springs from this one-sidedness, and a new work fellowship between genders and generations is created on the foundation of big industry. On the basis of these views, those who in the greatest degree have been shaped in big industry's image, the core proletariat , organized and disciplined by the big factories, are seen as the most important revolutionary force.

Capitalism's ability to make everyone and everything alike has proven less than Marx imagined. Instead of dissolving the family, capitalism has woven it into its economic and political system, and made women's unpaid work under men's rule a part of the foundation for its own profit. In production, women's "femininity" is used, by several different methods, to exploit her even more. Women and men lead different lives, materially, socially and psychologically. Young people are kept out of production and work life to an increasing degree.

At the same time Marx' visions of freedom from the slavery of division of labor, and of new versatile work fellowships between men, women and children, have not lost their attraction. But for men and women "division of labor" does not mean the same thing.

Jorun Gulbrandsen's ""real" stories from reality" illustrate this point (1986, p. 19):

Marit, 40 years old:
On how nice it is to have a day off
when you work full-time.

Got up.
Filled the washing-machine.
Washed up the last two day's dishes.
Scrubbed the kitchen sink and work bench.
Tidied up the work benches and tables.
Washed the kitchen floor.
Tidied and vacuum cleaned the living room.
Reminded the kids of their tasks.
Went to the store.
Made dinner.
Took a quarter of an hour off, had coffee.
Emptied the washing-machine and filled it again.
Took down the dry clothes and hung up the wet.
Answered questions from a child who was reading:
What is reestablishing our economic capacity and growth potential?
Folded clothing and put it away.
Scrubbed the pots and pans and washed up the dinner things.
Started to collect the winter clothing.
Reminded the kids of their tasks once again.
Hung wet clothes on top of the other wet clothes.
Thought about the talk I' m giving soon.
Answered questions from a child who was reading:
Why is there no way to avoid disqualification?
Stripped off the soiled bed clothes.
Watched the evening's children's program on tv.
Read for the kids.
Didn't watch the news.
The washing-machine stopped working.
Tried to repair it.
Rinsed out the soapy winter clothes in the bath tub.
Thought about next week-end, have to go to a course.
Hung wet clothes on top of the other wet clothes.
Was nice and baked rolls.
Put clean sheets on the beds.
Happened to make a tear in an old pillow case.
Tore it up with a flourish.
Felt happy.
Thought about all those who manage to get the kids to do what they're supposed to.
Went to bed.
Tried to read in bed.
The day after, Sunday.
Got up.
Took down three layers of dry clothes.
Folded it and put it away.
Put away winter clothes.
Thought about my talk.
Made jelly.
Was nice and made a really good breakfast.
Have to remember to call a repairman.

Took the kids for a walk and picked Spring flowers. Enjoyed myself.
Came home and put the comforter to soak in the bath tub.
The cat had pissed on it.
The course next week-end means even more work the week-end after.
Made dinner for a lot of people.
Question from a child who was reading:
Guess how you tell the difference between a sparrow and a fink?
Time off, had coffee.
Trod the comforter in the bath tub.
Thought about the plan for my work.
Went through the bills and counted money.
There wasn't enough.
Damned thieves.
Washed the dishes.
Question from a child who was reading:
What is liberalization in connection with freight?
Made a telephone call and left a message.
Put together a chest of drawers.
Watched the children's program.
Played cards with the kids.
Ate jelly.
Didn't watch the news.
A child with an English test next day.
Helped the child with this, these,
that, those,
knife, knives,
woman, women,
were, where.

And some more.
Certain teachers ought to help keep the day of rest holy, particularly the Christian ones.
Meantime the other child fell asleep under the table.
Hoped everyone who was going to call died first.
Carried up the child.
Got four calls.
Called and made an appointment.
Trod the comforter in the bath tub.
Hoped no one would come visiting.
Made an apparatus for small bathrooms, for drip-drying of comforters.
Read Saturday's papers.
Remembered everything I had forgotten to do.
Put it on the list for Monday.
Went to bed at midnight.
Tried to read.


A number of things can be said about Marit's "day off". There's not much time off about it, first of all. Secondly, it is not exactly characterized by monotony. She acts as dishwasher, teacher, cook, repairman, laundry worker, entertainer, furniture carpenter, does intellectual work. And dives into bed deadly tired. Next day is Monday, and she is going "to work".

Women do not suffer mainly from the monotony of the work they have to do. They suffer at least as much from the work being "divided" in a different way, namely into two spheres: "working life" and "home life". What goes on in the "home" is made invisible, not counted, not appreciated. All together their work burden is much too big. And others decide the conditions and framework for their work, both at "work" and in the "home".

What are Marit and her sisters supposed to do? Shall they wait until big industry has taken over all the tasks which fill Marit's day off, and they themselves have become a one-sided appendage to a machine in a factory, and then throw off capitalism and be resurrected on a new foundation as versatile people? First of all, they would have to wait a long time. As Amin puts it in a polemical discussion with a Marxist thinker (Bill Warren) who thinks that the pre-capitalist forms of production we see in today's world are conditioned and transient: they have been transient for 400 years, and not even a science fiction writer would dare to state that these "temporary" forms will disappear in the coming century (Amin, 1990). Secondly, it is not true that capitalism's only effect on pre-capitalist production conditions is to eradicate them. On the one hand capitalism razes the foundation for earlier forms of production. On the other hand it subordinates these forms of production, integrates them in its own economic system and "sponges" on them. This is what Amin points out on the question of capitalism's relation to pre-capitalist production forms in the Third World. The same thing applies to capitalism and housework in our part of the world.

What political conclusions can we draw about this? In our part of the world the two economic spheres, "production" and "home", operate each according to its own logic. Exchange value is created in production, where things are produced for a market. Things work according to calculations of profit-making potential. In the home, use value is created, directed towards satisfying the needs of family members. Responsibility for other people is central here, not profit-making considerations.

Marxism has viewed women as backward precisely because of their ties to the home. As long as the home, with its backward and narrow small-scale production, was the center of women's lives, women's horizon had to be pretty narrow. They had to move out into social production in order to break with narrowness and backwardness. This was probably true. Women have now gone into social production. But that doesn't mean that they are out of the home, that they no longer are marked by the logic of the home.

Women have one foot in each camp. By becoming career workers, they have also become direct participants in the class struggle, they are in the middle of the great social contradictions between classes. The narrow horizon of the home has been broken, the horizon of a society of classes has opened up. But by still being care persons in the home, marked by the logic of needs and the rationality of responsibility, there are perhaps some social contradictions which are clearer to them than to others. Because they mainly think with a starting point in needs, responsibility for people and relations between people, they easily end up on a collision course with the logic of exchange value and the market. And this contains great progressive opportunities. I think that the fact that women have one foot in each camp, provides them with two sources of rebellious mentality:

The combination of these two sources is dynamite. We can already see the beginnings of it, among others in some of the struggles fought by female office workers in the public sector. They fight both for their own rights as workers and for a society which offers social services that cover people's basic needs. My assertion is therefore, that women's association with the home no longer means that they are, or must be, backward. In women's new role doing double work, this association has been changed to its opposite – through its combination with class solidarity, the logic of needs and responsibility is picking up a new social dimension.

The idea that the new society could be built on something other than the foundation of "big industry", has been seen as utopia by Marxists before. Now it seems more utopic to believe that the new society cannot come into being until capitalist massive production has penetrated everywhere. First, capitalism does not function in such a way that this will ever happen. Secondly, capitalism is already making the earth uninhabitable for human beings.

The strategy of going from the one-sided to the versatile must perhaps be substituted by going from the versatile to the versatile. Are Vandana Shiva's women farmers in India, who use the forest in public areas in a versatile and ecologically defensible manner to cover local needs, just representatives of a dying way of life? Do they have to be turned into lumberjacks in capitalist production of timber before socialism has a chance? The chance of them being turned into beggars or dead bodies is probably considerably bigger than the chance of them ending as workers on machines in the forest. And production of timber will probably only be an intermediate stage before the soil lies barren and destroyed because of stupid overworking. Isn't it more likely that the knowledge they represent, the line of thought they stand for and the movements they create (as, for example, the Chipko movement for defense of trees) is one of the many necessary and important sources of a new ecological social order? Will not their struggle and their consciousness take on a new dimension when it is united with the struggle against imperialism? Are the female workers, who have one foot in working life and one in the home, a backward strata that only partially has taken a step into social production? Or does this dualism give them, instead, a special capacity for a truly social consciousness, where all of human activity is represented?

The world situation today is different from that of Marx' day, although many of his analyses still fully hold. And when the whole situation changes, parts of it change character and meaning, too. Today we have to look for the forerunners of the whole and versatile way of life of which Marx had visions, in more places than those where he looked. And, again, the women's perspective is a smart thing to carry along. "One of the difficulties about being a woman is that we have to try to do everything. It is the same, as I discovered in chapter 9, in feminist writing", says Marilyn Waring (1989, p. 10). And she cites Mary O'Brien:

"Feminist scholarship cannot engage in the disciplinary fragmentation which currently pervades social science, nor can it afford the ahistorical indulgences of here and now empiricism. A feminist social science, responding to the cultural pervasiveness of male supremacy, must be a unified social science, a unification which also transcends the partiality of political economy."

The same can be said of political strategy.

Creating "unification" must also be seen in a class perspective. The importance of the working class as a revolutionary force does not lie only in that it is concentrated, organized and disciplined at the large factories. These are, besides, characteristics which are being weakened, among others in connection with the numerical shrinking of the traditional core proletariat. The importance of the working class lies also in its ability to tie several large social questions in to the basic contradiction in the capitalistic system: the struggle against capitalistic exploitation. I have said, earlier, that women in the working class must fight on a platform where class and gender are as woven together as they are in the real world. This type of interwovenness is not necessarily the program in any and every women's movement. In the real world the ecological question is also interwoven with capitalistic exploitation. But that is not always the case in the ecological movement's programs. Large parts of the ecological movement are moored outside of the working class. The working class is capable of creating this kind of "interwoven" ecological platform on the basis of its own experiences and its own objective situation. Already, this has partially occurred in the struggle on the internal conditions at the workplace.

The working class is the only one which can create "unification" in the strategy by tying all the important questions and movements both to itself and to the struggle to abolish capitalistic exploitation. This means that the importance of the working class as a revolutionary force is not decreasing even though changes of the type we are witnessing now (such as the numeric decrease of the core proletariat) do occur. But the class strategy of the future should lay more stress on setting loose the working class' opportunities for "creating unification": for absorbing the perspectives of other movements and creating a common, interwoven platform against capitalism. This is also in line with an important aspect of the inheritance from Lenin. He thought, as we know, that the working class should conduct a versatile political struggle, and show interest in all social questions. But this doesn't come about automatically. The economic struggle has often been declared to be the "class struggle", while, for example, the woman or ecological question have been viewed as extraneous.

A new revolutionary strategy must pull in Marx' vision of a society where the huge divisions which capitalism creates, are healed. But this new whole cannot be created on the basis of the "mighty wave" having rolled forth everywhere. At the same time it is neither possible nor desirable to turn the clock back. The past also represented toil, distress and misery.

We must hunt for the germs which exist today, so that a society built on a new wholeness can grow into being. This both has to do with the material conditions for such a society and the political forces which can bring such a strategy into being.

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