Making a Living

Con­i­cal Inter­sect (Gor­don Matta-Clark, 1975).

The Hidden Abode

With some minor excep­tions, the ear­li­est social­ists, such as Charles Fourier, had lit­tle inter­est in the daily strug­gles of work­ing peo­ple. For them, social­ism was to be dis­cov­ered through care­ful think­ing, and real­ized by a wealthy bene­fac­tor. Fourier waited every day in his foyer for some phil­an­thropist to come invest in his social­ist future. He even went so far as to pitch to Napoleon his grand scheme to res­cue “the human race from social chaos.”1

Not until the 1830s and 1840s, after work­ing peo­ple began to strug­gle inde­pen­dently, did rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies like Auguste Blan­qui, Karl Marx, and oth­ers begin to con­sis­tently argue that social­ism had to be based in the strug­gles of work­ers, not the elab­o­rate schemes of intel­lec­tu­als. Even­tu­ally this idea took hold, and, espe­cially after mass migra­tion, the spread of indus­try, and the dra­matic sociopo­lit­i­cal restruc­tur­ings of the 1860s and 1870s, when numer­ous states granted con­sti­tu­tions, reformed civil laws, and estab­lished par­lia­ments, the entire social­ist move­ment anchored itself to the strug­gles of the “work­ing class.”2 Social­ism would hence­forth be insep­a­ra­ble from the for­ma­tion of the work­ing class into a coher­ent polit­i­cal sub­ject.

Of course, it was unclear who exactly belonged to this class. Work­ers fell into a thou­sand dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories, work­ing life remained het­ero­ge­neous, and dis­tinct forms of pro­duc­tion like slav­ery, wage labor, and share­crop­ping con­stantly bled into each other. More­over, most work­ers did not have any kind of fixed iden­tity. They were always on the move, har­vest­ing the land in the fall like peas­ants, liv­ing with­out work over the win­ter, per­haps find­ing a fac­tory job in the spring. The work­ing class there­fore seemed less like an indi­vis­i­ble sin­gu­lar­ity than a chaotic mul­ti­tude shot through with dif­fer­ences in tra­di­tion, reli­gion, cul­ture, trade, race, gen­der, and nation­al­ity.

This unruli­ness posed a strate­gic dilemma. How could such a het­ero­ge­neous mul­ti­tude com­pose itself into a sin­gle sub­ject?3 In the late 19th cen­tury, social democ­racy had to con­front this prob­lem with a com­plex set of prac­tices and the­o­ret­i­cal pro­pos­als. The now famil­iar the­o­ret­i­cal prob­lem­atic of social democ­racy rests on three fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ples:

First, that one sec­tor of the work­ing mul­ti­tude metonymi­cally stood in for all the rest. As much of the pro­pa­ganda of the period attests, the male wage worker in the fac­tory became the face of the work­ing class as such, its strug­gles ren­dered the most vis­i­ble.

Sec­ond, the inter­ests of this par­tic­u­lar fig­ure took pri­or­ity over all oth­ers; the desires of eth­nic minori­ties for racial equal­ity, of women for eman­ci­pa­tion, or of col­o­nized pop­u­la­tions for self-deter­mi­na­tion, would be real­ized as a sub­or­di­nate func­tion of the rev­o­lu­tion made by fac­tory work­ers.

Third, social­ists priv­i­leged the shop floor, where these fac­tory work­ers worked, as the pri­mary ter­rain of class for­ma­tion. The fac­tory was not only where the most ardent bat­tles were said to be fought, but where the entire work­ing class as such entered into world his­tory. Some, like Otto Rühle, took this fac­to­ry­ist logic to the extreme, argu­ing that “only in the fac­tory is the worker of today a real pro­le­tar­ian… Out­side the fac­tory he is a petty-bour­geois, involved in a petty bour­geois milieu and mid­dle class habits of life, dom­i­nated by petty bour­geois ide­ol­ogy.”4

For bet­ter or worse, these three ori­en­ta­tions, which all implied each other, ini­tially derived from largely strate­gic con­sid­er­a­tions. The strug­gles of indus­trial work­ers in the fac­tory appeared as pri­mary pre­cisely because this was where the work­ing class was strongest and the cap­i­tal­ists poten­tially the weakest. For it was not only where prof­its ulti­mately derived, but where unprece­dented num­bers of work­ers were gath­ered. In con­cen­trat­ing so many work­ers in the same, crit­i­cal loca­tion, cap­i­tal had cre­ated the very con­di­tions of its own undo­ing. As the widely read Karl Kaut­sky explained:

All the con­di­tions of mod­ern pro­duc­tion tend to increase the sol­i­dar­ity of the labor­ing classes. In the Mid­dle Ages each arti­san pro­duced a fin­ished pro­duct; he was indus­tri­ally almost inde­pen­dent. Today it often takes scores, or even hun­dreds, to pro­duce a fin­ished pro­duct. Thus does indus­try teach co-oper­a­tion.5

Work­ing alongside each other, coop­er­at­ing in the pro­duc­tion process, expe­ri­enc­ing a com­mon sit­u­a­tion, and most of all, shar­ing the same exploita­tion, wage work­ers in the fac­tory could over­come their dif­fer­ences to band together as a united force. It was in the hard and hard­en­ing school of the fac­tory, social­ists assumed, that the work­ing class could learn the prac­tice of pol­i­tics.6

While this move was orig­i­nally strate­gic in nature, it was largely jus­ti­fied through a tele­o­log­i­cal nar­ra­tive of his­tory. Indus­tri­al­iza­tion, the story went, would cre­ate a more or less homoge­nous class of indus­trial wage work­ers. “Under the influ­ence of machin­ery,” Kaut­sky con­tin­ued, “the dis­tinc­tions among the trades are rapidly dis­ap­pear­ing.”7 The sub­sti­tu­tion­ism implied by these three moves, there­fore, would only be tem­po­rary, since soon enough all of the toil­ing masses would sim­ply become indus­trial pro­le­tar­i­ans:

We have already seen that the indus­trial pro­le­tariat tends to become the only work­ing-class. We have pointed out, also, that the other work­ing-classes are com­ing more and more to resem­ble the pro­le­tariat in the con­di­tions of labor and way of liv­ing. And we have dis­cov­ered that the pro­le­tariat is the only one among the work­ing-classes that grows steadily in energy, in intel­li­gence, and in clear con­scious­ness of its pur­pose. It is becom­ing the cen­ter about which the dis­ap­pear­ing sur­vivals of the other work­ing-classes group them­selves. Its ways of feel­ing and think­ing are becom­ing stan­dard for the whole mass of non-cap­i­tal­ists, no mat­ter what their sta­tus may be.8

Despite all the con­tra­dic­tions, exclu­sions, and hier­ar­chies of this the­ory, the polit­i­cal prac­tice of social democ­racy was remark­ably suc­cess­ful. Over the course of the nine­teenth and espe­cially twen­ti­eth cen­turies, class became a felt real­ity for tens of mil­lions of work­ers in most coun­tries. Orga­nized in unions, com­mit­tees, and most often mass par­ties, the his­tor­i­cal work­ing class was not only able to win a series of tremen­dous vic­to­ries, but suc­ceeded in pre­serv­ing a sense of sub­jec­tive con­ti­nu­ity between strug­gles. Class, in short, became an inte­gral part of every­day life.

How­ever, social democracy’s suc­cess should not lead us to uncrit­i­cally accept the story it told about itself. The het­ero­gene­ity of wage labor was appar­ent even in the fac­tory, and the orga­ni­za­tion of work­ers as a class did not pro­ceed solely along the lines pre­dicted by the tele­ol­ogy. Kath­leen Can­ning has described, in a study of female tex­tile work­ers in early twen­ti­eth-cen­tury Ger­many, how the expe­ri­ence of preg­nancy was a basis of shop floor cama­raderie. While these women were only mod­er­ately engaged in their union, the Deutscher Tex­ti­lar­beit­er­ver­band (DTAV) – partly because of its sex­ism – they were highly prone to launch­ing wild­cat strikes, some­times ini­tially in protest of sex­ual harass­ment and rape by over­seers. Can­ning recalls that “dur­ing the years 1902 to 1904, women made up between 17 and 23 per­cent of DTAV rank and file but 53 per­cent of par­tic­i­pants in so-called offen­sive strikes.” By 1908, the DTAV had “appointed Martha Hoppe as its first female sec­re­tary and offi­cially addressed the ‘woman ques­tion’ at its con­gress that year.”9

It’s worth not­ing, how­ever, that Ger­man women work­ing in fac­to­ries weren’t very likely to join the Social Demo­c­ra­tic Party (SPD), which saw unions as a priv­i­leged site of polit­i­cal com­po­si­tion. In fact, most female party mem­bers were not fac­tory work­ers; they stayed at home and did house­work, and were usu­ally recruited to the party by polit­i­cal meet­ings focused on the infla­tion of food prices.10

After a tur­bu­lent sequence of insur­rec­tions, splits, and defeats yielded the Ger­man Com­mu­nist Party (KPD), female mil­i­tants chal­lenged the new party’s focus on the male fac­tory worker, ini­ti­at­ing food riots and the loot­ing of con­sumer goods. The mem­bers of a 1922 women’s study group on Marx­ist eco­nom­ics expressed dis­may at the sug­ges­tion that house­work was unpro­duc­tive, and pro­posed a new set of work­ing-class demands: coop­er­a­tive house­holds; restric­tion of domes­tic labor to an eight-hour day; wages for house­work; free choice of pro­fes­sion for women; and sex­ual free­dom. In 1928, the tex­tile work­ers’ union spon­sored an essay con­test for women about the rela­tion­ship between waged work and house­work, and pub­lished the col­lected essays.11

The KPD would finally respond to this chal­lenge dur­ing the Great Depres­sion, which desta­bi­lized the cohe­sion of the work­ing class in the fac­tory. This period reminds us that a foun­da­tional char­ac­ter­is­tic of the wage rela­tion is unem­ploy­ment. As Geoff Eley writes:

With its aggres­sively “pro­le­tar­ian” iden­tity con­trast­ing starkly with its actual mem­bers, who gath­ered on street cor­ners rather than fac­tory floors (80 per­cent being unem­ployed after 1930), the KPD found itself willy-nilly the voice of broader-based “non­class” mobi­liza­tions around women, youth, ten­ants, wel­fare claimants, and oth­ers dur­ing its period of growth in 1930–32. Sex reform agi­ta­tions over abor­tion and con­tra­cep­tion were part of this, with sur­pris­ing coop­er­a­tion among Com­mu­nist, Social Demo­c­ra­tic, lib­eral, and non­aligned left-wing doc­tors, social work­ers, and other activists. The KPD—or indi­vid­ual Com­mu­nists and their pro­fes­sional orga­ni­za­tions and the coali­tions and forums the party sponsored—energized the 1931 cam­paign for abor­tion reform and the remark­able sex coun­sel­ing clin­ics that flour­ished before 1933.12

In other words, the wager of social democ­racy – that the lived expe­ri­ence of the male wage worker in the fac­tory metonymi­cally rep­re­sented the whole his­tory of work­ing-class for­ma­tion, and there­fore had hege­mony at the strate­gic level – did not actu­ally reflect the real­ity of class strug­gle. Since social democracy’s the­o­ret­i­cal prob­lem­atic was founded on the imag­ined expe­ri­ence of waged work, which was in real­ity always mar­ginal to the vast major­ity of toil­ers, it obscured the com­pli­cated polit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions that were required in its prac­tice. In recod­ing a con­tin­gent deci­sion into an invari­ant phi­los­o­phy of his­tory, the strate­gic, his­tor­i­cally speci­fic con­sid­er­a­tions behind these deci­sions have been lost. They now haunt us as tra­di­tion.

Outside the Factory

Of course, dur­ing the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, and espe­cially in its last forty years, many rad­i­cals crit­i­cized this tele­ol­ogy. In the 1960s and 1970s, fem­i­nists pro­vided a fun­da­men­tal chal­lenge to the belief that the male fac­tory worker and his desires rep­re­sented the whole of the class, argu­ing that the social­ist movement’s myopic fix­a­tion on wage labor in the fac­tory con­cealed the very sphere of work that made it pos­si­ble in the first place. Wage labor, by def­i­n­i­tion, means that work­ers exchange their labor power for the money nec­es­sary to live. But as the fem­i­nist cri­tique under­scored, pay­ment of wages does not auto­mat­i­cally lead to a sated, healthy, rested worker. On the con­trary, a con­sid­er­able amount of work has to be done to make sure these wage work­ers are ready to return to work the next day. As Leopold­ina For­tu­nati once put it:

Only work can trans­form the wage into the use-val­ues required in the male worker’s repro­duc­tion; but even then the use-val­ues are not directly or imme­di­ately con­sum­able by him. More work is nec­es­sary to trans­form these use-val­ues into use-val­ues that are effec­tively usable, i.e. ready to be con­sumed.13

That work, which under the cap­i­tal­ist mode of pro­duc­tion is the work of replen­ish­ing labor power, they called social repro­duc­tion. It is the often invis­i­ble work of cook­ing, clean­ing, car­ing, edu­cat­ing that makes wage labor at the point of pro­duc­tion pos­si­ble. With­out this, fem­i­nists rightly argued, no one can sell their labor power, no wages can be exchanged, no sur­plus value can be gen­er­ated. Social repro­duc­tion, they con­tin­ued, gen­er­ally takes place within the fam­ily form, those forced to do it have his­tor­i­cally been women, and, while it is some­times done by waged work­ers, it is often unpaid. Above all, some fem­i­nists, espe­cially in Italy, began to speak of social repro­duc­tion not just as a kind of activ­ity, but also as an entire ter­rain of strug­gle.

While these two forms of activ­ity – pro­duc­tion on the one side and social repro­duc­tion on the other – have always been rec­i­p­ro­cally impli­cated, the ter­rain of social repro­duc­tion has fre­quently been ignored, nat­u­ral­ized, or dis­par­aged. Take, for exam­ple, E.P. Thompson’s mag­is­te­rial account of class for­ma­tion, The Mak­ing of the Eng­lish Work­ing Class.14 Thomp­son, like most social­ist writ­ers of the time, adhered to the notion of a sep­a­rate, nat­u­ral­ized domes­tic sphere. He implied that the home is gov­erned by a nat­u­ral divi­sion of labor, but in the work­place, that divi­sion was his­tor­i­cally con­structed. Since “real” exploita­tion there­fore only hap­pens in the work­place, not at home, “real” pol­i­tics, and there­fore class strug­gle and class for­ma­tion, can only emerge at the place of work. See­ing the ter­rain of social repro­duc­tion as out­side of his­tory, as some­thing that was always already there, he passed it over in silence. Since this ter­rain has been his­tor­i­cally gen­dered as female, this basi­cally meant writ­ing women out of his­tory.15 In so doing, Thomp­son unwit­tingly repro­duced the same tele­o­log­i­cal nar­ra­tive of the 19th cen­tury social­ist move­ments, but now as offi­cial his­tory.

The fem­i­nist cri­tique there­fore had to be mul­ti­pronged. At the level of the­ory, fem­i­nists explored the con­cepts of social repro­duc­tion, unwaged work, and sur­plus value. At the level of his­tory, it was nec­es­sary to decon­struct the received story of class for­ma­tion. Joan Scott and Louise Tilly’s famous book Women, Work, and Fam­ily, for exam­ple, argued first of all that social repro­duc­tion does have a his­tory, and is there­fore a site of pol­i­tics, of class for­ma­tion; sec­ond, that forms of pro­duc­tion and social repro­duc­tion have always been closely related, with changes in one directly affect­ing the other; and third, that the home was not, and still isn’t, exclu­sively the realm of socially repro­duc­tive activ­ity, but rather a com­plex site of both social repro­duc­tion and pro­duc­tion.16

At the level of con­tem­po­rary prac­tice, fem­i­nists crit­i­cized the idea that the fac­tory was the pri­mary site of class for­ma­tion by orga­niz­ing a series of strug­gles on the ter­rain of social repro­duc­tion. In 1970s Italy, for exam­ple, one need only men­tion the strug­gle to legal­ize abor­tion, the Wages for House­work Cam­paign, or the vast move­ment to uni­lat­er­ally reduce bus fares, elec­tric­ity bills, or rents, some­times called “autore­duc­tion.”17

Women took the lead in these move­ments over the cost of liv­ing. But it is very sig­nif­i­cant, and often for­got­ten, that a num­ber of the fac­tory male work­ers who once glo­ri­fied the plant them­selves began to argue in the late 1960s that it was time to extend the strug­gle out­side. In 1969, the wave of worker strug­gles known as the Hot Autumn won pay raises, bet­ter ben­e­fits, and greater say in the oper­a­tions of the fac­tory. But the reac­tion was swift and cal­cu­lat­ing. On one side, the unions recu­per­ated these demands for polit­i­cal auton­omy by cre­at­ing a more demo­c­ra­tic, but ulti­mately con­tained, coun­cil sys­tem; on the other, cap­i­tal­ists sim­ply coun­ter­acted these higher wages by rais­ing the gen­eral cost of liv­ing, increas­ing rent, the price of food, and the cost of basic ser­vices.

Italo Sbro­gio, a worker at the chem­i­cal plant at Porto Marghera, later admit­ted that the ploy was a par­tial suc­cess. “In view of this,” he went on, we “put our back into it and said that the inter­ven­tion inside the fac­to­ries would have to be car­ried to the out­side, to the ‘social,’ as well, broach­ing the issue of the rise of liv­ing costs.” In other words, strug­gles inside the fac­tory were now faced with a strate­gic impasse; it became nec­es­sary to sur­round them by wag­ing the strug­gle on other ter­rains. This was one of the pri­mary strate­gic con­sid­er­a­tions behind the auto-reduc­tion cam­paigns, which, it should be noted, began in the pro­le­tar­ian neigh­bor­hoods imme­di­ately sur­round­ing the fac­to­ries. Sbro­gio recalls how the move­ment soon spread beyond the fac­tory neigh­bor­hoods: “Peo­ple low­ered rents, occu­pied empty houses, paid less for their food. We orga­nized all this by estab­lish­ing local com­mit­tees in the var­i­ous parts of town. We even man­aged to orga­nize a shop­ping strike which forced some super­mar­kets to cut prices for basic food.” In one case, a major self-reduc­tion demon­stra­tion cul­mi­nated with mil­i­tants start­ing “a huge fire by burn­ing all the gas and elec­tric­ity bills that we had reduced. After four months of nation­wide protests the gov­ern­ment and union signed an agree­ment, which cut the price of elec­tric­ity. Those involved in the com­mit­tee said that such a strong bond between the fac­tory and the neigh­bor­hood had never existed before.”18

In some instances, these strug­gles over social repro­duc­tion led to exper­i­ments in col­lec­tive ways of liv­ing, cre­at­ing day-care cen­ters, com­mu­nal kitchens, and people’s health cen­ters.19 These exper­i­ments in other forms of life, which many con­sid­ered essen­tial to ensur­ing the non-repro­duc­tion of specif­i­cally cap­i­tal­ist social rela­tions, went beyond coun­ter­cul­ture pre­cisely because they were fully rooted in a much broader front of strug­gles.

Of course, there were con­sid­er­able debates about this gen­eral move beyond the point of pro­duc­tion, and many fac­tory work­ers vehe­mently opposed the demo­tion of their strug­gles to sec­ond rank. This would in fact prove to be a major con­tra­dic­tion within the move­ment. Yet in the heat of the strug­gle, when strat­egy became the order of the day, the old nar­ra­tive that placed pri­macy on the plant came undone, and other paths of class for­ma­tion revealed them­selves.

The Political Question

Today, amidst a changed polit­i­cal and class land­scape, strat­egy should take prece­dence over fidelity to the received canon. The activ­i­ties of social repro­duc­tion remain the field of pow­er­ful class antag­o­nisms. Not only has the cap­i­tal­ist assault on the ter­rain of repro­duc­tion taken the form of aus­ter­ity – the devo­lu­tion of the costs of social repro­duc­tion back onto work­ers – but the grow­ing response to the squeeze on work­ing-class time has been the accel­er­ated mar­ke­ti­za­tion and com­mod­i­fi­ca­tion of repro­duc­tive labor.

Many of today’s lines of polit­i­cal con­tes­ta­tion are thus being drawn squarely through the ter­rain of social repro­duc­tion – soar­ing rents, crum­bling build­ings, under­funded schools, high food prices, crip­pling debt, police vio­lence, and insuf­fi­cient access to basic social ser­vices like water, trans­porta­tion, and health care. It’s no sur­prise that some of the most dynamic mass strug­gles – such as anti-racism, anti-police bru­tal­ity, and anti-aus­ter­ity – are pri­mar­ily unfold­ing in neigh­bor­hoods. In Fer­gu­son, where unem­ploy­ment is over 13%, a social move­ment was born in the streets, not the shop floor. In Detroit, once the heart of fac­tory strug­gles in this coun­try, one of the major strug­gles today is the fight for water.

We should not take this to mean that social repro­duc­tion is a tran­shis­tor­i­cal cat­e­gory of eco­nomic neces­sity, and that there­fore it joins pro­duc­tion as an anthro­po­log­i­cal imper­a­tive. It should point us instead to the speci­ficity of cap­i­tal­ist social rela­tions, which begin, in the words of Michael Den­ning, “not with the offer of work, but with the imper­a­tive to earn a liv­ing.”20 When we assume the per­spec­tive of social repro­duc­tion, we see that our basic state, so to speak, is not defined by a waged job, but rather exis­ten­tial wage­less­ness. On the ter­rain of social repro­duc­tion it becomes abun­dantly clear that unem­ploy­ment pre­cedes employ­ment, the infor­mal econ­omy pre­cedes the for­mal, and pro­le­tar­ian does not mean wage worker.

The strug­gles at the level of social repro­duc­tion link with those in the fast food indus­try, agri­cul­ture, hos­pi­tals, uni­ver­si­ties, and logis­tics, attest­ing to the need for a uni­tary field of analy­sis and antag­o­nism. The polit­i­cal ques­tion today is how to effec­tively artic­u­late the plu­ral­ity of strug­gles on these diverse ter­rains in a way that can begin the long process of build­ing a new class power. And that brings us once again to the ques­tion of polit­i­cal orga­ni­za­tion.

  1. Charles Fourier, “Let­ter to the High Judge,” in The Utopian Vision of Charles Fourier: Selected Texts on Work, Love, and Pas­sion­ate Attrac­tion, trans­lated, edited, and intro­duced by Jonathan Beecher and The Vision­ary and His World (Boston: Bea­con Press, 1971). 

  2. Charles S. Maier, “Con­sign­ing the Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury to His­tory: Alter­na­tive Nar­ra­tives for the Mod­ern Era,” The Amer­i­can His­tor­i­cal Review 105, no. 3 (June 2000): 807-31. 

  3. Salar Mohan­desi, “Class Con­scious­ness or Class Com­po­si­tion?” Sci­ence and Soci­ety 77, no. 1 (Jan­u­ary 2013): 72-97. 

  4. Otto Rühle, From the Bour­geois Rev­o­lu­tion to the Pro­le­tar­ian Rev­o­lu­tion, 1924. 

  5. Karl Kaut­sky, The Class Strug­gle, 1888, Chap­ter 5, Sec­tion 5. 

  6. The image of the school is drawn from Lars Lih’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the social demo­c­ra­tic con­cep­tion of the fac­tory, Lenin Redis­cov­ered: What is to Be Done? in Con­text (Lei­den: Brill, 2006), 523. See also Daniel Lin­den­berg, L’Internationale com­mu­niste et l’école de classe (Paris: Maspero, 1971). 

  7. Kaut­sky, Class Strug­gle, Chap­ter 5, Sec­tion 5. 

  8. Ibid., Chap­ter 5, Sec­tion 14. 

  9. Kath­leen Can­ning, “Gen­der and the Pol­i­tics of Class For­ma­tion: Rethink­ing Ger­man Labor His­tory,” The Amer­i­can His­tor­i­cal Review 97, no. 3 (June 1992): 763n, 761. Can­ning doc­u­ments the shift­ing gen­der com­po­si­tion of the DTAV: “In 1897, a few years after the DTAV’s first con­gress, some 2,400 women com­prised a mere 11 per­cent of its mem­ber­ship. Dur­ing the next decade, the union expe­ri­enced a process of fem­i­niza­tion that par­al­leled the trans­for­ma­tion of the tex­tile work force and by 1907, women rep­re­sented 37 per­cent of DTAV rank and file. As the union con­tin­ued to grow before World War I, this fig­ure remained rel­a­tively con­stant (see graph). Between 1913 and 1919, female mem­ber­ship more than tripled, as women came to dom­i­nate the union dur­ing the war. It increased again dra­mat­i­cally between 1919 and 1923, when nearly one-half mil­lion women belonged to the DTAV… by 1925 the union­iza­tion rate for female tex­tile work­ers had sur­passed that of men: 30 per­cent of female tex­tile work­ers, com­pared to 24.5 per­cent of their male col­leagues, belonged to the DTAV. Fur­ther­more, women went out on strike in num­bers that equaled, and dur­ing the years 1919 to 1924 even exceeded, those of male tex­tile work­ers,” 759-60. 

  10. Richard J. Evans, “Pol­i­tics and the Fam­ily: Social Democ­racy and the Work­ing-Class Fam­ily in The­ory and Prac­tice Before 1914,” in The Ger­man Fam­ily: Essays on the Social His­tory of The Fam­ily in Nine­teenth and Twen­ti­eth-Cen­tury Ger­many, ed. Richard J. Evans and W. R. Lee (Lon­don: C. Helm, 1981). 

  11. Geoff Eley, Forg­ing Democ­racy (Oxford: Oxford Uni­ver­sity Press, 2002), 191; Can­ning, “Gen­der,” 766. 

  12. Ibid., 257. 

  13. Leopold­ina For­tu­nati, The Arcane of Repro­duc­tion: House­work, Pros­ti­tu­tion, Labor, and Cap­i­tal (New York: Autono­me­dia, 1995), 49. 

  14. E. P. Thomp­son, The Mak­ing of the Eng­lish Work­ing Class (New York: Vin­tage Books, 1966). The antin­omy between “expe­ri­ence” and “lan­guage” as cat­e­gories of analy­sis – reflect­ing not only the deci­sive mir­rored con­fronta­tion of phe­nom­e­nol­ogy and struc­tural­ism in Euro­pean the­ory, but also the Thomp­so­nian mode of labor his­tory and the fem­i­nist cri­tique fol­low­ing the “lin­guis­tic turn” – is pre­cisely what a method­ol­ogy of class com­po­si­tion seeks to over­come. On this intel­lec­tual-his­tor­i­cal point see War­ren Mon­tag, Althusser and His Con­tem­po­raries: Philosophy’s Per­pet­ual War (Durham: Duke Uni­ver­sity Press, 2013), and Knox Peden, Spin­oza Con­tra Phe­nom­e­nol­ogy: French Ratio­nal­ism from Cavail­lès to Deleuze (Stan­ford: Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity Press, 2014). 

  15. For a pow­er­ful crit­i­cism of the gen­dered assump­tions of this book as a whole, see Joan Scott, “Women in the Mak­ing of the Work­ing Class,” in Gen­der and the Pol­i­tics of His­tory (New York: Columbia Uni­ver­sity Press, 1988). 

  16. Joan Scott and Louise Tilly, Women, Work, and Fam­ily (New York: Holt, Rine­hart and Win­ston, 1978). 

  17. Bruno Ramirez, “The Work­ing Class Strug­gle Against the Cri­sis: Self-Reduc­tion of Prices in Italy,” Zerowork 1, (Decem­ber 1975): 143-150. Reprinted in Rad­i­cal Amer­ica 10 no. 4 (July-August 1976): 27-34. 

  18. Italo Sbro­gio, “The his­tory of the work­ers‘ com­mit­tee of Porto Marghera,” talk deliv­ered on June 9, 2006 in Marghera, Italy. Reprinted in Porto Marghera: The Last Fire­brands, 39-40. 

  19. Patrick Cun­ing­hame, “Map­ping the Ter­rain of Strug­gle: Autonomous Move­ments in 1970s Italy,” in this issue. 

  20. Michael Den­ning, “Wage­less Life,” New Left Review 66 (Novem­ber-Decem­ber 2010): 80. 

Authors of the article

is an editor of Viewpoint, a graduate student at UC Santa Cruz, and an activist in UAW 2865.

is an editor of Viewpoint and a doctoral candidate in History at the University of Pennsylvania.