A New Political Order Part 2: Economic growth

Part 1 is here: Reversing the Reversal


“Economic growth” is a favourite phrase among governments and corporations. Next time you see this phrase, translate it into your mind into “EXPLOITATION OF WOMEN”

I should mention here that I have a post-grad degree in the subject of international trade in horticultural products. I barely had the stomach to finish the course because it was BASED ON the exploitation of women. Rich Men’s sons from developing countries would come to Britain specifically to learn HOW to serve corporations such as Tesco. The work of the women at the bottom of the chain- necessary, but the women themselves easily expendable and interchangeable- was never ever mentioned. Not by the professors, not by the students. I filled in the gaps myself.

Mies points out that growth, apart from wrecking the environment and depending on the exploitation of women, does not actually proceed in a linear way i.e if someone or some nation is very wealthy rich it is at the expense of another.

She outlines how disingenuous it is that TRANSNATIONAL corporations like Hoechst or AEG use the concept of “sustainability” in full-page advertisements in national dailies like Frankfurter Rundschau to convince people that they are the ones who guarantee both employment and a healthy planet for “our children”. She points out the disingenuity of the patriarchy, when, as a solution to the global problems the Brundtland Commission (1989) proposes more global economic growth:

“This insistence on further, more rapid, economic growth, both in the industrial and the poor countries, is evidence of the fact that the authors are obviously not ready to see the connection between growth on one side and impoverishment on the other, between progress and regression, between over development and under development. They are still wedded to the linear, evolutionist philosophy of unlimited resources, unlimited progress, an unlimited earth and to an economic: paradigm of “catching-up development”. This means the rich industrial nations of the North (North America, Europe, Japan) remain the image of the future for the poor countries of the South. “Global Economic Growth” is seen as the engine that will bring them up to the same standard of living, the same consumption patters which prevail in the North.

I’m going to block quote large section of her work because her argument is THE argument. THe highlighted bold is mine.

2. “Add ‘gender’ and stir?”

There seems to be consensus among us regarding the incompatibility of true sustainability and further economic growth. Many people do not even see or admit that there is a contradiction between the two.

Nowadays, even TRANSNATIONAL corporations like Hoechst or AEG use the concept of “sustainability” in full-page advertisements in national dailies like Frankfurter Rundschau and try to convince people that they are the ones who guarantee both employment and a healthy planet for “our children”.

This co-optation of the language of protest or resistance by those against whom it was/is directed is even more pronounced in the case of the term “gender” Originally coined by feminists to eliminate once and for all the notion that biology and not history and culture is the root-cause of oppressive man-woman relations, the term gender is now being used world-wide to make real, live women and their concrete situations again invisible. The “gender discourse” has removed the discussion on problems of women within a patriarchal and capitalist society onto a totally abstract and hence politically meaningless and irrelevant level. No one who is interested in the continuation of the status quo need to be afraid of this talk of “gender”.

Particularly since “gender’ is usually simply added on to whatever issue is being discussed, whatever policy is being planned. It seems that people think that any analysis and strategy is all right as it is, but that there is still a kind of blind spot or gap which has to be filled by “gender” (“Doing gender” – of course means in reality to talk of women and their relations in our patriarchal society.) Some feminists have characterized this method of just adding the “gender aspect” or as I heard it once – the “women’s component” as “adding ‘gender’ and stir”. This approach is typical for a mechanistic, atomistic, linear, reductionist theory of society. it is also typical for the dominant paradigm of science.

But we feminists – at least those with whom I have worked for the last 15 years – have right from the beginning emphasized that the “woman question” cannot simply be added on to any other liberal or positivist or Marxist theory of society, but that, if taken to its logical conclusions, will revolutionize all existing paradigms and relations, particularly those of capitalist and socialist industrial patriarchy. As I still stick to this position I want to make clear that “adding gender and stirring” will not do for my analysis of the relationship between work and sustainability. If we take both concepts seriously – namely the concept of ecological, social and economic sustainability and that of non-exploitative, non-oppressive relations between women and men – then these concepts cannot simply be added on to the analysis of an overall exploitative, unjust destructive global system. They have rather to be put into the centre of our analysis and politics. But in order to be able to do this we need a different framework, a different view of our economy and society. In the following I shall first give a brief summary of this theoretical framework.

3. Colonizing women, nature and foreign peoples – the secret of permanent growth or accumulation
It is usually assumed that “progress” is a linear, evolutionary process starting from a “primitive”, “backward” stage and, driven by the development of science and technology, or in Marxist terms: of “productive forces”, to move up and up in unlimited progression. In this Promethean project, however, the limits of this globe, of time, of space, of our human existence are not respected. Therefore, within a limited world aims like “unlimited growth” can be realized only at the expense of others. Or: there cannot be progress of one part without regression of another part, there cannot be development of some without underdeveloping others. There cannot be wealth of some without impoverishing others. Concepts like “unlimited growth” or capital accumulation, therefore, necessarily imply that this growth (progress, development, wealth) is at the expense of some “Others”, given the limits of our world. This means “progress”, “development” can no longer be conceived as an evolutionary, upward, linear movement but as a polarizing process, following a dualistic worldview (Plum wood 1994).

Rose Luxemburg has shown that capital accumulation presupposes the exploitation of ever more “non-capitalist’ milieus and areas for the appropriation of more labour, more raw-materials and more markets (Luxembourg 1923). I call these milieus and areas colonies. Colonies were not only necessary to initiate the process of capital accumulation in what has been called the period of “primitive accumulation” in the beginning of capitalism. They continue to be necessary even today to keep the growth mechanism going. Therefore we talk of the need for “ongoing primitive accumulation and colonization” (Mies, v. Werlhof, Bennholdt-Thomsen 1988).

There is no colonization without violence. Whereas the relationship between the capitalist and the wage laborer is legally one of owners (the one of capital, the other of labour power) who enter a contract of exchange of equivalents, the relationship between colonizers and colonies is never based on a contract or an exchange of equivalents. It is enforced and stabilized by direct and structural violence. Hence, violence is still necessary to uphold a system of dominance oriented towards capital accumulation.

This violence is not gender-neutral; it is basically directed against women. It is usually assumed that with modernization, industrialization and urbanization, patriarchy as a system of male dominance would disappear and make way to equality between the sexes. Contrary to this assumption, it is my thesis that patriarchy not only did not disappear in this process, which is identical with the spreading of the modern capitalist world economy, but the ever expanding process of growth or capital accumulation is based on the maintenance or even recreation of patriarchal or sexist man-woman relations, an asymmetric sexual division of labour within and outside the family, the definition of all women as dependent “housewives” and of all men as “breadwinners”. This sexual division of labour is integrated with an international division of labour in which women are manipulated both as “producer-housewives” and as “consumer- housewives”.
With the global world system getting more and more into a crisis we can observe an increase of violence particularly against women, not only in the “Third” but also in the “First World”, which is supposed to represent “Civil Society”. As this violence is part and parcel of a political-economic system based on colonization and limitless growth it cannot be overcome by a strategy aiming only at “gender equality”. Within a colonial context “equality” means catching up with the colonial masters, not doing away with colonialism. This is the reason why feminists cannot be satisfied with an “equal opportunities” policy but must strive to overcome all relationships of exploitation, oppression and colonization, necessary for the maintenance of global capitalist patriarchy (Plum wood 1993).

When in the late seventies we began to ask for the root causes for the ongoing oppression and exploitation of women, for the ongoing violence against women even in the rich, democratic, industrialized societies of the North we not only rediscovered that patriarchy continued to exist as a social system but also that it is intrinsically linked to the capitalist system with its aim of ongoing growth of goods, services and capital or, in Marxist terms, of extended accumulation. We realized that the secret of such ongoing economic growth was not, as is usually assumed, the intelligence of scientists and engineers who invent ever more labour-saving machines and thus make labour ever more “productive”, and by the same mechanism ever more redundant. Permanent growth or accumulation could also not be fully explained, as Marx had done, by the fact, that the capitalists pay back to the workers only a share of the value they have produced by their work, namely only that share which is necessary to reproduce their labour power.

We discovered that women’s work to reproduce that labour power did not appear in the calculations either of the capitalists or of the state, or in Marx’s theory. For all of them the grown up – usually male worker – appears in front of the factory or the office to sell “his” labour power for a wage. This labour power, however, he has not produced himself alone, but usually his mother or wife.

On the contrary, in all economic theories and models this life-producing and life- preserving work of women appears as a “free good” or a free resource, like air, water, sunshine. it appears to flow “naturally” from women’s body. “Housewifization” of women is therefore the necessary complement to the proletarianization of men.We began to understand that the dominant theories about the functioning of our economy, including Marxism, were only concerned with the tip of the ice-berg, raising above the water, namely only capital and wage labour. The whole base of that iceberg under the water was invisible, namely women’s unpaid housework, caring work, nurturing work, or, as we then called it: the production of life or the subsistence production.

But as my friends and myself had lived in “Third World” countries for a long time, we immediately saw, that not only women’s unpaid housework and caring work was part of this invisible base of our economy, but also the work of small peasants and artisans in still existing subsistence economies in the South, the work of millions of small producers, who produce for local needs.

And finally we saw, that nature herself, was considered to be a free good, to be appropriated and exploited with no or little costs for the sake of accumulation. Therefore we called all those parts of the submerged “hidden economy” which are under the water in our iceberg-metaphor: nature, women and colonized people and territories the Colonies of White Man White Man stands here for the western industrial system (Mies: 1986 Mies, Bennholdt-Thomsen, v. Werlhof: 1988).With regard to the growth paradigm it is our thesis that permanent economic growth or capital accumulation can continue only as long as there are such colonies which can be exploited free of costs or with very low costs. These are areas for “externalization of costs”.

Meanwhile more feminists have tried to bring this submerged economy to the surface, particularly with regard to women’s work (Waring: 1988 Henderson:1993 Steinem: 1993). Particularly Marilyn Waring has tried to show, what it would mean if women’s work counted, if their work was included in the GDP. In my view, the most interesting part of her analysis is her tracing the history of the GDP as an indicator of economic growth, which was/is considered equivalent to “well-being”.

Not only was this indicator developed by British economists like Keynes, Stone and Gilbert during WW II (Waring: 1989) in order to find out whether the war was economically profitable, after the war this indicator was universalized in the UNSNA (United Nations System of National Accounting) to measure the achievements, i. e. the growth of all national economies in the world. It is characteristic for this indicator that it excludes not only women’s work in the household, but also all other non-wage work for subsistence, particularly that of small peasants in the South. It also excludes the “work” of nature; her regenerative cycles are taken for granted. Not the destruction of nature is counted, but only if the repair of this destruction involves further wage labour, investment, industry, profits. Only the labour that contributes directly to the generation of profit is called productive labour. And only the labour that produces commodities is counted in the GDP. Hence, the GDP is still an indicator which rather measures destructive production than the well-being of people. This is quite evident if one looks at the environmental and social costs of what still is called “development”. As a recent example I want to mention the gigantic dam project on the Narmada in India, known as the Sardar Sarovar Project. 3,000 dam projects are planned which are supposed to serve for irrigation, power generation, drinking water collection. But this “development”, meant mainly for urban and rural middle classes, will destroy the livelihood of more than 200,000 people – mainly tribals, who are being evicted from their traditional habitat in the forests. It will destroy huge areas of primeval forests with their wild-life, their species variety, and it will also destroy a large number of temples on the river banks, cultural centres since ancient times. The promoters of this project, the World Bank (which meanwhile has stopped its credits) and the Indian Government simply argue, that in the process of development always some people will have to suffer. Of course, those who have to suffer are never those who reap the fruits of this development.

Media Patkar, the dedicated woman leader of the anti-dam movement, has calculated that the damage done to the environment and to the tribals is much bigger than any benefits they could get from this “development” (Shrivastava: 1994). Even economically speaking, the project will use up much more money than it will yield.

But not only in the South does the destructive side of the growth model become evident. Also in the rich countries of the North the social and ecological costs of industrialization and growth can no longer be externalized, i.e. exported to colonies. One could even say that increasingly there is an inverse relationship between GDP growth and the quality of life. The more GDP grows, the more the quality of life deteriorates. It seems that with the globalization of the economy the old strategy by which growth was made possible in the centres, namely the dualistic or antagonistic division of the world into centres and colonies, and the colonization of nature, women and foreign lands, has reached its limits. Ecological destruction can no longer be kept outside the centres where accumulation takes place.”

Now all I have to do is think up the New political Order before posting part 3. I may be some time…


3 thoughts on “A New Political Order Part 2: Economic growth

  1. “Unlimited growth” is indeed an unsustainable proposition. I particularly hate corporations’ obsession with the YoY figures (year on year), which is growth score keeping. I like to call it “is my dick bigger than last year?”

    As well, I too hate the GDP and the concept of the need for never-ending expansion, defined as “progress”.

    And yep, the whole thing does hinge on the invisible and unpaid/low-paid work of women one way or another (Ballbuster’s post was a good illustration of unpaid services):

    but the women themselves easily expendable and interchangeable- was never ever mentioned

    Yes to this, you can see that also in the unemployment stats during this recession. Women are the disposable workforce. There is no job security for women, not really. Which also crosses over to what FCM says in her latest post about women’s transient non-career paths, and workplace sexual harassment maintaining that transience.

    Think back too, to the second world war, when women staffed all the factories (including munitions factories etc). As soon as the boyz got back from war, it was “[half-hearted] thanks, now get back into the kitchen” and menz were the ‘only’ heroes of the war, women’s efforts during the war were largely unrecognised (the newsreels during the war showing women doing war effort was just propaganda to get MORE women doing war effort stuff, not an acknowledgement of their contribution).

    There is a NZ feminist econominist, I cannot recall her name, but I saw a documentary on her. Must see if I can find it again, MarySunshine might remember it.

    • Thanks for the link to ballbuster’s article. Yeah, I remember finding a dusty old book in the library at uni that mentioned marriage=prostitution, and it made absolutely perfect sense at the time,. But ballbuster is right, love of men is the reason women marry. Women definitely aren’t GAINING anything from the marriage set up when you compare it to what men gain.
      But the prostitution analogy still holds when it comes to wives. What wives provide- nurturing, sex, comfort, free domestic labour- is so used and abused, and they get very little in return except often a roof over their children’s heads. And he can afford that roof even though he spends his damn life paper-shuffling! It’s possible that a prostitute is in some ways more free than a wife who is trapped, tied and bonded to one man because of the kids.

      BY the way, I listened to rabble and Sheila Jeffrey’s was SO talking about your blog. ANd then it struck me as I was driving home today that SHEILA JEFFREYS mentioned FAB’S blog, and Fab posts on MY blog!!! Which means I’m famous by association
      [among radfems]
      [at least in my mind]
      [perhaps not very famous at all then] 🙂

  2. Pingback: A New Political order Part 3: Our work « Cherryblossomlife

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