The Politics of Die LINKE – A Politics of Time

Preface by Frigga Haug (November 2011): Victory in Defeat

What is the meaning of women’s politics for a modern left party which seeks to follow feminist, socialist and ecological goals? Die LINKE,1 when it was founded in 2007, asked me for advice to improve its competence in women’s issues, in order to address the low percentage of women among new recruits to the party (18%). I argued first of all against formulating a special women’s politics, since this would freeze the marginalization of women. The metamorphosis of general human needs – e.g. reproduction of the human species – into “women’s questions” was itself the problem, which could only be confronted with a different basic approach to politics.

The two chairmen asked me to convene a circle of feminist academics to monitor and critique the development of the first party program. I tried on a national scale, which was difficult, since the academics were not really interested in party politics. I wrote to 100 international feminists; 50 of them, from 19 countries in 6 continents, participated in the project (published in a book Briefe aus der Ferne [Letters from Afar], 2010). For further discussion of the program in the making, I then looked for cooperation among female party-members, a circle of politically committed women who were ready to engage in further study. We called this ever-growing circle Dialectikfrauen (Women of the Dialektik group), since they above all embraced dialectical thinking, which was necessary in order to transform the usual metaphysical thinking into a movement that could bring about real changes.

The first draft of the party-program was written without our participation, but like all other party-members we were given the opportunity to discuss it and suggest changes. But now it became obvious that women, as usual, were hardly present in the program, except in bits and pieces – sprinkled like parsley in a sauce – in a small paragraph addressing what were supposedly women’s questions. This dilemma could not be improved by mere revisions; the whole program required a new foundation.

It is not good politics merely to protest when fish are caught in the net (or women are oppressed); one must study how the net is flung – how the knot of domination is tied, in which women have been securely clamped for centuries. For this reason, we resolved to proceed in a historical/critical way, and to make such understanding into a prior foundation for the program itself. We would have to start with labor and its fundamental division, within which domination is continually adjusted and which must be rearticulated as a condition for liberation. The core struggles are about control over a person’s time; they take concrete form in our social relationships. One cannot just put forward this idea, however, without trying to spell it out.

Thus I wrote the initial draft – a task made difficult by the absence of women in written history, and also by the unusual character of the research question. The Dialectikfrauen discussed and improved the text, making it more concrete.

What is really interesting and instructive about this text – which can now be discussed – is not only its genesis as a work commissioned for a newly forming political collective, but also, and above all, its role in the process of defining a new hegemony. The preamble had to be diffused within the Left and beyond, in the whole country. It is the foundation for the project of the Four-in-One-Perspective,2 which was to orient both long-term vision and day-to-day politics, much as Rosa Luxemburg suggests in her revolutionary Realpolitik. Up to now Die LINKE has had no project of its own – distinct from left social democracy – focusing on the domination-complex of class, gender and race. It was this very project that we sought to advance.

For two years we spoke at every possible conference and political meeting, in huge congresses, and for trade unions, social movements, Attac, church groups, etc. Everywhere the Four-in-One-Perspective was welcomed and accepted with curiosity, even with enthusiasm. This quite unknown and strangely titled project won ever more agreement, support, and publicity. Invitations to present the project are still arriving, because it dares to offer a positive orientation in a time of farewells to utopia and of general hopelessness. But as its renown and its influence grew, so also did forces opposed to it harden, focusing on the extension of the concept of work beyond wage labor to include all socially necessary and meaningful work. Yet as resistance grew, so also did support. At the October 2011 party conference, about 40% of the more than 500 delegates voted to include the preamble in the program as an appendix.

This was a defeat, but an extraordinarily victorious one. It gave the Four-in-One Perspective great publicity and surely also – in the context of increasing structural unemployment, of growing misery in the reproductive sector, and of the extreme urgency that everyone be involved in reshaping society and in exercising the human right to personal development – foregrounded the need for a broadening of the concept of labor. The many who participated in the process are not at all discouraged or defeated. With ever greater energy, they set themselves to give concrete political form to their agenda.

In the end this process also shows that it is possible for a small group to overthrow the whole patronizing politics from above, thereby opening up a universally valid perspective and, in a relatively short time, convincing almost half the party – and a far bigger public – that the world can be changed in a specific direction.  -- Frigga Haug

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History is full of struggles over appropriation. Land should belong to those who cultivate it, machines to those who operate them. As Die LINKE, which is attempting a breakthrough to a democratic socialism for the 21st century, we add a new chapter to this history: an intervention for the appropriation of time. It should belong to those who live it.

All domination is based on labor and its distribution; it explains the current crises and our politics. What is always at stake is control over labor power, one’s own or that of others. All of politics and economics find their origin and goal here, since in the end the struggle is over the time in which people are active. Let us outline the historical development.

People appropriate their life socially by transforming nature, making it into nourishment for themselves. In the course of history it was possible to continuously develop the forces of production, and thus to reduce the proportion of labor power devoted to necessary labor, thereby freeing time for further human development. A division of labor arises, which makes it possible to take up activities beyond those required for mere survival. This division of labor hastens the social process of development and at the same time, with the emergence of private property, makes possible domination in the form of control over the labor power of others.

Class struggles determine the forward motion of history, which is based on four big divisions of labor: the division between women’s and men’s labor, between town and country, between manual and mental labor, and the pseudo-division of labor and non-labor. The struggles over labor are struggles against domination: against the domination of women, against the barriers to further cultural development in the rural areas, against the exploitation of nature, against the dominion of minds over hands and finally of the rich over the poor. It is important to study the forms which various forms of labor assume through history. On this basis we determine our politics, with the aim of abolishing domination, concretely in the here and now.

We do this 1) when we fight for equality or for equal wages, even if this is only a means on the path toward a more just society; 2) if we get involved in questions of agricultural prices and energy production, where it is a matter of resources that we leave to the next generation; of course, 3) when what is at stake is the quality of care, therefore also of healthcare, of the elderly, of cooperation in society; 4) if we are shocked by famine in the world and consider managers’ salaries and the remunerations the elite receive; and above all 5) when we want to so change education that all people can defend themselves and become competent to participate in questions of how society is to be shaped.

The division into women’s and men’s work is the oldest of the divisions, in which women are assigned jobs done “under the roof” – all essential care-giving, including for children, the sick and the elderly – and men jobs outside the house, mainly in the fields – in agriculture and then also in war. In the family, women and children became property of the man, who disposed over the labor power and the sexual body of the woman. Marx and Engels therefore call women the first oppressed class (“the world-historical defeat of the female sex”) and the family the first economic form, in which all subsequent developments are already present in embryo. Rosa Luxemburg outlines the special history of women:

The woman of the people has always worked hard. In barbarian hordes, she carried heavy loads and gathered food; in primitive villages she planted and milled grain, painted and shaped pots; in antiquity as a slave she served the rulers and wet-nursed their offspring; in the Middle Ages she played the leading role in the spinning room for the feudal lord. But since the existence of private property, the woman of the people mostly worked in isolation from the big workshops of social production, and thus isolated also from culture, cooped up in the narrow domesticity of a miserable family existence. Capitalism first tore her away from the family and harnessed her to the yoke of social production, driving her onto other people’s fields, into the workshops, building construction, offices, factories and department stores. ("Die Proletarierin [The Working Woman]," in Sozialdemokratische Korrespondenz, No. 27, March 5, 1914, in Gesammelte Schriften, 3, 410)

Elements of the family form of rule remained legal in Germany until the 21st century. To cite only one example, the standard marital status relief (tax splitting), which encourages the division into a – mostly masculine – main breadwinner and a – mostly feminine – extra earner, is a vestige of this division of labor, which has been congealed in the tax law. To this day it is anchored in the cultural tradition and determines the condition of women worldwide. The labor of men outside the house – in the hunt, in politics, in war – showed, as productive forces developed, that a surplus could be produced, which became the basis for a further division of labor. In the succession of various forms of rule – with slaves, tenants, wage workers – the form of wage labor, with capitalism as its corresponding social formation, proved to be the one that developed the productive forces of labor in the most relentless way, turning the constantly increasing wealth of labor against the workers. Since the beginning of industrialization, people have fought to shorten the work day. Nevertheless, overwork for some alongside unemployment for others continues to be the means employed by capital, along with appropriate policies, to increase profits.

Capitalism thrives and grows by incorporating domains which themselves are not organised in a capitalist way. This is achieved partly via external imperialism, in which new foreign markets and materials are acquired and non-capitalist polities are destroyed, and partly via internal colonialism, in which the sustenance of the population occurs through the family – not according to profit criteria.

It is obvious that in these conditions founded on the division of labor, the struggles around time and its control are carried out by both sexes. From the standpoint of social reproduction we see how mainly women are still required – in many regions and families – to accept without payment the reproduction of predominantly male wage-labor power, while the wage workers are supposed to so subordinate themselves to industrial discipline that their labor power suffices for the sustenance of the family. Historically and morally this leads to the state-protected form of family, heterosexual monogamy, the husband who is in charge and the dependent housewife. This cultural order has increasingly been corroding since the end of Fordism – that is, since the 1970s –, a process that in turn is driven forward by neoliberalism. The slogan “Every woman her own entrepreneuse, every man his own entrepreneur” suggests liberation: from the narrowness of the home sphere for some, from the drudgery of the exploitation of labor power for others. Under the extant capitalist conditions, however, the immediate result is the “liberation” of housewives and mothers in the context of (a) single parenthood and poverty for more than half of women with children; (b) the growth of a feminine precariat (so that the labor force participation rate of women grows by leaps and bounds through part-time jobs, along with the rate of illness from overstress through the daily effort to “reconcile career and family”); and (c) growing structural unemployment among men, because the developed forces of production need less living labor.

In this situation, the demands for equal status, for better families, and for the compatibility of family and career are all too quickly used to fortify old straitjackets and are thus converted into their opposite. We want to make the new “freedoms” into real ones. Our reform proposals are thus put forward in the perspective of an integrally more just society, but we must first relate to the securing of an existence that makes this change possible. Alongside the central demand for the general right to a shorter work-day, there is also the demand for guaranteed sustenance. Everyone has to be able to live in dignity on the incomes they earn, and everyone should be able to participate in the various domains of activity, that is, in gainful employment, in family and care work, in societal labor, and in the exercise of political influence.

The division of labor between town and country is a subject that seems to have little to do with us today. Most people are city dwellers and know of country problems only from history books or from summer vacations on a farm. And yet the unsolved questions are the same, namely, 1) the exodus of young people, especially women, from the rural areas of the former GDR, 2) migratory flows through the entire globe, and 3) the transformation of large areas of land in the so-called Third World into sources of food and profit for the First World – famine for some and abundance for the few. Addressing these problems requires us to explore points of intervention and changes of direction.

The town-country separation became dynamic with the emergence of landed property, which generated servitude in agricultural work. The need to rent land in order to work for one’s own subsistence created forms of dependence that produced an army of poor people from the peasantry. The rents became so high that a peasant family, despite round-the-clock work, could not earn its livelihood. The uprisings of peasants against their miserable conditions of life have gone into history as the Peasant Wars. The peasants lost. Their legacy, “Our grandchildren will do better,” is among the left’s still unredeemed goals.

The driving of poor agricultural workers off the land, which constitutes the so-called primitive accumulation of capital, created a destitute horde of people who were driven into flourishing cities, where they formed the first army of wage workers in the epoch of emerging industry. Rapid industrial development quickly brought riches for the factory owners. It also brought the subordination of country to town and a corresponding subordination of, and contempt for, rural labor, similar to that felt for women’s work. While civil society developed in the towns, which were the seat of state administration, in the country the church-supported patriarchate survived with its suppression of women until our day. Here television brought an enormous change.

In the state-socialist countries, “abolition of the separation of town and country” was an explicit task. In this case it was a matter of “cultural nourishment,” but it mainly involved a lightening of working conditions through cooperative property (mechanization of agriculture, shortening of work-time, especially for women). This shift of property toward cooperatives (also known as forced collectivization) had the dual effect of, on the one hand, shortening the working times involved, making vacations possible, etc., while on the other hand diminishing the sense of responsibility and commitment. After the demise of the GDR and the redistribution of the land as individual property, the questions of overwork and relative poverty remained. At present, those who work the land still cannot earn an adequate income.

Strikes, uprisings, and struggles around subsidy are the responses of those working in agriculture. After the urbanization of most industrial countries, social inequality and rural poverty have been displaced to the raw material suppliers in the so-called Third World. The landless movements in these countries are fighting for their right to the land as the basis for survival, long before they take part in the wealth of city life. The perspective of transcending the division of labor between town and country, in order to shape the development of society in a more equitable and human way, has shifted to the elementary struggle over the earth’s resources.

It also sounds old-fashioned at first to talk of the division of labor between brain and hand. The development of the forces of production has shrunk manual labor to a vestige. Industrial labor today is also to a great extent mental work. However, in the separation of mental and manual work lies domination. We need to follow the history of this separation and transformation in order to understand how, despite all intermixing, on the whole the domination of those on top, and the consequent impoverishment of those below, has persisted.

The separation of mental and manual work underlies the formation of intellectual and ideological castes, which tend to reproduce domination but also to call it into question. This separation accompanies the history of work and is the basis for the development of machinery, which at first transferred the always simpler manual activities to the machine. It reached its zenith in Taylorism/Fordism. With computerization of the world of work, the old hierarchies became blurred. It is hard to determine what is manual and what is mental work and hence also what men’s and what women’s work is. The trade-union struggles over good work lose their old criteria, whereby work under conditions of heat, noise, dirt and constricted spaces was to be limited or more highly paid.

The digital age needs less living labor in the industrial process. Through a general work-time shortening for all, the time saved from necessary labor could have flowed into more time available to all and thus led to more time-prosperity. But the opposite occurred. As André Gorz put it, the less work there was for all, the longer became individual work-time. The owners of capital could use this change in the productive forces for themselves, transforming the saved labor time into fewer jobs, thereby weakening trade-union resistance. Such resistance was also weakened by the continued lack of an alternative concept of struggle.

In the separation of intellectual from physical labor, women found themselves from the start almost naturally identified with physical labor – not on the basis of supposed typically feminine characteristics, but on the basis of social relations, which assigned to them the less prestigious tasks, namely family work, housework, caring (in short, “reproduction”). The emergence of a governing elite was, on the other hand, predominantly men’s work. The consequences are still with us; the conquest of economic and political leadership by women will thus require their own efforts and culture, which must be fought for.

The micro-electronic revolution represents a new stage in the development of productive forces. Not only is necessary labor time reduced; the character of the products changes. Since machines take over material production to an ever greater extent, more people are involved in the production of immaterial goods, such as knowledge. In contrast to material products, knowledge does not become less when it is at the disposal of many. If two people divide a chair, each has only a half. But if two people communicate their ideas, they have more ideas after the exchange than before. Knowledge does not evolve its full productivity in private use but does so precisely in being made publicly available. Only in appropriation by the many does it develop its full productive effect. In various domains (science, pharmaceuticals, software development, and creative applications), it has become increasingly clear that private control of knowledge impedes the economic potential of society.

The separation of work and non-work does not refer to a separation between the employed and the unemployed. Rather it refers to the separation between those who have only their labor power as a commodity and those who own means of production without any effort of their own. This distinction is central. However, in the Social Democratic movement the critique of non-work, which historically meant the exploitation of labor power on the basis of property, could be converted into negative attitudes toward the unemployed – and this, as part of Agenda 2010, took the form of endorsing laws like Hartz IV,3 which is an attack on the basic rights and participation of all.

Like the other dichotomies, the antagonism between work and non-work is an element of progress as well as domination. It appears historically first as domination, in which some, on the basis of their property, enjoy what others, who have nothing but their labor power, produce. With the beginning of capitalism, exploitation too becomes a distinct sort of work – that of management. But the outrage of employed workers is diverted into hostility toward the unemployed. This area of tension is increasingly becoming an ideologically contested terrain. In it, alternative movements are developing which recognize, for example, the connection between social security and control over the deployment of labor as factors in reproducing capitalist discipline. Their starting point should be an insistence that in a modern and democratic society “the social guarantees of life” (Luxemburg) must extend to all, and must be tied to the demand to reduce the time that individuals spend in their paid work, down to the current historically necessary amount.

Left social policy has a twofold task: on the one hand, to ward off attacks on the social welfare systems and, on the other, to overcome the injustice in social and tax laws. Steps toward a democratic social state are equal pay for comparable effort and the demand for a minimum income – a “social guarantee” simply of existence. This is embedded in the attempt at redistribution from top to bottom through a more robust taxation of the rich, a limiting of the top incomes, and the making public of all revenues.

The reversal of the four divisions of labor begins with a consistent wage-labor-time reduction, not least of all because the establishment of a 20-hour week as a generally practiced standard is an important precondition for the more just distribution of forms of activity between genders. In order that the level of development of the productive forces can really lead to an abundance of free time (Zeitwohlstand) for all, a survey of all socially necessary labor, and also of other forms of labor, is needed.

Gender relations are relations of production

The four divisions of labor affect the most basic split that runs through the history of humanity – that between the sexes. People produce their own life and other life, in that they bring children into the world. Moreover, they produce the means of sustaining this life. This domain of food production is the one in which the forces of production are developed, a surplus produced and with it the basis for the further divisions of labor laid as a dimension of human development. This domain is the basis for all progress. The domain in which life is created, cared for and sustained, shifts from the center of social development to the margin. It is given over to women who as bearers of this task become marginal creatures. This division between the domains of production of life and production/administration of the means for it, along with its hierarchical arrangement, is the basis for the social oppression of women, which also shapes all the other dimensions of society: culture and language, ideology and social theory, and the related institutions. A real liberation of women will not occur without undoing this division of domains and its hierarchical arrangement.

Two overlapping types of domination shape the process of history: control over labor power in food production and the domination of men over women in reproduction. Development has taken place at the expense of its bases, because of a system of gender relations in which what has been socially constructed is asserted to be natural, and in which the real potential of women has been denied. Gender relations should therefore themselves be understood as relations of production. Labor and gender relations must alike be brought from their centeredness on the production of things and must be linked to both domains of human production – life as well as the means of life.

Capitalism and patriarchy

On the basis of the four divisions of labor and the division between the domain of life and that of food production, it was possible for a capitalism to evolve. This propelled the development of productive forces and spread the profit-driven mode of production to the whole world. The oppression of women was at the foundation of this mode of production, along with usufruct and traditional modes of production. These extremely crisis-ridden relations of production exhaust resources and deepen social divisions, producing – in Hannah Arendt’s words – an army of “superfluous people.”4 However, these people who have been shunted aside have appropriated this name as a battle slogan and “put on white masks, as do many activists worldwide. They attack the barbarism of capitalism, in which people appear not as people but as faceless raw material to be exploited, and their diversity is instrumentalized for racist and sexist oppression. Their respect and solidarity are directed at the sans papiers, the piqueteros, the striking women in world-market factories, the landless, the precarious and the invisible.”5

The politics of Die LINKE – A politics of time

Work, in its full human sense, overcomes the major divisions of labor into men’s and women’s work, town and country, mental and manual, and work and non-work. Capitalism thrives on the mutual reinforcement among these four great divisions of labor; this whole structure has to be dismantled. That is the goal of the Four-in-One Perspective. By “waking up to life in four-four time,” we mean that each human being’s time should approximate the norm of: one fourth paid labor, one fourth reproductive labor, one fourth for leisure, art and culture, and, finally, one fourth politics.

Our perspective views the control of time as the basis of all domination and calls for reconfiguring each of the spheres of activity. With the development of productive forces, this means first of all a radical shortening of wage-labor time. For many decades now we have known that half the work hours would be enough at the current technological level. No one would be “unemployed,” but all could participate in shaping social labor, in developing ourselves in a well-rounded way overcoming the separation of intellectual and physical labor. Every job should be equal in value to every other. Everyone should be supported by everyone else. Work should be guaranteed as a right, and everyone should take responsibility for everyone else. In this process, however, the various kinds of activity change in their significance for the social whole as well as for individuals. The change in conditions of life and self-change coincide, so that even the demand that all should participate in shaping society does not remain a mere phrase but is felt to be a matter of necessity.

At the same time, the labor of caring for people and nature is brought out of the neglected corner of uncompensated assignment to women and distributed among all members of society, so that also the men who up to now have been harnessed to the role of main breadwinner can better develop their capacities in care work.

This is what Die LINKE’s transformation project looks like. The perspective lies in the nexus of the four domains – work, reproduction, culture, and politics. It is the answer to the millennial history of the oppression of women, control over work, and control of others. It is above all a politics about time. For this – the advocacy of gaining control over time – Die LINKE stands alone among political parties in the electoral arena.

With this we face humanity’s most important task (as Simone de Beauvoir once wrote): to help the realm of freedom emerge in the midst of the given conditions.

The crisis of capitalism proves that things cannot just go on as they have been. In the meanwhile we have more to lose than our chains. But there is still a world to win.


*This document (translated here by Eric Canepa) was drafted in 2010 as a “Feminist Opening” on behalf of Die LINKE’s Dialektikgruppe [Dialektikfrauen = women of the Dialektikgruppe], to appear as a “pre-Preamble” to the party’s 2011 platform. It was submitted with more than 150 individual signatures as well as endorsements by over 40 groups both inside and outside the party, including the party-section of an entire federal state (Saxony). [Ed. Note: Publication of this document in S&D does not imply endorsement. Some board-members question its stand on the relation of patriarchy to capitalism and also its non-mention of discrimination and racism against immigrant women. Concern was also raised about the relationship of Die LINKE to other formations of the German left. Nonetheless we feel that the piece introduces the intriguing concept of a “politics of time” to a 21st-century left vocabulary, as well as contributing to a much-needed rethinking of how feminism relates to Marxism at the level of practical politics. We hope it will spark further discussion and debate.]

1. Die LINKE is a union of the relatively large PDS (Party of Democratic Socialism) of the former GDR with left trade union members and the remaining small left groups in western Germany. It won more than 10% of the votes for parliament in the last election (2010) and therefore is a faction in the national parliament. [Ed. Note: See Ingar Solty, “The Historic Significance of the New German Left Party,” S&D no. 46 (March 2008).]


2. See Frigga Haug, “The ‘Four-in-One Perspective’: A Manifesto for a More Just Life,” S&D no. 49 (March 2009).


3. The so-called Hartz IV program of 2002 drastically reduced unemployment benefits. It became a symbol for injustice, provoking huge demonstrations. It broke the neck of the Social Democratic government in 2005, but it is still in effect. [Ed. note: see Solty, “Historic Significance of the New German Left Party,” 8.]


4. “The proprietors of superfluous capital were the only ones who could use superfluous labor power” (Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism).


5. “Gruppe, die sozialen bzw. zivilen Ungehorsams praktiziert“ (Sept. 2, 2007),Überflüssigen