Marxist-Feminism vs. Subjectivism: A Response to Fire Next Time

The East Coast network Fire Next Time recently posted this dialogue between two of their members, Zora and Ba Jin, contrasting Silvia Federici and Selma James.  The post argues that Federici’s Marxist-Feminist understanding of primitive accumulation in her book, Caliban and the Witch, forefronts global migration, colonization, and international connections among women and people of color.  On the other hand, the post asserts, James’ Marxist-Feminist analysis centers on the U.S.-centric housewife role and only secondarily takes up the question of waged women’s work and Third World and Black Feminism.  The post further critiques Wages for Housework as a liberal feminist goal, arguing that “it seems like a weird coexistence with capitalism.”  In response to this post, I feel the need to clear a few things up and ask some questions in the spirit of comradely debate.

1.  Why force a wedge between Federici and James?  

Federici and James are a part of the same Marxist-Feminist tendency.  A third person I would put in this longstanding tendency is Mariarosa Dalla Costa, who co-wrote “The Power of Women and the Subversion of the Community” with James, and still writes alongside Federici for The Commoner journal.  In fact, in the “Preface” to Federici’s Caliban and the Witch, she writes:

“The thesis which inspired this research was first articulated by Mariarosa Dalla Costa and Selma James, as well as other activists in the Wages for Housework Movement, in a set of documents in the 1970s that were very controversial, but eventually reshaped the discourse on women, reproduction, and capitalism [7].”

Furthermore, Federici wrote pamphlets in support of Wages for Housework in the 1970s.  In addition to their theoretical contributions, Dalla Costa, Federici, and James have done similar organizing through the years, for example with sex workers and in communities in the third world.

It is not clear what James’ and Federici’s relationship is today, but in discussing their contributions between (roughly) 1950 and 1980, their arguments (both historically and theoretically) strengthen and uphold one another.  The following will explain why.

2. James’ analysis of the housewife and reproductive work under capitalism.

First, I would like to look more closely at James’ discussion of the housewife.  At face value, the housewife is a one-sided experience at best, and a dated concept at worst.  As Zora describes,

“The whole wages for housework thing seems alienating for me, because it’s not applicable to that many people in the U.S. There is a history here of women of color being pushed into waged domestic work, in which you weren’t paid that much, and your worker’s rights weren’t protected. So it has already been capitalized on. You pushed multiple groups of people, who were not white women, into this domestic work to take care of white women’s children. And the wages for housework thing makes me think, “Well is that your end goal? To be co-opted by capitalism, and to make your work legitimate under capitalism?” It seems like a weird coexistence with capitalism instead of addressing how capitalism is reaching all the way down into reproduction, and developing a strategy to combat that, beyond just demanding wages.”

However, James’ methodology (along with Federici’s) is much more complex than Zora acknowledges.  James discusses the particular, or one-sided expression of the division of labour under capitalism, in conversation with the totality of social relations.  James explicitly acknowledges that the experience of the unwaged domestic labourer is one particular experience of the many different types of labour due to the capitalist division of labour.  For example, consider the following quote from James’ pamphlet, “Sex, Race and Class:”

[James quoting Marx's Capital] “‘Manufacture…develops a hierarchy of labour powers, to which there corresponds a scale of wages.  If on the one hand, the individual laborers are appropriated and annexed for life by a limited function; on the other hand, the various operations of the hierarchy are parceled out among the laborers according to both their natural and their acquired abilities.’

“In two sentences is laid out the deep material connection between racism, sexism, national chauvinism and the chauvinism of the generations who are working for wages against children and pensioners who are wageless, who are ‘dependents.’

“A hierarchy of labor powers and a scale of wages to correspond.  Racism and sexism training us to develop and acquire certain capabilities at the expense of all others.  Then these acquired capabilities are taken to be our nature, fixture our functions for life, and fixing also the quality of our mutual relations.  So planting cane or tea is not a job for white people and changing nappies is not a job for men and beating children is not violence.  Race, sex, nation, each an indispensable element of the international division of labour.” [Sex, Race and Class p. 96].

Under the capitalist division of labour, we become our jobs.  We are relegated into one form of work (we are teachers, bus drivers, call center workers, etc.) that we are to perform over and over again.  Marx calls this alienation.  Capitalism has a gendered and racialized hierarchical division of labour, where certain kinds of work, as James points out, are “naturalized,” to people of color, women, and children.
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These forms of work are historically de-valued under capital, and therefore women’s labour power is de-valued, a point that Federici explains in her account of primitive accumulation.  Further, the appearance of the value of labour power is the wage, and so women’s work is unwaged and/or underwaged.  This means that the housewife’s position in the division of labour as an unwaged worker, is tied to an immigrant domestic worker’s low-waged position, and a school teacher’s position, etc.

James’ work in this area was an important step for challenging Orthodox Marxism’s assertion that class struggle only took place in the factory.  These arguments could be extended to feudal peasantry, for example, arguing that the peasantry in countries who had not yet been colonized by capitalism had their own unique communist potential.

3. Wages for Housework and reformism.

As noted above, Zora and Ba Jin question whether Wages for Housework is a revolutionary demand, hinting that it echos liberal feminist assimilation/”equality” politics.  While I do think it’s important to question the relevance of Wages for Housework (a point taken up below in section 4), I disagree that it can be chalked up to liberal feminism so easily.

The first reason is that Wages for Housework must be placed in its historical context.  It was a demand made between the 1950s and 1970s in the US and Europe.  It is the absolutely correct approach to make demands appropriate to your time and location.  We cannot criticize James for not making international demands when there is not a strong international women’s movement.  We cannot put form before content.

Furthermore, the Wages for Housework campaign existed at the height of the women’s liberation movement, which demanded “Equal Wages for Equal Work,” and an opportunity to enter into the workforce.  This was a purely economic demand that the Marxist-Feminism tendency (including James) fiercely argued against.  According to the Marxist-Feminists, such a strategy would allow capital to absorb the feminist movement by creating additional labour power.  The alternative, Wages for Housework, would have caused increased devastation to capital by forcing profit concessions for unwaged domestic labour.  In other words, James argued that equality politics would add labour to women’s plates instead of forcing capital to relinquish profits for work already being done.

Wages for Housework demanded wages, yes, but its effort to explode the division between productive and reproductive labour extended beyond economic reformism.

Wages for Housework demanded wages, yes, but its effort to explode the division between productive and reproductive labour extended beyond economic reformism.

This anti-capitalist strategy was placed alongside the Marxist-Feminist goal of breaking down the patriarchy of the wage; women’s existence would no longer be mediated by their husband’s wage.  When viewed in this context, Wages for Housework was a political demand, not purely economic.

4. Is the housewife/unwaged reproductive labour relevant today?

This brings us to the question of whether Wages for Housework as a demand is relevant today.  Zora and Ba Jin argue, as many others have, that because women of color have for a long time received wages for domestic work performed in white women’s homes, and in the service industry, Wages for Housework does not apply to them.  However, this argument ignores the material reality that most unwaged domestic labour is still done by women in the home; this is on top of the waged work performed outside the home.  Consider the following quote from The Monthly Review, citing the Bureau of Labor Time Use Survey:

“Women are still primarily responsible for raising children and taking care of the house. Although there has been an increase in the number of single-father-headed households and the amount of child care done by fathers in general, there continues to be a large gap between the average hours that mothers and fathers devote to raising children. Contrary to the popular view that many young fathers are leaving the labor force to care for their children, the labor force participation rate for fathers with children under three years old is 95 percent: higher than any other group. Even when both parents work outside the home and fathers share in child-care tasks, mothers are more likely to take jobs with flexible hours that allow them to drop off and pick up children from school or take the day off when the children are sick. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, working women with small children spend more than twice the hours per day doing primary child-care activity than their spouses. Husbands do a slightly greater share of household tasks but still average only about half of the work done by their wives.”

Researchers in Britain are drawing similar conclusions.  We can couple these comments with anecdotes about generations of children of color being raised by single mothers, sisters, aunties, and abuelas.  This is compounded by material conditions such as the hyper-incarceration of men of color, as Zora notes:  men of color are oftentimes physically unable to contribute to unwaged domestic labour in the home. 
In essence, Wages for Housework is actually more relevant for women of color and immigrant women than the white women who do not do domestic labour in their own homes.

Many have questioned the relevancy of Wages for Housework based on the fact that women of color have always worked as waged labourers.  This argument ignores the feminized and racialized division of labour, the wage division between production and reproduction, and the value hierarchy that follows suit.

Many have questioned the relevancy of Wages for Housework based on the fact that women of color have always worked as waged labourers. This argument ignores the feminized and racialized division of labour, the wage division between production and reproduction, and the value hierarchy that follows suit.

However, women of color accessing waged work does complicate James’ and Federici’s arguments about the patriarchy of the wage.  Under these conditions, patriarchy does not appear as a wage-relationship between a man and woman in the home (i.e. her existence is not mediated by her husband’s wage). But one could counter that since the gendered wage gap exists among people of color, women of color in some ways still mediate their existence through men’s wages.  Furthermore, this problem only complicates Wages for Housework as a strategy to break down the patriarchy of the wage; it does not upset its potential to impare capital, while winning material gains for the class as a whole.

5. For the last 60 years, James has forefronted third world women and women of color in her analysis.

Putting the housewife and Wages for Housework aside, James is now over 60 years deep into her work as a Marxist-Feminist theorist and organizer.  It is not enough to look at one aspect of her work and assume it is the end-all/be-all of her politics.  As an alternative, I encourage Zora and Ba Jin to check out James’ recently released anthology, Sex, Race and Class and note that a majority of the pieces forefront women of color and the third world, tackling women’s interest in topics such and Israeli Apartheid, the U.S. Coup in Haiti, State Capitalism in Venezuela, etc.

In addition, James explicitly acknowledges the links between the housewife figure and unwaged/underwaged feminized labour in the global division of labor in her pieces, “The Global Kitchen,” and “Strangers and Sisters:  Women, Race and Immigration.”  And finally, these politics are most impressively filled out, in conversation with defending the subjectivity of the peasantry in the essay, “Wageless of the World.”

6. Second Wave Feminism’s Subjectivist Methodology.

Finally, I want to clarify what I see as the flaws of second wave feminism, how successive feminist currents have not only failed to rectify those flaws, but actually replicated them.  I am unclear whether Zora and Ba Jin would agree with this assessment because the post does not go into detail on what they mean by “Black Feminism” and how it overcomes the limitations of second wave feminism.  I would like to hear more from them on this.

For me, the pitfall of second wave feminism is that it was rooted in subjectivist identity politics, which overemphasized the individual one-sided expression of capitalism, conflating the particular with the totality.  This was characterized by consciousness-raising circles, for example, which encouraged women to find their voices and express their experiences.  These were (and are) an essential part of building up women and oppressed people as revolutionary leaders, but it cannot replace a political program for organization.  The downfall of such a method, as has been pointed out by many, is that an objectively white feminist movement conflated their experience under the capitalist division of labour with ALL women’s experiences, or the totality of experiences.  However, the response has generally been to replicate second wave feminism’s subjectivism, by relying on “intersectionality theory,” which seeks to merely add on one-sided expressions of capitalism to white women’s expressions, again conflating the particular with the totality.  More specifically, intersectionality theory creates a list of one-sided expressions of the division of labour (being Black, disabled, queer, etc.), treating these identities as static and universal.  Instead of focusing on what is the historical unity between these identities, intersectionality theory is trapped in the logic of identity, which replicates the individualism and alienation of capitalism, and conflates the particular with the totality.  A person is then a queer, Black bus driver, instead of those three aspects being different expressions, or sides, of the totality of relations under capitalism.

Marx, on the other hand, offers the concept of “moments of expression,” which place a particular one side of capitalism in conversation with the totality of social relations.  He writes, in the Grundrisse:

“When we consider bourgeois society in the long view and as a whole, then the final result of the process of social production always appears as the society itself, i.e. the human being itself in its social relations. Everything that has a fixed form, such as the product etc., appears as merely a moment, a vanishing moment, in this movement. The direct production process itself here appears only as a moment. The conditions and objectifications of the process are themselves equally moments of it, and its only subjects are the individuals, but individuals in mutual relationships, which they equally reproduce and produce anew. The constant process of their own movement, in which they renew themselves even as they renew the world of wealth they create” (712).

This is the methodology that James, Dalla Costa, Federici, and other Marxist-Feminists sought to expand.  An entire post could be written on the bankruptcy of intersectionality theory, but the goal here is to identify and dissect the Marxist-Feminist methodology and how it differs from the subjectivist methodology of second wave feminism.  Further, I aim to dispute the counterposition of James and Federici, and to facilitate further conversation about the Marxist-Feminist tendency.  I welcome comments from Zora, Ba Jin, others in Fire Next Time, and anyone else, in the hopes of fleshing this out more.

  • JC

    This is an excellent piece!

    The general theory which EM, Federici, James, and the marxist feminism movement worked from is marx’s discovery that the value of labor-power (the worker’s capacity to work) is determined by the AVERAGE amount it takes (in time, energy, and money) to reproduce them. This includes the cost of things like food, rent, etc, but also of being taken care of–raising children, washing dishes, giving affection, etc. A capitalist always wants to pay his worker less, so reducing the amount he or she expects to live on is really important. But the capitalist also doesn’t want to reduce the cost of his food commodity, rent, etc too much, for fear of losing his surplus (extra) capital (in the form of money, commodities, and time). Capitalism for a long time has thus survived by forcing this labor of reproducing labor-power to be done for free; the development of capitalism however has reached a point where it is both done for free in the homes of the working class, and then performed again for a very low wage in the homes of capitalists who pay for it out of their extra profit, so they can work even harder to exploit the working class; women performing domestic work for free at home, and nearly free to capitalists help in squeezing out more value of the workers at home, at at work.

    This leads to two subpoints below, which are mostly just complimentary to EM’s arguments in sections 3 & 4.

    1) Although the patriarchy of the wage may not work in all cases directly through a particular man bringing home a particular wage to serve as the money capital that is to be exchanged for means of subsistence for a particular family, the EXPECTATION of the patriarchy of the wage determines the value of all reproductive work. Because capitalism expects that women are paid through the male wage, the value of female labor power is reduced across the board. This constant devaluation is very productive for capitalism, therefore, not just in reproducing the hetero-normative household, but in generally reducing the value of female labor. Therefore, a struggle to raise the value of female labor power is a fight to raise the value of all female labor power in the workforce (especially those doing waged reproductive labor), regardless of the specific situation of the laborer herself.

    2) The racial dynamics of domestic layer adds another layer to this argument, but does not contradict it. The racial division in capitalist exists through and in order to maintain a level of very low paid workers performing very difficult work. This division is enforced through the state as well as through interpersonal racism and exploitation. The history of racism, jim crow, prison, criminalization of immigration, treatment in public housing, the complex building up and tearing down of public welfare systems…have all contributed to pushing the rate of subsistence (what people of color are expected to be able to live on) down to the lowest of levels, to bare survival. From the position of capitalism, it is only natural then that women of color, especially immigrant women, would perform work that, again in the eyes of capitalism, has been made by historical processes valueless, and earn a wage that is only slightly higher than nothing. This has a cyclical effect on the work itself, reinforcing reproductive work as low-wage and devalued, no matter who the individual performs it (in other words, because it is women’s work, devalued by the patriarchy of the wage, it is performed by women of color, who are exploited through the white supremacy of the wage; this devalues the work itself, so that at this point a latinx immigrant or a 3rd generation irish women or a white protestant man could do domestic work and make only small variations of the same wage).

    These additional points and EM’s article together only further the argument that the struggle over domestic and reproductive work is very much the struggle of all women, and also the entire working class. As the lowest class of workers are pushed to lower and lower levels of subsistence, the entire class is forced to live on less and less. White working class women, working class gender queer folks in other industries, and working class men in all fields (unemployed or not) should be encouraged to see these inherent connections, as should working class women performing domestic labor at their own homes and at others. This can be the basis for a necessary part of class struggle that has been often ignored, and that was highlighted by the women’s movement in the 70′s and 80′s.

  • Subashini

    Thanks for this post.

    “An entire post could be written on the bankruptcy of intersectionality theory”–I do hope you write about this? Or have you written about this elsewhere? Much of my feminism is steeped in intersectionality theory, admittedly, but lately
    I’ve been thinking about this more and I’ve begun to take note of the critiques of privilege theory (and I suspect intersectionality has something to do with how privilege theory is used, or misused … ) I would love to learn more. Particularly because discussions centred on privilege and intersectionality inevitably always lead nowhere.

    (Or if you could point me in the direction of other Marxist critiques of intersectionality and privilege theory–that would be great.)

    • http://www.gatheringforces.com/ Eve Mitchell

      Thanks for reading, Subashini! Unfortunately, I can’t recommend anything that critiques identity politics and intersectionality theory in the way I am starting to lay out above. I have been meaning to write something more substantial on identity politics and if I do I will be sure to link it to this conversation. There was an interesting post on Black Orchid Collective’s blog that received a flurry of lively debate that you might want to check out:

      http://blackorchidcollective.wordpress.com/2012/03/12/guest-post-privilege-politics/

      However, this analysis is more from a tactical and strategic point of view, rather than centering its analysis in the historical movement of capital. Also I would say that privilege theory grew out of identity politics but I would not say they are exactly the same thing. Sorry that I can’t be more help at this point. If others have suggestions please send them along!

  • J

    Thanks for this piece.

    As for the question on intersectionality critique, Jasbir Puar

    has an article that contains one of the more comprehensive critiques on intersectionality I’ve come across: http://eipcp.net/transversal/0811/puar/en

    Disclaimer on the Puar: I happen to disagree with where her argument, as a whole, ends up, esp. from a materialist perspective, but — again — in the spirit of taking what’s useful from these thinkers, worth checking out for its discussion on intersectionality early on.

  • Dave

    Great discussion. The recent publication of Federici’s book ‘Revolution at Zero Point’ is revealing for two reasons: how crucial the Wage for Houswork campaign is to her work; and the influence on Maria Mies on her thinking about the nature of reproductive labour and of the commons. I found the latter surprising but very interesting

  • larsz

    break it down! super analysis–you made things that are really confusing to me make a lot of sense.

  • Nate

    This is an important discussion on important points. As an aside on a less important point but one that matters to me, I want to object to the characterization of ‘second wave feminism’ here. We may be using the term differently but it’s my understanding that the authors discussed here were part of second wave feminism. I also think there’s a tendency for a lot of people today to talk about second wave feminism in a really flattening/homogenizing and also dismissive way, in a way that people on the left tend to treat skeptically or simply to not say when it comes to other movement terms. (Imagine “That’s so marxist.” “That’s so Black Power.” “That’s so anti-globalization.” “That’s so labor movement.” “That’s so communist.”)

    I think there’s still stuff in the writings and movement experiences that people (very loosely, vaguely, and sloppily) refer to as second wave feminism. The default common sense rejection of all things second wave feminism encourages folk not to bother to learn much from or about it. The main two books I know of on this are a collection of movement documents called Dear Sisters and a collection of activist reflections called The Feminist Memoir Project. They’re both quite good and neither is easy to sum up in a straightforward balance sheet of “second wave feminism=this.” Like most movements.

    • Mazin

      I think you’re right, Nate. In fact, in the essay by Selma James and Mariarosa Dalla Costa, Women and the Subversion of the Community, they take the time to address some of the practices of ‘second wave feminism’ noting both their positive and negative characteristics. They described lesbian separatism, for instance, as a means for women to experience and control their own sexuality unmediated by men and the patriarhal relation, despite some of the anti-men bio-reductionism that accompanied this tendency. This was a profound practice, despite its contradictory ideological expressions.

      But I’m curious, Nate, are there any points in this discussion that think could use further elaboration

    • Mazin

      Sorry, the question at the end of my comment is unclear.

      I’m trying to ask two things: 1) do you think this is a good contribution to the debate, and 2) — and this is really a question for everyone — is it clear from this post, as a response to the FNT post, that there is a methodological debate? That really hasn’t been addressed so much in this discussion.

    • http://www.gatheringforces.com/ Eve Mitchell

      Thanks for reading, Nate. You’re raising an important caveat to the piece. To be more specific, I would say the subjectivist methodology was practiced by many groups within the second wave feminist movement, from those with equality politics like NOW, to more radical elements such as the Red Stockings Collective, to lesbian separatists like the Furies Collective. And, as noted above, this methodology has been (and continues to be) advanced by many feminist theorists, and nonprofit and feminist organizations, in the form of intersectionality theory.

      I also agree with your comments that this does not mean there is not something to learn from these groups and this time period, for example as I mention in the post, consciousness raising groups are important aspects of class struggle.

      However, I do think it’s safe to say that the identity politics and intersectionality theory that the second wave feminist movement produced is rooted in a subjectivist methodology. Like Mazin, I’m interested to hear if there is debate on that point?

  • http://www.gatheringforces.com/ Eve Mitchell

    The following response was posted on the Kasama blog here: http://kasamaproject.org/threads/entry/women-s-liberation-limits-of-marxist-feminism

    “Not for Herself Alone: Beyond the Limits of Marxist Feminism”

    by Nat Winn

    The liberation of humanity, the aim of our communist goal and vision is impossible without the liberation of women. Millions and ultimately billions of women must emerge as fierce fighters against male supremacy and for a radical egalitarian society. Communists, both women and men, need to investigate where the cracks are in society that may lead to the eruption of a powerful women’s movement with its eyes set on emancipation for all women and all humanity.

    I recently had a chance to read through a blog exchange between Zora and Ba Jin on the Fire Next Time blog and Eve Mitchell on the Unity & Struggle blog over debates within a trend called Marxist Feminism, including such figures as Selma James and Sylvia Federici. I felt the discussion was suffocated in its scope because of its confinement within in a certain “workerist” conception of how to look at women, sexuality, reproduction, and liberation. I found the discussion confined to questions placed narrowly at the relations of production in the society, reducing the oppression of women to relations of work that is waged or unwaged, while ignoring the question of the superstructure and how the oppression of women has actually broken into the realm of politics.

    I thought to myself that women’s liberation has to do with radically transforming the social relations of all spheres of society and that this went far beyond a discussion about waged and unwaged labor and an economic struggle for wages for housework.

    Let me try to spell this out a bit.

    What is liberation?

    Mitchell builds on the criticism that the Wages for Work school made of second wave feminism, rejecting its demands for access to the workplace and out of confinement within the home. The criticism holds that this would not do anything to change the capital/labor relation within capital and would turn women into wage laborers, effectively expanding the labor reserve army and making things harder for workers.

    As an alternative Mitchell laid out the role women played in the functioning of society under capitalism through the work done domestically. This was vital work for the life of society and women should demand to be given a wage.

    It was argued that this demand for wages for formally unwaged work would upset the ordinary functioning of capitalism and in that sense it was not a reformist demand (and much of the debate that has taken place over these questions has been fixed on this red herring of whether or not this demand is reformist).

    Mitchell explains:

    “Furthermore, the Wages for Housework campaign existed at the height of the women’s liberation movement, which demanded “Equal Wages for Equal Work,” and an opportunity to enter into the workforce. This was a purely economic demand that the Marxist-Feminism tendency (including James) fiercely argued against. According to the Marxist-Feminists, such a strategy would allow capital to absorb the feminist movement by creating additional labour power. The alternative, Wages for Housework, would have caused increased devastation to capital by forcing profit concessions for unwaged domestic labour.”

    Zora is critical of Mitchell’s position but stills sees value in the analysis done particularly by Federici in the analysis of how women are exploited as a vital source for both reproducing the labor force and producing the relations that allow it to go to work in the first place, while in the case of most poor women (who are predominantly non-White on an international level) being forced to do wage labor at the same time.

    Zora is critical of the wages for housework strategy arguing that it still confined within capitalist relations. She is much more concerned with the way Federici’s analysis applies to poor Black women in the United States and other non-white women in the developing world. She and Ba Jin make some interesting points about the reproductive power of Black women being stifled and controlled through higher incarceration rates and welfare reform. Zora states:

    Then she raises the question of strategy based on a Marxist Feminist informed analysis. For example she states:

    “To the larger question of how this is relevant to black feminism in the U.S, I think it’s that black women and black feminists need to strategize as to how their reproductive labor is being capitalized upon, whether it’s the reproduction of workers or students going back into institutions, or the calculated way that communities are being robbed of their reproductive power, and being funneled into the capitalist system to keep it running.”

    I would have liked to see her build on the strategic question more.

    Both articles deal with the way that women are oppressed, and this is very important. However there is little engagement with the question of how women liberate themselves. There is a lack of real talk about what we are fighting for, and what liberation means.

    Ultimately I think that women’s liberation from a communist point of view has to do with unleashing the capacity for every woman to be able to reach her full human potential in a society where human knowledge and technology along with natural resources are shared in common.

    To do that there needs to be a break away from the traditional role of women, namely traditional roles of giving birth to and raising children and other domestic roles.

    Now due to the development of global capitalism since the 1970s, but also due to the fight of women at that time against traditional relations, there has been a break away from tradition.

    The Wages for Housework tendency was correct in stating that a break from the home in and of itself would not liberate women or destroy capitalism. However, it was wrong politically to not unite with what was correct. We need to recognize the necessity of such a demand when placed within an overall communist vision of women’s liberation.

    Again we are fighting to break out of tradition’s chains and create new egalitarian relations between people. This is impossible without real freedom for women, without the ability to contribute in all the different spheres of a liberating society.

    Liberation is achieved through politics

    The discussion between Zora, Ba Jin, and Eve fails to demonstrate how Marxist Feminism can be applied to actual struggle. In fact, the ideas of Marxist Feminism have never caught on among large sections of women outside activist circles.

    In the meantime, there are real political faultlines that have historically created the basis and continue to create the potential for the emergence of a bursting forth of women’s anger and resistance at conditions of patriarchy under capitalism.

    I am talking about the struggle over reproductive freedom and abortion.

    This continues to be a powder keg in our society and new communists have not looked enough to this realm as a space for political intervention even while I might say that the self-activity of women that many in the new communist left seek to “push forward” has been readily apparent in this particular struggle.

    There are constant threats to abortion rights, both legislative and from physical threat by zealots.

    In response to this women have mobilized to keep open abortion clinics.

    There was the dreadful law in Virginia, declaring actual war on a women’s body through vaginal inspection that literally mobilized thousands of women.

    There is the constant threat to Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court. This has increased the vote for the Democrats.

    Why has there not been more communist agitation concentrated around these things? Why are we not engaging real politics, politics where there are people in motion and there is the potential to win them over to a communist vision?

    There has been an aversion to this struggle in Marxist Feminism, perhaps because it is not a strictly “working class” struggle. But this to me is a rigid type of Marxism which narrows everything down to the relation between labor and capital. To me this is a mistake. A revolution isn’t a narrow economic act, it is a complex struggle involving real world alignments, consciousness, and political struggles. When we ignore real politics we stay isolated.


    Thanks to Nat Winn for engaging. I will respond within the next week or so. If others have thoughts please feel free to chime in!

  • Noel Ignatiev

    Thank you for a very thoughtful piece and discussion. I especially commend JC for her reminder that the function for capital of the domestic labor of the housewife is to reduce the value of labor power by assigning to her tasks which if not performed by her would have to be purchased as commodities. What may be a small point: So far as I know neither Federici nor James ever referred to herself as a feminist, with or without the hyphen to Marxist. Can anyone cite an example? Please forgive me if I overlooked something obvious.

    • http://www.gatheringforces.com/ Eve Mitchell

      Interesting question, Noel. I will look for something within the next couple of days. I think either way James and Federici have both contributed to theorizing the gendered aspects of capitalism from a Marxist perspective and to me it seems fair to characterize their work as Marxist-Feminist, regardless of how they as individuals identify, even if it is simply to link some language to a tendency. I am interested in why you are raising this question, though. Are there implications we should be aware of?

      • Noel Ignatiev

        “Are there implications we should be aware of?” Maybe. It may be a purely semantic question. If it turns out that my suspicion is right that neither Federici nor James called themselves feminists it might be interesting to ask why not?

        • Nate

          I suspect it’s largely a semantic issue but Federici refers to herself as a committed feminist on page 54 of her book Revolution at Point Zero. She also co-founded an organization in 1972 called International Feminist Collective. I dunno about James.