Re: International Women's Day

Thu, 12 Mar 1998 01:45:08 -0800

Nancy wrote, then Martha wrote, now Nancy writes again:

>> To charge Marx with sexism would indeed be unproductive; however, to analyze
>> how his sexism affected his work is a very needed project.

>This project is useful when it serves as the basis for pushing further
>the potential of marxist theory; but too often it becomes an end in itself
>and results in theories developed as undialectical negations of whatever
>the author finds objectionable in Marx's work.

To me, marxism is not the same thing as materialism. We can try to learn
more through the materialist method without necessarily adopting every one
of Marx's doctrines. And this learning is not at all about what we find
objectionable in Marx's work: it is about attempting to apply materialist
analysis to phenomena which may not have been apparent in England, 150 years

>It is easier to write about the alleged sexism (and why not, ageism,
>anthropocentrism, anti-environmentalism, heterosexism, racism, and add
>whatever "isms" I missed) of Marx, rather than take his theories seriously
>and, acknowledging the shortcomings and silences about phenomena that
>matter to us, use them to understand the world in order to change it.

Taking Marx's theories seriously, while "acknowledging the shortcomings and
silences..." is exactly what I am doing. And I mentioned "sexism" only
because you used it in your opening post, i.e., you wrote:

"Marx is obviously sexist because he refers to men only and writes very
little about women and what it says is related to women's position in the
family, not in the workplace.But I do not read this document expecting a
19th century intellectual to
write with late 20th century political sensitivities or political
correctness. This is why I find charges of sexism as unproductive as
charges of "eurocentrism.""

I was agreeing with you, that to charge him with "sexism" is unproductive.

>There is practically no feminist theory reader that does not have at least
>a chapter about how terrible Marx is and whole careers have been built
>writing these critiques.

Yes, because many women are dissatisfied with their non-inclusion in Marx's
theory as women: as workers, yes, but not as women.

>In itself, as i said in my previous message, this is an interesting
>phenomenon with important unintended political functions. It certainly
>does undermine the chances for building "a basis upon which to make
>common cause with the workers'movement."

A critique in itself may undermine common cause, but not a critique which
truly gives a materialist analysis of the role of women in capitalism, both
as women and as workers. I'm not saying that mine is such a critique, but
that this is my goal.

>> With many other feminists, I have determined that Marx's analysis of
>> reproduction (the family) places it in a position subordinate to production
>> (labor). To me, such an analysis does not provide a basis upon which to make
>> common cause with the workers' movement.
>What does the notion of "subordinate" mean? Perhaps we mean different
>things and I would like to learn what it means for you, because then we
>could communicate better and perhaps discover we agree more than disagree.
>This is how I understand the subordination of reproduction to production:
>Under capitalist conditions, the mode of reproduction among the
>propertyless is subordinate to their ability to earn a wage or a salary.
>The satisfaction of people's needs including their ability to form
>families, educate their children, afford health care, and live well in
>their old age is subordinate to quantitative and qualitative changes in
>the demand for labor which in turn depend on processes of capital
>accumulation of a national and transnational character. It is also
>dependent on the success of organized labor to obtain better wages and
>legislation protecting workers' interests and it is in the process of
>struggles that families may contribute to their success, though sometimes
>workers will accept less than what they deserve to avoid unemployment
>and the risk of failing to support their families.
>Families, in turn, do what they can to survive, pooling the income of two
>adults and often their grown children, and sometimes producing goods or
>services for sale, or establishing cooperative relations with other
>families. Families are not passive but, if they are essentially
>propertyless, they will have a difficult time. Hardest of all is the
>situation of women heads of households, especially older women.
>This subordination of the mode of reproduction to the mode of production
>is precisely the basis for workers' struggles for higher wages, better
>working conditions and benefits. To acknowledge this objective
>subordination of reproduction to production is not to belittle the
>importance of reproduction; it is a way of making concrete what it means
>to say that production is not intended for the satisfaction of needs. In
>the way production is organized today, it makes propertyless women
>dependent on men, children dependent on parents and adults, and the
>elderly dependent on their grown children, a situation that will get worse
>as the welfare states shrink and people are left to rely on kinship and/or
>charity for survival.

All of this I agree with. I would add something about how the unequal
division of power between men and women in the family helps to uphold the
unequal division of power between capitalists and workers.

But two points: first, instead of saying simply "subordinate," I should have
said "subordinate in Marx's analysis of history." As I discussed in my essay
on value, I believe that Marx tends to place "production" and "reproduction"
in two different categories, the former having to do with history (social),
and the latter having to do with evolution (natural). And second, your
discussion here is description, having to do with capitalism only. What is
missing in Marx is a analytical framework which shows the dialectical
relationship of production and reproduction as equal and opposite in all
forms of society.

>> I commend the Red Feather Institute for raising the idea that capitalism
>> externalizes costs to women.
>I would say capitalism externalizes costs on propertyless women. While
>the media and common sense avoid introducing class distinctions, I think
>we should keep them alwys in mind. The oppression that capitalist women
>may suffer is qualitatively different from what happens to the rest of the
>female population, the vast majority, who depend on employment and/or
>marriage for economic survival and, failing that, depend on state
>provisions, charity or end up homeless.

And you are right, of course. People with money, whether male or female, are
better able to cope with discrimination, pollution, crime, war, and all of
our other social problems. This does not mean that issues which cut across
class cannot be incorporated into a materialist analysis of capitalism and
how to change it.

Unfortunately, I can't go into the detail here that would be needed to fully
explain myself on these various points. So I had to just toss them out, or
not respond at all.