Communization and the abolition of gender

Communization and the abolition of gender

"Present day civilization makes it plain that it will only permit sexual relationships on the basis of a solitary, indissoluble bond between one man and one woman, and that it does not like sexuality as a source of pleasure in its own right and is only prepared to tolerate it because there is so far no substitute for it as a means of propagating the human race." Sigmund Freud, Civilization and Its Discontents

Communization is not a revolutionary position. It is not a form of society we build after the revolution. It is not a tactic, a strategic perspective, an organization, or a plan. Communization describes a set of measures that we must take in the course of the class struggle if there is to be a revolution at all. Communization abolishes the capitalist mode of production, including wage-labor, exchange, the value form, the state, the division of labor and private property. That the revolution must take this form is a necessary feature of class struggle today. Our cycle of struggles can have no other horizon, since the unfolding contradictions of capitalism annihilated the conditions which other forms of revolution required. It is no longer possible to imagine a situation in which social divisions are dissolved after the revolution1.

Since the revolution as communization must abolish all divisions within social life, it must also abolish gender relations – not because gender is inconvenient or objectionable, but because it is part of the totality of relations that daily reproduce the capitalist mode of production. Gender, too, is constitutive of capital’s central contradiction, and so gender must be torn asunder in the process of the revolution. We cannot wait until after the revolution for the gender question to be solved. Its relevance to our existence will not be transformed slowly – whether through planned obsolescence or playful deconstruction, whether as the equality of gender identities or their proliferation into a multitude of differences. On the contrary, in order to be revolution at all, communization must destroy gender in its very course, inaugurating relations between individuals defined in their singularity.

The fact that revolution takes the form of communization is not the result of lessons learned from past defeats, nor even from the miserable failure of past movements to solve the gender question. Whether or not we can discern, after the fact, a winning strategy for the movements of the past says nothing about the present. For capital no longer organizes a unity among proletarians on the basis of their common condition as wage-laborers. The capital-labor relation no longer allows workers to affirm their identity as workers and to build on that basis workers’ organizations capable of assuming power within the state. Movements that elevated workers to the status of a revolutionary subject were still ‘communist’, but communist in a mode that cannot be ours today. The revolution as communization has no revolutionary subject, no affirmable identity – not the Worker, the Multitude, or the Precariat. The real basis of any such revolutionary identity has melted away.

Of course, workers still exist as a class. Wage-labor has become a universal condition of life as never before. However, the proletariat is diffuse and fractured. Its relation to capital is precarious. The structural oversupply of labor is enormous. A surplus population of over one-billion people – eager to find a place in the global commodity chains from which they have been excluded – makes it impossible to form mass organizations capable of controlling the supply of labor, except among the most privileged strata of workers2. Capital now exacerbates, fragments and more than ever relies on the divisions between workers. Once the proud bearers of a universally relevant revolutionary essence, the Working Class, in its autonomy as a class within capitalism, can no longer build its power as a class against capital. Today, the revolution must emerge from the disunity of the proletariat, as the only process capable of overcoming that disunity. If revolutionary action does not immediately abolish all divisions between proletarians, then it is not revolutionary; it is not communization.

In the present moment, the very inability of workers to unite on the basis of a workers’ identity thus forms the fundamental limit of struggle. But that limit is at once the dynamic potential of this cycle of struggles, bearing within itself the abolition of gender relations and all other fixed distinctions. It is no historical accident that the end of the former cycle of struggles coincided with a revolt against the primacy of the Worker – a revolt in which feminism played a major role. To re-imagine a workers’ movement that would not demote women, blacks, and homosexuals to a subordinate position is to think a workers’ movement that lacks precisely the unifying/excluding trait that once allowed it to move at all. With the benefit of hindsight, it is increasingly clear that if the working class (as a class of all those without direct access to means of production) was destined to become the majority of society, the workers’ movement was unlikely to organize a clear majority from it. The revolution as communization does not solve this problem, but it takes it onto a new terrain. As surveyors of this new landscape, we must assess the present state of the practical movement toward the end of gender relations. We must also expand discussion of this essential communizing measure.

Until recently, the theory of communization has been the product of a small number of groups organized around the publication of a handful of yearly journals. If few of those groups have taken up the task of theorizing gender, it is because most have been wholly uninterested in examining the real basis of the divisions that mark the existence of the working class. On the contrary, they have busied themselves with trying to discover a revolutionary secret decoder-ring, with which they might be able to decipher the merits and shortcomings of past struggles. Thus, most partisans of communization have thought the revolution as an immediate overcoming of all separations, but they arrived at this conclusion through an analysis of what communization would have to be in order to succeed where past movements failed, rather than from a focus on the historical specificity of the present3.

For this reason, the tendency organized around Théorie Communiste (TC) is unique, and we largely follow them in our exposition. For TC, the revolution as communization only emerges as a practical possibility when these struggles begin to ‘swerve’ (faire l’écart) as the very act of struggling increasingly forces the proletariat to call into question and act against its own reproduction as a class. ‘Gaps’ (l’écarts) thereby open up in the struggle, and the multiplication of these gaps is itself the practical possibility of communism in our time. Workers burn down or blow up their factories, demanding severance pay instead of fighting to maintain their jobs. Students occupy universities, but against rather than in the name of the demands for which they are supposedly fighting. Women break with movements in which they already form a majority, since those movements cannot but fail to represent them. And everywhere, the unemployed, the youth, and the undocumented join and overwhelm the struggles of a privileged minority of workers, making the limited nature of the latter’s demands at once obvious and impossible to sustain.

In the face of these proliferating gaps in the struggle,

Quote:
a fraction of the proletariat, in going beyond the demands-based character of its struggle, will take communizing measures and will thus initiate the unification of the proletariat which will be the same process as the unification of humanity, i.e. its creation as the ensemble of social relations that individuals establish between themselves in their singularity4.

For TC, the divisions within the proletariat are therefore not only that which must be overcome in the course of the revolution, but also the very source of that overcoming. Perhaps that is why TC, alone among theorists of communization, have devoted themselves to an examination of the gender distinction, as it is perhaps the most fundamental divisions within the proletariat. TC’s work on gender is relatively new, especially for a group which has spent the last thirty years refining and restating a few key ideas over and over again. Their main text on gender, written in 2008, was finally published in 2010 (with two additional appendices) in issue 23 of their journal as Distinction de Genres, Programmatisme et Communisation. TC are known for their esoteric formulations. How ever, with some effort, most of their ideas can be reconstructed in a clear fashion. Since their work on gender is provisional, we refrain from lengthy quotations. TC claim that communization involves the abolition of gender as much as the abolition of capitalist social relations. For the divisions which maintain capitalism maintain the gender division and the gender division preserves all other divisions. Still, as much as TC take steps towards developing a rigorously historical materialist theory of the production of gender, they end up doing little more than suture gender to an already existing theory of the capitalist mode of production (to no small extent, this is because they rely largely on the work on one important French feminist, Christine Delphy5).

For our context here, TC have a particularly fascinating theory of communization insofar as it is also a periodization of the history of class struggle – which itself corresponds to a periodization of the history of the capital-labor relation. This provides TC with a uniquely historical vantage on the present prospects for communism. Crucially, TC focus on the reproduction of the capital-labor relation, rather than on the production of value. This change of focus allows them to bring within their purview the set of relations that actually construct capitalist social life – beyond the walls of the factory or office. And the gender relation has always extended beyond the sphere of value production alone.

I. The Construction of the Category ‘Woman’
Woman is a social construction. The very category of woman is organized within and through a set of social relations, from which the splitting of humanity into two, woman and man – and not only female and male – is inseparable. In this way, sexual difference is given a particular social relevance that it would not otherwise possess6. Sexual difference is given this fixed significance within class societies, when the category of woman comes to be defined by the function that most (but not all) human females perform, for a period of their lives, in the sexual reproduction of the species. Class society thus gives a social purpose to bodies: because some women ‘have’ babies, all bodies that could conceivably ‘produce’ babies are subject to social regulation. Women become the slaves of the biological contingencies of their birth. Over the long history of class society, women were born into a world organized only for men – the primary ‘actors’ in society, and in particular the only people capable of owning property. Women thereby became the property of society as a whole.

Because women are by definition not men, they are excluded from ‘public’ social life. For TC, this circumscription of the women’s realm means that not only are their bodies appropriated by men, but also the totality of their activity. Their activity, as much as their very being, is by definition ‘private’. In this way, women’s activity takes on the character of domestic labor. This labor is defined not as work done in the home, but as women’s work. If a woman sells cloth in the market, she is a weaver, but if she makes cloth in the home, she is only a wife. A woman’s activity is thus considered merely as her activity, without any of the concrete determinations it would be given if it were performed by some other, more dignified social entity. The gender distinction man/woman thereby takes on additional significance as public/private and social/domestic.

Is the unpaid labor of women for men, including perhaps their ‘production’ of children, therefore a class relation, or even a mode of production (as Delphy calls it, the domestic mode of production)? TC defines class society as a relationship between surplus producers and surplus extractors. The social division between these groups is constitutive of the relations of production, which organize the productive forces for the purpose of producing and extracting surplus. Crucially, these relations must have as their product the reproduction of the class relation itself. However, for TC – and we follow them on this point – each mode of production is already a totality, and in fact the social relevance of women’s role in sexual reproduction changes with the mode of production. That does not mean that relations between men and women are derivative of the relations between the classes. It means rather that the relations between men and women form an essential element of the class relation and cannot be thought as a separate ‘system’, which then relates to the class-based system.

Of course, this discussion remains abstract. The question now becomes, how do we unite our story about women with our story about the succession of modes of production? For TC, women are the primary productive force within all class societies, since the growth of the population forms an essential support of the reproduction of the class relation. The augmentation of the population as the primary productive force remains, throughout the history of class society, the burden of its women. In this way, the heterosexual matrix is founded on a specific set of material social relations.

However, we should remind ourselves that the special burden of childbirth predates the advent of class society. Historically, each woman had to give birth, on average, to six children – just in order to ensure that two of those six survived to reproduce the coming generations. The chance that a woman would die in childbirth, in the course of her life, was nearly one in ten7. Perhaps the insight of TC is that the advent of class society – which saw a massive increase in the size of the human population – hardened the social relevance of these facts. But even before the advent of class society, there was never any ‘natural’ regime of human sexual reproduction. Age at marriage, length of breastfeeding, number of children born, social acceptability of infanticide – all have varied across human social formations8. Their variation marks a unique adaptability of the human species.

But we are concerned less with the long history of the human species than with the history of the capitalist mode of production. Wage-labor is fundamentally different from both ancient slavery and feudal vassalage. In slavery, surplus producers have no ‘relation’ to the means of production. For the slaves are themselves part of the means of production. The reproduction or upkeep of slaves is the direct responsibility of the slave owner himself. For both men and women slaves, the distinction between public and private thus dissolves, since slaves exist entirely within the private realm. Nor is there any question, for the slaves, of property inheritance or relations with the state, such as taxation. Interestingly, there is some evidence that patriarchy was, perhaps for that very reason, rather weak among slave families in the American South9. In vassalage, by contrast, the surplus producers have direct access to the means of production. Surplus is extracted by force. The peasant man stands in relation to this outside force as the public representative of the peasant household. Property passes through his line. Women and children peasants are confined to the private realm of the village, which is itself a site of both production and reproduction. The peasant family does not need to leave its private sphere in order to produce what it needs, but rather only to give up a part of its product to the lords. For this reason, peasant families remain relatively independent of markets.

In capitalism, the lives of the surplus producers are constitutively split between the public production of a surplus and the private reproduction of the producers themselves. The workers, unlike the slaves, are their ‘own property’: they continue to exist only if they take care of their own upkeep. If wages are too low, or if their services are no longer needed, workers are ‘free’ to survive by other means (as long as those means are legal). The reproduction of the workers is thus emphatically not the responsibility of the capitalist. However, unlike the vassals, the workers can take care of their own upkeep only if they return to the labor market, again and again, to find work. Here is the essence of the capital-labor relation. What the workers earn for socially performed production in the public realm, they must spend in order to reproduce themselves domestically in their own private sphere. The binaries of public/private and social/domestic are embodied in the wage-relation itself. Indeed, these binaries will only collapse with the end of capitalism.

For if the capitalists were directly responsible for workers’ survival – and thus if their reproduction were removed from the private sphere – then the workers would no longer be compelled to sell their labor-power. The existence of a separate, domestic sphere of reproduction (where little production takes place unmediated by commodities purchased on the market) is constitutive of capitalist social relations as such. Social activity separates out from domestic activity as the market becomes the mediating mechanism of concrete social labor performed outside of the home. Production for exchange, which was formerly performed inside the home, increasingly leaves the home to be performed elsewhere. At this point the public/ private distinction takes on a spatial dimension. The home becomes the sphere of private activity – that is, women’s domestic labor and men’s ‘free time’ – while the factory takes charge of the public, socially productive character of men’s work.

Of course, women have also always been wage laborers, alongside men, for as long as capitalism has existed. For TC, the gendered nature of women’s domestic work determines that their work, even when performed outside of the home, remains merely women’s work. It remains, that is to say, wage labor of a particular sort, namely unproductive or else low value-added labor. Women tend to work in part-time, low-wage jobs, particularly in services (though of course today, there are at least some women in all sectors of the economy, including among the highest paid professionals). Women often perform domestic services in other people’s homes, or else in their offices and airplanes. When women work in factories, they are segregated into labor-intensive jobs requiring delicate hand-work, particularly in textiles, apparel and electronics assembly. Likewise, work done in the home remains women’s work, even if men perform it – which, largely, they do not.

In this sense, once gender becomes embodied in the wage-relation as a binary public/private relation, TC cease to theorize its ground in the role that women play in sexual reproduction. The fact that women’s work is of a particular character outside the home is merely true by analogy to the character of the work they perform in the home. It bears no relation to the material ground of women’s role in sexual reproduction, and in that sense, it is more or less ideological. By the same token, TC increasingly define the work that women do in the home by its character as the daily reproductive labor performed necessarily outside of the sphere of production – and not by relation to the role that women play in childbirth, as the ‘principal force of production’. If, within the capitalist mode of production, women are and have always been both wage-laborers and domestic laborers, why do they remain almost entirely female? As TC begin to discuss capitalism, they phase out their focus on sexual reproduction, which disappears under a materially unfounded conception of domestic labor (though their references to biology return later, as we will see).

This oversight is a serious mistake. The sexual segregation of work in the capitalist mode of production is directly related to the temporality of a woman’s life: as the bearer of children, the main source of their nourish ment at young ages (breastfeeding), and their primary caretakers through puberty. Over the long history of capitalism, women’s participation in the labor market has followed a distinct ‘M-shaped’ curve10. Participation rises rapidly as women enter adulthood, then drops as women enter their late 20s and early 30s. Participation slowly rises again as women enter their late 40s before dropping off at retirement ages. The reasons for this pattern are well known. Young women look for full-time work, but with the expectation that they will either stop working or work part-time when they have children. When women enter childbearing years, their participation in the labor force declines. Women who continue to work while their children are young are among the poorer proletarians and are super-exploited: unmarried mothers, widows and divorcées, or women whose husbands’ incomes are low or unreliable. As children get older, more and more women return to the labor market (or move to full-time work), but at a distinct disadvantage in terms of skills and length of employment, at least as compared to the men with whom they compete for jobs11.

For all these reasons, capitalist economies have always had a special ‘place’ for women workers, as workers either not expected to remain on the job for very long or else as older, late entrants or re-entrants into the labor force. Beyond that, women form an important component of what Marx calls the ‘latent’ reserve army of labor, expected to enter and leaving the workforce according to the cyclical needs of the capitalist enterprises. The existence of a distinctive place for women in the labor force then reinforces a society-wide commitment to and ideology about women’s natural place, both in the home and at work. Even when both men and women work, men typically (at least until recently) earn higher wages and work longer hours outside the home. There thus remains a strong pressure on women, insofar as they are materially dependent on their husbands, to accept their subordination: to not ‘push too hard’12 on questions of the sexual division of labor within the home. Historically, this pressure was compounded by the fact that women were, until after World War II, de facto if not de jure excluded from many forms of property ownership, making them reliant on men as mediators of their relation to capital. Therefore, women did not possess the juridical freedoms that male proletarians won for themselves – and not for their women. Women were not truly ‘free’ labor in relation to the market and the state, as were their male counterparts.198

II. The Destruction of the Category ‘Woman’ Though
TC fail to explain the ground of the construction of women in capitalism, they do have a provocative theory of how women’s situation within capitalism changes according to the unfolding contradictions of that mode of production. ‘Capitalism has a problem with women’ because, in the present period, the capital-labor relation cannot accommodate the continued growth of the labor force. As we have already noted, capital increasingly faces a large and growing surplus population, structurally excessive to its demands for labor. The appearance of this surplus population has coincided with a transformation in the way that capitalist states, the workers’ movement, and also feminists have viewed women as the ‘principal productive force’. In an earlier moment birth-rates declined precipitously in Europe and the former European settler-colonies. The response was ‘pro-natalism’. Civilization supposedly faced imminent degeneration, since women were no longer fulfilling their duty to the nation; they had to be encouraged back into it. By the 1920s, even feminists became increasingly pro-natalist, turning maternalism into an explanation for women’s ‘equal but different’ dignity as compared to men. By the 1970s, however – as the population of poor countries exploded while the capitalist economy entered into a protracted crisis – maternalism was largely dead. The world was overpopulated with respect to the demand for labor. Women were no longer needed in their role as women. The ‘special dignity’ of their subordinate role was no longer dignified at all.

However, that is only half the story. The other half is to be found in the history of the demographic transition itself, which TC fail to consider. In the course of its early development, capitalism increased work ers’ consumption and thereby improved their health, reducing infant mortality. Falling infant mortality in turn reduced the number of children that each woman had to have in order to reproduce the species. At first, this transformation appeared as an increase in the number of surviving children per woman and a rapid growth of the population. Thus, the spread of capitalist social relations was everywhere associated with an increase in women’s reproductive burden. However with time, and now in almost every region of the world, there has been a subsequent reduction, both in the number of children each woman has and in the number of children who subsequently survive infancy and early childhood. Simultaneously, as both men and women live longer, less of women’s lifetimes are spent either having or caring for young children. The importance of these facts cannot be overestimated. They explain why, in our period, the straight-jacket of the heterosexual matrix has had its buckles slightly loosened, for men as well as women (and even, to a small extent, for those who fit neither the categories of gender distinction, nor those of sexual difference)13.

As with everything else in capitalism, the ‘freedom’ that women have won (or are winning) from their reproductive fate has not been replaced with free-time, but with other forms of work. Women’s supposed entrance into the labor force was always actually an increase in the time and duration of women’s already existing participation in wage-work. But now, since women are everywhere spending less time in childbirth and child-rearing, there has been a reduction in the M-shaped nature of their participation in labor-markets. Women’s situation is thus increasingly split between, on the one hand, the diminishing but still heavy burden of childbearing and domestic work, and on the other hand, the increasingly primary role in their lives of wage-work – within which they remain, however, disadvantaged. As all women know, this situation expresses itself as a forced choice between the promise a working life supposedly equal to men and the pressure, as well as the desire, to have children. That some women choose not to have children at all – and thus to solve this dilemma for themselves, however inadequately – is the only possible explanation of the fall in the birth rate below what is predicted by demographic transition theory. Fertility is now as low as 1.2 children per woman in Italy and Japan; almost everywhere else in the West it has fallen below 2. In the world as a whole, fertility has fallen from 6 children per woman in 1950 to around 2.5 today.

In this situation, it becomes increasingly clear that women have a problem with markets, since markets are incompatible with women. This incompatibility comes down to two facts about the capitalist mode of production. First, capital cannot, if it is to remain capital, take direct responsibility for the reproduction of the working class. It is because workers are responsible for their own upkeep that they are forced to return, again and again, to the labor market. At the same time, labor markets, if they are to remain markets, must be ‘sex-blind’14. Markets have to evaluate the competition between workers without regard to any non-market characteristics of the workers themselves. These non-market characteristics include the fact that half of all of humanity is sexed female. For some employers, sexual difference cannot but appear as an additional cost. Women workers are able to bear children and thus cannot be relied on not to have children. For other employers, sexual difference appears as a benefit for precisely the same reason: women provide flexible, cheap labor. Women are thus relegated by capitalist relations – precisely because markets are sex-blind – to women’s wage-work.

This incompatibility of women and markets has plagued the women’s movement. Feminism historically accepted the gendered nature of social life, since it was only through gender that women could affirm their identity as women in order to organize on that basis. This affirmation became a problem for the movement historically, since it is impossible to fully reconcile gender – the very existence of women and men – with the simultaneous existence of the working class and capital15. As a result, the women’s movement has swung back and forth between two positions16. On the one hand, women fought for equality on the basis of their fundamental same ness with respect to men. But whatever the similarity of their aptitudes, women and men are not and never will be the same for capital. On the other hand, women have fought for equality on the basis of their ‘difference but equal dignity’ to men. But that difference, here made explicit as motherhood, is precisely the reason for women’s subordinate role.

The workers’ movement promised to reconcile women and workers beyond, or at least behind the back of, the market. After all, the founding texts of German Social Democracy, in addition to Marx’s Capital, were Engels’ Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State, and Bebel’s Woman and Socialism. Through struggle, the workers’ movement promised to bring women out of the home and into the workforce, where they would finally become the true equals of men. In order to achieve this real equality, the workers movement would socialize women’s reproductive work ‘after the revolution’. Both housework and childcare would be performed collectively by men and women together. As it became clear to the most extreme elements of the Radical Feminist movement in the 1970s, these measures would never suffice to actually ensure ‘real equality’ between men and women workers. The only possibility of achieving an equality of workers, at the intersecting limit of both gender and labor, would be if babies were born in test-tubes, finally having nothing to do with women at all17.

In fact, the workers’ movement betrayed its women as soon as it had the chance. Whenever they came close to power, male workers were fully willing to demonstrate their capacity to manage the economy by showing that they, too, knew how to keep women in their place. In the British Communist Party, freeing husbands from domestic work was the main task of women’s ‘party work’18. How could it have been otherwise? Within a world defined by work – or more precisely, by productive labor (a category of capitalism) – women would always be less than men. The attempt to ‘raise’ women to the equals of men was always a matter of adjusting a ‘universally’ relevant movement of workers to fit the ‘particular’ needs of its women. The attempt to do so, within the bounds of capitalism, amounted to a minimal socialization of childcare, as well as the institution of a minimal set of laws protecting women from their disadvantages in markets (that is to say, maternity leave, etc). Workers’ movements could have gone further along this road. They could have made women more of a priority than they did. But the fact is that they did not. And now, it’s over.

The death of the workers’ movement has been considered in other texts19. Its death marks also the passage from one historical form of revolution to another. Today, the presence of women within the class struggle can only function as a rift (l’ecart), a deviation in the class conflict that destabilizes its terms. That struggle cannot be their struggle, even if, in any given case, they form the majority of the participants. For as long as proletarians continue to act as a class, the women among them cannot but lose. In the course of struggle, women will, therefore, come into conflict with men. They will be criticized for derailing the movement, for diverting it from its primary goals. But the ‘goal’ of the struggle lies elsewhere. It is only from within this (and other) conflicts that the proletariat will come to see its class belonging as an external constraint, an impasse which it will have to overcome in order to be anything at all beyond its relation to capital. That overcoming is only the revolution as communization, which destroys gender and all the other divisions that come between us.

  • 1. Thanks to Francesca Manning for her invaluable help in working through the ideas in this text. I’d also like to thank Aaron Benanav for his help in editing this piece.
  • 2. See ‘Misery and Debt’, Endnotes 2 (2010): 20-51, http://endnotes.org.uk/ articles/1.
  • 3. For a key debate on this point, see Endnotes 1 (2008), http://endnotes.org. uk/issues/1
  • 4. Théorie Communiste, ‘The Present Moment’, unpublished.
  • 5. Christine Delphy and Diana Leonard, Familiar Exploitation (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992).
  • 6. Not all human beings fit into the categories of male and female. The point is not to use the language of biology to ground a theory of naturalized sexuality, as distinct from a socialized gender. Nature, which is without distinction, becomes integrated into a social structure – which takes natural averages and turns them into behavioral norms. Not all ‘women’ bear children; maybe some ‘men’ do. That does not make them any less beholden to society’s strictures, including at the level of their very bodies, which are sometimes altered at birth to ensure conformity with sexual norms.
  • 7. These statistics make it clear to what extent violence against women, sometimes carried out by women themselves, has always been necessary to keep them firmly tied to their role in the sexual reproduction of the species. See Paola Tabet, ‘Natural Fertility, Forced Reproduction’, in Diana Leonard and Lisa Adkins, Sex in Question (London: Taylor and Francis, 1996).
  • 8. For an introduction to demography, see Massimo Livi-Bacci, A Concise History of World Population (Malden, Mass. and Oxford: Blackwell, 2007).
  • 9. Ellen Meiksins Wood, ‘Capitalism and Human Emancipation’, New Left Review I/167 ( Jan-Feb 1988): 3-20.
  • 10. The term comes from Japan, see Makotoh Itoh, The Japanese Economy Reconsidered (Palgrave 2000).
  • 11. Johanna Brenner and Maria Ramas, ‘Rethinking Women’s Oppression’, New Left Review I/144 (Mar-Apr 1984): 33-71.
  • 12. Johanna Brenner and Maria Ramas, ‘Rethinking Women’s Oppression’, New Left Review I/144 (Mar-Apr 1984): 33-71.
  • 13. For a more developed theory of women’s relation to property, see ‘Notes
    on the New Housing Question’, Endnotes 2 (2010): 52-66, http://endnotes. org.uk/articles/3. The ground of this loosening, as well as its timing, has remained inexplicable within the bounds of queer theory.
  • 14. Brenner and Ramas, ‘Rethinking Women’s Oppression’.
  • 15. In this sense, we are of course interested only in the history of women’s situation within the workers’ movement. Bourgeois suffragettes argued for property-based voting qualifications – thus excluding women as class enemies. By the middle of the twentieth century, these same bourgeois became defenders of women’s maternal role – at the same time as they founded organizations to control the bodies of women among the ‘dangerous classes’.
  • 16. Joan W. Scott, Only Paradoxes to Offer (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1996).
  • 17. Radical feminism followed a curious trajectory in the second half of the 20th century, taking first childbearing, then domestic work, and finally sexual violence (or the male orgasm) as the ground of women’s oppression. The problem was that in each case, these feminists sought an ahistorical ground for what had become an historical phenomenon.
  • 18. On the history of women’s situation within the workers’ movement, see Geoff Eley, Forging Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
  • 19. Théorie Communiste, ‘Much Ado about Nothing’, Endnotes 1 (2008), http://endnotes.org.uk/articles/13.

Comments

Shorty
Feb 11 2012 11:12

Thanks again for the work being done into putting these up as individual articles. I think this is a great essay and I found it goes some way in complimenting the discussion thread on gender analysis.

What I'm thinking is that maybe in some ways this article contradicts and possibly undermines or inadvertently critiques the intersectional analysis.

Quote:
That does not mean that relations between men and women are derivative of the relations between the classes. It means rather that the relations between men and women form an essential element of the class relation and cannot be thought as a separate ‘system’, which then relates to the class-based system.

(It would seem the author agrees with TC at this point, the differences/divergence come later)

I'm going to re-read some stuff on intersectionality as I don't think it articulates an equality of oppressions stance but from my experience of some people advocating it, it often comes across as such. I've seen some criticisms over at ABC siting class as exploitation not oppression, but perhaps this is besides the point.

I'm also a bit wary of it for another reason. It has been brought up by groups in sweden for being put to use in social movements and struggles but also I got the impression for in the workplace, which is all well and good but there's something about the thought of a HR department quoting intersectionality that makes me feel a little weird. smile This is just based on events advertised and websites, so could be wrong. I guess this comes under the 'sex-blind' market mentioned but I'm wondering of the ease with which it can be stripped of radical, anti-capitalist and class content.

Steven.
Mar 9 2012 23:20

This article is very good, overall. However, I do have some questions about it, which may well actually be more about the "communisation current" as a whole, but I just haven't got round to reading that much of it (apart from Endnotes #1, some Dauvé, Blaumachen and Roland Simon stuff). So maybe I'm missing something, in which case clarification would be appreciated (also, the language of most of the communisation stuff I find quite hard to get through, to me much of it has the feel of academic text, which I am not accustomed to).

Anyway, here are the bits which jumped out at me:

Quote:
For capital no longer organizes a unity among proletarians on the basis of their common condition as wage-laborers. The capital-labor relation no longer allows workers to affirm their identity as workers and to build on that basis workers’ organizations capable of assuming power within the state.

now this bit and the subsequent couple of paragraphs seems to feature in this communisation stuff in general. Now, the bit about workers' organisations capable of assuming power within the state, workers' organisations could never do so in workers' interests anyway. But I disagree that "capital no longer organizes a unity among proletarians on the basis of their common condition as wage-laborers". It feels that way at present because we are in a period of working class defeat.

We (the proletariat) have been through periods of working class collective weakness and defeat before - for example in the late 1800s, or in the 1920s, and communist pessimists at the time may well have argued that class unity would then on the impossible, but then of course times changed, and possibility changed. I see no qualitative shifts which mean that the door is now closed on this possibility. On a more general note, this seems to be a trait that a lot of revolutionaries have, wanting to periodise history into discrete, qualitatively different chunks - much like decadence theorists.

In terms of the oversupply of labour, in real terms is it any higher now than ever before? What about in areas like textile mills in the UK in the late 19th century? It was low skilled work, where workers could easily be replaced, but workers won gains by sticking together as a class - unemployed and employed 1. In the past there was a much bigger reserve population who had yet to be pulled into the ranks of the proletariat. In the Great Depression unemployment was around the same level, or even higher than now

Quote:
Workers burn down or blow up their factories, demanding severance pay instead of fighting to maintain their jobs.

on this, the burning down/blowing up is a very rare occurrence, and has just happened a couple of times in France (where importantly key communisation types like Théorie Communiste are based). The point about severance pay is more generalisable, as there have been quite a lot of struggles around that, even in places with a low level of struggle like the UK and Ireland (Visteon and La Senza being a couple of examples).

However, I wouldn't say that this means that workers don't want to identify themselves as workers anymore in the style of the old workers' movement, as that is dead, more that we are in a period of profound defeat of the working class, so that it would be completely unachievable to struggle, as workers quite often did in the past, to continue being employed in an unprofitable (or not profitable enough) enterprise, perhaps with state support. Continuing in employment would obviously be much better for the workers in terms of their finances, as even good severance pay is tiny compared with wages over a period of time.

Workers in Bangladesh who burned down their factories were demanding reemployment.

Quote:
Students occupy universities, but against rather than in the name of the demands for which they are supposedly fighting.

I'm not sure exactly what is meant here. But I did notice a bunch of propaganda coming out of what seem to be predominantly the University of California with stuff like "demand nothing, occupy everything" etc. But this appeared to be an extremely niche phenomenon. The vast majority of student occupations of universities seem to be around particular demands - against fees in the UK, for example, against education reforms elsewhere in Europe, or against labour reforms etc, against cuts to universities in the US, etc.

Quote:
Women break with movements in which they already form a majority, since those movements cannot but fail to represent them. And everywhere, the unemployed, the youth, and the undocumented join and overwhelm the struggles of a privileged minority of workers, making the limited nature of the latter’s demands at once obvious and impossible to sustain.

again, I think this is generalising a minority phenomenon. Maybe I'm missing something, but which movements are being referred to here regarding women breaking from them? I guess the first thing which comes to my mind is the anti-cuts movement in the UK. It's something which primarily affects women. Most public sector workers are women, and service users having their services and benefits cut are disproportionately female as well. But it is of course true that in most of the official organisations like the unions, men disproportionately form the leadership of those organisations (although those led by women, like the NUT, act in basically the same way). But I'm not sure I can think of examples of women "breaking" with it in any way, just that the "movement" just hasn't really got off the ground.

Regarding the struggles of the "privileged minority" of workers (which is terminology I'm unhappy with), I don't really see them being overwhelmed by struggles of the unemployed or youth in many places either. Again looking at the UK, the student struggles and youth riots have faltered, yet the workers' struggles do stumble on, despite the unions' sabotage. Similarly in France, Spain, Wisconsin, etc the struggles of traditionally unionised workers seems more significant than others.

The historical stuff which comes next I think is very strong, and interesting. Particularly with respect to the women's movement fighting for equality with men in a capitalist economy, where of course really capital cannot view them as equal.

I also think it is interesting to note on this level that with the defeats of the workers' movements of various countries in the 1980s, there was a massive erosion of workers' collective ability to defend or improve their conditions. However, since then there has been a proliferation of laws and regulations supposedly giving individuals/individual workers limited rights on the basis of various "protected" characteristics (sex discrimination laws, disability discrimination laws, race discrimination laws, etc).

Now, the concluding paragraph seems to be extremely important in terms of summarising what the text is arguing. I have read it a few times but still don't really get what it is saying. Any suggestions? Perhaps using some real-life examples?

Quote:
Today, the presence of women within the class struggle can only function as a rift (l’ecart), a deviation in the class conflict that destabilizes its terms. That struggle cannot be their struggle, even if, in any given case, they form the majority of the participants. For as long as proletarians continue to act as a class, the women among them cannot but lose. In the course of struggle, women will, therefore, come into conflict with men. They will be criticized for derailing the movement, for diverting it from its primary goals. But the ‘goal’ of the struggle lies elsewhere.
  • 1. see Beverly Silver's Forces of Labour for example
Spikymike
Mar 10 2012 13:35

Steven is right to be skeptical about some of the assertions in this piece.

It seems to me that what some of these 'communisation' theorists identify correctly as certain tendencies in the most recent expression of the 'real domination of capital' are not wholly representative of the real life experience of everyone in the world or something that isn't subject to a certain ebb and flow with the cycle of the economic crisis.

The 'Real domination of capital' in all spheres of life is not (thankfully) a wholly achieved reality in the world even now, but it certainly distinguishes the current era from that in which the 'traditional workers movement' was at it's height and we cannot expect any revolutionary change to emmerge from the remants of that movement or attempts to re-create it on a new ideological foundation. Class and 'gender' recomposition in modern capitalism may well see new potential for any anti-capitalst struggle to move beyond reform and towards a 'rupture' with the system that opens up the possibility of a mass movement of 'communisation'. That is the most optimistic view but it ignores counterveiling tendencies in capitalism towards fragmentation and incorporation.

'Communisation' will need it's proponents and agitators even if it is 'objective' factors in the development of capitalism that creates the opportunities for change.

Alasdair
Mar 10 2012 16:47
steven wrote:
However, I wouldn't say that this means that workers don't want to identify themselves as workers anymore in the style of the old workers' movement, as that is dead, more that we are in a period of profound defeat of the working class, so that it would be completely unachievable to struggle, as workers quite often did in the past, to continue being employed in an unprofitable (or not profitable enough) enterprise, perhaps with state support. Continuing in employment would obviously be much better for the workers in terms of their finances, as even good severance pay is tiny compared with wages over a period of time.

I think, and I may be wrong as I've only read a bit of communisation theory, that communisers would assert that it isn't so much the weakness of the working class that makes demands for continuing employment impossible but the structure of capitalism today. Workers might still see themselves as workers and prefer to continue with the undoubtedly higher remuneration that would mean, but that demand couldn't, not just wouldn't, be successful. For my part, I think, as with the first part you quote, they need to do more to prove and not just assert that that is true.

steven wrote:
I'm not sure exactly what is meant here. But I did notice a bunch of propaganda coming out of what seem to be predominantly the University of California with stuff like "demand nothing, occupy everything" etc. But this appeared to be an extremely niche phenomenon. The vast majority of student occupations of universities seem to be around particular demands - against fees in the UK, for example, against education reforms elsewhere in Europe, or against labour reforms etc, against cuts to universities in the US, etc.

I believe Maya was at UCSC when this was written, so it may have looked less niche from that position. From what I've seen it was a bit wider than just UC in the US as well, there were similar statements (communiques) from the New School occupation as well. You're right that in the UK most of the occupations have had specific demands, though rarely demands that I think were ever expected to be met or that were that important in themselves. At the last occupation in Edinburgh, for example, we didn't agree demands, or whether to have them at all, till 4 days into a 7 day occupation; the university never responded to them; and we never really talked about them.

steven wrote:
Now, the concluding paragraph seems to be extremely important in terms of summarising what the text is arguing. I have read it a few times but still don't really get what it is saying. Any suggestions? Perhaps using some real-life examples?

I think that point is that women have to refuse to participate in the struggle simply on the basis of their class position, but instead to problematise the operation of that struggle, its strategy, tactics and goals. So, for example, women should not accept the domination of men in the trade union movement and should attack that even to the extent that it is perceived as damaging the union's external fights. They need to constantly point out the failings of the workers movement because a pretend unity on the basis of class struggle, with everything else fixed afterwards, is actually damaging to the possibility of revolutionary change.

Steven.
Mar 10 2012 17:45
Alasdair wrote:
I think, and I may be wrong as I've only read a bit of communisation theory, that communisers would assert that it isn't so much the weakness of the working class that makes demands for continuing employment impossible but the structure of capitalism today. Workers might still see themselves as workers and prefer to continue with the undoubtedly higher remuneration that would mean, but that demand couldn't, not just wouldn't, be successful. For my part, I think, as with the first part you quote, they need to do more to prove and not just assert that that is true.

Exactly, if this is the case (although I do not think it would be possible to prove one way or the other).

And if this is the case then that is basically tacit agreement with decadence theory, which is adequately critiqued elsewhere.

Quote:

I believe Maya was at UCSC when this was written, so it may have looked less niche from that position. From what I've seen it was a bit wider than just UC in the US as well, there were similar statements (communiques) from the New School occupation as well. You're right that in the UK most of the occupations have had specific demands, though rarely demands that I think were ever expected to be met or that were that important in themselves. At the last occupation in Edinburgh, for example, we didn't agree demands, or whether to have them at all, till 4 days into a 7 day occupation; the university never responded to them; and we never really talked about them.

yes, I remember the ones from the New School as well, although that is a tiny university (about 9000 students, compared with University of California's nearly 250,000). I see your point though. On demands, it's funny, when we were on strike on November 30 the official "demands" which will be recorded in history were over a public sector pensions but of course in order to have a legal strike you have to have a ballot, which has to ask a question related to your terms and conditions. So while that was nominally the demand, I think it was more a generalised act of anger, similar to most student occupations. The widespread occupations in Greece in 2008 also come to mind here. But students of course don't have to do have an official ballot before taking action.

Quote:
I think that point is that women have to refuse to participate in the struggle simply on the basis of their class position, but instead to problematise the operation of that struggle, its strategy, tactics and goals. So, for example, women should not accept the domination of men in the trade union movement and should attack that even to the extent that it is perceived as damaging the union's external fights. They need to constantly point out the failings of the workers movement because a pretend unity on the basis of class struggle, with everything else fixed afterwards, is actually damaging to the possibility of revolutionary change.

In terms of pointing out the failings of the workers' movement, I totally agree. And I also agree that we shouldn't have the attitude of pretend unity and fixing everything else "after a revolution". However, I'm still not really clear how this relates to real struggles. Taking our pensions dispute for example. This is something which affects us as a class. But it also disproportionately affects women, because they make up the bulk of the public sector workforce. So I don't see that there is any sort of pretend unity here - the class unity across genders here seems very clear. Of course, it is true that union reps/leaderships are disproportionately male. But if women wanted to change this they could overnight by just becoming reps or branch officials. Pretty much every union branch in the UK has more vacant posts than filled ones posts. But I think the unions have been abandoned by the working class, generally, in part due to their betrayal of us over the past 30 years.

Joseph Kay
Mar 14 2012 07:57

I took part in a reading group on this text recently. I had pretty high hopes as people have spoken highly of it, but everyone hated it. I ended up doing my best to defend it as a devils advocate and got torn apart.

Basically, some bits are good. For example the demonstration that gender inequality is structural to the labour market (as employers treat women as unreliable wage labour), and that women are therefore pushed into lower paid, more precarious work or out of waged labour into unpaid care. Or that women need to assert their interests as part of the struggle, not bite their tongues until 'after the revolution'.

But, as was pointed out, these are more or less generic Marxist/socialist feminist 101 points that people have been arguing for years. It's not that they're wrong - indeed, i think they're important points - but that they're not where this essay makes an original contribution. I guess that depends whether you've come across them before as to whether you read it that way. But the original points seem to be the stuff which basically restates as assertions TC positions on the (novel) nature of the period, working class identity and so on, and tbh mystifies a very simple concept (moving to communism without a transitional phase/state based on non-communism) with specialist jargon.

Steven.
Mar 14 2012 08:55
Quote:
But the original points seem to be the stuff which basically restates as assertions TC positions on the (novel) nature of the period, working class identity and so on, and tbh mystifies a very simple concept (moving to communism without a transitional phase/state based on non-communism) with specialist jargon.

TBH from my perception that looks like that sums up this communisation stuff in one sentence.

demetra
Mar 14 2012 18:18

Hi guys,

Since this text has been published on libcom quite recently, do you know why the communisation event I posted on announcements recently, and one of our presentations that woland.bm posted 2 days ago on the library are still unpbulished? I would have expected that discussion on these things would be welcome since there are a lot of things that we need to clarify judging from your above criticisms.

Thank you.

Joseph Kay
Mar 14 2012 18:39

Hi Demetra - i can't see anything you've posted unpublished, so i'm not sure is the short answer. Perhaps try reposting, it might have got caught by our spam filters if it had links in it. I've bumped your account permissions to 'regular user', which bypasses the spam filter.

demetra
Mar 14 2012 19:00

Thanks a lot, my original post has disappeared but I posted a new one it and it came up.

However woland's post is still unpublished. It's here:

http://libcom.org/library/presentation-sic-journal-athens

would be grateful if you can publish it unless there is a problem with it.

Cheers!

Steven.
Mar 14 2012 19:27

Sorted. I have now set him to bypass our spam filter as well, that's what blocked the article

demetra
Mar 14 2012 20:02

Thanks, but the library article is still unpublished... I don't have access to see it.

http://libcom.org/library/presentation-sic-journal-athens

Joseph Kay
Mar 14 2012 20:13

ok, something odd is happening. i keep publishing it, but it's not having any effect. i'll look into it.

edit: couldn't figure it out, so i deleted it and resubmitted it: http://libcom.org/library/presentation-sic-journal-athens - should be working now.

Joseph Kay
Mar 14 2012 20:27
revol68 wrote:
Though I would say that whilst the mid section of the essay on the materiality of sexism in the labour market isn't anything ground breaking it was still pretty refreshing to see considering how most modern feminism remains fixated on cultural and language issues.

i'd be wary of juxtaposing 'materiality' to 'culture', i think the two are probably quite heavily intertwined. after all, employers and the state are formally committed to the equalities act, while plenty of sexism (/racism and so on) is prole-on-prole. the materiality of it helps explain its persistence in the face of liberal de jure equality, but 'culture' (and to an extent, language) is a big part how de facto hierarchies are reproduced. that said i don't think liberal accounts of 'bad words' grasp the real significance of language/cultural norms, i.e. associational learning, pre-cognitive conditioning and so on.

revol68 wrote:
The same can be said for Nina Power's extended essay "One Dimensional Woman" which I really enjoyed

I keep meaning to read this. Anyone got an ebook version, or am I going to have to fork out?

Alasdair
Mar 14 2012 20:41
scissors
Jul 19 2012 08:59

Sorry to revive an old thread, but I'd be interested to know what you mean, Joseph Kay, by these being "more or less generic Marxist/socialist feminist 101 points." I know the latter point is, but the former point, specifically the argument about the functioning of labor markets, the shape of the "M curve", and the role of the demographic transition and negative reproduction rates in some first world countries in affecting women's position in the labor market, all seemed original to me. The closest I've read is the Joanna Brenner piece that Maya cites, but this just points in the direction of an analysis of labor markets, and the idea that seems to be central to Maya's text about the evolution of women's labor force participation isn't there at all. Do you know any other texts which makes these points?

Joseph Kay
Jul 19 2012 09:53

Maybe I missed the originality as I genuinely found it difficult to see what was actually been argued at many points (the way of arguing 'it's not to say X, but of course neither is it to say Y' left me unsure what was actually been said). For example, it's described how employers discriminate against women (as unreliable potential mothers), and this is then described as demonstrating precisely how the market is sex-blind. This seems to demonstrate the opposite, that in actuality labour markets are necessarily not sex blind and any sex blind theorising about generic ungendered labour power therefore misses something fundamental about labour markets. This kind of argument just loses me - assert markets are sex blind by definition as markets - then demonstrate they're not - then assert how this proves that they are. It doesn't seem like dialectical contradictions, just muddled argument.

Now going by the referenced piece, the argument seems to be that markets are not ideologically sexist, but nonetheless materially leave women at a competitive disadvantage due to domestic duties/potential motherhood. So they're 'sex blind' in terms of capitalists only wanting to hire the most reliable labour power (which for non-market reasons is male). Ok, but if that's the point, it seems quite a simple one which can be made in a couple of sentences without the tortured convolutions: bosses need not be sexists for labour markets to produce a sexed division of labour.

In terms of the structural discrimination of the labour market against women - Marx himself remarks in passing in Capital about the more pliant and casual labour of women and children (which isn't entirely true, though it's true that women generally occupied more precarious employment); Wendy Brown's chapter 'liberalism's family values' in 'States of Injury' also talks about the structural gendering of the market sphere (and the necessary domestic sphere). I've also heard direct from a few bosses that rights to maternity leave make them not want to employ women of child-bearing age; I get the impression this is something of a commonplace. No harm in mentioning it (it's an important point as it links the commodification of labour power with binary gender roles and thus communism with feminism), but it seemed like one of many points being summarised rather than a new insight.

In terms of the M-shaped labour market participation, Maya herself doesn't seem to think this is an original point, writing "the reasons for this pattern are well known". Like I say, I wanted to like this piece but in trying to defend it my arguments got torn apart. Maybe I'm missing something, I've heard Maya did a good talk on this topic (in Edinburgh iirc), and even joked about some of the more cryptic formulations. I've read a fair bit of academic nonsense in my time, but this doesn't strike me as academic. I think it's more 'pidgin ultraleft', the kinda thing that happens when you read too much Dauvé/TC and then protect yourself from criticism with endless caveats and abstractions that end up obscuring what are often quite simple points (I'm not being pejorative about simplicity btw; parsimony ftw!).

I'm willing to persevere with difficult prose if there's something important being said, I'm just not sure if there is in this case. I'm still open to persuasion though.

scissors
Jul 29 2012 19:44

It may seems obvious to you about the impact of child bearing on the wage gap and women's employment forms, but I'm not aware of any Marxist feminist other than Brenner who has emphasized this. It seems to me that the main contribution of Maya's text is to not allow this to remain a simple observation, but to historicize the point by showing how the demographic transition (a universal feature of capitalist development that has largely been ignored by Marxists) initially led to exceptionally high numbers of children per women, disadvantaging women in labor markets more, but then the numbers lowered dramatically, both because of the logic of the transition (people will aim to have less children when less of them die) and because of the choices of women (now increasingly determined by the labor market itself), leading to the partial but never full reversal of those disadvantages. This might seem obvious, but as you point out it has important consequences:

it's an important point as it links the commodification of labour power with binary gender roles and thus communism with feminism

My question was, do you know of anyone else who has made such a point?

Joseph Kay
Jul 30 2012 08:01

I saw your question, and replied above:

Joseph Kay wrote:
In terms of the structural discrimination of the labour market against women - Marx himself remarks in passing in Capital about the more pliant and casual labour of women and children (which isn't entirely true, though it's true that women generally occupied more precarious employment); Wendy Brown's chapter 'liberalism's family values' in 'States of Injury' also talks about the structural gendering of the market sphere (and the necessary domestic sphere). I've also heard direct from a few bosses that rights to maternity leave make them not want to employ women of child-bearing age; I get the impression this is something of a commonplace. No harm in mentioning it (it's an important point as it links the commodification of labour power with binary gender roles and thus communism with feminism), but it seemed like one of many points being summarised rather than a new insight.

Fwiw Kathi Weeks' recent book also attributes similar insight to 70s Marxist feminism ("Marxist feminists in the 1970s explored the means by which gender hierarchies deliver unwaged women workers to the domestic mode of reproduction while also ensuring a cheaper and more flexible secondary or tertiary waged labor force.") I suppose it could be argued that both 70s Marxist feminism (Dalla Costa etc) and Wendy Brown focus more on the gendered division between productive and reproductive spheres, rather than within the labour market, which pushes women into reproduction/casual/low paid wage work. But then Carol Ehrlich also links womens' subordinate position in the labour market to commodification of labour power: "When they describe the oppresiveness of sexual objectification, or of living in the nuclear family, or of being a Supermother, or of working in the kinds of low-level, underpaid jobs that most women find in the paid labour force, they are also describing woman as commodity."

The demographic stuff, fair enough. I haven't read much along these lines so I'll take your word for it. However, I'm not sure I follow the argument. Gonzalez writes "that some women choose not to have children at all – and thus to solve this dilemma for themselves, however inadequately – is the only possible explanation of the fall in the birth rate below what is predicted by demographic transition theory (...) In this situation, it becomes increasingly clear that women have a problem with markets." Couldn't this show the opposite, that given a choice* between motherhood and labour market participation, women increasingly choose the market?

That said, on reflection I think this argument about originality misses the point somewhat (which is my fault, as I started it). Scanning over the text again, it seems principally an 'intervention' within the communisation milieu. Where communisation defines itself as the immediate (as opposed to 'transitional stage') abolition of capitalist social relations, this piece is making the case that the gender binary is one of those relations (as the title would imply). If that's the case, the text isn't aimed 'outwards' but at the communisation milieu which is in the process of defining itself. Insofar as this made it into the book, it's been a successful intervention. Originality doesn't come into it, much like if someone wrote 'industrial unionism and climate change' urging Wobblies to organise ecological struggles, we wouldn't be looking for new insights on ecology (or industrial unionism), but treating the text as an intervention seeking to bring hitherto separate perspectives together. I think this text does that pretty effectively, but in a way that's principally an intra-milieu conversation.

* 'double freedom' etc, so a shit choice

Shorty
Jul 30 2012 10:46

...

lzbl
Jul 30 2012 10:47

As far as I have been able to tell, it is because intersectional analysis is fashionable and marxist feminism is not.

Shorty
Jul 30 2012 10:54
Joseph Kay wrote:
That said, on reflection I think this argument about originality misses the point somewhat (which is my fault, as I started it). Scanning over the text again, it seems principally an 'intervention' within the communisation milieu. Where communisation defines itself as the immediate (as opposed to 'transitional stage') abolition of capitalist social relations, this piece is making the case that the gender binary is one of those relations (as the title would imply). If that's the case, the text isn't aimed 'outwards' but at the communisation milieu which is in the process of defining itself. Insofar as this made it into the book, it's been a successful intervention. Originality doesn't come into it, much like if someone wrote 'industrial unionism and climate change' urging Wobblies to organise ecological struggles, we wouldn't be looking for new insights on ecology (or industrial unionism), but treating the text as an intervention seeking to bring hitherto separate perspectives together. I think this text does that pretty effectively, but in a way that's principally an intra-milieu conversation.

Interesting, as I think this argument does need to be made more outwardly. I would say the more broadly held current position is that of intersectionality, which imo this piece undermines. So it's worth making, original new insight or not.

Shorty
Jul 30 2012 10:59
lzbl wrote:
As far as I have been able to tell, it is because intersectional analysis is fashionable and marxist feminism is not.

smile

Sorry, I edited out my post to write the above response. I agree, it's just I like the article and wouldn't be as dismissive of it, encouraging people to read it as I think it's a worthwhile intervention that should be made more outwardly. So now we need a making marxist feminism fashionable advertising strategy and campaign, haha. tongue

the button
Jul 30 2012 11:05

Is intersectionality what we used to call "multiple interpellation" in the olden days?

Joseph Kay
Jul 30 2012 11:40

@Shorty; a lot of the 70s Marxist feminism was unapologetically essentialist (Maria Mies would be a good example I think), so not unproblematic. This piece does 'marry' a communist analysis to gender abolitionism (i.e. anti-essentialism), which is an important improvement on a lot of the 70s stuff tbf.

charleyfred
Mar 10 2013 11:23

Thanks for this very thought-provoking article.

For a rather different anthropological approach to the theoretical minefield that is gender and marxism see this:

‘Feminism is a dirty word’. What would Marx and Engels think today? - Camilla Power

walden9
May 13 2013 13:43

I agree that the simultaneous abolition of the divisions within the working class and the divisions OF the working class from the ownership class is the most likely way that revolution can come about, that it must arise from beyond and without any dependence on the demands-based movements of the "privileged" workers (people with jobs?). I agree that gender as a social category on which a division of labor (in both senses) is premised will and must be overcome as the process of revolution itself. But the major division to be overcome will be that which separates the swarming peoples from the ownership class. A genderless mass can still remain an utterly alienated and subordinated mass.

Black Badger
May 14 2013 16:00

Excerpts from a review of Communization and Its Discontents:

Further, because of the immediacy of communization, Gonzalez is adamant about the question of gender (and -- if I can be so bold, given what she says at the end of the excerpt -- all other forms of static Identity). Unfortunately, she almost immediately reverts to the (clever?) Hegelianism that characterizes virtually all forms of self-conscious Marxism. An at-first-glance irreconcilable contradiction becomes the basis for a dialectical resolution in the time-honored mechanism of algebraic semi-incomprehensibility:

"Today, the revolution must emerge from the disunity of the proletariat, as the only process capable of overcoming that disunity. If revolutionary action does not immediately abolish all divisions between proletarians, then it is not revolutionary; it is not communization."

This could also be read simply as devotedly excited certainty, without any particular arrogance or intent of superiority. But perhaps not.

The full review is here:
http://anarchymag.org/index.php/content/current-issue/39-latest-issue/87-communization-and-its-discontents

Tizzzbee
Jul 28 2013 08:19

Gender as with race is a social construction and has little to no biological evidence for its “natural” existence. As with other subjective categories it is a construct and often a binary utilized to maintain inequalites and priviledge of the few in capitalist society; however, arguments that present the necessity of the “destruction” of gender as a subjective category in pursuit of a “proletarian revolution” do not sit well with me and present a bit of a logical contradiction. The extreme actually existing inequalities and oppressions between different already existing gender categories is something people live everyday and not something that is just going to be able to be “smashed” and dissolved over night as the author seems to suggest will happen through some kind of ontologically revelation suddenly dissolving ourselves and society or "the proletariat" of notions of gender that are deeply socialized into our psychies as individuals socialized in patriarchal society. The article states “Communization describes a set of measures that we must take in the course of the class struggle if there is to be a revolution at all.” and yet immediately after wards demands that of gender
“Its relevance to our existence will not be transformed slowly – whether through planned obsolescence or playful deconstruction, whether as the equality of gender identities or their proliferation into a multitude of differences. On the contrary, in order to be revolution at all, communilization must destroy gender in its very course, inaugurating relations between individuals defined in their singularity.”
The arguments against the process of the expansion of a multitude of genders or any process at all of its abolition seems to run in complete contradiction to their reasoning of creating a set of measures to create the proper conditions of revolution under communization and instead reverts to a mythic moment of its immediate dissolution, and the same short sighted logic and praxis they condem of past workerist movements who accepted their era's (very different) subectivization under the conditions of capital of the time. Despite this fact they layout no “measures” for the eventual immediate destruction of gender. Instead a remenial explanation of the social construction of the gender category of "women" and its destruction while noticably giving little play all other possible already existing gender categories from the discussion. In my opinion such an immidiacy would only work to disguise and intensify inequalities between existing categories genrating a hallow sort of "genderblindness". I am more for the infinite expansion of the calidescope of gender where people can express themselves as they like and a destruction of the inequality between them as a path towards the destruction of the importance of gender as tool of upholding economic and social inequality under capitalism.

kingzog
Apr 3 2016 07:57

This is a new thought I've had; I find the idea of abolishing gender a fascinating one- and I still support it. However, I'm skeptical because even if we do destroy it, it seems it could easily reassert itself- but in a different form.

As long as human females exist as biologically distinct and they see this difference between themselves and males- and it seems ridiculous to think they could be prevented from this recognition- wouldnt women organize themselves around such biological differences? At least in some minimal, benign, way? Why wouldn't they at least organize some minimal identity based on the obvious and observable differences (which we observe in nature, not socially constructed) between males and females?

This identity would be very different from "gender" as we see it, as the abject; as male supremacy, because it would flow not from male dominated society(I.e from males) but from females as females. This is purely speculative, but I'd like to hear others' thoughts if anyone happens on this page again.

Also, on an aside, I really sometimes think it was a mistake to stake a claim on gender as separate from sex(they were synomns previously) and abolish the term "sex roles(or whatever)" in favor of the newly defined "gender" as the roles and expectations and so forth foisted upon the two sexes- well, females really. It has caused much confusion among sincere interlocutors, in my experience; and abuse from the unsavory obfuscators. Perhaps, however, it was a necessity despite the fact it wasn't a totally ideal replacement for "sex roles". Either way, that's up to philosophers much smarter than I.