by Nat Winn
An important debate has developed that began with questions around women, liberation, and capitalism. It has landed us in the field of methodology, dialectics, and revolutionary strategy. What a great start and what a great destination!
Eve Mitchell and Tyler Zimmerman have written a response to my thoughts on a discussion around Marxist feminism which was started on the Fire Next Time blog by Zora B’Al Sk’a and Ba Jin. They have cited my criticisms regarding the lack of their discussion to engage politics (or better said: my criticism that they conflate all political potentials as developing rigidly from the point of production or capitalist reproduction). They argue that the criticisms which I extended to the larger body of Marxist feminist thought are indicative of a major difference in method.
I think that they are correct.
There is a real difference in method and understanding of dialectics. I appreciate the chance to delve into that further.
So let’s dig in.
In our epoch, the oppression of women is being challenged globally and in fundamental ways that have never before been seen in history. Arranged marriage is being defied and politically targeted all over the world. Wife beating (and all similar forms of partner abuse, including date rape) are no longer considered acceptable or tolerable by hundreds of millions of people. In a truly world historic way, the female sex is claiming the right and means to reproductive freedom (birth control, abortion, and the right to say “no”).
We communists do not stand aside from this. We are not just nodding in verbal agreement. We see these profound changes (and more) as integral to what we call “the communist road” — which is not just the resolution of capitalism’s fundamental contradiction (socialized production and private ownership), but the ending of all oppression.
We communists are against all oppression. We are (as Lenin said) tribunes of the people — active militant opponents of all the ways that oppression appears. We are seeking to make a giant torrent of revolution out of the many rivulets that arise against oppression.
The struggle over the oppression of women is not a distraction from the resolution of capitalism’s fundamental contradiction. It is not some side issue. It is not even some “special” oppression (which implies it is subordinate and subsidiary, or off-in-a-corner). In this sense we agree with Eve and Tyler.
To put it another way: the great conflict of the fundamental contradiction drives socialist revolution to the fore. But what the socialist revolution accomplishes (and takes as its goals) are far more than just resolving that fundamental contradiction. We want to liberate humanity and end all the intolerable oppressions that have marked class society itself and the lives of the vast majority suffering in class society.
On the Claim of Dualism
Eve and Tyler criticize my claim of the failure of Marxist Feminism on the following basis:
In Nat’s comments, we observe an unnecessary antagonism being drawn between two completely valid arenas of struggle; the content and form of reproductive labor on the one side and reproductive freedom on the other (there is no coincidence in the double use of “reproduction” here which we’ll expound further down). The origin of this antagonism is located between a splitting of the subject and object. This is done through a dualistic reading of ”economics” and “politics,” or, to use the terms Marx employed in the “Preface” to A Contribution to a Critique of Political Economy, “base” and “superstructure.” But there is an immanent unity between subject and object as well as between base and superstructure and what Marxism represents is precisely the unification of these categories. The tragedy of orthodox Marxism is that it represents a reification of them; that is, regarding an abstract duality of the subject and object as a real thing that plays out in the real world in terms of forms of organizing and concrete political orientations.
This criticism goes deeper into questions of dialectics when it is posited:
The base/superstructure concept adapted by orthodox Marxism has reified the subject-object split. It sees the “base,” or economy, in a structuralist/sociological manner that exists independently of human initiative and which determines all activity and thinking. So capital, wages, and money are mere objects. On the other hand, “superstructure,” or politics, is understood as subjective and confined to ideas or an abstract kind of activity that isn’t metabolic with nature but divorced from it and determined by the base.
Marx never had a dualistic understanding of these categories and posited quite conversely that “economic categories are only the theoretical expressions, the abstractions of the social relations of production.” (Poverty of Philosophy, MECW 6, 165)
When Eve and Tyler say I am creating an abstract duality between reproductive labor and reproductive freedom or between base and superstructure, I understand them to be saying that I am creating a sort of absolute division between them and neglecting their relationship to one another.
This criticism is a misinterpretation, though it does reflect real differences in how we look at reality in motion (or dialectics).
The notion of dialectics being put forward by Eve and Tyler is a closed dialectic. It emphasizes the unity of a process while failing to speak to the most important aspect of dialectics, which is contradiction and struggle. For example Eve and Tyler say:
For Marx, capital, wages and money are the various phenomenological forms of alienated labor; they are subjective and objective social relations in disguise, not ahistoric things as political economy conceives. The economy and politics, or capital, wages and money can only be separated logically because concretely and in the real world they exist as a social and dialectical whole…
The splitting of the intrinsic unity of the subject-object and the dualistic reading of base/superstructure creates a dynamic where struggles around work are seen as narrow and economistic.
This approach fails to grasp the central role of contradiction within dialectics and the many-sidedness of complex phenomena and thus attempts to combine things that are necessarily in the process of division and thus resolution and transformation.