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Why we are not feminists?

Traducido por los compañeros de la LCI


Like racialism, nationalism or syndicalism, feminism is an ideology that turns the struggle against oppression and for human emancipation—and within it, the struggle against patriarchy—into a set of reforms, which makes it a powerful weapon of recuperation, i.e., a counter-revolutionary weapon.

This occurs through the fragmentation of the proletariat into opposing—or, at best, juxtaposed—subjects who can only aspire to reforms that satisfy their partial interests. In this way, the class as a social force that constitutes itself by affirming communism is denied, divided, and impotent. Thus, feminism enjoins itself to social democracy and becomes a force that negates our humanity in favour of capital.

Let us explain this better.

Social Democracy and Feminism

Before beginning our critique of feminism, we would like to devote this section to explaining how our position differs from the working-class position of (classical and Leninist) social democracy, which by its basic precepts is obliged to conceive of the struggle against patriarchy as secondary to the working-class struggle for state power, either by reducing the women’s question to that of wage-earning women–and thus de facto denying it—or by conceptualising it as a parallel and autonomous, i.e., foreign, struggle.

Indeed, the cause of the multiple collisions between the feminist movement and Marxism, the label waved as a banner by social democracy, have little to do with the framework in which our reflections are situated. These collisions are based on the social-democratic conception of capitalism, revolution and class. Under this conception, the struggle against patriarchy remains, no matter how one looks at it, a mere satellite in the main struggle of the workers’ movement to seize the means of production. Against this conception, the struggle against patriarchy often finds shelter in the preservation of categories born of capitalist exploitation, such as individual, wage, democracy or state, and in the defence of their equal application to both women and men, and without any distinction on the basis of sexual “orientation”.

To sum it up: social democracy understands capitalism as characterised by the extraction of surplus value from workers. Thus, it conceives of the state, technology and value as neutral instruments which, used intelligently—properly residing in the political organisation—serve to liberateanontologically positive labour power from the clutches of the bourgeoisie and from certain juridical property relations (private ownership of the means of production) by which the latter steals surplus value from the workers. The revolution is thus conceived as the insurrectionary moment in which the correlation of forces is favourable to the working class, which, by confronting the bourgeoisie and seizing state power with a party as its representative, would own the means of production and distribute surplus value equally among everybody.

The problem of revolution is therefore, for social democracy, a problem of management: how to organise the working class for the seizure of the state and the means of production, then, how to manage these and, in the case of a part of Leninism, how to prevent the creation of a bureaucracy that would divert or “degenerate” the “revolutionary state”.

Class, under this conception, is something pre-constituted and sociological, a historical subject that exists by the mere fact of occupying a certain role in production, namely that where value is generated. The proletariat is conceptualised and reaffirmed through the exaltation of labour against (for) capital and, therefore, from the production of value. In this way, it is logical that, for a long time, men, who in the gendered distribution of labour were assigned the sphere of production, were favoured as the antagonistic subject over women, occupied as they were in the sphere of reproduction, at least until they entered the factories as wage slaves in their own right.

In this match between two fighters, the working class and the bourgeoisie, what is crucial is who is striking harder, and conversely, who is on the ropes. Hence, so-called “class feminism”, whose constitutive terms are a constant and painful contradiction, wanting to attack patriarchy, which would require a radical transformation of social relations (something impossible to do without doing away with value, as we will explain later) nevertheless makes use of premises that begin from objects, specifically, from a correlation between forces and objects, and not from social relations. Capitalism, thus understood, consists in eliminating an object, while the revolution consists in recovering it by taking over other objects (the means of production), and securing their ownership through the state. All this, thanks to the struggle between two pre-constituted object-subjects (the working class and bourgeoisie), which see one of these emerge the victor on account of the efficacy of its representative, the object-party (or formal organisation), in directing the insurrectionary process.

This means that the struggle against patriarchy is foreign to the chief revolutionary task, at least as social democracy understands it. Thus, the most radical feminism falls into a reformism of everyday life, where the transformation of social relations has nothing to do with the destruction of the system that atomises us, daily destroys every possibility of community, and subordinates all forms of life to the production of value, but has more to do with a moral attitude that, in a voluntarist way, seeks to change us and our closest interpersonal relations in the expectation of a distant revolution. Either that or, if we want to be more effective, the more pragmatic feminism will turn to the struggle for the recognition of women as equals to men in capitalist society, i.e., equality as wage slaves (the wage gap), functionaries of capital (glass ceiling), or atomised individuals who assume as something natural the schizophrenia between the space of reproduction (sharing of domestic tasks and care) and that of production (equality in working conditions). Often, however, both are present, and both end up destroying the whole search for radicalism that is expressed in the struggle against any oppression, be it patriarchal or capitalist.[1] In any case, the divergences between people fighting against patriarchy and what has been called “communism” have more to do with a struggle internal to social democracy and its counter-revolutionary power, than with communism as a real movement.

The only way to overcome this limit and suture the contradiction between the struggle against patriarchy and the struggle against capitalism is to understand two things:

1) capitalism is an abstract social relation structured by the capital-labour contradiction, which shapes previous forms of oppression, transforming them into its image and likeness;

2) communism is a real class movement towards the human community through the destruction of this way of relating, which entails abolishing all forms of division of the species to constitute a new mode of social being: the human community.

Feminism Caught in the Capitalist Contradiction

In the autumn of the Middle Ages, partly because of the ravages of the Black Death and partly because of the anti-feudal emancipation movements that would follow, the literary cliché of death as an equalising force spreads with enormous speed throughout Europe. Later, the sixteenth and especially the seventeenth century would discover that the equalising force was no longer death, but that Don Quixote called Money—the generalisation of the law of value within Europe in that time—who destroyed every social order to subordinate it to itself and its process of self-valorisation.

This equalising power, which disorganises the social order to better adapt it to the community of capital, affects in a contradictory but incisive way the previous structures of oppression, preserving them by adapting them to the process of valorisation. What does this equalisation consist of? When a social formation is born in which everything that exists tends to be subsumed by the extended reproduction of a real abstraction (value)—i.e., when everything is subordinated to a single logic: that of producing to produce more—nature and human beings, be they male or female, black or white, homosexual or heterosexual, become tools in the service of this process. Thus, if at first capitalism breaks, through wage labour, the unity of life in production and reproduction, and sexually divides both spheres, locking women in the reproductive space and reinforcing the attributes of the male-female binary (not unlike the binaries of reason-affection, mind-body or public-private), later, in the 19th century and especially at the beginning of the 20th century, when the prolonged world war became the most important factor in the development of world capitalism—the same world war that transformed human beings into instruments of killing—and there was no choice but to use women as a generalised labour force, we witnessed a process of economic and political demands for equality between the two sexes, since their equality as instruments of value generation was already being consummated.

Marx explains in Capital that, by its own logic, capitalism tends to erase the physical and biological impediments to its reproduction. However, as the ecological collapse we are experiencing today shows, these do not disappear, but are continually contradicted by the process of valorisation. In the same way, the tendency towards equalisation under the metric of labour power (the proletariat) lays the foundations for feminist demands to gain a place in capitalist society and, at the same time, the biological fact of childbirth and breastfeeding, as well as the social need for a minimum of consumption to enable the reproduction of life that value cannot subsume implies the constant renewal of patriarchal oppression of women.[2]

In this way it is possible to account for the current moment, where it can be affirmed that we are approaching a monogender pattern, insofar as, due to the (almost) absolute dominance of the commodity, the condition of being proletarian tends to prevail over the difference between men and women, generating changes in the representations and practices traditionally attributed to both sexes.[3]. Alongside this trend, however, we find the phenomenon of an international chain of care whereby—while women in the West deny themselves as a class by affirming themselves as “free” wage earners in the sense described by Marx—the reproductive functions that had been attributed to them are either fulfilled by migrant women or other proletarians from lower social backgrounds in the form of wage labour (cleaning ladies, nurses, geriatric aides, domestic servants, surrogate wives, etc.); or, since in care work not everything can be subjected to wage labour, and value cannot completely absorb the tasks of reproduction, as some feminists would like, women suffer the schizophrenia of the double day, proletarians and carers at the same time, labour power because of the equalising capacity of value and women because of the biological fact of their capacity to generate life, i.e., living labour power.

In the contradiction we have described here, feminism is enclosed. If it does not go beyond itself, it is condemned not only to demand equal exploitation of men and women by capital, but also, in all probability, to demand the exploitation of some women by others so that the reproduction of society can finally be fulfilled in a patriarchy that will never die. Of course, to think of it as a separate and autonomous struggle alongside the struggle against capitalism, as class feminism wants to do, ends up leading it to turn in on itself, to close in on itself, to always be an afterthought in a conception of revolution which in turn, lacking the integration of the struggle against patriarchy, will never be a communist revolution.

Feminism as Ideology

At this point of reflection, it is necessary to point out once again that the struggle against patriarchy cannot be reduced to its (recuperative, social-democratic) expression in feminist ideology. The difference between an immediate struggle and a partial struggle consists for all practical purposes in precisely that: in its capacity—and its vocation—to be recuperated.

The immediate struggle is not explicitly presented as a total negation of the system, but it starts from an indivisible totality: that of our humanity, the total need to reclaim ourselves as human beings against a system that consists of our daily dehumanisation, i.e., the intimate negation of the whole system by asserting ourselves against its effects. Thus, the struggle against capital is born out of the resistance to being turned into instruments that produce value in order to continue producing it on an enlarged scale. The struggle against patriarchy and its basic structures (family, motherhood and romantic love) stems from the resistance to being instruments that produce care and affection to be accumulated by a fragile other—be it boyfriend or girlfriend, son or daughter, grandmother or grandfather—and torn by the isolation to which this society reduces us. These two resistances start from one thing: the defence of our humanity. To the extent that they become generalised and collective thanks to a dynamic of self-activity, the immediate struggles are brought to the surface, making explicit the identification of immediate interests with historical interests.

It is quite another matter when the struggle fails to become generalised and is not pursued with determination. This is where feminist ideology comes into its own, through a discourse and practices that are committed to the separation of women’s immediate and historical interests. By understanding women’s issues as something separate, it fragments them and establishes that being a woman is something different, and must be treated as such, from being proletarians: there is no common basis, no common—if at all joint—struggle, no common goal. As a partial struggle, it affirms the need to think and behave as though one of the causes of our alienation is distinct and autonomous from the others. This is not a mere procedure of analytical thinking, but a way of thinking and acting that has as its means and end to convert the total struggle to preserve our humanity into partial struggles, each with different orientations and objectives. When the immediate struggles against patriarchy are expressed in feminist ideology and fail to go beyond it, when they find their limit in the defence of the equality of exploitation between men and women, then we can say that they have become partial struggles: recuperated, reduced, that is to say. It is to affirm that the movement of recuperation by social democracy has been completed, emptying any upsurge of class self-activity in order to reorient it towards concrete demands that can be taken up by capital. That is why feminism, as we pointed out at the beginning, is part of social democracy as a counter-revolutionary force.

On the other hand, the partial character of feminism prevents it from understanding the root of patriarchal oppression in the capitalist system. The emergence of wage labour and, with it, of capital as autonomised value, presupposes a separation in human activity between productive and reproductive activities. The patriarchal system laid the foundations for the recomposition of the gendered division of labour in incipient capitalism, locking women in the reproductive sphere, in the private space, while making men free—from all ties and from all means of subsistence—within the public space of the production of value.

Understanding the harmful consequences of this separation, the second feminist wave in the 1960s wanted to mix, in a voluntarist way, public and private space: “the personal is political”. However, not understanding its causes, it wanted to mix them by starting from their separation, not by denying it, since in order to do so it would have had to overcome itself—to have broken with feminism as a partial ideology—to fight against wage labour and value in its various expressions. On the contrary, we find that it has only succeeded in politicising the personal in the worst sense of the word, i.e., by establishing as a solution to patriarchal oppression the introduction of the logic of value into the affective sphere, which naturally dominates the public space. It is precisely from these years onwards that feelings and affective relations begin to be thought of in terms of profitability and discourses emerge that attempt to really involve what was previously considered “feminine”: the articulation and reflection of affections in the political and economic sphere, the generalisation of self-help as the ideology of the (emotional) entrepreneur of the self, popularisation of psychoanalysis, the predominance of psychology in human resources departments and the consequent psychological management in the business sphere, etc.[4] In the same spirit, feminists like Federici, who understood how capitalism, through the enclosure of common resources, had led to the creation of an economic sphere separated from life, expelling women from it and locking them in the home, nevertheless limited themselves to betting on the salarisation of care for the definitive entry of reproductive work into public life.[5]. In short, the separation between production and reproduction was being reproduced—and this is a redundancy—through feminism.

In this, in fact, the first feminist wave, that of the 19th and early 20th century, and the second were not so different. Not questioning the division between production and reproduction meant that, while the first focused its efforts on ensuring that women’s entry into production was recognised on an equal footing with men, the second saw the limitations of this and attempted to directly introduce the space of reproduction into that of production—commodification of care, politicisation of private life (under the logic of value that shapes politics), etc.—or, at least, to proclaim the equal importance of both spheres without ever questioning their division.

On the other hand, this is not the only separation from which feminism starts, nor will it be the only time we see it reproduce the categories of capital. Take, for example, feminism’s struggle against the family. Certainly, the family and the romantic conception of love and motherhood that underlies it is the basic structure of patriarchal oppression. However, feminism finds no other solution to this than the vindication of the individual-woman—hence, among other things, its profound voluntarism, and at most, its subsequent alliance with other women under the umbrella of an abstract name, sorority (sisterhood), with the same abstract and bourgeois significance as that of fraternity (brotherhood), as proclaimed in the French Revolution. This is no accident: the only emancipatory community to which we can aspire is the real, indivisible human community. The community of women against patriarchy is ephemeral and precarious insofar as it is limited to being a partial and therefore only women’s struggle, or it is directly fictitious, as mere affirmation of identity.

In addition to the division of the proletariat and the generation of false communities[6], the identitarianism of feminist ideology overlooks fundamental things, such as the fact that patriarchy reproduces itself in relations other than those between men and women. Thus, for example, we will see chauvinistic content reproduced in affective-sexual relationships between people of the same sex, while at the same time it is not necessary for patriarchal oppression to occur from men to women, it is enough that it does between carer and cared, for is not the asymmetry of care between sons or daughters and mothers, or between daughters and their fathers or mothers, patriarchal? Nowadays, with the changes in family structure, it cannot be said that the family is less patriarchal because it is a single-parent arrangement, to give an example. At the same time, this identitarianism blinds us to trying to think how the advance of capital in the subsumption of our lives, with the consequent atomisation, can produce greater violence within loving relationships—be they heterosexual or homosexual—as our dependency increases and, therefore, our fear of the loss of intimate relationships that provide some security in an increasingly volatile, increasingly hostile world.

By splitting the class between women and men and, in women themselves, between proletarians and those oppressed by patriarchy, feminism dissolves the unifying capacity of the class, as we understand it, as a programmatic force (for communism) that becomes constituted in the struggle towards the human community. The division, the fragmentation of the proletariat, leads to a defence of identity as opposed to class. However, as we have just explained, this identity can only be a fictitious community, like that of the nation or race/ethnicity, which is articulated in order to acquire a certain objective basis through the community of capital and its categories: individual, wage, state, democracy.

Indeed, identitarianism and democracy are part of the genetics of feminist ideology. Its democratic character is clearly seen in that, limited as it is to being a partial struggle, it cannot but claim equality between men and women as wage slaves and its reverse, as citizens. It is the defence of equality in inequality, of the same democratic mystification that has had an enormous recuperative force throughout history and that continues to conceal the background of our oppression. It is the subordination of everything and everyone to the demands of production, however democratically managed it may be.

The Communist Revolution

Communist revolution is something else. It is not a management problem. It is not about the end of surplus value through the (neutral) use of value and technology. It is not a match between two fighters, defined by their socio-economic status—i.e., by the status given to them by capital. The communist revolution is a radical change in the way we relate to each other socially, a radical change in our social and “individual” ways [7] of being which is necessarily carried out by a class that constitutes itself as such through the negation of this society, through its negation as a class and in favour of humanity. In this process, what is lived is the destruction of the abstract categories of capital—value and its manifestations, such as money, the state, the nation, the commodity and wage-labour—through the putting into practice of what a comrade[8], borrowing the term of the young Marx, called the Gemeinwesen: the human community, a manner of social being within which individuality is not denied by the collective, but becomes an active part of it, where the person is both a constituent element and is constituted by a way of being in common in which all divisions are overcome, in which the original community that gave rise to our species in history is recovered. This is where the struggle against patriarchy finds its place.

How then do we understand the communist struggle, the movement towards the human community? Because we know that capitalism is an aberrant form of social relation—abstract, blind, but social after all—we understand that the definitive fight against it and those who embody it requires a radical transformation of social relations at the moment when, with a generalisation of immediate struggles, clarifying the inseparability of immediate and historical interests, those without reserves will carry out their own emancipation. This transformation must put an end, immediately in the insurrectional process, without room for any margins, without giving rise to stagism, even if we understand that revolution is a process which lasts for generations but which must never stop, to every form of division of the class, of the human community, whether this division is called gender, state, nation or ethnicity. In this process, human groups which, because of their biological or cultural specificities, have suffered the structural domination of class societies, must take an active role: their participation will not be without conflict, it will not always be harmonious with the drift of the revolutionary process, but in the end, it is only through conflict that the revolution advances. Their very direct participation, without mediation, in the revolutionary process has as its basis and at the same time allows for the possibility of the struggle against the reign of value over the human species. Only such unmediated action can put an end to this world and its daily dehumanisation.




[1]     To those who claim that they are in neither category, but that their defence of both practices of feminism (everyday life reformism and economic and political reformism) is justified by the use of “transitional measures” (transition to what?) in order to mobilise and thus radicalise women with a view to their inclusion in the historical subject-working class, we refer you to a future article we will write on activism and to some other already existing articles where the question is touched upon in one way or another. For example, Podemos: Some Notes on the Floating Signifier in Post-Stalinism or Porque Fueron (Subversivas) Somos: el Pasado de Nuestro Ser (Because they Were (Subversive) We Are: the Past of Our Being).

[2]     Cf. Roswitha Scholz: The commodity-producing patriarchy. Theses on capitalism and gender relations.

[3]     This tendency—together with other factors, of course, including the defeat of the wave of struggles of 1968-77 and the consequent abandonment by many revolutionaries of the theory of the proletariat—is surely behind the current rise of queer theory, which is committed to the voluntarist elimination of gender differences. To this end, it argues that gender—and in the most extreme cases, such as Beatriz Preciado, sex itself, its biological underpinning—must be distorted by bypassing nature and entrusting itself to technology—unaware, perhaps, that this means abandoning itself to capital—if necessary.

[4]     Cf. Eva Illouz: Frozen Intimacies.

[5]    This line of logic allows us to defend such reactionary things today as voluntary prostitution as a mechanism for the emancipation of women. It is not that we are abolitionists in the bourgeois-democratic sense: we do not oppose the legalisation of prostitution, just as we do not oppose giving residence permits to people without papers, nor would we have done so at the beginning of the workers’ movement, when the legalisation of trade unions and parties was defended through the right of assembly, thus facilitating their integration into the (democratic) community of capital. It simply seems to us an aberration to claim it as part of the communist programme. Whoever wants to put an end to the universal prostitution of life that is wage labour, will clearly not defend the buying and selling of pussies (or asses). However, under the argument of individual freedom, of (individual) empowerment in the face of sexual conservatism, a part of feminism does. The part that doesn’t, limits itself to drawing an absurd red line: yes to the buying and selling of our arms, our intelligence, our creativity or our affections, but no to the buying and selling of our genitals, never that!

[6]     A clear example of this is the call for the International Women’s Strike on 8 March 2017 which (as of the time of writing), if it were to go beyond the activist and demobilising call of the unions and some activist groups, would have very negative effects for our class because of the superimposition of a restricted identitarian community against the universalising power of the class. Being only an activist affair, it has only the counter-revolutionary content of activism.

[7]     We use the term individual to understand ourselves. In reality, the category of the individual is a concrete abstraction, as Marx would say, a social construct that is very real because it affects us on a daily basis, but which is not transhistorical, but will be abolished with the communist revolution. However, the abolition of the individual as a category separate from others—a category which, we insist, was constituted as such with the birth of capitalism and will die with it—does not imply the supremacy of the collective—an abstract and therefore alienating community—over the specificity of the person, but a negation of the historical and nefarious separation between the mode of being human in its individuality and in its sociability, that is, a separation that denies the unity of the species.

[8] Jacques Camatte, a communist theorist in the “Bordigist” tradition.

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