Clarifying Social Reproduction Feminism: Not Liberal, Not Idealist, It’s Socialist and Historical-materialist

The essay, “Traveling in the Wrong Direction” by British political philosopher Lorna Findlayson is required reading for socialist feminists. The first half is a brilliantly-written take-down of liberal feminism. The second half wobbles around, and reveals something very interesting, an analytical deficit in an otherwise powerful analysis:  A philosophical-Marxist (as opposed to political-Marxist) tendency to analyze capitalism as THE ruling class mode does not survey history, really take women’s socio-material global experience seriously, and does not consider that exploitative capitalism is a competitive option, always reliant on mass expropriation, in the arsenal of rivalristic regional ruling class strategy. Findlayson posits social reproduction strikes as an *alternative* to organized industrial action.

Findlayson needs some Jane McAlevey correction. Greta Thunberg’s individual action, the Climate School Strike, is not industrial action, and it is not the sole answer. But, as she indicates, it is a good form of collective action for a young person on the autism spectrum.

Findlayson is trying to equate social reproduction socialist-feminism with liberal feminism, in terms of strategic lameness and misdirection. But to pursue this reduction, she doesn’t see the strategic problem that is visible today: How do you counter a rivalristic, regional ruling class strategy that has always juggled a little bit of exploitation with a lot of expropriation?

In the late 19th century, industrial action, particularly in steel production, was effective because Western economies leaned on steel production at that time (Lawrence 2014).  At their most effective, industrial action was in truth collective action across working class communities. We just don’t see it because our delegated capitalist imaginations only recognize the exploited male labor, and so we’re gender blind.

Then there’s the issue: Western economies have moved on from the industrializing era. What does this mean for industrial action, or for smallholder political interests and strategy in regions that have been capturing global wealth?

Further, over the long haul, we have seen that capitalism cannot be dismantled simply by disrupting key nodes of exploitation, though conceived more broadly as building working-class communicative and egalitarian-cooperative capacity (by capitalist definition, disruptive; see also McAlevey 2016 for description), union-community action needs to be organized again–recognizing that militarization and policing is funded precisely to crush that organization. (Left Critics of the Left always uncannily forget about or black-box the massive repressive apparatus into which much of global wealth, energy, and human capacity is poured. This tradition of “Critical”/competitive kvetching (firing circle) Left “forgetting” always reads like a ritual that might easily be fanned by cops.)

By cohering a hierarchical economic alliance through selective exploitation, regional capitalists sell finance as a vehicle for expropriation, and they enjoin class-solidaristic, shifting-frenemy rivalries with each other. But the properly-capitalist exploitative mode is plodding as well as fungible and optional where there are other strategies–imperial war, for example–of pursuing elite rivalries for domination. Where there are other strategies is everywhere, all the time, because once you make money off of commodity production, you plunge it into higher-profit expropriative and rentier activities to keep your advantage and entitlements (See Pistor 2019, Piketty 2013). Exploitation and commodity production are a tool for organizing economy, society, and states under globalizing capitalist elites, and underwriting elite power expansion. Once the organization and underwriting have been accomplished, the real elite Power Resources are in taking, not making.

Industrial action cannot itself dismantle capitalism not only because capitalists possess the surveillance technology, the legal strategists, the economist marketeers and whips, the state, and layers of militarized police (as Adam Smith observed in 1776), not only because it’s far easier for less-numerous, habitually, socially class-solidaristic capitalists than workers to organize across space and scale, along with their supportive comprador class of lawyers and managers (as Adam Smith again observed in 1776, was demonstrated in the early 20th century strikes, and was analyzed by Bill Domhoff over his career), and not only because they possess the wealth to outlast resource-poor worker revolt, but also because erstwhile capitalists possess the economic degrees of freedom to shift to rents, extraction, and expropriation.

If workers and other smallholders in the West can be organized for internationalism, to solidaristically support Chinese and Indian worker revolt, that may well cause enough disruption to produce change, including some lessening of elite confidence. But we have learned that it will not be enough to direct change or maintain an egalitarian direction. Disruption is not the same as strategy, full human coordination capacity. We already have had neoliberalism producing change. What we need is to build the capacity to direct change strategically upon a temporary elite loss of confidence that industrial action could achieve, aiming to build up redistributive incentives. A key to collective agential change is agile, multipronged strategic capacity. Social Reproduction feminists are in one of the best positions to think strategically in this context, as I have indicated previously (Fridell 2017).

Socialist Social Reproduction feminism still has plenty of room for development, but it has been forwarded by some of the most powerful analysts of both logical structure and empirical variation, and, compatible with historically- and regionally-sensitive Political Marxism (per Meiksins-Wood), it holds out the promise of clarifying better anticapitalist strategy than is possible via idealist-discursive philosophy, including idealist-philosophical Marxism.

As Bourdieu suggested, idealist philosophy’s contribution to an egaliberte justice telos arrives when those philosophers turn their decisionist- genealogical and discursive-deconstructionist approaches on their own discipline…or even on conservative-liberal law and mainstream economics, if they cannot bear to critically analyze their own methods and knowledge’s structure and (given the encompassing historical context that philsophers are not interested in specifying) its effects. The neoliberal era is a long, conservatizing period in which junior managers and marketeers have aestheticized managing the variables they can control (for philosophers–critiquing equality-justice discursive logics), bereft of anything like Scenario Analysis–analyzing the optimal and worst case scenarios of how the products of that management interact with adjoining and governing incentives. For some reason in this conservatizing period, only financial managers have been allowed to assess management’s and products’ interactions with context.

To accomplish better socialist strategy, Social Reproduction feminism advances not idealist philosophy, but materialist philosophy. Historicist, socialist-feminist Social Reproduction scholarship and praxis, as well as new feminist indigenous theory, have reconstructed philosophical materialism as an egalitarian, internationalist form of cosmopolitanism supporting re-organization.

 

Bibliography

Benner, Erica. 2018 (1995). Really-existing Nationalisms. Verso.

Bezanson, K. and M. Luxton, eds. 2006. Social reproduction: Feminist political economy challenges neoliberalism. McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Bhattacharya, T., ed. 2017. Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression. Pluto.

Federici, Silvia. 2018. Re-enchanting the World: Feminism and the Politics of the Commons. Pm Pr.

Federici, Silvia. 2004. Caliban and the Witch: Women, The Body, and Primitive Accumulation. Autonomedia.

Finlayson, Lorna. 2019. “Traveling in the Wrong Direction.” London Review of Books

Finlayson, Lorna. 2015. The Political is Political: Conformity and the Illusion of Dissent in Contemporary Political Philosophy.

Fraser, Nancy. 2017. “Roepke Lecture in Economic Geography— From Exploitation to Expropriation: Historic Geographies of Racialized Capitalism.” Economic Geography 94(1): 1–17.

Fraser, Nancy. 2013. Fortunes of feminism.

Fraser, Nancy and Axel Honneth. 2003. Redistribution or Recognition?

Fraser, Nancy and Linda Gordon. 1994. “Dependency Demystified: Inscriptions of Power in a Keyword of the Welfare State.” Social Politics 1(1): 4-31.

Fraser, Nancy and Linda Gordon. 1992. “Contract vs. Charity: Why Is There No Social Citizenship in the United States?” Socialist Review 22(3): 45-67.

Fridell, Mara. 2017. “The Social-Democratic Small-State Strategy and Immigration: Sweden in the 21st Century.” World Review of Political Economy. Vol. 8, No. 3, Small States in the Multi-polar World (Fall 2017), pp. 390-415.

Kollontai, Alexandra. 1916. Society and Motherhood.

Lawrence, Andrew G. 2014. Employer and Worker Collective Action: A Comparatie Study of Germany, South Africa, and the United States. New York: Cambridge University Press.

McAlevey, Jane. 2016. No shortcuts: Organizing for Power in the New Gilded Age.

Meiksins-Wood, Ellen. 2014. “Capitalism’s Gravediggers.” Jacobin, December 5.

Pistor, Katharina. 2019. The Code of Capital: How the Law Creates Wealth and Inequality.

 

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