Marxism & feminism

Alex Trotter uburoi at panix.com
Thu Nov 10 12:12:15 MST 1994


So far, it seems to me, the discussion on this topic has generated "more
heat than light," as the saying goes (with the possible exception of
"Liberate the Male"). :) I'll mention a few thoughts and queries I have.

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	From what I've been able to gather, there are essentially three
	From what I've been able to gather, there are essentially three
broad tendencies in feminism: liberal, radical, and socialist. These
don't have to be airtight categories; no doubt there's some overlap in
characteristics. The liberal brand is the "equity" variety, and frankly
reformist. The radical, or "gender" feminists (I'm taking some of these
terms from a recent book titled, I believe, _Who Stole Feminism?_) have,
depending on your perspective, either a utopian or a dystopian vision of
remaking the gendered subjectivity of humans of both sexes through social
engineering. And the socialist feminists (of which Marxist-feminists are
a branch) concern themselves more with the critique of capitalism and
class as it impacts on the subordination of women.
	Of these categories, the socialist feminists seem to be in a
distinct minority. I am not directly familiar with the writings of
contemporary socialist feminists (except Raya Dunayevskaya and her group,
"News & Letters," which I don't trust because of the strong element of
cult of personality surrounding her).
	Radical feminism is what I tend to think of primarily in connection
with the "second wave" since the 1960s. This seems to have started out as
a reaction against the male arrogance and posturing within the New Left,
and yet the feminists held on to many of the same concepts of a debased
Marxist leftism (eg, influence of Mao, Cuba, etc). See, for example,
Firestone's _The Dialectic of Sex_. Then, sometime around the mid- to
late 1970s, the rad feminists went to grad school and discovered French
poststructuralist theory (Lacan, etc). This was the moment of the turn
toward the appropriation of psychoanalysis (previously, Freud had been
one-dimensionally denounced in an almost Stalinist fashion as a
chauvinist pig, and so on). This moment represented also a break with
Marxism and, apparently, a repudiation of dialectics as part of the
'totalizing hegelian master narrative.' Binary dualism replaced
dialectical monism (could be that I'm grossly oversimplifying here; this
is how I understand it in a nutshell). And so this version of feminism
became very university-bound.
	Now, although I'm critical of contemporary feminism, the readers
of this list might remember that I'm critical of marxism as well. I feel
that if this is an unhappy marriage, then both spouses are at fault. And
the roots of the quandary seem to stem from the period of the Second
International and its talk of "the woman question" while at the same
time, most feminists were bourgeois suffragette types.
	Returning to a theme that I've brought up[ before, I would
suggest once again the relevance of Charles Fourier and the critique of
civilization itself. Fourier was an outstanding among male socialists of
his time as a supporter of women's emancipation, which he felt would come
about only with the collapse of the patriarchy of commercial
civilization. He looked to the free sexual lives of the inhabitants of
Tahiti (cf. Reich and Malinowski). Fourier was a great influence on the
pioneering French feminist Flora Tristan, and his writings on women are
among those elements of his thinking praised by Marx and Engels. Of
course, Fourier's ideas on the subject of class were vague, and Marxists
have always derided his utopianism. But I think the issues he dealt with
are quite relevant to a discussion about feminism today. Indeed, I've
noticed that some feminists are critical of science and "theory." Could
it be that Enlightenment rationalism, of which marxism is an offshoot, is
an inherently male-biased way of thinking? If civilization itself is the
problem, then "socialism" conceived as an intermediate society of
transition between capitalism and communism might simply perpetuate many
of the ills of civilization, including patriarchy.

--Alex Trotter

PS--While we're on the subject of marxism and feminism, Autonomedia plans
to publish, sometime next year, writings by Leopoldina Fortunati, an
Italian marxist-feminist associated with the Autonomia movement. I
haven't seen the MS, so I can't tell you what it's like.


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