Does capitalism destroy sexual and racial oppression?? (was: Older men, younger women)

Lou Paulsen wwchi at
Tue Nov 7 23:26:23 MST 2000

-----Original Message-----
From: Philip Ferguson <plf13 at>

(I am going to ignore most of what Ferguson says, because he apparently has
real difficulty in handling these concepts.  Whatever I write, he calls me a
puritan.  When I defend Anthony's view that most heterosexual relationships
are "probably oppressive", he hears me saying that they are INHERENTLY
oppressive.  He takes me to task for failing to distinguish between elected
superstructure and appointed superstructure.  He writes that because there
is great inequality between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, this proves
that we don't live in "a patriarchy."  The effort of enforcing conceptual
clarity on Phil is just more than it is worth.)

(I am, instead, going to focus on the following surprising assertions by

>One of the interesting things that has happened in NZ with the
>'new right' economic restructuring, which was the most extreme anywhere in
>the developed and democratic capitalist world (ie the imperialist
>countries) is that the more 'pure' capitalism became - ie the increase
>commodification and reach of the market - the more gender and racial
>barriers were actually removed.

This, of course, suggests that we have been all wrong the whole time in
suggesting that the fight against racism and sexism has anything to do with
the fight against capitalism.  Capitalism is in fact the great liberator of
women and of the oppressed nations of the world.

He furthermore assures us that these advances by women had nothing to do
with struggle by women:  "This had nothing to do with feminism."  No, it was
the liberating role of advanced capitalism itself.

Of course Phil might be factually right in his assertion about the recent
history of New Zealand, but is this really what is going to happen for the
whole imperialist world?  YES, says Phil:

>Actually, they pretty much are [foredoomed to follow the New Zealand
>Despite your US-centric blinkers.
>The thing about NZ is that the economic restructuring here was the *most*
>extreme; the more economic restructuring takes place in the US, the more
>Hilary Clintons and Janet Renos you are likely to see, occupying *real
>positions of power* and - hopefully - the more obvious it will become that
>patriarchy theory is just plain wrong.

I'm not sure what metric Phil is using to measure the "extremity" of
economic restructuring, or on what basis he says that there has been more
restructuring in New Zealand than in the US, or, for that matter, than in

However, I'm not at all sure that conclusions about the ENTIRE IMPERIALIST
WORLD and its neocolonies, considered as a system stretching from
Vladivostok to Abidjan to Prague to London to Sao Paolo to Wall Street to
Seattle, can be drawn by the method of imagining New Zealand a thousand
times larger.  Such a process ignores the processes which come into play
when imperialist powers have vast colonized nations of super-oppressed
workers to draw upon, to exploit, to export capital to or to import workers

Phil brings up the issue of domestic labor.  He argues that capital doesn't
care who performs it.  Within limits, this is true.  Capital doesn't make
more or less surplus value depending on who does the dishes in a household.
In fact, it wants to lengthen the working day of all the adult members of
the household.  If both members of a two-adult household are skilled and
productive workers, it may pay capital to work them both for sixty-five
hours a week, and to have their housework performed by a third person at
subsistence wages.  Who is this third person?  In the US, it is often a
Salvadoran woman, or a Polish woman, or sometimes even an Irish woman.  The
regrowth of the class of servant women is the subject of a lot of ongoing
sociological work these days.  In any case, this is not exactly the
abolition of sexual oppression.

Phil also doesn't explain how the issue of childbearing has been resolved in
New Zealand.  Again, it's true that capital doesn't care HOW the "next
generation of workers is reproduced", all other things being equal.  But are
things really equal?  In the US you have an existing system, with material
and organizational and ideological elements, which involves the
uncompensated labor of women, the corresponding inequality in investment by
capital in the training of men and women, the ideological justification for
it all, and so forth.  There are elements of another system, in which child
care becomes the business of a capitalist enterprise employing low-paid
workers, almost all female, very often of oppressed nationalities.  We can
imagine a third system in which the working day is reduced and we have more
time to spend with our own children, but is capitalism really going to give
us that?   Why is capitalism going to be willing to invest in the costs of
conversion to a gender-equal system of childrearing, when the gender-UNequal
system is so profitable for them?

Finally, one last point.  Even if the bourgeoisie could abolish sexism (and
racism!) tomorrow, and if they would make just as much money afterwards,
they would not do it because of the enormous POLITICAL benefits to them of
maintaining them in existence.  Phil is always taking me to task as a
Puritan and the US as a Puritan society.  Has he perhaps gone over to Weber,
and is he now convinced that ideology - religion - are independent causal
forces, in the heartland of imperialism, no less?  Does he believe that the
dead hand of John Calvin governs the minds of the Wall Street bankers??  He
has put the cart entirely before the horse.  Insofar as Puritanism
(Calvinism) has ideological descendants today, they are to be found in the
fundamentalist Protestant religious right which is one of the chief tools of
the U.S. bourgeoisie in its Republican Party incarnation.  These forces are
on call at any time to attack the workers' movement.  It is the imperialist
bourgeoisie - or elements of it - who finance and legitimize the modern-day
"puritans" who are of course the chief defenders of patriarchal ideas.
Ideologically, capitalism doesn't stand on its own feet.  It props itself up
with pre-capitalist justifications.  Will their rule become so stable and
unchallenged that they can dispense with these tools?  I don't believe so.

Lou Paulsen

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