The RCP-PCR on the Women Question and the Gaps in the Discourse of Proletarian Feminism

We have long argued that a “proletarian feminism” which fails to take account of gender as a material production relation is not in fact a through scientific analysis but an objectively chauvinist ideological discourse. The RCP-PCR’s treatment of the matter is as good a case study as any:

Lets examine Chapter Eight of their Program “Women of the proletariat: being left behind for a long time, now at the forefront!”.

“We talk about proletarian women because we base ourselves on the materialist conception of class struggle as the motor of history. Women are not a homogeneous group being determined exclusively by their gender; their material conditions are a determining factor in their class-consciousness. Proletarian women constitute one of the most exploited groups in capitalist society. The same is not true, for women as one group regardless of their social condition.”

The differentiation of women on the base of their class position in relation to the means of production of surplus value and its treatment as a primary line of demarcation is of course correct-however this formulation ignores that gender itself is a socially imposed material condition defining different roles in the reproduction of labor power and as such constitutes a class relation in the terms of historical materialism. Bourgeois and petty bourgeois women are of little relevance to this discussion as their relationship to the process of reproduction of labor power is in most cases clearly distinct from that of proletarian and semi-proletarian women (in fact quite often it is proletarian women who perform the reproductive labor of their “sisters”).

Therefore it is not only the material condition of proletarianization-separation from the means of production and subordination to capitalist command in the extraction of surplus value but also the equally material condition of “womenhood” (or “non-maleness”)-disproportionate performance of unwaged reproductive labor to the benefit of males, super-exploitation of wage labor in the sphere of production, subordination to male violence and the whole complex superstructure of femininity resting on this base which determines the class consciousness not of proletarians in general but of proletarian women in specific.

“Patriarchy relies on patriarchal family. That is the transmission mode of property by which the man, owner of the family wealth, transmits it to one of his male descendants according to paternal filiations. From this definition of patriarchy emerges the fact that all other aspects, ideological and otherwise, are linked to the issue of the family heritage and of its extension and transmission.”

Here the RCP-PCR confuses the legal superstructure of traditional feudal patriarchy with patriarchy in general as a division of labor in the production of labor power-a division which is still the material base for the reproduction of femininity and masculinity today.

“We can assert that the capitalist mode of production, once it reached the imperialist stage, eroded patriarchy by generating individuals who think of themselves as being more and more equal, regardless of their gender and by creating social relationships which encourage the individuals to relate with each others no matter their gender.”

Today women participate in direct wage labor on a massive scale (as indeed they have since the beginning of capitalism) and function as autonomous legal subjects in the public sphere. However they remain women which is precisely the problem. And this leads to the question which is the crux of this whole matter. Is the reproduction of women as women merely a ideological superstructure left-over from feudal times or is it something structurally imminent to the capitalist mode of production itself as it exists in historical actuality (not in abstracted schema)?

“Since the beginning of the class-based societies, the sexual division of labour as well as the women participation in material production; the family organization as it was institutionalized by state; religion, law, culture and ruling ideology: all of that had assigned to women a lower position, characterized by the most diversified forms of domination and oppression. Capitalism is destroying all of these relationships, norms and ideas, because to maintain itself, it must perpetually stir up the social relations of production”

The CMP is indeed destroying traditional feudal patriarchy not only in the metropole but also in the oppressed countries to an extent-but with what is it replacing it? The abolition of gender materially and ideologically? Certainly not. Like imperialism itself patriarchy is becoming more flexible, more fluid but remains just as overwhelmingly pervasive. This can be seen in the continued material division of labor between genders in even the most “progressive” and “advanced” imperialist countries (Scandinavia etc) and most importantly in the emergence of what could provisionally be called a new mode of existence of patriarchy-the commoditization of women identified explicitly in the foundational texts of proletarian feminism as something qualitatively distinct from the old feudal relations. This “outmoded ideological superstructure” far from fading away is metamorphosing and transforming itself-a cultural creativity indicative of its still existent material base.

“Some old ideas, vestiges of patriarchy, still survive today in capitalist society. These ideas express themselves through the forms of sexism, chauvinism, violence towards women and their use as sexual objects, or in some men’s behaviour still resisting the complete emancipation of women in today’s society. The equality of rights between the sexes in the society and in today’s family, and particularly the legal equality in terms of property (and by extension, heritage) are making sure that for women, capitalism now became the main form of domination.”

These “ideas” are not vestigial ideological counterparts of patriarchy conceived on a formalistic level as a liquidated legal superstructure but elements of the reproduction of gender under the CMP-gender as a social relation based in a determinate material division of labor which constitutes a structural element of the reproduction of the capital relation as a whole. Capitalism is indeed the main form of domination experienced by proletarian women as by proletarians in general however patriarchal relations in the sphere of reproduction are precisely the mechanism by which capital produces labor power. Patriarchy is a constituent element of the capital relation-not as a legal superstructure but as a production relation. None of this is reducible to the inheritance of property through the male line as the RCP-PCR would have us think.

“in the capitalist world, something is productive if it produces surplus-value, no regard of the quality of the work nor of the usage of the goods being produced. Although being socially needed, the domestic work being mostly done by women, just as the work in some areas of the economy where women are overrepresented, are done for free or very badly paid because it does not produce surplus-value. The fate of half of humanity comes in this way to meet that of the other: poverty and exploitation for the profit of a small minority of the rich.”

Here the RCP-PCR more or less accurately describes the structural patriarchy of the CMP without drawing the necessary conclusions. At the same time however the reference to one half of humanity meeting the other in the same fate tends to obscure the way in which contradictions can develop and reactionary politics be promoted through the benefits accruing to proletarian men from women’s subordination.

“because it is impossible for proletarian women to reach total equality if they leave the structure and the system of capitalist production to remain unchanged.”

We would be inclined to assert that a truly proletarian feminism (like proletarian politics in general) has as its end point not total equality between male and female as positions in the social division of labor with their accompanying ideological superstructures but the total abolition of gender and a world without men and women.

In closing we should note that despite our theoretical differences with the RCP-PCR on this point we largely agree with their practical program on the issue and that communists in Canada whatever their stance are duty bound to integrate with the RCP-PCR as the most advanced manifestation of proletarian politics in their territory.

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